In the comments to my earlier post, Larry asked if it was “a deliberate choice … or coincidence” that I should post a Bonhoeffer quote on 20 July, the anniversary (I now realise) of the failed Stauffenberg bomb plot.
Answer: it was because the secondhand copy of “Letters and Papers” that I ordered at the weekend arrived this morning, and I’d been wanting to post that quote for ages. It’s not in the abridged edition I previously owned, but I’d loved the quote ever since reading a library copy of the full edition a number of years ago.
Anyway, the anniversary of the attempt on Hitler’s life is a good excuse to post the following quote from Martin Luther King (HT to British Muslim blogger Yusuf Smith):
If your opponent has a conscience, then follow Gandhi and non-violence. But if your enemy has no conscience, like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer.
Actually no, discuss this instead (or as well…): is it appropriate to describe Bonhoeffer as a “martyr” in the first place? We can see that Bonhoeffer died as a consequence of his faith; we can see how his imprisonment and death became a great witness to Christ and to Bonhoeffer’s faith in Christ; but (some might suggest) that’s not the same thing as dying for one’s faith.
His executioners did not consider themselves to be killing him for being a Christian, but for being a member of a failed political plot to assassinate their national leader. So does that make him a martyr?
On the other hand, were the first Christian martyrs really executed for “religious” reasons, or for “political” ones (as if those categories were so easily separable in the first century Roman Empire)? In other words, for the bold assertion that (as NT Wright is fond of putting it) “Jesus is Lord, and therefore Caesar isn’t”.
Perhaps Bonhoeffer serves as a caution to us against over-spiritualising (and de-politicising) martyrdom in a manner that is alien to the spirit of the New Testament and the experience of the early church.
(PS: on the subject of the Stauffenberg plot, this post from last year summarised Frank Johnson’s argument that the failure of the plot was probably, in retrospect, a Good Thing.)