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The Table Video

Stanley Hauerwas

Love Is (Not) All You Need

Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Divinity and Law, Duke Divinity School
June 2, 2017

Stanley Hauerwas explicates the theological and ethical nature of love, advocating for a less sentimental and more christological understanding.


How has your understanding of suffering contributed to you perspectives on love? I’d like to talk about your Theology and Ethics related to love.

Well, love, when I first began, now, 50 years ago, the central text that was having great influence, was Joseph Fletcher’s ‘Situation Ethics’, in which the fundamental message was Christianity as fundamentally a religion of love, which means that you ought to do the greatest good for the greatest number. And that… So, Jesus kind of becomes the symbol of love, but…

But in service of a utilitarian ethic.

Yeah. Right. And I wrote a piece called ‘Love’s not all you need’ years ago.

Evan: A shot at The Beatles.

Did I go at The Beatles? But all right, I guess. I don’t think I did, I like The Beatles.

They say, “Love is all you need.”

Stanley: Love’s all you need, right, but… So, I pointed out that, if you think love is all you need, what you fail to have is the kind of discriminating judgments you need in order to know what it is you should not do. And, so…

Love is separate the Christological home in which we know what love means. Love means cross is a very dangerous generalized recommendation for how you live your life, because you don’t know what love is. I’ve always liked Iris Murdoch’s suggestion, “Love is the non-violent apprehension of the other as other.” Now, when people say ‘I love you’ in marriages, they usually mean, “You fit my personality fairly well”. [laughs] “In you, I see myself.”

Right. So, how to apprehend the other as the other, and the pain that the other will cause you to be… to recognize their otherness,

Right. is a large challenge. So, if you want us to talk about love, I think that you need to be very careful I think that you need to be very careful not to let the sentimentalities that are so present around love, overwhelm it. I wrote a… One of my graduates who was married a few years ago, she chose 1 Corinthians 13

Evan: Common.

Aha, right. I had preached many marriages but I had never had one choose 1 Corinthians 13, and the first line in my sermon was, “Christians are obligated to love one another even if they’re married”, [laughs] which is a way of reminding us that love does not create marriage, but marriage creates love. So, after 25 years of marriage, a couple is able to look back over the faithfulness that their marriage engendered, and call it love.

Yeah. There’s a lot there. I wanna go back to the connection between, or really the replacement of the cross by a love centered ethic. The command to love that the Christian has an interest in cannot be separated from he who commands it.

Stanley: Yeah.

Is it right that you’re suggesting that an ethics of love, a Christian ethic that is founded on love, is replacing the cross?

Stanley: Yes, I think that’s right. I think it did, particularly with Fletcher’s kind of admonitions, but, I think it’s still very much the case for people who say, “Well, when it’s all said and done, what’s really important is we love one another.” No, you’ve gotta love one another rightly. And, how… When in the gospel of John, Jesus declares to his disciples, “I call you my friends, and now, “I call you my friends, and now, you can love one another.

You should rightly love one another.” Well, remember, to be a friend of Jesus didn’t turn out very well for most of the disciples, and so, how exactly, that love which moves the sun and the stars, Dante’s quote, “the love that moves the sun and the stars”, is that love that sustains the disciples through the challenge of dying, rather than betraying their lord is the kind of love that is rightly seen at the center of the christian life. Love is rightly understood to be the very substance of the relation between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Right, so you’re talking about love in its triune context.

Stanley: Right. So. God is love because what love means, is that we didn’t have to be, I mean, God didn’t have to create, but we are, as a manifestation of God’s unrelenting desire to have us be his friends.