Bonhoeffer and a World Come of Age, pt. 2

Some time ago I wrote on Bonhoeffer’s very interesting take on ‘man come of age’ and his (in)famous ‘religionless Christianity’. The main theme that Bonheoffer develops is really twofold – the first that the world has come to a point where it doesn’t need God anymore (at ;east in the normal ‘religious’ sense) and the second is his attack on using God as a filler for gaps in our knowledge, otherwise known as God of the gaps.

‘It has again brought home to me quite clearly how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case) then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize His presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.’ (‘Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 311)

‘Man has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the ‘working hypothesis’ called ‘God’. In questions of science, art and ethics this has become and understood thing at which one now hardly dares to tilt. But for the last hundred years or so it has also become increasingly true of religious questions; it is becoming evident that everything gets along without ‘God’ – and, in fact, just as well as before.’ (p. 326)

‘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 remains the so-called ‘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. But what if one day they no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered without ‘God’?’ (p. 326)

Bonhoeffer develops some answers to this problem in his Christology lectures (even though they predate his letters form prison) – namely, that God can’t be seen as who we grab on to when we are at the end of our resources but rather that which is at the very center of our lives and existence. His lectures on Genesis also contribute to this theme – that God is not at the boundary of our lives but at the center.

‘It always seems to me that we trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not at the boundaries but at the center, not in weakness but in strength; and therefore not in death and guilt but in man’s life and goodness…God is beyond in the midst of our life. The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the center of the village.’ (p. 282)

3 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer and a World Come of Age, pt. 2

  1. Amyclae May 22, 2014 / 8:02 pm

    “It always seems to me that we trying anxiously in this way to reserve some space for God; I should like to speak of God not at the boundaries but at the center, not in weakness but in strength.”

    In her doctoral dissertation, “Der Lebesbegriff bei Augustin: Versuch einer philosophischen Interpretation” [Love and St. Agustine: An Essay in Philosophical Interpretation] Arendt focused on the tension between the otherwordly demands of Christian love and the this-worldliness of social life. She quotes Augustine at several points but most conspicuously “This world is for the faithful what the desert was for the people of Israel,” and replies: “Would it not then be better to love the world in cupidity and be at home? Why should we make a desert out of this world?”

    Bonhoeffer, it seems, answers quite emphatically that we should make a desert out of this world because we can no longer isolate ourselves from it.

    But if Arendt, like Said, remained adamant that worldliness required the rejection of supernatural hope, is her love of the world sustainable without an otherworldly desire? Do her insights into “the banality of evil” themselves hang over a void? And yet, how can two thinkers, Bonhoeffer and Arendt, in some ways so similar yet so opposite, arrive at the same conclusions?. Agreement on the ends but reaching it through two wildly different trajectories is noteworthy. Envisioning and reacting to the world they found themselves caught up in, perhaps best called ‘modernity’ but if we’re going for something less flammable then we can settle on the world without fixed boundaries.

    I don’t know, just rambling over here.


    • whitefrozen May 23, 2014 / 9:45 pm

      Boy, the editing on this post on my part is terrible. Yeech.

      RE your comment, Bonhoeffer doesn’t reject a supernatural hope – hope is a major theme for the neo-orthodox school.


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