- Some protest against St Andrews’ appointment of NT Wright.
- NT Wright’s speech, on women bishops, at General Synod.
- Charles Marsh reflects on Bonhoeffer’s time in America.
- Slavoj Žižek’s lecture on Apocalyptic Times.
- Jean-Luc Nancy on Communism.
- The ABC launch an exciting-looking new sight – Religion and Ethics – with pieces by Rowan Williams on resident aliens, Stanley Hauerwas on greed, Paul Griffiths on death, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im on Islam and human rights, David Novak on Judaism, punishment and torture, and others.
- Emma Wild-Wood on the journal of CMS Evangelist, Apolo Kivebulaya.
- Maria Nugent on the meaning of texts in Aboriginal people’s oral traditions.
- Tarkovsky films now free online.
- Sarah Coakley rethinks the sex crises in Catholicism and Anglicanism, Part 1.
- Archbishop Rowan Williams’ closing sermon at General Synod.
‘I think childhood suffering bothers us so deeply because we assume that children lack a life story which potentially gives their illness some meaning. In that respect I suspect we often fail to appreciate the richness of their young world as well as their toughness and resilience. But I suspect that what bothers us even more about childhood suffering is that it makes us face our deepest suspicions that all of us lack a life story which would make us capable of responding to illness in a manner that would enable us to go on as individuals, as friends, as parents, and as a community. I suspect that if Christian convictions have any guidance to give us about how we are to understand as well as respond to suffering, it is by helping us discover that our lives are located in God’s narrative – the God who has not abandoned us even when we or someone we care deeply about is ill’. – Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the Silences: God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering (London/New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 67.
I recently started reading Stanley Hauerwas’ latest book Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir. It’s a very special book, and over the next bit I may even post a few exerpts from it. But in the meantime, here’s two videos in which Hauerwas talks about this book, the nature of theological biography, the life of a theologian, having children, engaging with Islamic thought, encountering Karl Barth and other things that have changed his life.
‘The last thing in the world I want is a personal relationship with God. Our relationship with God is mediated. And that’s the reason why without the Church we know not God … Our faith is a mediated faith through people reformed by word and sacrament. So I would never trust myself to have a personal relationship with God’.
I was immediately struck by this comment, spurted out in true Hauerwasian style. And while I reckon that Hauerwas needed to introduce a distinction here between ‘personal’ and ‘individual’ (I assume that it is the latter that he most concerned with) I think that his basic point is right.
Paul Tillich, in one of his clearer bits of writing (and there aren’t many of those), also argued that ‘the life of faith is life in the community of faith, not only in its communal activities and institutions but also in the inner life of its members … There is no life of faith, even in mystical solitude, which is not life in the community of faith’. (Dynamics of Faith, 118)
This same word was brought home to me again recently when I was reading Robert McAfee Brown’s book Is Faith Obsolete? In that book, Brown makes the point that we do not believe by ourselves, as individuals in isolation; ‘we believe as part of a community of believers, whether the community is a Benedictine monastery, a communist cell, a Protestant congregation, a Jewish minyan, or a Hindu ashram’. He continues: ‘To be sure, we must personally appropriate the faith of the community to which we belong and make it our own, and in this sense Luther was right in insisting that everyone has to do his own believing just as everyone has to do his own dying. But we need to remember also that the faith we personally appropriate is the faith of the community, and this means that even the most internalized, existential act of personal commitment will bind us into a communal relationship of shared belief with others. Even if the faith I appropriate were somehow brand new, never before conceived, the product of no apparent community save my own internal dialogue with myself, if I really believed it to be true I would perforce share it with others and thus, whether I directly willed it or not, a new community would be created around it’ (p. 141).
There is, Brown insists, a relationship between faith and community which is ‘inextricably joined together’. ‘Community’, he writes, ‘can only be created around a faith; faith can only be creative within a community’. And then he helpfully proceeds to identify five ways in which community nurtures and strengthens the life of faith.
1. The community is an economy of relations wherein the faith of individuals can be tested against the faith of the community. ‘The community has a long history; better still, it has a memory, which means that it can put its history to use. The individual has a short history that needs frequent checking against the community’s longer history’ (p. 142). This means that the practices and learnings of the present are to be in critical relation with, and to exemplify, the life of faith as the creative appropriation of an open past.
2. The community is an economy of faithful relations where the faith of the community can be tested against the faith of the individual. This means that ‘any community that is truly a community must be able to suffer fools gladly and even embrace the heretics that threaten its peace. Since communities are almost always careful and conservative, they need the leaven of fresh ideas, along with new interpretations of old ideas, and these are contributions that only the most venturesome within their midst are likely to propound’ (p. 143). This, Brown insists, is how communities stay alive and grow. He cites Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, Hans Küng and Daniel Berrigan, as examples of those who were used by God to bring fresh wine alongside old wineskins.
3. The community is an economy of relations of faith where the burdens of doubt can be shared. Faith always – and necessarily – involves risk, some of which are too overwhelming and potentially destructive to be shouldered by the individual alone. At such times, Brown reminds us, ‘the community can be the place for “the bearing of burdens,” where things too heavy to be borne individually can, at least during crucial moments, be borne corporately. It need not be a sign of individual weakness, but rather it can be a sign of communal strength, when an individual can say of the forgiveness of sins or the inevitability of the victory of the proletariat, or whatever: “Look, that part of it just doesn’t make sense to me right now. It did once, and I hope it will again, but for the moment the rest of you will have to do the believing for me”’ (p. 144). This quality of sharing is not to be interpreted as an exposure of weakness but rather as charismatic, i.e. as gift.
4. The community is an economy of relations which contributes to the life of faith precisely because it functions as the locale where faith can be celebrated and faith’s loves embodied, where the community’s members may ‘draw assurance that their faith is a future possibility for all because it is a present reality for a few’ (p. 145). Is this not precisely why we compose community-forming liturgies, and, conversely where we are made communities by that same liturgical action, in order that we might dramatise our graced convictions and spur each other on to participate in, and be continually recreated by, the faith we share and which has taken hold of us. At the very centre of this action, participation and recreation is the eucharist, that event-location around which communities gather to both remember, in the sense of recalling the past, and also to re-member themselves. There is an important (re-)ordering that needs to takes place here too, and that with ecumenical implications. We ought to eat and drink together first, and then talk theology. To invert this ordering is a nonsense. Debra Dean Murphy recently reminded us, ‘Through the sacramental gifts of Christ’s body and blood, the community receives itself – it becomes the body of Christ, blessed, broken, and shared. As the Great Thanksgiving says, we are made “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” In this act the Church is united across time and distinctions between the global and the local are collapsed, for in every local assembly is the whole body – “the world in a wafer,” as Bill Cavanaugh has said’.
5. Finally, community is an economy of relations which ‘contributes to the life of faith by being the place where faith is energized to turn outward. Communities cannot remain ingrown, concerned only with their own inner life. They too must exemplify faith as the dynamic interrelationship of content and commitment. They must thrust their members out into the “strange land,” into the arenas of life not populated by the community’ (p. 146). In other words, the community called by God and re-membered around generous helpings of broken loaves and poured out bottles of Shiraz is ever the apostolic community, i.e., it is always a people being ‘sent’ out in order to invite others to the feast.
