Saturday, April 23, 2016

An unprincipled pacifism

"In March 2004 I met with Dietlinde Jehle, the widow of Bonhoeffer’s pacifist friend [Herbert Jehle].  As we looked through his papers we came across a letter announcing Bonhoeffer’s death.  It was from [the lifelong Lutheran pacifist] Franz Hildebrandt, who couldn’t believe that Bonhoeffer would have been personally involved in the 20 July 1944 plot to kill Hitler.  So I asked Mrs Jehle, who was herself a Quaker and a pacifist:  'Your husband Herbert, the Quaker and peace activist who[m] Bonhoeffer converted to pacifism, what did he think about Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the plot?'  Her answer was quick and definite:  'Oh, he had to do it!'  It was clear from this exchange that Herbert Jehle both supported what Bonhoeffer did and at the same time did not believe that he had abandoned his Christian peace ethic."

     Clifford J. Green, "Pacifism and tyrannicide:  Bonhoeffer's peace ethic," Studies in Christian ethics 18, no. 3 (December 2005):  46 (31-47).
     Green's point is that Bonhoeffer's "Christian peace ethic" was rooted in "his Christology, his understanding of discipleship and the Sermon on the Mount, his way of reading the Bible, and his understanding of the gospel and of the church" (45), but not justificatory ethical principles.  Still, I'm not yet seeing how it (as explicated by Green) differed really from a responsible and theologically informed Christian position on, say, "just war".  For to say that, in joining the plot to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer was drawing upon "the [well-developed] tradition of [Christian reflection upon] tyrannicide", "not assassination or murder" (41)albeit by way of "core theological beliefs, rather than . . . the sort of principles found in the just war doctrine" (42))is already to admit that "absolute pacifism is unsustainable".  Indeed, very little of the logic outlined on pp. 41 ff. isn't native to a properly theological "just war" approach.  Indeed, the emphasis on the importance of "free, responsible action" in a case such as that faced by Bonhoeffer, for whom tyrannicide was, nevertheless, clearly "contrary to the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount" (43 ff.), when coupled with the insistence that "followers of Jesus are always completely alone, single individuals who can act and make decisions finally only by themselves" (Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, trans. Green & Krauss, DBW 4 (2001), 135), would seem to cut against the importance to Green (and the "just war" tradition!) of the fact that Bonhoeffer "was not an individual acting on a self-appointed mission", but rather a member “of a substantial German resistance movement led by top military officers, lawyers, government officials, labour leaders and others" and abetted by "an international consensus of governments and church leaders—not least the entire Allied military operation" (Green, 41).
     I therefore look forward to an expansion upon the further step taken in "How to read Bonhoeffer's peace statements:  Or, Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran and not an Anabaptist," by Michael Dejonge (Theology 118, no. 3 (2015):  162-171), which is tantalizingly incomplete.

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