Stanley Hauerwas teaches theology and ethics at the Divinity School of Duke University. After receiving his Ph.D. from Yale, Dr. Hauerwas spent the first part of his career at the University of Notre Dame before coming to Duke in 1984. For a theologian, not exactly a vocation one chooses to be well-known, he has lectured widely, his work often crossing disciplinary lines, and has found himself in the New York Times, Time Magazine, and in the wake of 9/11 on Oprah’s stage. Yet, just as commonly one finds him speaking in small churches. Many know his reputation for being a salty bombastic provocateur; this reputation allows many to miss that he is a generous and gentle person. Now almost seventy, he has recently published his memoirs Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Eerdmans, 2010). Wunderkammer sat down with Professor Hauerwas to talk about his memoir and to reflect on greed in the U.S. economy.
Wunderkammer: Knowing you for some time, you’ve always been generous with your time and have a door that is open to your students, but there is also the sense that you’ve been reticent to talk about your own biography. And now a memoir?
Stanley Hauerwas: I say in the book, it's such an odd thing for me to do—writing a memoir— being the great enemy of subjectivity and pietism. I continue to be the great enemy of the notion that my experience should count for how I understand the nature of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. But I can tell the story of why I think that the turn to the subject has not been a particularly good direction for theology. I'm still not terribly interested in my own subjectivity. I mean the philosophical psychology that shaped me basically through the reading of Wittgenstein continues to inform those reactions, so you're quite right.
WK: Another person who recently came out with a memoir who said they would never come out with a memoir is Cornel West.
SH: Yes, he told me he had done it. And, of course, I’m sixty-nine, and Cornel is what, in his mid fifties? So, he may have to do another one and I won’t.
WK: What were you trying to do with your memoir?
SH: It tells the story of how I became a theologian and in particular what a surprising thing it is for me that I’m a Christian. What it has meant for me to be a Christian is what extraordinary friendships I’ve been drawn into through that avowal. I’m quite happy with the book. It also tells the story of my marriage for over twenty years to a woman who tragically had bipolar disorder and I try to be as upfront and honest as I can about that. All of that interacts with the various diverse contexts that have made me who I am, having spent fourteen years at Notre Dame was a decisive shaping for me and now twenty-five years at Duke. Hopefully, it’s a kind of story that exhibits much of the diversity of theological developments that have been characteristic of the last fifty years. I hope to reach a whole different reading public with this.
WK: As far as your normal audience goes, when Jeff Stout’s Democracy and Tradition came out in 2003, it seemed like you had different appraisals of your level of influence.
SH: I have no idea how influential I am. I have the feeling…I mean my response to Jeff was: Jesus, I had no idea that anyone thought that I had that kind of influence. My view is that Duke is one of the few places where [Karl] Barth and [John Howard] Yoder are still read with sympathy, not that there were that many places to begin with, but I think it's still pretty limited that if you go to most seminaries the narrative would still be one set by Reinhold Niebuhr, H. Richard [Niebuhr], and Paul Tillich, so I don't see the influence as all that great. Intellectually, there is now a phenomenon that people—young people think that they need to show why they aren't Hauerwas, which I find kind of boring. I don't know—it's not for me to say how influential I am.
WK: And who is your audience?
SH: I write for Christians, and I say most academics write for other academics. I write for Christians. I've always, from the very beginning, realized that I wanted people who are not trained in the so-called field to be able to read what I was writing—so my books are a combination of fairly hard articles, you could call them chapters, where you might need to know a good deal about Kant's second Critique in order to get it right next to an article which is an invitation to consider why we care for people with intellectual disabilities. And they are meant to work together in a way that pulls people who are not educated philosophically or theologically into the world of theology.
WK: I’m curious about one part of your readership, American Evangelicals. Considering that Evangelicals have produced some of the realities that you have spent a career resisting, how do you receive Evangelicals as readers?
SH: I think that what Evangelicals bring is Jesus and energy. And insofar as evangelicals still have a high regard for Scripture and in particular the Christological center, then we are on the same side; and that they bring to that a desire to tell other people of the joy that this has given their lives is a great good that I'm all for. I try to help them recover a sense of the church that they don't have because they think that the church is a secondary reality to their immediate relationship with God, which is why they so often times they have no way to resist Protestant liberal alternatives. So, I'm very pleased that Evangelicals can recognize some continuity between what I represent and what they represent, but it's going to change them.
WK: So, is there a sense in which you appreciate the gifts of Jesus and energy but you don't want them to stay there?
SH: Yes [laughs]. But by ‘I don't want them to stay there’ I mean I don't want them to continue to presume that they have a relationship with God that is unmediated. That's the crucial issue that I see. And that one of the problems with Evangelicals, particularly as it's taken the form of church growth, is the presumption that you get to make God up, you get to make Christianity up. It’s as though they don't receive Christianity through the gifts of 2,000 years that have made them possible. I think that too often, Evangelicals have the New Testament and now. But, tradition matters and I'm a catholic in this regard. Of course, a tradition is always subject to error, but the way you know error is through the tradition.
WK: You’ve just written a short piece on greed, and I was wondering, given that our economic downturn is often attributed to greed that grew out of control, if we could talk about that.
WK: Greed seems to be one of those vices that we have a hard time naming. People seem confident that they can tell you what, say, lying entails and one will hear sermons about lust, but not greed, even though it was one of the seven deadly sins. So, what is greed?
SH: More. It is the need to have more and the more you have, the more you need in order to secure the more you have. That’s greed. And it’s a power that possesses us. I say, you know, we may have always been greedy, but we are the first society as far as I can see that has institutionalized it as a necessity in order to be allegedly or nearly just, because you need to be greedy to produce more so that you’ll have more to distribute.
