Regarding Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison, can someone please explain his ideas on faith and it's correlation to doubt?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one significant aspect of Bonhoeffer's ideas about doubt and faith is to speak of a divine vision that is inclusive of as many people as possible.  Bonhoeffer is open about how he is not entirely certain that given the condition of the world at the time of his writing that dogmatism provides the answers:  “How do we speak . . . in secular fashion of God?”  The idea of speaking of a "secularized" notion of God, one where human suffering is the focus instead of rigid denominational division is part of where his idea of faith and doubt exist.  Simply put, Bonhoeffer doubts that faith is a rigidly defined quality:  “I am led on more by an instinctive feeling for the questions which are bound to crop up rather than by any conclusions I have reached already."  With the rise of Nazism, the torture and suffering of so many people on such a large scale, Bonhoeffer raises doubt about the meaningful nature of strictly traditionalist notions of faith.  

Bonhoeffer makes the argument that he does not have the direct answers, and this becomes the location of his doubt.  It is evident that the traditional idea of religion is doubted given the condition that Bonhoeffer sees around him:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

Bonhoeffer is convinced that traditionally dogmatic notions of religion are insufficient to deal with the threat that the Nazis pose. His faith in a more transcendent and universal notion of spiritual identity is where he doubts that idea of a sectarian driven notion of the good.  Bonhoeffer expresses doubt in the traditionalist notion of dogmatic religion.  He opts for a faith rooted in "simplicity and straightforwardness" which assists in the alleviation of human suffering.  Given what he saw with the Nazis and how he opposed what was being done in the name of political power, Bonhoeffer's faith resides in doubting traditional structures in favor of a new vision that can speak to the human condition of suffering that is so prevalent throughout Nazi Germany.

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Letters and Papers from Prison

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