Tag Archives: miroslav volf

The Stain of the Oppressor


A couple days ago I started Miroslav Volf’s excellent “The End of Memory.” In it, he examines the philosophical, theological, psychological, and sociological elements of memory, and in particular, “remembering rightly.” In this, he is primarily concerned with “remembering rightly” when you are the recipient of a wrongdoing. Can we remember in a way where both justice and reconciliation are possible? Can we remember in a way where the oppressed do not turn around and become the oppressor? Can we remember truthfully in order to pursue reconciliation?

I’m only three chapters in, so I cannot give a full exposition, but one quote in particular is worth pondering. After attending school in the United States and marrying an American woman, Volf returned to his home of Yugoslavia for his mandatory military service. His education, new wife, and pacifistic views proved an incredible obstacle to the strict socialist state under the reign of Tito.

During the year 1984, he went through endless interrogations at the hands of a Captain G. These Kafkaesque (think The Trial) interrogations were essentially sessions of psychological and emotional abuse that caused Volf a great deal of pain. However, he tries to remember the situation as truthfully as possible. It’d be way too easy to make Captain G more of a villain than he was. Volf could add physical abuse to the story, or even intensify the emotional damage done. He could also de-contextualize Captain G. By this, I mean remove him from his surroundings.

Captain G was a military leader, but still a cog in the system, of a strict military under an oppressive socialist state and leader. While what Captain G did was wrong, he was also following orders. If Captain G was interrogating and abusing Miroslav Volf on his own for fun, with no pressures coming from the state or society, he is considerably more culpable than a Captain merely following orders. While the results are the ultimately the same, the true picture of Captain G is important. If Volf incorrectly remembers (or more accurately imagines) Captain G as a sadistic abuser acting as an independent agent, he his placing more blame than necessary on his oppressor. When this occurs, there is a chance that the roles of oppressed and oppressor will reverse.

In thinking through all this, Volf makes a penetrating statement, “In memory, a wrongdoing often does not remain an isolated stain on the character of the one who committed it; it spreads over and colors his entire character. Must I not try to contain that spreading with regard to Captain G’s wrongdoing?”

While many of us cannot directly relate to Volf’s experience, or to that of a holocaust survivor facing the same questions with regarding, “how do I remember and deal with my past victimization?” We can easily apply the above quote to our lives. It is very easy to look at someone who hurt us and define them by the deed. If someone lies to me in a way that cuts deeply, I will most likely forget the positive qualities he or she has. This individual ceases, and becomes a liar. It is an easy thing to do. It’s harder to view a person who hurts us, and remember them in context of all the virtues they possess. Demonizing and casting more blame on an individual than he or she deserves perpetuates the wrongdoing.

“To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned…. in my own situation, I could do nothing about the first victory of evil, but I could prevent the second.”  Volf (p.9)

Thoughts?

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Favorite Reads of 2011


Yes I am trading thoughtful (or merely time-consuming for me) posts for an end of the year book list. It’s not a top ten, and I do not have a “read of the year.” These are the books that lingered in my mind past the initial reading and were the ones I couldn’t put down.

Fear and Trembling: Soren Kierkegaard

– From his pseudonym Johannes Climacus, Kierkegaard explores the concept of faith. He examines Abraham’s obedience and willingness to sacrifice Isaac as a tool to explore the internal process of making an obedient decision out of faith. Here he deploys his famous analogy of the Knight of Infinite Resignation vs. the Knight of Faith. Making the topic more interesting, Kierkegaard’s seems to use his analysis as a way of coming to grips with his own personal failure of letting his beloved, Regine Olson, slip through his fingers.

Resurrection of the Son of God: NT Wright

– The third installment in Wright’s Christian Origins and the Question of God Series packs a punch for anyone interested in studying the topic of Resurrection and/or afterlife. He takes us culture by culture, thinker by thinker, philosophy by philosophy, examining what each people group thought of in terms of resurrection, afterlife, death, etc. Wright does this to set up a historical understanding of the concept in order to fully comprehend what Christians meant when they used the term in the New Testament. He then proceeds to argue that the best explanation for these Christian writings and the Christian movement, was a historical bodily Resurrection. This book is also helpful because Wright accurately critiques the all-too common unbiblical Platonic and Cartesian views of heaven present in many evangelical churches today. A “must-read” if you’re ready for 750 pages on the topic.

Exclusion and Embrace: Miroslav Volf

– Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace might be my book of the year. The book explores ideas of conflict, conflict resolution, reconciliation, forgiveness, justice, and evil all in relation to the cross. He skillfully critiques modernity and postmodernity’s attempts at deciding what we’re supposed to do with evil and atrocities in the world in favor of a Biblical view. An excellent read and a good way to brush up on post-modern thinking.

Evil and the Justice of God: NT Wright

-Yes another NT Wright book made my list. This book is highly influenced by Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace but more directly tries to answer the “Problem of Evil.” He attempts to present a Biblical Model and answer that is both enlightening and challenging. Wright’s handling of the problem will not satisfy all, but is a refreshing departure from the usual defenses and arguments presented in favor of Christianity. Like Wright’s other material, he astutely emphasizes the complete meta-narrative of scripture enabling us to see the problem, and the picture more clearly.

Generous Justice: Tim Keller

– Tim Keller released an excellent little book on the topic of justice. This was one of the more refreshing reads as Keller is an unashamed evangelical whose passion for evangelism and social justice are evident in all his writing. He effectively articulates God’s concern for the poor, making any theology omitting the poor, fallacious theology. Many books that address the issue of social justice come from the perspective of a more liberal-minded theology, Keller breaks that trend providing a breath of fresh air for those who feel that evangelicalism in the United States lacks passion in that arena. A short, but great read.

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: Richard Bauckham

– An excellent read in the field of Biblical Studies regarding eyewitness testimony in the ancient world and specifically in the Gospels. While the book’s scope is broad, my favorite sections are Bauckham demonstrates the Bible’s internal textual evidence regarding the witnesses behind particular stories. His section on the eyewitness testimony of women in the Gospel of Luke is of particular interest.

I had other good reads this year, but these are the highlights.

In an effort to protect myself from Theological McCarthyism, I offer this disclaimer.  While I would highly recommend any of these books, I do not endorse all the ideas conveyed by the authors.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: The Hunger Games trilogy: heck, I started the books and couldn’t put them down.