Try Some Courage: Stanley Hauerwas on Death, Church, America, Suffering, and Love
“We’re a society that really acknowledges death before it happens. Christianity is ongoing training and dying early. That every politic, one way or the other, is a politic that deals with death.” Stanley Hauerwas is a theologian, ethicist, one of the most influential public intellectuals in the 20th century, and perhaps most importantly, Texan. He began teaching at the Notre Dame in 1970 and moved to Duke Divinity School in 1983 where he’s the Gilbert T. Rowe professor of divinity and law. He’s the author of many books, including The Peaceable Kingdom, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness, which was written with Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities. His most recent book is The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson, written to his real life godson, Lawrence Wells, son of Hauerwas’ student and friend, Samuel Wells. For a deeply personal approach to his life and work, read “Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir.” Here, “Stan the Man” was brutally honest about his take on contemporary American life, the church’s political calling, vulnerable about his past pains and personal experience with disability and mental illness. He offered candid and pointed reflections on love, suffering, the practice of theology and what it means to be a Christian.
- 3:31—”What I try to do is to help Christians recover how odd it is that we’re Christians…
I’m in the constant business of trying to help us rediscover what an extraordinary adventure we’ve been put on by being full lived in God’s kingdom in a way that will be very surprising to many people who think that Christianity makes them good middle class citizens of the United States of America.”
- 4:33—Bricklaying, craft, and hard work that shaped his habits
- 6:35—The habits of theologians: humility and joy
- 7:20—On his marriage to Anne, mental disability, and Hannah’s Child
- 8:30—”Mental illness is a black hole… you have no idea what’s going on. … What you have to remember when someone is mentally ill is they’re in pain. They’re perpetrating such pain on you, you have trouble remembering they’re in pain. I tried to do that. To be as helpful as you can be. The more you try to make things better, things only get worse. At least that was true for me. Every person that’s mentally ill is different. Her anger was volcanic. That’s what finally killed me. Just absorbing the anger.”
- 11:15—Suffering, lament, and grief. Naming the Silences “Silences drip off the edges of words. I think that oftentimes, we’re too noisy around people who are suffering, trying to make things OK. What they absolutely need is presence. They need us to be there.”
- 13:25—Wisdom for the sufferer. “It’s not just the words, it’s who says them. It’s very important that the designated person of the community called the priest or the minister know what to say. It’s very important that friends know how to be there, as well as not to say too much.”
- 14:41—On our social practices of ignoring injustice, ignoring suffering for the sake of our own complacency and comfort. “I’d say, in 100 years, if Christians are people identified as those who do not kill their children or their elderly, we would have been doing something right.” “I think in the name of compassion, we’re living in a social order that will increasingly not know what to do with those born dying.”
- 17:30—Ad Break: “Charting a Course Through Grief” A free 8-week ecourse with a variety helpful resources on grief.
- 20:22—”The idea that somehow or the other, our lives are meant to be free of suffering just doesn’t make much sense.”
- 22:30—The vices that stand in the way of American Christianity: lack of candid speech, and more…
- 24:09—On suffering and love.
- 26:01—Love, “apprehending the other as other,” marriage. “Christians are obligated to love one another, even if they’re married.”
- 29:17—God is love. “God is love because what love means is that we didn’t have to be… God didn’t have to create, but we are as a manifestation of God’s unrelenting desire to have us be His friends.”
- 29:38—God is enemy. “The transformation of God from enemy to God as the one we love is part of the great challenge of living a Christian life.”
- 31:24—”I prefer to cherish wrongs done to me. My sense of who I am is more determined by what I’m against rather than what I’m for. I pray that God can have my loves but not take my hates. If you take my hates, how will I know who I am?”
- 32:09—”Where would I be if I didn’t have the church to criticize?”
- 32:16—Hauerwas’s message to a society finding itself in hate: “Try some courage.”
- 34:10—”The idea that we are Christian nation is an extraordinarily destructive one.”
- 35:10—Christianity as a political religion. “Jesus is a politic and it is a politic of the formation of people who live by non resistant love across time by establishing ways of surviving in a violent world by being non violent which is a very dangerous way to be.”
- 37:43—”Christianity is ongoing training in dying early. Every politic, one way or the other is a politic that deals with death.”
