Tetraneuris briefly on Berdyaev and Bonhoeffer

      21 May 2014


      I appreciated your take on Mr. Washington’s Address. He was an amazingly clear sighted fellow, not to mention his endurance and fortitude as perhaps our country’s greatest military general. I got a brief chuckle from your comment regarding the misunderstanding by numerous elites and policy leaders of the definition of isolationism. This, however, is significantly unfortunate and the country’s decision makers may wish to read Mr. Washington’s Address in full for a greater understanding of the difference between isolationism and interventionism.
      So, as we’ve been exploring some of the works of the not too distant past, I found myself returning to the library to revisit Mr. Bonhoeffer and particularly his work Ethics (compiled following his execution by the German Nazi government, having been convicted in a plot to assassinate Hitler). Given our past dialogues, forgive me for pointing out about Bonhoeffer what you already know. I believe our last visit on this fellow pertained to his work Letters from Prison, which I continue to hold in the highest regard. At any rate, Periwinkle, the reason for the return to Ethics was that I’ve been listening to the cassette tape Matthew while in the truck driving to children’s events. This I find is a better way to pass the time, as they often have their I-devices plugged into the cigarette lighter and headphones welded to their ears. Of course, I still pop in Gierach’s Trout Bum occasionally as well, to lighten things.
      Matthew is a remarkable book. You know I’m somewhat biased as I particularly enjoy the Sermon on the Mount as I feel it is our highest directive. It had been a while since I’d listened to the tape or picked up the good book itself; however, I’ve reoriented once again and thankfully so. It is nice to incorporate the lessons of the incarnate Jesus into our letters, as He is the highest authority. The dialogues of the finer philosophers are worth note as well, but fall short of the greatness of the Lord. I found Bonhoeffer’s take on one of the beatitudes worthy of note and present it below for your consideration.

      “Blessed are they which are prosecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5.10). This does not refer to the righteousness of God; it does not refer to persecution for Jesus Christ’s sake. It is the beatification of those who are persecuted for the sake of a just cause, and, as we may now add, for the sake of a true, good and human cause (cf. I Pet. 3.14 and 2.20). This beatitude puts those Christians entirely in the wrong who, in this mistaken anxiety to act rightly, seek to avoid any suffering for the sake of a just, good and true cause, because, as they maintain, they could with a clear conscience suffer only an explicit profession of faith in Christ; it rebukes them for their ungenerousness and narrowness which looks with suspicion on all suffering for a just cause and keeps its distance from it. Jesus gives His support to those who suffer for the sake of a just cause, even if this cause is not precisely the confession of His name; He takes them under His protection, He accepts responsibility for them, and lays claim to them. And so the man who is persecuted for the sake of a just cause is led to Christ, so that it happens in the hour of suffering of responsibility, perhaps for the first time in his life and in a way which is strange and surprising to him but is nevertheless an inner necessity, such a man appeals to Christ and professes himself a Christian because at this moment, for the first time, he becomes aware that he bonds to Christ. (page 61-62).
      Bonhoeffer further on “God is love” (I John 4.16) … for the sake of clarity, this sentence is to be read with the emphasis on the word God, whereas we have fallen into the habit of emphasizing the work love. God is love; that is to say not human attitude, a conviction or a deed, but God himself is love… No one knows God unless God reveals Himself to him. And so no one knows what love is except in the self-revelation of God. Love, then, is revelation of God. And the revelation of God is Jesus Christ. (page 53). Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Touchstone, 1955.

      I thought this passage, Periwinkle, was an illuminating insight from the German writer and theologian. Incidentally, while reading a Bloomberg article on three or four Russian philosophers, I came across the name Nicolas Berdyaev. This fellow does not seem to surface much but I ordered two of his works, used as usual on Ebay, Truth and Revelation and Solitude and Society. I’m still working my way through these, but if there were a writer, a Christian theological writer, who could somehow blend Christian thinking in the mold of, say Rand’s The Fountainhead, he may be the fellow to research. Actually, quite frankly, what I’ve read thus far from this fellow is remarkable. It would be too lengthy to go into his breakdown of the four types of relationships between the solitary Ego and the social environment in the latter work but they are pretty clairvoyant. One interesting passage from this section you may enjoy is his fourth “type of man.”

