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Posted by | Apr 13, 2019

Eighty years ago, a 33-year-old Christian theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to his native Germany after a short stay in the United States. He would not live to see his 40th birthday.

The Lutheran and Episcopal Churches, as well as other religious bodies worldwide, recently commemorated the annual remembrance of German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and resister of Nazi totalitarianism and terrorism. On April 9, 1945, after being in held prisoner for two years, Bonhoeffer was hanged for his association with others who resisted Hitler and the atrocities his party committed against Jews, Germans, among others.

Evidence showed the group he worked with also plotted to assassinate Hitler. A week later the Allies liberated that very POW Camp. As he was being led away to what all knew would be his death, Bonhoeffer said, “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer wrote a book “The Cost of Discipleship,” that is now a classic. He compares “cheap grace,” which is like a head nod or an “atta boy” to the ethics of following Jesus, without actually getting in the water and risking a swim – with “costly grace,” that throws people into the deep end because they are formed by and live out the ethics of Jesus.

This is not a church and state issue. It is the involvement of a person of faith, regardless of religion, using politics, political action, and involvement to change the world for the poor, needy, oppressed, voiceless and powerless. Such costly grace brought Bonhoeffer into the resistance movement against the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer was also a founder and leader in a church-based resistance movement, the Confessing Church. When he was imprisoned, he refused the prayers of that Church. At a 50th Anniversary commemoration of his death, Klaus Engelhardt, then Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Germany, lifted up Bonhoeffer’s reasoning, and challenged the church on it.

Bonhoeffer felt that exercising political means to resist evil and injustice set him outside the circle of prayer. Only those imprisoned for their proclamation and work on behalf of the church, not political resistance, should be prayed for, and that exempted him. Engelhardt challenged the religious communities to reconsider Bonhoeffer’s position that separated resistance and faith.

Today what does “costly grace” look like? How do we separate holding religious principles from applying those principles, regardless of their origin, on behalf of the poor, needy, oppressed, threatened, and voiceless? What drives many who risk speaking up in our country against while privilege and nationalism, threats to Muslims, Jews, and law-abiding immigrants?

People of religion and no-religion share a vision of a common good for all. Almost daily tragedy strikes a blow to our hearts and vision for a better world – whether in New Zealand, threats to synagogues, mosques and churches here and worldwide, the continuing rise of gun violence and absence of adults to stand with our children against it. Health care costs for the needy and elderly rise. The opioid epidemic – suicides…

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The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship


The Cost of Discipleship was one of those books that deeply influenced Betty and gave her courage in her darkest days. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian, wrote it in the 1930s to examine the intense struggle and serious implications of true belief in Christ. In the decades that followed, he was active in resisting the rise of Nazis in Germany, and in rejecting the Fuhrer as head of the Church. Jesus, not Adolf Hitler was the head.  Just a few weeks before the end of the war, Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis in Flossenburg prison camp by direct order from Hitler. Eric Metaxas’ biography, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, retells Bonhoeffer’s final moments, which had been witnessed and shared years later by the camp doctor:

“Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climber the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so submissively to the will of God.”

In this most famous of his books, young Bonhoeffer wrote:

“But Jesus is no draughtsman of political blueprints, he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering… The passion of Christ is the victory of divine love over the powers of evil, and therefore it is the only supportable basis for Christian obedience. Once again, Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching and passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the law he himself established and thus graciously keeps his disciples in the fellowship of his suffering. The cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil.”

For the rest of the post…

(About a 6 minute read; reading full quote extends post to about 11 minutes)

Please note: Bonhoeffer was a brilliant and compassionate German theologian. He was among the few Germans with the courage to openly and publicly oppose the Nazis after they had consolidated their hold over the nation. He was hanged for it.  This post is about his sharp insights into the mentality of Hitler’s followers — insights that I believe are especially relevant today. 

In an earlier post today, I defended stupid people from our cultural tendency to attack and debase them.  The post prompted one of Café Philos’ readers, Galtz, to respond with a long quote of Bonhoeffer’s that seemingly analyses “stupid people”.  But please don’t be misguided by Bonhoeffer’s and mine use of the same word, “stupid”, to describe a certain type or class of persons.  We are not using the word to mean the same thing at all.

What Bonhoeffer means by “stupid”, I mean by “willfully stupid”.  In turn, what he means by “dull” is what I mean  by “stupid”.  Once that is seen, I believe it becomes clear to any reader of both posts that Bonhoeffer and I are in complete agreement.

Now, let’s take a look at Bonhoeffer’s views. He begins by noting that “against stupidity we are defenseless”.  This is because stupid people cannot be reasoned with: “reasons fall on deaf ears” — an insight that he drives home in brilliant detail.

First, the stupid person simply does not feel any need to believe facts that contradict his or her assumptions.  Even if the facts are irrefutable, the stupid person simply pushes them aside as inconsequential, as incidental.

