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?       


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A sad problem is that huge numbers of Amricans could not live with less luxury if they wanted to. They do not know how. Furthermore huge humbers of Amricans have made long term financial comitments. In order to make the payments on these long term fincial comitments they are counting on being able to maintain a financial position that is equal to or better than it is now.
The price of victory should be to live with less luxury. How can a equalibrium be achieved in which the people who have something to loose are left with something instead of nothing? How can an equalibrium be achieved in which those who do not have anything to lose anyways are not just sharing poverty with evreyone else but sharing dignity with everyone else?
Part of the answer lies in my political platform. I think the other part would lie in a home ecomomics education program. The exact details of this program are beyond my area of expertise though.

8/26/2015 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter, if you do not mind I would like to tell a short story, in two parts, since you have not had any new material in a while.
Part One
It is 2019 you are living in a warm oil exporting country. The country is 58% Muslim, 35% Christian, 5% Communist, and almost 2% Jewish, Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists make up the remainder. This semi fictitious country had been pretty peaceful until 2016. Then there was an attempt to overthrow the Peoples Revolutionary Independence Party (PRIP) led government which was corrupt but had won every election since 1920 when the French were driven out after WW1.

The attempted coup in 2016 was brutally suppressed. A list in the safe of a General who switched sides was found that identified all of the leading players in the conspiracy. The General did not have time to get rid of this list as he was trying to cover his ass because things were not going as easily as he thought that they should. The leadership consisted on one Jew, one Commie, three Muslims and eight Christians.

Well the PRIP leadership was alarmed that this movement was so disproportionately Christian so they passed a law proclaiming most Christian denominations in the country was being continuing criminal enterprises. The government began persecuting Christians. Each year over the past three years 2000 Christians had been sentenced to death in kangaroo courts. The members of these denominations had been practicing their faith in secret to avoid persecution and to avoid antagonizing the rulers of the country but this secrecy only made the rulers more paranoid.

One day a vice squad arrested two commies, who were also persecuted on account religious disdain, on sodomy charges. In order to cut a deal on sentencing they denounced you, a highly respected Pastor in your denomination, to the authorities. That night you were arrested and beaten and thrown in to jail.

During the night two children were brought in to your cell. Before you dozed off one of the children said, my father was once here. Tomorrow you will be asked why you do not go to the Mosque on Fridays to pray. If you say that you do not go because you are a Christian you will be sentenced to death. Your followers will storm the this jail in an attempt to save your life and that will set off a civil war in which 20 million people will die in one year, and we can not say who will win this civil war. You could also say that you do not go to the Mosque on Fridays because you pray at home on Fridays. That will touch off a chain of events in which the number of Christians who will be executed will rise from 2,000 per year to 20,000 per year. If you try not to answer your family will be brutally tortured in front you until you give one of these two answers.

Then the other child spoke. My brother is not telling you the whole story. If you answer that you pray at home on Fridays in five years another man will be in the position that you are now. At that time if he answers that he is a Christian a civil war will break out that will kill 40 million people and we can not tell you who will win. If he answers that he prays at home the number of Christians killed each year will go up to 200,000 each year. Five years later a third man will be in this position. If he answers that he is a Christian a civil war will break out that will kill 80 million people. If he answers that he prays at home the number of Christians who will be killed will go up to 2 million each year. With the fourth man five years after that he will be faced with a situation in which either 160 million will die in a one year war, or 20 million Christians will die each year like the Cambodians in the killing fields under Pol Pot.

10/15/2015 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part Two
I think that you can now see the pattern. Five years after that another man will be faced with a choice that will get 320 million people killed in one year or 200 million per year if one of the other men before him did not chose the path that led to civil war.

The sister added, there is no point in blaming Islam for this predicament. As in Christianity there are many Muslim denominations. The members of many of these denominations see the persecution of the Christians as a great injustice that is not at all Islamic in nature but purely political and economic in nature. Sadly these people are powerless to change to course of events because they do not have any influence in the state security organizations, who by the way are not completely staffed by Muslims anyways. But with just enough non Muslim collaborators to give them political cover. Would things be a different in a society that was 58% Christian and 35% Muslim and the predominately Christian leadership through a misreading of history thought that the Muslims were a threat to the legitimate rulers of the country?

Then the older brother said my sister did not tell you everything. The path that leads to civil war has only a 20% chance of ending in a long term harmonious peace. The boy added, as long as you do not answer the path to neither future can be set in motion. Yet, no preparations have been made for a third alternative because they have not been deemed necessary.

How long do you think that you can hold out with out giving an answer?

In the morning the guards enter your cell to wake you. But, you have not slept.
In the dim light you see that there are no children in your cell. The guards handcuff you, and blind fold you. They say, this morning we are taking you to a wheel where we are going to frame you with phoney questions.

You are thinking about what the children said. Should you believe any of their story about the types of forks in the road to the future that they were suggesting? Were these children planted there by the warden to get me to think that my options were limited in a way that they were not. Were they demons trying to convince me that God is not just at a time that I might question this fact because I am now unjustly imprisoned? Should I care if my words set off a chain reaction in which millions of people die? After all at each point in the chain other people making their own decisions can break the chain. Yet one could surmise that although they could break the chain they will not because they have been conditioned to think in certain ways which will make their choices inevitable. Could those children have said only what I actually already know but do not want to admit to myself?

You hear a door open in front of you. The guards stop and push you through the door. Someone grabs you by the arm as you enter this room. It is clear. Now is the time to make a decision that you have not had time to prepare for. At least you understand that this is an important decision.

