Bonhoeffer’s religionless time

Before his execution for treason in April 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the leading theologians of the pre-war period. His letters from prison shed a particularly provoking light on an exceptional individual, unsure of his future but in no doubt whatsoever about his indomitable faith in God and the daily comfort of his religion. Bonhoeffer did neither question nor complain about his status of enemy of the Reich, accused of involvement in the assassination attempt against Hitler in July 1944. He was far more preoccupied with the loss of moral fibre and religions convictions among his contemporaries: What if Christianity had ceased to appeal to the human heart and could simply disappear in a prevailing climate of hatred and celebration of a new ruthless humanity in the shape of the Overman (Ubermensch) and a triumphant Aryan race?

Writing to a friend from his prison cell, Bonhoeffer remarked ‘we are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more’ in the sense that even the self-proclaimed ‘religious’ people seem incapable of acting according to their Christian principles. Our present time is not unlike the 1940’s and Bonhoeffer could have applied the same pessimistic conclusions to the eerie silence of Christians confronted with a dangerously sectarian world and the prospect of a ‘clash of religions’ looming on the horizon of the twentieth-century.

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