Bonhoeffer on the Conscience

‘This flight, Adam’s hiding from God, we call conscience. Before the fall there was no conscience. Man has only been divided in himself since his division from the Creator. And indeed it is the function of the conscience to put man to flight from God. Thus, unwillingly, it agrees with God, and on the other hand in this flight it allows man to feel secure on his hiding place. This means that it deludes man into feeling that he really is fleeing. Moreover it allows him to believe that this flight is his triumphal procession and all the world is fleeing from him. Conscience drives man from God into a secure hiding place. Here, distant from God, man plays the judge himself and just by this means he escapes God’s judgement. Now man really lives by his own good and evil, from the innermost division within himself. Conscience is shame before God in which at the same time our own wickedness is concealed, in which man justifies himself and in which, on the other hand, the acknowledgement of the other person is reluctantly preserved. Conscience is not the voice of God to sinful man; it is man’s defense against it, but as this defense it points towards it, contrary to our own will and knowledge.

Adam, where are you?” With this word the creator calls Adam forth out of his conscience, Adam must stand before his Creator. Man is not allowed to remain in his sin alone, God speaks to him, he stops him in his flight. ‘Come out of your hiding-place, from your self-reproach, your covering, your secrecy, your self-torment, from your vain remorse…confess to yourself, do not lose yourself in religious despair, be yourself, Adam…where are you? Stand before your creator.” This call goes directly against the conscience, for the conscience says: ‘Adam, you are naked, hide yourself from the Creator  do not dare stand before him.” God says: “Adam, stand before me.” God kills the conscience. The fleeing Adam must realize that he cannot flee from his Creator.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Creation and Fall/Temptation: Two Biblical Studies’, p. 90-91)

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2 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer on the Conscience

  1. Ryan November 13, 2012 / 12:29 pm

    I’m curious why you posted this under psychology. This notion of the conscience encompasses quite a lot of assumptions that are very foreign to the field. If the prefrontal cortex, where the processes related to the conscience are evidenced to operate, is removed or damaged in children, it becomes extremely difficult for them to inhibit basic desires and acquire anything close to a conception of morality. If God killed the conscience in that sense, we would really be in trouble as a society. So, while Bonhoeffer’s piece is very interesting, well-written, and even potentially insightful, it is based on his own thoughts and imagination and has very little to do with psychology.

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    • whitefrozen November 13, 2012 / 10:50 pm

      I tend to use psychology in the much broader and IMO richer scholastic sense in which psychology represents a study of man as a unity, rather than just studying the pure mental operations.

      Like

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