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Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Philosophy and EthicsDietrich Bonhoeffer - Philosophy and Ethics


Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45)

German minister and theologian (pictured right) who fought Nazism and eventually hanged for his support of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in 1944.



What did he say about philosophy and ethics?


1. Faith and morality

He did what God wanted him to do,based on:

  • selflessly serving other people’s needs 
  • the loving example of Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Philosophy and Ethics

But don’t be dogmatic, because what is right or wrong will depend upon your situation.

For example, it is right to kill to defeat an evil like Nazism.

This was a particularly difficult decision for him, because he was a pacifist who hated violence.

Evil people like Hitler (pictured right) are particularly dangerous, because evil affects everything they do.

“What is worse than doing evil is being evil”, he said.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Philosophy and Ethics

2. Courageous action

He believed that you should earn God’s approval (or grace) by fighting for what is right, even if it hurts you (what he called “costly grace”).

He abhorred “cheap grace” i.e. thinking you can win God’s approval by doing nothing and accepting evil ,as German Christians did with Hitler.


  • openly attacked Nazi anti-Semitism
  • risked his own life, helping Jews escape to Switzerland.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Philosophy and Ethics

3. “Religionless Christianity”

This is based on faith and love, not the trappings of religion like church politics and dogma.

God is not up in heaven but part of our lives, continually prompting us to do good and defeat evil.

Prayer isn’t a telephone line to God in heaven, but the means to:

  • reflect on ourselves and the world
  • change for the better.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Philosophy and Ethics

4. Influence

He has inspired many people to fight for justice against evil including Nelson Mandela (pictured right).

Religionless Christianity , has had a huge impact. It was popularized by the Bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson’s (pictured right below) 1963 book, Honest To God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Philosophy and Ethics

Key quote on empowerment

Action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility.


Key quote on peace of mind

There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared.


Key quote on objectives

If you board the wrong train, it s no use running along the corridor in the other direction.


Key quote on leadership

The leader who makes an idol of himself and his office makes a mockery of God.


Key quote on influencing people

The weak are always forced to decide between alternatives they have not chosen themselves.


Key quotes on happiness and love

In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give; life can be rich only with such realization.

When we come to a clearer and more sober estimate of our own limitations and responsibilities that makes it possible more genuinely to love our neighbour.


Key quote on time management

Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment and suffering.


Key quote on ethics

What is worse than doing evil is being evil.


Key quote on God and religion

Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.


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