Perhaps Hauerwas’ comments are not so strange after all.
The Centre for Public Christianity has made available a wonderful four-part interview with Stanley Hauerwas in which he and Greg Clarke discuss the connections between religion and violence, the place of Christianity in the modern University, death, friendship and community.
In the latter, Hauerwas makes the following comment:
‘The last thing in the world I want is a personal relationship with God. Our relationship with God is mediated. And that’s the reason why without the Church we know not God … Our faith is a mediated faith through people reformed by word and sacrament. So I would never trust myself to have a personal relationship with God’.
There’s one wee book of Hauerwas’ that I purchased during the past year and never got around to reading, namely Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words (Brazos Press, 2004). Lent seemed like the right time to dig in. So I found me a quiet moment tonight and read it. Here’s a few passages that I sat with for a while:
‘Everyday death always threatens the everyday, but we depend on our death-denying routines to return life to normality’. (p. 26)
On Luke 23:43: ‘What does it mean to say these are criminals?’ (p. 38)
Citing Rowan Williams: ‘God is in the connections we cannot make’. (p. 39)
‘Our attempt to speak confidently of God in the face of modern skepticism, a skepticism we suspect also grips our lives as Christians, betrays a certainty inappropriate for a people who worship a crucified God’. (p. 40)
‘Our salvation is no more or no less than being made part of God’s body, God’s enfleshed memory, so that the world may know that we are redeemed from our fevered and desperate desire to insure we will not be forgotten’. (p. 44)
‘In spite of the current presumption that Christianity is important for no other reasin than that Christians are pro-family people, it must be admitted that none of the Gospels portray Jesus as family-friendly’. (p. 50)
‘Jesus’s being handed over, Jesus’s obedience even to the point of death, Jesus’s cry of abandonment makes no sense if this is not the outworking of the mystery called Trinity. This is not God becoming what God was not, but rather here we witness what God has always been … The cross, this cry of abandonment, is not God becoming something other than God, is not an act of divine self-alienation; instead this is the very character of God’s kenosis – complete self-emptying made possible by perfect love’. (pp. 62–3)
‘This is not a dumb show that some abstract idea of god appears to go through to demonstrate that he or she really has our best interest at heart. No, this is the Father’s deliberately giving his Christ over to a deadly destiny so that our destiny would not be determined by death’. (p. 63)
‘We try … to compliment God by saying that God is transcendent, but ironically our very notion of transcendence can make God a creature after our own hearts. Our idea of God, our assumption that God must possess the sovereign power to make everything turn out all right for us, at least in the long run, is revealed by Jesus’s cry of abandonment to be the idolatry it is … In truth we stand with Pilate. We do not want to give up our understanding of God. We do not want Jesus to be abandoned because we do not want to acknowledge that the one who abandons and is abandoned is God. We seek to “explain” these words of dereliction, to save and protect God from making a fool out of being God, but our attempts to protect God reveal how frightening we find a God who refuses to save us by violence’. (pp. 64–5)
‘If God is not in Mary’s belly, we are not saved’. (p. 76)
‘”It is finished” is not a death gurgle. “It is finished” is not “I am done for.” “It is finished” will not be, as we know from the tradition of the ordering of these words from the cross, the last words of Jesus. “It is finished is a cry of victory. “It is finished” is the triumphant cry that what I came to do has been done. All is accomplished, completed, fulfilled work. The work that is finished, moreover, is the cross. He will be and is resurrected, but the resurrected One remains the One crucified. Rowan Williams reminds us of Pascal’s stark remark that “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” This is a remark that makes unavoidable the recognition that we live in the time between the times – the kingdom is begun in Christ but will not be consummated or perfected until the end of the world. Williams observes that Pascal’s comment on Jesus’s on-going agony is not an observation about the deplorable state of unbelievers; it is instead an exhortation to us, those who believe in Christ. It is an exhortation not to become nostalgic for a supposedly lets compromised past or take refuge in some imagined purified future, but to dwell in the tension-filled time between times, to remain awake to our inability “to stay in the almost unbearable present moment where Jesus is.”‘ (pp. 83–4)
‘We are told in John 1:18 that without the Son no one can see the Father. Von Balthasar, therefore, reminds us “when the Son, the Word of the Father is dead, then no one can see God, hear of him or attain him. And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father, accordingly, inaccessible.” This is the terror, the silence of the Father, to which Jesus has committed himself, this is why he cried the cry of abandonment. He has commended himself to the Father so he might for us undergo the dark night of death. Jesus commends himself to the Father, becoming for us all that is contrary to God. Christ suffers by becoming the “No” that the salvation wrought by his life creates. Without Christ there could be no hell – no abandonment by God – but the very hell created by Christ cannot overwhelm the love he has for us’. (p. 97)
‘Christ had no Christ to imitate’. (p. 99)
- Jason Byassee on tradition, Jaroslav Pelikan and the Masai creed: ‘I love the way Herbert McCabe, the Dominican priest and theologian, put it: “We don’t know what Christians will believe in the 24th century, but we know they will not be Arians or Nestorians.” Creeds, usually occasioned by a new teaching the church must either bless or condemn, cut off certain roads. But they do not mandate which road we all must go down for all time. Future ages will have to figure that out, while submitting to what has come before. But that submission is a granting of freedom, not a tragic cutting off of possibility’. There are some important implications here for the conversation currently going on in my own denomination about writing a new confession of faith.
- Anthony Gottlieb on God and gardens.
- Cynthia R. Nielsen continues her series on Gadamer with two more posts.
- Stanley Hauerwas responds to Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
- Renardo Barden reviews Dylan’s Christmas album: ‘Occasionally Dylan chases and misses the high notes and botches daring full-throttle endings. His church Latin is no good, and he’s losing yet more ground on his claim to sing as good as Caruso. But he’s still out there, making new of what’s old, light of what’s silly, and merry for merriment’s sake’.
- Halden Doerge offers some critiques of individualism as will to power: ‘… “individualism” is only scary to those who want to control the social lives of others. Honestly I don’t think it can possibly be a coincidence that the folks most virulently critical of individualism are white males who have significant university posts. Indeed I’m hard pressed to think of a single female scholar who has attacked individualism in ways akin to say Robert Bellah or Zygmunt Bauman … It seems to me that critiques of individualism invariably come beset with a totalizing vision of “the good society” that, ostensibly should be actualized whether people like it or not (because obviously they don’t like it or they’d be doing it already). In short, I don’t know how critiques of individualism, as such, avoid the charge that they are simply instances of the will to power. They are always animated with angst, fear, and revulsion towards the current shape of social life and deeply desirous of reshaping society in accordance with their own vision. It’s hard for me to image that not being ultimately fascist (Milbank is perhaps the most sophisticated example of a theological fascist writing today)’.
- Andre Muller posts on music.
- Finally, I’ve been posting on advent: Part I, II, III, IV.
