Understanding Stupidity #1 – The Origins Of This Study

As promised on my December 23rd post, this is the first in a series about Stupidity. It might seem strange to make this topic for a weekly series, but stupidity has serious connotations for our times, as it did during Bonhoeffer’s time in Hitler’s Germany.

I came across Bonhoeffer about twenty years ago when I was doing an objective study of the Bible. At the time I was a Lutheran Evangelical and wanted to see how closely various religions followed the words of Jesus. That four-year study basically showed me that, generally speaking, Jesus’ teachings have been forgotten or at least boiled down to something that only vaguely resembled the words coming out of his mouth. That was a big disappointment to me, but Bonhoeffer’s thoughts regarding stupidity stuck with me.

To get an idea why I became attracted to Bonhoeffer, you need to understand that Lutherans base almost all their “faith” on one verse in the Bible from Ephesians 2:8

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – so that no one can boast.

I can’t imagine how many times I heard that verse before I was kicked out due to not believing the “right” things. With those words, Martin Luther, who had very low self-esteem, took off the table actually doing what Jesus tried to teach us as our purpose on this earth. Instead, it became all about faith instead of action. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another Lutheran, had other thoughts. He called that idea “Cheap Grace” and instead relied on the words of James 2:14 faith without works is dead, to say otherwise. Btw… it is not hard to find contradictory words about faith throughout the Bible. But, since this is not intended to be a theological post, I will stop here.

When Hitler got wind that Bonhoeffer was writing things he didn’t like, he put him in jail for three years before he was eventually executed. One of the things he wrote about was how so many of the German people blindly followed Hitler. Here are some of his most famous words on that topic.

“Against stupidity we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it. Reasoning is of no use. Facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So, the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied. In fact, they can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make them aggressive. For that reason, greater caution is called for than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I think these words give you a pretty good idea on where this series is going. I also think they show you how dangerously close we are to repeating this in the coming years. I will leave all the deep thought on this subject for next Monday and future posts.

This will be a very interesting series… if I say so myself.

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