Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book review: Strange Glory, a Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is especially relevant to American Christianity, because US Christianity is so like the German churches of the 1930s in its adulation of the world, combined with its sense of entitlement to worldly privilege and its deference to nationalism. 

What I find encouraging in the story is that Bonhoeffer bore faithful witness to the gospel even though he was emotionally immature, a brilliant intellectual but in many ways with no sense.  He had earned a doctorate by age 21, but he was financially dependent on his parents and often lived at home until the Nazis locked him up.

Significantly, he learned a great deal of the gospel from his time in black churches in the United States.  Not that black churches are, or were, in very good shape.  Indeed, most black preachers opposed the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, or at least had serious reservations.  The imperative to suck up and be respectable was  by no means absent, which is what caused Malcolm X to reject the Christianity of the black church in disgust.  But Bonhoeffer found more reality and discipleship there than in the German churches or American white churches. 

Although Bonhoeffer was a prominent theologian, he could seldom endure to go to church on Sunday - which certainly reminds me of myself.  Even though I am far from being a prominent theologian, I am serious about the faith and more of a theologian than most that I know, and what I've learned in the Bible makes what generally happens in churches insufferable.  It feels good that Bonhoeffer had the same experience.

In the seminary at Finkenwalde from 1935 until 1937, when the Gestapo closed it, Bonhoeffer and his small community learned about Life Together, the book he wrote from it.  His preaching, in contrast to the histrionics of Hitler, aimed to be free of rhetorical manipulation.  I would like to encounter a church some day that even makes that its aim, never mind attains it.

Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1939, when he could have spent the war in the United States.  I wonder if I will stay in the United States, with my eyes open, if God has me do so, when I might be of service elsewhere, or even if I should.

Like Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, faithful Christians must desire the defeat of our own country in its violent aggression around the world, even though that will bring us considerable personal discomfort.  After all, American affluence rests on the domination and plunder of the rest of the world, indeed through the device of debt that will never be repaid, as it was with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk.  The price of justice will be to live with a lot less luxury.  Are we up for that?       

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Greece followup

As I thought likely, the Germans followed the path they took with Yugoslavia in 1941 and crushed them, and Tsipras caved.

However, his coalition is coming apart over this betrayal, and it remains that the debt cannot be repaid, and therefore won't be.  And the greater significance is this: the whole business has made it clear that the European Union and the single currency are not about the ideals of a united Europe for the benefit of its people; it's a wealth pump from the poorer south to the north, notably Germany, and a design to makes sure that the banks are cared for at the expense of people.

It turns out that through the Euro, Germany has largely established Hitler's dream of the New Order, Europe dominated by Germany and economically integrated with German industry - without war and without killing people, which does, incidentally, remind us that war is often not the smart way to get what you want.

However, Germany's victory in this matter, by exposing the nature of its regime, has undermined its legitimacy.  Once that happens to you, you don't last.  Mark Kurlansky, writing 35 years later in August 2003, persuasively traced the collapse of the Soviet empire to the revelation of its nature in its invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.   It deserves a careful rereading today:


Written in August 2003, five months after the US had invaded Iraq in the same manner, and with the same lying excuses with which Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the piece predicted that this disgraceful act would have a similar effect on the US empire.  And so it is proving to be, especially because, unlike the Soviet Union at the time, the US has doubled down on its folly, doing all it can since its Iraq adventure to make clear to the world that the US is indeed a rogue state.

The crushing of the Greek government's resistance, as Germany did to Yugoslavia in 1941, has already led to the beginning of the breakup of the Syriza coalition.  Whoever comes out on top will somehow have to follow through as Tsipras failed to do, because reality cannot be repealed.  The plunder of the Greek economy to pay the banks just isn't sustainable, because the resulting collapse of the economy precludes the economic activity and resulting tax revenue required to pay.  The debt, which is largely odious anyway, must be repudiated.  That's arithmetic, not a policy question. 

We've already seen here the fulfillment of the proverb, "The borrower is the lender's slave."  We'll soon be reminded that it is written again, "The cruel man troubles his own flesh."  It would be a very different world if rulers paid any attention to the counsel of the Bible!