According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Idealisms of Pacifism: Its Force of Argument as a Singular Ethic for All of Life's Dilemmas

 
 
 
Continued from earlier posts -
 
 


By way of a conclusion to this series of discussions, I find in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ethical dilemma regarding his resistance, and possible active subversiveness to German atrocities during World War II, a natural, inherent repulsion to the evil he saw everywhere about. Bonhoeffer, along with several friends and relatives, elected to work for the German military agency Abwehr, second in power and rank to the German SS. As a conscientious objector to the war he had hoped to avoid killing opposing combatants on fields of battle. He would soon discover, however, the intricate complicities of his choice to be no less a terrible burden than the one he had chosen to avoid. Here, in Dietrich's life story we have a recent Christian example of a German Lutheran pastor wishing to minister to his disciples and congregants, and prevented from doing so by an oppressive, dictatorial government at war with itself as much as it was at war with the world. The information Dietrich soon discovered would overwhelm his gentle soul for the misery it led to and the lives it would take.

As Germany pressed on in its campaigns of terror and destruction Bonhoeffer steadily found himself working for an evil oppressor that required his ethical response - one more than simply accepting his role within it, without some kind of reciprocal participation against it. His conflict lied with Jesus' commands in the Sermon on the Mount which he took very seriously (basically, to do no harm, to help and assist where needed, to love and forgive seventy times seven). His further conflict was whether the Kingdom of God could practically become a reality within sinful mankind, to which Christian (Niebuhr) realism had said, "No." The best one can do is to attempt to live Jesus' commands and wait for His return. At which point you begin to ask yourself just what can be my response while on this good earth gone bad?

Consequently, pacifist groups look to Bonhoeffer as a Christian martyr who stood by his principles to love and do no harm to others, respecting their rights and warrants, whereas other pacifist and non-pacifist groups alike broke Bonhoeffer's idealism down into a scale of moral considerations requiring varying responses of non-violence, non-aggression, passive resistance, dove-like street campaigns and marches, sit-ins, etc, just short of active violence. Moving further away from pacifism's ideals would next come militant groups with their own observations of whether one should do nothing in the face of oppression as people are harmed. Advising the right to defend oneself and homeland. How, and where, this could be done. And presenting historical accounts of societal extinctions when no practical resistance or defense was initiated on behalf of oneself, one's families, clans, tribes, and faith.

Hence, the question, "What did Dietrich Bonhoeffer do?" Did he do nothing? Or did he so well hide his own thoughts on this subject that even his closest confidants could discern no visible move away from his preferred position of pacifism. Regardless, Bonhoeffer was implicated as a double agent in a plot of conspiracy against the Fuhrer and was hanged as an alleged assassin. His biographer stated that Dietrich did eventually choose to actively resist without actually participating in a plot of assassination of Adolf Hitler while contemporary arguments are stating that though Dietrich was conflicted, he did not move from his earlier beliefs of living out the Sermon on the Mount, and showed no inclination to join in a plot to kill the Fuhrer.

My own further question is to ask whether Jesus' Kingdom ethics necessarily entail pacifism or not. To which I think the further answer is dictated by the circumstances one finds himself or herself in, along with one's personal abilities and temperament, societal connections, and the kind of needs requiring action. Within any given situation there is a right way and a wrong way to approach a problem. Hollywood has made an industry of these ethical dilemmas and I do not expect that there can be any one given answer(s) to the depth of any circumstance requiring our response. Like King David we may become bloody in the battle and forbidden the desire of our heart to build a temple for our God. Like King Solomon we might have peace all about us so that a temple might be built. Even as in the prophets examples they wished to tear a profane temple down, to be then rebuilt by hands under Ezra and Nehemiah. Ultimately, with Jesus' incarnation that temple was both striped of its authority and rebuilt as a spiritual temple through the cross of Calvary. Every era, every people, every societal response requires something different in its time. Ethics. Its what one does or doesn't do even as they can do or wish not to do. That's the long and short of it.

