The Price of a Peaceable Kingdom

The Peaceable Kingdom is a book by Stanley Hauerwas.  In 2001 Time Magazine named him “America’s best theologian.”  It’s been a few years, but it’s surprising how few people not involved in theological ethics know anything about his work.

Hauerwas is from Texas, the son of a bricklayer, and a bricklayer himself when he was young.  He makes a point of that in his memoir, Hannah’s Child.  The idea is that he’s down to earth, not like all these fancy theologians from Germany.

To be the church

“The first social task of the church is to be the church.” (Peaceable, loc 236)  One of his best-known sayings, I’ve never been quite clear what it means.  I think it means that the church should care for the souls of its congregation first.  Church members should practice non-violence, because they themselves are not pure.  Christians should exemplify “cells of joy” in a world that barely knows the meaning of the word.  More on this later. 

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What I’ve learned from posting 110 posts on my godblog*

     Godblog1.   I’ve come to think about the Bible as symbolically dense stories about what it means to be one small, vulnerable human  on this earth for a little while.  It means that I am part of a larger story about what it is to live out the promise of the crucifixion and the cross.  The promise is that one day the world will end, and we, and with it all our suffering and loss, will be redeemed (parousia).  Trouble is, I’m not always sure what these words mean.

Albert Camus says that the absurd is born of the confrontation between human need and the “unreasonable silence of the world.”  I would say that Christianity (indeed all religion) is a conversation to fill that silence, still our angst, and so create meaning for our lives.  That we make the meaning we subsequently discover is fine, as long as we don’t think that it explains more than it does.  It doesn’t explain the mystery and wonder that is every human life. 

     2.  The ethics of Jesus Christ are the right ethics: love, humility, care for the widow, orphan, and stranger. These represent the downtrodden of today, such as the mother who can’t pay her rent and feed her children at the same time.

For forty years I taught ancient political theory, particularly Plato and Aristotle.  I learned a lot, but I learned almost nothing about the ethics of love and care, the Judeo-Christian ethic.  Love and care were simply not Greek and Roman virtues, though friendship was.  Without the Judeo-Christian tradition, Western civilization would be bereft.   

Jefferson’s Bible abstracts the ethical teachings of Jesus from its religious context.  Trouble is, that leaves open the question of “why?”, as in “why should I care about anybody but myself and my family?”  People don’t often say it so bluntly, but many people act as if this is what they believe.  Christianity has a good answer.  In loving others, we rehearse the love of God, who sacrificed his son so that we might live.

     3.  God is essential so that we do not become idolaters. It’s really that simple.  The only alternative to God is idolatry: of money, sex, power, self, the great leader, or whatever.  Václav Havel  had it just right.

The relativization of all moral norms, the crisis of authority, the reduction of life to the pursuit of immediate material gain without regard for its general consequences . . . do not originate in democracy but in that which modern man has lost: his transcendental anchor, and along with it the only genuine source of his responsibility and self-respect . . . . Given its fatal incorrigibility, humanity probably will have to go through many more Rwandas and Chernobyls before it understands how unbelievably shortsighted a human being can be who has forgotten that he is not God.

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Hauerwas and the end of socially responsible Christianity

Is Stanley Hauerwas the end of socially responsible Christianity?

Stanley Hauerwas was named “America’s best theologian” by Time Magazine in 2001.  It’s been a few years, but was he ever America’s best theologian?  Or does that category even make sense? 

Hauerwas’ most well-known and popular book is Resident Aliens.  There he argues that Christians should see themselves as “resident aliens” in a foreign land.  Instead of attempting to influence government and society, Christians should live lives that exemplify the love of Christ.  The first social task of the church is to be the church (Peaceable Kingdom, loc 235, 2492).

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