- 38:01—Ad break: “Seeking Christian Wisdom for Life’s Biggest Questions” via Biola LEARN (15% off your next course)
- 39:54—On confrontation, conflict, love, and peaceableness.
- 41:30—”Politic of the lie”
- 43:51—The experience of violence; weakness, gentleness, vulnerability, and power. “I think you don’t become weak to be weak. Rather the language I refer is you discover how to be gentle. There’s hardness to gentleness that makes it possible to not be overwhelmed by the violence but your refusal to let the violence defeat our ability to be friends. Gentleness, I think, is crucial for friendship.”
- 47:06—The future of Christianity in America. “I believe God is making us leaner and leaner. As we continue to lose members and the church gets smaller, what I hope is we will discover unity between Christians that we haven’t experienced for many centuries.”
- 48:08—On writing theology. “I try to write at a very fundamental level that makes contact with what I think every Christian struggles with.”
- Hosted and produced by Evan Rosa
- Resource of the Biola University Center for Christian Thought, which is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and The Blankemeyer Foundation
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- Edited and mixed by TJ Hester
- Production Assistance by Laura Crane
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Evan Rosa: The Table Audio is made possible by the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton Religion Trust.
Stanley Hauerwas: We’re a society that really acknowledges death before it happens. Christianity is ongoing training and dying early. That every politic, one way or the other, is a politic that deals with death.
Rosa: I’m Evan Rosa and you’re listening to The Table Audio, a podcast about seeking Christian wisdom for life’s big questions.
Welcome to season three of The Table Audio. Glad you’re back with us because this season is going to be good. In fact, this first episode is just too good to delay with any preamble. Our guest, Stanley Hauerwas, theologian, ethicist, one of the most influential public intellectuals in the 20th century, and perhaps most importantly, Texan.
He began teaching at the Notre Dame in 1970 and moved to Duke Divinity School in 1983 where he’s the Gilbert T. Rowe professor of divinity and law. He’s the author of more books than I can count but notable are “The Peaceable Kingdom,” “Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony,” “Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness,” which was written with Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities.
His most recent book is “The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson,” written to his real‑life godson, Lawrence Wells, son of Hauerwas’ student and friend Samuel Wells. For a deeply personal approach to his life and work, I urge you to read “Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir.”
I interviewed “Stan the Man” back in 2016. He was brutally honest about his take on contemporary American life, the church’s political calling, vulnerable about his past pains and personal experience with disability and mental illness. He offered candid and pointed reflections on love, suffering, the practice of theology and what it means to be a Christian. Enjoy.
Hauerwas: A few years ago, I was in a seminar with some folks about my work and I said one of the things that I’ve discovered as a Christian if you have something to do, so many people don’t have anything to do.
They work but it doesn’t seem to have much point. Part of wonderful thing that you’ve been pulled into God’s world. To be a witness to Christ and to flourish in the friendships that that makes over time. You have something to do.
Another way to say that is I have something to say. I’ve never been an academic per se. I write for people who are obligated to read me. They’re called Christians.
Hauerwas: I help…
Rosa: You have the right to be read.
Hauerwas: Every day, I get up and I know I have something to do.
Rosa: What is that something that you want to say? What is the message that you feel that this stage in your life is the most pressing message?
Hauerwas: How odd of God to chose the Jews. What I try to do is to help Christians recover how odd it is that we’re Christians, and to challenge the accommodated character of so much of contemporary Christianity in the world in which we find ourselves. I think it’s what I’ve been given to do.
I’m in the constant business of trying to help us rediscover what an extraordinary adventure we’ve been put on by being full lived in God’s kingdom in a way that will be very surprising to many people who think that Christianity makes them good middle‑class citizens of the United States of America.
Rosa: Flannery O’Connor said, “The truth shall make you odd.”
Hauerwas: Odd, right. I love that quote.
Rosa: Let’s talk about some of your own life experience. You came from middle class.
Hauerwas: Working class.
Rosa: Working class.
Hauerwas: Yeah. I was raised a bricklayer. My father took me out on the job when I was seven. I labored until I guess 15 or 16 until I started learning to lay brick. My father was a craftsman and when you’re in the crafts, you must learn all the subsidiary skills to moving up, to being a bricklayer. I labored for many years.
