Living Gently

Living Gently in a Violent World

Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier
IVP books (2018), 128 pages
FES Library book call number: 261.7 HAU

L’Arche, which translates to “the Ark” in English, is an international organization that has communities that work with people who have intellectual disabilities. This book is a result of a collaboration between Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, and theologian Stanley Hauerwas.

What is it to live gently? Gentleness is sometimes confused with weakness, so some might think that a life of gentleness is a life of weakness. However, being weak is often perceived with derision and disdain in our age, as no one wants to be seen as a weakling in a dog-eat-dog world. Perhaps, some of us can relate to Thomas Hobbes’ conception of society as crushingly pragmatic, where we need to secure our future at the expense of others. In such a society, to be seen as a weakling is the most unfortunate fate. This book, however, offers a compelling counter to the narrative that we have been so absorbed into by suggesting how weakness is a prophetic witness to the violent world we inhabit.

In this short review, I would like to focus on the last chapter written by Hauerwas. Titled The Politics of Gentleness, Hauerwas suggests that gentleness must be part of any politics that is just. This would seem like a thoroughly counterintuitive notion on first look, for the existing political paradigm in the Western world, that is, one undergirded by liberal political theory, suggests that “individuals are free to live their own lives as they prefer, provided that they allow other people equal freedom to do the same, and provided that they accept and receive a fair share of the burden and benefits of the social cooperation.” (pp. 81-82) A natural question to ask, then, is if people with intellectual disabilities can be part of such a political system.

Hauerwas suggests that such a liberal political theory is deeply entrenched in our worldview, whether or not we have the self-awareness to be cognizant of it. He then goes on to argue that such a worldview is problematic as it gives rise to a rather limited understanding of freedom and the individual. Moreover, it fails to accord the “full moral standing” to mentally disabled people, “since on the liberal view only persons in the sense of rational moral agents can be recipients of equal concern and respect.” (p. 83) Later in the chapter, Hauerwas then suggests how gentleness, a virtue that has characterized Vanier’s life, is not just essentialto Christian discipleship but also a testamentto the Christian God.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the work of L’Arche and disability  theology, or those seeking to understand the work of Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas.

Reviewed by
Loo Kee Wei
FES Intern
NUS VCF Grad 2019