Thursday, March 22, 2012

Accounting for a Crucified Savior

"A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they will see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, "You are mad, you are not like us."  
Abba Anthony

In the April 2012 edition of First Things, Eric Cohen reviews Stanley Hauerwas' new bookWar and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity.  Hauerwas is a (in)famous Christian pacifist.  Cohen is neither a pacifist nor a Christian (he's Jewish).  Toward the end of the article, Cohen makes this especially sharp critique of Hauerwas' political theology:

[Hauerwas] makes no effort to envision what history would become if sane states and sane leaders loved their enemies unto death, leaving the world to concentration camps and suicide bombings, to well-armed and deluded men who would kill our children and make us all slaves of their power within history.

I have no desire to divide up into teams of pacifists and militants in this space just now. I simply want to name the captain obvious point at the heart of the tension with which Hauerwas would undoubtedly like more of us to wrestle.  This is the captain obvious point: when Hauerwas commends us to love one's enemies unto death, as Cohen observes, Hauerwas is not positing original material.  It's old stuff.  Really old stuff.  "Love your enemies," Jesus said.  And then he did.  "Father, forgive them..."

How does one's thinking about war and violence - wherever it leads - faithfully account for a crucified Savior?

Cohen is not the first to call Hauerwas' position unrealistic or worse - Cohen prefers it "eschatological madness."(1)  The problem, though, as already noted, is that Hauerwas is not being original.  Nevertheless, Cohen's word "madness" in this context is intriguing.  It calls to mind C.S. Lewis' famous apologetic framework: that Jesus, by claiming to be God's Son, was either a liar or a lunatic or true.  So Hauerwas is always talking about the Church as a people unintelligible apart from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Christians cannot be expected to make more sense than our God.

That Hauerwas' position on war would come across as madness apart from Jesus he probably takes as the highest compliment available to his position.  The charge to those who are seriously interested in constructively challenging and engaging his position begins in the heart of days almost upon us - that great Holy Week.  The charge is not academic, but finds each of us in turn.  It's the question of Good Friday: in my own life, and in our life together, how do I account for a crucified Savior?

(1)  Cohen prefers a more realistic world in which decent, God-fearing people drop the bombs that we were afraid the ones we bombed would one day drop on us.  That Cohen's argument peaks with appeal to nuclear devastation is beyond ironic and morally callous.  Madness, indeed.  For his part, Hauerwas has previously claimed the deepest threat to Christianity is sentimentality, which he calls the refusal of Christians to see their children suffer for their beliefs.  A friend of mine shared this exchange with a student that captures something of the challenge here:
Student: Wouldn't your child being hurt by someone be the worst thing for you as a parent?
Me: No, that would be my child hurting others.
Student: Dr. Harper, you should write a book
(That book, my friend, has already been written.)


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