Rosa: That labor, that early life, do you characterize it as just like neutral labor or was there an element of suffering in it?
Hauerwas: No. It was hard work. One, at that time, of course, we were segregated as a society. African Americans labored, White men lay brick. For many years, I labored with African Americans. When you are engaged in unbelievably hard work, it creates a bond that is really quite remarkable.
There was no suffering in it. Your body was filled with pain, [laughs] I can assure you, but there’s a joy in hard work. It finally gets to you. My father laying brick all of his life. It just destroys your body. By the time I was in my 20s, I was still working. I would have to help him out to the truck every day at the end of the day. It kills your back.
Rosa: Did any of that early labor helped to shape your theological perspectives?
Hauerwas: It helped shaped my habits that made the theological work possible. I always thought that the formation of habits to develop the skills necessary to know how to lay brick are not unlike the formation of the kinds of habits necessary to write a good sentence.
Rosa: What are the formative habits in your…Writing a good sentence but what kind of habits ought a theologian to have?
Hauerwas: First and foremost, humility to recognize that you’ve been given a task to say what you can say of God with the kind of care that reflects the fact that we know God primarily by what God is not. It takes humility not to say too much. Then the sheer joy of being given that task for people of God in a way that testifies to the glory of God.
Rosa: In fact, some of your autobiography when you were married, you have a 20‑year marriage to Anne.
Hauerwas: Over 20.
Rosa: Over 20. You characterized this in your book, “Hannah’s Child” as an experience of grief and suffering. I wonder if you would describe, looking back now, what has it taught you?
Hauerwas: First of all, we were young. In a young marriage, you don’t notice much. I guess we’ve been married over 10 years when she first started manifesting bipolar symptoms. To learn to live with someone that’s seriously mentally ill turns you into an existentialist because you never know what the next five minutes is going to bring.
We have a son and it was very hard for him. A six‑year‑old has to tell his mother, “No, you’re not the Holy Spirit and I’m not the Son of God,” even though he may have heard that message on the radio. It’s very hard negotiation for a young person to have to deal with a seriously ill parent because mental illness is a black hole. You have no idea what’s going on.
What that time, for me, indicated and gave me was a sense of how important it was that I be Adam’s parent, mother and father. It created a deep bond between myself and my son which I’m always deeply grateful for.
What you have to remember when someone is mentally ill is they’re in pain. They’re perpetrating such pain on you, you have trouble remembering they’re in pain. I tried to do that. To be as helpful as you can be.
The more you try to make things better, things only get worse. At least that was true for me. Every person that’s mentally ill is different. Her anger was volcanic. That’s what finally killed me. Just absorbing the anger.
Rosa: You described it as a black hole, a darkness. To extend the metaphor, what understanding can there be for people who are faced with the suffering of disability and mental illness? What understanding can be had?
Hauerwas: Your temptation is to say just get a hold. Just will your way out of this. They can’t will their way out. They can’t get a hold. They’re possessed. The best you can do is try to be present. I don’t want to go into the details but since she was constantly in love with other people, she finally just left. I was exhausted. I just let her go. I just couldn’t sustain it anymore.
I had to let her go because I’ve realized, as long as she blamed me for her condition, there was no way she was going to get better. She had to discover that she had to take responsibility for taking her meds, for example. The lithium will do something for a while. They miss their highs. Then they’re off it. It’s just a terror. It’s a terror for them, not just for those around.
Rosa: Were there words? There’s this Thomas Merton reference in a letter to someone, where he just points out, “Sometimes there just are no words for suffering or grief but then if that’s the case, what is lament?” What is it to lament? How did you deal with that?
Hauerwas: I wrote a book some years ago called Naming the Silences. [inaudible 11:35] thought that the title after its first publication was too obscure so they renamed it “God, Medicine, and the Problem of Suffering.”
It’s Naming the Silences. Silences drip off the edges of words. I think that oftentimes, we’re too noisy around people who are suffering, trying to make things OK. What they absolutely need is presence. They need us to be there. Job’s friends have such a bad friend.
Rosa: They’ve got a pretty bad rep.
