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Theologian Stanley Hauerwas’ ‘dysfunctional’ life

US theologian Stanley Hauerwas, described as ‘one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the English speaking world’, was in Dublin for the launch of his latest book.  Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas , is co-authored with Dr Brian Brock of Aberdeen University. Dr Kevin Hargaden, social justice theologian with the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, edited the book. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, the controversial and hugely respected Methodist theologian addresses a number of topical issues in his characteristically forthright and unpredictable style.

A regular visitor to Ireland, he says he was shocked at the outcome of the recent abortion referendum and wonders “what sort of Catholic educational formation has the Catholic Church been about.”

Addressing the whole area of pacifism (he doesn’t like that word), non-violence (he doesn’t like that word either), he notes somewhat cryptically “If you’re well enough off you sometimes can look very peaceful.”

When it is put to him that everything he writes as a theologian is rooted in the person of Jesus he concurs but challenges the phenomenon of an over-reliance on ‘a personal encounter’ with the Lord, particularly as expressed in America. He says he meets Jesus in the many fine people who are part of his church community, and then goes on to note that in fact Jesus has made his life ‘dysfunctional’ – a comment which naturally leads on to a discussion about how he views words.  Theology is all about words, he says, and faith is “working with words in the light of Christ.”

By this stage in the interview it’s clear that even a question and answer session with this 77 year old southern state academic becomes a sort of ‘doing theology’, as Dr Brian Brock who joins the conversation at this point, confirms. He explains the how’s and why’s of the book he wrote along with his great friend, which is really the fruit of two years of conversation that often bordered on ‘interrogation’.

Both men are creating new paths in a theology of disability, particularly regarding people with special needs. For Stanley Hauerwas they have much to teach us and him, particularly regarding his crusade against war, guns and violence in his home country. “The implication of the care of the mentally handicapped for the explication of what it means to live peaceably” is now of paramount importance.

Beginnings: Interrogating Hauerwas , is published by Bloomsbury.

Photo: Left to right: Brian Brock, Kevin Hargaden and Stanley Hauerwas