I’m teaching a course this semester on the theology of disability. We just wrapped up the part of the course where we look at historical figures (our primary text here was this wonderful collection). Yesterday we discussed the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I did an independent study on Bonhoeffer in college, but it’s been interesting to come back to his writings this semester with a different lens at work.
Bonhoeffer is more concerned with vulnerable persons in general than specifically with disability; this shouldn’t be surprising given that he’s writing in the 1930s and early 1940s in Germany. As with MacIntyre, Bonhoeffer thinks that human vulnerability and dependence shows us something important about human life in general. And one of the central things it shows for Bonhoeffer is the intrinsically social nature of the Christian faith aimed at enfolding those our culture would all too often seek to exclude:
The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from everyday Christian life in community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; for in the poor sister or brother, Christ is knocking at the door. (DBW 5, 45f)
I suspect that Bonhoeffer’s criticism of the contemporary western Church’s response to disability would be about as scathing as his critique of the German Lutheran church as an apparatus for the “worship of [Nazi] power.”
Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power and with its apologia for the weak. I feel that Christianity is rather doing too little and showing these points than doing too much. Christianity has adjusted itself much too easily to the worship of power. It should give much more offense, more shock to the world, than it is doing. Christianity should take a much more definite stand for the weak than to consider the potential moral right of the strong. (DBW 13, 403)
Bonhoeffer won’t let our faith be individualistic, relegated to those sphere’s of our live where we make ‘individual choices’ or talk only about our ‘intentions’ as if they were the only things that mattered. Christianity, like thinking about disability, is inherently political.