Moltmann, Bonhoeffer, and “Violence in Exceptional Situations”


I’m currently reading through Moltmann’s The Politics of Discipleship and Discipleship in Politics (Cascade, 2006). Moltmann’s essays in this volume were originally available in English in Following Jesus Christ in the World Today (now open access), and republished in On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics. Here they are paired with response essays from various Mennonite scholars, a newer response-to-the-responses from Moltmann, and Moltmann’s later essay, “Peacemaking and Dragonslaying in Christianity.” I remember reading Moltmann elsewhere (though I’m not quite sure where, probably pre-CG) on exceptions to pacifism. He then stated that something along the lines of how pacifist Christians shouldn’t be paternalistic in speaking to Christians in other situations who use violence to achieve their ends. A similar idea comes through in his response-to-the-responses (first published 1984 I think). This issue has likely been treated in greater detail elsewhere by other thinkers, though I’m sharing this here as I appreciate Moltmann’s uncertainty here and the side of him that it reveals:

Tom Finger returned with another question, … which really embarrasses me. It is the question of violence in exceptional situations. My answer reveals my personal dilemma. In 1943 at age 17 I was inducted into the German army. I watched the destruction of my home city Hamburg in the “fire storm” in July, 1943, in which more than 70,000 people died. I survived only as by a miracle. In 1945 I was fortunately taken prisoner by the English. In 1948 I returned to Germany. My generation was pitchforked into the war after the war was lost; we were to die because Hitler wanted to live a little longer and to make Auschwitz possible. When I returned, I swore two things to myself: (1) Never again war and never again service in a war and (2) if I should ever have the opportunity to eliminate a tyrant and mass murderer like Hitler, I would do it. In this line, I have participated in the peace movements against the arming of West Germany and against nuclear armament and against the stationing of Pershing 2 in West Germany.

But I have always simultaneously admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who took part in the active resistance to Hitler and who gave his life in that cause. I also have great understanding for the Christians in Nicaragua, who have joined the Sadinista Liberation Front, in order to end the crimes of the dictator Somoza. I know both of these decisions in a sense contradict a pure ethic of nonviolence. But I would ask my Mennonite friends to comprehend my dilemma from the bitter experiences of my life. I do not represent the “just war” teaching. I also do not advocate a justification of the murder of tyrants. But I know that there are situations in life in which one must resist and become guilty, in order to save human lives. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was right when he spoke of a conscious assumption of guilt in such cases. My generation in Germany became guilty because we did nothing to hinder the mass murder of the Jews. “Auschwitz” remains our mark of Cain.

PDDP 129-30, paragraph split for ease of reading


Kierkegaard on the Cartesian Approach to Missing the Point


Today I have been searching the works of the Danish Christian philosopher-theologian Søren Kierkegaard for statements on the eternal present, something with which Moltmann takes issue. On quite a different note, I was reading the introduction to the Hong and Hong edition of The Concept of Anxiety when I found this killer insight:

Kierkegaard criticized the Cartesian principle of methodical doubt because it mistakenly gives more weight to reflection (thought) than it does to act (will).

“What skeptics should really be caught in is the ethical. Since Descartes they have all thought that during the period in which they doubted they dared not to express anything definite with regard to knowledge, but on the other hand they dared to act, because in this respect they could be satisfied with probability. What an enormous contradiction! As if it were not far more dreadful to do something about which one is doubtful (thereby incurring responsibility) than to make a statement. Or was it because the ethical is in itself certain? But then there was something which doubt could not reach!”

p.ix, citing Journals and Papers, I, 774.

In my “awakening” to philosophy and theology I went through a Kierkegaardian phase. Apparently this is quite common! He helped me to see the multivalency of symbols and was generally the beginning of my realisation of the ideological nature of truth claims (with some later help from Nietzsche). I began to depart from Kierkegaard when I thought that his philosophy was too individualist and spiritualist, overlooking the community and the concrete. You can empathise with me then when I found that Kierkegaard is a lot closer to Marx here than I had thought: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Unfortunately I doubt that Kierkegaard’s interest in ethics much resembles that of Marx. Correct me if I’m wrong?