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Christian realism

As more enthusiastic approval is being sought for attacking Syria, we’ll soon be hearing more amplified appeals to “just war” teaching in the Christian tradition, which makes this brand new essay by Stanley Hauerwas, on the case for Christian realism, timely, even required, reading.

Long ago at Notre Dame, where he taught and I tried in vain to learn, Stanley’s course in Christian Political Ethics, left most of his students (and certainly this one) wondering if a “just war” ever had been or could be waged.  Since those days, he’s left countless others wondering the same thing, and here again, he raises a few “questions that advocates of just war must address before they accuse pacifists of being ‘unrealistic.” The essay should be read in full, but Stanley’s questions are worth pondering all by themselves:

•What would an American foreign policy determined by just war principles look like?

•What would a just war Pentagon look like?

•What kind of virtues would the people of America have to have to sustain a just war foreign policy and Pentagon?

•What kind of training do those in the military have to undergo in order to be willing to take casualties rather than conduct the war unjustly?

•How would those with the patience necessary to insure that a war be a last resort be elected to office?

About the Author

Michael O. Garvey works in public relations at the University of Notre Dame.



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Wonderful questions by Hauerwas, especially that last (one answer to it might be that if we had a draft, our leaders might have to think a little bit harder).

But since I think it unlikely that we'll ask ourselves those demanding questions, I think I might be accept an easier, toned-down version:

What would we have to do to develop a foreign policy in which a recourse to violence and weaponry is not our first choice as a solution to difficult issues?


thank you for the link and the provocative questions (even in their reduced form as formulated by Nicholas Clifford).

I wonder whether one can even begin to wrestle with them absent the context of discernment provided by "prayer and fasting."

And I wonder further whether the Catholic members of Congress (30% of the House of Representatives acording to the current Commonweal editorial) will take the lead in supporting Pope Francis's call to a day of prayer and fasting this Saturday?


Thank you for reminding me (and us) of Pope Francis' call for prayer and fasting this Saturday; I should have included it in the post as a specific instance of what Christian realism calls for.  I'm not sure how esteemed Christian realism is among Catholic members of Congress.  It doesn't seem to preoccupy Catholics in the Obama administration much. 

Our bishops were willing to declare a whole "fortnight4freedom".  Would they even "pause4peace"?

Following up on Fr. Imbelli's comment, I have called Pope Francis's message to the attention of my pastor. I will try to observe Saturday as the pope asks. So will my wife.

I may have missed it, but I have seen no announcement from the U.S. Bishops Conference.

The Italian Episcopal Conference has supported the Pope's request, and the Diocese of Rome, of course, is inviting the faithful to attend the prayer vigil on Saturday in St. Peter's Square.

Bernard's course of action is probably the only feasible one given the short notice.


There is a USCCB announcement now:

“I could not dig: I dared not rob: Therefore I lied to please the mob. Now all my lies are proved untrue And I must face the men I slew. What tale shall serve me here among Mine angry and defrauded young?” from EPITAPHS OF THE WAR 1914-18 (

That said, there is also this: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


Of what will American ultimately be praised/accused?

MIchael, probably I do not understand Hauerwas' notion of pacifism.  But it seems to me that this piece is problematic in a couple of different ways:

  • He seems to be comparing apples to oranges.  He points to problems of just war theory for statecraft (which is its proper sphere, to be sure), but his explanation of pacificism doesn't seem to refer to statecraft; it seems to be refer to the stance of the individual or the Christian community or the denominational level.  Thus, it's not clear why the two approaches couldn't co-exist, the one at the level of statecraft, the other at a personal level.  
  • He surveys a number of astute objections to pacifism.  But his explanation of pacifism doesn't seem to address those objections, e.g. pacifism doesn't seem to provide social protection against the tendency toward rascality that still threads itself through human behavior.  Whatever the meaning of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf, it hasn't destroyed evil human tendencies, in the present tense.  The economy of salvation works according to different principles.
  • His critique of just war theory, it seems to me, credits the US, at the level of statecraft, with trying to operate according to the principles of just war theory.  But clearly that is not the case, and I don't know that it ever has been the case.   In the current debate over whether or not to intervene in Syria, the principle that I hear referred to most often is, "What course of action is most in the US' self-interest?"  The principle of self-interest - which may or may not intersect with just ware theory -  seems to me to be the dominant approach to US statecraft.

The age in which we live is a time of astonishing injustice and cruelty between peoples and states.  Our time is a time of genocides and the unleashing of fearsome weapons of mass destruction.  To fail to protect those who are vulnerable to such atrocities, for the sake of pacifism, is something that I'm not able to square with the demands of justice and love.


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