Moreover, the stupid person shows no signs of possessing an intellectual conscience about his behavior: He feels no shame or guilt for what he does.  Instead, he is likely to feel smug and self-satisfied, and then to go on the attack, becoming critical of the views presented to him. Because of that he becomes dangerous for his attacks might involve violence.

Based on all my experience of people, Bonhoeffer is spot on here. Stupid people behave precisely as he says they do.  They did in his age, and they still do today, a fact that indicates this sort of stupidity — which I myself call “willful ignorance” — most likely has its roots in our DNA, and can be considered part of human nature.

So how do we “get the better of this stupidity?

For the rest of the post…

By Matthew D. Hamilton

Dietrich Bonhoeffer spiritual disciplines

Dietrich Bonhoeffer largely derives his fame from his martyrdom at the hands of the Nazi regime. Under immense stress, Bonhoeffer’s religious convictions prompted him to fight for the true good of the German people against genocidal tyranny. Understandably so, less attention has been paid to his theology and his understanding of private Christian faith. However, Bonhoeffer’s life and writings demonstrate a vital nuance to personal, spiritual practices that ought to inform our private faith today.

Before his involvement in the assassination plot, Dietrich Bonhoeffer retreated to relative obscurity and operated an underground seminary in the German town of Finkenwalde. Here, removed from the political activities of his day, Bonhoeffer gives us the best glimpse of his expectations for personal spirituality.

Practicing spiritual disciplines

To prepare his seminarians for ministry, Bonhoeffer mandated disciplines very familiar to us.

Bonhoeffer required his students to read Scripture privately, writing, “We are not permitted to neglect this daily encounter with Scripture.” Bonhoeffer intentionally uses the word “encounter” here as he disallowed that this time would be an academic or pastoral pursuit: The ministers-to-be were not allowed to search for sermon material or use a Greek New Testament; rather, Scripture study was meditative, or prayerful, and enabled the Finkenwalde seminarians “to encounter Christ in his own word.” Thus, the “goal [of Scriptural meditation] is Christ’s community, Christ’s help and Christ’s guidance.”

Bonhoeffer also insisted that his seminarians fasted. Arguing that it reminded them of their “estrangement” from the world, he regarded this practice as nonnegotiable. Just as prayerful Scripture reading ultimately looks to encounter God, Bonhoeffer does not see fasting as an end in itself but rather a response to faith in Christ, a means of orienting one’s life to God.

However, Bonhoeffer appears to speak out of both sides of his mouth, paradoxically railing against retreat from the world. In Ethics, he writes firmly, “For the Christian there is nowhere to retreat from the world, neither externally nor into the inner life.” In After Ten Years, he develops this criticism a little further:

In flight from public discussion and examination, this or that person may well attain the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But he must close his eyes and mouth to the injustice around him. He can remain undefiled by the consequences of responsible action only by deceiving himself… He will either perish from that restlessness or turn into a hypocritical, self-righteous, small-minded human being.

Developing a moral backbone

How then are we to make sense of Bonhoeffer’s actions and commands?

While condemning withdrawal from the world, Bonhoeffer appears to do the very thing he hates, retreating to Finkenwalde and exhorting his students toward inward-focused, privatistic practices

In her essay “Bonhoeffer’s Understanding of Church, State and Civil Society,” Victoria J. Barnett, director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s Programs on Ethics, Religion and the Holocaust, notes Bonhoeffer’s awareness of this exact contradiction: “The Finkenwalde experiment opened up the risk inherent in any kind of internal exile, which is that it becomes a flight into a privatized kind of discipleship.” Barnett thus indicates that while the Finkenwalde period may appear apolitical, Bonhoeffer understood this apparent contradiction.

However, his other writings—as well as more insight from Barnett—provide a fascinating dimension to Bonhoeffer’s personal spirituality which resolves this tension. Rather than seeing spiritual disciplines as a retreat from the world, Bonhoeffer understands spirituality as the necessary foundation for Christian political action.

Retreating to Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer was not neglecting or refusing the world. Rather, Barnett’s essay highlights how he here sought “the creation of moral backbone and the establishment of the discipline his students would need if they were to stay on the right path” under the attractive Nazi regime.

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Fearsome weapon cut apart Allied units at up to 1,800 rounds per minute
During World War II, American G.I.s called the German MG42 machine gun “Hitler’s buzz saw” because of the way it cut down troops in swaths.

The Soviet Red Army called it “the linoleum ripper” because of the unique tearing sound it made—a result of its extremely high rate of fire. The Germans called the MG42 Hitlersäge or “Hitler’s bone saw”—and built infantry tactics around squads of men armed with the weapon.

Many military historians argue that the Maschinengewehr 42 was the best general-purpose machine gun ever. It fired up to 1,800 rounds per minute in some versions. That’s nearly twice as fast as any automatic weapon fielded by any army in the world at the time.