‘The seminaries have produced clergy who are agents of modernity, experts in the art of congregational adaptation to the cultural status-quo, enlightened facilitators whose years of education have trained them to enable believers to detach themselves from the insights, habits, stories and structures that make the church the church’. – Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens: A provocative Christian assessment of culture and ministry for people who know that something is wrong (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 116.
- Jim Gordon posts on John Denver CDs!
- Joseph Tkach offers a tribute to Ray Anderson.
- Paul Fromont has been thinking about Gospel and culture with Stanley Hauerwas and Miroslav Volf (Parts I, II, IIIa, IIIb, IV)
- Kyle Strobel has been blogging (Parts I, II, III) George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let us Keep the Feast.
- Halden Doerge posts a cracker from McCabe on God’s Self-Understanding.
‘The dominant assumption has been that the evaluation of different kinds of sexual expressions should center on whether they are or are not expressive of love. On the contrary, the ethics of sex must begin with political considerations, because ethically the issue of the proper form of sexual activity raises the most profound issues about the nature and form of political community. I am not denying that sex obviously has to do with interpersonal matters, but I am asserting that we do not even know what we need to say about the personal level until we have some sense of the political context necessary for the ordering of sexual activity. Indeed, one of the main difficulties with the assumption that thc ethics of sex can be determined on the basis of interpersonal criteria is the failure to see how that assumption itself reflects a political option. To reduce issues of sexuality to the question of whether acts of sex are or are not fulfilling for those involved is to manifest the assumption of political liberalism that sex is a private matter. The hold this political theory has on us is illustrated by how readily we also accept the assumption that the private nature of sexuality does not involve issues of political theory …
‘We must understand that if Christians and non-Christians differ over marriage, that difference does not lie in their understanding of the quality of interpersonal relationship needed to enter or sustain a marriage, but rather in a disagreement about the nature of marriage and its place in the Christian and national community. Christians above all should note that there are no conceptual or institutional reasons that require love between the parties to exist in order for the marriage to be successful …
The requirement of love in marriage is not correlative to the intrinsic nature of marriage but is based on the admonition for Christians to love one another. We do not love because we are married, but because we are Christian. We may, however, learn what such love is like within the context of marriage. For the Christian tradition claims that marriage helps to support an inclusive community of love by grounding it in a pattern of faithfulness toward another. The love that is required in marriage functions politically by defining the nature of Christian social order, and as children arrive they are trained in that order.
Moreover, Christians should see that the family cannot, contrary to [Bertrand] Russell’s claim, exist as an end in itself nor by itself provide a sufficient check against pretentious rationalism. Such an assumption is but a continuation of the liberal perversion of the family and only makes the family and marriage more personally destructive. When families exist for no reason other than their own existence, they become quasi-churches, which ask sacrifices far too great and for insufficient reasons. The risk of families which demand that we love one another can be taken only when there are sustaining communities with sufficient convictions that can provide means to form and limit the status of the family. If the family does stand as a necessary check on the state, as Russell and I both think it should, it does so because it first has a place in an institution that also stands against the state – the church …
‘ … the ambivalence of the church toward marriage is grounded in the eschatological convictions which freed some from the necessity of marriage – i.e., singleness becomes a genuine option for service to the community. This is a dangerous doctrine indeed, for it is a strange community which would risk giving singleness an equal status with marriage. But that is what the church did, and as a result marriage was made a vocation rather than a natural necessity. But as a vocation, marriage can be sustained only so long as it is clear what purposes it serves in the community which created it in the first place. With the loss of such a community sanction, we are left with the bare assumption that marriage is a voluntary institution motivated by the need for interpersonal intimacy …
‘Many want to treat sex as just another form of communication – like shaking hands. I suppose in response to such a suggestion one can at least point out that sex is often more fun than shaking hands. However, the reason that we seem to assume that sex should be reserved for “special relations” is not that sex itself is special, but that the nature of sex serves the ends of intimacy. But intimacy is indeed a tricky matter to sustain, and that may be the reason why many have argued that marriage is necessary to provide the perduring framework to sustain intimacy.
Moreover, once the political function of marriage is understood to be central for the meaning and institution of marriage, we have a better idea of what kinds of people we ought to be to deal with marriage. Most of the literature that attempts to instruct us about getting along in marriage fails to face up to a fact so clearly true that I have dared to call it Hauerwas’s Law: You always marry the wrong person. It is as important to note, of course, as Herbert Richardson pointed out to me, that the reverse of the law is also true: namely, that you also always marry the right person. The point of the law is to suggest the inadequacy of the current assumption that the success or failure of a marriage can be determined by marrying the “right person.” Even if you have married the “right person,” there is no guarantee that he or she will remain such, for people have a disturbing tendency to change. Indeed, it seems that many so-called “happy marriages” are such because of the partners’ efforts to preserve “love” by preventing either from changing.
This law is meant not only to challenge current romantic assumptions but to point out that marriage is a more basic reality than the interpersonal relations which may or may not characterize a particular marriage. Indeed, the demand that those in a marriage love one another requires that marriage have a basis other than the love itself. For it is only on such a basis that we can have any idea of how we should love’.
– Stanley Hauerwas, ‘Sex and Politics: Bertrand Russell and “Human Sexuality”‘.
‘There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters — God and Cæsar’. So was Tertullian’s response (in On Idolatry 19) to a question he posed of ‘whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments’.
My recent return to the Antipodes (after only 3 years) has been met with something of a shock at what I observe to be a distinct revival of patriotism in this part of the world symbolised not least in the hoisting of national flags. I can only interpret this as a public confession that the soul of the nation is distressed. Holding this thought, I remember once hearing (on tape) the great Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones lamenting that the saddest day in ecclesiastical history was when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. (Of course, it may been different if Constantine had turned out to be a different kind of Emperor, but that’s not my point here). At the time, I wondered if this was a bit of an overstatement (a brilliant preacher’s rhetoric beclouding more constrained reflection on what is only one of millions of possible ‘saddest day’ candidates), but he was certainly onto something: that the Church’s jumping into bed with and baptising nationhood with its programs and events – such as Anzac Day – serves to highlight yet again that there is literally all the difference in the world between discipleship and citizenship, that with or without the third verse the Church cannot in good conscience sing the hymn ‘I vow to thee, my country’, words which were rung out at many a recent Anzac Day service. (And while I’m on Anzac Day services, let me tout that the Church can only faithfully recall the deaths that war has claimed if she does so as part of her proclamation against all war.)