Thus, we see agencies such as International Justice MinistriesSave the Whale organizations, Stop Hunger movements, and an endless variety of domestic and international anti-civil war liberation agencies attempting to protect the poor and innocent from the harms and wickedness of gangs, tyrants, and governmental oppression. Even at home, here in America, the Christian church is actively debating to what extent it should become involved in civil governance and the care of its citizenry in health, housing, clothing, feeding, education, and industry. It is the eternal question and one not so easily answered by simply looking at the response of one man, or a group of men, perilously attempting to contribute practical ways to stop Nazism from its evil deeds and horrendous abuses.
 
And so, whether or not we can answer Bonhoeffer's state of mind, or in what form he conducted his brand of pacifism throughout Hitler's homeland genocides, the better question to ask may be how we might re-enact Jesus' commands of Kingdom ethics now as especially presented in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Practically, it seems to start with the little things in life between one another so that once a Kingdom attitude is in place at the ground level between neighbor and friend, ally and enemy, it might grow-and-enlarge like the proverbial mustard seed to encompass world ethics, civil governance, and political denouement in proportionate response to our ability to enact its formidable severity and auspicious hope.
 
Theoretically, it is hoped that love, grace, good judgment, and wisdom prevail in the face of wickedness and evil. Pragmatically I doubt it will ever be as simple as we pray and hope. The capacity of the human nature for sin and pride is rooted deep and strong. Our simplest relationships with one another seem a jumble of turmoil and brokenness. Even so, according to God's commands through His Son Jesus, who is our Savior and resurrected Lord, we must try with the ability and gifts that we are given.
 
To that end, church theologians are practically discussing what they think they know about a humble German citizen/pastor (Bonhoeffer) caught on the horns of a dilemma in the face of overwhelming hate and evil. Mark Nation (professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, Virginia) began the discussion by saying Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused any involvement in his group's plot of assignation of Adolf Hitler according to his Lutheran beliefs in living out Jesus' Kingdom commands. Roger Olson (professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University) challenges this thought, using Bonhoeffer's closest remaining confident, and biographer, Bethge, as to his testimony that Dietrich pitched his pacifism to the winds upon seeing Hitler's bloody atrocities being committed everywhere about his beloved homeland. Now, today, comes a measured response by Scot McKnight, NT professor of Theology at Northern Seminary in Lombard, Illinois, in restatement of the Mennonite view that there may be a bit of truth between both ideas, but a truth that we can never know so cautious one needed to live within those perilous times. As such, McKnight concludes that Dietrich Bonhoeffer remained a committed pacifist regardless of the pointed testimony of his confident and biographer Bethge, who in fact says Dietrich had changed his mind and did reluctantly enter into a conspiracy pact to kill Hitler.

To us non-Mennonites who hold a large sympathy to this Christian way of thinking about the idea of pacifism, we must reason (a) Dietrich's fatalist response should he not have given in to his desire to stop a deadly German regime even against (b) his purported meager participation in an underground group of political subversives who were eventually found hidden within the German military intelligence group Abwehr. Whether Dietrich dithered in a kind of moral impasse; or attempted some kind of personal resistance; or whether he was appropriately guilty by association by identifying with an underground group of patriots actively plotting Hitler's removal is to ask something we may never be able to answer. It is a question of futility lost to a life martyred for his Christian faith striving to serve his faithful church of disciples of his beloved homeland gone to wreck and ruin.

And so, we must ask, was Dietrich "Guilty of doing nothing?" Hopefully not. And if he was, "Does it matter?" Not in the slightest because despite all the back-and-forth that will result between these forthcoming discussions, it still is laid upon the Church today, and upon us specifically, to determine what it means to love one's neighbor as oneself. We might use helpful sources of information (though Dietrich's biography in this regard seems murky at best) to help assimilate an appropriate respect and response to God's Kingdom ethic. But at the last, where evil and wickedness is present it seems incumbent upon the Church to make an appropriate response rather than to look away, or run from its demand under the cloth of Christ, that it might provide defense to the defenseless, help to the helpless, and protection of life in general to any evil present.
 
