Exclusion and Embrace differs from the many ethical and philosophical responses to the post-Cold War communal crises of the 1990’s, such as the works of Michael Ignatieff, by its explicit Christianity. Miroslav Volf suggests that Jesus Christ epitomized the promise of creative nonviolence when, as the Son of God, equipped with all the power imaginable, he did not choose to retaliate against his enemies. Christ’s forgiveness of those who crucified him stands as the paradigm for the unconditional acceptance of the other.
It is all too easy to urge people to forgive each other, but far harder to provide a practical rationale, other than mere adherence to precept, to do so. Equally, it is far easier to urge forgiveness when the injured group does not include onself. As a Croat who grew up in a country that eventually became engaged in communal violence with the Serbs, Volf realizes he has to ask harder questions and demand more complex answers than overly easy paradigms of forgiveness assume. Too often, people suppose that reconciliation can be accomplished in one gesture: a handshake, a kiss, even a treaty. However, literature—for example, Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e., English translation, 1611), in which King Priam forgives the man who killed his son, yet the Trojan War goes on—shows this is too much to ask.
Volf argues that the victims have to give up any impulse for further revenge and the perpetrators of oppression must also repent of their acts. He suggests that privileged Westerners often emphasize the rhetoric of unilateral peace and forgiveness, all the while presuming a social stability that people who have been the objects of communal violence have lost forever. For oppressed people, Volf suggests, rhetoric of a wrathful God will not seem as alien. To overcome violence, people must not merely wish it away but also see when it is part of God’s plan and when it is not. This involves seeing reconciliation as a general drama, not a...
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