The Church betrays its witness to the one Word of God when she includes a national flag among – or alongside – her emblems of worship. Nationalism and patriotism are always idolatrous enemies of a jealous Lord who tolerates no rivals. To see a national flag displayed in a place of Christian worship is to witness a message as scandalous and confusing as to see an ATM machine in a ‘church foyer’. Moreover, to witness (or to participate in) what Lesslie Newbigin described as ‘the Constantinian trap’ is to observe (and/or to participate in) the greatest of public failures – the denial of the Church’s font, table and pulpit, its raison d’être and its catholicity in the world. It is to preach that the greatest thing in the world – the Church – has become a chaplain of the State and its violent machinery. Paul Fromont recently gave voice to similar concerns by drawing upon Stanley Hauerwas’ writing as that concerned with ‘liberation’. For Hauerwas, he writes, this typically centres on a two-fold dynamic: (1) The liberation of the church from its captivity to agendas, values and practices intrinsically alien to its character and calling; and (2) liberation (in order to) restore the church to be and act as what [Hauerwas] terms a ‘free agent’ of the Kingdom appropriate to God’s agenda of the salvation of the cosmos and its re-creation (cf. Rev 21:1; Rom 8:22). I recall Hauerwas’ words from another context: to ‘worship in a church with an American flag’ means that ‘your salvation is in doubt’. Patriotism is no Christian virtue. (See Hauerwas’ Dissent from the Homeland, p. 184). The problem in Germany during the 1930s and 40s wasn’t that German Christians draped the cross with a Nazi flag; it was that they draped the cross with a flag full stop. Christian communities ought remove all national flags from their places of worship, and to do so at least as publicly as when they were first placed there. The removal should be accompanied by a public prayer of confession for despoiling the Church’s witness to its Lord, and to its own catholicity.
Against those who contend that the Church’s role is to baptise those creations of common good that the State concerns itself with, William Cavanaugh, in his brilliant essay, ‘Killing for the Telephone Company: Why the Nation-State is not the Keeper of the Common Good’ (Modern Theology 20/2, 2004), observes that Christian social ethics more often than not proceed on the false assumption that the responsibility for promoting and protecting the common good falls to the State. He avers:
The nation-state is neither community writ large nor the protector of smaller communal spaces, but rather originates and grows over against truly common forms of life. This is not necessarily to say that the nation-state cannot and does not promote and protect some goods, or that any nation-state is entirely devoid of civic virtue, or that some forms of ad hoc cooperation with the government cannot be useful. It is to suggest that the nation-state is simply not in the common good business. At its most benign, the nation-state is most realistically likened, as in MacIntyre’s apt metaphor, to the telephone company, a large bureaucratic provider of goods and services that never quite provides value for money. The problem, as MacIntyre notes, is that the nation-state presents itself as so much more; namely, as the keeper of the common good and repository of sacred values that demands sacrifice on its behalf. The longing for genuine communion that Christians recognize at the heart of any truly common life is transferred onto the nation-state. Civic virtue and the goods of common life do not simply disappear; as Augustine saw, the earthly city flourishes by producing a distorted image of the heavenly city. The nation-state is a simulacrum of common life, where false order is parasitical on true order. In a bureaucratic order whose main function is to adjudicate struggles for power between various factions, a sense of unity is produced by the only means possible: sacrifice to false gods in war. The nation-state may be understood theologically as a kind of parody of the Church, meant to save us from division. The urgent task of the Church, then, is to demystify the nation-state and to treat it like the telephone company. At its best, the nation-state may provide goods and services that contribute to a certain limited order – mail delivery is a positive good. The state is not the keeper of the common good, however, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly. The Church must break its imagination out of captivity to the nation-state. The Church must constitute itself as an alternative social space, and not simply rely on the nation-state to be its social presence. The Church needs, at every opportunity, to “complexify” space, that is, to promote the creation of spaces in which alternative economies and authorities flourish. (pp. 266–7)
Cavanaugh contends that by regarding the nation-state as responsible for the common good, ‘the Church’s voice in such crucial moral matters as war becomes muted, pushed to the margins. Just war reasoning becomes a tool of statecraft, most commonly used by the state to justify war, rather than a moral discipline for the Church to grapple with questions of violence. The Church itself becomes one more withering “intermediate association”, whose moral reasoning and moral formation are increasingly colonized by the nation-state and the market. To resist, the Church must at the very least reclaim its authority to judge if and when Christians can kill, and not abdicate that authority to the nation-state. To do so would be to create an alternative authority and space that does not simply mediate between state and individual’ (p. 268). That is why one appropriate Christian witness might be the refusal of those who reside in States where funding goes to pay for the machinery of aggressive war to withhold a percentage of their income tax commensurate with the State’s war budget. (Here I have in mind Yoder’s essay ‘Why I Don’t Pay All My Income Tax’).
While the Church shares some cultural space with the world, it is not an institution alongside others, and it exists for the propping up of none. The Church, as Peter Leithart argues in Against Christianity, is both ‘an alternative world unto herself’, and a participant in the Spirit’s ‘subversive mission of converting whatever culture she finds herself in’. And the Church participates in the second only as she lives authentically as the first – i.e. as she embodies an alternative Societas determined by its own jealous Servant-Lord and shaped by its own unique narrative. Christendom can never undertake this mission because it can only propose ideas or offer the Church as a ‘new sort of religious association’, essentially no different to a local lawn bowls club. It does not form an alternative city, a ‘new, eschatological ordering of human life’. ‘Constantinianism … is a theological and missiological mistake’ (Rodney Clapp).
If Leithart is right that the mission of the Church involves the converting of culture then, as I intimated above, this can only happen as the congregation of Jesus lives uncompromisingly under a different economy and politic. The consequence of such living will inevitably provoke a declaration of war by the gods. History is indeed the battle for worship, as the Book of the Revelation bears witness to.
Anyway, back to the issue of the flag. Few have named the stakes as cogently and as carefully as Karl Barth, with whose words I bring this post to a close:
[The] combining of the Word of Jesus Christ with the authority and contents of other supposed revelations and truths of God has been and is the weak point, revealed already in the gnosis attacked in the New Testament, at almost every stage in the history of the Christian Church. The prophecy of Jesus Christ has never been flatly denied, but fresh attempts have continually been made to list it with other principles, ideas and forces (and their prophecy) which are also regarded and lauded as divine, restricting its authority to what it can signify in co-ordination with them, and therefore to what remains when their authority is also granted. Nor is this trend characteristic only of early and mediaeval Catholicism. It is seen in Protestantism too, from the very outset in certain circles, even in the Reformers themselves, and then with increasing vigour and weight, until the fatal little word “and” threatened to become the predominant word of theology even in this sphere where we might have hoped for better things in view of what seemed to be the strong enough doctrine of justification. It needed the rise of the strange but temporarily powerful sect of the German Christians of 1933 to call us back to reflection, and at least the beginning of a return, when the more zealous among them, in addition to their other abominations, awarded cultic honour to the portrait of the Führer. The overthrow of this whole attitude, and its provisional reversal, was accomplished in the first thesis of Barmen which is the theme of the present exposition. But there are other Christian nations in which it is customary to find a prominent place in the church for national flags as well as the pulpit and the Lord’s table, just as there are evangelical churches which substitute for the Lord’s table a meaningfully furnished apparatus for the accomplishment of baptism by immersion [or, one might add, that most holy of contemporary ecclesiastical furniture – the data projector and its accompanying screen]. These externals, of course, are trivial in themselves. But as such they may well be symptoms of the attempt which is possible in so many forms to incorporate that which is alien in other prophecies into what is proper to that of Jesus Christ. If these prophecies are prepared for this – and sooner or later they will make an open bid for sole dominion – the prophecy of Jesus Christ asks to be excused and avoids any such incorporation. If it is subjected to such combinations, the living Lord Jesus and His Word depart, and all that usually remains is the suspiciously loud but empty utterance of the familiar name of this Prophet. “No man can serve two masters” (Mt. 6:24). No man can serve both the one Word of God called Jesus Christ and other divine words’. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.3.1 (ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance; trans. G.W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999), 101–2.
