Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearannce they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.
(For those who are not familiar with Bonhoeffer–he was an important leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany. He was executed in 1945.)
I was reminded of the above passage by something Cara Ellison wrote a couple of days ago in discussing the 9/11 anniversary:
I guess I thought they were all gone, those types of monsters, stranded on reels of black and white film.
A genuinely brilliant metaphor, Cara.
And people are understandably reluctant to see the monsters emerge from the old reels of film…or from the “primeval depths,” in Pastor Bonhoeffer’s formulation. The villains are terrifying: so are the heroes, in a different way. Because we know that when monsters are about, heroes will be needed. And being a hero is very dangerous.
Bonhoeffer’s clear-eyed view of Naziism cost him his life.
I think the desire to keep the uniform grayness of the rainy day” and avoid the vision of “the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash” is behind a lot of the failure to understand the meaning of 9/11 and the seriousness of the terrorist and rogue-state assault on civilization.
This is all closely related to Arthur Koestler’s concept of the Tragic and the Trivial planes of life, which really deserves an extensive post.
Apologies if the above isn’t terribly clear, but I wanted to capture these thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind.