Wednesday 19 March 2008

Not peace but the sword: reflections on peace, Hauerwas and the trivial

A guest-post by Scott Stephens

Peace is one of the most deceptive terms in public discourse. Consequently, it is not at all clear to me that people know what they are referring to when they talk about peace. Take the current political climate: peace most commonly refers to not having been part of the invasion of Iraq in the first place, or now getting the hell out of Iraq and thus bringing an end to our part in this bloody war. When it comes to Iraq itself, the West’s dreams of peace are for an end to sectarian violence and the emergence of some kind of nascent democratic society. And yet even at this point things are not what they seem.

Notice, for instance, that the recommendations coming out of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) have increasingly stressed the importance of the creation of low-wage employment for Iraqi youths (who comprise over sixty percent of the population). The rationale is: get them spending all their time working and saving for clothes, leisure activities or a new iPod and they won’t have either the energy or the motivation to kill other Iraqis. What I find remarkable about this is not just that the grand American rhetoric of ‘bringing freedom to Iraq’ is reduced to the more banal image of adolescent Iraqis flipping falafels at some street vendor in Baghdad. It is the way that this image reflects back to Western democratic societies its fantasies of what peaceful existence looks like. Let me explain what I mean.

The fundamental delusion that rationalised America’s invasion of Iraq was the belief that, once set free from the grasp of a maniacal tyrant, Iraqis would spontaneously adopt recognisably democratic forms of social life. In other words, they believed that beneath the skin we are all American, and that the longing for freedom, peace and the advantages of the free market run deep in the human soul. The reality of the situation, however, was that deposing Saddam Hussein opened the gates of hell. As George Packer wrote in The Assassins’ Gate, ‘Iraq without the lid of totalitarianism clamped down has become a place of roiling and contending ethnic claims’.

This state of affairs should have come as no surprise, for the chaos to which the nation reverted post-Saddam was anticipated in King Faisal’s chilling description of his own people in 1933: they are, he said, ‘unimaginable masses of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever’. Far from releasing Iraqis from the terror of the Ba’athist régime so that some repressed longing for peace could bloom, the American invasion exposed the inherent violence and sheer bloodlust that had been held in check for four decades.

My point here is not to try to exaggerate the violent nature of the Iraqi people, but rather to call into question the widespread belief that peaceableness is a quality that underlies the human condition, which is allowed to surface whenever the external determinants of tyranny or extremism are removed. Is it not rather that human beings partake in a violence so profound that it dwarfs even the most aggressive mammalian behaviour? And are humans not remarkable for their natural incapacity to organize themselves peacefully? These were the observations that troubled Thomas Hobbes, whose immense political theology stemmed from the conviction ‘that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.’ War, for Hobbes, is not an exceptional state of mass violence that interrupts a more fundamental tranquillity. War is the human condition itself.

(I have to admit that I like Stephen King’s variation on this same theme. In one of his more gruesome novels, Cell, there is a kind of electromagnetic ‘Pulse’ that is transmitted through mobile phones, which seemingly produces uncontrollable aggression in its recipients. As the book progresses, though, it is revealed that the Pulse didn’t introduce or generate this bloodthirsty animalism; it simply wiped away the veneer of human civility, exposing – to use Carl Jung’s phrase – our more fundamental ‘blood-consciousness’. Here’s how one character explains it to his companions: ‘At bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens at all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. And that is what the Pulse exposed five days ago.’)

What then of the so-called ‘peace’ enjoyed and promoted by democratic societies? Isn’t it apparent from the Pax Americana that now holds sway – whether at home or abroad – that such peace has become little more than an obsession with the trivial, a benevolent boredom, or worst of all, the inalienable right to excess? It acts, in other words, like a palliative, a form of cultural sedation aimed at distracting us from our violent predisposition, all the while satisfying our bloodlust through vicarious means (television, movies, sport, etc.).

I think it is important at this point to register the extent of my disagreement with Stanley Hauerwas, someone I otherwise greatly respect, on just this question of the substance and character of peace. For all his notorious anti-American rhetoric, it seems to me that on this very point he remains an unreconstructed ‘good ol’ boy’, and his ethical program is perfectly at home within the greater Pax Americana.

I have already suggested that the conception of peace as a deeper (ontological) reality than violence – a concept that is fundamental for Hauerwas, John Milbank and David Bentley Hart – is theologically problematic and ethically impotent. But it is the way that Hauerwas characterises a life narrated by nonviolence as one of profound boredom, marked by the willingness to enjoy the trivial (he often likens the life committed to nonviolence to watching baseball) that I find deeply problematic. For he seems thereby to have accepted in advance the price to be paid for becoming a beneficiary of this idolatrous peace: that we abandon any kind of moral seriousness, renounce every ‘higher’ cause – such a subordination of one’s life to the state, party or cause, Hauerwas says, ‘is the character of totalitarian regimes’.

At this point, isn’t Hauerwas pandering directly to the American obsession with leisure? And further, is this depiction of the ethical life as one which ‘takes time for the trivial’ not an uncanny reiteration of George W. Bush’s urging of people to fight terrorism by continuing to indulge in the excesses of the American way of life? Hauerwas thus unwittingly confirms the accuracy of Slavoj Žižek’s recent observation, that ‘the split between the First and Third World runs increasingly along the lines of an opposition between leading a long, satisfying life full of material and cultural wealth, and dedicating one’s life to some transcendent cause. We in the West are immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything.’

