The question has popped up repeatedly lately about how Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have responded to the War on Terror. I just posted some comments in the Facebook group, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, under the discussion question “Current Situation.” I’m reposting them here because it’s my attempt to think out loud on some stuff. What do y’all think?
Bonhoeffer did strive for peace. He visited America the second time, in part, to avoid being conscripted along with his fellow students (and Eberhard Bethge eventually) to fight on the front lines. He publicly opposed war in his ecumenical papers and in his London sermons. But he opposed it theologically, and there is an important difference there. We could call him a theological pacifist but not a political pacifist. Political pacifism meant immediate imprisonment in his day, so public political pacifists generally fled the country. The Bruderhof did this. I think that it would be fair to see his part in the Resistance as two things.
1. A desire to end the war quickly.
2. A sinful human act (tyrranicide) that was nevertheless redemptive in nature. Bonhoeffer considered himself part of a group acting on behalf of Germany. The act was saying “We are Germans who understand that the only way to act in behalf of our people at this point is to remove this leader who has become a Misleader. He has succeeded in destroying our nation. The only way forward is to remove him from power.”
Bonhoeffer did not view his participation as special, holy, or somehow not sinful. Neither did he see himself as setting a precedent to be used as justification for future circumstances. This is what makes using him as an example difficult. He wrote to friends and family from Prison who did not share his same Calling, with all the same love and eagerness to share in their lives, as the time before he got involved in the Conspiracy.
He helped his twin sister escape to England. There were other ministers whom he respected who were imprisoned and killed following very different paths. That was fine for them. He respected them for it, but neither did he doubt for a moment his own Call. When the plot failed, he accepted the situation.
It is important to see the nuance in Dietrich’s particular circumstance. There are no easy corollaries to our own.
But what we can say for Bonhoeffer is that he was awake during his times. He did not see his faith as otherworldly. Nazism came to power for theologians who we would consider both Conservative and Liberal. Neither theological programs seemed to possess what was needed to counter this political system. The system seemed to be just what everyone needed.
This is where I think we find our real basis for our times. Late Capitalism and Liberal Democracy are both systems that no political party and no church in America seems to publicly see as being threats to the gospel. For this reason, consumerism is something we cry about, but can’t see as largely infecting us without immunity. War is something we complain about and even protest, but we largely accept that it’s something we have to live with.
In our liberal Democracy we run this Iraq War as though it were just an extension of our business capabilities. The Corporate world has so infected everything else that what we use to see as Sovereign rights of State (like Iraq’s right to revoke Blackwater’s license) matters very little. The FBI can collect a crime scene in Iraq, fly it all back to America to reconstruct it, and analyze the data without fear of acting outside jurisdiction. This is War in the twenty first century. We don’t even have to feel we’re at War at all.