The Institute for Spirituality and Health
Exploring the connections between spirituality and health.


Spirited Words

See below for a collection of reflections, writings, essays, poems, and other contributions that the ISH community has submitted over the years. We hope you enjoy.

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Detrich Bonhoeffer – One’s Man’s Faith and Stand Against Hitler

By John Graham

April 28th, 2012

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, stands as one of the greatest figures of courage in the 20th century.  The story of his stance against the Third Reich of Nazi Germany has appeared in countless books and is told in the stage play, “The Beams Are Creaking” by Douglas Anderson.  The title is the code phrase used by those who conspired to kill Hitler.  For his resistance, Bonhoeffer was arrested and sent to Buchenwald death camp.  A few weeks before the war ended, this man who had more courage than his church, was hung until dead.  

Personally, I stand amazed at the ability of humankind to inflict great suffering, even mass murder, on others.  And, it isn’t a thing of the past.  How can good people commit these atrocities?  An interesting book I am reading is entitled {C}

The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.  In this book, the author, Jonathan Haidt, identifies six areas that he calls Moral Foundations.  The are: Caring. Fairness, loyalty, authority, sacred, and liberty.  He says we react first by intuition and then we use our rational logical minds to justify our decisions.  And, our intuition is molded by our “tribe,” the people with whom we submit our life choices.  In less than 1/250th of a second we react with an intuition, a judgment, then seconds later our logical rational frontal lobe comes up with a justification.  In other words, those who exercise authority in our “tribe” pretty much control our actions and when we sanctify our “tribe” and grant it and our leaders ultimate authority, look out.  

In Germany during the Third Reich physicians no longer put their patients first, instead they gave their allegiance to government and their leader, Adolph Hitler.  Hitler told physicians they were to perfect the German race by removing “undesireables” from the German gene pool.   Amazingly, good phsicians shelved the basic code of medicine to “Do No Harm.”   They castrated or killed the mentally ill, homosexuals, alcoholics and Jews all in the name of Darwinian Eugenics.  Physicans chose who would go to the gas chambers and performed horrifying and painful experiments on human beings, without their permission, of course.   If this doesn’t cause you to pause and ponder the human condition, nothing will.

Could this happen again?  Absolutely, because we humans haven’t changed our nature since the middle of the last century.  As rationing of medical care becomes a reality, even an economic necessity, physicians will be asked to oversee these choices.  Will we do it?  If our government says so or they won’t get paid, good physicians will do it just as they did in the Third Reich.  It’s human nature. 

So, the story of Detrich Bonhauffer is pertinent today as it was a half-century ago.  We need to learn something of moral courage from this great man.  I have and will visit again the Holocaust museum.  I encourage everyone to make this opportunity a priority and take your “tribe” along with you, especially the authority figures in your life. Who knows, perhaps we have budding Bonhoeffer’s in our midst.

Sara Moore