March 18, 2004
Carrot and stick

Jennifer, in a post she has now taken down, linked back to this lecture on abortion by Stanley Hauerwas. I finally got around to reading the whole thing, which seemed overdue since I've heard so much about Hauerwas and have heard him quoted so often (evidently, he's a very quotable guy). Anyway, it was about what I expected -- provocative, uncompromising, not entirely convincing, but very interesting.

He quotes at length from a sermon about how the church should care for women with troublesome pregnancies, and gives examples:

Let me tell you two stories about what it is like when the church takes this responsibility seriously. The first is a story that Will Willimon, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, tells about a black church. In this church, when a teen-ager has a baby that she cannot care for, the church baptizes the baby and gives him/her to an older couple in the church that has the time and wisdom to raise the child. That way, says the pastor, the couple can raise the teen-age mother along with the baby. 'That,' the pastor says, 'is how we do it.'"

"The second story involves something that happened to Deborah Campbell. A member of her church, a divorced woman, became pregnant, and the father dropped out of the picture. The woman decided to keep the child. But as the pregnancy progressed and began to show, she became upset because she felt she could not go to church anymore. After all, here she was, a Sunday School teacher, unmarried and pregnant. So she called Deborah. Deborah told her to come to church and sit in the pew with the Campbell family, and, no matter how the church reacted, the family would support her. Well, the church rallied around when the woman's doctor told her at her six-month checkup that she owed him the remaining balance of fifteen hundred dollars by the next month; otherwise, he would not deliver the baby. The church held a baby shower and raised the money. When the time came for her to deliver, Deborah was her labor coach. When the woman's mother refused to come and help after the baby was born, the church brought food and helped clean her house while she recovered from the birth. Now the woman's little girl is the child of the parish."

It all sounds very Christian to me, but I couldn't help wondering how many people would complain that churches behaving in such a way would be rewarding premarital sex. Or, following the types of arguments you hear on Marriage Debate, negating the need for fathers. Recently the former proprietress of that blog was quoted as saying, "every child has a birthright to know and be raised by their mother and their father."

Hauerwas doesn't directly address this question, but it sounds like he doesn't agree. For one thing, he doesn't think anybody has inalienable rights. (I'm not gonna touch that one right now.) But more importantly, he doesn't buy the importance of biological kinship:

We, as church, are ready to be challenged by the other. This has to do with the fact that in the church, every adult, whether single or married, is called to be parent. All Christian adults have a parental responsibility because of baptism. Biology does not make parents in the church. Baptism does. Baptism makes all adult Christians parents and gives them the obligation to help introduce these children to the Gospel. Listen to the baptismal vows; in them the whole church promises to be parent. In this regard the church reinvents the family.

In a way, the comparison is not entirely fair, because Gallagher is talking about secular laws and Hauerwas strictly about the church. But it sounds like underlying this is a disagreement about the nature of men. Eve, in more places than I'm going to bother linking to now, has argued that men are not going to interested in husbandhood and fatherhood unless they feel there's something unique and necessary about it -- something only a man can do. Men today, she says, are getting the message that they're superfluous.

Hauerwas is a lot less sympathetic:

One of the good things about the church's understanding of marriage is that it helps us to get a handle on making men take responsibility for their progeny. It is a great challenge for any society to get its men to take up this responsibility. As far as today's church is concerned, we must start condemning male promiscuity. ... Until we speak clearly on male promiscuity, we will simply continue to make the problems of teen-age pregnancy and abortion female problems. Males have to be put in their place.

It seems like Eve is offering the carrot, and Hauerwas the stick. Is men's responsibility problem that they think too much of themselves, or too little? I have to admit I've always been faintly creeped out by Eve's line of thinking, because it brings up that insecurity that tends to keep women at a permanent disadvantage. Men are more willing and able to walk out on families, so they have to be given extra incentives to stay, like more power and more flattery. On the other hand, Hauerwas' position is based entirely on religion: men should give themselves because all Christians should give themselves, without selfish motives. It doesn't really fit in a culture based on enlightened self-interest, as Hauerwas seems to well know.

