War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity by Stanley Hauerwas
(Baker Academic, 2011, 208 pages)
Hauerwas’ writings always carry a challenge to an American church that is complacent and compromised in so many ways. He is never more challenging than when he addresses the issues of war, nonviolence, and justice. These have been constant themes in his work, and this book gathers together essays that deal with the way American identity has been defined by war, the moral appeal of war, and the church as an alternative to war.
One of the reason’s that Hauerwas is so challenging when articulating his approach to nonviolence is the fact that he takes very seriously the moral issues that, for many, seem to make armed conflict inevitable. Hauerwas offers no easy or obvious approach to pacifism. Not only is he clear-eyed about the cost of nonviolence, but he also acknowledges that the willingness to go to war is often an expression, not simply of blood lust, but of moral seriousness. He states that war “is the most determinative moral experience many people have” (34). This is why Hauerwas is so insistent that the church must offer a way of life and an understanding of the world that is an alternative to war. The Christian identity of citizenship in a peaceful kingdom must be more determinative than national identity. If the church is founded on the self-sacrifice of Christ, then it is impossible for us to engage in violent conflicts that require us to “sacrifice our normal unwillingness to kill” (61).
Hauerwas’ diagnosis of the inextricability of violence from our American identity is compelling. His analysis of the traditional just war defense is sympathetic but critical. Particularly illuminating are the essays that engage the views of historical figures like C. S. Lewis (who argues against pacifism) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (whose pacifism Hauerwas appreciates but wants to refine in certain ways). These essays help to give some concrete expression to the ideas that are discussed in the rest of the book.