Some preliminary thoughts to Chapter Seven of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography by Eberhard Bethge:
1. Do not cast Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Adolph Hitler. They are not hero and antihero. I say this because almost every reference to Bonhoeffer that I’ve seen this year does this to one degree or another, such as this youtube video. I don’t mean these folks aren’t well-intentioned. It’s just a stupidly easy characterization that takes us from our vantage point in history to theirs and back again without any real struggle!
2. 1933 is not the beginning of Bonhoeffer’s true significance. To begin here is to lose real sight of him.
3. Hitler’s rise to power, and the situation in Germany before him have local significance long before their universal significance.
4. We cannot judge history beginning with the Allied victory in 1945. I come to chapter seven with very mixed feelings because of my country’s appeal for the War on Terror framed on a revisionist history of WWII. American Christians, like Focus on the Family and Chuck Colson view Bonhoeffer as a model Christian with a simple eye toward his opposition to Adolph Hitler. I don’t see FoF or Colson with any real interest in Bonhoeffer’s theology up to this point. Bonhoeffer from this vantage point is our vicarious hero in the ideological war against evil. We’re on Dietrich/Jesus’ side against the Hitler/Devil side. How convenient. This really ticks me off. To really enter Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s world is to enter a losing situation, where pacifists and gypsies, gays and bible thumpers all suffer the same execution by hanging or firing squad. To try to score points for Jesus after the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust is blasphemous.
5. When Hitler rose to power on January 30, 1933 the Bonhoeffer family knew they were at war long before the start of World War. (Bethge, p. 257) This brings up an important question regarding what it means to be a State. If the citizens of a country are at war with their own leadership, how are they it’s citizens? And who will protect them? Before Hitler Germany had been attempting democracy since 1918. To really understand Bonhoeffer it is paramount to gain a working knowledge of Germany’s frustrated government after WWI. I have Germany Tried Democracy: A Political History of the Reich from 1918 to 1933 by S. William Halperin. For a simpler reference there’s Wikipedia’s entry for the Weimar Republic.
I am bemused and saddened by the way I hear Hitlerizations being bandied about in the news. I’ve heard President Bush referred to as a Hitler more times than I can count. I also hear Hitler characterized as a Christian. My hope is that these folks will take a serious look at the Church Struggle in it’s right context and really learn from history. Here in America we have our own crisis situation. References to fascism, as much as we would like to resonate with them, really don’t get us further in our own struggle. The worst part of our crisis is that we don’t feel it much at all. We are kept numb by so many things. Conversations are masterfully twisted into mute points. Victory and safety from the “right” side of history has the effect of stripping our need for God or the suffering servant Jesus Christ.