Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Pacifism for Violent SOBs

A profile of Stanley Hauerwas:

As a theological ethicist, Duke University Divinity School professor, and as a writer cruising through his forties and fifties, Stanley Hauerwas enjoyed the twin blessings of personal achievement and professional obscurity. Then, in 2001, the assessors of talent at Time magazine declared him "America's best theologian." Oprah Winfrey gave him air time. Invitations to talk, exhort, and entertain poured in.

Hauerwas, a Texan who speaks in the twangy cadences of Jim Hightower and is as adept with the barbs and jibes, guffaws when recalling the praise from Time: "Best is not a theological category! Faithful or unfaithful are the right categories. The last thing in the world I'd want to be is the best."

By the measure of fidelity to his Christ-centered beliefs, Hauerwas is steadfast, whether as an intellectual trading in the nuanced language of theology, or as a member of his local Durham, North Carolina, parish that comes together for the succor of liturgy, community, and prayer.

"I am a Christian pacifist," he says. "Being Christian and being a pacifist are not two things for me. I would not be a pacifist if I were not a Christian, and I find it hard to understand how one can be a Christian without being a pacifist."

That puts Hauerwas in a distinct minority. When countless Christian leaders--from popes, cardinals, and Jesuits to assorted divines stretching from Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell to Jesse Jackson--say that wars can be just, if not just dandy, and when pacifists are denounced as cowards and misfits on the nation's airwaves and op-eds, Hauerwas's voice seems to come out of an increasingly vast wilderness.

It doesn't bother him, as it never bothered Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, Emily Balch, the Berrigans, David Dellinger, Arthur Laffin, and a long list of others for whom pacifism--active pacifism, which has nothing to do with passivity or appeasement--was both a spiritual creed and a political philosophy.

"I say I'm a pacifist because I'm a violent son of a bitch. I'm a Texan. I can feel it in every bone I've got. And I hate the language of pacifism because it's too passive. But by avowing it, I create expectations in others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what I know is true but that I have no confidence in my own ability to live it at all. That's part of what nonviolence is--the attempt to make our lives vulnerable to others in a way that we need one another. To be against war--which is clearly violent--is a good place to start. But you never know where the violence is in your own life. To say you're nonviolent is not some position of self-righteousness--you kill and I don't. It's rather to make your life available to others in a way that they can help you discover ways you're implicated in violence that you hadn't even noticed."
"I say I'm a pacifist because I'm a violent son of a bitch." Exactly! He has nailed the issue for all Christians. That's almost good enough to forgive him for being a Texan. My personal bias is showing; as a 5th generation Californian, I despise Texas...everyone knows that REAL cowboys are only grown in California, and maybe Oregon...possibly Wyoming...but I digress;

(Hauerwas) is part of the minority Christian community operating under the consistent life ethic that calls for alternatives to the violence of war and militarism, capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide. These, and other issues involving public morality and personal ethics, have been at the core of Hauerwas's writing and teaching. Much of his prose has been in low-circulation theological journals and books from small publishers. In 2001, Duke University Press published The Hauerwas Reader, a 729-page volume of literate and often feisty arguments drawn from such books as The Peaceable Kingdom (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), Truthfulness and Tragedy (University of Notre Dame Press, 1977), Character and the Christian Life (Trinity University Press, 1975) and Resident Aliens (Abingdon, 1989).
Even if I might disagree with him a bit, one has to honor the consistency of his ethical stance. I've often thought it was bizarre that the same folks who are opposed to abortion are often the same folks who advocate for capital punishment and so-called "just" war. Honoring the sanctity of life as a response to a higher call would seem to be an specific ethical lens that would not allow such picking and choosing.

Resident Aliens is the only work by Hauerwas that I've read more than once. It's been awhile however. My dog (two dogs ago) violently attacked and shredded most of my copy. That pup was not a pacifist, and, apparently, disapproved of me reading such pacifist literature. Or he might have been teething. I've still got the remnants of it somewhere. Might be time to get another copy.

"As far as just war is concerned, I think it's a terrific theory," (Hauerwas) tells me. "Unfortunately, it has no purchase in reality. For example, I note that the reason people think the theory can be used in Iraq is because we have the capacity (and the `we' means the United States) to fight a war in Iraq. Did `we' get that capacity on just war grounds? No, the United States got that capacity on the grounds of political realism shaped by the Cold War. So, just warriors need to get serious and tell us what would a just war foreign policy, shaped by an equally just war Pentagon, look like."

As with many who are committed to nonviolence, Hauerwas has found himself asked what are his alternatives to bombing Afghanistan and Iraq. "Such questions," he replies, "assume that pacifists must have an alternative foreign policy. My only response is I do not have a foreign policy. I have something better--a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill."
And there's the rub; the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ laid bare; we will die before we resort to violence. To accept that truth, we have to let go of our desperate drive to survive. Is survival what it's all about in God's kingdom? I think not; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

A tangential consideration is the parallel to this and what is going on in the Episcopal Church right now. Some say that the direction ECUSA is going will destroy us. Then we will die. And God will raise up something new from the ashes. The fear of death is no justification to buy into the evil of oppression and domination by use of force and threats of force. But once again, I digress;

In The Peaceable Kingdom, Hauerwas writes: "The functional character of contemporary religious convictions is perhaps nowhere better revealed than in the upsurge of religious conservatism. While appearing to be a resurgence of `traditional' religious conviction, some of these movements in fact give evidence of the loss of religious substance in our culture and in ourselves. Christianity is defended not so much because it is true, but because it reinforces the `American way of life.' Such movements are thus unable to contemplate that there might be irresolvable tensions between being Christian and being `a good American.'"
Unfortunately, we are quickly arriving at the point where these tensions cannot even be discussed anymore. I know I no longer have any interest in such discussions. And, yes, I admit that is a mistake. But I simply see no common ground with those who desire to wrap the cross in the stars and stripes. I do not understand that kind of thinking. I suppose such a lack of understanding makes me part of the problem. But do we still have time for the luxury of dialogue? 11,000 Iraqi civilians are dead. 5 more just yesterday. Who knows how many today. No time left. It needs to be said bluntly; these actions are an atrocity, and are done in direct opposition to the God who has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ!

Hauerwas believes that Christianity, to be authentic, must take a stand. In a 1991 interview, he said: "If you ask one of the crucial theological questions--why was Jesus killed?--the answer isn't `because God wants us to love one another.' Why in the hell would anyone kill Jesus for that? That's stupid. It's not even interesting. Why did he get killed? Because he challenged the powers that be. The church is a political institution calling people to be an alternative to the world. That's what the cross is about."

If, as Gandhi often stated, nonviolence is a creed for the brave and the bold---"its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being"--then Hauerwas may not be our best theologian, but he is one of our bravest and boldest.
What is needed is a change of heart. How can this transformation be made?

First, we have to stop the behavior. Second, we have to listen to our victims. Third, we have to have a sincere amendment of heart. Fourth, we must be reconciled with one another. And then maybe, just maybe, trusting in God whose property is always to have mercy, we will be reconciled with God.

I'm inclined to rant. I need help with changing hearts, including my own. This violent SOB needs to rant less, and listen more. Maybe I'll dig out my tattered copy of Hauerwas, and listen to him for awhile.

J.

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