Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hauerwas on Sentimentality

Sometime down the road, I have a feeling I will look back on 2009 with fondness for many reasons. One of those reasons will be that it was the year I exposed myself to two very important Christian thinkers. The first was Thomas Merton, and the second is Stanley Hauerwas. I have yet to get to his monographs, but from the articles and videos I have come across in the last month or so, I have already been affected by his teachings on peace, and will continue to be shaped as I interact with his work.

This video contains some strong language.

Sentimentality from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Also, I strongly recommend this critique of Obama's Peace Prize speech that he wrote this week.

How Do You Know a War is a War? by Stanley Hauerwas


D Schneider said...

Hauerwas is a great thinker - no doubt, but what about James 1:26?

rheimbro said...

I am assuming you are referencing that verse with regard to Hauerwas' us of a couple curse words.

I don't think James 1:26 is talking about that kind of speech. For starters he is using a phrase which only appears in that one letter (the other usage being in 3:2), making it a little harder to draw out the meaning from comparable usage elsewhere (in the bible at least)

There are a few alternative meanings that I have come across, however.

So the bible background commentary finds him to be talking about "uncontrolled speech, such as the impassioned denunciations of Roman rule likely to lead to violence."

Or, the NIGTC, considers it to be addressed at a group which "appears to be causing dissension and factions in the community."

Anyway, thank you for stopping by! I appreciate your comments.

Robb said...

I have to admit that one of my biggest pet peeves in faith/religion/spirituality is also sentimentality - which I would define as the appeal to or use of common denominator emotionalism in the guise of communicating profound truth - yet when you actually delve you find there really is no actual referent besides feeling nice, and pithiness is used as evidence of practicality. (As one could ironically say, "Pithy wisdom is no wisdom at all.")
I think the dependence on this for expression of faith in Christianity accounts for a lot of the social/cultural consequences Hauerwas is referring to here, and that most of the Christian media market, as well as devotionals basically boil down to sentimentality by these definitions.
However.... I have been learning to soften my opinion on this some as Ive been pastorally communicating with people over the last few years because even though it all still seems egregiously like swiss cheese to me, a lot of this sentimental stuff really seems to be some serious meat in the lives of some people I talk to, and not just in ways that lead to the stuff Hauerwas is talking about here, but in truly challenging and meaningful ways to them. At the initial level, it seems to be a personality thing, and so I wonder if Hauerwas's own intellectual predisposition make him interact with this stuff differently than others might. Im really still trying to figure it out on a deeper level, though and what it means for people trying to hear from God together in community.

PS - to further the discussion on language and James, it may also be useful to consider its meaning relative to other scripture by way of, say, a word study on skubala in Philippians 3:8, or background studies on some of the names thrown around by prophets in the OT about kings/queens/competing prophets. I'm all for taking seriously the actual meaning of words and language and being intentionally selective about the appropriateness and accuracy of our speech, but it seems like maybe sometimes vulgar language actually captures that appropriateness and accuracy for the subject matter, even in scripture...

rheimbro said...

Robb, your comments on a pastoral approach are definitely a much needed compliment to what he is saying. It is my guess that since this is listed as an outtake that this really was an example of him venting on a pet peeve. As I have experienced venting, I think it is not always our most thought out reactions, but it can cut right to the heart of our feelings and opinions because of that. So I would hope that he does have a different approach in dealing with it pastorally when he is outside of the academic realm.

In the end I think that has to do with how we approach people where they are rather than expecting them to be where we are and dragging them along when they aren't.

That said, the question seems to be how we as a Church wake up to the way sentimentality has seeped in like a sort of slime mold, and what is best (not necessarily quickest or easiest) way to begin purging it?

** As for vulgar language I also feel that it is so contextual in time and geography as to what is considered vulgar that I have a hard time connecting it back to what the bible actually teaches. I am speaking less about phrases like "God Damn it!" than I am about words like piss, shit, and even fuck.

When words used to refer solely to one thing, but then morph into more of an exclamation, does that old meaning have primacy? In Britain for example, there is much less of a stigma attached to the word fuck in the public sphere than there is over here. Or, conversely, the word Bloody has almost no negative connotation here, in fact it is viewed mostly as a cute adjective we tack on to things in order to sound British. But for years it was one of the most objectionable words.

I say all that because we really need to understand the biblical context before we can understand how that applies to our current context. Not that the original context fully defines our own, but it does point us in the right direction.

In my own experience, it seems like the Bible does have more to say about actual curses, or oaths taken in the name of God than it does about what might be considered coarse language.

It does also have a lot to say about restraining the tongue, and I am not an advocate of profanity laden speech all the time, but in times of frustration or anger, such words can serve a purpose, and expose the real emotions going on beneath the surface.

How we evaluate it all as whole leaves me clueless at the moment though.

The Charismanglican said...

Hauerwas was a gateway drug to a whole new world for me (Yoder, Cavanaugh, re-reading Bonhoeffer...)