Friday, June 28, 2002

More Hauerwas

Wow, feedback from a post. It's not an echo chamber in here, after all. I didn't even have my email address up when I posted the Birds of a Feather piece below, and I got responses in my home email.
All but one are not fit to mention.


Joel Bruhn, a gentleman from Purdue University, emailed me to assert that I was misunderstanding Hauerwas' views. He has graciously given me permission to post our email exchange. I have edited it for brevity, and I will try to present it in a fair manner, in a point-counterpoint style. Joel, please email me if you think I have done you wrong, and I will fix it.


Me (blog):

So it seems that both blame us for having a secular government ...

Joel:

Not so. Hauerwas is criticizing the attitude of American fundamentalists who conflate Christianity with patriotism. His view is that Christianity should NOT be particularly patriotic. He is criticizing those who say the government shouldn't be secular.

Me (email):

Your first point is that Christianity should not be patriotic. I accept that, as I am a secularist when it comes to governance; conflating God and country is a recipe for violence. If that was Hauerwas' point, I missed it, and I would agree with it. The quotes and text of the NCR article made it sound as if Hauerwas was critical of the US polity for being insufficiently Christian, not overly patriotic.

Joel:

Hauerwas is not Jerry Falwell. He frequently and emphatically criticizes the church for being insufficiently Christian, but not the government. He targets, in the NCR article, those who conflate "God and country." I don't see anywhere in this article that he targets the government (except where he says that the government told us to shop. This, as I said before, is unfair on his part

Me (now):

I did not say that he targets the government, I said that he seems to target the US polity, ie. all of us who are politically involved, secular or not. And, who is this "church" that you say he is criticizing? Is it his Methodist church? Most Christian churches in this country are emphatically unpatriotic and leftist (see the National Council of Churches or the US Conference of Catholic Bishops), so where is his issue?


Me (blog):

Apparently both believe that free markets and free trade are intrinsic evils of our political system.

Joel:

Hauerwas is pointing out that we need to have SOME kind of moral commitment in this country, and that capitalism does not fit the bill. He is not criticizing capitalism per se, but pointing out that it is not a moral commitment. (My only gripe with his statement here is that he is ignoring the fact that our President called us to a day of prayer.)

Me (email):

In your next point, you state that "we need to have SOME kind of moral commitment in this country, and that capitalism does not fit the bill." Does this not conflict with your first point? For a committed Christian, what moral code matters other than that spelled out in the gospels?

Joel:

None. That is his point. He says that few Christians actually live according to the gospel.

Me (same email):

And if Hauerwas demands that Christianity be separate from patriotism, how can a Christian be a patriot?

Joel:

Hauerwas would say that Christians cannot and should not try to be patriots. Choose: God, or country.

Me (now):

I cannot agree with this. Why can't I be proud about a living in a nation that is founded on Lockean principles of individual liberty, and at the same time be a Christian? I see no conflict of any kind.

Joel, you claim that "we must have SOME moral commitment in this country". At the same time you also say that we cannot find that commitment in the gospels, and nothing but the gospels count. This is contradictory.


Me (blog):

So, dogmatic orthodoxy is not an option, rather it is more important than life itself for you and your children. This attitude ignores all of the ways that faith in God can provide you with valuable insight into how to live a good life without harming others.

Joel:

You are of course free to disagree with this, but Hauerwas' statement here is mainstream Christianity. Jesus repeatedly told his followers that they must be willing to die for the gospel. Not to kill, mind you, but to die if necessary.

Me (email):

Jesus was not averse to using violence to further his ends. He was quite happy to physically attack and drive out the money changers in the house of His Father. His "turn the other cheek" parable is about stoicism and fortitude, not about pacifistic acceptance of your own demise

Joel:

I'm not sure exactly where Hauerwas draws the line between "violence" and "lethal force," but he does draw the line somewhere. He says he believes in "just war," but he also says that he does not know of any war anywhere that meets his criteria of "just." He is adamantly serious about his pacifism.

Me (same email):

Jesus does not demand that we join in a suicide pact together. Even in the Old Testament, sacrifice of children or other humans to God is explicitly renounced. Your willingness to accept death does not make a virtue out of sacrificing your family.

Joel:

Jesus and 10 out of his twelve disciples were martyred. The two exceptions were Judas (suicide) and John (who lived to be over 90 years old). Some commentators have noted that John was the one disciple who stood before the cross when Jesus was dying. Since John showed that he was willing to identify himself with Christ's death, God saw no need to let him be martyred. Here Hauerwas' view is well within mainstream Christianity. You are arguing this point not just with Hauerwas but with the main body of Protestant and Catholic theologians.

Me (now):

The point I was trying to make is that no individual has the right to sacrifice the life of another. Jesus and his disciples chose their path, and they bravely accepted the consequences. I will not consign anyone else to death through my faith or my convictions. They must choose their own path.