Anyway, I don't have the solution to this, and I certainly don't know the Mind of Man. But it's interesting to see two pro-life, pro-marriage Christians coming at it from such different angles.

Posted by Camassia at March 18, 2004 06:28 PM | TrackBack

Based on my understanding of Hauerwas from the one book that I've read (Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony), I'd say that you're correct in thinking that his position on the proper Christian response to unwed mothers, single parenting, etc. is not based on the ordinary expectations of American social culture. The title of the book alone would indicate that much.
I don't see how any reasonable person could make an equation whereby supporting single mothers and their children, once they find themselves in that position, either "rewards premarital sex" or "negates the need for fathers". But even supposing that one could prove such a connection, my understanding of Hauerwas instructs me that he feels a Christian should be a Christian first and always, and that a Christian should meet each human crisis with love and caring, the possible negative opinion of society notwithstanding. I agree with that.

Posted by: Rob on March 19, 2004 10:55 AM

I agree, and that certainly accords with everything I've heard about Hauerwas. But I was thinking about why churches so often don't do what those anecdotes describe, and instead feel like they have to impart shame on unwed mothers. They are, I think, enforcing the biological kin system that Hauerwas sees the church as reinventing.

However, I imagine Eve, Maggie et al. would be less worried about fatherless children if communities actually did fill the breach like this. More often today, single mothers are more like cats, raising the litter alone and hoping predators don't come along while they aren't looking.

Posted by: Camassia on March 19, 2004 12:57 PM

Couple brief thoughts: 1) I don't know that telling men "your child really needs you, you have a unique role to play in that kid's life" is flattery, and I _definitely_ don't think it's about giving men "power." There are lots of possible kinds of power; getting to be a player and do what you want and have several girlfriends you sleep with is one kind of power, getting to be a child's model of responsible and loving fatherhood is another kind, and I don't know that we can compare them too well. I think you may possibly be hearing a male-headship-related claim in the stuff I say about fatherhood, when that's not really the issue. (?)

2) Relatedly: I haven't read the Hauerwas piece, so I probably shouldn't comment, but hey, never stopped me before. His language in the sections you quote seems overly harsh to me. I mean, look, both the mother and the father in most situations of unwed pregnancy made some bad choices. The mother's choices left her _more disadvantaged_ than the father. But an ideal response would challenge both parents to live up to their responsibilities. The goal would be to make both parents feel _capable_ of doing that (both men and women, obviously, can feel REALLY intimidated by parenting), and to feel like the sacrifices they're being asked to make will be honored. (If you accept the stick you get the carrot, might be one way to phrase that.)

...By the way--Hauerwas's language about biological parentage vs. what I guess you could call baptismal parentage REALLY creeps me out. Hauerwas's language veers toward a _rejection_ of nature, as if nature is burnt away by grace rather than transformed by it; it seems pretty naive about the strength of biological family ties (a.k.a. don't get between momma bear and her cub); and I don't know how one would deal with Christian converts whose ACTUAL parents aren't baptized (my father isn't, for example) in this model. Grr, my hackles really rise at this denigration of mere fleshly parentage. I'm not sure if I'm articulating this clearly. And perhaps the rest of Hauerwas's piece would dispel my suspicions.

Jennifer Hamer's _What It Means to Be Daddy_, by the way, is an excellent book on black unmarried fathers, that deals with a lot of issues related to this post. I disagree with her conclusions (she's really into "unwed parenting is just as good!"), but her descriptions really ring true.


Posted by: Eve Tushnet on March 19, 2004 01:02 PM

I think the discussion above takes for granted that *in situations where biology has failed*--particularly has failed the children in question--the Christian congregation should be there to fill the breach. Nobody (I think) is suggesting replacing biological connections with sacramental ones.

