Stanley Hauerwas’ long essay critiquing C.S. Lewis’ views on war is worth sitting down and reading. Hauerwas is unquestionably America’s foremost pacifist voices, and easily one of its most influential theologians. And while I don’t agree with everything, this is an essay that deserves serious consideration.
I may have more substantive thoughts on Hauerwas’ argument later (though I am interested in hearing reader opinions now), but this bit from the beginning caught my eye:
Lewis fought in World War I and endured World War II. It never occurred to him that there was an alternative to war. War was simply a fact of life. Moreover, for Lewis the claim that war is a fact of life is not only an empirical generalization, but a claim about the way things necessarily are. For Lewis war is a fact of life we must accept if we are to be rational.
It’s interesting that for the vast majority of younger writers–and I speak of those in the 20-40 age range–war has rarely been a “fact of life we must accept.” In fact, I don’t think it’s ever been that. 40 year olds would remember bits and pieces, no doubt, of the Cold War. And in my lifetime, we have been involved in two major operations in Iraq, along with smaller battles elsewhere. But while the tragedy of those events can’t be overestimated, and the loss of life disrupted individual families in countless ways, they can’t be compared to the massive social and cultural challenges that the World Wars of the early and mid 20th century wrought.
Allow me, like Augustine notes in Confessions, to investigate here for a second and not assert. Why is it that two of the most influential Christian writers of the twentieth century experienced a form of warfare firsthand and yet maintained their instincts around just war, yet many of younger Christian writers who have never set foot on the battlefield (like me) can write breezily about its horrors and advocate for pacifism? It’s fascinating to me, really, as I would think that if pacifist sentiments arose at any point, they would come in response to the global terrors of the World Wars. I can’t avoid the comparative claim, but mustard gas and the atom bomb strike me as two of the most horrific human creations ever.
In short, our new normal of distant wars seems to have made pacifism more plausible, not less. Perhaps thats because a world without war has become imaginable to a younger generation in a way that it wouldn’t have been to Lewis. But if that is true, then I also wonder whether the grounds of most of our pacifist imagining actually goes as deep as Hauerwas’–into the core of the Gospel and the witness of Jesus on the cross.
So much for tonight. All I wanted to do was signal a new, possible line of inquiry and solicit help among those who are interested in taking it up.*
*I always feel a little wrong writing about war in this way, in part because I haven’t experienced it firsthand and so am concerned about trivializing it even in my speech. An acknowledgment doesn’t right the wrong done, but if you have been in war and find the above distasteful for it, please let me know.