Thursday, June 05, 2014

Modern Christianity

The Pauline question of whether [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to be 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, by which I don't in the least mean whey 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 [sic] by name quite calmly and as a matter of course.  Religious people speak of God when human knowledge (perhaps simply because they are too lazy to think) has come to an end, or when human resources fail--in fact it is always the deus ex machina that they bring on to the scene, either for the apparent solution of insoluble problems, or as strength in human failure--always that is to say, exploiting human weakness or human boundaries.  Of necessity, that ran go on only till people can by their own strength push against those boundaries somewhat further out, so that God becomes superfluous as a deus ex machine (is even death, which people now hardly fear, and is sin, they now hardly understand, still a genuine boundary today?).  It always seems to me that we are trying anxiously to speak of God not in the boundaries but at the center, not in weakness but in strength, and therefore not in death and guilt but in man's [sic] life and goodness.  As to the boundaries, it seems to me better to be silent and leave the insoluble unsolved.  Belief in the resurrection is not the 'solution' of the problem of death.  God's 'beyond' is not the beyond of our cognitive faculties.  The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God.  God is beyond the midst of our life.  The church stands, not at the boundaries where human powers give out, but in the middle of the village.  That is how it is in the Old Testament, and in this sense we still read the New Testament far too little in the light of the Old.  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.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Eberhard Bethge, 30 April 1944


  1. FYI, I just put up last weekend a little post on Bonhoeffer, and the contrast between "The Cost of Discipleship" and the prison letters.

    Jes trollin' for clicks......

  2. And you don't leave a link????!!!!????


  3. Links are for golfers. (Gaffers are for lengths.)

  4. And kicks are for Treds.

  5. Silly Rabbi!

    But, seriously....

    "The transcendence of epistemological theory has nothing to do with the transcendence of God."

    This is one of those sentences from Bonhoeffer that I would never have understood the first time I read it.

    And I might not understand it now, had I not been reading Rahner, who, I think, grounds our natural apprehension of the one directly on the other.

    Bonhoeffer, I think, follows Barth in discounting our own efforts, in questioning the fruitfullness of any quest for God that begins with ourselves. Seems that it's the discounting of that human search (and longing) for God that grounds the idea of "religionlessness." But I am not as confident as he in the death of a human religious instinct. Much is made of the rise of the "nones," but I think that's more distrust of institutions than the loss of a longing for the transcendent.