A light goes on in your head. How many thousands of times have I made an important decision and I did not recognize that it was an important decision. I did not recognize that it was an important decision because there were no demons or aliens or angles or members of the state security apparatus there lobbying my brain to go one way or the other. I just did what seemed obvious at the time with out questioning my decision because it was obvious. Is it even possible to change this behavior? Will I live long enough to have a chance to answer that question?

10/15/2015 8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conditioning a key component of any military institution. Conditioning a key component of almost any institution. He who is not conditioned is certianly flabby.
He who is unconditioned is unworthy to hold a place in the community of the conditioned. An unconditioned person is a weak link. A team is only as strong as its weakest link.

It has come to our attention that you are leading secret Christian worship services at your auto repair shop on Saturday afternoons. How do you explain the presence of so many people at your repair shop each Saturday?
Really so dispite having only 3 cars in your shop nine families show up and stay for more than one hour?
Spreading Christianity is a very serious charge. Spreading sedition is a capital offense. You can show your repentence by cooperation. You can tell us the names of everyone who attends your services. There is no need to withhold any names. We know all of their names already. By giving us their names you would only be signaling your willingness to cooperate. It will save us all some unpleasant activities. Why are you hesitating?
That was not so hard now was it? In fact it was to easy. You will have to do better. Are cause is just. When we took control of this country it was stuck in the 18th century ecomically and socially. The French Mafia exploited our women.
Prostitution and pornography were rampant. We have not won every election for almost 100 years because we have not delivered what was expected by the voters.
We have given them what they expected and they have justly rewarded us.
Despite our victories some have conspired against the will of the divinely inspired leadership of this country and the majority of the voters who recognize exceptional leadership when they see it. Yet you do nothing to defend this society from people who would subvert this nations government for the benifit of a few colonial special interests.
Because God is merciful you get a chance to redeem yourself. We want you to wear a wire and gather incriminating evidence against a person that we believe is plotting against us. It should be very easy for. The person is not even a Christian, she is a Buddhist. She had been a college professor but her comments insulting the King of Saudi Arabia forced us to remove her. We believe that she is plotting a revenge attack on a universtiy dean. There is no need to answer at this moment. You can sleep on it at our expense. Have your answer ready in the morning.

10/23/2015 3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part One
If attempt to flee what are our chances of making it across the border?
If we do make it across the border are lives will most likely still be terrible.
Every country has difficulty caring for their own people. Which government wants to see an added difficulty show up on their doorstep?
I could head for the Riese Mountains and join what few anti government rebels are there but where would my family go?
I could accept Islam whole heartedly and prove my acceptence through my behavior.
Has God not asked to much of me already? Is that really not the path that he showing me? One one hand as a Christian I sacrifice myself and my family. On the other hand I can choose Islam and recieve the protection of the Islamic State of the Great River. Of course there are those who say that it is not God pointing me to Islam it is Satan. If I chose to abandon the Christian community I am chosing to live in the kingdom of Satan after death and suffer in fires of hell for all eternity. God after all had his plan concieved before the land and the water were seperated and if I chose Islam it is clear that I will not be among the few the humble and the ones chosen by God to live in his kingdom. God said that he was jelous he never said that he was reasonable or easy to get along with. It is said that he is merciful but apparently treason to his cause goes to far and is beyond mercy. Of course I have heard that there are people who proclaim that all this babble about a final judgement is pure delusion. There are those who call themselves Universalists who say that the death of Christ has destroyed the fires of hell and no one not the Muslim or the Buddhist or even John Wayne Gacy will feel the pain of damnation. If they are right then God will certianly under the circumstances that I find myself in accept my embrace of Islam.
That could by us time. We sacrifice other families so that we may live a while longer. Then when we are no longer under suspciion we emmigrate with some money in our pockets to a land that would be glad to have us come because we bring financial resources with us. The times have changed. We must learn to adopt to the new situation. I would ask anyone who could read my thoghts. What are the alternatives? To clearly spell them out the first alternative is to die for beliefs that we have held and that our fathers and grandparents have held that have worked well for us for centuries. The second alternative is to betray those old beliefs in greater and greater fashion each day. When that happens I can imagine that it will be easy because with each day my confidence will grow that the new way is the best way because not only am I alive but my family is alive. Now many Christians and all communists will remind me that death would be much easier to bear than living under the Taliban. But our leaders are not like the Taliban. At least not yet. One can imagine that they will get there. So, we do not want to be living here when that happens

10/23/2015 5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part two
Could I have avoided this situtation? Should I have seen the signs? Were there any clues that the situation was changing? Even if some event seemed totally out of place it would have been explained to us in a way that made some sense. Any alternaive explination would have been dismissed as paranoid speculation. Christians certianly have speculated frequently and those speculations have usually been wrong. My own speculations have ended in disaster. I invested 20,000 dollars in high tech stocks the day before that market crashed. At the time I invested I thought that I was acting responsibly. Is that the bottom line? As long as I can say, I thought that I was acting responsibly am innocent in the eyes of God or the eyes of history or the eyes of any other being that might be watching or studying our behavior?
Perhaps it was irresponsible to reveal that I invested 20,000 dollars. The State Security Agency might wonder were that money came from? Was it legally earned? Was it morally earned? They are clearly totally clueless though that I am the guy who robbed the casino near the river back in the days when casinos were still legal. Could the Buddhists be right about Karma?

10/23/2015 5:04 PM  

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