June 29, 2002

MORE ON HAUERWAS: Okay, it’s not generating email the way the men in college post did, or the SUV and interracial marriage posts did, but it’s generated a fair amount. Some samples:

Reader Angie Schultz is a bit hard on Telford Work:

I was prepared to respect Work’s attitude, but no longer. In that link you posted:

> Firing off a missile or two to “send a message” was a common enough

> response from the Clinton Administration. It projected the image (and

> the reality) of a country dismissive of its foes, arrogant about its

> power, and complacent about its future. It enraged and encouraged

> America’s enemies.

No, indeed, it projected the image of a country insecure in its power, hesitant to march overseas and deliver its enemies the ass-kicking they so richly deserved. (And I’ll point out that, though I wasn’t paying much attention, I thought at the time that firing a couple cruise missiles was either too little or too much.)

It did encourage our enemies, but only because it made them think us weak.

> At my school’s memorial service, even before we knew who had

> perpetrated the act, we instinctively repented of our triumphalism,

> arrogance, and complacency

That’s right, we are automatically to blame, no matter what happened, no matter who our enemies are or what their ultimate goals. Osama et al want to set up the Caliphate, for Chrissake, where no doubt Christians would be put to the sword, as in Saudi Arabia (Osama thinks the Saudis are a bunch of pansies), and Work and his oh-so-pious ilk are sorry we are not more accomodating of them.

He also says he hopes Christians would fight non-violently. Forgiving the oxymoron, most of Americans consider themselves Christian, however lightly or fervently they hold the religion. Guess this would mean actually defending the country would fall to Jews and atheist, plus whatever small percentage of other non-pacifist religions remain in the country. Unless of course by “Christian” Work means (as so many Christians do) “my brand of Christianity which is the only legitimate one”. Those other “Christians” (who aren’t really, you know) can go do the hard and bloody work. He sounds like a damned Eurominister.

By the time he’s reminding us that we need to be humbled for relying on our own power, rather than God’s, I’m done. Experience and history show that people and nations who rely solely on God’s intervention, rather than developing their own powers, are doomed.

Feh.

In case you haven’t gathered, I’m an atheist, and I’m really pissed

off.

Well, I think Work is thoughtful and serious. Hauerwas. . . well, I’m not so sure. I think he’s gotten caught up in the act.

Reader Chris Moseley writes:

I’m a Christian and I also agree with you about Hauerwas’ prayer.

I once heard Hauerwas give a paper at Duke. What one needs to realize about him is that he sees himself as a gadfly (in the Socratic sense) for the church. His schtick is to make outrageous statements that get attention; if challenged by coherent criticism, he retreats or deflects the challenge, but the purpose has been served. What I’ve read of his work appears not to be scholarship but the maintenance of a carefully crafted pose.

I recall that at the talk I attended, Hauerwas likened middle-class white Christians (the sort who might listen to ‘Jars of Clay’, say) to Nazis. This was part of the schtick, but it may also reflect genuine hatred on his part.

However, what he may hate and fear above all else is to be ignored. From what I’ve read of his writing, he has reason to fear this.

I don’t think that Hauerwas hates middle-class America. But by all appearances he doesn’t respect it, or its beliefs, as much as he respects those who do hate America. The Nazi analogy is also in this article: “Americans are, for the most part, good, decent and hardworking people, Hauerwas says, but ‘so were the people that supported the Nazis.’”

Reader James Dixon says I’m wrong:

Prof. Reynolds:

> The 9/11 attacks, in other words, seem to have been exactly what

> Hauerwas was praying for.

Uhm, no. I’ll quote:

“Sober us with the knowledge that you will judge this nation, you will humble this nation, you will destroy this nation for our pride.”

I would argue that the 9/11 attacks had, if anything, exactly the opposite effect.

Perhaps it wasn’t America’s pride that God chose to humble. That doesn’t change what Hauerwas was praying for.