Hauerwas: Originally, they saw Job from afar. They went and sat silently with him for days. I think that is a sign of goodness.
Rosa: It’s when they started talking that they’ll get in trouble.
Hauerwas: It’s when they started talking when things go bad. There is a sense that to be with suffering is first and foremost to be with them, just to be present. You think about how oftentimes we mislead people. For example, when you go into a home where a young person has died and you try to provide comfort and you come up with locutions like, “I guess they’ve gone to a better place.”
That’s just terrible. First of all, heaven is not a place. God is not a place. It’s the tie to say something. What you ought to say is you and the person you love will be in my prayers. You don’t need to say more than that.
Rosa: Have you been comforted by particular words? That is to say, is there wisdom for the sufferer? Can the sufferer follow a path or a way that can offer them hope, clarity, a way forward…?
Hauerwas: I’m sure there is. It’s not just the words, it’s who says them. It’s very important that the designated person of the community called the priest or the minister know what to say. It’s very important that friends know how to be there, as well as not to say too much.
Rosa: This abstracts things a little bit. You’ve come out as a critic of consumeristic Christianity, consumerist society. There is this sense of wanting to avoid suffering, deal with it by casting it out of our lives. We exert some kind of control to become more comfortable and to avoid it entirely. That often means marginalizing or shifting scenes of suffering, off to the sidelines, turning a blind eye.
What if you comment on our social practices of ignoring injustice, ignoring suffering for the sake of our own complacency and comfort?
Hauerwas: I think suffering has become an anomaly in America that we assume it’s always legitimate trying to get rid of it. That turns out to be a formula for death than killing. If you take, for example, the use of amniocentesis to discover if a child is down syndrome or not, people assume if the child is down syndrome, you ought to abort the child in order to spare the child suffering.
If that is the reason that you think a down syndrome child should be aborted, you would abort any child because life is going to be filled with suffering. We are finite creatures that suffer illness, death, and one another. I think the general justification for that is done in the name of compassion to stop people from undergoing suffering, is a very dangerous development in America.
It puts a medical establishment in a real crisis because most of the time, most of what we endure that you suffer, you’re not going to get much better. What physicians do is teach you how to go on in the face of suffering. It’s very interesting, as an old guy.
Think about how increasingly people are beginning to think of aging as an illness that you want to do something about to overcome. That’s extraordinarily dangerous. I’d say, in 100 years, if Christians are people identified as those who do not kill their children or their elderly, we would have been doing something right. That’s a big deal.
I think in the name of compassion, we’re living in a social order that will increasingly not know what to do with those born dying.
Rosa: After the break, Stanley Hauerwas on the ridiculous notion that our lives ought to be free of suffering and of the key vice that prevents American Christians from addressing systemic brokenness in our wrongdoing. Stay with us.
Rosa: Hello, friends. Thanks for giving us a place at your table. It’s a gift for us to bring these conversations into your life. We hope you find them meaningful and memorable. Throughout season three of the podcast, we’ll be offering a brand new online course.
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Here’s a quote. “A social order bends on producing wealth as an end in it of itself cannot avoid the creation of a people whose souls are superficial and whose daily life is captured by sentimentalities. They will ask questions like, ‘Why does a good God let bad things happen to good people?’”
Hauerwas: I always wonder how could that question have been asked by a Jew? Have you read the Psalms? [laughs]
Rosa: Filled with lament.
Hauerwas: The Psalms are absolutely, “I kept the law. It’s my delight. My friends have betrayed me. My enemies mock me. My life is absolute shambles, but you are God.”
Hauerwas: “You are God. That means everything that you are God.” The idea that somehow or the other, our lives are meant to be free of suffering just doesn’t make much sense. Of course, one of the things that people are very hesitant to do is talk about their relationship between sin and suffering and that we are embedded in sinful practices and hardly notice it.
It’s certainly in occasion of great deal of our suffering. As you suggested earlier, that the kinds of injustice we perpetrate on one another that creates suffering is, of course, just horrendous. That needs to be inane.
I think one of the challenges before America is, how do you acknowledge what was done was so wrong, there’s nothing you can do to make it right? I’m speaking of slavery. The African‑American community in America represents the history of a suffering that cannot be made right.
