So much strength to resist ! Read Bonhoeffer in critical time (7) May 8, 2020

Memorial and Place of Encounter Bonhoeffer-Haus Berlin

The huge masquerade of evil


The huge masquerade of evil has thrown all ethical concepts into confusion. That evil should appear in the form of light, good deeds, historical necessity, social justice is absolutely bewil-dering for one coming from the world of ethical concepts that we have received. For the Chris-tians who live by the Bible, it is the very confirmation of the abysmal wickedness of evil.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Who Stands Firm? Prolog in Letters and Papers from Prison, DBW 8, 38.


Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice … If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid … Upon closer observation it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other … [The stupid person] is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing, that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolic misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a general internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has proceeded it …The word of the Bible, that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, On Stupidity, Prolog in Letters and Papers from Prison, DBW 8, 43 ff.


The church confesses that it has witnessed the arbitrary use of brutal force, the suffering in body and soul of countless innocent people, that it has witnessed oppression, hatred, and murder without raising its voice for the victims and without finding ways of rushing to help them. It has become guilty of the lives of the weakest and most defenseless brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Guilt, Justification, Renewal, Ethics-Manuscript 1940/41, DBW 6, 139.


In the first and fundamental thesis of the Barmen Declaration of the Synod of the Confessing Church from 29th to 31st May 1934 the false doctrine is rejected, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

Nevertheless, Dietrich Bonhoeffer seems to be the only one who, as a theologian, took a clos-er, view of the psychological and social structures of the ideology of power. His insights, which anticipate Hannah Arendt’s thoughts from the 1950s, correspond to the sobering experiences in resistance under the conditions of the totalitarian rule of National Socialism. Where every criti-cal instance – as in the biblical tradition the „fear of God“ – is eliminated, a „real inner liberation“ of man only becomes possible „after the external liberation has preceded.“

But the insight that „every strong upsurge of power … infects a large part of humankind with stupidity“ does not in any way release the ‘infected’, including the church, from their guilt. Die-trich Bonhoeffer’s sentences on the silence and failure of the church against the crimes against the fifth commandment belong to the earliest confession of guilt in the Nazi era. The represent-atives of the ‚Confessing Church‘ were not ready to confess the guilt towards the Jews even at the ‚Stuttgart Confession of Guilt‘ in October 1945.

They were faced with the fact that the unconditional surrender in German society was per-ceived by many in the population not as a liberation but as a being oppressed. The silence yawned in the place of the memory. Hannah Arendt wrote in her essay ‚Visit to Germany, The Aftermath of the Nazi Regime”, 1950 about the indifference with which the Germans move through the rubble finds its exact equivalent in the fact that nobody mourns the death. And she reports on the course of stories about the suffering of Germans, which would be set off against the suffering of others, whereby the ’suffering balance‘ is tacitly considered balanced. (in: Zur Zeit. Politische Essays. Hamburg 1999, S. 43–70).

The higher the gift of a new beginning of the relationship with the initiative’s ecumenical part-ners. They included George Bell, Bishop of Chichester / UK. With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was not only connected to the idea of the cross-border „Universal Christian Brotherhood“, but also to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s confession at her last meeting on May 31, 1942, that Germany’s mili-tary defeat must be linked to an act of repentance: “Christians do not wish to escape repent-ance, or chaos if God will to bring it on us.“ (George K. Bell, Diary Notes. 13.5.-11.6.1942, DBW 16, 300).

Together with Willem Visser’t Hooft, the general secretary of the Ecumenical Council of Churches in formation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a statement on his second trip to Switzerland in Geneva in September 1941 on William Paton’s peace letter „The Church and the New Order in Europe” (July 1941): He wrote: “What matters is whether a state order in Germany is realized that acknowledges its responsibility to the commands of God. That will become evident in the total removal of the Nazi system, including and especially the Gestapo; in the restoration of the sovereignty of equal rights for all; in a press that serves the truth; in the restoration of the free-dom of the church to proclaim the word of God in command and gospel to all the world. The entire question is whether people in England and America will be prepared to negotiate with a government that is formed on this basis even if it initially does not appear to be democratic in the Anglo-Saxon sense of the word. Such a government could establish at once. Much would de-pend on whether it could count on the immediate support of the Allies. (DBW 16, 532).

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