In late 1942, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "... the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that [intellectual capacities] become stunted or destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and -- more or less unconsciously -- give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves. The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent. One feels in fact, when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him. ... folly can be overcome, not by instruction, but only by an act of liberation... a person's inward liberation to live a responsible life before God is the only real cure for folly."
Folly and Bonhoeffer were on a collision course.
During his long imprisonment by the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer corresponded with members of his family. Many of these letters were collected, and later published, by Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer's niece's husband. The letters between Bonhoeffer and Bethge, his intellectual and spiritual confidant, are the most insightful in terms of revealing the intellectual Bonhoeffer. Although his life hangs in the balance, Bonhoeffer only occasionally speaks of his own welfare, and then apologetically and only in passing. With Bethge, and to a lesser extent with his father and others, he prefers directing his thoughts to a great breadth of interests -- art, history, music, philosophy, physics, psychology, sociology, theology. With all correspondents, Bonhoeffer expresses constant concern for their welfare, as well as for the welfare of his fellow prisoners and even his Nazi guards. We continually have statements like this one:
"I wish you much joy and don't want you to be disturbed by any thoughts about me. I have every reason to be so infinitely grateful about everything. ... the prisoners and guards here keep saying how they are 'amazed' (?!) at my tranquillity and cheerfulness. I myself am always amazed about remarks of this kind. But isn't it rather nice?"
To 'flesh-out' the context for Bonhoeffer's letters, Bethge has included much of the letter writing of his correspondents, and you may choose not to read all of this material. The reader should quickly notice that the language of the letters is, in some passages, less than frank, as in Bonhoeffer's seemingly exaggerated statements of patriotism. One must remember his position, and that of his family. Bonhoeffer speaks of a desire to be able to speak freely one day, to converse face to face. To serve as a pastor, to counsel others, to be a husband to his fiancee, to support and care for his family, to study and write.
The Nazis, sadly, had a different agenda.