Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sentimentality Pisses Hauerwas Off

Stanley Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School. Over the course of his academic career, Hauerwas' theological ethics has consistently highlighted the importance of virtue, character, and community for an adequate understanding of the moral life. In works such as The Peaceable Kingdom, he grasps with clarity and insight the deeply narrative character of moral agency and the Church.

In 2001, Time Magazine named Hauerwas "America's Best Theologian." According to Wikipedia, Hauerwas responded by saying, "Best is not a theological category."

I came across the following video of Hauerwas over at the blog "theoryspace." Hauerwas sums up the point he's driving at in this three-and-a-half minute outtake by saying: "The deepest enemy to Christianity is not atheism, it's sentimentality."

I'll share the same warning here that's over at "theoryspace": some viewers may find language in this video offensive. Watch at your own risk!

Sentimentality from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for this post. A friend of mine was a student of his at Duke and told me he cussed like a sailor. I think she is still scandalized / tickled by his generous use of the F word in the Ethics class.

Anyway, he's a good reminder that Christian ethics is not all about sex, is it?

(I've got a new pseudonym)

Joe Rawls said...

I recently came across a great anecdote somewhere on the net, which I'll clean up just a bit.

Hauerwas was invited to give a lecture at Harvard Divinity. He arrived early and decided he wanted to use the library to polish up his talk. He buttonholed a passing Harvard student and asked, " 'Scuse me, but where's the library at?"

The student stiffened and replied, "Pardon me, but at Harvard we do not end our questions with prepositions".

Hauerwas thought for a couple of seconds, then shot back, " 'Scuse me, but where's the library at, a**hole?"

(Feel free to censor this, Bryan)

Anson said...

Hi Father Bryan, thanks for visiting my blog. I'm glad to be able to meet a fellow Anglican/Episcopalian in the blog sphere. I briefly looked at your blog archive. You've got a lot of good stuff. Very interesting posts indeed!


Anson (from theoryspace)

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for checking out my blog, Anson. You've got quite a bit of good stuff over at theoryspace. It's good to make a connection.

Anglo-Papist, I've never met Hauerwas in person, but your friend's experience is something widely reported. One wonders if some of the stories circulating actually happened.

Having said that, Joe, it wouldn't surprise me if the story you've shared is true.

One of my clergy colleagues in another diocese had Hauerwas come to his parish. When asked about his pacifism, Hauerwas replied, "I'm a pacifist because I'm such a violent son of a b****!"

Matt Gunter said...

I'm a big fan of Hauwerwas and appreciate the video. At least I appreciated it at first. As I've reflected on it, I am finding it troubling. This is due not so much to anything that Hauerwas says. Though related, it is not precisely that what he says convicts my own entanglement in the American greed-system.

What bothers me is the thrill of self-righteousness I feel at hearing and recognizing the radical truth of what he articulates all the while living a very comfortable life awash in the affluence of the American middle class.

My wife and I are relatively non-consumerist and give away more than a tithe. We are pro-life pacifists. In spite of this, as Hauerwas says, I can hardly imagine living outside the reality American affluence and greed. I live in the lap of such luxury and security as most people in history and around the world could barely imagine.

So, I listen to and read folk like Hauwerwas and feel a sort of thrill at recognizing something that sounds like the radical call to take up the cross and follow. But I am still a priest in a self-imporatnt church serving a congregation in a fairly affluent suburb and living an altogether comfortable life. So, I wonder - is my appreciation of this video little more than that of a dilettante?

Bryan Owen said...

Good points and an excellent question, Matt. I share your feelings, and I think you're right to raise the specter of possible hypocrisy among those of us who find what Hauerwas is saying persuasive.

plsdeacon said...

One of the biggest changes in the last 50 years is the change in moral reasoning. Truthfully, it is not so much a change in reasoning as it is an exchange of feeling (emotion) for reason. We no longer think about morality; we feel our way around. We used to be taught to reason our way to the moral thing to do, do it, and then receive satisfaction. Now we feel our way, we do what we feel like doing and then we reason a way to justify what we have done. This became mainstream with "quickie" divorce and easy remarriage.

Having taught that feelings trump reason, and having substituted "self-justification" for moral reasoning, are we surprised that sentimentality rules the day and not reasoning?

Phil Snyder

Bryan Owen said...

As a piggy-back to your comments, Phil, I recommend Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1st ed. 1981). MacIntyre offers one way of critically analyzing the failure of the Enlightenment project of justifying morality, a failure in which rational justification collapses into emotivism. Whether one agrees with MacIntyre or not, it's a fascinating read and an important book.

Anonymous said...

I wish Hauerwas could be of more help in telling us what he thinks greed looks like instead of just getting pissed off that others don't seem to know. The video comes off a tad self righteous to me. Aren't we all so charmed by his cussing to see that what he says here has very little substance aside from all the brow beating? Such accusations of guilt without a substantive description of the offense is just guilt manipulation. This is not to say that Hauerwas doesn't have good reason to be angry, just that one has to assume whether or not they are justifiable. Anyone can be against greed left to their own idea of what it looks like.

Bryan Owen said...

Greetings, Paul. I see that you're located in Columbus, OH. I'm a graduate of Kenyon College and have many fond memories of time spent in Columbus. I think it's a great city and wouldn't think twice about living there.

As to your comments about Hauerwas ...

Well, yes, he is a real son of a bitch who, in his public speaking, often uses hyperbole, ad hominem, and cussing to get attention more than to make substantive points. And yet, as much as I hated Hauerwas while I was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School back in the early to mid-90s (Hauerwas was on the school's "official" hate list), over time, in spite of his "in your face" crude persona, I've come to believe that he speaks a lot of truth in his writings. At least that's been my experience since I've made the transition almost a decade ago from academia to parish ministry. It makes me a heretic to my alma mater to say this, but I heartily recommend Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (co-authored by William Willimon, now a Methodist bishop) to anyone called to ordained ministry, regardless of denominational affiliation.

Even so, I think you're right to point out that it would be more helpful to spell out in substantive detail what exactly Christians should be angry about in our consumer, greed-riddled society. Perhaps the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a place to start?

Rhetorically, we preachers can't get away with what Hauerwas routinely does when we're in the pulpit. Nor do we get the invitations to speak, or make as much money, given his position as a tenured professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School.

Sigh ...

suckyskiz said...

Part of the issue with Greed is that it IS so hard to define.

A simpler approach, one I found by reading "Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster, is to focus on simplicity instead.

As long as one is focused on living a simpler life, one is actively working against the tendencies of greed to acquire things.