It must be acknowledged as first, we as a people must come to terms in a manner that says…What we’re trying to do is say, “African‑Americans can move to the suburbs, have two cars, free TVs and worry about Jews moving in? What was the slavery between France? It wasn’t that serious.” It was that serious.
How to come to terms with that as a social order, I think remained a deep challenge. Then you combine that with the genocide against the Native American and the kind of suffering that they’ve had to undergo. Those are acknowledgments that had to be made part of your common story.
Rosa: These things can’t be repaired.
Hauerwas: Can’t be repaired.
Rosa: In the process of acknowledging, what vices stand in the way? What can we do to get closer to a starting point?
Hauerwas: I think the vices that stand in the way is lack of candid speech. I think that Americans are people who do not want to know truth in its deep, straightforward form. How the lies grip us is an ongoing challenge that I think leaves us with the politics, which is often quite horrendous.
Rosa: What can be said of knowing God through suffering?
Hauerwas: Is there any other way to know God? This is Holy Week.
Rosa: It is.
Hauerwas: Good Friday is right around the corner. Our God suffered our violence, refusing to pass it on in a way that offers us a redemption that otherwise would be unavailable. Our God is a God that underwent through the second person of the Trinity, a suffering that should leave us in unbelievable thankfulness that Christ endured what we deserve but we did not have to endure.
Rosa: How has your understanding of suffering contributed to your perspectives on love? I’d like to talk about your theology and ethics related to love?
Hauerwas: Love, when I first began, now 50 years ago, the central text that was having greatest influence was Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics, in which the fundamental message was, “Christianity is fundamentally a religion of love, which means that you ought to do the greatest good for the greatest number.” Jesus becomes the symbol of love.
Rosa: In service of a utilitarian ethic?
Hauerwas: Yeah, right. I wrote a piece called “Love is Not All You Need” years ago.
Rosa: Shot at The Beatles.
Hauerwas: I got The Beatles in it, about right, I guess. I don’t think I did. I like The Beatles.
Rosa: They say, “Love is all you need.”
Hauerwas: Love is all you need, right. I pointed out that if you think love is all you need, what you fail to have is a kind of discriminating judgments you need in order to know what it is you should not do.
Love separate from 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.
Music: [singing] No, you don’t know what love is. You just do as you’re told. Yeah, do as you’re told.
Hauerwas: I’ve always liked Iris Murdoch’s suggestion. “Love is a non‑violent apprehension of the other as other.” When people say, “I love you,” in marriages, they usually mean, “You fit my personality fairly well.”
Rosa: “In you, I see myself.”
Hauerwas: Right. How to apprehend the other as the other and the pain that the other will cause you to recognize their otherness is a large challenge. If you want to talk about love, I think that you need to be very careful not to let the sentimentalities that are so present around love overwhelm it.
One of my graduate students married a few years ago. She chose 1 Corinthians 13.
Hauerwas: I’ve preached many marriages, but I’d never had one choose 1 Corinthians 13. The first line in my sermon was, “Christians are obligated to love one another even if they’re married.”
Hauerwas: Which is a way of reminding us that love does not create marriage, but marriage creates love. After 25 years of marriage, a couple is able to look back over the faithfulness that their marriage engendered and call it love.
Rosa: There’s a lot there. I want to go back to the replacement of the cross by a love‑centered ethic. You wrote in this paper, love is not all you need. “The command to love that the Christian has an interest in cannot be separated from He who commands it.” Is it right that you’re suggesting that an ethics of love, a Christian ethic that is founded on love is replacing the cross?
Hauerwas: Yes. I think that’s right. I think it did, particularly with the Fletchers kind of admonitions. I think it’s still very much the case for people to say, “When it’s all said and done, what’s really important is we love one another.” No, you got to love one another rightly. [laughs]
In the gospel of John, Jesus declares to His disciples, “I call you my friends. Now, you can love one another. You should rightly love one another.” Remember, to be a friend of Jesus didn’t turn out very well for most of the disciples. How exactly that love, which moves the sun and the stars, don’t these?
“A love that moves the sun and the stars is the 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.”
Also, love is rightly understood to be the very substance of the relation between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Rosa: You’re talking about love in its triune context.
