Hauerwas on Hope & Peace

Here’s another (long) quote from Stanley Hauerwas, this time from his book A Community of Character:

The Kantian-inspired attempt to make justice integral to the alleged rational and universal requirement to respect all persons as ends in themselves is a noble endeavor. Indeed, such a vision, I suspect, draws its inspiration from the Christian hope of the realization of a kingdom where peace and not war will characterize the relation between peoples and nations. But for Christians such a kingdom remains an eschatological hope that cannot be made present by heightening the status of human rationality. From the Christian perspective, Kant’s account of the universal requirements of reason is a secularized version of Christian hope. Kant sought to make Christian hope into a necessary condition for rational living, but in the process hope is trivialized, for if the kingdom can be based on or come from within humankind, then there is no reason to hope. Kant’s hope is one that no longer knows how to be patient in the face of the dividedness of the world and in desperation seeks peace by making God’s Kingdom a human possibility. Yet peace, Christians believe, cannot be founded on false accounts of our rational powers but depends on our learning to acknowledge God’s lordship over all life. The Christian commitment to peace is based not on the inherent value of life, but on the conviction that war cannot be consistent with the Kingdom we have only begun to experience through the work of Christ and his continuing power in the church.

It must be admitted that to stake one’s life on such a view is indeed dangerous. For there are many who claim their convictions to be true and assume that those who do not hold similar beliefs should be forced to do so. They are even willing to kill in defense of what they hold dear. To abandon the attempt to develop a “universal” ethic, as I have done, therefore appears as an act of despair, as we are left at the mercy of our enemies.

The Christian, however, does not claim that the world is safe but only that it is under God’s lordship. Christian confidence in God’s lordship provides the church with the power to exist amid the diversity of this world, trusting that the truth “will out” without resorting to coercion and violence for self-protection or to secure adherents. Therefore the non-resistant character of Christian community, which is often sadly absent, is a crucial mark of the power of the Christian story to form a people in a manner appropriate to the character of God’s providential rule of the world.

Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 100-1.

On Liquor Cabinets & Judgement

During a recent stay at my in-laws’ place, they mentioned that they were soon going to play host to the church small group they’re a part of. All well and good, apart from the minor dilemma regarding their liquor cabinet in the living room. It seems that their small group leader is emphatically opposed to any alcohol consumption for Christians, so they were considering removing the liquor from their glass-doored cabinet to avoid a scene.

This scenario perfectly illustrates why people dislike Christians—they’re the people you don’t want to have over—but there are many other things worth noting in a scenario such as this. The obvious question I’m driven to is why do we Christians persist in the belief that we all need to think and act the same? I think the answer is something like “because we excel at missing the point.” It is a question sure to produce frustration in those driven to ask it, so I’d rather put it to rest and explore some more illuminating questions.

For instance, what is it that drives us to boldly proclaim our opinions as though we have them from the mouth of God? I suspect that the very dynamics of faith and doubt play a major role here. Faith is always a conversation between trust and doubt; between assurance and anxiety. The speed with which we can move from one to the other is emblematic of the strengths and weaknesses inherent to the human condition. But the cadences of faith are lost on many Christians, who rigidly hold that doubt is the lack of faith rather than integral to it. And I can think of no better way for such Christians to ignore and sublimate their doubts and fears than to be resolute on matters of little to no consequence. (I have just explained the Religious Right.)

Not only is it very, very sad to need others to think and act like us in order to reassure us that we’re actually in the right (despite our suppressed doubts), it also has nothing to do with discipleship in the way of Jesus. Jesus has no patience for the self-righteous, if for no other reason than it’s all a sham. To be a hypocrite is literally to be a play-actor; a liar on the stage of life who desperately wants to look like they have their shit together, while suppressing their doubts under a stern mask of piety.

But another question that must be asked in the Christians-judging-others game that is too often played is why the hell do we care so much if we’re being judged? If those dishing out judgement are guilty of lying to the world (and themselves) in order to assuage their fears, then those on the receiving end are equally guilty for being afraid of what self-righteous idiots think of them.

Those who are afraid of being judged are guilty of the same problem as those doling out the judgement: they’ve bought into the story that they’re not allowed to have doubts or to show any weakness under any circumstances whatsoever. Maybe Jesus is so harsh with hypocrites because they deceive honest people into thinking that people of faith don’t experience doubt. Whatever story the judged believe, they are too easily offended.

Then there’s the question posed by the ubiquitous “hide the liquor” impulse: why do we do it? Because it’s easier. Because it doesn’t require us to do the hard and messy work of building a community of people who are honest with their differences. It doesn’t require us to challenge those we disagree with. It doesn’t make us stand up to the self-righteous bullying that we’d rather ignore than confront.

Peace is not the lack of conflict. All a lack of conflict reveals is a bunch of liars who prefer the easy way. True peace is found in those who are able to extend grace and forgiveness with one another as they are truly honest with each other. True peace is found in those who reject violence as a way to solve the conflicts that honesty bring about. True peace is messy, painful, beautiful and never quite as fully realized as we like. Which is why true peace will only be pursued by a people who pray.

Oh Lord, help.

Idolatry: Security

N.Americans are especially bad at this one. Bad stuff is always happening “out there” somewhere to “other people,” and any notion of it coming anywhere close to me and where I live is to be met with fear and avoidance at all costs.

Our obsession with security penetrates to many levels. RRSPs, while not necessarily evil, are a symptom of this disease. We hope to purchase our security by storing up treasures during our more certain years. I even saw a bank ad that read “earn peace of mind” when advertising RRSPs, and this is entirely what they’re selling.

Oh, and don’t get me started on suburbs, gated communities, and white flight. Click the link; be disgusted.

And then we can hardly avoid 9-11’s ugly visage. A nation that hadn’t experienced attack on its own soil in generations was suddenly shocked to learn that people hated them enough to do something truly horrific. And suddenly Bush’s entire administration had the perfect ploy to ensure their power to get things done and be reelected: tell the people that whatever you’re doing—at home and abroad—is about improving security. And the gibbering masses who already live their lives primarily in illusion smile and nod as their country commits war crimes against Iraq, revokes citizen freedoms in the so-called Patriot Act, and all the while conflate this mess with vague notions of God being “on our side.”

Yet this is the jealous God who says “no other God before me.” He does not want us to worship our own sense of security. He offers us Himself, and in Him we find a security unlike anything we can conceive of. God’s security must often be counter-intuitive if Jesus the God-man died as a wrongfully convicted criminal. Oh, and a side note: Jesus was killed by political leaders who thought that they were acting in the best interests of the security of the Judean people. He was a trouble-maker, and Rome might crush them at any minute…

Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) The peace that Jesus gives us is not a lack of things to give us anxiety about our security. Rather, “he himself is our peace.” (Eph 2:14) We clamor after security. Jesus offers us Himself.

Lord, have mercy upon us, for we are are slow to listen and slow to learn.