The ethics of the penultimate in a situation of ambiguity: A possible and relevant interpretation of Bonhoeffer in Brazil today

R Von Sinner


This article explores Bonhoeffer’s ethics of the penultimate in view of his poem “Christians and heathens” in dialogue with the Brazilian movie “God is Brazilian”, a picture of reality in North-eastern Brazil with all its ambiguities, including religious ambiguities. While religion seeks God´s help and in one way or another receives it, the real difference between Christians and heathens is that the former stand by God in God’s suffering as represented in human suffering. Bonhoeffer realized that in the penultimate there cannot be purity in real life. Latin American theologians Rubem Alves and Jon Sobrino, among others, followed the same line. For them as for Bonhoeffer, God is not a deus ex machina to fill in the gaps left by humans, but a God who is effective right in the centre and indeed the entirety of life. God is, then, present right in the midst of the ambiguities of life, in clear contrast with contemporary tendencies to shun such ambiguity.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Public Theology; ambiguity; Neopentecostalism

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ISSN 2413-9467 (online); ISSN 2413-9459 (print)

© 2017 Pieter de Waal Neethling Trust, Stellenbosch.

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