Saturday, August 17, 2019

Vicarious martyrdom

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a revered figure for many professed Christians all across the theological spectrum. And that's merited. There is, though, the danger of self-deception in the veneration of figures like Bonhoeffer. It's chic to admire Bonhoeffer. It can become an exercise in self-flattery. If I admire a good person, that makes me good by extension. 

And it can become a form of vicarious martyrdom. It takes no courage to praise his courage. We admire him at a safe distance from the mortal hazards he faced. Venerating figures like Bonhoffer becomes a cost-free substitute for taking the risks he took. It has all the advantages of martyrdom without the price-tag. 

But while we admire him, would he admire us? I'm old enough to remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's controversial commencement address at Harvard. The western intelligentsia lionized his moral heroism. Having honored him by inviting him to deliver the commencement address at the most prestigious university in America, they expected him to honor them in return. Instead, he delivered a scorching speech about secular decadence in the west. His speech was prophetic:

In fairness, someone might say the same thing about this very post. I don't face imprisonment, torture, or execution for posting this. Point taken. I don't claim to be a hero. Posting this doesn't make me virtuous. So this is a message for me as well. 

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