I am just postmodern enough not to trust “postmodern” as a description of our times, for it privileges the practices and intellectual formations of modernity. Calling this a postmodern age reproduces the modernist assumption that history must be policed by periods. Just as modernity created the “middle ages,” which we all then knew could be safely left behind, “postmodern” is far too comforting since it gives the illusion that we know where we are – in contradiction to the postmodernist’s epistemological doubt that such knowledge is available.
Modernity was created by a deliberate rejection of the past, but ironically modernity is now our past. Accordingly, as J. Bottum puts it (“Christians and Postmoderns,” FT, February 1994), “postmodernity is still in the line of modernity, as rebellion against rebellion is still rebellion, as an attack on the constraints of grammar must still be written in grammatical sentences, as a skeptical argument against the structures of rationality must still be put rationally.” Or as Reinhard Hutter observes, “it belongs to the ironies of modernity that exactly those who are most modern increasingly claim postmodernity as modernity’s most recent advance.”
I confess I take perverse delight as a theologian in the controversies surrounding postmodernism. Modernity sought to secure knowledge in the structure of human rationality, and relegated God to the “gaps” or denied Him all together. Modernity said that God is a projection of the ideals and wants of what it means to be human so let us serve and worship the only God that matters – that is, the human. Postmodernists, in the quest to be thorough in their atheism, now deny that the human exists. Postmodernists are thus the atheists that only modernity could produce.
I do find it puzzling, however, to watch theologians, both conservative and liberal, come to the defense of the human, the rational, objectivity, the “text,” “moral values,” science, and all the other conceits the modern university cherishes in the name of “humanism.” It is as though Christians have forgotten that we also have a stake in atheism. Christians do not believe in the “human”; we believe in God – a God we believe, moreover, who intends to kill us all in the end. So we Christians do not oppose nuclear weapons because they threaten to destroy “mother earth,” but because the God we serve would not have one life unjustly taken even if such a killing would insure the survival of the human species. Indeed, it is not even clear that we Christians know what the human species is or what status it may have since we have surer knowledge that we are creatures than that we are human.
Christians, therefore, have little stake in the question of whether we live in a postmodern time. For us, any divide in history, the way we tell the story of how we have come to the place where we are, requires a reading of God’s providential care of God’s creation through the people of Israel and the Church. Israel and the Church are not characters in a larger story called “world,” but rather “world” is a character in God’s story as known through the story that Israel is the Church. Without them there is no world to have a story. From my perspective, “postmodernism” merely names an interesting set of developments in the social order that is based on the presumption that God does not matter.
The imperialistic character of these claims for the significance of the Church does not mean that it is unimportant for Christians to understand the peculiar development called modernity. Rather, as I just suggested, we must narrate the modern story on our terms. That, I fear, is what we have not done in modernity. Christians’ attitudes toward modernity have primarily been characterized by a sense of inferiority. As John Milbank observes, “the pathos of modern theology is its false humility.” Our preaching and theology has been one ceaseless effort to conform to the canons of intelligibility produced by the economic and intellectual formations characteristic of modern and liberal societies.
Christians in modernity thought their task was to make the Gospel intelligible to the world rather than to help the world understand why it could not be intelligible without the Gospel. Desiring to become part of the modernist project, preachers and theologians accepted the presumption that Christianity is a set of beliefs, a “worldview,” designed to give meaning to our lives. In the name of being politically responsible in, to, and for liberal social orders, the politics of Christian discourse was relegated to the private realm. We accepted the politics of translation believing that neither we nor our non-Christian and half-Christian neighbors could be expected to submit to the discipline of Christian speech.
Ironically, the attempt to make Christianity intelligible often sought support from those philosophical and literary theories that attempted to protect discourse from translation-the most prominent example being New Criticism. Under the influence of New Criticism, some thought that Christianity could be conceived as a beautiful poem that is its own justification. Such a poem, of course, could and should illumine the human condition, but exactly because the poem provided such illumination, all attempts to make the poem “do something” must be condemned as crass. Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, in quite different ways, gave theological warrant to the high humanism intrinsic to the powerful set of suggestions associated with such formalist theories. What could be more comforting to modern consciousness than to discover that “ultimate concern” and “sin” are essential and unavoidable characteristics of the human condition? You do not even need to go to church to learn that. Reading Shakespeare will do just as well if not better.
The humanistic presumptions of New Criticism nicely fit the aestheticism of the middle class that dominates Christianity in America – at least the Christianity that produces intellectuals like us. That is why I take it that contemporary preaching is still dominated by formalist presumptions even if preachers think they have theoretically left such theories behind. New critical habits are hard habits to break because they fit so well the class interests that dominate the seminary cultures in which many of us are located.
In particular, new critical assumptions hide from us how our theological presumptions are shaped by class interests. Frank Lentricchia, in his Modernist Quartet, makes the fascinating suggestion that the modernist writer defined himself against the standards of the mass market by becoming the champion of radical originality and the maker of a “one-of-a-kind-text.” He observes, however, that “the modernist desire in Frost and Eliot – to preserve an independent selfhood against the coercions of the market, a self made secure by the creation of a unique style – is subverted by the market, not because they wrote according to popular formulas, but because they give us their poems as delicious experiences of voyeurism, illusions of direct access to the life and thought of the famous writer, with the poet inside the poem like a rare animal in a zoo. This was the only commodity Frost and Eliot were capable of producing: the modernist phenomenon as product, mass culture’s ultimate revenge on those who would scorn it.”
In like manner, the preaching and theology shaped by new critical presumptions to illumine the human condition hid from us that the human condition we were illuminating was that of the bourgeoisie. That is why the sermon meant to illumine our condition, which is often eloquent and profound, is also so forgettable and even boring. Insights about the human condition are a dime a dozen. Most days most of us would rightly trade any insight for a good meal.
The high humanism of contemporary theology and preaching not only hid the class interest intrinsic to such preaching, but also reinforced the presumption that Christians could be Christians without enemies. Christianity, as the illumination of the human condition, is not a Christianity at war with the world. Liberal Christianity, of course, has enemies, but they are everyone’s enemies – sexism, racism, homophobia. But liberal versions of Christianity, which can be both theologically and politically conservative, assume that what it means to be Christian qua Christian is to have no enemies peculiar to being Christian. Psalms such as Psalm 109, which ask God to destroy our enemies and their children, can appear only as embarrassing holdovers of “primitive” religious beliefs. Equally problematic are apocalyptic texts that suggest Christians have been made part of a cosmic struggle.
