January 25, 2010

A thought from retreat: Killing Truth

The quickest way to kill the truth is simply to speak it, and then not act upon it. If you really want to bury it for good, inscribe it on the walls of your temple, where you can bow to it and do it reverence, then turn your back upon it and walk away from it. Thus you will be able to act in ways contrary to it, but always point to the temple on the hill.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
coming out of a discussion of Bonhoeffer

12 comments:

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Oh man! I would LOVE to have been a fly on the wall for THAT conversation! Would you be willing to give some context? Bonhoeffer keeps coming up in all kinds of contexts lately, and I'm really wrestling with my thoughts about him...

Pax,
Doxy

P.S. I think you are exactly right about the truth...

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh my, Tobias. Collect your thoughts...



...into a book.

You're on a roll.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Doxy and Mimi. The retreat was excellent. We watched the Doblmeier documentary "Bonhoeffer" and in advance of the retreat had read "Life Together" -- B's reflection on the rule of life of the underground seminary of which he was a leader and member. Discussion was wide-ranging: about Lutheran and Reformed concepts of sin and forgiveness; how much or little B's seminary was like or unlike our own community (some striking similarities but also real differences); the issue of responsibility; the question of whether violence is ever appropriate or not, and so on. A recording was made of the conferences, and I've not played it back, so I don't recall off hand the exact context of this thought (or the exact wording, though I think this is close to what I wanted to say at the time.) I think it came in the context of our discussing living by a rule of life, and what I was getting at was the danger of having a rule that is "more honored in the breach than the observance" — the difference between feeling proud because you have a rule of life, as opposed to actually living that rule.

I have great admiration for Bonhoeffer, as a man of high ideals who nonetheless was willing to engage with reality. And his writing is very no-nonsense, so it's easy to spot when he goes off track (as I think he sometimes does -- who doesn't need an editor? or who doesn't make mistakes?) -- there is much less "fudge" in his writing, which I appreciate.

Thanks for the push towards publishing. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed that Church Publishing is not doing a particularly energetic job at promoting my first book, or in communicating with me regarding sales -- which I take it have been fairly good from a passing comment I heard at GC. Then again, they've suffered considerable cutbacks too, and are apparently not going to be bringing out any new titles for the foreseeable future. Sigh....

How bout dem Saints? I'm a tad conflicted, being a Baltimore boy, but then again the Colts made the decision to "walk apart" some years ago... :-)

WSJM said...

"but then again the Colts made the decision to "walk apart" some years ago... "

Hmm. Maybe "walking apart" is not necessarily a bad thing... :-)

Grandmère Mimi said...

How 'bout dem Saints!

I'd like to heave heard the discussion on whether violence is ever justified.

You'll have two new sales for your book, Tobias. I plan to buy a copy to give to our new bishop first chance I get, and our priest is retiring next year, so when we have a new priest, I'll give him (Yes, I'm fairly certain the new rector will be a male.) a copy. Don't hold your breath on the second sale, for, as you know, we will be in interim status for at least a year after 2010.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Tobias--I've done my part with your book! :-)

What WAS your conclusion about whether violence is ever justified? I think Bonhoeffer is often used as the "perfect" example of allowing conscience to guide a move to violence--but I am troubled by that usage. I'd love to know what you have to say.

Pax,
Doxy

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Bill, dem's almost fighting words! But to each his own...

Mimi and Doxy, the conversation on violence was very interesting, but I don't think we reached any conclusion. Part of it focused on the extent to which violence is ever successful -- or does it simply breed more violence. Does it ever work? that strain of the argument seemed to be to depend a bit too much on consequences; in my philosophy of ethics consequences need to be considered, but are not the dominant factor. I don't think there is any easy answer, or rather that all of the answers that are easy are also inadequate. As I don't believe in the existence of general cases but only of particular instances, I think we have to look at each particular instance. That will satisfy someone who is looking for a systematic answer -- but I'm not sure a systematic answer (that is, in the form, "It is always X") is possible.

The thing I like about Bonhoeffer is that he includes the flipside of action -- responsibility. Also, as a Lutheran, he wasn't caught up in a Jesuitical ethos of pure or disordered actions -- but was full of a consciousness that whatever he did he was still a sinner, and still saved. There is a kind of bold humility about that.

Some of my favorite process theologians have written on this subject, and I like what they have to say: from Whitehead's original "All life is perpetual theft" on through Cobb and Suchocki. I suppose my final position is that unwarranted violence is always wrong, but some violence may from time to time be necessary, though always as the last resort and with consciousness of responsibility for the action.

I just watched "Dead Man Walking" the other night (never seen it before) and it reminds me of my ambivalence about taking an absolute position on the death penalty; I have similar problems with making absolute statements in general on such matters -- real life is so much more complicated! I can agree that alternatives to the death penalty can always be found -- so I rank that as opposition, but not because I think the DP is always wrong or wrong in principle. I can say that it never appears to me to be necessary. I can't say the same about violence-in-general as I think there may be times when it is the only way. In short, I don't have a settled opinion on the general question. I still wince every time I see Kris Kringle pop Mr. Sawyer on the head with his cane -- was that really as necessary as the old fella thought? And as to consequences -- well, it didn't change Sawyer (it only ratified his opinion about this "violent personality") and it brought about the commitment lawsuit -- but then that too led to an epiphany for Doris Walker and her daughter... as you see, consequentialism has its problems!

Paul said...

Is violence every necessary?

How bout dem Saints?


Well, football would certainly be a different game without it!

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Paul Martin

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Paul. (And sorry for the many typos in the previous post! Hope it still makes sense, even where I've left out "not"!)

Football without violence seems to me to be like Jane Austen's ball with conversation instead of dancing... "much more rational... but not near so much like a ball" (Pride and Prejudice Chapter 13)

I suppose the comparison might run

Football : War :: Circus : Jungle

"Caged violence" or something like that... ;-)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Now, now, folks, you must understand that the win for the Saints was about more than a win for a professional franchise or for organized violence. The Saints' win boosted the hearts and souls of quite a few people who need a boost.

I doubt that anyone could be less of a football fan than I, but I was excited about the game. And the game was a cliff-hanger! You may say all of the above is fantastical, and, in a way, you'd be right. I guess you'd have to be here.

Erika Baker said...

Tobias
one of the crucial things about violence and responsibility seems to me that you have to be willing to accept the responsibility for the consequences for yourself, not on behalf of others.
Stauffenberg and all the others were willing to die for their part in the attack on Hitler, Bonhoeffer returned to Nazi Germany on the last ship back from New York.
Too often, those who support violence send others to war.

There again, there are suicide bombers...

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Excellent point, Erika. I think that was Bonhoeffer's understanding of personal responsibility for ones own actions. Remember too he faced the ethical dilemma from Romans 13 -- respect for and obedience to the civil authority as from God. The documentary -- which I highly commend -- made a point of just how damaging this Lutheran "high state" theology damaged the churches in support of WWI and II.

Actually, someone commented in our discussion that had Stauffenberg gone so far as to be a suicide bomber the plot might have succeeded!