Bonhoeffer’s “Definition” of “Religion” in Prison: 15 Facets/Aspects

Based upon my own reading of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison [DBWE 8], here is my attempt at a summary list of the facets/aspects of Bonhoeffer’s view of “religion” in prison.

  1. Religion emphasizes inwardness. [DBWE 8:362, 364, 455–57]
  2. Religion emphasizes conscience. [DBWE 8:362]
  3. Religion is a temporary phenomenon. [DBWE 8:362, 364]
  4. Religion is manipulative and exploitative. [DBWE 8:363, 366, 426–27, 450, 455–57]
  5. Religion ignores human strength/knowledge/autonomy and instead focuses on human weakness, ignorance, and boundaries/limits/limitations. [DBWE 8:366, 405–7, 426–27, 450, 455–57, 475–78]
  6. Religion is metaphysical, otherworldly, and escapist. [DBWE 8:364, 372–73, 447–48, 480, 485–86, 501]
  7. Religion is privileged. [DBWE 8:364]
  8. Religion is, like circumcision, no longer a condition for salvation. [DBWE 8:365–66]
  9. Religion posits a false “God” (a “deus ex machina,” “working hypothesis,” and “stopgap”) on the other side of human boundaries (a shrinking area, as humanity matures) in order to solve human problems. [DBWE 8:366, 405–7, 426–27, 450, 455–57, 475–80, 500–1]
  10. Religion is driven by anxiety. [DBWE 8:366, 478]
  11. Religion is individualistic. [DBWE 8:372–73]
  12. Religious language has lost its power.[DBWE 8:390]
  13. Religion is a particular posture towards life, capable of being exemplified, not only by pastors, but also by existential philosophers and psychotherapists. [DBWE 8:427, 450, 457]
  14. Religion is a partial and segmented posture towards life. [DBWE 8:455–57, 482]
  15. Religion ignores the world’s increasing godlessness. [DBWE 8:480, 482]

By Joshua Steele

Software engineer using "dead" languages to help the living. Learn more at joshuapsteele.com.

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