Tag Archives: tolerance

On Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Monday Musings” for

Monday April 8,2013

Volume III, No. 13/116

Monday Musings 

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – His Legacy of Noble writing, justice and moderation


Exactly 68 years ago, On April 9, 1945, on the gray morning of Easter week, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged. He was 30. Germany was on the verge of total defeat. But Hitler’s killing machine was still operating. Bonhoeffer was charged as a traitor to Hitler and to the Nazi regime. We are dedicating today’s “Monday Musings” to honor the memory of this outstanding scholar, theologian, Lutheran pastor and writer. Bonhoeffer was the son of a well to do and prominent German neurologist, professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Berlin and the director of the psychiatric clinic at Charité Hospital in Berlin, Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer. Dietrich, with his twin sister, were the fifth and sixth of eight children. His mother, Paula von Hase, was a daughter of Klara von Hase, a Countess by marriage who had been a pupil of Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt Paula was a college graduate and home-schooled the children. The family was full of classical musicians and music advocates. He was in America in 1930, and later pastored miners and common people in Barcelona as a pastor and not academic theologian. He was interested in ecumenism. He concentrated on removing and neutralizing Hitler and his despotic regime.

Dietrich was an exceptional pianist, and his parents thought he might pursue a music career. He was also athletic and played championship tennis and chess. He was expected to follow his father into neurology and psychiatry, but he surprised and dismayed his parents when he decided by age of fourteen to become a theologian and later a pastor. When his older brother told him not to waste his life in such a “poor, feeble, boring, petty, bourgeois institution as the Church”, 14-year-old Dietrich replied: “If what you say is true, I shall reform it!”  What we learn from his later life, he was a martyr, too. Just like Socrates who had a chance to escape the prison where he was awaiting death sentence on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens, Dietrich, too, had a chance to accept the help of the World Council of Churches and flee to US. But he did not. He waited his trial, spending two years in jail before his execution. During his time in jail, he wrote a series of articles and treatises about human rights and humanities that approach Socratic dialogues in their eloquence and Plato’s Republic in the beauty of poetry and linguistic supremacy. From prison, he also wrote love letters to his twin sister. The collection of these letters and the ones written to other members of his family and friends provide superb reading to understand the potential strength of conscience and man’s devotion to the truth. And the truth to him was that the Nazi Regime was despotic in need of elimination. He was a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender. However, recent research now challenges the assumption that he was directly involved in the assassination attempt. His view of Christianity’s role in the secular world is well-known. He did not advocate theocracy, but strongly suggested that humanity ought to be governed by laws that are fair, righteous and moral. As a matter of fact, the last thing he did before approaching the gallows, he was reading from his pocket edition of Plutarch, and was quoting from Bible. Faithful readers of this space recall that we reviewed Plutarch book “Moralia”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was reading passages from that book before his execution.

Bonhoeffer has written 25 books all worth reading and re-reading. From the collection, I find myself going back to two volumes, Act and Being.

Like any classic literature, Bonhoeffer’s writings have a theme, are written with elevated and noble language, and change the lives of the readers.  His pen continues to speak to us today.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.



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On the Church and Same Sex Union

Monday Musings for Monday March 25, 2013

Volume III, No. 12/116


A  Few Thoughts about the Church and Same Sex Union

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


 (Editor’s Note:  Our inbox is full of requests for a ‘Musings’ about same sex marriage.  Here are a few thoughts.)

The history of growth of religious and secular institutions consistently shows that inclusion and assimilation of “converts” is the key to progress. Saint Augustine of Hippo, the brilliant scholar (354-430 AD) was a Manichean (a sect of Zoroastrianism). He was converted to Christianity at age 31. Earlier in the history of Christian Church, Saint Paul was a convert. It is agreed that without Paul there would be no Christian Church. On the secular side, without Jean Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), an Italian boy who immigrated to France at the age of 14, working his way up to become the court composer to the “Sun King”, Louis XIV, there would be no French opera, no majestic French overture, no dotted rhythm, and no marshal and magisterial musical form, no ballet, and no Palais Garnier, which are uniquely Lully’s. Without Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), the accomplished linguist and librettist, we would not have many of the most beloved Mozart operas. Da Ponte was an Italian Jewish boy converted into Catholicism. He became an ordained priest, later immigrated to America to become the first chair, Department of Arts and Languages at Columbia College (now Columbia University) in 1820. The intellectual and artistic contributions of the uninitiated infuse us with curiosity and restlessness. Therefore, we should welcome those who do not think like us, or challenge our smugness and comfort.

Dissention and disagreement are not strangers to the Christian church. The split of apostolic succession in 1352, followed by the migration of the papacy to Avignon, southern France, is a good example. During that period there were many who claimed to be the Pope. In Avignon, the leadership of the church, while partying and having a good time, paid little attention to the people suffering from bubonic plague. It wiped out nearly eighty percent of Europe’s population. The people were wondering where were their religious leaders to save them from the plague.

Then there were the epoch making 1519 questions of Martin Luther, posted on the church door, ushering the reformation and the birth of Protestantism. And later there was the emergence of the counter-reformation which in essence gave birth to the baroque period. It gave us the stunning beauty, symmetry and sublime complexity of baroque music, art, and architecture. The beautiful music of Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and others is the fruit of the baroque era. So, schism, dissent and revolution within the church, while unpleasant, have always been fruitful and consequential.

The epistemology, phenomenology and theology of Christian teachings offer profound and unique aspects. The teachings are flexible; they invite and nurture seekers and doubters. I believe as one who has been exposed to many religious teachings, the uniqueness of Christianity is the theology of possibility, and, of course, loveagape–, toleration (not tolerance)acceptanceinclusion and accommodation. I do not think that Christ as a person would exclude anyone from his house or his table, because of gender orientation or preference.

As a psychiatrist, I was involved in the panel sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association in 1972 that studied and de-classified homosexuality as a mental illness. Forty one years later through the powerful instruments of genomics and proteomics, we are learning that homosexuality carries a heavy load of genetic predisposition. In some instances, we even know the address and even the zip code of the strand of atavistic genes or polygenes that skulk the physiological architecture of humans. Therefore, the more one knows, the more tolerant and understanding one becomes. Unfortunately in the last 40 years, social science has not kept up with brain science in that regard.

I believe leaders of all religious institutions and Christian denominations ought to collect knowledge, information and intellectual input, and through the prism of history, transform them into wisdom. Wisdom takes patience, deliberation and deference. I am reminded of Fredrick Nietzsche (1844-1900), the German philosopher, who saw the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet (1838-1875), 21 times.  He said “every time I see Carmen I become more patient, wiser and a better philosopher.” We need to generate wisdom. Impulsive actions, impatience, arrogance, expedient political moves to gain gratification of narcissistic needs and power are not needed. All religious teachings behoove us to avoid those pitfalls. I also believe that the future of the institution of faith is in the children and the programs that nurture and produce a strong community. Any erosion or diminution of programs that ultimately injures and compromises that commitment is sinful. This is how I define sin.

It is appropriate to respectfully and faithfully observe the holy days before us, namely Passover which begins at sundown today; Good Friday, coming on March 29, and Easter on Sunday March 31.  All three occasions exemplify the gift of hope, love, possibility, redemption and grace.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.


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