Hauerwas's take on truth, evil, and the war with Iraq

From: Joel Cannon, Ph.D (JCannon@washjeff.edu)
Date: Mon Mar 10 2003 - 13:32:11 EST

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    Following up on the series of posts concerning Just War, non-violence, and Iraq, here is an article by Stanley Hauerwas from Time magazine (March 3, 2003). I think the issues he raises, particularly the use of the word evil (which I have used to describe persons at times) is relevant to Just Warriors as well as those who understand Jesus's call to be to non-violence (as Hauerwas does). Whatever your take, Hauerwas is never boring.

    What Hauerwas describes seems to me to be similar to some who responded to me. I have to wonder why I have not seen this issue addressed in Christianity Today or Books and Culture (has it been addressed there?).

    No, This War Would Not Be Moral
    By Stanley Hauerwas
    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, but I don't think that means I have nothing to say about the war fever gripping much of America. I believe that Christians, of all people, should worry when the President of the United States uses the word evil to justify war.

    I have no doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator. And I am well aware that he has failed to live up to the conditions of the 1991 truce. But I doubt that any of this makes him more "evil" than a number of other current officeholders around the world. Nor do I understand why President George W. Bush thinks it is the job of the U.S. to eliminate brutal dictators. America's foreign policy has often supported these same brutal dictators—including Saddam—when they have been on "our side." Bush's use of the word evil comes close to being evil—to the extent that it gives this war a religious justification (which Christians should resist). For Christians, 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. Advocates of "just war" should be the first to object to the language of evil because that characterization threatens to turn war into a crusade.

    Does that mean there is nothing we can do? No, I think that a lot can be done—once we free our imaginations from the presumption that the only alternative is capitulation or war. Nonviolence means finding alternatives to the notion that it is ultimately a matter of kill or be killed. Christians might consider, for example, asking the many Christians in Iraq what we can do to make their lives more bearable. A small step, to be sure, but peace is made from small steps.

    At the same time, we must insist on being told the truth about why this war seems so inevitable. The moral justifications for war against Saddam would surely lack any persuasive power had Sept. 11, 2001, not happened. As Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has rightly observed, any attempt to sustain truthful speech was lost as soon as the word war was used to describe the events of Sept. 11. What happened on that day was not war; it was murder. In his rush to assure the American people that everything could return to normal, President Bush declared a "war on terrorism." Oddly, knowing we are at war makes many Americans feel safe. Thus the metaphorical wars against drugs and crime are now stretched beyond all sense to become a war on terrorism. It's not clear, however, what it means to fight a war against terrorism. How do you fight a war against a phantom?

    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.

    G.K. Chesterton once observed that America is a nation with the soul of a church. Bush's use of religious rhetoric seems to confirm this view. None of this is good news for Christians, however, because it tempts us to confuse Christianity with America. As a result, Christians fail to be what God has called us to be: agents of truthful speech in a world of mendacity. The identification of cross and flag after Sept. 11 needs to be called what it is: idolatry. We are often told that America is a great country and that Americans are a good people. I am willing to believe that Americans want to be good, but goodness requires that we refuse to lie to ourselves and our neighbors about the assumed righteousness of our cause.

    That the world is dangerous should not be surprising news to Christians who are told at the beginning of Lent that we are dust. If Christians could remember that we have not been created to live forever, we might be able to help ourselves and our non-Christian brothers and sisters to speak more modestly and, thus, more truthfully and save ourselves from the alleged necessity of war against "evil."

    Also see Andrew Sullivan's rebuttal: "Yes, a War Would Be Moral"

    Stanley Hauerwas is a professor of theological ethics at Duke University Divinity School


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