Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

In Eric Metaxas' extensive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, who was executed for his participation in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, we get some insight into the plot known by the name "Valkyrie." Of course at the time, Hitler was yet to be revealed as the absolute evil he turned out to be, so the international community viewed the assassination attempt with nearly universal contempt. Even the New York Times reported the assassination attempt as something one would not "normally expect within an officers' corps and a civilized government." The father of Bonhoeffer's fiancée, Henning von Tresckow, took his own life after the failed assassination attempt. Tresckow was involved in the plot and was afraid of revealing the names of others under torture. He spoke these words before taking his life:

The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in a few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify in good conscience what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. None of us can bewail his own death; those who consented to join our circle put on the robe of Nessus. A human being’s moral integrity begins when he is prepared to sacrifice his life for his convictions.  Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, p. 487

There are certainly some challenging questions regarding Christian ethics in all this. However, in reading this excerpt, I primarily thought a lot of the writings of my doctoral mentor Steven Garber who has written about seeing with our hearts to take responsibility for the world as it is and as it should be. Henning von Tresckow certainly seemed to me to be one of these men, like Bonhoeffer, as have been others throughout history such as playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia and the former Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, who famously wrote "the secret of man is the secret of his responsibility."

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