Christianity and Liberalism: A Call for Change from Stanley Hauerwas
AuthorClendenin, Nathan C
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The fundamental call of Christianity is a call to surrender control of one's life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. In surrendering, one acknowledges life as a gift from God. Since the Enlightenment, Christianity as a whole has moved away from acknowledging life as a gift. The Enlightenment project to provide a completely rational basis for morality has infiltrated the Christian ranks, making our religion incapable of speaking to a secular world. The church needs to once again surrender ourselves to the forming power of the gospel of Christ, which enables us to recognize life as a gift, for as Christians, we should recognize that only through the power of the gospel do we find true freedom. Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of theology at the Duke University School of Divinity, offers a challenging critique of modern liberalism, the foundational philosophy of American government. His critique exists throughout his works, but I will focus on arguments found in the following texts and essays: After Christendom?, A Community of Character, Resident Aliens, "Preaching as Though We had Enemies," and "Honor in the University." In characterizing his project, it will be important to clarify to some extent the subject of Hauerwas' critique, namely modern liberalism. His arguments against liberal definitions of freedom and justice will be presented, in an effort to set the stage for explaining why the church should abandon the liberal presuppositions it has adopted over time. Hauerwas' alternative vision of the church as a community with a craft-like notion of morality formed by the gospel will be presented, followed by a critique provided in Martha Nussbaum's, "Recoiling From Reason?" Finally, I will explain how Hauerwas can escape Nussbaum's criticism, and conclude that Hauerwas' project is largely successful and convincing. What is Modernity? In an essay entitled, "Preaching as Though We Had Enemies," Hauerwas suggests that modernity's goal was to produce a people without a specific story. He writes: ...the project of modernity was to produce people who believe they should have no story except the story they choose when they have no story. Such a story is called the story of freedom and is assumed to be irreversibly institutionalized economically as market capitalism and politically as democracy.1 In other words, modernity is what taught us that freedom means having no specific story or viewpoint. This 'freedom' is fostered by the institutions of democracy and market capitalism which give us a 'free' choice over what we consume and who governs us. In terms of ethics, Hauerwas thinks the goal of modernity since the enlightenment has been to create a morality that is autonomous. He quotes Charles Taylor who describes the enlightenment goal to, "achieve the fullness of disengaged reason and detach ourselves from superstitions and parochial attachments."2 The type of reason Taylor describes is supposedly autonomous, and is free from any sort of prejudice or preconceived notions. The foundational principles on which the United States is built presuppose our ability to achieve autonomous reason such as Taylor describes. Our basic assumptions about morality and ethics appeal to a universal reason or common sense. These presuppositions about reason and its application to morality constitute what we call liberalism in America. Based on this definition of liberalism, Hauerwas can be said to attack any ethical theory which attempts to speak from a neutral standpoint, claiming an autonomous reason as its method and criterion of understanding.
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