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Stupidity and Evil

posted Apr 14, 2016, 11:07 AM by Parish Administrator
On April 9th, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, Lutheran pastor, child of God, was executed in Flossenbürg Concentration Camp in Germany

In seminary, I was profoundly affected by his book The Cost of Discipleship, as I was struggling with my Christian identity in the face of a Church that seemed largely unrepentant over its history of oppression and racism.

In these post-resurrection days, as I consider the world in which we live, these words from Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison, written from Tegel Prison in Berlin, weigh on me:

Stupidity is a more dangerous foe of the good than evil is.  It is possible to protest againstevil, to expose  [it], and at times it can be prevented by force.  Evil always carries in itself the germ of a substitute for it, in that it leaves behind at least a feeling of uneasiness in people.  Against stupidity we are defenseless.  Neither protests nor force can accomplish anything here; reasons are of no avail; facts that contradict one's own prejudices simply do not need to be believed . . . and if they are unavoidable, they can simply be shoved aside as insignificant, isolated cases.  In this the stupid person, in contrast to an evil one, is completely satisfied with himself.

The fact that a stupid person is often stubborn should not deceive anyone into thinking he is independent.  In conversation with him it is felt that you are not dealing with the person himself, but with cliches, slogans, etc. that have gained dominance over him.  He is under a spell, he is blinded, he is misused, mis-handled in his own being.  Thus having become a will-less instrument the stupid person becomes capable of all evil, and at the same time incapable of recognizing it as evil.  Here lies the danger of diabolical abuse. 

I question the ways in which my self satisfaction might keep me from seeing the evils in which I unconsciously participate.  I wonder if  the call of the disciple in these days is to remind ourselves that we can only be as faithful as we are willing to question ourselves and our motives.