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An Ethic For Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics [Paperback]

By Donald W. Jr. Shriver (Author)
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Item description for An Ethic For Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics by Donald W. Jr. Shriver...

Donald Shriver, Jr., past president of the Society for Christian Ethics, urges us to recognize the importance of forgiveness in the political arena. He cites our postwar dealings with Germany and Japan and continuing problems with race relations. A timely antidote to today's political conflicts, AN ETHIC FOR ENEMIES challenges us to confront the hatreds that cripple society and threaten to destroy the global village.

Publishers Description
Our century has witnessed violence on an unprecedented scale, in wars that have torn deep into the fabric of national and international life. And as we can see in the recent strife in Bosnia, genocide in Rwanda, and the ongoing struggle to control nuclear weaponry, ancient enmities continue to threaten the lives of masses of human beings. As never before, the question is urgent and practical: How can nations--or ethnic groups, or races--after long, bitter struggles, learn to live side by side in peace?
In An Ethic for Enemies, Donald W. Shriver, Jr., President Emeritus of Union Theological Seminary, argues that the solution lies in our capacity to forgive. Taking forgiveness out of its traditional exclusive association with personal religion and morality, Shriver urges us to recognize its importance in the secular political arena. The heart of the book examines three powerful and moving cases from recent American history--our postwar dealings with Germany, with Japan, and our continuing domestic problem with race relations--cases in which acts of forgiveness have had important political consequences. Shriver traces how postwar Germany, in its struggle to break with its political past, progressed from denial of a Nazi past, to a formal acknowledgement of the crimes of Nazi Germany, to providing material compensation for survivors of the Holocaust. He also examines the efforts of Japan and the United States, over time and across boundaries of race and culture, to forgive the wrongs committed by both peoples during the Pacific War. And finally he offers a fascinating discussion of the role of forgiveness in the American civil rights movement. He shows, for instance, that even Malcolm X recognized the need to move from contempt for the integrationist ideal to a more conciliatory, repentant stance toward Civil Rights leaders. Malcolm came to see that only through forgiveness could the separate voices of the African-American movement work together to achieve their goals.
If mutual forgiveness was a radical thought in 1964, Shriver reminds us that it has yet to be realized in 1994. "We are a long way from ceasing to hold the sins of the ancestors against their living children," he writes. Yet in this poignant volume, we discover how, by forgiving, enemies can progress and have progressed toward peace. A timely antidote to today's political conflicts, An Ethic for Enemies challenges to us to confront the hatreds that cripple society and threaten to destroy the global village.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   304
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.16" Width: 6" Height: 0.75"
Weight:   0.98 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 15, 1998
Publisher   Oxford University Press
ISBN  0195119169  
ISBN13  9780195119169  

Availability  79 units.
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More About Donald W. Jr. Shriver

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Donald W. Shriver, Jr., is President Emeritus and Professor of Applied Christianity at Union Theological Seminary, and past president of the Society for Christian Ethics.

Donald W. Jr. Shriver has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Library of Theological Ethics

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Ethics & Morality
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Philosophy
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Ethics

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Reviews - What do customers think about An Ethic For Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics?

The Power of Forgiveness in Political Relationships  Nov 29, 2006
The following was a review I handed in for my "Confession and Forgiveness in Pastoral Care" class at Princeton Theological Seminary.

In "An Ethic For Enemies," Donald Shriver seeks to bring about a shift in the current understanding of how we should treat enemies in the realm of politics. More plainly, Shriver is trying to give us a fresh and satisfactory answer to how we can get along with people who are different from us, and with whom we share a history of evil. The historical necessity for such a discussion is, of course, the "hundred million or so people who in fact have perished in war since 1900" (p.9), not to mention contemporary global conflicts fueled by an increasing ability to destroy one another with sophisticated and powerful weaponry. In contrast to most modern political discussions of ethics, which tend to center around notions of justice, Shriver contends that political theorists and philosophers must begin taking seriously the moral concept of forgiveness. He is aware of the response this word invokes: "The word forgiveness has a religious ring in the ears of the most modern westerners in a way that justice does not" (p.7), and is often charged with being too idealistic for politics. In order to rescue forgiveness from a purely religious connotation, Shriver references history and narrative as evidence for how much power this concept has had in the past, and how much it can have for secular politics today.

