Tuesday, September 17, 2013

God in America

An American theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, ‘whose theological writings occasionally veer into the area of paleo-orthodoxy,’ has pronounced some strong criticisms of Christianity in the United States which I read first at Fr Milovan's blog Again and Again, and then where it first appeared online at The Living Church News Service, ‘reaching out to Anglicans everywhere.’ It is a very long article, longer than I am willing to post, but here are two of many interesting passages (in the first paragraph Hauerwas is actually quoting another author and then amplifying)…

In an era of Western ascendancy, the triumph of Christianity clearly meant the triumph of the states of Christianity, among them the most powerful of modern states, the United States. Though religions have survived and flourished in persecution and powerlessness, supplicants nevertheless take manifestations of power as blessed evidence of the truth of faith. Still, in the religiously plural society of the United States, sectarian faith is optional for citizens, as everyone knows. Americans have rarely bled, sacrificed or died for Christianity or any other sectarian faith. Americans have often bled, sacrificed and died for their country. This fact is an important clue to its religious power. Though denominations are permitted to exist in the United States, they are not permitted to kill, for their beliefs are not officially true. What is really true in any society is what is worth killing for, and what citizens may be compelled to sacrifice their lives for.

America is a culture of death because Americans cannot conceive of how life is possible in the face of death. Freedom names the attempt to live as though we will not die. Lives lived as though death is only a theoretical possibility, moreover, can only be sustained by a wealth otherwise unimaginable. But America is an extraordinarily wealthy society, determined to remain so even if it requires our domination of the rest of the world. We are told that others hate us because they despise our freedoms, but it may be that others sense that what Americans call freedom is bought at the expense of the lives of others.

Much of what Hauerwas says in his address (for that's how it was originally presented) made me uncomfortable. I left a comment on Fr Milovan's post, and I want to share it along with the article with those who are interested in such things. Here's my comment…

Very, very heady stuff here, lots to think about.

Stanley Hauerwas, the author, says a lot of seemingly very true things here. I felt a little bit self-defensive for America as I read his words, even while I suspected his observations could very well be correct. I still feel somewhat defensive of "Americanism," at least what I mean by it, even when his criticisms seem accurate. I also have had the experience of hearing a speaker (for example a clergyman) say a lot of true things in a sermon while still not speaking the Truth. I don't think that's what Hauerwas is doing here, but I still feel a little uncomfortable with his overall assessment of religious America.

As a Christian who does not believe in denominations ("there is only one Church and it cannot be and never has been divided") I tend not to accept most of the nit-picky naming and dividing of Christians and especially of theologians into this or that category. Having researched Hauerwas, I see that he is considered a "paleo-orthodox" as opposed to a "neo-orthodox" theologian, but I feel that such naming and categorizing is misleading. It is this kind of thing that all Christians need to forego, need to abandon, and turn not to systems with human philosophical boundaries into which they can divide themselves, but instead return to that heartland of faith whose borders have been defined not by themselves, but by the non-Christian world around them, and which reveal their essential unity rather than their ephemeral differences.

I don’t know if I have expressed myself very clearly here, but these are things I feel very strongly about, which I have written up in many different ways in my own blog, trying to visualize for myself and others how one Orthodoxy, even a nameless Orthodoxy, is the heritage of all believers and followers of Christ, and how this can be achieved by a deliberate effort on the part of all to cut through the spiritual materialism of appearances and grab hold of the undoubtable, living tradition of Christ and His holy apostles, available to us through a divine icon accessible to all, the holy scriptures.

The modern ‘schools’ of Christian thought and what many think of as ‘theology’ are tools rather of further division and controversy, and more than mere tools, weapons actually, that must be cast aside, so that not only ‘theologians’ and ‘thinkers’ can become reconciled in the unity of the Mind of Christ, but the whole Christian people as well, many of whom
are very close to it, maybe even holding to it, in spite of what their bellwethers want to believe.

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