Perhaps now, more than ever, it is important to be reminded of Jesus’ words, which war against this pseudo-peace – whether the bloody peace-through-submission of the Pax Romana, or the indolent peace-through-sedation of our current Pax Americana: ‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!’ The intense conflict introduced by Jesus and radicalised in his resurrection, cuts through every organic or ethnic tie (family, nation, gender), leaving those who follow him alone and unprotected in a world determined by self-interest. The apostle Paul goes even further, locating this conflict at the level of the Dawkinsian ‘selfish genes’ themselves – his term for which is ‘flesh’. If there is any peace recognized by Christianity, it is this experience of being profoundly disconnected within a world that knows only violence.

But today, the Church has traded peace for leisure, whoring after the trinkets of our pleasure economy and abandoning its calling to risk everything for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Our Easter declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ is a manifesto for the only peace that really counts. Will we have ears to hear?


Anonymous said...

A fine, thought provoking post. Thank you for putting it forth.

In response, I'd like to make to but one point:

I do think the human spirit was made to be free. That is, we are not made for oppression. By saying so, I am not insisting that the human spirit is naturally American. But I am saying that, at least on this level, the President was right to want to free the Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam: They are human beings, and they yearn to breathe free.

But they are human beings in this way too: Without the considerable constraints of the rule of law, they will destroy themselves and each other -- as would we all, I suspect. We long to be free, and we often use our freedom for great evil. That's another way of saying that freedom can survive only under enforceable law.

Put differently, all hell had already broken out under Saddam, not later. It merely continued in Saddam's absence. Life under the Baathist regime was hell for many, just as it is now.

But in my view, it is getting better. I do not equate tyranny with the rule of law, even though tyranny can reduce some kinds of violence. The Iraqis are on the slow and remarkably difficult road to the rule of law, and after some unknown time, I except they will arrive at that more blessed destination -- but not soon.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure your criticism even gets close to Hauerwas, Milbank or even Bentley Hart. When you say

"I have already suggested that the conception of peace as a deeper (ontological) reality than violence – a concept that is fundamental for Hauerwas, John Milbank and David Bentley Hart – is theologically problematic and ethically impotent"

are you referring to this post or a previous one? I don't see this point in this post so it must be in another one.

I'm not clear on how Milbank, Hauerwas or Hart are even coming close to arguing "that peaceableness is a quality that underlies the human condition"--a 'widespread' belief that I assume you're tying them to. I'm not sure any of them would even speak about 'the human condition' (Hauerwas certainly wouldn't). I must be missing something from an earlier post.

Hauerwas and his reflection on 'taking time for the trivial' isn't an indulgence in American obsession with leisure (that's a rather thin reading of it, to my mind). Rather, you've missed the ecclesiological point of it all. The church can 'take time' for the trivial (and this is certainly not an indulgence in 'peace-through-sedation') because war isn't the first, last, or final word (as you seem to be assuming following Hobbes).

Anonymous said...

Yes, Scott, sharp, provocative post, as usual. But let me first say a word to Michael.

Such a well-meaning comment could only come from the US - or at least from someone across the pond who does not know or read the European, let alone the Middle Eastern, press. In fact it is a comment that nicely raises the question of the inextricable link of violence with lies. In the British broadsheet the Independent, this very day, the excellent Patrick Cockburn writes from Baghdad under headline "This is the war that started with lies, and continues with lie after lie after lie", most saliently now the lie - or, for the duped, the fantasy - that, after a post "surge" lull, "it is getting better," or the prognostic lie that the war in Afghanistan will be won. And both lies, further, are based on a monumental ignorance of history, from Crassus to Churchill. As the redoubtable Robert Fisk begins his own lead article - same paper, same day: "The only lesson we ever learn is that we never learn."

But that's btw. To return to the post ...
Your Hobbesean anthropology, Scott, is certainly descriptively correct, as the archaelogical evidence of weapons and cave paintings of battles confrims. But my problem with Milbank's "ontology of peace" is not that it ignores the fact that we are violent all the way down - surely it doesn't - it's that it it lacks an "eschatology of peace", of which an ontology of peace (it seems to me) should be a subset. That Milbank looks to creation rather than to the resurrection of Jesus is indicative of this mis-emphasis, as is his thin docrtine of the atonement.

The only other thing I would add to your analysis is that I think a distinction should be drawn between (to coin a phrase!) the cod-peace of "benevolent boredom", the truce of trivial leisure, and, say, the leisure of the liturgy, the "wasting time with God" that Herbert McCabe called prayer. And as you are from Oz, I will forgive the way you diss baseball and fail to see that God's game comes under this rubric too!

Anonymous said...

Please explain further what you mean when you say "But it is the way that Hauerwas characterises a life narrated by nonviolence as one of profound boredom . . . ." This seems wildly off the mark. Which of Hauerwas's many essays or books are you thinking of here?

Anonymous said...

We disagree that the war was based on lies. As Georges Sada, one of Saddam's generals, has laid out in great detail, the WMDs existed, and they were shipped to Syria with the help of the Russians. Sada explains carefully and precisely where, when, why, how, and by whom they were transported. For the details, see his book, Saddam's Secret, which is widely available.

Marty said...

Dear Scott (Chuckie),

Loved your post dude. It is precisely the same problem that I have with Hauerwas. Well said.

