Archive for Miroslav Volf

Revenge and Justice

Posted in Reconciliation, World with tags , , , on May 5, 2011 by stephengardner

At first we were told that bin Laden – true to his tyrannical character – went down fighting; firing from an automatic weapon and hiding behind his youngest wife. The outrageous manner in which he left the world was met with euphoria in the streets across the United States. People were celebrating that justice had been done; a man of unmatched evil was met with an appropriate form of justice.

But now it has come to light that things didn’t play out that way. bin Laden didn’t go out firing at the US SEALS, in fact he was unarmed; bin Laden wasn’t using one of his wives as a shield, in fact, she had left him to make a charge at the SEALS. This begs the question, has justice actually been done? No, revenge has been done. And revenge must never be confused with justice.

Revenge doesn’t say, “An eye for an eye.” It says, “You take my eye, and I’ll blow out your brains.” It doesn’t say, “An insult for an insult.” It says, “You cross me once, you cross me twice, and I’ll destroy your character and your career.” It doesn’t say, “You organize an act of terror, and we’ll punish you.” It says, “You organize an act of terror, and we’ll use the overwhelming military force of a superpower to recast the political landscape of the entire region from which you came.” Revenge abandons the principle of “measure for measure” and, acting out of injured pride and untamed fear, gives itself to punitive excess. That’s why revenge is morally wrong. In its zeal to punish, it overindulgently takes from the offender more than is due (Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge, 159).

Some are saying, “Who cares?! The man was evil and the manner in which he died is insignificant.” Well, it does matter. Revenge is not justice. In seeking to bring evil to justice the good guys have effectively become the bad guys, they’ve become the very thing they were fighting. Revenge is not justice, it is itself an act of injustice and only serves to promote further acts of injustice. What will bin Laden’s death achieve? Had he died meeting justice and not revenge I would’ve said, ‘its made the world a slightly safer place.’ But because he died in an act of revenge the only answer can be; ‘evil.’ The ‘good guys’ have now become part of a vicious circle of revenge.

A reflection on punishment and justice

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by stephengardner

‘Justice has been done!’

With the death of Osama Bin Laden has come a whole lot of language which requires honest Christian reflection. His death is being heralded as ‘a great success’, and  as a ‘deeply satisfying’ moment for his surviving victims. I understand the just anger that many people feel toward Bin Laden, even though I cannot imagine the pain many of his surviving victims live with. But I do want to suggest that serious Christian reflection on punishment and justice must be done before we join in the chorus of those celebrating and rejoicing.

The punishment of one evil doer will never bring satisfaction for those who desire justice. I heard a victim of the 2002 Bali Bombings, today, speak with genuine relief, of the satisfaction he now experienced. His enemy, a man whose organisation had inspired the attacks that had killed the family and friends of so many, was now declared dead by the US president, ‘justice has been done.’ And this has brought satisfaction. But, it wont last. And the reason why this act of ‘justice’ won’t provide lasting satisfaction for those who have so longed for this moment is because of memory. Memory, the recalling to their minds of the pain they have experienced and will continue to experience. The punishment of this one man cannot take away the memory of thousands of lost loved ones.

Miroslav Volf writes:

What would be an adequate punishment for Joseph Stalin, Lenin’s evil and dictatorial successor in the old soviet Union between the two World Wars? He not only ruined his own country and invaded many neighbouring ones, but in the process exterminated some 20,000,000 people. If we are after justice, his crime will have outstripped by far any punishment we could devise for him. How many deaths would he have to die to compensate for all the lives he took? How many lives would he need to have to suffer all the pain he inflicted? Punishment alone falters before the enormity of such crime. (Free of Charge, 135)

If the punishment of the evil doer is the answer to a longing for justice and satisfaction, it will only ever leave people unsatisfied. What we need is an alternative story, we need a story that empowers us to be truly satisfied by getting to the heart of the issue, our memories. We need to learn to forget.

How can God forget the wrongdoings of human beings? Because at the centre of God’s all-embracing memory there is a paradoxical monument to forgetting. It is the cross of Christ. God forgets humanity’s sins in the same way God forgives humanity’s sins: by taking sins away from humanity and placing them upon God-self (sic). How will human beings be able to forget the horrors of history? Because at the centre of the new world that will emerge after “the first things have passed away” there will stand a throne, and on the throne there will sit the Lamb who has “taken away the sin of the world” and erased their memory (Revelation 22:1-4; John 1:29) Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 139-140.

The Church Needs to Get Scandalised!

Posted in Church, Reconciliation with tags , , , , , , on January 24, 2011 by stephengardner

One thing that will sell a newspaper is a scandal. One thing that will sell a newspaper and incite mobs of angry people is a scandal within the church. However, Miroslav Volf, in his book, Exclusion and Embrace,  argues that the Christian community needs to a scandalous one. A community that is willing to get scandalised because that is exactly what God has experienced in event of the gospel:

At its core, however, the scandal of the cross in a world of violence is not the danger associated with self-donation. Jesus’ greatest agony was not that he suffered. Suffering can be endured, even embraced, if it brings desired fruit, as the experience of giving birth illustrates. What turned the pain of suffering into agony was the abandonment; Jesus was abandoned by the people who trusted in him and by the God in whom he trusted. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15.34). My God, my God, why did my radical obedience to your way lead to the pain and disgrace of the cross? The ultimate scandal of the cross is the all too frequent failure of self-donation to bear positive fruit: you give yourself for the other – and violence does not stop but destroys you; you sacrifice your life – and stabilize the power of the perpetrator. Though self-donation often issues in the joy of reciprocity, it must reckon with the pain of failure and violence. When violence strikes, the very act of self-donation becomes a cry before the dark face of God. This dark face confronting the act of self-donation is a scandal. (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 26)

