Stanley Hauerwas

Stanley Hauerwas

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Benjamin Payne


* Christian pacifist
* Called for a nonviolent U.S. response to 9/11
* Endorses an ever-expanding welfare state
* Characterizes the U.S. as “a racist country” populated by “the richest people in the world, raping the rest of the world [so] that we can remain rich”
* Views America as a militaristic nation that seeks “war without end”
* Depicts the war on terror as a calculated distraction from the societal injustices that permeate America

Born in July 1940, Stanley Hauerwas is a self-described “Christian pacifist” who holds what he terms an “anarchist view of the world.” One of America’s most influential theologians and ethicists, he is currently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at the Duke University Divinity School. He also holds a joint appointment in Duke Law School. Hauerwas is a frequent lecturer on college campuses throughout North America, speaking on such issues as medical ethics, war and peace, and the care of the mentally handicapped. In 2001, Time magazine named him “America’s Best Theologian.” Between 1974 and 2008, Hauerwas published more than two dozen books.

Hauerwas did his undergraduate work at Southwestern University in Texas. He earned a B.D. degree from Yale Divinity School in 1965, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University Graduate School three years later. Also during the Sixties, he was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. He went on to teach at Augustana College and the University of Notre Dame before joining the Duke faculty in 1984. He is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

Identifying himself as pro-life, Hauerwas conflates what he calls his “strong views about abortion” with his affinity for the welfare state. “I don’t mean to say I want Roe versus Wade overturned,” he says. “What I want, for example, is for some American politician to come along and say, ‘We’re going to give every child that’s born in this society a living wage.’ I mean, let’s start on the positive end …”

Hauerwas characterizes the United States as “a racist country” populated by “the richest people in the world, raping the rest of the world [so] that we can remain rich.” From these premises, he reasons that anti-Americanism in other nations is a reasonable, justified sentiment. As he wrote on September 28, 2001, seventeen days after the 9/11 attacks:

“Americans have no sense of how it is that we can be this hated. It never occurs to them that our country’s actions have terrible results for other people around the world, and that they blame us. I have a friend who pointed out that September 11 is the anniversary of the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and the beginning of a regime of torture there, and of course that was U.S.-sponsored. Why shouldn’t people be mad at us?”

In the spring of 2002, Hauerwaus penned an essay titled, “September 11, 2001: A Pacifist Response.” Condemning President Bush’s declaration that “we are at war,” Hauerwas wrote that 9/11 was this generation’s equivalent of “Pearl Harbor,” a galvanizing event that seemed to give Americans the moral imprimatur to do what “makes us feel safe” — “find someone to kill.” “Americans,” he explained, are “good at killing,” even “masters of killing.” Their “need for revenge” on the 9/11 attackers, he said, was “all the more unforgiving because we cannot forgive those who flew the [hijacked] planes for making us acknowledge our vulnerability.” He depicted the American mindset as one that reasons thusly: “We will prevail no matter how many people we must kill to rid ourselves of the knowledge Americans died as victims. Americans do not die as victims. They have to be heroes….”

In the same piece, Hauerwas lamented that Osama bin Laden had given American warmongers “a gift” which “they so desperately needed — a war without end.” “America is a country that lives off the moral capital of our wars,” he elaborated. “War names the time we send the youth to kill and die (maybe) in an effort to assure ourselves the lives we lead are worthy of such sacrifices. They kill and die to protect our ‘freedom.’”

According to Hauerwaus, Americans — after having won the Cold War “by outspending the USSR, proving that we can waste more money on guns than they can or did” — were “in despair” because they needed war to give them the “moral coherence” that derives from being able to identify a “common enemy.” “The good thing … about the war on terrorism,” he said wryly, “is it has no end.” He further impugned Americans for their impulse to “want to wipe this enemy off the face of the earth,” and for having the hubris to think they had the right “to decide who counts and does not count as a terrorist.”

Hauerwaus views the war on terror as a calculated distraction from the societal injustices that permeate America:

”“America is always at her best when she is on permanent war footing. Moreover, when our country is at war, it has no space to worry about the extraordinary inequities that constitute our society, no time to worry about poverty or those parts of the world that are ravaged by hunger and genocide. Everything—civil liberties, due process, the protection of the law—must be subordinated to the one great moral enterprise of winning the unending war against terrorism.”