Cheers from an old mate in the mid-90s,


ps: What are you up to these days mate?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reflections, Kim. (And by the way, to set the record straight, I am originally from the US - and a one-time avid supporter of the Cincinnati Reds, until I realized that all sport is, as Heidegger put it, a parasite that feeds on Being and utterly diminishes one's capacity to think and live authentically. I could have used the analogy of an interminable 5-day cricket test match ...)

I am entirely in agreement with your assessment that the problem with Milbank's 'ontology of peace' is that it is primordial, originary, and thus that any redemption is but a recapitulation. Given the resurrection, then, which I take to be a profoundly disruptive event, one which introduced disharmony into the solipsistic, violent order of being, surely we must speak of Christian peace as an ecclesial existence of an entirely different order, and not merely a restoration of some originary harmonics. Peace, as Slavoj Zizek has insisted, here has the structure of Evil: it is a perversion, a break from the norm.

I simply do not see how one can simply assert, as Hauerwas does constantly, that 'Christians believe that peace is a deeper reality than war' precisely on the basis that peace is the character of God's good creation. The whole logic of the theology of the resurrection is the insistence that something took place which both replaces and redefines any original 'act' of creation.

Anyway, I'll write some more about Hauerwas' benevolent boredom later ...

'Til then.

Anonymous said...

Scott, your post represents a severe misunderstanding of Hauerwas's teachings on Christian nonviolence.

As I've noted on my blog, his paper September 11: A Pacifist Response sharply criticizes Bush's suggestion that we fight terrorism with consumerism:

"I think the misery of the American public and the world in which we live can be seen nowhere better than in the suggestion…that we must take up our
responsibilities as citizens and respond to the attacks by shopping."

For Hauerwas, nonviolence is simply the outcome of a life of Christian discipleship.

The popular criticism of Hauerwas is his inability to explain discipleship in terms of "practicality." But to assume, as you have, that his nonviolence is nothing more than "whoring after the trinkets" reflects a negligent understanding of both Hauerwas and his critics.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Heidegger's negative take on sport might be connected with the fact that the body has virtually no place in his philosophy - an egregious omission - quite apart from a hunch that I'll bet the bugger couldn't walk in the Black Forest and eat gateau at the same time. But I'm well off topic!

mt said...

What exactly is the problem with Hauerwas, Milbank, and D.B. Hart's view of peace?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Scott, for this intelligent, appropriate response. I am very aware of Hauerwas' wonderful response to the false urgency and tokenism with which Americans were presented in the wake of 11 Sept. However, I find it very significant that in his self-proclaimed 'best statement on the character of peace', written in calmer, less pressured circumstances, Hauerwas gravitated toward precisely Bush's logic: we let the totalitarians and war-mongers win if we withdraw from our enjoyment of the trivialities of life. And this is the point I was trying to make. I did not say that Hauerwas advocates a 'whoring after trinkets', but that his advocacy of a kind of benevolent boredom (albeit in an ecclesial context) as constitutive of peace can be easily folded back into the standard narrative and proclivities of American life. Christian peace is much harsher than that.

(By his own admission, Hauerwas is not a systematic thinker and his work is a series of recantations - his use of certain hackneyed catch-phrases is meant to give an impression of relative consistency. At this point, his occasionalist approach to ethics gets the better of his, it seems to me.)

Let me also note, while I'm at it, that Hauerwas' narration of the peaceable life is severely judged by Zizek's description of the contemporary division of First and Third worlds. What the hell does a peaceable life look like that is not constrained by the idiocy of American capitalism? And how can such a peace resist capitalisms uncanny knack of assimilating everything which opposes it? (I am reminded of Hegel's dictum: evil truly resides in the one who everywhere sees evil.)

I am not, in fact, one of 'those' critics of Hauerwas. (In fact, I quite love his work and have worked through everything he's written.) I am just under the strong conviction that in his attempt to re-narrate our experience in a way that doesn't necessitate violence has taken a disastrous misstep in invoking a notion of some primordial peace, and then construing this peace as that which emerges when the church simply is the church. I think that an alternate conception of peace, one founded on the ontological disruption occasioned by the resurrection and systematised in the life of the church is what is called for today ... not the baptism of some obsession with leisure.

(I am thrilled, by the way, that Kim bit at my bait. Heidegger did have a profound conception of the body, more so than most other philosophers. He was just terrified when the tool being used turned round and diminished the Dasein of the one using it. Kim, do you not think that sport acts as an opiate, a sedative, at best, and at worst drip-feeds our underlying bloodlust?)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Scott, I have to admit that it's true that professional sport is irredeemably compromised in contemporary capitalist culture. Indeed there are good grounds for interpreting it in terms of Paul's "principalities and powers". Still, are you going to tell me that sport qua sport is an ontological distortion? That when I used to play a little vets rugby, or when I go (as I regularly do) for a five-mile run through the woods, I am dripfeeding an underlying bloodlust? (I actually consider it a kind of spiritual exercise.) And I can see that following the Cincinnati Reds was an opiate, but the Mets? Have you no "field of dreams"? Then you're one sad bastard! :)

Joanna said...

hey Scott,
Thanks for this - I had the pleasure of watching Hauerwas in action last week and was struck by his comment that the greatest challenge for pacifists is the 'moral power' of war - by which he meant the power that war has over our imaginations because of the sacrifice that it demands. What would we make movies about if we didn't have war? [though I have long had an idea for a TV series where each week a team of peacemakers have to come up with an inventive, non-violent solution to a different conflict. heh. Imagine trying to sell that to Channel Nine!] Hauerwas expressed his belief that peace WAS relatively boring to our minds, but that we could become equally enchanted by it. This left me asking precisely this question: what do we mean by peace?
Having said that, he was quite critical of some of the other speakers on the panel who were speaking of the straightforward promotion of 'human rights' and 'democracy' as equivalent to (or even productive of) peace.

