Hauerwas and Individualism

Well, for anyone curious as to why all of the silence on here lately, don’t worry – I am still here. I’ve been busy, however, working on my thesis project. Considering this process is taking up most of writing energy, I’ll admit, blogging has been sparse. In an attempt to maintain some level of blogging production, therefore (and to possibly peak peoples’ interest in what I am writing about), I thought I would spend some time over a few posts to discuss aspects of my project.

First, here’s my catchy title (I may have to spice it up at some point – we’ll see)

“Individualism & Community:
Stanley Hauerwas & the Mennonite Brethren”

The motivation for my project has been to respond to the challenge of individualism in North American culture – in particular, individualism in Christian ethics. Typically, individualist ethics believes the autonomous individual, separated from the accountability of community, has the adequate rational and moral capabilities for engaging ethical issues. I am not so sure…

The primary source for my project is Stanley Hauerwas, a leading voice in the disciplines of ethics and ecclesiology in North America and someone concerned with the impact of individualism on Christian ethics. Hauerwas is critical of the ethical approach that stresses “freedom, autonomy, and choice as the essence of the moral life” (The Peaceable Kingdom). It is wrong, according to Hauerwas, to approach ethics with a focus on the individual’s ability to extract universal principles from scripture and use them to direct moral reasoning. Basically, he has little confidence in the human ability for autonomous ethical reasoning, as the variety of ‘right’ answers to complicated ethical issues is too much pressure to place solely on the shoulders of individuals. Hauerwas argues that the North American church too often succumbs to this approach when understanding Christian ethics.

Hauerwas’s argument is that individualism wrongly detaches individuals from being formed ethically in the historical contexts and communities of which they are a part. Theologically, individualism fails to recognize the centrality of community in ethical formation, witnessed to in the biblical narrative. Hauerwas argues that being able to approach ethics ignoring our particular historical contexts does not make sense, as all people live in particular times and places which shape who they are. Too often, laments Hauerwas, “we fail to see the narratives that in fact constitute our ‘autonomy’” (A Community of Character).

Well, this only sets the stage for my paper, and my subsequent posts will discuss how Hauerwas’s view of ethics in the context of community can address this individualism. Later, I will discuss the implications of his work specifically for Mennonite Brethren.


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