Consigning our children to death on the basis of an unrealistic "holy" pacifism is no different than consigning them to death as "holy" human bombs like the Arabs are doing.

Hauerwas may be serious about his pacifism, but he is clearly not serious about free will. Virtues such as charity and compassion are impossible without the exercise of free will.

I'm sorry Joel, but it seems to me that Hauerwas and the Islamofascists have more in common than I thought. They both want to remove the humanity from religiosity.


Me (email):

I also want to thank you for such a thoughtful answer to my post. I never expected many people to see it or anyone to bother to answer it, but I have gotten a lot of responses due to Prof. Reynolds link. Your response was, by far, the most polite.

Joel:

YOU'RE KIDDING?


No, I'm not. Most writers thought that I was comparing Christianity to Islam in an unfavorable way. They obviously did not read the post, or completely missed what I was trying to say. I hope to spite them by NOT burning in hell as they expect me to do.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Birds of a Feather


I'm a semi-observant Catholic, and I look to my religion as a way to enrich my life and the lives of those around me. Faith, spirituality, and love of God add texture to life, and taken together they force me to put a human face on those whom I do not know but may impact through my thoughts and deeds. My moral upbringing forces me to find the best way to maximize my happiness and that of my loved ones, without causing undue harm to others.

With that said, I found a very disturbing congruence in two articles that I read recently. One is a puff piece on Stanley Hauerwas in The National Catholic Reporter. Dr. Hauerwas is a Methodist pacifist and Professor at the Duke University Divinity School. I originally found the piece through Glenn Reynolds, and at the time I read it chalked it up to the kind of foolishness that only academics are capable of.

But then I read this piece. I know I found references to this on several blogs and other sites, but I cannot remember where I first saw it. I apologize for not attributing the link. It is a statement from the spokesmouth for Al-Quaida, Suleiman Abu Gheith. In any case, I went to MEMRI to get the original story, and I was struck not only by the unrelenting, evil malice within it, but also by the astonishing resemblance that some of it had to the words of Stanley Hauerwas.

Before I go further, I must state that I do not believe that Stanley Hauerwas is a terrorist or that he has any kind of sympathy for them. I am only claiming that there is a "birds of a feather" character to the two pieces. For instance, see the following excerpts:


Suleiman Abu Gheith
America is the head of heresy in our modern world, and it leads an infidel democratic regime that is based upon separation of religion and state and on ruling the people by the people via legislating laws that contradict the way of Allah and permit what Allah has prohibited.


National Catholic Reporter
Hauerwas said American Christians are "more American than ... Christian...Let me be as clear as I can be, the God of ‘God and country’ is not the God of Jesus Christ"


So it seems that both blame us for having a secular government, no matter what our personal beliefs might be. I find that to be to our credit.


Suleiman Abu Gheith
America, with the collaboration of the Jews, is the leader of corruption and the breakdown [of values], whether moral, ideological, political, or economic corruption. It disseminates abomination and licentiousness among the people via the cheap media and the vile curricula.


Stanley Hauerwas
On Sept. 11, Americans were confronted by people ready to die as an expression of their profound moral commitments. Their willingness to die stands in stark contrast to a politics that asks of its members in response to Sept. 11 to shop.


Apparently both believe that free markets and free trade are intrinsic evils of our political system. Again, I see those as strengths of our system.


Suleiman Abu Gheith (supposedly quoting a Muslim text)
If your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your wives and your kinsfolk and the worth you have acquired and the trade, the dullness of which you apprehend, and the dwellings that you fancy are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger, and striving in His cause, then wait until Allah issues His judgment.


Stanley Hauerwas
Christians must be ready to die, indeed have their children die, rather than betray the gospel.


So, dogmatic orthodoxy is not an option, rather it is more important than life itself for you and your children. This attitude ignores all of the ways that faith in God can provide you with valuable insight into how to live a good life without harming others. I find this horrible.


Suleiman Abu Gheith
America knows only the language of force


Stanley Hauerwas
A people who have been bred to shop then can quickly become some of the most violent people in the world.


Oh, of course. Violence is our first recourse, and it is caused by immersion in Disney cartoons.


Suleiman Abu Gheith
America is the reason for all oppression, injustice, licentiousness, or suppression that is the Muslims' lot. It stands behind all the disasters that were caused and are still being caused to the Muslims; it is immersed in the blood of Muslims and cannot hide this.


National Catholic Reporter
Hauerwas said (...) we live in a very complex world that we benefit from, and we don't have to acknowledge the havoc our benefits depend upon.


Here we get to the real convergence between the two. Muslims and the rest of the unfortunates in the world are poor and oppressed because America is prosperous. This is a common view among those who do not understand economics. They see economics as a fixed sum equation. One person gains only at the cost of another. This is nonsense. Sand was once useless. Then someone invented glass, and it became useful. Then someone invented silicon integrated circuits, and it became really useful. So it goes with many things. Free and voluntary trade enriches both parties, so the pie gets bigger.