Shriver defines forgiveness as a moral concept that is actualized in human transactions. The first transaction occurs by remembering the wrongs conducted, taking a moral assessment. Once consensus is built on what wrongs were committed by both parties involved, the second transaction is to discuss and enact the proper restitution that "should be leveled against the offender" (p.7). Shriver makes clear that whatever restitution means, it must mean "the abandonment of vengeance" or "forbearance" (p.8), effectively stopping the cycle of violence. As these discussions of corporate memory and restitution take place, the third transaction of empathy of the enemy's humanity begins to happen. This mutual humanizing (and thus the end of de-humanizing) brings the possibility of co-existence. Finally, the relationship between former enemies is renewed through the fourth transaction as a "civil relationship between strangers" (p.8), which may or may not grow into something more interdependent over time.

In the first chapter, Shriver draws on ancient historical texts that have defined the nature of justice and forgiveness, including the Greek play by Aeschylus, the history of Thucydides, the story of Cain and Abel, and the story of Joseph. In the second chapter, Shriver turns to the theme of forgiveness in the New Testament, which Jesus affirmed in "the five settings [of] (1) healings, (2) prayer, (3) eating, (4) public enemies, and (5) discipline inside the new community" (p.36). However, as Shriver examines the political ethics from Augustine to Kant, he finds that the emphasis on forgiveness has been set aside in favor of justice. In the third chapter, Shriver begs the question "Can humans in our time agree on any ethical standards?" (p.10). He argues that we can and must agree that "the first `law' of politics is the preservation of human life" (p.66) The second half of the book is devoted to case studies describing the role of forgiveness in our relationship to Germany, Japan, and African-Americans.

For years I have struggled to know exactly how to articulate the kind of political attitude and practice that Shriver has described here. After trying to describe it in my own way recently to a conservative proponent of American foreign policy, he replied that, while my intentions were clearly in the right place, I was an idealist who would one day wake up to the reality of politics. "Unless you can point to some historical evidence that this works, I'm not convinced otherwise." This book equips us with a deeper historical knowledge that will demonstrate that, without a doubt, forgiveness belongs in politics today. It is not only crucial to preventing war, but also in taming the hostile bi-partisan climate of American domestic politics, as evidenced in the seething negative-ad campaigns before the election takes place. Shriver shows he has a wealth of knowledge of a variety of texts which political theorists, religious and secular, are familiar with. He could have elaborated more on what sort of idealism feeds such theories today, such as the conservative idealism of the free-market or liberal democracy. If Shriver wants to examine American politics, the modest interest in preserving life needs to push us to identify our own ideals, which we consider to be right and worthy of protecting from our enemies.

Theologically, while Shriver forgoes any sectarianism in his treatment of Christian literature for the sake of his primary secular audience, a more robust Christology would have helped to crystallize the otherwise shaky relationship between what he calls the "horizontal" and the "vertical" aspects of forgiveness. Unfortunately, his treatment on the "vertical" is relegated to a small section on the Hebrew Bible entitled "Who Can Forgive Sins but God Alone?" (p.29), after which he discusses Jesus in the New Testament as one who redefined social life through the concept of forgiveness, and taught a community how to embody this concept in a way that was wholly foreign to the political structures of his time. While a rereading of the Gospel for its political undertow is important, the figure of Christ remains a completely separate entity from God. Yet at least some treatment of the atoning death of God on the cross as the very definition of forgiveness could have answered the question "What will God do about all this human evil that only God can do?" (p.29)

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