In addition, while Hauerwas did ask for specific outcomes in his prayer, he left the matter of how best to achieve those outcomes entirely in God’s hands (note the “if it be your will”). I doubt that even Hauerwas would consider the deaths of thousands of innocents to be a method God would choose.

I don’t know. Read the prayer. How else do you “humble” a great nation? Historically, it has usually involved fire and blood. As for the “if it be your will,” that’s the usual weasel-phrase people add after asking God to do their will.

Glenn, Hauerwas is arguing from a theological perspective. As much as I like your blog, you are not qualified to debate him on those terms, anymore than he is to debate you on Constitutional law. While I am not a trained theologian either, I can confidently state that his positions are in fact based on accepted Christian doctrine. The positions themselves are extreme, in that they would not be those reached by most reasoning Christians, but few Christians would argue the doctrine from which they are derived.

Yeah, but so what? Personally, I think that Constitutional discourse should be comprehensible to everyone. I feel the same about theological discourse. I agree that Hauerwas argues from a Christian tradition (one that I don’t share) but I don’t feel that gives his opinions on secular questions, like the war, any additional authority. At any rate, Hauerwas is someone who has chosen to take his positions beyond the seminary walls. That makes him fair game — and to his credit, I don’t think he would try to maintain that only those with union cards may debate him. I repeat: I think I’m doing him credit by taking his ideas seriously, rather than simply ignoring them.

I personally do not agree with him, as I consider the Afghan conflict to be a “just war”.

As to why he is taking these positions, he is reminding Christians that they are Christians first and Americans second. For a Christian, the commandments of Christ take precedence over all else, even the survival of the United States. He is simply pointing this out to them. You can argue all you want that this is unwise, but this is a matter of faith, not wisdom, so whether it is wise or not is beside the point to believing Christians (and his arguments are aimed squarely at believing Christians, anyone else they reach is a side benefit).

Anyway, I doubt I’ve cleared the matter up any, but I thought I should try. Thank you for taking the time to share your views with us. Oh, and if you would rather be addressed as Dr. Reynolds, please let me know. I personally consider Professor to be the more respectful title.

I’m happy with all non-profane titles of address. Law professors don’t use “doctor,” though, even though the degree is a doctorate, for reasons based in history (at one time the law degree wasn’t a doctorate) and professional rivalry (the whole medical doctors versus lawyers thing).

It’s fine for Hauerwas to tell Christians that they’re Christians first and Americans second — so long as he’s willing understand that by doing so he puts himself, and Christians who agree with him, in the position of being dismissed as people who, well, put America’s interests second to their own religious beliefs. Kind of like Pat Robertson.

Brent Hardaway writes:

I enjoy your site and I’m an evangelical Christian who thought that your prayer in response to Hauerwas was most appropriate and on target. It is not any “cautionary note”. I spent seven years in a Mennonite denomination where a strong minority of the members are pacifists. I’m sad to say that the modern manifestation of Christian pacifism has nothing to do with it’s more noble past. I think that it makes most of them very bitter that America has the power to secure itself by the use of military force, because it’s much more difficult to go around saying “violence begets violence” when in fact violence can neutralize the enemy. Their words seem to imply that they would like America to be defeated in a war. Well, at least as long as their personal safety would remain intact.

Yes. There’s rather a lot of arrogance in this position. It’s wrong to say “The United States will destroy a nation that threatens its beliefs.” But it’s okay to say, “The United States should be destroyed as a nation because defending it threatens my beliefs.” The former, we’re told, is nationalistic arrogance — the latter, presumably, is piety of some sort.

Screw it. You want to be a martry for Christianity, fine. Get a load of Bibles and take them to Saudi Arabia. But don’t fool yourself that the rest of us share your beliefs, or desire your fate. My own belief is well captured by a passage from the Tennessee Constitution: “the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.”

There’s an interesting email exchange over at Kieran Lyons’ site that’s worth reading, too.