Our Bloody Altar

War and the American Difference
Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity
Stanley Hauerwas
Baker Academic, $19.99, 208 pp.

Throughout an academic career of more than forty years, Stanley Hauerwas has been a lively commentator on Catholic ethics and ethicists. The results of this engagement are complex and controversial. From one angle, Hauerwas can come across as sharply critical, if not dismissive. For example, he has sharply questioned the coherence of “natural law” approaches to ethics, and he suspects that talk of “human rights,” so important in Catholic social teaching, betrays a corrupting allegiance to modern liberal individualism. Hauerwas has also challenged the usefulness of seeking “common ground” between Christians and non-Christians on the moral, political, and social issues of the day. He is critical of the sort of “public theology” practiced by figures such as David Hollenbach, Michael and Kenneth Himes, and Dennis McCann, for accommodating or subordinating Christian faith to the (inevitably idolatrous) requirements of the nation-state. He is equally skeptical of the turn, led by Margaret Farley, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and many others, toward a revision of Christian ethics in light of the experiences of women and the realities they disclose. In short, Hauerwas is barely within shouting distance of many contemporary Catholic methods and concerns (Hauerwas’s critics might say that his work only incites people to shout at one another anyway).

Hauerwas’s cautions about public theology and individualism are in my judgment germane...

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About the Author

William Werpehowski teaches theology at Villanova University.