Anonymous said...

Good post and good discussion. One point I'd like to raise: I'm not sure that I buy this Hobbesian anthropology. Such thinking is, as Hardt and Negri have noted, deeply implicated in the project of the nation-state which accepts and promotes Hobbes narrative and then offers to save us from ourselves.

Furthermore, and on a more fundamental level, I'm not sure if the categories of "violence" and "peace" lie at the heart of the human condition. I would want to suggest that they are simply symptoms of what is at the core of anthropology -- worship. It is worship that dictates what sort of people we will be. Worship the true God and you will become peaceful, worship idols and you will become violent.

Anyway, maybe this is all too tangential, so I'll step out here.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Kim. You will be aware, of course, that Karl Barth (from memory, buried deep in one of his excurses on 'The Lordless Powers' in The Christian Life) once identified sport with the 'principalities and powers'.

I can't see sport as a spiritual exercise (as one who played junior rep basketball) - but perhaps having a function closer to what William James describes in "The Moral Equivalent to War" - the promotion of the virtues of manliness and discipline amid the flaccidity of our pleasure economy. But isn't this very false comradery (idolatrously close to the brother created in war) under the judgment of the post-resurrection being of the church?

Alex said...

I should point out that though Milbank (and I would imagine Bentley-Hart as well) talk of the ontology of peace they are not pacifists. Indeed Milbank has quite heavily critiqued Hauerwas on the very point you make - to stand by while violence is done is an even greater violence. Milbank, John. “Violence: Double Passivity.” In Must Christianity Be Violent? Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology, eds. Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2003, pp. 201-206. He repeat the same point in Ontology and Pardon somewhere.

I disagree with him on this point, as in the vast majority of instances, it is a lesser violence to do something that is non-violent in the face of violence. As Cavaugh has pointed out, it seems unlikely that most modern wars would make it past the traditional just war theses.

Anonymous said...

That's right, Alex. I certainly wasn't lumping Milbank in with Hauerwas on the question of pacifism (or more properly, nonviolence). The disagreement between them is quite infamous. I was, however, noting that they both proceed from the same ground: the deeper ontology of peace which ensures that violence is, in fact, the exception.

There is a point that hasn't come up in the discussion yet, which I find both troubling and telling. It is the fact that, for Yoder, Christians' current disposition of peaceableness is made possible by the future divine violence of judgment. The current ecclesial peace is guaranteed by eschatological violence. But because Hauerwas has all but left his oft-invoked eschatological position unelaborated, he must guarantee the current ecclesial peace by means of a primordial peace. I find this an interesting divergence between Hauerwas and Yoder - one that I'd be interested to hear people's reflections on.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the NT (Paul in particular) envisages Christians engaged in a war, but without violence. "Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, powers..." Nothing boring there, given the Pauline (and Yoderian) understanding of the principalities and powers.

Doug Harink (I "sign" here, because I don't really know how to do this blog thing, except by signing in as "anonymous")

Ben Myers said...

Thanks for this excellent post, Scott.

"The fundamental delusion which rationalised America’s invasion of Iraq was the belief that, once set free from the grasp of a maniacal tyrant, Iraqis would spontaneously adopt recognisably democratic forms of social life."

In addition, of course, another very deep assumption underlying all this is simply that parliamentary democracy is itself fundamentally emancipatory and non-violent — so that we can basically expect peace from a properly organised state. In contrast, perhaps it's worth recalling Walter Benjamin's words at the close of his "Critique of Violence": "However desirable and gratifying a flourishing parliament might be by comparison, a discussion of means of political agreement that are in principle non-violent cannot be concerned with parliamentarianism. For what parliament achieves in vital affairs can only be those legal decrees that in their origin and outcome are attended by violence."

Anonymous said...

Acute observations, Scott, about Milbank, Hart, Hauerwas, and Yoder. Three points.

(1) With Alex, I think that Milbank and Hart are wrong in their non-practice of pacifism, and one has to wonder whether it is because something is wrong with their ontology of peace - it can't take the weight, bear the burden - or whether they are just not following through with the theo-logic of it. Probably both.

(2) I think that Hauerwas and Yoder are right in their practice of pacifism, but I think that Yoder is wrong in his eschatology of violence underwriting it (I felt the same disappointment with Miroslav Volf's identical conclusion at the end of Exclusion and Embrace), and that what Hauerwas needs to do is to develop an eschatology that does some work (rather than sit in the stands watching baseball - or, irredeemably - the NFL!).

(3) Crucially, the huge missing piece in the pacifist puzzle is, I think, precisely an "eschatology of peace", funded by the resurrection of Jesus as the event which interrupts the world of violence. Here is a PhD thesis waiting to be written.

Thanks again for such a stimulating post.

Anonymous said...

I’m thrilled to see so many comments on this post…I’ve visited the blog in the past, but it has been a while and a friend pointed out the post since he knows I’m a fan of Hauerwas – as much as that moniker grates. Anyway, I’ll toss in my two pence.