Hauerwas: Right, right. God is love because what love means is that we didn’t have to be… God didn’t have to create, but we are as a manifestation of God’s unrelenting desire to have us be His friends.
Rosa: How do you hold these things together? God is love, as you just said, but you’ve also pointed out, from our perspective, God is the enemy we most fear. How do you experience God’s love? What is its connection to our fear of Him?
Hauerwas: We have to remember that we are to love our enemy. The first enemy for most of us is God, because we want God on our terms. Only, God created us on God’s terms. It’s like, if someone gives you a gift, it was a gift you hadn’t anticipated getting but it’s such a good gift, you want to give it back, what’s the first thing you want do in return? You want to give them something back? Why do you want to give them something back? Because you understand gift giving and gift receiving as a power relationship.
If you don’t give them something back, they may later ask you for a favor you don’t want to do and you don’t have to do it because they gave you this great gift. We are gift. It’s not like we exist to receive a gift from God. Our very existence is gift. Is it any wonder we fear God?
Part of what it means to undergo the discipline of being a Christian is to learn to love God with appropriate fear. The transformation of God from enemy to God as the one we love is part of the great challenge of living a Christian life.
Rosa: Here’s another quote. This one again pitting love and hate against each other. “I prefer to cherish wrongs done to me…” a provocative phrase, “My sense of who I am is more determined by what I’m against rather than what I’m for. I pray that God can have my loves but not take my hates. If you take my hates, how will I know who I am?”
Hauerwas: I like that.
Rosa: You wrote it.
Hauerwas: I’m glad I wrote it. I think that it is true that we’re more determined by what we’re against than what we’re for. How that transform into having lives and what we’re for rather than what we’re against remains an ongoing challenge. Where would I be if I didn’t have the church to criticize?
Hauerwas: I love the church. It’s made me what I am.
Rosa: As you look out at a society that is finding itself in its hate, what is your message to that society?
Hauerwas: Try some courage. What we’re currently experiencing is the continuing outworking September 11th. America is the strongest country on the world that runs on fear. The politics that we currently are experiencing is the politics of fear. You will have a take toward those that same strong and promise you safety, and that’s very dangerous.
A name for it is called fascism and realm. That’s probably a too extreme description. It is nonetheless not absent from the American psyche.
Rosa: When you compare American politics to Christian politics, where do we start?
Hauerwas: We start by Christians telling one another the truth and to sustain our lives in communities in which we know that death is always a possibility. How baptism should shape a Christian community to be a people who know that death is real. It is absolutely one of the resources that makes Christians a polity that is right distinctive from the general American polity.
Rosa: There’s this anxiety though that America will cease to be a Christian nation.
Hauerwas: I hope so. [laughs] I hope so. The idea that we are Christian nation is an extraordinarily destructive one. One, it assumes we know what we mean when we say democracy and Christianity. Democracy or seeing as wetted at the hip. That means that Christians in America can go kill other people in other parts of the world because they’re not democrats.
I think how we can convince Christians in America that just something very basic. As Christians, we have a problem with war. That starts there. Christians have problem with war. I’m a pacifist but I’m ready to take just warriors on and say, “You think you’ve got a problem with war. Where did Christians get the idea that it was just OK to be in the armies?”
Rosa: Thinking about Christianity as a fundamentally political religion, you’ve already said try on courage. We need to be more candid in our speech. You point out and this brings us a little bit back to Lev as well but Christianity is a political religion. The ministry of Jesus can be considered as a politics of Jesus.
Furthermore, Jesus wasn’t an accepted. If Christianity was all about love you say, then why was Jesus rejected?
Hauerwas: It’s like before he got nailed to the cross, He should have said “I think there’s been a failure in communication.” [laughs] How can you kill someone that is just saying we ought to love one another? Rome knew what it was doing.
Rosa: That it was subversive.
Hauerwas: That it was subversive. Because render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Caesar wants it all. God has it all. It is therefore Jesus is a politic and it is a politic of the formation of people who live by non‑resistant love across time by establishing ways of surviving in a violent world by being non‑violent, which is a very dangerous way to be.
Rosa: It is.
Hauerwas: That’s a politic. It is one that I’ve tried to help us recover over the last 50 years.