“Cosmic struggle” sounds like a video game that middle-class children play. Most of us do not go to church because we are seeking a safe haven from our enemies; we go to church to be assured we have no enemies. Accordingly, we expect our ministers to exemplify the same kind of bureaucratic mentality so characteristic of modern organizational behavior and politics. I sometimes think that there is a conspiracy afoot to make Alasdair MacIntyre’s account of the manager in After Virtue empirically verifiable.
That the manager has become characteristic of liberal politics should not be surprising, but I continue to be taken aback by the preponderance of such character types in the ministry. Of course, I should not be surprised that a soulless church produces a soulless ministry devoid of passion. The ministry seems captured in our time by people who are desperately afraid they might actually be caught with a conviction at some point in their ministry that might curtail future ambition. They, therefore, see their task to “manage” their congregations by specializing in the politics of agreement by always being agreeable. The preaching such a ministry produces is designed to reinforce our presumed agreements, since a “good church” is one without conflict. You cannot preach about abortion, suicide, or war because those are such controversial subjects – better to concentrate on “insights” since they do so little work for the actual shaping of our lives and occasion no conflict.
I confess one of the things I like about the Southern Baptists is that they have managed to have a fight in public. Fundamentalists at least believe they are supposed to have strong views, and they even believe they are supposed to act on their convictions. The problem with most of the mainstream churches is that we do not even know how to join an argument-better, we think, to create a committee to “study the issue.”
If postmodernism means anything, it means that the comforting illusion of modernity that conflict is, can be, and should be avoided is over. No unbiased viewpoint exists that can in principle insure agreements. Our difficulty is not that we have conflicts, but that as modern people we have not had the courage to force the conflicts we ought to have had. Instead, we have comforted ourselves with the ideology of pluralism, forgetting that pluralism is the peace treaty left over from past wars that now benefits the victors of those wars.
One hopes that God is using this time to remind the Church that Christianity is unintelligible without enemies. Indeed, the whole point of Christianity is to produce the right kind of enemies. We have been beguiled by our established status to forget that to be a Christian is to be made part of an army against armies. It has been suggested that satisfaction theories of the Atonement and the correlative understanding of the Christian life as a life of interiority became the rule during the long process we call the Constantinian settlement. When Caesar becomes a member of the Church the enemy becomes internalized. The problem is no longer that the Church is seen as a threat to the political order, but that now my desires are disordered. The name for such an internalization in modernity is pietism and the theological expression of that practice is called Protestant liberalism.
In contrast, I am suggesting that our preaching should presume that we are preaching to a Church in the midst of a war – a position you may find odd to be advocated by a pacifist. I hope the oddness, however, might encourage you to reexamine your understanding of Christian nonviolence – which, if you are like me, was probably shaped by Reinhold Niebuhr. Who more than the Christian pacifist knows that Christians are in a war against war? Moreover, as a pacifist, I do not need something called the human condition illumined when I am preparing to face the enemy. Rather, I need to have a sense of where the battle is, what the stakes are, and what the long-term strategy might be. But that is exactly what most preaching does not do. It does not help us locate our enemy, because it does not believe that Christians should have enemies. In the name of love and peace, Christian preaching has reinforced the “normal nihilism” that grips our lives. We have a difficult time recognizing the wars that are already occurring or the wars that should be occurring because we think it so irrational that some should kill others in the name of “values.”
James Edwards has argued in his The Plain Sense of Things: The Fate of Religion in An Age of Values that nothing characterizes the nihilism that grips our lives better than the language of “values.” Nihilism is not a philosophical conspiracy designed by Nietzsche and some French intellectuals to undermine the good sense of liberal Americans – indeed Nietzsche was the great enemy of nihilism. Rather, nihilism is now the normal condition of our lives to the extent that we all believe that our lives are constituted by what Edwards calls “self-devaluating values.” All our values are self-devaluating because we recognize their contingency as values. As Edwards puts it, “normal nihilism is just the Western intellectual’s recognition and tolerance of her own historical and conceptual contingency. To be a normal nihilist is just to acknowledge that, however fervent and essential one’s commitment to a particular set of values, that’s all one has: a commitment to a particular set of values.”
Normal nihilism is not, however, a condition that grips only intellectuals, but rather forms everyone in liberal social orders. Edwards, for example, suggests that one could not want a better exemplification of normal nihilism than the regional shopping mall. In the mall, one not only sees alternative values tenuously jostling one another, but our very participation as consumers means we also indirectly act as the creator of those values. “In air-conditioned comfort one can stroll from life to life, from world to world, complete with appropriate sound effects (beeping computers; roaring lions). Laid out before one are whole lives that one can, if one has the necessary credit line, freely choose to inhabit: devout Christian; high-tech yuppie; Down East guide; great white hunter. This striking transformation of life into lifestyle, the way in which the tools, garments, and attitudes specific to particular times and places become commodities to be marketed to anonymous and rootless consumers: they are the natural (if also banal) expressions of our normal nihilism.” Nihilism is the result of having so many compact discs from which to choose that, no matter which ones we choose, we are dissatisfied because we cannot be sure we have chosen what we really wanted.
The moral threat is not consumerism or materialism. Such characterizations of the enemy we face as Christians are far too superficial and moralistic. The problem is not just that we have become consumers of our own lives, but that we can conceive of no alternative narrative since we lack any practices that could make such a narrative intelligible. Put differently, the project of modernity was to produce people who believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they have no story. Such a story is called the story of freedom and is assumed to be irreversibly institutionalized economically as market capitalism and politically as democracy. That story and the institutions that embody it is the enemy we must attack through Christian preaching.
I am aware that such a suggestion can only be met with disbelief. You may well think I cannot be serious. Normal nihilism is so wonderfully tolerant. Surely you are not against tolerance? How can anyone be against freedom? Let me assure you I am serious, I am against tolerance, I do not believe the story of freedom is a true or good story. I do not believe it is a good story because it is so clearly a lie. The lie is exposed by simply asking, “Who told you the story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you have no story?” Why should you let that story determine your life? Simply put, the story of freedom has now become our fate.
Consider, for example, the hallmark sentence of the Casey decision on abortion: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This is exactly the view of freedom that John Paul II so eloquently condemns in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. A view of freedom like that embodied in Casey assumes, according to John Paul II, that we must be able to create values since freedom enjoys “a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom.”
In contrast, John Paul II, who is not afraid to have enemies, reminds us that the good news of the Gospel, known through proclamation, is that we are not fated to be determined by such false stories of freedom. For the truth is that since we are God’s good creation we are not free to choose our own stories. Freedom lies not in creating our lives, but in learning to recognize our lives as a gift. We do not receive our lives as though they were a gift, but rather our lives simply are a gift: we do not exist first and then receive from God a gift. The great magic of the Gospel is providing us with the skills to acknowledge our life, as created, without resentment and regret. Such skills must be embodied in a community of people across time, constituted by practices such as baptism, preaching, and the Eucharist, which become the means for us to discover God’s story for our lives.
The very activity of preaching – the proclamation of a story that cannot be known apart from such proclamation – is an affront to the ethos of freedom. As the Church, we stand under the word because we know we are told what we otherwise could not know. We stand under the word because we know we need to be told what to do. We stand under the word because we do not believe we have minds worth making up on our own. Such guidance is particularly necessary for people like us who have been corrupted by our tolerance.
