book review, memory, Miroslav Volf, myth

On Volf and Memory

In Review, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World

Admittedly this is my first Miroslav Volf book. I’ve put off Exclusion and Embrace for sometime, but I find myself being drawn towards it as pluralism and Christian community boundaries come into conversation within my head. As for the Volf’s The End of Memory, I like it, but not for all the reasons Volf wrote for. I can hear the voices of some fellow Union students yelling at how this book can be misused by the oppressor to avoid the violent acts of oppression and tell the violated to just forgive. I wonder most how much of Volf’s contextual experience can transfer to social ethics.

Overall, as a work on its own, I think it can be fruitful, but only in very specific, contextualized circumstances, as Volf makes clear. Nevertheless, I found some other interesting conclusions, primarily about remembering rightly in the first half, that will have vast ramifications. The important sections for me were: the first half, the last two chapters and the postscript.1 However, when reading this book, one really should finish it, since Volf lays out a full argument concerning forgiveness. It was also a very readable book and could go quick in most places I think.

Above all, the book is very personal and ultimately that is one of the best points about the book, specifically as the book does not claim to work towards a social ethic of forgiveness, but claims to speak only about particular relationships. The End of Memory is worth a read by people looking to work on personal relationships.

For My Research, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World

For my purposes I think his book will work well for a few specific points. I am writing my thesis on torture centered around why the American church so easily accepts the violence and where we can work on our theology to fix the holes that lets the acceptance of torture stand. To this end, insomuch that Volf engages with Johann Metz (which is a rather small section, sadly) and the idea of remembering rightly, I think there is a richness that I can explore for my own purposes and has certainly moved my thoughts into critically examining our idea of the past. What follows are thoughts that have been generated by reading The End of Memory.

Remembering rightly as criticism can be, and should be, focused on our current ideas of memory – do we in fact remember rightly? What memories do we have, particularly in relation to torture and ourselves? Critically examining our sense of remembering means we begin at what we perceive to be the beginning, September 11. However, we are ignorant of or in arrogant agreement with pre-9/11 American action because of false myth – we simply do not remember, or rightly remember, American action pre-9/11. Thus, 9/11 as a “surprise” instilled and continues to instill fear and instability. Now, with the false myth of surprise, we react and remember through a lens of national safety and the need for preparation – militarization and pre-emptive violence; we do not remember rightly, nor care to solve the problems of inequality or violence, instead we remain blind to our actions – past, present and the consequences for the future.

Remembering rightly ought to heal and set relationships aright, otherwise through merely remembering, we begin falling into a cycle of sadism or masochism under the guise of geopolitical and personal safety. Memory translates into action, but how and what we choose to remember maintains a clear relationship to what we do.2 Therefore, anything that is leading people into violence and unhealthy relationships must be examined and re-examined, for it is quite possible memories are not being considered rightly. This becomes the basis for critically examining 9/11 and eventually the other myths that create America.

We ought to reconsider and look at 9/11 through entirely different lenses – not with concerns for national safety but with salvation and redemption in mind, for those are the Christian categories and it is those categories that govern our politics, or at least ought to. Simply put, we must look for reconciliation for our perceived innocence is false and our justified anger is poisonous (as will be noted later).

Forgetting cannot happen without reconciliation.3 And perhaps “not bringing to mind,” in Volf’s idea of forgetting, may be beyond humanities’ reach on this side of the judgment day, however, it is telling when we refuse to forget. We do not want to “forget” for we do not want to reconcile; we want to punitively damage through our self-perceived innocent hurt and justified anger and so we say we will never forget the pain to drive us on in our quest for revenge.

Lastly, Volf considers Johann Baptist Metz, but for not very long.4 Volf critiques Metz for not including the redemption of oppressors. Well, to be more exact, Volf uses a gap in Metz to leap into Volf’s own understanding of the passion. I say gap because the context and direction from which Metz worked in had little to do with the oppressor, but more about theodicy. Nevertheless, Volf is right, that when one considers liberation, there are two groups of people in need of salvation, the oppressor and oppressed and thus, Volf’s writing on the memory of the passion and memory of wrongs will prove helpful.

1.In fact, it seemed to me that the chapter “Defenders of Forgetting” on Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Freud seemed out of place – as if a footnote took on a life of its own, growing beyond the nuances of a theological footnote, and demanded space so as to pre-empt any criticism using the three thinkers. I think this chapter would have done well to work more as a postscript or appendix and then move the current postscript into the meat of the work where it really should be. This is a work on specific forgiveness and the testament to working out one’s own attempt to forgive would have done better directly within the work.

2. Volf, 67-71.

3. Volf, 181.

4. Volf, 113-117.


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