Posted by: Rob on March 19, 2004 01:19 PM

BTW there's a nice post at Sursum Corda about the family/discipleship tension. It really resonated w/me (for obvious reasons given that saying I'm the only Catholic in my family is something of an understatement). It emphasizes the "opposite side" of the tension from the one I'm emphasizing here; but part of my point is that the stuff I've said here AND the stuff Peter says at S.C. are true.


Posted by: Eve Tushnet on March 19, 2004 01:41 PM

The core of this issue revolves, for me, around the idea that duties and obligations trump rights and privileges. Maybe that's a hard saying. Human need obligates me. Love of neighbor is not optional. Kierkegaard wrote well on that theme ("Works of Love"). This is something that my personal fave, Simone Weil, also stressed.

Posted by: Rob on March 19, 2004 01:41 PM

Hauerwas' very radical statement, "Baptism makes all adult Christians parents," shows either the most profound or the most vulnerable part of his thought.

In a Scottish Journal of Theology article, Charles Marsh summarizes what Hauerwas is getting at. The term "peasant Catholics" is Haeurwas' own:

"What then do we learn about human embodiment from such ecclesial practices as those performed by peasant Catholics? We learn that the boundaries of particular bodies are fluid and elastic; in liturgy or sacramental life, the identities of particular persons are fused with Christ's body. We learn too that our bodies belong wholly to others, not to ourselves, that holiness is not a matter of individual will, but 'being part of a body that makes it impossible for us to be anything other than disciples' - anything other than men and women who follow Jesus without self-reflection. We learn that the body of Christ has clear and distinct boundaries whose penetration leads to its defilement, that ecclesial purity is not ideal but constitutive. Formulated in this way, human identity is not then a matter of a self that is 'desperately seeking to control the body,' no longer a matter of a perduring, continuous or predictable identity. 'Modernist presumptions about the self' and the 'sovereign self' (all important notions left largely unexplained by Hauerwas) inevitably disrupt the practices of the Christian life, which are more concerned about 'how we eat, with whom we eat, when we eat, what we eat' than how we think, feel, imagine or believe - more about sanctification than understanding. Therefore, the basic question of theological anthropology is not 'What does it mean to be a self?', but 'How can we live that peculiar life called Christian?' And according to Hauerwas the answer is: being a Christian means being a member of a community with practices intended to make us faithful to our baptism."

Marsh then gets at the possible problem with this:

"... I think Hauerwas goes overboard in his description of the body of Christ as the annihilation of the self - overboard like Barth later believed himself to have gone overboard in emphasizing the transcendence of God at the expense of God's humanity. Hauerwas should recognize that some formal identity is presupposed in the habits, practices, and crafts of the church, without which any foregrounding of sanctified bodies, catechumenates, contrite hearts and character falls into incoherence; but he does not. For Hauerwas, the self that the postmodernists deny - 'the self created by the displacement of God' - makes the Christian retrieval of peasant Catholicism all the more plausible. 'The "self", like language itself, is but a sign that gets its meaning from other signs that get their meaning through their relationships of similarity and difference with other signs.' 'The "self" but names out attempts at agency to name the play of the language that speaks through us.' The self is swallowed up by whatever 'random constellation' of private desires and public forces blindly impress themselves upon it."

So then, I guess, the question is whether baptism presupposes a certain given biological identity as parent, or whether it is constitutive of an entirely new identity that necessarily annihilates the biological sign of "parent."

- Neil

Posted by: Neil Dhingra on March 21, 2004 09:48 AM

Very interesting stuff! I don't see anything particularly novel in the idea that the "self" is basically a "random constellation" of subjective drives and desires, buffeted and shaped by environmental, cultural, and societal forces. When I find myself, for instance, capable of identifying completely with the utterly different protagonists of various well-written novels, I wonder how that can be. Who, then, am I?
To the extent that I understand what Marsh is saying about Hauerwas, my conception is that Hauerwas believes that baptism into the Body of Christ represents the ultimate victory of a unifying Truth over that false sense of "self" that leaves man dis-integrated, unfree and ultimately alone in a chaotic universe.
I recently proposed, half-seriously, over at Disputations that in the Resurrection we would all arise in one body--a new Adamic body, perfected-as-one in Christ. Perhaps that idea had more merit than I thought at the time?

