Thursday, June 4, 2009

The day when it would be necessary to exercise discernment in order to tell the difference between a hero or a villain seemed, for a long time, like a far-fetched idea to me, as history and experience generally create a clear distinction between the two; and understandably so, since after all, they happen to be opposites. That is, until recently; when, while listening to a news reporter, a name came to my mind; a name that instantly launched my mental faculties into the deep, dark, and often despised abyss of controversy that necessarily surrounds the name Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Born to a family of eight, Dietrich and his twin sister, Sabina, made their entrance into a sullen, gray world in Breslau, on the chilly night of February 4, 1906. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, while working as a professor of psychiatry and Neurology at Berlin University, was Germany's leading empirical psychologist. Dietrich received his doctorate from Berlin University in 1927, and lectured in the theological faculty during the early thirties. He was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1931, and served two Lutheran congregations, St. Paul's and Sydenham, in London from 1933-35.
In 1934, 2000 Lutheran pastors organized the Pastors' Emergency League in opposition to the state church controlled by the Nazis. This organization evolved into the Confessing Church, a free and independent protestant church. Bonhoeffer served as head of the Confessing Church's seminary at Finkenwalde. The activities of the Confessing Church were virtually outlawed and its five seminaries closed by the Nazis in 1937.
Bonhoeffer's active opposition to National Socialism in the thirties continued to escalate until his recruitment into the resistance in 1940. The core of the conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler and overthrow the Third Reich was an elite group within the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence), which included, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Head of Military Intelligence, General Hans Oster (who recruited Bonhoeffer), and Hans von Dohnanyi, who was married to Bonhoeffer's sister, Christine. All three were executed with Bonhoeffer on April 9, 1945. For their role in the conspiracy, the Nazis also executed Bonhoeffer's brother, Klaus, and a second brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher, on April 23, 1945, seven days before Hitler himself committed suicide on April 30.
Bonhoeffer's role in the conspiracy was one of courier and diplomat to the British government on behalf of the resistance, since Allied support was essential to stopping the war. Between trips abroad for the resistance, Bonhoeffer stayed at Ettal, a Benedictine monastery outside of Munich, where he worked on his book, Ethics, from 1940 until his arrest in 1943. Bonhoeffer, in effect, was formulating the ethical basis for when the performance of certain extreme actions, such as assassination, were required of a morally responsible person, while at the same time attempting to overthrow the Third Reich in what everyone expected to be a very bloody coup d'etat.
This combination of action and thought surely qualifies as one of the more unique moments in intellectual history, as Dietrich was essentially a modern pioneer in this area of philosophy.
Highly acclaimed throughout history, Bonhoeffer has been hailed as a hero by the conservative community for many years, upheld as a heroic champion for the cause of freedom.
So we know all about a guy that lived 60-ish years ago now. Great guy, plenty of the guts and backbone that make the "grit" we respect in a leader or hero, but what's the point?
This is where the story reverts back to the sparking of this train of thought; the irritating, maddeningly shrill voice of the news reporter doing the job he was trained so well to do: reporting news. The news this particularly unsavory individual had to bear, however, was not the ordinary yawn and finish your coffee before work news. No, instead, the terrible little sounds his voice box was making announced that the famous abortionist George Tiller had been brutally gunned down in his church by a pro-life activist with a weapon and a home-made sense of justice. Murderer of 60,000 innocent children, many of them past the 21 week mark, Tiller was not the type of guy I would have coffee with and chat about world affairs and views; however, killing him is taking it a little too far, right? I mean, after all, despite being the biggest mass murderer in the U.S., he is still a human, and that counts for something, last time I checked. The retard that shot him obviously hadn't thought through the consequences of his actions: the name this would give the pro life community, giving the secular world yet more reason to throw us into the class of dangerous criminals. Gosh, didn't this guy have any brains at all? Did he just wake up sunday morning with an overwhelming impulse to go to church and shoot George? Apparently...
But then I actually started thinking. And a very disturbing thought came to my head that I immediately dispelled, and questioned my mental health for thinking it. But then it came back. A little light bulb came on in my head for a short second (not really: metaphorically speaking. if a light bulb were to actually exist in my head, I'd be really weird, and if it came on, that would be beyond weird and into the realm of freaky) however, it only stayed on for a short second, because it was suddenly flooded by an overpowering wave of confusion: confusion as the "conservative", "pro-life" news service railed on Scott Roeder, calling him a villainous enemy to the conservative cause. But why the confusion? Obviously, Roeder is a murderer! The cowardly act of brutality can be nothing but simply despicable! Oh, but that stupid little thought comes crawling back: Tiller was a mass murderer... The 60,000 innocents whose blood stains his hands equal over a fourth of the number exterminated by the insane rampage of Hitler: a sobering thought when you consider that while Hitler was practically insane and intended to weed out and "purify" the population, Tiller had no motivation beyond the whim of a deceived woman, mislead into making a decision that will ultimately bring her pain and shame. The cruel heartlessness of this monster can very possibly be accurately described as unsurpassed in the history of the world. When a raving maniac went on a murdering spree and killed thousands of innocents leaving a bloody trail of hopelessness behind, a man named Bonhoeffer participated in an assassination plot to stop the terrible evil ravaging the earth, and was consequently lifted up as a hero. Scott Roeder, a long time pro-life activist, saw the exact same situation ignored by the legal system of our land, and consequently took the action he deemed necessary to end the mass slaughter, reaping rejection and criticism from almost the entire nation. Is Roeder a hero for preventing the slaughter of yet more innocents at the hand of Tiller, or is he a villain; a scoundrel responsible for tainting the conservative community and pro-life-ism itself by committing a rash act of unjustifiable violence? Quite frankly, I don't know. I'm confused. Rage finds a compromise with Scriptural commands, yet certain biblical principles and precedent indicate a far different pattern than the current pacifist mental state in which the majority of Christians lie. At the same time, principle clashes with direct command, leaving the head of the student spinning. In the light of my ignorance, and with the haunting words of God "thou shalt not kill" lingering in the back of your mind, I leave you a parting question. If a serial killer were loose in your community, killing innocent children by the thousands, and, by some happenstance, you found it in your power to end the swath of brutal murder with the pull of a trigger, and you knew for certain that if you did not take that action, more innocent lives would be destroyed, would you walk away and let it continue, or would you end it?