“It sounded like a zipper,” Orville W. “Sonny” Martin, Jr., who was a second lieutenant with the U.S. Army’s 13th Armored Division, said in an oral history of infantry and armor operations in Europe. “It eats up a lot of ammunition and that makes for a logistical problem, but it eats up a lot of people, too.”

When the war began in 1939, the Germans had a solid, reliable general-purpose machine gun—the MG34. But it was expensive and difficult to manufacture.

The German high command wanted front-line troops to have more machine guns. That meant a weapon designed to deliver a high rate of fire like the MG34, but which was cheaper and quicker to produce.

Mauser-Werke developed a machine gun that fired a 7.92-millimeter Mauser cartridge fed into the gun from either a 50-round or 250-round belt. What’s more, the company manufactured the machine gun from stamped and pressed parts, welding the components together with a technique that reduced production time by 35 percent.

The MG42 had an effective range of up to 2,300 feet and weighed 25 pounds. A gun crew could change its barrel in seconds.

True, the machine gun had its weaknesses.

For the rest of the post…

Jon Ward

Senior Political Correspondent,
Yahoo News
Eric Metaxas speaks during the 44th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C, on Jan. 27, 2017. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/AFP/Getty Image

The case of Eric Metaxas still remains a puzzling one to many of his fellow evangelicals.

How could the man who wrote an admiring, bestselling biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the German pastor martyred for his opposition to the Nazis — become one of the most prominent evangelical supporters of Donald Trump, the most authoritarian, least churchly president in recent American history?

The answers to this question go to the heart of the cultural fears that motivated a large majority of white evangelical Christians to vote for Trump, opening an enduring split among evangelical elites.

“There are not many people … who truly surprised me in the 2016 campaign,” said David French, a conservative writer for National Review who was briefly mentioned as a possible third-party presidential candidate. “Of the publicly prominent Christians [who backed Trump], the two most surprising to me were William Bennett, author of ‘The Book of Virtues,’ and Eric Metaxas, author of ‘Bonhoeffer’.”

But it wasn’t just his credentials as an intellectual that made the Yale-educated Metaxas, on the surface, an unlikely Trump backer. It was his magnetic personality, the immaculate suits, the sharp-tongued humor and his public profile in New York City, where he hosted high-minded conversations with authors and public intellectuals at the Yale Club. Malcolm Gladwell made an appearance in January 2015.

Metaxas, the son of a Greek immigrant, began his career as a writer for the successful Christian children’s TV show “VeggieTales.” His wife, Susanne, is deeply active in the antiabortion movement as president and CEO of a pregnancy support center in Manhattan. And while Metaxas’ flamboyance has crossed over into excessive self-promotion at times, he is so talented, funny and sincere that his friends just laughed it off.

You can get a sense of his quirky, dry humor from his “Socrates in the City” events, like his 2014 conversation with former talk show host Dick Cavett, including an extended riff about how the gathering is really a “UFO cult.”

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A white supremacist carries a Nazi flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, August 12th. Some Pennsylvania residents say they support the white supremacy march there. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A white supremacist carries a Nazi flag into the entrance to Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, August 12th. Some Pennsylvania residents say they support the white supremacy march there. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

By Eric Epstein

Godwin’s law, coined in 1990 and named after Mike Godwin, states that lengthy online discussions will ultimately degenerate into Hitler comparisons. Given enough space and time, the probability of  referencing Hitler – no matter the issue -becomes more likely.

Eric Epstein (PennLive file) 
Eric Epstein (PennLive file) 

Democrats have been comparing  President Donald Trump to Hitler since 2015. After the inauguration, U.S. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia) took to twitter and compared Trump’s immigration polices to Adolf Hitler’s.

Three days later, former Democratic presidential candidate, Martin O’Malley tweeted, “Now is not the time for reconciliation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer didn’t reconcile with the Nazis. MLK didn’t reconcile with the KKK. Now we fight.”

Prior to his inauguration, Donald Trump compared leaks on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election to be like living in “Nazi Germany.”

Now comes state Sen. Scott Wagner’s stereotyping of George Soros, as a “Hungarian Jew” who hates America.

Soros survived the Holocaust in Hungary, a nation where 435,000 Jews were murdered with meticulous precision from March 1944 until August, 1944 in Auschwitz.

Soros also survived fascism and the siege of Budapest

We need to focus on the real problems facing our state, like fixing our education system, making our state more business friendly, plugging the pension gaps and creating more better-paying jobs for Pennsylvanians.

Countless Pennsylvanians were tuned in to Wagner’s most recent rant. How many nodded in approval or absorbed the verbal abuse without deploying a distortion filter?

For the rest of the post…

by Stanley Hauerwas

Bonhoeffer For Us?

“Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.”

For the entire article…

Fight Trump Spiritually

When rabbis walked out of Donald Trump’s speech Monday night at the national convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, they were literally turning their backs on the man who has been compared — rightly or not — to some of the worst haters in modern history.

While it’s dubious that Trump is a fellow traveler of Hitler, it is not dubious that he spews contempt with the ease of a born hate-monger. Trump hasn’t said anything truly noxious about Jews; he always demurs that he cannot be anti-Semitic because his daughter converted to Judaism. But the AIPAC protest was right because hate toward one people easily spills over into hate toward others, right because of the tragic history of the Jewish people, right because of the Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition, a moral reflex to denounce injustice, iniquity and corruption, even when that truth is unwanted and, as too often happens, is frustratingly unheeded.

Perhaps the finest embodiment of this tradition in the 20th century was Rabbi Abraham Heschel, of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, who in the 1960s reached out to the poor, the disenfranchised, the forgotten of all faiths. His colleagues-in-empathy were such Christian luminaries as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King Jr. All of them saw beyond the divisions of ideology and theology; all knew, as Heschel wrote, that “when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless. Religion is an answer to humanity’s ultimate questions. We need to rediscover the questions to which religion is an answer.”

In some perverse way, Trump is providing a public service by forcing us to do as Heschel commanded. For the religious, the questions will be spiritual and theological. For the secular, they will be questions of civil comity and polity and national purpose.

There are many precedents for the rabbis’ protest Monday night. Marching in 1965 with King in Selma, Heschel said his “feet were praying,” a holy rebuke to the violent and immoral legacy of segregation. Two years earlier with King jailed in Birmingham, Ala., for local protests, eight white ministers publicly stated that King, and the civil rights movement, should temporize. Change, they said, will come, just not on King’s disruptive, presumptive schedule. From his cell, King responded that if the Christian theologian Paul Tillich was right and sin is separation, then “is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?” King also reminded those who resisted civil rights that, when early Christians entered a town, the powerful tarred them as “outside agitators.” “But the Christians pressed on,” King noted, “in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man.”

The prophetic impulse survived even in Nazi Germany. A pastor in the Rhineland courageously told his superiors that anti-Jewish violence violates “the simplest moral judgment. … I have never doubted my people as deeply as now.” Wrong, said church leaders, revealing their own anti-Semitism. The violence was a “legitimate outlet” for the “resentments at what the Jewish-dominated press, stock exchange and theater have done to us.” German Protestants were so staunchly pro-Hitler that one renegade church newspaper bravely published a vision of a worship service of the future: Standing at the altar, a minister tells anyone not 100 percent Aryan to leave the church. No one moves. He repeats the announcement. Again, everyone is still. When the minister repeats it again, Christ climbs down from the cross over the altar and walks out the door. Even Jesus was disgusted with German Christians.

In Berlin, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer unrelentingly preached against the Nazis, arguing that helping Jews was a matter of theological necessity: Jews and Christians were united in the person of Jesus Christ. Eventually, Bonhoeffer warned, the Lord will “judge, condemn, and topple into the dust” anyone who worshipped the clay idols of the Nazis. After great agonizing, Bonhoeffer decided that loving his neighbor meant killing Hitler. Jailed for the botched July 20, 1944, attempt, Bonhoeffer accepted his guilt while lamenting the moral bankruptcy of the church. The Nazis hanged Bonhoeffer two weeks before the war ended.

– See more at: http://thedailyworld.com/opinion/columnist/fight-trump-spiritually#sthash.jHGCeXyi.dpuf

 

Earlier this month, I post that on June 17, 1940 (the day France surrendered to Germany), Dietrich Bonhoeffer was with his close friend Eberhard Bethge “in the Baltic village of Memel. They were relaxing in an “open-air café when suddenly a special announcement came over the loudspeaker that France had surrendered. Bethge wrote:

The people around the tables could hardly contain themselves; they jumped up, and some even climbed on the chairs. With outstretched arms, they sang “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles” and the Horse Wessel song. We stood up, too Bonhoeffer raised his arm in the regulation Hitler salute, while I stood there dazed. “Raise your arm! Are you crazy?” he whispered to me, and later: “We shall have to run risks for very different things now, but not for that salute!”  

This was a turning point for DB! Bethge “asserts that Bonhoeffer’s ‘double life’ truly began. This Confessing Church pastor and theologian became deeply involved in the resistance movement against Hitler and the Nazis.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945, 1-2.

Wow! I have had numerous discussions with people over the years about why a Christian like Bonhoeffer could take an active role in the resistance. Many are troubled because Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43).

I have struggled other it was well. Yet, we were not there. DB was! And somehow, he joined the resistance to stop a mad-man from murdering innocent people. Somehow, DB reconciled being a disciple of Jesus and plotting to kill Hitler.

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