I have a vested interested in the previous post by Kim suggesting a possible PhD topic because, well, that’s what I set out to do a couple of years ago. Perhaps it is more do-able as a “Theology” dissertation, but I’ve found it difficult to get there from a “NT” route, as much as that division of labour is artificial and being challenged more and more (a nod to the post’s own D. Harink). And yet, though I want to write a diss. which rejects the divide and is more “theological” in its presuppositions and conclusions, frankly, I want to finish the degree and streamlining the process is important in that regard (as is not wasting time in the pursuit of certain ‘trivial’ activities). I guess what I’m trying to say is that as a Christian (maybe I’d add here theological ethicist?) writing a dissertation in Biblical studies, I want to agree w/ Kim that an eschatology of peace helps solve the “problems” of Christian pacifism – I think Yoder calls it the pacifism of the Messianic community – however, I think the NT witness is rather difficult to get around when it comes to assessing the eternal peace of the eschaton without recognizing the (violent) judgment of God as a part of the equation. David Neville was recently published in JSNT on the Ontology of Peace in Matthew – something like that – which is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to arguing what you hope for, Kim. He suggests that the inherent tension in Matthew’s Gospel between a pacifist Jesus and a violent judgment is overcome by prioritizing, in terms of an ethical norm, what is known – Jesus’ non-violent life and teaching – with what remains in the future (and thus unknown) – God’s supposedly violent judgment. He hopes, in the end, that the same creativity which God discloses in creation and redemption will surprise us in the end. One other point – in the article he mentions briefly the ontological priority of peace (in the original creation) and violence as its distortion. He may put it more carefully than that, but he does assume one of the things that seems to be disputed in much of this post.

I’m less disappointed with Wolf’s conclusion in E&E because I think the witness of the NT is relatively consistent (relatively because I can see how one makes the argument theologically from Jesus’ death and resurrection) in portraying God’s final judgment as the necessary corollary to a Christian commitment to a non-violent way of life. Rom 12 comes to mind; I know more should be mentioned to ‘make a case’ but maybe I’ll come back to it if pressed. If Yoder’s conclusion is similar, and I don’t know if it is, it’s not surprising – though I forget where I read it – perhaps Luz’s commentary on Matthew, Anabaptists have historically had no problem affirming the judgment of ‘the wicked’ (hope that’s not me!) as a correlate doctrine to that of unqualified pacifism. Others on this blog I’m sure are more qualified than I am at assessing the truth of that claim, but I take it to be unsurprising in light of the NT witness, which consistently upholds the peaceableness of Jesus’ followers and the final judgment of God.

Anyway, getting back to the PhD topic, I started to try to write a thesis which basically would have argued in defense of Christian pacifism from mostly Pauline evidence, w/ Jesus thrown in as “background,” from the perspective that from Creation through cross-resurrection, new creation, God’s non-violent enemy love provides the ethical impulse for Christians to live non-violently. I’m still doing that, but I can’t escape the conclusion that for Paul (and Matthew), as much as I’d like to “disagree” with them, the eschatological judgment affords the Christian disciple a peaceable response to the world’s violence – in fact, isn’t this where Hauerwas’ emphasis on the trivial (or having ‘spare’ time) coincides with pacifism? – Christians have all the time necessary (i.e., time to pray, to worship, and to forgive others) to live in the frightening reality of witnessing to peace-in-a-world-of-violence. Hauerwas’ own lifestyle may not meet the bar of peaceableness he has set (maybe better put – the bar he recognizes as having been set by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) – I don’t know him (i.e. whether he wears clothes produced in oppressive working conditions or eats free range or conventional chicken), but he asserts that by announcing his pacifist position he implicitly invites fellow Christians to unveil ways in which he falls short of his own better telos. Perhaps this is exactly what Scott has attempted to do, although if so maybe you should have sent the post to brother Stan privately first, then posted his response alongside your own reflections. (Of course I know he’s a busy man, by why not follow him here on his principled ecclesiology?)

I’m unsure of whether characterizing his way of doing theology as unsystematic (absolutely fair) and thus a series of - what word did you use? Recantations (sorry, writing this on a word document) is wholly fair. He does have a flair for rhetoric (his ‘hackneyed’ phrases which attempt to project consistency), but I think his essays tend to be so coloured by the situation in which they were written that he approaches similar topics in new ways, trying to re-explain a few of ‘his’ core ideas. But, and this is a BIG but, you say you’ve read all of his stuff, and I can’t say the same (plus I’m a Biblical scholar, wink, wink, and so I’m not required to do so – in fact I’d probably be discouraged from reading him).

Reading back over the discussion I’m struck by the question “what the hell does a peaceable life look like that is not constrained by the idiocy of American capitalism?” Certainly Hauerwas would not point to himself, that would be madness, but to someone like Mother Theresa or Dorothy Day and countless other saints who have lived peaceable lives.

One final thought re: sport and bloodlust – does golf fit into your typology of sport, Scott? I am in Scotland, after all (and St Andrews at that). I can’t imagine it does unless somehow humanity’s subjugation of nature or natural elements is read into the game – it seems like the most peaceable of sports since it is more about competition against the course – to commodify it, it is turned into a human v. human “game,” but perhaps this is not the fault of the sport but the commercialization of a craft (also a Hauerwasian catchphrase) pursued normally for leisure. Sport involving teams is necessarily about victory over opponents, but solitary ‘sports’ are less obviously so – as Kim also points out in relation to running.

