"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stanley Hauerwas on War

Stanley Hauerwas is one of the most important theologians in America today, famously put on the front cover of Time in its 11 September 2001 edition (planned and published before the attacks) for his views on war and peace, which are heavily influenced by the "pacifism" of the so-called peace churches of the so-called radical Reformation--the Mennonites in particular, whose best-known theologian in this country is the late John Howard Yoder, whose thought has heavily influenced Hauerwas, as the latter has regularly made clear for many years now. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Hauerwas's views attracted even more criticism than they usually do, not least because he refused to go along with the idea that going to war first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq was something a Christian could or should support.

Hauerwas's essay "To Love God, the Poor, and Learning: Lessons Learned from St. Gregory of Nazianzus" was published in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies in 2006 and remains one of the most insightful commentaries on the connections between academic life in a university and the Christian call to serve the poor; I regularly have my students read it. 

While apart from that essay Hauerwas does not often treat explicitly Eastern Christian themes, nevertheless much of what he has to say is enormously important for Eastern Christians in North America to hear for we live here in the same context and are confronted with many of the same issues as Western Christians. Only the most querulously sectarian Eastern Christian would refuse to hear what wisdom Hauerwas may offer (and such a refusal itself would, of course, be a very "un-Eastern" kind of stance to take). Those who have read him, as I have been doing for nearly two decades now, know that a very great deal of Hauerwas's thought inclines in a direction that a Catholic or Orthodox Christian would immediately recognize and strongly affirm, not least his overwhelming emphasis on the centrality of the Church qua Church, that is, as the Body of Christ that sacramentally brings everyone into communion together. This is a long-standing concern of Hauerwas to overcome the individualism of American culture in general and American Christianity in particular.

One of his other long-standing concerns, and closely tied to his ecclesiology, remains the question of violence, whether by religious people or agents of what Alasdair MacIntyre, long an enormous influence on Hauerwas, has called that "most dangerous and unmanageable institution, the modern nation-state" (see MacIntyre's essay "Poetry as Political Philosophy" in Idem, Ethics and Politics: Volume 2: Selected Essays).

Hauerwas has a new book just published that treats of these questions: War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity (Baker Academic, 2011), 224pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
How are American identity and America's presence in the world shaped by war, and what does God have to do with it? In this compelling volume, Stanley Hauerwas helps readers reflect theologically on war, church, justice, and nonviolence, exploring such issues as how America depends on war for its identity, how war affects the soul of a nation, the sacrifices that war entails, and why war is considered "necessary," especially in America. He also examines the views of nonviolence held by Martin Luther King Jr. and C. S. Lewis, how Jesus constitutes the justice of God, and the relationship between congregational ministry and Christian formation in America. Students and teachers of Christian theology and ethics, American church history, and American cultural studies will value this work.

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