      And finally, there is the type of man who is conscious of both solitude and society. This may appear strange at first, since solitude is not usually compatible with sociability. This is the prophetic type everlastingly symbolized in the prophets of the Old Testament. But this type is not confined to the religious sphere; it comprehends creators, innovators, reformers and spiritual revolutionaries. The prophetic type is invariably in conflict with the social or religious collective; it is rarely in harmony with the social environment or the public opinion; in fact, it has generally had to suffer persecution. The religious prophet usually has to face the hostility of the priest or pontiff, the symbol of the religious collective. Since the prophet is liable to be persecuted at any moment, he experiences the extremes of solitude. It would be difficult to maintain that the prophetic type of man was indifferent to society. The very contrary is true: the prophet is invariably preoccupied with the destiny of a people and of society, he judges them, but he never loses interest in their destiny. He is not concerned with his personal salvation, his own personal experiences and states, but only with the Kingdom of God and with the perfectibility of man and that of the whole universe. This prophetic type is also to be found outside the religious sphere, in that of social life, art, and of science, which can also be prophetic in character. (page 76). Solitude & Society, Nicolas Berdyaev, Semantron, 2009.

      Berdyaev’s writing in Truth and Revelation is insightful regarding the significance of the Holy Spirit and I found myself harking back Matthew’s writing of Jesus’s warning in chapter twelve about blasphemy against the Holy Ghost being unwise. After elaborate writing on the subject in an excellent second chapter, he boils truth down to God alone, which of course is correct. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” So there we have it, God is both Truth and Love (Bonhoeffer above). He explores the troubles of authoritarianism and totalitarianism. He writes that truth has a spiritual nature. Berdyaev has been called a philosopher of freedom and perhaps you can glean the take from his below passage in chapter VIII, “The Paradox of Evil…”. Keep in mind the backdrop of the Bolshevik Russian revolutionary period, along with Lenin and Stalin as well. Some of the sections in these works reminded me not only of a Christian Rand (if you will) but of Hayek as well. Berdyaev ended up living and writing in exile in Paris.

      …but justification of evil lies in the assertion that God makes use of it for the purposes of good and to secure the triumph of his justice. The testing of evil is the testing of suffering and pain.
      But freedom assumes the experience of evil. Compulsory good, good imposed by force, would be the very greatest of evils. Dostoyevsky showed that he understood this better than anyone in the way he describes the Utopias which are to bring paradise on earth, in the dialectic of The Grand Inquisitor. It is against this avow all that protest is necessary as against a sharp division of the world into two parts, into the world of light and good and the world of darkness and evil. This is to prepare the way for hell and by this the ethics of hell are determined. The ethics of hell also control those who acknowledge no religious beliefs at all. They frequently belong to revolutionaries, for instance, the Marxists. The moral paradox of evil consists in this that it arouses in those representatives of good who wage war against evil, an evil and pitiless attitude of hatred towards those who are evil and who are considered to be evil, towards one who is conceived as an enemy, for instance. Thus the fight against evil is turned into an evil. In the name of virtue and justice they start torturing people. In the name of humanity they begin to show inhumanity. The enemies of freedom, whether actual or imaginary, are deprived of freedom and treated with violence. To the intolerant they start behaving with intolerance, and they start shooting those who shot.
      It is a moral paradox from which there is no way out, and it is an expression of the paradox of evil. One must fight against evil. Evil ought to be burnt up, but it is evil that ought to be consumed, not evil people. Those who fight against evil are not generally speaking very desirous that evil people should be freed from evil. All too often what they want is that evil people should perish with evil. This is, in fact, the ethic of hell, a preparation of an eternal hell for evil people.
(page. 135-136). Truth and Revelation, Nicolas Berdyaev, YMCA Press, 1953.

      I hope my overly citing of the works of others in this letter is not too wearisome; however, as we’ve come to often agree, why rewrite what has already been so eloquently written? I hope the weather in the east has been pleasant. We’ve had the occasional storm, but things have been fairly nice. The rivers are up and that means soon the Salmonflies will be fluttering about driving the larger trout mad. For some reason, once again this spring, our daffodils in the backyard have failed to bloom. This while the houses about the neighborhood have experienced otherwise. We accept, however, in faith whatever comes our way.

      With warm regards,


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