Tuesday, October 05, 2004

hauerwas #2

(hauerwas #1 can be found in an entry called "a taste of what i'm reading")

this bit comes from an essay entitled "on keeping theological ethics theological," and can be found in the hauerwas reader on pages 71 and 72.

It is my suspicion that if theologians are going to contribute to reflection on the moral life in our particular situation, they will do so exactly to the extent they can capture the significance of the church for determining the nature and content of Christian ethical reflection. This may seem an odd suggestion, for it seems such a move would only make the theologian that much further removed from being a serious conversation partner. It is assumed, by theologian and philosopher alike, that any distinctive contribution of theological ethics must begin with beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, and the like, and the moral implications of those beliefs. And of course there is much truth to that. Yet the problem with putting the matter in that way is that such "beliefs" look like descriptions of existence, some kind of primitive metaphysics, that one must then try to analyze for their moral implications. To force Christian moral reflection into such a pattern is to make it appear but another philosophical account of the moral life.

But that is exactly what it is not. For Christian beliefs about God, Jesus, sin, the nature of human existence, and salvation are intelligible only if they are seen against the background of the church--that is, a body of people who stand apart from the "world" because of the peculiar task of worshipping a God whom the world knows not. This is a point as much forgotten by Christian theologians as by secular philosophers, the temptation being to simply make Christianity another "system of belief." Yet what was most original about the first Christians was not the peculiarity of their beliefs, even beliefs about Jesus, but their social inventiveness in creating a community whose like had not been seen before. To say they believed in God is true but uninteresting. What is interesting is that their very understanding that the God they encountered in Jesus required the formation of a community distinct from the world exactly because of the kind of God he was. From a Christian perspective, the atheist cannot understand the kind of God he or she does not believe in apart from understanding the kind of community necessary across time to faithfully worship such a God. The flabbiness and banality of contemporary atheism is, thus, a judgment on the church's unwillingness to be a distinctive people.

i'd love to put the whole essay on here, but that would be far too much and would probably break copyright rules. instead, i encourage each and every reader (yes luke, i know you've already ordered the book...that leaves the other four of you) to buy it for themselves.

a note on style: because i'm quoting him, i have decided to use proper style rules, as hauerwas does, in order to stay true to the original. (except for indenting, for some reason i can't figure out how to do it...unbelievable) but of course i will continue with my "jr-high-im-conversation" style the rest of the time, failing to capitalize.

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