The liberal nihilists are, of course, right that our lives are contingent, but their account of contingency is unintelligible. Contingent to what? If everything is contingent, then to say we are contingent is simply not interesting. In contrast, Christians know their contingency is a correlative to their status as creatures. To be contingent is to recognize that our lives are intelligible only to the extent that we discover we are characters in a narrative we did not create. The recognition of our created status produces not tolerance, but humility. Humility derives not from the presumption that no one knows the truth, but rather is a virtue dependent on our confidence that God’s word is truthful and good.
Ironically, in the world in which we live if you preach with such humility you will more than likely be accused of being arrogant and authoritarian. To be so accused is a sign that the enemy has been engaged. After all, the enemy (who is often enough ourselves) does not like to be reminded that the narratives that constitute our lives are false. Moreover, you had better be ready for a fierce counteroffensive as well as be prepared to take some casualties. God has not promised us safety, but participation in an adventure called the Kingdom. That seems to me to be great good news in a world that is literally dying of boredom.
God has entrusted us, His Church, with the best story in the world. With great ingenuity we have managed, with the aid of much theory, to make that story boring as hell. Theories about meaning are what you get when you forget that the Church and Christians are embattled by subtle enemies who win easily by denying that any war exists. God knows what He is doing in this strange time between “worlds,” but hopefully He is inviting us again to engage the enemy through the godly weapons of preaching and sacrament. I pray that we will have the courage and humility to fight the enemy in Walter Rauschenbusch’s wonderful words, with “no sword but the truth.” According to Rauschenbusch, “such truth reveals lies and their true nature, as when Satan was touched by the spear of Ithuriel. It makes injustice quail on its throne, chafe, sneer, abuse, hurl its spear, tender its goal, and finally offer to serve as truth’s vassal. But the truth that can do such things is not an old woman wrapped in the spangled robes of earthly authority, bedizened with golden ornaments, the marks of honor given by injustice in turn for services rendered, and muttering dead formulas of the past. The truth that can serve God as the mightiest of his archangels is robed only in love, her weighty limbs unfettered by needless weight, calm-browed, her eyes terrible with beholding God.” May our eyes and our preaching be just as terrible. Indeed, may we preach so truthfully that people will call us terrorists. If you preach that way you will never again have to worry about whether a sermon is “meaningful.”
David Rutledge: One of the most prominent Christian pacifist voices in the US at the moment is Stanley Hauerwas, from Duke University in North Carolina. His prominence – or notoriety, perhaps – was established by Time magazine in its “America’s Best” issue of 2001, which proclaimed Stanley Hauerwas as “America’s Best Theologian” and ran a profile on him, entitled Christian Contrarian. In that article, he called on Christians not to be defined by their political community, and he condemned “any and all forms of patriotism, nationalism and state worship”. Well that issue of Time magazine hit the newsstands on September 10th, just 24 hours before the terrorist attacks that dramatically altered the American psyche – and that suddenly put Stanley Hauerwas out on the radical fringe of American public life. I asked Stanley Hauerwas if there was anything in that article that he would have changed, had he known that history was about to take the turn that it did.
Stanley Hauerwas: No, not a thing. I suppose that the claim that radical pacifism and Christian non-violence means that you’re critical of all forms of patriotism – I don’t know that I’m critical of “all forms of patriotism”, because I don’t know what “all forms of patriotism” would look like. I’m certainly critical of the kind of patriotism that we find in America. That is the worst kind possible, because it’s not just a loyalty to the particularities of history and geography, but because of America’s basis within the fundamental norms of the Enlightenment – freedom, equality, abstractions like that – then that means American patriotism cannot help but be a form of imperialism. And that’s always the way it has been. And I think it’s one of the most dangerous forms – indeed it’s virulent on the world stage.
Americans can’t understand – I mean, we just – Americans assume that if you just had enough education and enough money, you would want to be just like us – because we’re what free people look like. And therefore American patriotism, I think, is one of the worst forms that could possibly be present in the world.
I think that in America now, we’re really being ruled by the Right. And I think that they have a view of the world that is just not going to be open to any evidence. And so they’re determined to do this. I really believe that this war was on the drawing tables of many of the people that came into the Bush administration. And I think that September 11th was their licence to do it. September 11th determinatively changed American politics, there is absolutely no question about that. The mid-term elections that we just had, in which the Republicans gained seats both in the Senate and the Congress, is really – I mean, that has never happened in America. That’s new. And I think it has everything to do with Americans’ desire for security. September 11th brought the world home to America – and they don’t like it, they just don’t like it. And they’re willing to go with anyone that’s going to promise safety. And that’s what Bush is offering them.
But I really believe, since I’m a Christian, that you always live in a world at risk. Indeed, what Christianity is about, is always learning how to die early for the right reasons. And Americans just – that’s a thought that is unthinkable right now. I think the American response to September 11th is exactly the other side of the Americans’ unbelievable support for crisis care medicine. They think that if we just get good enough at curing cancer, or good enough at doing something about people suffering heart attacks, or good enough with genetics today, then they’re going to get out of this life alive. It’s just not going to happen.
David Rutledge: Can we go back to just war for a minute? You made an interesting comment, that the just war tradition raises the right kinds of questions; but then the just war tradition is seemingly being invoked at the moment as a justification for war. The assumption seems to be that we can and do wage war, so how can we do it and still remain faithful to our Christian ideals. Now as a pacifist, do you think that that is legitimate? How do you evaluate the just war tradition?
Stanley Hauerwas: I’m certainly willing always to join serious just war thinkers in trying to think through what the implications of being a just warrior should be. But if you take the war on Iraq: why is America able to even imagine going to war in Iraq? It’s because we can. We’ve got all this unbelievable military power, so we can envision it, because we have the capacity for it. Now, the question is: did you get the capacity to wage that kind of war on just war considerations? Is the United States’ foreign policy a just war foreign policy? Is the United States’ military preparedness based on just war considerations? No way! They’re based on presuppositions, that you’d better have as much military might as you can, in a world of anarchy, because the one with the most weapons at the end, wins.
Now, if just war people were more serious about raising questions about the implications of what just war would commit them to – for example, the war on terrorism could not possibly be a just war. I don’t even think it’s a war, I mean that’s a metaphorical use of the word “war” that comes from Americans’ views of – you know, the “war on drugs”, the “war on crime” – I mean, it’s just crap. Because what they need to think about is: just war is always about a political end, that you need to declare, so your enemy will know how they can resign and surrender. And so if you’re about annihilating your enemy, as we were in World War II – that is, we fought it for unconditional surrender – you can’t fight a just war for unconditional surrender, because you’re not trying to destroy your enemy, you’re only trying to stop your enemy from doing the wrong that you declared the war for. I mean, there can’t be a just war against terrorism, because you don’t even know who the enemy is, and you get to keep changing it, and the presumption that a just war should be in response to aggression: well, in what way is Iraq really threatening America? That hasn’t been shown at all. What Iraq threatens is American imperial hegemony in the world. How is that a criterion for just war?
