Stanley Hauerwas’s boldly challenges a leading Christian voice of Just War understandings.
Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University, America’s most influential Christian pacifist, has a new article respectfully critiquing famed Christian apologist C.S. Lewis’s support for Just War. The piece is worth reading both because Hauerwas is guru to so many clergy and because few pacifists in the church have the verve to challenge Lewis so directly.
Hauerwas recounts Lewis’s service in World War I, in which he was wounded, and his support for Britain’s role in World War II. He emphasizes the former, which includes Lewis’ horror of what he saw and experienced. Not as much does Hauerwas describe and challenge Lewis on WWII, for which Lewis was a thoughtfully ardent enthusiast. Instead he cites Lewis’s discomfort during WWII over a clergyman’s citation in public prayer of the nation’s stance as “righteous,” which Lewis thought presumptuous. But in fact Lewis did think British resistance to Hitlerism was quite righteous. And perhaps Hauerwas is more comfortable in addressing WWI, in which the consequences of Allied defeat were not as morally dramatic as in WWII.
In his 1940 talk, “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” on which Hauerwas focuses, Lewis speculated on the unpleasantness of a “Germanized” Europe absent Allied resistance in 1914. How much more Lewis must have believed so later in WWII when the full horrors of Nazism were unveiled.
Overall Hauerwas is relatively fair in describing Lewis’s views, which he notes mostly rested not specifically on Christian teaching but more on natural law assumptions. Hauerwas, like his influential teacher, the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, and like their teacher, Karl Barth, mostly rejects natural law, though he declines to detail that view here. He describes Lewis as responding to liberal pacifism, which understands war to be mostly a misunderstanding among good people. Hauerwas does not disagree with Lewis in that critique of “far too easy a target,” i.e. the dreamy liberalism of post WWI.
“I have spelled out Lewis’s arguments against pacifism not only in an effort to be fair to him, but because he gives voice to what many assume are the knockdown arguments against any account of Christian nonviolence,” Hauerwas writes. But he claims Lewis “made little effort to understand the most defensible forms of Christian pacifism.” Hauerwas, relying on Yoder, espouses a “Christological” pacifism that understands Jesus’ work on the cross as a rejection of all violence.
Hauerwas insists his pacifism doesn’t depend on any single saying of Jesus but on the “very character of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection.” Yoder identified “such Christological nonviolence as the pacifism of the messianic community,” he recalls. “Christian nonviolence must be embodied in a community that is an alternative to the world’s violence.” After all, Jesus offered a “new moral option in Palestine, at the cost of his death.” Nonviolence is integral to being His disciple.
Countering Lewis’s concern to protect the innocent from homicidal maniacs, Hauerwas insists there are “nonviolent alternatives” to defend against “unjust attack,” without saying what they are. He complains Lewis only defended the “police function of governing authorities,” which is mostly “peaceable,” when war is a “different reality.”
Hauerwas affirms Lewis’s warnings against soaring idealism and urges “limited objectives” allowing “Christians in a world of war to do the small and simple things that make war less likely.” Rejecting war is the “necessary condition to force us to consider possibilities that would not otherwise exist.”
Not noted by Hauerwas is that Lewis, in his 1940 talk, rejected pacifism because he supposed the New Testament is “consistent with itself,” and that the Apostles Peter and Paul, in affirming the civil magistrate’s vocation for force, were not contradicting their Lord. Otherwise, he warned, we must believe Christ’s “true meaning” was hidden from his closest followers only to be “discovered in our own time.” For Hauerwas, the “true meaning” was largely unearthed even after Lewis spoke these words, in the books of Professor Yoder. Lewis notes that from the Apostles onward, “All bodies that claim to be Churches - that is, who claim apostolic succession and accept the Creeds - have constantly blessed what they regarded as righteous arms.”
Hauerwas is an unapologetic sectarian who believes the central message of Christianity, which he claims is non-violence, has been ignored or minimized by the vast majority of churches and Christians from nearly the very beginning. It’s a very elitist stance that understandably appeals to very smart, and sometimes very self-satisfied seminarians and professors.
In contrast, Lewis, although himself an academic, believed in a “mere Christianity” that transcended denominational boundaries. He was the writer of children’s novels and a popular radio broadcaster who affirmed the importance of worshipping at the side of the local grocer and not confining company to intellectual soul mates. Deeply unlike Hauerwas and his followers, who contemptuously reject patriotism as idolatry, Lewis identified it as one of the “four great loves.” Love of God is not confined to regard for His church but includes and even begins with affection for family, friends, and country.
Lewis is vastly popular across church traditions because he strove to convey essential truths to broad audiences. The far more narrow Hauerwas/Yoder attempt to redefine Christian orthodoxy is provocative and sophisticated. But will it endure?
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