The Syrian Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, dissident anti-Nazi and founding member of the Confessing Church. Dietrich was born on February 4, 1906, Wrocław, Poland and died on April 9, 1945, Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp, Germany. | Photo: Life Magazine archives | Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German, Pastor, Holocaust, Concentration Camp, Hallocaust ,

When the lesser of two evils means bloodstained hands.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 ' 9 April 1945) was a German Christian pastor and theologian best known for his numerous theological writings, which continue to be widely published and popular to this day. What many people don't know is that he was also intimately involved in plans to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

While he was a Christian pastor and theologian, he at the same time felt compelled by his faith to take a stand against truly evil atrocities, which in his day and time meant first and foremost seeing Nazism brought entirely to an end. As such, Bonhoeffer joined the Abwehr (a German military intelligence organization), which was the center of the anti-Hitler resistance movement. The pastor and theologian had now also taken on the role of a spy and Nazi-dissenter, and was actively moving towards being part of a plot to assassinate Hitler. Make no mistake about it though; he did not in any way take his involvement lightly, or ever try to justify his actions. In his work Ethics, Bonhoeffer wrote "when a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it... Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace".

However, in April 1943, before the assassination plot was carried out, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo. He was subsequently executed by hanging in April 1945 while held prisoner at a Nazi concentration camp.

For many years I wrestled with what I call "The Bonhoeffer Question": Would I willingly commit an act of evil that I believe could lead to the eternal damnation of my soul, if I was truly convinced doing so would prevent a greater evil from taking place? Or in other words, would I put a bullet through a monstrous dictator's head if I surmised taking his or her life would save the lives of many others, yet at the same time possibly damning my own?

This question was one I tried to ignore for many years. Truth be told, it was a question I did not want to so much as even ask myself, let alone search my soul for an honest answer to. Yet it was a question I could not escape. It was a question that became all the more real with every passing day I spent living in countries which were ruled by the iron fist of evil, vicious men who cared about nothing other than their own selfish existence. It was a question I knew I had to approach soberly and thoughtfully, and ultimately answer.

While I hope and pray I will never be faced with having to make such a decision, I concluded that even if it means damning my own soul, I would be an instrument of death, so that others may have life.

I now find myself pondering "The Bonhoeffer Question" with regards to the ongoing Syrian civil war; more specifically, as to how it relates to our response to the chemical weapons attack that was carried out on 21 August 2013 in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, Syria, which according to some sources killed more than 1,400 people.

With most of the world placing the blame for the attack on the al-Assad regime's pro-government forces, it is easy to pass judgment and say that the attack was unquestionably wrong, especially for those of us who view Bashar al-Assad as an evil monster who is deserving of death. Yet is there a way ' any way at all ' in which the attack could be viewed as the lesser of two evils?

Without knowing one way or the other with absolute certainty which side ordered and carried out the attack, let's just say that it was the rebels, and not the al-Assad regime's pro-government forces who did so. If it was indeed opposition fighters, does that mean they were wrong to have done such a thing? Or could it be that choosing to unleash the devastating effects of chemical weapons on their own supporters, killing over 1,400 innocent men, women and children, was actually the right thing to do?

It is worth noting the motivations for why the opposition forces may have done such a thing as this. As horrendous as it seems to take the lives of more than 1,400 innocent people ' especially people who look to you as their defender and protector ' in their minds, doing so was the lesser of two evils. It was the lesser of two evils because they saw it as their last resort to influence the international community into intervening, and ultimately bringing to an end the ongoing civil war which has taken the lives of more than 100,000 people to date, and will likely claim the lives of many, many more if it continues on.

And so what if the gross loss of life from that attack proves to be the turning point in bringing this brutal, ongoing civil war to an end, effectively saving the lives of tens ' if not hundreds ' of thousands of others? If the 21 August chemical weapons attack does prove to be the "red-line" that invokes outside international intervention, ultimately bringing about an end to the conflict, yet it was the rebel-forces and not the al-Assad regime who actually carried out the attack, will it be deemed as having been the right or the wrong thing to do?

As much as the death of any innocent person is an absolute atrocity, I believe that in the case of Syria, the aforementioned scenario would indeed be the lesser of two evils, as sick and twisted as it may be. And as such, I believe it would be the best thing to do. It would be what I would do if I were in their shoes'

Sometimes the lesser of two evils still means bloodstained hands.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:08 PM EDT | More details


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