Anyway, as I look at the length of my post – I repent of it. The sharpness of the thoughts throughout the post have almost prevented me from adding to it, but Kim’s last post gave me that final push since I could at least point out Neville.

Jeremy Gabrielson
also don't know how to sign in other than as Anon

Anonymous said...

Holy hell! Golf?!? Jeremy, that pastime obeys the logic of another self-gratifying activity. But it's not war ... it's called masturbation.

As always, your last post was right on the money Kim. By the way, I'm not sure if you've had a look at John Dominic Crossan's latest book, God and Empire. I'm not always a fan (although his stuff on 'ethical eschatology' in The Birth of Christianity is unbelievably good), but this one is a masterpiece. Throughout the book, he insists that one chooses between the god who enacts violence (Yhwh, Caesar) and the God who refuses violence tout court. He obviously identifies Jesus and Paul with the latter. The truly brilliant twist that he makes, then, is to dismiss The Book of Revelation as an idolatrous reversion to the Roman political ontology of violence. I have often wondered if precisely this same criticism shouldn't be made of Yoder. The 'dirty little secret' that maintains his entire moral edifice is the deferral (not denial) of divine violence.

But Kim, just for my own edification, may I press you one step further. Would you acknowledge, in the light of the discussion thus far, that a properly Christian eschatology of peace, articulated from Christ's resurrection, is really only conceivable against the backdrop of the vicious solipsism of the Darwinian drives? In other words, do we not have to embrace the inherent violence of the natural order - which, as Marcion observed, is deeply reflected in the Torah - before describing the Good as perversion/interruption? And, if so, do we not have to suspend the 'doctrine' of creation, or at least render it intelligible only as an eschatological subset?

Dave Belcher said...

Especially in response to this last comment -- though I began to make this response before I saw this had been posted: I think we theologians fail to really think eschatology precisely because we avoid the Book of Revelation. Meaning, Richard Bauckham has addressed this problem beautifully already.

Dave Belcher said...

Let me clarify just a bit. Any close reader of Revelation will notice immediately that this seems like a very Jewish text...the impulse to throw out the Book of Revelation as idolatrous corresponds with a profound Marcionite tendency already latent beneath the surface in contemporary theological thinking. What Bauckham reminds us of is that Christian eschatology in fact cannot be thought outside of Israel. And yeah, then we have to ask all those Sunday-school questions about why the Old Testament is so violent, when Jesus preached peace...perhaps that's because we haven't read the New Testament very well yet either.

And incidentally, I'm not proposing "violence" contra "peace" here...I'm saying we haven't yet thought biblical "violence" theologically or biblically enough. Not trying to be contrary either.

goodfornowt said...

"The fundamental delusion that rationalised America’s invasion of Iraq was the belief that, once set free from the grasp of a maniacal tyrant, Iraqis would spontaneously adopt recognisably democratic forms of social life. In other words, they believed that beneath the skin we are all American, and that the longing for freedom, peace and the advantages of the free market run deep in the human soul."

Why were such arguments never used against taking action to bring down the apartheid regime in South Africa?

Anonymous said...

Very briefly, Scott, the relationship between the created and fallen orders is a tricky one and (as with Augustine on time), it's one of those issues that if no one asks me about it , I know, but if someone asks me about it, I don't know; but I feel sure that it's a distinction that must be maintained, tracking between the Scylla of Marcion and the Charybdis of Matthew Fox and his friends.

On Darwin, I believe that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are supremely counter-evolutionary moments, in that they demonstrate that it is the weakest, not the strongest, that ultimately survive.

As for golf, a more gruesome description of hell I cannot imagine. Dante was wrong: at the Inferno's centre, Judas is not in Satan's mouth, he is in a sandtrap.

Btw, do you know the great joke about the Franciscan, the Dominican, and the Jesuit playing golf?

Anonymous said...

I must say that I like this turn of the conversation (I am, after all, writing a thesis on eschatology and politics in Paul's day and ours).

I'm with Kim in thinking of peace as a subcategory of an eschatology that is most centrally grounded in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus. Indeed, I am prone to think that those who shift from eschatological to ontological categories are making the age-old mistake of shifting from Christian ways of thinking, to pagan ways of thinking.

Eschatology is a Christian way of understanding history -- remembering the past, anticipating the future, and therefore living meaningfully in the present -- and, in particular the history of God's actions and promises, which climax in Jesus. Ontology, however, has always been rooted in the pagan desire to flee from history (hence, for example, the Greeks abandon Herodotus's conception of history once they lose their political prominence to other empires, and thus they adopt a cyclical view of history and focus instead on ontological issues). Indeed, part of what paves the way for the Constantinian transformation of the Church in the fourth century is the movement in Christian thought from eschatology to ontology.

So, if what has been said above about Hart, Milbank, and Hauerwas is true (I know Hauerwas well, and the other two not so well), then it seems to me that their first, and fundamental, error is trying to root their thinking in ontology.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I don't know the joke ... but, please, you can't leave us hanging!

On Darwin, you are exactly right about life/death/resurrection as a counter-evolutionary movement. That, I think, was exactly my point: not some ridiculous updated Teilhardian Christ-as-evolutions-goal, but rather an opposite principle entirely. What if, then, the Darwinian-survival-drive (in its cruder form, or in the mode of Dawkin's phenotype) is precisely Paul's 'flesh', and the Spirit is then this counter-movement? Spirit is, in this sense, ethics.