Advocating a nonviolent response to 9/11, Hauerwas counseled Christians to follow the example of Christ, who “would rather die on the cross than [have] the world … be redeemed by violence.” Hauerwas exhorted Christians to eschew violence even if doing so meant that they would all be killed in the process; their eternal reward, he said, would await them in heaven: “The defeat of death through resurrection makes possible as well as necessary that Christians live nonviolently in a world of violence.” Expanding on this theme, he wrote:

  • “Christians often tend to focus on being united with Christ in his resurrection, forgetting that we are also united with him in his death. What could that mean if it does not mean that Christians must be ready to die, indeed have their children die, rather than betray the Gospel?”
  • “Pacifists are often challenged after an event like September 11 with the question, ‘Well, what alternative do you have to bombing Afghanistan?’ Such a question assumes that pacifists must have an alternative foreign policy. My only response is I do not have a foreign policy. I have something better—a church constituted by people who would rather die than kill.”
  • “Of course living a life of nonviolence may be harsh. Certainly you have to imagine, and perhaps even face, that you will have to watch the innocent suffer and even die for your convictions.”

“Christian nonviolence,” says Hauerwas, “is not a strategy to rid the world of violence, but rather the way Christians must live in a world of violence…. [They] cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent.”

Hauerwas candidly rejects patriotism that seeks to defend America by military means as a betrayal of Christian pacifist values: “Do I forsake all forms of patriotism, failing to acknowledge that we as a people are better off because of the sacrifices that were made in World War II? To this I can only answer, ‘Yes.’”

In early March 2003, Hauerwas wrote the following about America’s then-imminent invasion of Iraq:

“The impending war against Saddam Hussein seems morally coherent to many because Saddam is ‘evil.’ After all, who in the world is against eliminating evil? Well, I am, if war is the means for its elimination. I am an advocate of Christian nonviolence … I believe that Christians … should worry when the President of the United States uses the word evil to justify war.”

While acknowledging that “Saddam is a brutal dictator” who “has failed to live up to the conditions of the 1991 truce,” Hauerwas expressed “doubt that any of this makes him more ‘evil’ than a number of other current officeholders around the world.” Taking issue with the notion that “it is the job of the U.S. to eliminate brutal dictators,” he wrote that “America’s foreign policy has often supported these same brutal dictators — including Saddam — when they have been on ‘our side.’” “For Christians,” he said, “the proper home for the language of evil is the liturgy: it is God who deals with evil, and it’s presumptuous for humans to assume that our task is to do what only God can do.”

Contending that “what happened on [9/11] was not war, it was murder,” Hauerwas deemed it illogical and immoral for President Bush to have treated it as an act of war:

“What a gift Bush gave Osama bin Laden. Prior to the President’s declaration of war, bin Laden had been a murderer. But Bush’s response made bin Laden what he so desperately wanted to be — a warrior. And by declaring war against terrorism, Bush was able to fight an undeclared war against Afghanistan. Now his Administration is trying to justify an impending war against Iraq as a continuation of the war against terrorism.”

Ultimately, Hauerwas concluded that the Iraq War “really is about cheap oil.”

In the summer of 2008, Hauerwas spoke at Renovatus Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. When asked for whom he would be voting in the November presidential election, he replied: “I’ll probably vote for [Barack] Obama … I mean, it’s quite an extraordinary symbolic vote, and I care about it because I’m a white Southerner. I understand race.”

Notwithstanding his intent to cast his ballot for Obama, Hauerwas denounced America’s system of democratic elections. “First of all, if you want to know what coercion looks like, it’s called a democratic election,” he said. “It’s where 51% get to dominate 49%.” He likened American elections to the “Roman circus where you’re given entertainment to stop the American people from concentrating on … what really should be at the heart of the political process. Namely … why is it that no one is angry at the inequality of income in this country? I mean, the inequality of income is unbelievable. Unbelievable. Why isn’t that ever an issue of politics? Because you don’t live in a democracy. You live in a plutocracy. Money rules.”

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