There are few modern-day religious figures who are more revered for their widely reputed martyrdom as German Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed reportedly for his complicity in a plot involving his brother to assassinate Hitler during World War Two. Many competing groups have tried appropriating his martyrdom and charisma for their own ends.
Theologian Erik Metaxas’ biography (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy) has claimed Bonhoeffer for mainline Christianity, although oddly never mentioned is Bonhoeffer propounded religion-less Christianity and Marxist liberation theology ethics. Evangelical Christians have embraced Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer and written their own (Renate Wind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel). Conversely, Liberal Christians dubiously claim him as their figurehead but strangely not for his silence on Communist genocides (Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
I have read all of Bonhoeffer’s works directly and some of his biographies. None of the biographies shed much light on the following:
- He was not initially arrested by the Germans for treason but for financially exploiting Jews who were trying to emigrate to Austria and embezzling government funds to smuggle Jews out of the country and avoiding the military draft. Bonhoeffer was a courier to his brother who was directly involved in the failed Hitler assassination plot.
- Bonhoeffer fled to the US to avoid military service and refused to fight Stalinist Communism that had mass murdered 20 to 60 million people before WWII. Biographer Eberhard Bethge (Bonhoeffer: A Biography) denied that Bonhoeffer was a silent bystander to Communist genocides, but Bonhoeffer never mentions Communism in any of the works I have read.
- He helped his sister who was married to a Jew to flee Germany to Austria. After the war, all German women civilians in East Germany were subject to mass rapes by the Russian army.
- Bonhoeffer was a (paid?) radio broadcaster for the enemy British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and gave anti-Hitler sermons in Germany. Bonhoeffer was also a counterintelligence agent working inside the German intelligence agency The Abwehr. He was never charged with treason for his radio broadcasts, but the broadcasts were taken off the air.
- Bonhoeffer’s approach to ethics was borrowed from nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, which was, in turn, influenced by Marxism, that ethics was freeing people from their false class consciousness about what was moral (see Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil). To Bonhoeffer there is no Christian ethics; only a direct relationship with God through Christ. As Bonhoeffer wrote: “The discovery of what is beyond good and evil was not made by Friedrich Nietzsche…it belongs to the original material of the Christian message”. To Bonhoeffer ethics apparently only applied to a preferential ethical option toward powerless ethnic groups.
- In New York he studied liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “dirty hands” theology and embraced the social and racial justice gospel of Adam Clayton Powell.
- Bonhoeffer would likely have met the same fate of state execution under the occupying East German Communists who “disappeared” noted Christian university president Ernst Lohmeyer.
- He was a colleague of Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller whose fame was to write the story: ”They (Socialists) came for me…and there was no one left to speak out for me” which is indelibly engraved into many American’s minds. Little known, is that Niemoller was a Communist sympathizer and propagandist. Niemoller was considered an anti-Semite and met with Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam War.
As novelist John Updike once stated, most historical biographies are “just novels with indexes”. You know who people are by the company they keep. Bonhoeffer’s inner circle were all C0mmunist sympathizers, self-righteous race baters, moral entrepreneurs and immoral projectionists who demonized those so-called Fascists who fought against Communism and control by oppressive banks.
How do we then understand Bonhoeffer given the above mixed picture? On balance, when visiting Union Seminary in New York, Bonhoeffer criticized ethical humanism and those who disdained fundamentalists. But his liberation theology ethics are on display in today’s double-standard for those who commit anti-racist crimes against Whites, riots and arson and targeted street crimes with legal impunity. It is on display with the “dirty hands” policy of genocide by ventilator of the elderly in nursing homes, of granting superior rights to citizens who have been vaccinated against a fictional virus but oppressing the unvaccinated by denying them police protection and not prosecuting those who destroy them or their small businesses.
Bonhoeffer has been undergoing recent renewed interest with the publication of excerpts of his writings on stupidity and mass movements titled The Debunking of Stupidity: The Power of Some Needs the Stupidity of Others (2021). Bonhoeffer’s writing on the symbiosis of power and mass stupidity seems to apply to our current world-wide crisis situation, but in a way that perhaps unmasks Bonhoeffer as also being swept up in stupidity. Bonhoeffer:
“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of good than malice. Evil can be protested against, it can be exposed, it can be prevented by force if necessary; evil always carries the germ of self-decomposition within itself, leaving at least one discomfort in man….We are defenseless against stupidity. Neither protests or violence can do anything here; reasons do not catch on; facts that contradict one’s own prejudice simply do not need to be believed….Never again will we try to convince the stupid by reasons”.
Bonhoeffer wrote the above in 1945, referring to the authoritarianism of Hitler and his willing followers. But after 75 years since the end of World War Two, the world is again facing Communism, race riots and planned mass deaths. Bonhoeffer’s theology of “costly grace” over “cheap grace” has ended up bankrupt when it comes to Communism and genocide today (see Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship). Bonhoeffer’s Liberation Theology ethics is very costly to its victims and the perpetrators who are caught up in it alike. An updated biography of the consequences of Bonhoeffer’s ethics and theology has yet to be written. I do not envision anyone writing it soon or maybe ever as even Evangelical Christians have been brainwashed to believe otherwise. Perhaps Florence Nightingale understood it best: “The martyr sacrifices themselves entirely in vain. Or rather, not in vain; for they make the selfish more selfish, the lazy more lazy, the narrow narrower”.