Bonheoffer on civil courage

A long quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Letters and Papers from Prison. From here we get to his thoughts about responsible action in the face of evil. It seems, even if you’re not sure, an action done in genuine faith in opposition to evil is better than inaction.

“Civil Courage? What lies behind the complaint about the dearth of civil courage? In recent years we have seen a great deal of bravery and self-sacrifice, but civil courage hardly anywhere, even among ourselves…. We have looked upwards, not ins servile fear, but in free trust, seeing in out tasks a call, and in out call a vocation. This readiness to follow a command from ‘above’ rather than out own private opinions and wishes was a sign of legitimate self-distrust. Who would deny that in obedience, in their task and calling, the Germans have again and again shown the utmost bravery and self-sacrifice? But the German has kept his freedom – and what nation has talked more passionately of freedom that the Germans, from Luther to the idealist philosophers? – by seeking deliverance from self-will through service to the community. Calling and freedom were to him two sides of the same thing. But in this he misjudged the world; he did not realise that his submissiveness and self-sacrifice could be exploited for evil ends. When that happened, the exercise of the calling itself became questionable, and all the moral principles of the German were bound to totter. The fact could not be escaped that the Germans still lacked something fundamental: he could not see the need for free and responsible action, even in opposition to he task and his calling; in its place there appeared on the one hand an irresponsible lack of scruple, and on the other a self-tormenting punctiliousness that never led to action. Civil courage, in fact, can grow only out of the free responsibility of free men. Only now are the Germans beginning to discover the meaning of free responsibility. It depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith, and who promises forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture.

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