A review of a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian in Germany during the rise and reign of the Nazis:
Since the 1960s, some of Bonhoeffer’s admirers have seized upon a phrase from one of his lettersâ€””religionless Christianity”â€”to argue that he favored social action over theology. In fact, Bonhoeffer used the phrase to suggest the kind of ritualistic and over-intellectualized faith that had failed to prevent the rise of Hitler. It was precisely religionless Christianity that he worried about. After a 1939 visit to New York’s Riverside Church, a citadel of social-gospel liberalism, he wrote that he was stunned by the “self-indulgent” and “idolatrous religion” that he saw there. “I have no doubt at all that one day the storm will blow with full force on this religious hand-out,” he wrote, “if God himself is still anywhere on the scene.”
Bonhoeffer became a double-agent for the German resistance, and was later executed for taking part in one of the plots to assassinate Hitler.