Posted by: Rob on March 21, 2004 10:35 AM

First, I think we need to understand that the Hauerwas article that Camassia quoted was from an address given at a church meeting with ministers and lay people present. It was not an academic address. In these situations Hauerwas tends to say outrageous things to wake his audience up, so to speak. So take the "biology does not make parents. Baptism does" in that context, and remember this was a talk about abortion. I think he is trying to say that I'm responsible, and the whole church is responsible, for taking care of an "unwanted" baby who might otherwise be aborted. In fact, there are no "unwanted" children in the church. The community welcomes all children. I agree with Rob - I don't think Hauerwas is destroying biological nature of parenthood or denigrating it at all, but saying that in baptism, our nature is transformed so that biological ties are not the PRIMARY ties that binds us AS CHRISTIANS, but that we become brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe that's a better way to say it than we all become parents. Any baby born to someone in the church is my brother or sister, and during the baptismal liturgy the congregation pledges to help raise the child in Christian love.

Neil, is that article available online? My eyes glazed over when I got to the "signs" part, but perhaps if I read the whole thing I'd understand that part better. I actually like Hauerwas's concept of our bodies or selves as fluid and fused with Christ's body. I'm not sure what Charles Marsh means by a "formal identity."

Posted by: Jennifer on March 23, 2004 07:57 AM

Marsh shares Hauerwas' concern about an "increasingly deracinated" modern subjectivity, but believes that Hauerwas' theology sacrifices any idea of a creation with an inner teleology and integrity that God is able to be with. "In Jesus Christ the world is preserved in its difference even as it is taken up into the history of God." In Marsh's view, the self must be "reconstituted" without being destroyed.

Marsh hints at why this is important when he links his critique of Hauerwas (and others) with Bonhoeffer's critique of the early Barth. Neither Hauerwas nor the early Barth can make adequate sense of the act of faith:

"The I of faith becomes theologically schizophrenic, for the new I is the not-I, and thus not only the cancellation of the old I, but also the super-imposition of an impossible I. The seemingly insurmountable difficulty arises of how the I in faith can be connected to the not-I unless there were not two separate acts of faith - one of the I and one of the not-I. The I and not-I, in Barth's dialectical scheme, involve themselves in an infinite play of mutual annihilation. Not only the old I, but the impossible I as such, lack texture and solidity."

Perhaps then, in other words, the frisson of Hauerwas' work is the "infinite play of mutual annihilation" between two selves without "texture and solidity" - the exorcised liberal self and the "peasant Catholic" self that only exists in Haeuerwas' prolific renderings.

I don't know if I agree with Marsh's verdict of schizophrenia here. After all, the Catholic tradition has done rather radical things with the subjectivities of priests and religious who were denied particular friendships or the cultivation of individuality, as any reader of Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain knows.

The article is available online if you have access to Cambridge Journals Online.


Posted by: Neil Dhingra on March 23, 2004 09:26 AM

That's prettey pithy stuff. It seems clear to me that Christian doctrine stresses salvation through the death of the original "I". This is reiterated time and again. ("If the seed does not die...") The new "I" is, indeed, impossible for men--but with God all things are possible. Therefore, the "new I"--now dead to the world--plus God's grace (which I haven't heard mentioned above) makes the impossible perfection of the new self possible.
My further question is: if you and I are both fully redeemed and "perfect", in what way can we differ from each other? We are both human and both perfect. Would we not ipso facto react in the same way regarding each contingency, and, loving perfectly, love identically? Can there be diversity in perfection?

Posted by: Rob on March 23, 2004 10:11 AM

Note: my very imperfect paraphrase about the "seed" above, refers to John 12:24, etc.

Posted by: Rob on March 23, 2004 11:04 AM

Or, even better, Romans 6:1-11, etc.

Posted by: Rob on March 23, 2004 11:24 AM
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