Rosa: It is a dangerous kind of ethic. That’s to suggest that we’re following Jesus into pretty rough terrain.
Hauerwas: Forgive your enemy. [laughs]
Rosa: Forgive your enemy, pray for those who persecute you, and follow me into this rough ground. What can be said about our obsession with safety?
Hauerwas: What can be said? It is for human beings. We fear death and we don’t want to die.
Rosa: Are we just managing our anxiety around death?
Hauerwas: A lot. I think a lot we do. We are society that rarely acknowledges death before it happens. I was raised in the culture of open casket funerals in which you went by a casket and said, “Don’t they look good?”
Hauerwas: “It’s like they’re not dead.” [laughs] Even within their funeral, practice itself is a denial. Christianity is ongoing training in dying early. Every politic, one way or the other is a politic that deals with death.
Rosa: Don’t you go and listen to another podcast, more from Stanley Hauerwas in just a moment including his thoughts on the necessity of conflict and confrontation. How each of those things are allies of peace as well as this one’s relevant, the politic in the lie, in just a moment.
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Rosa: Confrontation is a big fame in your work. This idea of candid speech and speaking against. When it comes to confrontation, how can we be loving in our confrontation?
Hauerwas: I don’t want to kill the people I’m against. [laughs] That’s one…I don’t know that I love them but I’m not trying to kill them though I sometimes am tempted. Tomorrow night, I’m going to talk about Matthew 18 where Jesus says, “If you think your brother or sister has sinned against you, you are to confront them.” He doesn’t say you might consider confronting them. He says you confront them.
Now, you think, “Gee, on the whole I’d prefer to get along by going along,” but conflict is at the very heart of being a true soul community through which we are confronted by, we confront our brother and sister which we think has done wrong in a way that hopefully would bring reconciliation.
If it doesn’t, they’ll be treated as a tax collector outside the community. I think therefore, conflict and peaceable‑ness are necessary allies because you only become peaceable to the extent your community is willing to speak truthfully to one another in a way that false presuppositions do not determine our lives which oftentimes breakout in terrible violence later on.
Rosa: The current election cycle is perhaps a good example of just this need for confrontation and peacefulness to be coming together.
Hauerwas: One would hope so. The politics we’re currently experiencing is the politic of the lie. That is extremely frightening.
Rosa: What do you mean by the politic of the lie?
Hauerwas: I think primarily of the kind of simplifications that are part of the speech habits of the current Republican primary candidate.
Rosa: Simplifications sloganizing on per sticker ethics.
Hauerwas: Right. It’s amazing.
Rosa: It produces a background noise or hiss of anxiety and fear. Are this fear substantiated?
Hauerwas: No. They seem to be substantiated with the rise of militant Islam and so on. I think much of the fears that people have in our society are exaggerated. I want to be careful about that because the class structure of American society means that there are people that experienced violence every day in a way that those of us in the middle and upper‑middle classes do not see. Don’t even know it happens.
It becomes very incumbent upon us to rightly understand that there are people on our society that negotiate a violent world every day. That we don’t know is there.
Rosa: We’ve encountered terrorism in just over the last six months where the media has presented to us instances of terrible violence. We’ve rightly responded with empathy or sympathy and the feeling of solidarity. But for all the things that are shown to us in the media, there’s untold numbers of unseen violence.
Hauerwas: You take Ferguson. I thought Ferguson was a very signal moment. That violence of the everyday place function there was clearly out of control. You have to be very sympathetic with the people that discovered that black lives matter.
Rosa: What do you say to those whose everyday experience is an experience of violence? How do you present the Christian message of confrontation, peace?
Hauerwas: It’s not for me to do it because I don’t have the position to do it.
Rosa: This is where the who and not just the what you say matters.
Hauerwas: You have to be extraordinarily impressed by African American pastors who say they’re not going to let you turn us into violent people. Have the community absorb the violence in a way that refuses to pass it on.
Rosa: There is a prophetic voice in vulnerability…
Hauerwas: There is.
Rosa: …and weakness. I wonder if you could tease out some of what you mean by that. What is it for the weak and the vulnerable and the oppressed to be a prophetic voice?