What place justice in the face of crime and violence? And, what place judgment to abused children, the weak, or the victim for crimes they receive at the hands of wicked men? For me, my support will lie in producing more honest policemen, compassionate social workers, counselors, teachers, and responsibly elected, and ethical, officials, through the use of every social tool at hand to produce a governance of people that may be free to pursue life, liberty, and justice for all. Discipline, enforcement, and judgment will be necessary, but the better course is to attempt to get ahead of the generations of youth before they are lost.

Naïve? Maybe. Necessary? Aye, verily. If one doesn't reach out to every succeeding generation in every way possible by whatever means possible than we have given up and given in to injustice's heavy mantle. The Kingdom of God may be an ideal but it can also become a reality when we submit to the Holy Spirit with all the resources He has given to us within ourselves, our community, and nation. May God give us the humble wisdom and ability to thus obey and create God's Kingdom here amongst men by His Spirit's help. Where tolerance and freedom is respected, irenic debate necessary, and appropriate force used in measured response to all injustice.
 
R.E. Slater
October 28, 2013
edited, November 1, 2013


* * * * * * * * * * *


Pacifism: A Place to Begin

Our antithesis on the lex talionis is a watershed when it comes to how to live out the Sermon on the Mount. Luther has his followers and contended famously that the problem here is the failure to “to distinguish properly between the secular and the spiritual, between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world.”[1] Some of the saddest lines I have ever read by a Christian, let alone one of Luther’s status, are these:[2] 
[In speaking of “holy martyrs”…] When they were called to arms even by infidel emperors and lords, they went to war. In all good conscience they slashed and killed, in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen. Yet they did not sin against this text. For they were not doing this as Christians, for their own persons, but as obedient members and subjects, under obligation to a secular person and authority. But in areas where you are free and without any obligation to such a secular authority, you have a different rule, since you are a different person. 
Utter nonsense. Another Lutheran responds: “But this distinction between a private person and bearer of an office as normative for my behavior is foreign to Jesus…. ‘Private’ and ‘official’ spheres are all completely subject to Jesus’ command. The word of Jesus claimed them undividedly.” Is it realistic? Of course Jesus knows the reality of sin and “Jesus calls evil evil and that is just why he speaks to his disciples in this way.”[3] This command, as Bonhoeffer routinely observes, is anchored in the cross that Jesus himself bore. Which is why Bonhoeffer can also say “only those who there, in the cross of Jesus, find faith in the victory over evil can obey his command.”[4] One of the main thrusts of the ethic of Jesus is the radicalization of an ethic so that we live consistently, from the so-called “private” to the “public” spheres. There is for Jesus no distinction between a secular life and spiritual life: we are always to follow him. His ethic is an Ethic from Beyond. But others, in words not so wrong-headed as Luther’s, have continued Luther’s personal vs. public or spiritual vs. secular distinction when it comes to ethics.[5] 
Thus, Peter Craigie, himself a Mennonite: “Contrast the different spirit in the … teaching of Jesus, though the context there has do with personal behavior and attitudes and not with the courts of law.”[6] Oddly, the lex talionis antithesis is a public (not private) framework and that is what Jesus is stopping. Although he is exploring rather than expressing his view dogmatically, Dale Allison approaches this Lutheran view when he says Jesus is “speaking about interpersonal relations and declaring that it is illegitimate for this followers to apply the lex talionis to their private problems.”[7] And I would add “And to their public problems as well.” Along the same line Charles Quarles can somehow manage to convince himself of this: “No evidence suggests that Jesus intended to contradict the lex talionis of the Mosaic law.”[8] Let the word be as rugged as it really is; its ruggedness carries its rhetorical power to call his disciples into the kingdom where retaliation will end. 
The question that confronts any serious reading of the Sermon on the Mount is this: Would Jesus have seen a difference between a kingdom ethic for his followers in their so-called private life but a different ethic in public? I doubt it. Why? Because Jesus’ Messianic Ethic, an Ethic for his community of followers, is an Ethic from Above and Beyond. The question every reader of the Sermon must ask is this: Does that world begin now, or does it begin now in private but not in public, or does it begin now for his followers in both private and to the degree possible in the public realm as well?
 