Volf goes on to say that ‘there is no genuinely Christian way around the scandal’ (26). Volf explores such practices of self-donation in the political sphere but his challenge, I think, is just as valid for the way our church communities relate to one another.  Getting scandalised, in this sense, is a non-negoitable for our churches. He goes on to write:

the only available options are either to reject the cross and with it the core of the Christian faith or to take one’s cross, follow the Crucified – and be scandalized ever anew by the challenge. (26)

I love it when different thoughts from different books collide. I find Volf’s challenge resonates deeply with much of the work of the brilliant Christian psychologist Larry Crabb. When it comes to thinking through how the Christian life should be expressed in relationship with others, there is no one sharper than Crabb. In his book Encouragement, he argues that too often we are motivated by fear to serve others, or that we hold back from serving because we are self-protective and anxious that we must first have our need for encouragement met by others before we can give of ourselves, or ‘self-donate’ as Volf would say.

What radical a call the cross makes on our communities, and yet isn’t it odd how few of our churches come close to resembling  such radicalness. Imagine the difference it would make if we actually believed that our security and significance was found in Jesus Christ alone.

Miroslav Volf on Violence in the Name of Faith

Posted in Reconciliation, World with tags , , , on November 5, 2010 by stephengardner

In the last post I introduced Yale’s Faith and Globalization Initiative of which Volf is key contributor. There he was introducing the topic of faith and reconciliation between different faiths, here he introduces the topic of violence and faith. Is violence intrinsic to faith as some voices from within the ‘new atheist’ movement suggest? What are the conditions in which faith becomes violent?

Volf distinguishes between external conditions (political power, association with holy spaces)and internal conditions (absolute truth claims). External conditions, so he says, legitimise the defence of power and place.


Miroslav Volf on Faith and Reconciliation

Posted in Reconciliation with tags , , , , on November 4, 2010 by stephengardner

This is part of a fascinating series of lectures that Volf gave in partnership with, amongst others, Tony Blair, dealing with the subject of faith and globalisation. Here Volf introduces  the topic of reconciliation and drafts a brief way forward for how people of contradictory faiths may reach reconciliation.

Reconciliation: the beginnings of a reading list

Posted in Theology with tags , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by stephengardner

Alrighty, I need your help! I’m hoping to do some summer reading on reconciliation: with God and with others. So I need your help in compiling a reading list. What’s the hottest book on reconciliation you’ve read? Who are the people to read? etc…

Below is something to start with:

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.1. London: T. & T. Clark, 1961.

Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: a Theologigcal Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

_____. Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. New York: Zondervan, 2005

_____. The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006.

John Webster. Barth’s Ethics of Reconciliation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Living with Evil II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 29, 2009 by stephengardner

white.tennantsThe dramas of Denis Ferguson’s housing situation show a clash of two very different ways of treating “the other”. Our governments are committed to inclusion as a means of reintroducing offenders into communities (see the last post), however, what is clear from Ferguson’s brief stint in Ryde is that many within our communities are committed to exclusion as the only means of treating “the other”, and particularly, “the evil other”.
Look at the way Volf describes this process of exclusion:

Others are dehumanised in order that they can be discriminated against, dominated, driven out, or destroyed. If they are outsiders, they are “dirty,” “lazy,” and “morally unreliable”; if women, they are “sluts” and “bitches”; if minorities, they are “parasites,” “vermin,” and “pernicious bacilli” (Hirsch 1995, 97-108). In a sense, the danger of “dysphemisms” is underplayed when one claims, as Zygmunt Bauman does, that these labels take the other outside “the class of objects of potential moral responsibility” (Bauman 1993, 167). More insidiously, they insert the other into the universe of moral obligations in such a way that not only does exclusion become justified but necessary because not to exclude appears morally culpable. The rhetoric of the other’s inhumanity obliges the self to practice inhumanity.
Exclusion and Embrace 76.

I think this is a really clear picture of what has occurred in Ryde, and other places Ferguson has found himself. The thought of including ‘one like him’ into the community is repulsive. But what drives people (us) to so quickly dehumanise others to justify our exclusion of them? To this, Volf says:

Sometimes the dehumanization and consequent mistreatment of others are a projection of our own individual or collective hatred of ourselves; we persecute others because we are uncomfortable with strangeness within ourselves (Kristeva 1990)… We assimilate or eject strangers in order to ward off the perceived threat of chaotic waters rushing in. We exclude because we want to be at the center and be there alone, single-handedly controlling “the land.” To achieve such “hegemonic centrality,” we add conquest to conquest and possession to possession; we colonize the life-space of others and drive them out; we penetrate in order to exclude, and we exclude in order to control—if possible everything, alone.
Exclusion and Embrace 78-79.

You might think these are useful criticisms of cases racial exclusion like that of colonial Europeans, or of gender exclusion. But I think Volf’s critique of exclusion also offers a profound approach to the question of ‘what do we do with child sex offenders?’
Exclusion, Volf would argue, is always an act of dehumanising, performed out of a fear of including the evil ‘other’ into our communities. And the basis of this fear is in what the inclusion of such an evil one might say about our communities—and ourselves.
This raises the issues of guilt, innocence and justice—aren’t there clear examples of such repulsive guilt that the only right thing to do is to deny their place within communities? Isn’t this a necessary act of justice? We’ll look at this next time