Martyrdom, resistance, and faith

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Blogger Simon Barrow recently wrote about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, who was murdered 63 years ago by the Nazis. He refers to an article on Bonhoeffer that discusses the question of how one distinguishes between the spiritual and the political, a question which came into play as people evaluated Bonhoeffer's own martydom:

Strangely, even some of his fellow Lutherans did not realize at first how consistently Bonhoeffer lived out his creed. Immediately after World War II, pastors in Bielefeld opposed plans to have a street named after him. Bavaria’s Lutheran bishop Hans Meiser, himself a prominent anti-Nazi cleric, protested vigorously against a proposal to install a plaque commemorating Bonhoeffer as a “witness to Jesus Christ among his brethren” at Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was put to death only days before it was liberated by U.S. forces.

In Meiser’s opinion, Bonhoeffer’s resistance was “political, not religious.” In a sense he was right. The Church of England showed more generosity. It adorned the western entrance to Westminster Abbey in London with a Bonhoeffer statue thus giving him the status of a 20th-century martyr. But then Anglicans do not draw as sharp a line as Lutherans between the secular and spiritual realities of life.
When it comes to the opposing Nazism, someone will have to remind me what the difference is between the political and the religious. I just don't see it. Ultimately, I think it is difficult in general to draw the line between the secular and spiritual realities of life, but when it comes to something as plainly evil as Nazism, this particularly becomes apparent. I would submit that it is an empty spirituality that does not concern itself with institutional evil and social injustice. If a religious faith does not lead one to engage in the political activity necessary to oppose Nazism, then there is something seriously wrong with that faith.

I need only point out that Jesus himself was murdered by the political authorities of a powerful and brutally violent Empire.

9 comments:

Connor said...

I'll have to make up for all the crap I left on one of your previous post.

"I would submit that it is an empty spirituality that does not concern itself with institutional evil and social injustice."

Preach on!

Mystical Seeker said...

Thanks, Connor. :)

Chris said...

Indeed. Preach on.

Cynthia said...

In the movie "The Contender", the main character, Sen. Hansen, states that she does not need to believe in God to be a moral person. She needs her heart, her head, and her 'chapel of democracy', the one that freed the slaves, that gave women the vote.

Can one be political without being religious? And I mean religious as in faithful devotion, not necessarily to God but to the political process. Is that enough to make us 'fight for the right'?

Harry said...

The Buddhists in Japan actively supported the state during WWII.

Frank said...

Its amazing how many churches do very little in response to America's war in Iraq. Yet, people comdemn anyone who tried to play the middle or find greay area during the Nazi regime. (not speaking about you, MysticalSeeker).

The winners do write history.

Mystical Seeker said...

Can one be political without being religious?

Interesting question, Cynthia. I was asking the question of whether one can be legitimately religious without being political. Phrasing the question the other way around raises a lot of questions about what it even means to be religious.

Mystical Seeker said...

Its amazing how many churches do very little in response to America's war in Iraq. Yet, people condemn anyone who tried to play the middle or find gray area during the Nazi regime.

How do we properly approach those who opposed the Nazis in principle but who didn't take strong measures to resist them? I think that in the case of the Nazis, or any repressive regime, it takes an extraordinary amount courage to be able to stand up and resist. While it is true that silence in the face of evil is a form of complicity, it is also true that it isn't always easy for people to do the right thing when the consequences and risks are extreme. That is why we admire people like Bonhoeffer.

I am reminded of what happened to the White Rose, an organization of German students who opposed Hitler during the war, and who paid the price.

Frank said...

I think that in the case of the Nazis, or any repressive regime, it takes an extraordinary amount courage to be able to stand up and resist. While it is true that silence in the face of evil is a form of complicity, it is also true that it isn't always easy for people to do the right thing when the consequences and risks are extreme.

Exactly. The problem I have seen is that a lot of people often pass some pretty harsh judgment on those who tried to "play it safe" during the 1940s. We admire those like Bonhoeffer, but many people seem to expect that everyone would have stood up the same way.

All we have to do is look at our own American empire to know that standing up to it isn't always easy, and its a lot more complicated that it may seem 50 years later.