Bonhoeffer and the Anthropocene

  • Larry Rasmussen
Keywords: Anthropocene, Holocene, Climate change, War-and-industry identity, World-come-of-age, Moral responsibility, Natural life, Human knowledge and power


Anew geologic epoch, the Anthropocene, seems to be emerging. It is the result of humanity becoming the single most powerful force of planetary nature itself. A re-reading of Bonhoeffer, from 1932 through the prison letters, uncovers his premonitions of Anthropocene reality, together with its human causes. 1) An aggressive Western war-and-industry identity alienated from nature and fuelled by mastery that knows no limits as undertaken by autonomous humans in the name of freedom without constraint has accompanied, even driven, and gravely expanded human knowledge and power. 2) The reach of this human knowledge and power upon all earthly life has strained our ethical concepts to the breaking point. This sets in motion the need to reconceive moral responsibility itself. 3) There is no dialling back of history to some previous age, including the age of a religious a priori and the God of religion. For Christians, this means the constructive work entails deep interrogation of faith’s essential base points – Who is God? What do we really believe such that we would stake our lives on it? Who is Jesus Christ for us today when “today” is another epoch, even a non-analogous one? 4) In an epoch where “everything depends on humankind,” the constructive work of faith and the experience of Jesus Christ will be this-worldly and Earth-honouring. Transcendence, indeed God, is “the beyond in the midst of life,” experienced in an ethic of human responsibility for “the whole of earthly life.”