And by the way, Jeremy, as someone who cut his teeth as a lecturer in Hebrew and Semitic studies, spent well over 7 years teaching Hebrew Bible, and then another 3 on New Testament (specifically Pauline Theology), I get sick and bloody tired of people saying that the difference between the HB and NT is exaggerated, stemming from an insufficiently close reading. For Christ's sake, how much closer have I got to read it! And if you really think that there is a Marcionite tendency at play in contemporary theology, then try identifying yourself with a modest Marcionite (or radical Paulinian) agenda ... and watch the beatings begin. The fundamental problem in modern theology - and this has underwritten this dialogue from start to finish - is the failure to emphasize the thoroughly exceptional, singular, disruptive character of Jesus' life/death/resurrection. Instead, we keep folding it back into some impotent 'always-already'. Perhaps it is time to begin reasserting the timeliness of Schleiermacher's suggestion that race, like gender and bodily attributes, were incidental for Jesus - or, to put it another way, we read/grapple with the Hebrew Bible because Jesus happened to be Jewish ... uh oh, I can hear the cyber-mob lighting their torches.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, and I think that, with careful hermeneutical handling, and with holy attentiveness (the rich and bellicose always misread it), the book of Revelation need not be dismissed as hopelessly entangled in an ontology of violence. The Lion roars, "Baaa!"

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Hauerwas' "ontology of peace" entirely dependent on the resurrection of Jesus and our own eschatological hope?

Anonymous said...


Yeah, I do wonder about the extent to which Hauerwas is engaging in an ontolological project (which is why I included the "If..." at the end of my last comment). However, it does appear as though Milbank and Hart are more implicated in this discussion.

Of course, I could be wrong about Hauerwas. I've only read a dozen of his books, and a few select articles so, unlike Scott, I can't claim to have read everything Hauerwas has written.

Anonymous said...

Okay, now this joke may be politically incorrect, but it was told to be by a Roman Catholic teacher on spirituality, and a very nice and sensitive guy too, so forgive me if anyone is offended ...

There's a Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit out playing golf when they are told by the party ahead that there's going to be some delay, because ahead of them is a party of blind people.

The Franciscan says: "Wow! Isn't that wonderful! Blind people playing golf! It just goes to show how broad and deep is God's love for all his creatures!"

The Dominican says: "Blind people playing golf - hmm, how very interesting. If they were born blind, it suggests there may be something in Plato's theory of memoria. It also rasies the issue of the relation between mind and body. I wonder what Descartes would say. And consciousness - what would Husserl make of it?"

The Franciscan and the Dominican turn to the Jesuit, "And what do you think, Bob?"

The Jesuit replies: "I'm thinking why can't the buggers play at night instead of spoiling our game!"

Dave Belcher said...

Scott, you really blew what I was trying to say out of proportion. If the tone of your response wasn't quite so acerbic I might be able to respond in a more dialogical manner...sorry I incited your anger on this so much.

So, I'll just ask a question: Do you actually agree with Crossan that the Book of Revelation is a perversion of Christian witness and "idolatrous"? This is the specific question behind every other comment I made. If you do indeed think this, I think that you probably have at least an obligation to say why. [Trying to be conciliar here, if you want to sling some more mud, I will bow's just an unnecessary tactic].

Anonymous said...

Dave, there wasn't any anger at all in my response. Just a little exasperation over a standard ploy that I've seen used again and again in order to paper-over the radicality of the Christian difference. I simply don't accept that once you get past the superficial differences you find a deeper harmony there all along. That argument doesn't fly ... Didn't mean to scare you off! And I certainly wasn't slinging any mud.

Let me just say on Crossan, that while Revelation is certainly inflected by the Christian message, there is a concerning retrograde movement in its theology and symbolism - perhaps it finds itself a little too much at home in the imperial icons and imagery.

Dave Belcher said...


No matter the length of my blogging "experience," I have never and will never be able to properly judge "tone" electronically...sorry for misunderstanding.

I don't know that I'd say there is a latent harmony beneath a superficial difference between Israel and the church or Judaism and Christianity...I would say, though, that the church and Christianity can only be properly understood -- and even lived out -- from within Israel's story (though I would avoid narratival language I think here). R. Bauckham's reading of Revelation -- specifically his notion that the book is aptly placed at the conclusion of not only the New Testament, but also the Old, since it "sums" up both -- is really compelling to me in trying to think through precisely what it might mean for Gentiles to be engrafted into the tree of Israel. What's really fascinating about that book is that John is -- and much more so than riffing on imperial icons and imagery -- improvising on a plethora of Old Testament texts (ones he knows quite well enough to improvise on and synthesize them together)...and the really violent imagery there is simply straight out of Israel's story, laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures. Nevertheless, this is sort of a sub-plot to the book itself...I think we need much stronger language about Revelation than admission that it is "inflected with the Christian message" simply for the very reason that the centerpiece of the book is not only the throne, but the slaughtered yet standing (resurrection language) Lamb of God, who sits on the throne with God Almighty. I really think that we can get an "eschatology of peace" in Revelation, but it requires us to enter into an understanding of the depiction of divine violence in the Old Testament (and, again, in the New) as a liberation of the oppressed, in order to really get at what peace means for the Christian church engrafted into a single nation...especially in Revelation we get this longer is it "I will be their God and they will be my people," but now, "they will be my peoples," plural. Revelation is all about the peace of God (notice that the waters before the throne are like glass, and that this God who brings judgment upon oppressors is a God who wipes away every tear, etc) and a peace brought about for "all nations," every tongue, every tribe, etc. The New Jerusalem depicted there is truly about what peace really means for those who are "in Christ Jesus" as Paul repeats over and over...and this is good news. But, this is situated in a context of violence...what's really significant I think for both Revelation and the Old Testament as a whole is that Yahweh is a God who liberates from violence and oppression (Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, for instance).

