against the nations

this is the title of a stanley hauerwas book that i really want to read, any of you want to join me? perhaps i should ask rather at the end of this post. i have been exposed to it through a book i'm reading now that is quite good, though very challenging. and as i read over this section i can't help but now put these quotes up. please note that in these quotes the term "liberalism" is not referring to left-wing politics, but rather a whole social and political system. and now the quotes:

The churches of America, whether conservative or liberal, are divided in their loyalty; divided between allegiance to American liberal democracy and society on the one hand and to the triune God revealed in Jesus Christ on the other. When it comes to the decisive moments--the apocalyptic revelatory moments, when America goes to war in the name of "freedom," "justice," and "democracy"--the latter loyalty almost always takes second place to the former. What Hauerwas "hates" is idolatry. American liberal democracy is the One Great Thing for which most American Christians are prepared to make the costliest sacrifice: the lives of their own and others' children. Such human sacrifices declare final--apocalyptic allegiances.

Hauerwas reveals the totalizing way in which liberalism persistently attacks and dissolves the political significance of all particular social groups and historical traditions that might stand between the individual and the state, by recognizing the individual alone as the only important political unit of liberal society. Particular groups and traditions "are now understood only as those arbitrary institutions sustained by the private desires of individuals." There is in America, argues Hauerwas, as much a "monism" of political existence as in the Soviet system. "Though it is less immediately coercive than that of the Soviet Union, it is the monism of the freedom of the individual." The freedom of religion in America is guarded only insofar as particular religious traditions, including the Christian churches, do not promote themselves as particular political alternatives, but rather provide religious support for and promotion of the wider liberal political regime. We should not be led to believe, then,
"that democratic societies and states by being democratic are any less omnivorous in their appetites for our loyalties than non-democratic states. Indeed, exactly because we assume that democracies protect our freedoms as Christians we may well miss the ways the democratic state remains a state that continues to wear the head of the beast. For example, democratic societies and states, no less than totalitarian ones, reserve the right to command our conscience to take up arms and kill not only other human beings but other Christians in the name of the relative moral goods."

If American liberalism can get gospel and church to serve its cause, then it will have triumphed in its "imperial demands"; it will have consumed gospel and church with its "omnivorous appetite." And all of this happens precisely in the place where the church in America believes it will be saved: separation of church and state and freedom of religion. Implicit in each of these phrases is the prior conviction that religion is in the first place a "matter of the heart," an inner, private event of the experience of the sublime, which may serve the emotional or spiritual well-being of the individual but has no intrinsic social or political character. Indeed, even the church is understood not primarily, appropriately, and necessarily as a socio-political body, but only secondarily, intrusively, and accidentally so, since its primary purpose is thought to be encouraging and nurturing the "interior dimension" of human life. On this understanding, while the church may be given the freedom to "touch the soul" of the "believer" (if one chooses to believe), America as a society, economy, polity, and nation nevertheless makes an absolute claim on--seizes--the bodies and therefore the public actions of its subjects.
But this way of "saving" religion by securing a safe but innocuous place for it is at the very same time the way of killing the church.

America and American liberal democracy is wrong because it directly and powerfully makes an imperial claim on its subjects which is precisely counter in scope and substance to the claim which the risen Jesus Christ makes on humanity through the proclamation of his crucifixion and the creation of the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.

(quotation marked sections are hauerwas, others are harink in summary)

now before you go thinking that hauerwas or harink is advocating constantinianism see this one more quote from one of john howard yoder's books, christian difference:

"Christendom may in fact be a vision of shalom, and our argument with Constantinians is not over the vision so much as the sinful effort to grasp at its fulness through violence, before its eschatological time. Hauerwas is quite consistent once you see that he does want to create a Christian society (polis, societas)--a community and way of life shaped fully by Christian convictions. He rejects Constantinianism because "the world" cannot be this society, and we only distract ourselves from building a truly Christian society by trying to make our nation into that society, rather than be content with living as a community-in-exile."


these are not easy thoughts and challenges, and i suspect that some of you might heartily disagree with them. at the very least they are challenging, and it is good to read things that you disagree with (see previous post :)). these are not ideas that should be taken lightly in any event, as american citizens or american christians. or is it christian americans? i forget which comes first.

1 comment:

  1. Luke, I really like topics like these and I have been having thoughts along similar lines as Hauerwas for a while now. So I guess I agree with him (although I guess I would have to read more to be able to say that with certainty). This sounds like an interesting book...maybe I'll read it over break?

    Jeff Byrne