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Archive for September, 2017

Thanks to my friend John Matthews, a small publishing house in Minneapolis has expressed interest in my Bonhoeffer manuscript. I’m reviewing the text now to get it ready to send off. Kinda’ scary!

My purpose in writing the book was to look at Bonhoeffer’s life and writings through evangelical eyes (though I’m no longer sure what the word “evangelical” means). I’ve tried to do a careful job of showing that Bonhoeffer’s last works (Ethics and Letters and Papers) were no more radical than his earliest writings, dating back at least to 1928. I hope I’ve also effectively shown that even in his most radical ideas, Bonhoeffer (though not being an evangelical) was not far from the best of American evangelicalism.

For example, when I first became a Christian in the early 60s, there was an idea I heard often: “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.” I liked it then and I like it now. It is not substantially unlike Bonhoeffer’s idea of “religionless Christianity.” It’s so close, in fact, that I am actually puzzled that evangelicals haven’t been excited about it.

Eric Metaxas did little to help, mouthing the old view that Discipleship and Life Together are good books while claiming Bonhoeffer would be embarrassed to know that anyone takes seriously his last works. I hope the day comes when Metaxas realizes what a foolish view he has propounded.

I’ll let you know if my book ever makes it into print!

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By far, my most popular blog entries have been the two on Bonhoeffer’s brief paragraph on stupidity. As I was working my way through Bonhoeffer’s writings in my blog, they just happened to come up during last year’s campaign season. More than a year old, they are still getting hits.

I think the reason is that, in our polarized situation in the US, each side finds the other to be blind, dim-witted, unreasonable, and just plain stupid. Disagreement has become cause not for compromise but for condemnation.

“Against stupidity,” noted 18th century German scholar Friedrich Schiller, “the gods themselves contend in vain.” Bonhoeffer’s point almost precisely! I say “almost” because Bonhoeffer was speaking of a specific kind of stupidity, that of the blind followers of a tyrant. It is a major theme in Bonhoeffer’s thinking that there is no morality without responsibility. We cannot claim to be moral people if we are letting someone else be responsible for us.

He wasn’t speaking, of course, of those who are truly needy and cannot take care of themselves. Instead he has in mind those who are willfully stupid, who voluntarily turn over responsibility for their lives to someone else. He was surrounded by such people as Germans by the millions came to view loyalty to Hitler as the highest value in life. If Hitler said something, it was accepted uncritically as true. If Hitler called for a certain action (such as the destruction of the Jews) it must be the right thing to do.

If you had asked a Hitler loyalist whether he was being morally responsible, he would have insisted that he was being more moral than ever in his life. Until it was too late, most Germans in the 1930s really believed they were doing the right thing in entrusting their own sense of right and wrong to Hitler.

Thirty years later Martin Luther King Jr. commented that “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Those who are fundamentally irresponsible are pleased with themselves. And they are very dangerous, as Schiller and Bonhoeffer taught us, because they will not see reason or value truth.

So, in our political situation, about a third of American adults trust Trump, even though he has lied more times since announcing his candidacy than anyone can count. They are sure he is trying to do the right thing, even though his life story proves beyond any possible doubt that he is crooked, deceitful, manipulative, and immeasurably greedy. They don’t mind that he is blatantly using his position to enhance his own wealth because it just shows what a good businessman he is. Having surrendered their own judgment and their own sense of responsibility to him, they will go to any lengths to defend the indefensible in him.

That is willful stupidity and it cannot be countered by rational argument. But it can be countered by prayer, if only the faithful will learn how to pray more deeply than the usual, “Please help me, Lord, to get over this cold.” If only we will learn to pray. . .

Having read this far, you’ve seen what a jam I’m in. I bemoan the fact that in our day we tend to think people are stupid if they differ radically from us. And yet here I am, thinking it is obvious that Trump, like Hitler before him, has made his followers into mindless loyalists. I don’t suppose you’ll let me off the hook even though I’m confessing my sin, will you?

 

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