[1] Luther, Sermon, 105.
[2] Luther, Sermon, 110.
[3] D. Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 134-135.
[4] D. Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 136.
[5] Calvin’s form of the two realms thinking (Christ vs. Caesar) is not as severe as Luther’s; see Calvin, Sermon, 1.193-195; Hagner, 1.131-132; Turner, 174.
[6] P. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 270 n. 21.
[7] Allison, Sermon, 93.
[8] C. Quarles, Sermon, 146.


 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abwehr

The Continuing Debate to Bonhoeffer's German Resistance and Its Implications for Jesus' "Kingdom Ethics"

Bonhoeffer: Was he really involved in the attempt to kill Hitler?

[1] For the “German Christian” (technical expression) movement, see S. Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
[2] E. Bethge, Biography, 457.
[3]Ethics (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; ed. I. Tödt; trans. R. Krauss; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), and Letters and Papers from Prison Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; ed. C. Gremmels; trans. I. Best; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010).
[4] For more continuity in the relationship of Discipleship to the later Ethics, see G. Stassen, A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 175-195. Because of the complexity of the relationship of the middle period to the later period and various versions of sections in Ethics, I have avoided discussion of Bonhoeffer’s Ethics.  Yet it is important to observe that Bonhoeffer did not move from youthful, Platonic idealism in Discipleship to mature realism in the conspiracy years. Instead, it was a (tragic) shift from kingdom realities to this-wordliness realities.
[5] For a full study, the one indispensable biography is the mammoth work of E. Bethge, Biography, e.g., 628, 675-678, 720-721. For Bonhoeffer’s exploratory statement on the relation of church and state, D. Bonhoeffer, Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940-1945 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works; ed. J. Glenthøj; trans. L.E. Dahill; Minneapolis Fortress, 2006), 502-528.
[6]Letters and Papers from Prison, 486.
[7]Letters and Papers from Prison, 52.
 
* * * * * *

Because I am not a Bonhoeffer specialist, nor have I read his entire works in chronological order ever in my life, I thought it would be wise to check out what I had written with a Bonhoeffer expert. I chose Mark Thiessen Nation, professor at Eastern Mennonite University, and a leading Bonhoeffer (and Yoder) scholar. We had some exchanges, included in which was his telling me that he was at work with two others on a book about Bonhoeffer that would seek to show that Bonhoeffer was not in fact involved in any plot to assassinate Hitler. In other words, that he was not involved in the conspiracy to eliminate the Führer.
 
I was a bit stunned by his comments, not the least of which reasons was that I didn’t know how else to read the man’s life. But out of respect for Mark’s work, I chose to eliminate the above section and to modify the commentary wherever I had assumed this scheme of reading Bonhoeffer in three stages. The most important element of this scheme was that Bonhoeffer changed his mind from being a pacifist to being a (Niebuhrian) realist. I reasoned, however, that if Nation was going to prove that theory wrong, it would be wise for me to await publication of his book before I both came to a more complete understanding and published anything about it.
 
Mark Thiessen Nation, along with Anthony G. Siegrist and Daniel P. Umbel, have now published their work: Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2013). They ask if Bonhoeffer was involved in the conspiracy to kill Hitler. They conclude he was not. In part two of this review I will sketch their views and respond to their proposal.
 
 

* * * * * * * * * * * 
 
 
Bonhoeffer and the Conspiracy