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June 28, 2002

TELFORD WORK doesn't like the sarcastic prayer I wrote in response to a prayer of Stanley Hauerwas's.

I'd like to agree with Work, who is a very thoughtful guy, that Hauerwas was just trying to deflate hubris. I'm all for that -- as I said in a post after the Afghanistan victory (quoting Han Solo) "Great shooting! Don't get cocky." Pride does go before a fall.

But I just don't read Hauerwas that way. His prayer isn't a cautionary note. Rather it's a demand for God to visit judgment on an America that Hauerwas thinks is too big for its britches. Now you can construct a coherent theological argument for such a position, which people will be persuaded by or not. But I think it's lousy. (And I note that Hauerwas seems almost boastful as he describes the extent of the American power that he decries. Pride comes in many forms.)

I think Hauerwas's prayer should be Exhibit One for the Rev. Donald Sensing's piece contrasting a previous era's pacifists' patriotism and willingness to sacrifice for their country in nonviolent ways with today's pacifists, who seem more anxious to sit astride their high horses. Can you imagine one of these pacifists praying "make those we bomb instruments of your judgment"? I can't. And I think that it's entirely fair to call such a prayer un-American. That's what it's author intends it to be, and that's what it is. (Indeed, I think that Hauerwas would take pride in having his work described this way). And calling it that isn't being dismissive. It's taking it very seriously on its own terms.

If Hauerwas's theology is sound, then it is also fair to associate Christian theology in general with such attitudes. If it's not, then perhaps Christian theologians should spend a bit more time criticizing him. Personally, I think his prayer stinks. Read this account of the "judgment" Hauerwas prayed for and see if you agree.

UPDATE: Bryan Preston writes:

Just wanted to say that I'm with you on this. I'm a Christian, and frankly I'm appalled at the pacifist wing of my faith and its conduct since 9-11. They're on very shaky theological ground, as the "just war" doctrine has been an integral part of mainstream Christianity at least since Augustine. Further, by praying for judgement on America, they're cheering on murderous, brutal people who would, as their first act if they won, ban Christianity--that's what they tend to do in the countries they rule now. They're taking a cowardly, immoral stand in my view.

You're right to expose Hauerwas, and your counter prayer was just (and funny too). I said so on my blog, and a majority of Christians agree with you.

Well, thanks. I just wonder: If Brazil was the world's "hyperpower," would Hauerwas be calling down God's judgment on Brazil? The answer, I think, is "only if Hauerwas were from Brazil."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader James Christiansen suggests that I am ignorant of theology. He also says that Stanley Hauerwas is in fact criticized by a lot of theologians, and sends this exchange from First Things as an example.

Well, I'm probably ignorant of theology, at least compared to some -- but not of theologians, having grown up around them (much of my childhood was spent around the Harvard Divinity School). I'll save my views on theology, and of theology as a discipline, for another time, but yes: I know that Hauerwas is controversial, and often criticized within the discipline, and occasionally in nonprofessional semipublic fora like First Things. I think, however, that the times call for something more than that.