September 17, 2009

Bonhoeffer is a Secret Feminist

Posted in Faith Transformations, feminist theology tagged , , , at 7:27 am by Eostre

It’s true. Or at least, I believe he is, though he probably wouldn’t agree. And he was my first exposure to ecofeminism. Unlikely, I know, but true. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who was executed on April 9, 1945 in a German concentration camp, and I have a hard time deciding how I feel about him. I absolutely love most of his writings and his theology. He foresaw the post-Christian era, and he wrote a lot about the importance of community and pacifism and lots of other things that I really like and agree with. However…he also participated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This is where the problem comes in. I am a firm pacifist, but I have a really hard time condemning him, he felt that he was saving lives, and if it meant sinning to do it, he valued the lives (and souls) of others above his own. I can’t ever fully condone or condemn him. But that is beside the point.

The point is that he is a very interesting historical figure and theologian, but he definitely had his biases, and would hardly have considered himself a feminist. But I do. You see, I was reading his book Creation and Fall for a theology class in undergrad, and, even though I was enjoying it, I didn’t really expect the spiritual awakening that it brought on.

It is really a stunning book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. But I was reading and making notes, preparing for an argument I had to present on it, when I came across this passage (please forgive the gender exclusive language, it’s his, not mine):

Man’s origin is in a piece of earth. His bond with the earth belongs to his essential being. The ‘earth is his mother’; he comes out of her womb…from it he has his body. His body belongs to his essential being. Man’s body is not his prison, his shell, his exterior, but man himself. Man does not ‘have’ a body; he does not ‘have’ a soul; rather, he ‘is’ body and soul. Man in the beginning is really his body. He is one, he is his body…the man who renounces his body renounces his existence before God the Creator. The essential point of human existence is its bond with mother earth, its being as a body…He does not come to the earthly world from above, driven and enslaved by a cruel fate. He is…in himself a piece of earth, but earth called into human being by God.

When I read that I felt like my eyes had been opened, that something my soul had been yearning to express was suddenly on the page in front of me. he says it so plainly, we are inextricably tied to the earth, She is in us. The beauty of his language carried me away and I began to type furiously. I suddenly had new passageways open to my mind, and I felt alive and excited in the way that only comes when you read something and say “Yes, that is it, that is what I feel, but didn’t know how to say”, when you connect with an author on a level so intimate that it feels like falling in love. I could never fall in love with Bonhoeffer, of course, he was far too stuffy for me in real life, but his writing is another matter entirely. He had awoken me.

The next day (for I am the constant procrastinator, and had been working on my argument the night before it was due) I walked into class and felt that everyone surely must see the difference. I felt like a goddess, with vines twined in my hair and a gown of leaves and petals. And this is what I presented (abridged, this is just the intro and the conclusion, but it gives you the basic idea):

Introduction: It is essential to humanities created being that we are  creatures of both spirit and Earth. This is a counter to Platonic thought, which would have man’s spirit to be disconnected with his flesh. Common Christian doctrine has taught of the evil of flesh, following Platonic lines of thinking that make the spirit the ultimate thing, which is in some way punished by being linked to a body. The creation story of Genesis does not in any way reflect that. In the Creation myth of Genesis, spirit and flesh do not exist independently, but instead are co-dependent. No where in the creation story, even after the fall, does God elevate the spirit into a position of superiority to the body. Both are essential for the human, made together and for each other.

Conclusion: It is dangerous to try and separate God’s creation. We are tied indelibly to the Earth, and we must conclude that we are meant to be a part of the Earth. This has great implications for how we view our “flesh”, and how we view the world in which we live. If we are truly a part of the Earth than we have a certain responsibility to it. Bonhoeffer aptly states that we are a creation of both Father God and Mother Earth.

I can read it now and see the earnestness and naivete that colored every aspect of my life then, and even now I can remember the triumphant feeling I had, that I had used their own language and arguments against them. But the lasting implications are very different. Bonhoeffer opened my mind to a million possibilities and responsibilities, and it was like plunging head first into the ocean. He gave me the first push, and I am still swimming.