Anyways, there's my axe...I'll stop grinding now.

LTallon said...

Well, Scott, I am happy to light the torches and send you up to the Father for judgment for even leaning towards Marcion. Seriously, the key problem with dismissing the OT - whether in part or whole - is that it assumes that we can know who Jesus is without it, and I ask you (with von Rad), "is it really the case that we know who Jesus Christ is so well that we only have a secondary problem to solve, that of finding the relationship between the Old Testament and this Christ whom we already know?"

To borrow a metaphor, the olive branch of peace that you so desperately desire receives its very life from being grafted onto the history of Israel with her God, cut it off and it will wither in your hand. To build your theology upon the presupposition that one must choose between the LORD and a God who rejects violence tout court is to build on some other foundation than the self-revelation of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is for Christ's name sake that you ought to cling to the whole Old Testament.

jamie said...

A brief response to some troubling themes in the post and comments:

(1) The post completely misreads Hauerwas on the trivial. To focus on his predilection for baseball without giving the context is unfair. Hauerwas values the trivial because it is through trivial, "everyday" practices that we develop the virtues that make us a peaceable people. The preeminent "trivial" practices we are supposed to be concerned with are things like celebrating the eucharist and preaching the gospel. These practices constitute us as church, and without them we don't get close to the radical politics you want.

Baseball serves Hauerwas as a metaphor (which is not to deny that he likes the game) of what it's like to master a few key practices as a rule-governed, teleologically-oriented community. I'm not saying there aren't problems with Hauerwas's choice of the sport, but to complain about its "triviality" here is to complain about Hauerwas's whole virtue-based--hence, the focus on a telos and practices--and postliberal--hence, the regulative approach--project. And if you're complaining about that, then I'm not sure why any of you still like the guy.

(2) Yes, Milbank has a problem with eschatology. But if you'll read beyond Theology and Social Theory, you'll find him talking a lot more about the hope of the resurrection. I'm thinking here of certain passages in Being Reconciled and his essay in Theology and the Political.

(3) But the real problem with the comments on Milbank here is this either/or attitude towards creation and redemption. Of course it is right to talk about a break or rupture, but we must also speak of a certain continuity. Thus Revelation ends with a recapitulation of the garden of Eden, Jesus is the new Adam, we have a new covenant, and so on. The resurrection and eschaton are interruptions, but in a sense they are interruptive memories of what has gone before, and of course, as memory, simultaneously exceed that which is remembered. To posit a complete, non-remembering interruption is to deny time--which, I suppose, you might want to do, but then there is a host of further problems (one of which has been ably identified by LTallon, above).

(4) What is this about Yoder arguing for a final violence at the eschaton??? Preface to Theology argues that there is no active wrath of God, but merely the self-inflicted consequence of rejecting God. Yoder's reading of Revelation in Politics of Jesus emphasizes over and over that the final victory over evil has been secured by the "war of the lamb"--which is precisely Jesus' nonviolent suffering of death.

This charge is crazy to me, especially as I just read Nigel Goring Wright make the exact opposite argument (and he's following the Mennonite theologian Gayle Gerber Koontz): that by not having a violent eschaton (or a violent, resistant God at all), Yoder doesn't do justice to the biblical picture. Wright's argument is wrong, but at least he understood Yoder correctly!

I suppose one might object that passive wrath is violent. Aside from the fact that it is plainly not coercive, what is the alternative? The forced conversion of universalism?

And, no, Anabaptists do not all believe in violent judgment. There is a huge debate among Anabaptists about this.

Anonymous said...


Universalism doesn't need to posit a "forced conversion." It simply recognises that, when we are well and truly confronted by God, the likelihood is that all of us would willingly convert. Was Thomas a "forced conversion"? Was Paul? No and no -- there is nothing forced about the proclamation that Thomas and Paul end up making. However, some strands of universalism recognise that to not proclaim "my Lord and my God" after such an experience is unthinkable.

So, in the end, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses Jesus as Lord, is this universal confession/conversion forced? No. But, once confronted with the glory of the Lord, to not do so would be unthinkable.

Apparently I'm the tangent guy in this discussion. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic discussion this post has prompted. I need to reread several times but have to lead Easter worship (and a wedding and a funeral) in the next few days. The discussion of an ontology of peace vs one of violence reminds me of the accusation that Milbank makes of Girard having an ontology of violence, an accusation picked up by several authors who offer thin analyses of Girard and simply adopt Milbanks reading. However contra Milbank, Girard in fact offers neither an ontology of violence or peace but rather a relational (mimetic) ontology which well understands what Scott (or was it Kim) called violence all the way down. Girard, of course, needs to work on the eschatology, but certainly makes much better sense of the radical impact of the resurrection on things hidden since the foundation of the human world.

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