So I regard most of the people that are trying to give an account of why it is that the war against Iraq could meet just war criteria, as just an ideological cover for American realism. And notice: no one’s talking about the war on terrorism that much in America right now, because we lost it. Or at least, we haven’t won it. So instead, everyone’s talking about the war against Iraq, and so you’ve made the shift from the war on terrorism to the war against Iraq, which you’re going to win, and so Bush is not being held accountable for the mistaken strategy of ever declaring war against terrorism.
David Rutledge: Theologian and pacifist Stanley Hauerwas, talking earlier this year on the eve of the American attack on Iraq.
Stanley Hauerwas: What I find absolutely crucial is reflecting on Christ’s death and resurrection. What that means is that God would rather die, God would rather have God’s own Son die, than to redeem the world through violence. And that central story is what Christians are about.
I go to an Episcopal church, and after we finish the Mass, one of the prayers that I find a deep comfort is – I just have the Book of Common Prayer here – Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son, our saviour Jesus Christ. You have fed us with spiritual food, in the sacrament of His body and blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you, with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen. Now, how could someone that prays that prayer every week at the Eucharistic sacrifice – and remember, the Eucharistic sacrifice is where we become part of Christ’s sacrifice for the world, so the world will know it’s got an alternative to violence – how can anyone that prays that prayer, week after week, run for the Presidency of the United States? It beats the hell out of me.
You know, I’m not trying to call Christians out of being politically involved; I just want them to be there as Christians. And instead, what they get is they think they have a personal relationship with Jesus, which makes it OK for them to do anything that they damn well please, in the name of what’s important for national defence. Well, Jesus is a political saviour, and that prayer is a political prayer. And that’s the kind of seizing of the imagination I’m trying to help Christians regain in America. Because in America, Christians just cannot distinguish themselves – what it means to be Christian, they assume it goes hand in hand with what it means to be an American. And that’s just a deep mistake. But how to help Christians recover that difference is very difficult indeed.
David Rutledge: How much help are you getting in that from the American Christian leadership?
Stanley Hauerwas: Well, for example: the Methodist bishops have given a kind of statement against going to war pre-emptively. And you know, they want you to work through the UN, and that kind of thing. They don’t just come out and say “you do it, George, and your soul is going to Hell. Or your soul is already in Hell”. Which I wish they would do. But George Bush, on the whole, is just ignoring any of that kind of statement, because he knows it doesn’t represent the American Methodists. Most American Methodists assume “well, something needs to be done”, and they therefore wouldn’t follow the lead of their bishops.
There’s been quite a number of statements by most of the mainstream religious bodies – you know, saying “go through the UN” and that kind of thing, but it’s had no effect. Because I think that Bush is right: most of the laity doesn’t know how to think about war at all. And the reason most Christian laity don’t know how to think about war at all, is because our religious leadership has never helped educate the American people. As a pacifist, when I go and lecture to churches about the ethics of war, and try to introduce them to just war considerations – because I think that just war is certainly a very serious alternative that people, if they do it seriously, it raises the right kinds of questions that ought to be raised – I usually get a hand stuck up, and someone says “no one’s every told me that Christians have a problem with war”. Isn’t that remarkable? I say “I know you’ve been betrayed. Fire your bishops”. The teaching office of the church has just been absent, over the years, about these kinds of matters.
David Rutledge: There was commentator in the journal First Things, who said that when Christian go off to fight a just war, they’re following Christ, but at a distance. And I wonder if, in your pacifism, you’re talking about something much more immediate, you’re talking about pacifism as the road to Calvary, if it has to be that way, as following Christ in such a way as to be led unresisting to a horrible death, if that’s what your Christianity calls you to do? Is that the kind of end that you have in mind?
Stanley Hauerwas: It certainly could be. I mean, what is the deep problem? The deep problem of Christian non-violence is: you must be willing to watch innocent people suffer for your convictions. Of course, that’s true. In the hard cases, it means it’s not just your death, it’s watching other people die, whom you might have been able to defend. Now of course, you want to try to do everything you can that would prevent that alternative. But you may have to envision that.
But look: the just warriors are in exactly the same position. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on just war grounds, were murder. There’s no other description for that. Just warriors need to argue that it would have been better for more people to die on the beaches of Japan, both Americans and Japanese, than to commit one murder. That’s what the position should be committed to holding. So of course, any account of serious attempt to morally control war, would mean that if you’re a just warrior, you’re going to have to watch the innocent suffer for your convictions – just like the pacifist does. But on the whole, most people who argue on just war grounds don’t want to acknowledge that. But they should.
David Rutledge: Do you think that one of the key problems for a message like yours, in America or in the world right now, is that when you talk about watching innocent people suffer in the course of a war, the most outstanding recent example of that is the deaths of thousands of Americans at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And the most difficult thing in the world at the moment is for Americans to say “well, in the name of justice, we can’t allow those deaths to be the pretext for more deaths” – even though that’s right at the heart of Christian teaching?
Stanley Hauerwas: Well, I think that Americans simply cannot contemplate Americans getting to die as victims. And they want to turn their deaths into some good. And when they do that, you exactly betray – at least, as Christians – what we should have learned through the Cross: that the attempt to make life meaningful, even life that has died, through further violence, is absolutely futile. But we seem determined to want to do that, and I think we in the world will pay a great price for that. I mean, the price that Americans are going to have to pay for the kind of arrogance that we are operating out of right now, is going to be terrible indeed. And I think that when America isn’t able to rule the world, that people will exact some very strong judgements against America – and I think we will well deserve it.
- Richard Floyd enters blogdom with a delightful rumination on ‘How Communication Technology has Changed the Scholarly Life‘ and A Hymn for Lent.
- Phil Baiden writes an appreciation of PT Forsyth.
- Stanley Hauerwas delivers Carey’s annual Grenz Lectures:
- Lecture One: “Learning the Languages of Peace”.
- Lecture Two: “A Worldly Church: Politics, Theology and the Common Good”.
- Peter Singer and John Hare on Moral Mammals – Why do we Matter? – Does theism or atheism provide the best foundation for human worth and morality?
- The latest IJST (11/2) is out, and includes articles on:
- ‘Development of Doctrine, or Denial? Balthasar’s Holy Saturday and Newman’s Essay’ (p 129-145), by Alyssa Pitstick
- ‘The Descent into Hell as a Solution for the Problem of the Fate of Unevangelized Non-Christians: Balthasar’s Hell, the Limbo of the Fathers and Purgatory’ (p 146-171), by Gavin D’Costa
- ‘One Commixture of Light’: Rethinking some Modern Uses and Critiques of Gregory of Nazianzus on the Unity and Equality of the Divine Persons’ (p 172-189), by Ben Fulford
- ‘The Cruciality of the Cross’: P.T. Forsyth’s Understanding of the Atonement’ (p 190-207), by Theng-Huat Leow (Congratulations Theng-Huat!!)
- ‘The Grammar of Pneumatology in Barth and Rahner: A Reconsideration’ (p 208-224), by Travis Ables