Monday, April 9, 2007

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian, martyr (2)

The line breaks are mine, for easier and slower reading.

"What is bothering me incessantly
is the question what Christianity really is,
or indeed who Christ really is, for us today.
The time when people could be told everything by means of words,
whether theological or pious,
is over,
and so is the time of inwardness and conscience –
and that means the time of religion in general.
We are moving toward a completely religionless time;
people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more.
Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’
do not in the least act up to it,
and so they presumably mean something quite different by

…if our final judgment must be that
the Western form of Christianity, too,
was only a preliminary stage
to a complete absence of religion,
what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church?
How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well?
Are there religionless Christians?
If religion is only a garment of Christianity
–and even this garment has looked very different at different times—
then what is a religionless Christianity?

Barth, who is the only one to have started along this line of thought,
did not carry it to completion, but arrived at a positivism of revelation,
which in the last analysis is essentially a restoration.
For the religionless working man (or any other person)
nothing decisive is gained here.
The questions to be answered would surely be:
What do a church, a community,
a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life
in a religionless world?
How do we speak of God
—without religion,
i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions
of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on?
How do we speak
(or perhaps we cannot now even ‘speak’ as we used to)
in a ‘secular’ way about God?
In what way are we ‘religionless-secular’ Christians,
in what way are we the ek-klesia
[Bonhoeffer wrote this word in the original Greek],
those who are called forth
[the literal meaning of ekklesia, the church],
not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view
as specially favoured,
but rather as belonging wholly to the world?
In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion,
but something quite different,
really the Lord of the world.
But what does that mean?
What is the place of worship and prayer
in a religionless situation?

… I often ask myself
why a ‘Christian instinct’ often draws me more
to the religionless people than to the religious,
by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention,
but, I might almost say, ‘in brotherhood.’ …
Religious people speak of God
when human knowledge
(perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think )
has come to an end,
or when human resources fail
–in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene,
either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems,
or as strength in human failure
–always, that is to say, exploiting human weakness as human boundaries.
Of necessity, that can go on
only till people can by their own strength
push these boundaries somewhat further out,
so that God becomes superfluous as a deus ex machina.
I’ve come to be doubtful of talking about any human boundaries
(is even death, which people now hardly fear,
and is sin, which they now hardly understand,
still a genuine boundary today?).
It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously in this way
to reserve some space for God;
I should like to speak of God
not on the boundaries but at the centre,
not in weakness but in strength;
and therefore not in death and guilt
but in human life and goodness.
As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent
and leave the insoluble unsolved.
Belief in the resurrection
is not the ‘solution’ of the problem of death.
God's ‘beyond’ is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties.
The transcendence of epistemological theory
has nothing to do with the transcendence of God.
God is beyond in the midst of our life.
The church stands,
not at the boundaries where human powers give out,
but in the middle of the village."

from a letter to Eberhard Bethge written in Tegel Prison, 30 April 1944

"Today you will be baptized a Christian.
All those great ancient words of the Christian proclamation
will be spoken over you,
and the command of Jesus Christ to baptize
will be carried out on you,
without your knowing anything about it.
But we are once again
being driven right back to the beginning of our understanding.
Reconciliation and redemption,
regeneration and the Holy Spirit,
love of our enemies,
cross and resurrection,
life in Christ and Christian discipleship –
all of these things are so difficult and so remote
that we hardly venture any more to speak of them.
In the traditional words and acts
we suspect that there may be something quite new and revolutionary,
though we cannot as yet grasp or express it.
That is our own fault.
Our church,
which has been fighting in these years only for its self-preservation,
as though that were an end in itself,
is incapable of taking the word of reconciliation and redemption
to mankind and the world.
Our earlier words
are therefore bound to lose their force and cease,
and our being Christians today
will be limited to two things:
prayer and righteous action among men.
All Christian thinking, speaking and organizing
must be born anew out of this prayer and action.
By the time you have grown up,
the church’s form will have changed greatly.
We are not yet out of the melting-pot,
and any attempt to help the church prematurely
to a new expansion of its organization
will merely delay its conversion and purification.
It is not for us to prophesy the day (though the day will come)
when we will once more be called
so to utter the word of God
that the world will be changed and renewed by it.
It will be a new language,
perhaps quite non-religious,
but liberating and redeeming –
as was Jesus’ language;
it will shock people
and yet overcome them by its power;
it will be a new righteousness and truth,
proclaiming God’s peace with humanity
and the coming of God's kingdom."

from "Thoughts on the Day of the Baptism of Dietrich Wilhelm Rüdiger Bethge " - written in Tegel Prison, May 1944

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