(Commonweal) Andrew Bacevich reviews "A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer" by Charles Marsh

Arrest and imprisonment were only a matter of time. Bonhoeffer’s time came in April 1943 and landed him in Berlin’s Tegel prison. Astonishingly, with the German capital under regular Allied bombardment, Bonhoeffer continued even as a prisoner to enjoy a privileged existence. During his confinement in Tegel, according to Marsh, he received “extra portions of food, hot coffee, and cigarettes.” Visitors brought flowers and fresh fruit. An uncle stopped by to break open a bottle of champagne. Most importantly, Bonhoeffer had access to books, pen, and paper. During his confinement, he read and wrote ceaselessly.

All such niceties vanished in the crackdown that followed the failed July 1944 attempt to assassinate Hitler. Transferred to the custody of the SS, Bonhoeffer was moved to Buchenwald and then to Flossenbürg, where he was finally executed. Little reliable information about Bonhoeffer’s last days is available, and Marsh does not pretend otherwise. That the end was grim and brutal suffices.

In 1928, on the cusp of his journey of discovery, Bonhoeffer had observed that in modern life “religion plays the part of the parlor.” It had become a place “into which one doesn’t mind withdrawing for a couple of hours, but from which one then immediately returns to one’s business.” In our own day, faith remains in the parlor, the subject of polite and passing attention. The work that matters happens elsewhere. For Christians daring to rethink that proposition, Bonhoeffer’s life serves as an object lesson in what is to be gained””and lost.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Books, Church History, Europe, Germany, Religion & Culture

One comment on “(Commonweal) Andrew Bacevich reviews "A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer" by Charles Marsh

  1. Terry Tee says:

    I write from South Africa where the memory of apartheid seems like a very bad dream, or a freakish dystopia that surely never really existed. But it did – I and many others who lived here then remember it well. During the apartheid era many progressive Christians were inspired by Bonhoeffer, myself among them. I knew though that I could never take part in any violent action, despite the manifest evil of the system, nor could I even join the ANC given its increasing campaign of ‘armed struggle’ (the phrase at the time). (Plus I was too scared.) Other Christians came to a very different conclusion and supported those who were mounting an urban insurrection. For example I knew Beyers Naude slightly. He had been forced out of the Dutch Reformed Church because of his opposition to apartheid. He was a deeply spiritual man eirenic, thoughtful, learned, who was the founder of a Christian think tank, before being banned (a form of house arrest). After he died in 2004 I was astounded and a little taken aback to learn that he had been an ANC member and a conduit of cash for it. The last years of apartheid drove people to hard choices at a time when the regime was openly assassinating its enemies (eg Ruth First and my university friend David Webster). But still I wonder whether those who pointed to Bonhoeffer in such circumstances also took on board what is pointed out in this review: namely that in acting as he did Bonhoeffer had an acute sense that this was still sin, and struggled accordingly with his conscience.