a “Bonhoeffer moment”

Spirit of '76Jesuits are known as being protean, and conforming, chameleon-like, to whatever the current Roman Church hierarchy seems to expect. Or, of late, the opposite of what the Roman Church expects. Once called the Pope’s Shock Troops, now, perhaps, they might be called the Popes Legal Beagles.

Here in the United States, Jesuits may be expected to be on the left side of the political spectrum, still supporting that old and discredited social gospel. The best exemplar is the Democrat’s closest approach to having a group of churchmen in their corner: America magazine.

Please don’t take this criticism as being too harsh (I believe it to be all-too accurate) or personal. At the personal level, I’ve known quite a few Jesuits, and remain impressed at the quality of their minds. It’s just that they seem to almost always come down against the Church’s hierarchy and virtually all the time against what I would call the evangelical point of view.

Now we come to one Jesuit writer in America Magazine who, whether this is his intent or not, likens the United States in the 21st century with…obvious lefty reference coming…Nazi Germany. Ouch; double ouch. That was predictable. It’s all those flags, don’t you see…

So, the question is whether this Jesuit can co-opt one of my evangelical heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, by presuming that America under George Bush requires the brave churchman to stand up and declare “a Bonhoeffer moment.” That is, in the abused lefty phrase, “speaking truth to power.”

Consider this exposition from an essay titled “Honest Patriotism”. In this, the question is asked, with apparent sincerity, as to whether the United States is facing a “Bonhoeffer moment.” From the essay:

A second, post-9/11 memory still haunts me. It was May 2004. We were in the lecture hall of Manhattan’s Riverside Church and had just viewed Martin Doblmeier’s superb documentary film on the life and death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A panel of us discussed the question: Are American Christians faced now with a “Bonhoeffer moment”? Does our faith now require us to defend our country’s democracy against its current government? The panel discussed the question pro and con, distinguishing and relating Germany in the thirties and America post-9/11. Then, as the meeting was about to close, a tall elderly man in the audience stood up and said, “I am a survivor of Auschwitz. I do not believe that the United States is yet at a Bonhoeffer moment. I believe that we are at 1932.”

Well, apparently being a survivor of Auschwitz doesn’t give one any clarity. It’s also apparent that the Jesuit writer for America the Magazine does not know much about America the country.

The image in this post, one of my favorites, was displayed prominently in our public school in New York City. It dates from (about) 1880, and it came on the heels of the Centennial Celebration of our nation’s independence. In fact, parades, and all sorts of other civic events were marked by the hundreds of yards of patriotic bunting and as many American flags as could be fit into the public square.

Good thing our Jesuit writer wasn’t around for the Centennial. Had he complained about the “[f]loods of flags” that then “covered our land,” he’d have likely been run out of town. Or worse.

We are not Nazis; we are not Germans. We are not Europeans. We are Americans. We love our flag as a symbol of our liberty, and if some Americans appear to commit idolatry in service of that flag, it isn’t because they’re about to start rounding up folks and sending them to some Auschwitz. And for those liberals who compare Gitmo to Auschwitz, well, you are either confused, stupid, or evil. Or some combination thereof.

I don’t believe the Jesuit is either stupid or confused, and as for evil, the most I would suggest is that some folks simply let their prejudices get the better of their judgment. We are in no kind of “Bonhoeffer moment.” It’s just that good, old-fashioned American patriotism, of the exact same kind that was seen over a century ago, is hard for some post-modern, post-national folks.


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