Bonhoeffer on Stupidity the entire quote

Taken from a circular letter, addressing many topics, written to three friends and co-workers in the conspiracy against Hitler, on the tenth anniversary of Hitler’s accession to the chancellorship of Germany.

‘Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use  of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings  at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed- in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

‘If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect, but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who lives in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence, and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupdi person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

‘Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in must cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what ‘the people’ really thing are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

‘But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity. than from their inner independence and wisdom.’

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from ‘After Ten Years’ in Letters and Papers from Prison (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works/English, vol. 8) Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010

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Life Adrift

 

Known as the “Weeping Prophet”, Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the magnificent Temple of Solomon. Despite his repeated warnings to the people of Judah to change their ways and return to their foundation, which had built and strengthened their Nation, the people continued in their downward spiral of moral decay. After the death of King Josiah, Jeremiah watched the quick plunge back into paganism of his fellow citizens and foresaw their doom and, despite his many emotional warnings, the nation of Judah stubbornly quickened toward the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecies at the sword of a predatory empire.

Jeremiah’s writings in the Bible hold special significance to the Christian of today. He recounts in Jeremiah 1:4-5 an assurance of his call from God, “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” This scripture encapsulates to a great degree the view of life that Christians embrace.

It is to the Christian that life is formed by the very hand of God. Our Founders used the word endowed. Life is written into the fabric of our foundational documents, of this there can be no denial.

But the protection of life is not necessarily exclusive to a Christian pursuit or endeavor. Most of the greatest civilizations established traditions to promote life among their civilization to ensure their safe and prosperous propagation. Traditions of birth and marriage were established usually in the context of that civilization’s religion. These formed the foundation on which that civilization was built.

This discussion is basic grade school social studies to many but it is important to reaffirm, in light of our nation’s perilous course, the basics of world history. What destroys a nation? What makes it live?

If we as a people do not protect and cherish life, how can we live? As each civilization grows in power, its fear for survival lessens giving way to a desire for personal gain, pleasure, and indulgence. Life holds inevitable repercussions for personal choices, which the selfish work to circumvent. Wants outweigh what is worthy as the people so stalwart to build now wallow in decadence.

Civilization to civilization, the same weakness persists. We strive to build an empire but have not the moral fortitude to maintain it. The path for national decay is well worn for all have followed it.

The decline that Jeremiah wept against for his nation was not new then and happening before our eyes now. A nation grows strong on its zeal for life and desire to survive against all odds. It succeeds and becomes a power to the world and the envy of all nations. Soon, secure in its power, the people began to flock to pleasure and decadence. The constraints of life, the responsibilities thereof, are tossed aside as obstructions in the path towards a new and better nation. We sacrifice our children like nations of old and destroy the structure which raised them and built our society.

We wonder now at our depravity like there was no herald to warn of us of this demise, forgetting those we mocked and shouted down. The sanctity of life and the tradition of marriage is more than just a Christian tradition. It is the very essence and necessity of a nation’s security and survival.

Still, we will ignore the fate in the ruins of time and mindlessly walk towards our doom. It stands to reason, if we could reason, that the value of life could build a civilization and the devaluing of life destroys a civilization. But some will wonder in the end how we got here?

It’s not that complicated. It’s as simple as common sense. When you cut free of the mooring, you simply keep drifting…

  • Andy Torbett

A Junk Man’s Treasure

They called him “The Junk Man” because his hobby was to pick up junk and restore it. For Robert Godwin Sr., the satisfaction of restoring all things junk was married into the life of leisure that retirement brings, which often found the former foundry worker sitting behind a fishing pole at his favorite spot. What comes to the fore as the stories continue to surface of this man is that above all he was a man of unparalleled devotion to God, his family, and his fellow man.

It is said the one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. In an instant this past Easter weekend, one man’s junk senselessly snuffed out the treasure of the Godwin family, their Father. As a Nation watched in horror as the ever burgeoning evil of our society retched itself once again upon the innocent, somehow in the midst of the rage a flicker of hope has emerged.

Robert Godwin Sr. has left behind the greatest treasure a man could hope for, the legacy of a God-fearing family. A family who inexplicably could love the junk that destroyed their Father and in his example seek to restore it. To love the unlovable and forgive the unthinkable is the message of Easter in that while we were yet sinners, junk, Christ died for us so that we could be a treasure to a King.

In all that is darkness around us, our foundations crumbling to dust a midst the disdain of future generations and as we arm ourselves against the ever encroaching night, let not despair overwhelm us for I have seen a beacon of hope on the streets of Cleveland in a junk man’s treasure. If there still remains a people who can love in the face of hate then perhaps the America of old still lives. I hold up Robert Godwin Sr as the standard for all that is good still in my beloved Nation. I hold him up perhaps, yes, in desperation as the shining example of the greatest treasure a man can have, a Godly legacy.