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Thursday, April 29, 2004

Cavanaugh on Hauerwas

William Cavanaugh has penned a thoroughly entertaining introduction to the (in)famous Methodist theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwaus in "Stan the Man: A Thoroughly Biased Account of a Completely UnObjective Person" (The Stanley Hauerwas Reader, Duke UP, 2001). Hauerwas, for those who aren't aware, is a Texan with a mouth of a sailor, a low tolerance for bullshit, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and a taste for Mexican food. Here are some choice excerpts from Cavanaugh's introduction:
A complex dynamic seems to run through Stanley's relationship with those who want a piece of him: Hauerwas has a tendency to create disciples, and yet there are few things that annoy him more. His opening-day lecture at his Divinity School classes usually involves some form of the claim "I don't want you to think for yourselves. I want you to think like me." This is Stanley's attempt to disabuse his students of the Enlightenment illusion of individual sovereignty.

In MacIntyrean fashion, Stanley believes that theology is a craft learned by putting oneself under the authority of a master of the tradition. And yet Stanley hated the first seminar paper I ever did at Duke because it repeatedly saluted the Hauerwas party line without any real understanding of what was at stake. He returned it with an exasperated comment "This sounds too much like me!" emblazoned on the final page. Tradition, after all, is not identical repetition, but is defined by MacIntyre as an "ongoing argument" over the goods and practices intrinsic to that tradition. Stanley Hauerwas loves a good argument. Indeed, to be able to have an argument at all is a significant moral achievement, for it presupposes some common understanding of the goods at issue . . . [p. 26-27]

Everyone who has seen Hauerwas in action has a favorite story. Stanley confronts a medical researcher who is defending experiments on fetal tissue with the following question: "What if it were discovered that fetal tissue were a delicacy: would you eat it?" Stanley is asked to speak at a rally against the death penalty and declares, "I'm for the death penalty. I think they should build a guillotine on Wall Street and execute people for stock fraud!" In the first case, Hauerwas' point was that no amount of benefit to medicine could justify experimenting on fetal tissue: either it is human and deserves respect, or the door is open to all kinds of uses. In the second case, Hauerwas' point was that the death penalty is not justified by claiming it prevents crime. If such were the case, the death penalty would be much more profitably used against dispassionate white-collar crime than against murder, which is usually too entangled in personal vindication to be prevented by detached calculation. The real reason the death penalty is used is a desire for revenge, a tempation to which Christians must not succumb. . . .

. . . A deliberate part of Stanley's pedagogy is to force people to think by jolting them out of their customary positions. . . . His lessons are not easily forgotten because he makes his listener go through the process of making the logical connections for himself or herself. This at least partially explains Stanley's advice to one of his students: "Your job as a theologian is to cause ulcers in others and not suffer them yourself in the process." [p. 29]

[in an article in Newsweek Hauerwas commented] "God is killing the Church and we goddamn well deserve it." The latter incident caused a brief tempest in the church teapot. (Stanley's defense: "At least I mentioned God's name twice!") [p. 30]

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