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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Christian pacifism

Christian pacifism

The torture post got me to thinking about violence and self defense for Christians--especially because many Christians I know justify torture and supported our unwise war of aggression on Iraq. So I got to googling and came across a blog post on Christian pacifism...

“Thou shalt not kill”: thinking about Christian pacifism

My own introduction to Christian pacifism came in the form of John Howard Yoder’s book The Politics of Jesus. Until I read Yoder, I imagined pacifism as the sort of thing only fringe political groups or the politically naive could embrace; Yoder’s book demonstrated that it was a coherent philosophy with a strong claim to Biblical support. I strongly recommend Yoder’s book if you’ve not read it; I did find a lengthy summary of The Politics of Jesus online if you want an abbreviated version. Elsewhere online, Stanley Hauerwas has written an excellent piece that draws on Yoder and argues that pacifism should be considered and debated much more seriously by the Christian church.

If you’re up for yet more reading, have a look at this extremely impressive collection of Mennonite-Anabaptist resources about pacifism. The theological and Biblical studies are a good place to start and address a lot of the basic arguments for and against Christian pacifism.

A few more links, if you’ll bear with me: Kim Fabricius has written a fascinating account of a journey to Christian pacifism at the Faith and Theology blog. The post cites a lot of authors and books worth investigating. It also mentions the famous 20th century pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who believed in nonviolence but who ultimately participated in a plot to kill Hitler during World War 2. Ronald Osborn writes an interesting piece about Bonhoeffer’s moral crisis and how he understood his decision to take violent action against evil [PDF].

Bonhoeffer was an amazing man. I hope history looks more at his place in the world,what his words and actions mean, and what they can teach us. I''m personally intrigued by his Religionless Christianity and have thought this might make a good PhD topic as Bonhoeffer walks the fine line of philosopher, theologian, and political activist...

Bonhoeffer's Religionless Christianity

Toward the end of his life, while in a Nazi prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote some tantalizing letters to his friend Eberhad Bethage. In some of these letters Bonhoeffer wrestles with a notion he labels "religionless Christianity."

The letters in question were written in 1944. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazi's in 1945, just before the Allied Forces were to take control of Germany. Since the writing of those letters, theologians have hotly debated exactly what Bonhoeffer meant by "religionless Christianity."

In a letter to Eberhard Bethage, April, 1944 Bonhoeffer wrote:

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 anymore. 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 "religious."

Keep in mind this is in the midst of WWII, in a concentration camp,

Our whole nineteen-hundred-year-old Christian preaching and theology rest on the "religious a priori" of mankind. "Christianity" has always been a form--perhaps the true form--of "religion." But if one day it becomes clear that this a priori does not exist at all, but was a historically conditioned and transient form of human self-expression, and if therefore man becomes radically religionless--and I think that that is already more or less the case (else how is it, for example, that this war, in contrast to all previous ones, is not calling forth any "religious" reaction?)--what does that mean for "Christianity"? It means that the foundation is taken away from the whole of what has up to now been our "Christianity," and that there remain only a few "last survivors of the age of chivalry," or a few intellectually dishonest people that we are to pounce in fervor, pique, or indignation, in order to sell them goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them? If we don't want to do all that, 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?

The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean 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 those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, 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?

The Pauline question of whether [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from [circumcision] is also freedom from religion. I often ask myself why a "Christian instinct" often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, but which I don't in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, "in brotherhood." While I'm often reluctant to mention God by name to religious people--because that name somehow seems to me here not to ring true, and I feel myself to be slightly dishonest (it's particularly bad when others start to talk in religious jargon; I then dry up almost completely and feel awkward and uncomfortable)--to people with no religion I can on occasion mention him by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.

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...How this religionless Christianity looks, what form it takes, is something that I'm thinking about a great deal, and I shall be writing to you again about it soon. It may be that on us in particular, midway between East and West, there will fall a heavy responsibility.

To Eberhard Bethage, July 18, 1944:

[Religious man] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a "secular" life, and thereby share in God's sufferings. He may live a "secular" life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man--not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.

To Eberhard Bethage, July 21, 1944:

During the last year or so I've come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man...

Personally Kierkegarrds Sickness Unto Death is something i've struggled with, yet has been a fruitful struggle that I continue on with, as it takes me to the place where my Methodism and my Atheism clash.

Also once I realized that Nietzsche really can only be understood as a Theologian I kind of made peace with some of these personal impasses that I had found myself in.

I remember when I was in jail after my suicide attempt, I had no interaction with the world, life was nothing, there literally was no future. I can't really explain what it feels like. Then the door unlocks, of coarse I jolt up because you don't notice people walking by, and the gaurd says "your lawyer is here." I have a lawyer? So they walk me through a maze that is the psychiatric ward of the Sacramento County jail and walk into the little booth, we talk and do our perfunctory meet and great signing of the paper work. And at the end of the conservation he asks me if I know God and am I a Christian? I thought to myself... i'm in hell... this is hell.

It feels like a life time ago now. My lawyer it turns out does a lot of Death Penalty cases, that he didn't do much work outside of that. But my mom had found him through the Methodist Chruch she went to in Peachtree City... appears some lawyer that goes to the church tracked down his contact and referred her to him. But, later on when I had to check with him about some questions I come to find out that we both share a love for Bonhoeffer, once I found that out I couldn't help but smile and reflect in wonderment.

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