(EDITOR’S NOTE — The
following is an edited interview with Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of
Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, conducted by Kevin Eckstrom, a
writer with Religious News Service.)
DURHAM — Remember that book,
How to Make Friends and Influence People? Let’s just say that Duke University
ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has been hugely influential, but that doesn’t mean
his salty tongue has made him a lot of friends along the way.
Hauerwas, a self-described
Christian pacifist, is an expert on just war theory. As Hauerwas sees it, not
only did Iraq and Afghanistan fail to meet the criteria of a just war, but
neither did World War II. Now, as the Obama administration weighs its options
in Afghanistan, Hauerwas remains decidedly pessimistic not only about American
prospects, but also American morality.
Hauerwas, 69, talked about
his view on war and peace, his dismal assessment about the state of America’s
churches, and why President Obama isn’t likely to come calling. Some answers
have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What should President
Obama do about Afghanistan?
A: Afghanistan was
understood to be part of the war against terror, and that was a decisive
mistake because as soon as you said we are at war, you gave Osama bin Laden
what he wanted — he became a warrior, and not just a murderer. I would be much
happier with a whole reconsideration of our involvement there — not as a war,
but as a police function, and how the police might intervene to arrest bin
I know that sounds utopian,
but just try thinking you’re going to win a war in Afghanistan. I can’t imagine
anything more utopian than that. Ask the British. Ask the Russians. It’s never
going to happen.
Q: With seven years of
hindsight, was Afghanistan ever a just war?
A: Afghanistan has the
possibility of being limited in a way that might make it a bit more
justifiable, but it’s still not clear what we’re fighting for. It’s so deeply
ambiguous that it’s hard to fit into just war criteria. The very idea that you
begin to assess the justness of a war after the war is already going to happen,
I’m sorry, it’s already too late.
Q: How would you assess the
church’s response to the Iraq war?
A: Awful. Christians — and
it started with Sept. 11, as soon as we said we are at war — Christians said “that’s
us.” We never asked the hard questions about the war on terror, and that is, I
think, why Iraq happened. It has everything to do with the inability to
distinguish between the Christian “we” and the American “we.”
Q: So does the church need a
service of repentance?
A: The church has lost its
ability to be a disciplined community because we’re now, religiously, in a
buyer’s market. Christianity has to bill itself as very good for your
self-realization, and that’s killing us because we’re not very good for your
self-realization. We’re good for your salvation, which is not the same thing.
Hopefully God is making sure that we’re not going to survive in the position we’re
Q: What kinds of questions
should be we asking now about Afghanistan?
A: We need to ask them to
tell us the truth. Tell us that we’re engaged in an unwinnable business here,
but we have these kinds of political stakes and we want to achieve those, and
people are going to die for ambiguous political ends. Just tell us the truth.
Q: What should be the church’s
role in the debate over Afghanistan?
A: Let’s start with people
in our congregations who are connected with the military, and ask them how they
can justify that. Let’s start there. I have high regard for people in the
military, but very seldom are they asked to justify what they’re doing.
Q: So every Christian is
called to be a pacifist?
A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: So how do you respond to
people who say that’s unrealistic?
A: Try lifelong monogamous
fidelity in marriage. Do you think that’s realistic? Yet we do it. I’m not
terribly cowed by the charge of being unrealistic.
Q: If Obama were to call you
for advice on Afghanistan, what would you say?
A: I’d say you have to tell
the American some really hard truths, namely that the war on terror was a
mistake and we’ve got to start, as Americans, learning to live in a world that
we don’t control. That’s not going to make you very popular.
Q: So you’d be politically
toxic to the president of the United States?
A: Yeah, I would be. Just
like (former Obama pastor) Jeremiah Wright. I hope I’m absolutely as toxic as
A: Because I think what I’m
saying is what Christians should be saying.
Q: The hard truths?