[Alasdair] MacIntyre has this great article on Aristotle's understanding of temperance. He says:
“…from an Aristotelian standpoint, it can never be right to weigh preferences in such a way that everybody counts for one and nobody for more than one. And it would be a fundamental mistake to try to maximize the satisfaction of the preferences of all the members of a given society.”
Now that is at the heart of modern economic rationality.
WK: What do you take that to be saying?
SH: He's challenging the presumption that is at the heart of modern economic rationality—that an economy is good if it tries to maximize the satisfactions of the preferences of a given society. He's challenging the presumption that is at the heart of modern economic rationality—that an economy is good if it tries to maximize the satisfactions of the preferences of a given society. He’s saying that from an Aristotelian perspective, it’s wrong to give the same weight to the desires of the vicious as to the desires of the virtuous person, but that modern democratic societies do this. He goes on to say that in such societies, temperance isn’t generally seen as a virtue anymore. Of course, people will talk about moderation when it comes to health, longevity or to be attractive, or to support career advancement, but this is different than seeing temperance as necessary to making the kind of choices that make up a good life.
Now I take it, that, just to begin to think about how temperance as a virtue that would challenge the very presumptions of a capitalist social order seems to me a very radical perspective and that is one that I share. What we presume is that you must have constant economic growth in the hope that the more shares that you produce will be able to be distributed to those with less shares, all without the rich losing their shares. Now, exactly what Macintyre is challenging and what I would want to challenge is that in order to name the goods that are appropriate to a well-lived life, you might need to think about having an economic order that is not constantly expanding in terms of simply producing to produce. So I think that those are exactly the kinds of issues that should be at the heart of the church's social witness.
WK: So you think that temperance is an important virtue and one that we don’t really think about because it runs contrary to how our economy is set up?
SH: Classically, temperance is the disciplined formation of desire to want that which is good in a manner that my want is not more determinative of the good than the good itself. When you talk about temperance, the immediate language you are tempted to use is “how do I control my desires?” so it sounds like the task of restraining desire, rather than being an appropriate desire. Temperance is a desire that is appropriate to that which is rightly desired, namely, a good helps me discover what it means to be a human being.
WK: So, the greed operative in our society is just a function of desires that are not sufficiently shaped?
SH: Yes, I think it is. When I said it was just the need for more, “more” is just an empty cipher that you get to fill in, so there’s no good to want and that’s the problem.
WK: It seems like there is a deep fear that underlies our desire for more.
SH: Oh, there is. I think it is a fear that is fueled by a fundamental distrust of ourselves and one another. So, I have to secure my existence because there is no one that I can trust to do this. It’s a deep fear.
When people talk about economics, immediately one assumes that distribution is the primary issue, and I suggest that it is helpful to start by asking what sort of people we have to be to sustain an economic life that is not overwhelmed by greed. And that’s a different way into the conversation.
WK: So for someone who is in college or starting a career and says, “I want a comfortable life and if the money is there to be made, it might as well be made by me,” how do get through to such a person? Why shouldn’t I want that?
SH: Because it's not good for you. Because it makes you less than what you were created to be. That's what you say.
WK: So, to the inequitable distribution of wealth in our society, which seems to be worsening, you say to people that the desire for more is not good for you?
SH: Well, that’s not how desires are formed, but, yes. It’s not good for you. It's killing you. That's right. That's exactly what you say.
WK: How does it kill someone?
SH: It gives them no way to know if they are ever happy, comfortable perhaps, but no way to know if they are living a good life and that can be terrifying. Now, they will usually tell you that it is not the money itself but the skills acquired and necessary to making money that is satisfying, and I understand that. But, I think that often one finds oneself lost in a way of life with no purpose that is intrinsic to the activities themselves. It’s not to say that these people do not have virtues or that the work they do cannot produce them, but often the virtues necessary to chase after wealth, if they don’t include say justice, prudence or temperance, are disordered. And disordered virtues can kill you.
WK: Do you have suggestions that might help us become such people, people not overwhelmed by greed?
SH: In my Introduction to Christian Ethics course, I often say that one of the first things we can do is to tell other people what we make. The difficulty with telling one another what we make is not for someone like me who makes a lot of money; the problem is for those in the church who don't make a lot of money since now what you make seems so important for who you are. But I think that it's perfectly appropriate for people in the church to tell one another what we make and then to be told, "We need your money for these other people that aren't making so much." So I'm for just starting with the declaration of income. That's not a bad place to begin.
Then, of course, as a Christian, I think that a practice like the Eucharist is a practice of abundance, where we discover that the God who feeds us cannot be used up, and hopefully this helps the church learn that our lives should picture this kind of generosity. I also think that if we could find markets that are smaller, I think it would be helpful. I mean, I like farmers’ markets and that sort of thing.
WK: For what reason?
SH: The laborer’s product is not separated from the laborer, so there is less alienation and it becomes important for the buyer not only what you buy but also the people who produced it.
WK: It makes the process less anonymous, more relational?
SH: Yes. So, how to find smaller markets where the market doesn’t determine relationships, but serves relationships, is an important question.
WK: One still has some sort of relationship, some sort of relating, when one shops at one of the big box stores, a Target or Walmart, and proceeds to the cash register, right?
SH: Sure, it’s just not that interesting or determinative, and their relationship to the service they are providing is alienating in a way. People in such settings can be quite humane, and you are happy when they are, but nonetheless it is very disconnected from who they are. One may start to get to know a person in such a setting, but that is in spite of not because of the setting, so I think smaller markets where there is a deeper connection between labor and product might also be a place to start.