Bonhoeffer to Chew On — Intellectuals, Degenerates, and the Puffed Up

“False developments and failures do not make the world doubt the necessity of the course that it is taking, or of its development; they are accepted with fortitude and detachment as part of the bargain, and even an event like the present war is no exception.  Christian apologetic has taken the most varied forms of opposition to this self-assurance.  Efforts are made to prove to a world thus come of age that it cannot live without the tutelage of ‘God’.  Even though there has been surrender on all secular problems, there still remain the ‘ultimate questions’ – death, guilt – to which only ‘God’ can give an answer, and because of which we need God and the church and the pastor.  So we live, in some degree, on these so-called ultimate questions of humanity.  But what if one day they no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered ‘without God’?  Of course, we now have the secularized offshoots of Christian theology, namely existentialist philosophy and the psychotherapists, who demonstrate to secure, contented, and happy mankind that it is really unhappy and desperate and simply unwilling to admit that it is in a predicament about which it knows nothing, and from which only they can rescue it.  Wherever there is health, strength, security, simplicity, they sent luscious fruit to gnaw at or to lay their pernicious eggs in.  They set themselves to drive people to inward despair, and then the game is in their hands.  That is secularized methodism.  And whom does it touch?  A small number of intellectuals, of degenerates, of people who regard themselves as the most important thing in the world, and who therefore like to busy themselves with themselves.  The ordinary man, who spends his everyday life at work and with his family, and of course with all kinds of diversions, is not affected.  He has neither the time nor the inclination to concern himself with his existential despair, or to regard his perhaps modest share of happiness as a trial, a trouble, or a calamity.”

D. Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison: The Enlarged Edition.  New York:  Touchstone, 1997, 326-27.

 Is there a message here for pastors in their relationships with parishoners?  Possibly that pastors should encourage themselves and their parishoners thus:  “Don’t be distracted from your modest share of happiness.  Instead, seek Christ in it.”? 


About this entry