July 10, 2013

The Church Against Religion

More from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by Dallas M. Roark.

Chapter 8 is titled: The Church Against Religion (Letters and Papers from Prison)

In an essay composed around 1942 entitled “After 10 Years,”  Bonhoeffer discusses the reactions of reasonable people (who are deceived by the seductive disguises of evil and accept a salved rather than clear conscience); moral fanatics (who get trapped in nonessentials); duty-guided people (who never achieve a direct hit to evil); the person claiming freedom (who performs evil to ward off “greater evil”); and the man of private virtuousness (who plays the game of self-deception or becomes a great hypocrite).

People of civil courage were lacking, for the Germans had learned the virtue of obedience.  But submissiveness can be exploited, and in the case of Nazi Germany it was.  Responsibility is related to free men.  Obedience goes only so far.  Bonhoeffer then turns to various categories of relationships and attitudes. (p. 115)
  1. Success.  Success achieved by good means can be overlooked ethically, but success by means of evil poses problems.  Success tends to make good out of evil in history.  Bonhoeffer regarded himself as responsibly involved in learning how the coming generation is to live in a new culture.
  2. Folly. Bonhoeffer regards folly as more devastating than evil.  There is no reasoning with, protesting against, or upending the fool.  He calls folly a sociological problem, called forth by violent displays of power which deprive men of their judgment.  The only hope against folly is liberation, and the ultimate release is a responsible life before God.  In the political arena, “what will really matter is whether those in power expect more from people’s folly than from their wisdom and independence of mind.” (p. 115)
  3. Contempt for humanity will be rejected only if we realize that what we despise in others is never “entirely absent from ourselves.” (p. 115)
  4. immanent righteousness.  Bonhoeffer says that evil carries the seeds of its own destruction.  The world seems ordered in a way that the expedient act cannot be turned into principle without suffering retribution.  This affirmation leads Bonhoeffer to set forth some statements of faith on the sovereignty of God in history.  God can bring good out of evil, and gives strength in times of distress.  He hears our prayers and desires responsible action from us.
  5. Confidence. Bonhoeffer writes that although betrayal is everywhere, trust and confidence are greater than ever imagined.  In trust they placed their lives in the hands of others.  Such trust is a rare blessing and a necessity against the background of mistrust in society.
  6. The sense of quality. He takes a new look at equalitarian movements which destroy a sense of quality by destroying reserve.  Socially this means a break with the “cult of the star” tradition in society and culturally it substitutes the book for the newspaper, leisure for frenzied activity, quality for quantity.
  7. Sympathy. Bonhoeffer declares that sympathy arises with the imminence of danger.  Christians are called to sympathy and action when others are in danger.
  8. Suffering. In the past one could plan both his professional and his private life.  But war makes both of these impossible.  Life must be carried on living every day as if it is our last, and yet in faith and responsibility as though there is to be a great future.  This is still a germane principle today.
  9. Optimism. Pessimism is wiser than optimism, but optimism must not be impugned even though it is proven wrong many times.  Optimism – in spite of the day of judgment leads to building and hoping for a better world.
  10. Insecurity and death. Both had been increasingly in Bonhoeffer’s mind as these ten years passed by.  By accepting death, each new day of life becomes miraculous.  His own death is prefigured in this descriptive statement: “It is we ourselves, and not outward circumstances, who make death what it can be, a death freely and voluntarily accepted.” (p. 116)
The essay concludes with the question: “Are we still of any use?”  Much evils has been devised and experienced.  The need is for “plain, honest, straight forward men.”  Is it possible to regain this stance after the evils of intrigue, war, and cynicism?  Bonhoeffer does not answer his question.
“Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell” written by Bonhoeffer for the wedding of his niece to his close friend Eberhard Bethge.
  1. God is guiding your marriage; 2. God makes your marriage in-dissoluble; 3. God establishes a rule of life by which you can live together in wedlock (Col. 3:18-19); 4. God has laid on marriage a blessing and a burden, that of children; 5. God gives you Christ as the foundation of your marriage.
The Problem of Religion:
“Religion uses God as the lazy way of explaining the unexplainable.  God is on the edge of human boundaries.  But what happens when the human boundaries are pushed back and an alternate explanation is given for the phenomena once credited to God?  God is pushed further from human existence.” (p. 118)

Bonhoeffer’s question boils down to this:  If by science man solves the problems of hunger and disease, if by education the problems of quilt, if by psychiatry the ills of the mind, if man’s other needs can be met what room is left for God? (p. 118)

“Through science man has discarded God’s role in the universe.  Questions can be answered “without recourse to the ‘working hypothesis’ called ‘God’” (p. 119)

If we cannot roll back the advances of science, the conclusions of philosophers, the desertion of religion by ethics and politics, where does this leave God?  Bonhoeffer answers:
“So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God.  God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him.  The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34).  The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually.  Before God and with God we live without God.  God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross.” (p. 119)

The Problem of Christian Worldliness:
As defined by Bonhoeffer it is:
“Living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes, and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world – watching with Christ in Gethsemane.  That I think is faith, that is Metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian (cf. Jeremiah 45).”  (p. 119-120)
Taking one’s duties and sufferings seriously means that we must exist for others.  Jesus is the “man for others,” and this type of relationship holds true for Christians.  Christianity is this-worldly for it sends a “man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way…”

The church’s work is to explain what it means to live in Christ.  It should have a courageous word against the vices of pride and encouragement for the elements of the good life.
source: http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=2737

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