Hauerwas: Of course, I think the paradigmatic form of that you see in John Vanier’s L’Arche homes where those that are mentally disabled are claimed as friends in a manner that you have the building of an alternative community that has a gentleness that attracts in a way few other instances do.
Rosa: It’s a paradox. It’s to say that there is power in weakness.
Hauerwas: I think you don’t become weak to be weak. Rather the language I refer is you discover how to be gentle. There’s hardness to gentleness…
Rosa: There’s a hard edge.
Hauerwas: …that makes it possible to not be overwhelmed by the violence but your refusal to let the violence defeat our ability to be friends. Gentleness, I think, is crucial for friendship.
Rosa: Can you say a little bit more about the kind of gentleness that you’re thinking? Is it embodied relationship? John Vanier speaks provocatively about the beauty that can be shown in that kind of friendship you described.
Hauerwas: John’s a tough guy. He’s not going to let anyone run over his friends. The gentleness that he is, he exudes is a gentleness that is formed by those friendships in a way that will call in to question those that would not have his friends exist.
I’m often described as someone that’s prophetic. A full professor at a major research university by definition is not prophetic. [laughs] I tend to resist that. A good…
Rosa: The prophets were marginalized. These are people in the edges of society.
Hauerwas: I’m too [inaudible 46:56] . I never pretended to try to be a prophet or assumed that I have this mantle at all.
Rosa: That said, what is the future of Christianity in America? Do we need a wake‑up call? What is your hope for American Christianity?
Hauerwas: I believe God is making us leaner and leaner. As we continue to lose members and the church gets smaller, what I hope is we will discover unity between Christians that we haven’t experienced for many centuries.
One of the things that I think may well be happening is we’re coming to the end of reformation and how we recover the catalysts of the church across denominations will be one of the challenges for us for the future.
Rosa: You’re looking toward unity?
Rosa: Do you think that candid speech, courage, confrontation… Do you think that’s going to lead to unity?
Hauerwas: I think there are absolute constituencies of any unity that we could possibly want.
Rosa: Looking at your work, looking at your theology, looking at your ethics, not to separate those things. You think of them as part and parcel. But you do this work it seems from the bottom up. You observe narrative and story. You talked about the importance of the particulars in developing a broader theological perspective.
Hauerwas: I always try to resist theology becoming written primarily for other theologians. I’ve tried to work in a manner that my primary audience are like people like myself, ministers, and to show what I think are some of the serious intellectual challenges before the church today. That has met… I’ve tried at once to write some of what I do at a very high academic level.
I don’t like the language of popularization. The distinction between the academically serious and what’s popular is a false distinction because theological language is a language of the church. Therefore, I try to write at a very fundamental level that makes contact with what I think every Christian struggles with.
Rosa: In your memoir, you say you write to find out what you believe. By the end of that memoir, you say, “What a surprise! I’m a Christian.”
Hauerwas: [laughs] I’m a Christian, right. It is a big surprise to me.
Rosa: Why? Why is it a surprise?
Hauerwas: Because I’m not…It doesn’t come natural to me. I’m very pleased that God has made friends make me a Christian. It has given me a wonderful life.
Rosa: Thank you so much for your time, Stanley.
Hauerwas: Thank you. It’s been great.
Rosa: It’s wonderful to be with you.
Hauerwas: Good. Thank you.
Rosa: What I love about listening to the gravelly Texan voice of Stanley Hauerwas is the wisdom and life experience it represents. He speaks truth and love plainly and directly. His theological scholarship is for the church. In that regard, he is fittingly sober and serious on all the right topics, it seems. But there is also that possibility of a sarcastic, knowing twinkle in his eye.
It’s compelling, it’s magnetic. I’m glad he hasn’t figured out retirement quite yet and I can’t wait to read more Hauerwas for years to come. Thanks for listening.
If you’d like the full interview in video, check it out in our YouTube channel at YouTube.com/biolacct or check out the show notes. Peace be with you, friends.
Rosa: The Table Audio is hosted and produced by me, Evan Rosa, and is a resource of the Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought which is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and The Blankemeyer Foundation.
Theme music is by The Brilliance. Production and engineering by The Narrativo Group. More info at narrativogroup.com. Edited and mixed by TJ Hester. Production Assistance by Laura Crane.
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