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Hannah’s Child

Stanley Hauerwas on 'Becoming Christian'
Lauren Winner interviews Stanley Hauerwas about writing “a theologian’s memoir”

book, and that’s not necessarily when I’m talking about how I think.
There is certainly theology in the book. You write that you yourself are frightened by the Christianity you have articulated over the course of your career. What is it that you find frightening about the Christianity you have sketched?

Hauerwas: What I find compelling and yet at the same time frightening is that our life is at stake. I find frightening the recognition that this is what Christianity is about:  it is a matter of life and death, because it’s about truth. I also find that the commitment to non-violence involves, as I often say, the possibility that you will have to watch the innocent suffer for your convictions. It’s very frightening to think that you may have to do that.

To be honest, Stanley, I don’t think the book is about theology. Arguably, it’s about friendship—how, among other things, friendship sustains people. What is friendship? How do you know who your friends are?

Hauerwas: You can always go back to Aristotle’s distinction between friendships of use, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of character. Most friendships are friendships of use and friendships of pleasure, and when use and pleasure are over, you’re no longer friends. So one of the questions is how to maintain contact with one another across time, even when you’re not in the presence of one another. I think that has so much to do with simply sharing common acts of significance, such as knowing that your life is constituted by the worship of God and, therefore, you are able, even when you’ve been apart for some time, to pick up the conversation in a way that it just comes completely naturally. One of the problems about friendship in our world is it’s so fragile. We think the only way to sustain it is to make sure it’s always the same and we are always the same, and that won’t work, because even if you try to stay the same, everything around you is changing, so the same will be different. So if friendship is to be a story you’re able to tell across time about your relationship between yourself and others, you need a larger narrative in which those stories take place.

Speaking of friends, in First Things , your friend the ethicist Gil Meilaender published an interesting response to Hannah’s Child . Meilaender’s point was that you need to take things more seriously—acknowledge how seriously you take love, and also, he wrote, take the bond between citizens more seriously.

Hauerwas: I got a call from Time magazine yesterday about the building of the mosque [at Ground Zero], and I said, “What I don’t get is this claim about the World Trade Center geography being sacred. I don’t want to be unfeeling, because I understand a murder occurred there, and there’s an appropriate pathos about it, but God is holy—not people dying under murderous conditions.”  I just don’t get it, and I don’t get that religious people don’t have a sense of distancing from that language of sacredness. You know?

Well, if you think the victims were martyrs ...

Hauerwas: And, of course, that’s just sheer projection. They were victims.

I wondered if you had any response to Meilaender’s argument that your own life narrative, your love of Paula, contradicts and indeed overshadows much of what you’ve written elsewhere about love, what you’ve taught about love.

Hauerwas: I thought he was wrong about that—about my narrative suggesting that love is more central for me than I’ve made explicit. I don’t think that’s right. I think indeed that I say some very good things about love, and about how the love that moves the sun and the stars makes it possible for us to be in love with God and one another.