Scripture has authority for Christians because they have learned as a forgiven people they must also be able to forgive. But to be a people capable of accepting forgiveness separates them from the world: The world, under the illusion that power and violence rule history, assumes that it has no need to be forgiven. Part of the meaning of the ‘world,’ therefore, is it is that which assumes it needs no scripture, since it lives not by memory made possible by forgiveness, but by power. Being a community of the forgiven is directly connected with being a community sustained by the narratives we find in scripture, as those narratives do nothing less than manifest the God whose very nature is to forgive. To be capable of remembering we must be able to forgive, for without forgiveness we can only forget or repress those histories that prove to be destructive or at least unfruitful. By attending closely to the example of those who have given us our scripture, we learn how to be a people morally capable of foregiveness and thus worthy of continuing to carry the story of God we find authorized by scripture. – A Community of Character, 68-69
For most part, I’ve only read and heard caricatures and one-liners when it comes to Hauerwas’s critique of liberalism. I recently read Hauerwas’s early and well-worn (for many but not me) essay “The Church and Liberal Democracy: The Moral Limits of a Secular Polity.” I appreciated getting the more sustained critique and look forward to reading others like it. Here’s an excerpt.
Many of our current political problems and the way we understand and try to solve them are a direct outgrowth of our liberal presuppositions. For example, the American government is often condemned for its inability to develop an economic or energy policy, but such policies must necessarily be public policies. Just as it has been the genius of the American political system to turn every issue of principle into an issue of interest, so it has been the intention of our polity to make impossible the very idea of public policy or public interest. Public policy cannot exist because society is nothing more than an aggregate of self-interested individuals. The policy which is formulated therefore must be the result of a coalescence of self-interests that is then justified in the name of the greatest good for the greatest number (but too often turns out to be the greatest good for the most powerful). Liberalism thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a social order that is designed to work on the presumption that people are self-interested tends to produce that kind of people.
It is often pointed out that there is a deep puzzle about the American people, for in spite of being the best off people in the world, their almost frantic pursuit of abundance seems to mask a deep despair and loss of purpose. I suspect that our despair is the result of living in a social order that asks nothing from us but our willingness to abide by the rules of fair competition. We have been told that it is moral to satisfy our ‘wants’ and ‘needs,’ but we are no longer sure what our wants and needs are or should be. After all, ‘wants’ are but individual preferences. Americans, as is often contended, are good people or at least want to be good people, but our problem is that we have lost any idea of what that could possibly mean. We have made ‘freedom of the individual’ an end in itself and have ignored that fact that most of us do not have the slightest idea of what we should do with our freedom. – A Community of Character, 79-80
I think I often do my best writing in footnotes and endnotes. In a footnote there is less of the feeling that the words are graven in stone, and there’s something very freeing about that. It seems that something similar may be going on for Stanley Hauerwas:
“[This] is but another indication that ethics at best is only bad poetry – that is, it seeks to help us see what we see every day but fail to see rightly. Put differently, ethics is an attempt to help us feel the oddness of the everyday. If ethicists had talent, they might be poets, but in the absence of talent, they try to make their clanking conceptual and discursive claims do the work of art.”
-Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, 246n59