Saturday, February 04, 2006

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Born 100 Years Ago, Feb. 4, 1906

Not astonishingly, Bonhoeffer has been written about in First Things many times over the years. Here's your easy portal link.

To cherry-pick:

In Bonhoeffer's view, the radical-whether Nazi, Marxist, or of some other apocalyptic obsession-always hates the created world. "The radical cannot forgive God His creation. He has fallen out with the created world. . . . It is Christ's gift to the Christian that he should be reconciled with the world as it is, but now this reconciliation is accounted a betrayal and denial of Christ. It is replaced by bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for men and the world." He repeatedly asserts that "our responsibility is not infinite but limited." Each of us is "appointed to the concrete and therefore limited responsibility which knows the world as being created, loved, condemned, and reconciled by God."

Bonhoeffer was no simplistic basher of modernity. He understood the impossibility of undoing the Enlightenment and recovering the premodern world. But he believed that we could tame and chasten modern profanations-including the notion that human beings are sovereign masters, unencumbered in their sway. The key seems to be a recognition of the ironic reversal that follows the enthronement of reason. The Enlightenment proclamation of man as the rational master and unlimited sovereign of his own fate contrasts oddly with Nazi invocations of "the irrational, of blood and instinct, of the beast of prey in man," but the Nazi invocations succeeded, in part, primarily because appeals to reason, human rights, culture, and humanity-appeals that "until very recently had served as battle slogans against the Church"-could not succeed in Nazi Germany. For such appeals depended for their success upon a culture upheld by the very Church that had been weakened and compromised. The uninhibited "Will to Power" that constitutes totalitarianism is born from sovereign and unlimited reason, but reason itself gets battered and bloodied when sovereignty goes too far-when it refuses to acknowledge a limit.

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