Unmasking the Differences: Nonviolence and Social Control

By Albrecht, Gloria | Cross Currents, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Unmasking the Differences: Nonviolence and Social Control


Albrecht, Gloria, Cross Currents


Stanley Hauerwas's emphasis on the social construction of character within a community of particular stories and practices resonates with feminists who also reject the liberal concept of self However, for feminists a next step becomes critical. What is the character of those communities that form our character? Whose stories are being told? Whose perspectives are embodied in these practices? These questions are especially pertinent for Christian communities characterized, typically, by hierarchical male leadership and divided by race and class. In her feminist critique of Hauerwas's approach to Christian community, The Character of Our Communities, Albrecht argues that until a plurality of voices shape Christian community, especially the voices of the marginalized, these communities betray their calling to be truly redemptive and prophetically liberating.

Oneness and the Will to Power

As we have seen, Hauerwas's ethics revolves around a core theme: a universal human fear of finitude leads to fragmenting, false loyalties and to a violent defense of those loyalties. For Hauerwas, the problem of contemporary life is its moral fragmentation and the loss of identity that can only be sustained in a community of shared values. Furthermore, this problem must be resolved in the one community that bears a true story empowering people to live nonviolently in this fallen world. Thus, salvation, for Hauerwas, ultimately involves the unity of all people within the Christian narrative. Aware of Christianity's past use of violence to accomplish this end, Hauerwas emphasizes that the core characteristic of the Christian community is nonviolence. However, it is my contention that violence is intrinsic to his proposal.

Kwok Pui-lan, a Chinese Christian, describes the Asian experience of Christian missionary expansion into China in which the "Word of God" was brought to the "heathens" who lived in a deficient culture characterized by "idolatry and superstition." (1) From this position of marginality Asian Christians were confronted with a gospel of Western presuppositions and modes of thinking. For example, the very notion of a scripture that contains all of Truth in one closed (Western) canon is a characteristic, Kwok warns, of Western religious traditions. There is within the western metaphysical tradition a "logocentrism"; that is, a hope and desire to reach a fully positive meaning that does not also carry within it its dependence upon difference. (2) Christianity exhibits this in its assumption of a transcendent presence located in a sacred text that leads Westerners to search for the voice of absolute truth. Kwok argues, "if other people can only define truth according to the Western perspective, then Christianization really means westernization." (3) Her recognition of the cultural embeddedness of the truth claims of the Western Christian gospel, and her experience of how these claims have been imposed upon her culture with an imperialistic assumption of acultural, universal applicability, has led her to appreciate Foucault's exploration of the relationship between truth and power. Asian Christians, she says, must ask who owns the truth, who interprets the truth, and what constitutes the truth? Her conclusion, with specific reference to the Christian scriptures, is that truth cannot be "prepackaged" but is found in the "actual interaction between text and context in the concrete historical situation." (4) "The whole biblical text represents one form of human construction to talk about God," she writes. (5) Speaking from the context of being a Christian in the mostly other-than-Christian two-thirds world (in which most people live, affected by the exploitation of the mostly Christian one-third world), Kwok argues that this focus on the oneness of truth produces the crusading spirit in which absolute truth provides not only the answers for all people but deigns to define for them the questions as well. …

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