The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World

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In this way, the just sword of memory often severs the very good it seeks to defend. He argues that remembering rightly has implications not only for the individual but also for the wrongdoer and for the larger community. Volfs personal stories of persecution offer a compelling backdrop for his search for theological resources to make memories a wellspring of healing rather than a source of deepening pain and animosity.

Catholic Books Review: Miroslav VOLF, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.

Controversial, thoughtful, and incisively reasoned, "The End of Memory" begins a conversation hard to ignore. He has published and edited nine books and over 60 scholarly articles, including his book Exclusion and Embrace, which won the Grawemeyer Award in Religion. His books include Allah: A Christian Response ; Free of Charge: A member of the Episcopal Church in the U.


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Professor Volf is a fellow of Berkeley College. But, he also turns us to wrestle with the question of how we should remember.


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Memory is important, but it is also ambiguous. Memory can be put to many uses. It can help us to prevent further wrongs or atrocities, but it can also lead us to perpetrate wrongs out of self-interest say out of the desire to not be a victim again ourselves. So the first facet of memory that Volf emphasizes is that we must remember truthfully.

This means honestly seeking as complete an understanding of events as possible, admitting the points of view of others than ourselves, and acknowledging the complexities that are often inherent in these situations. It is often easy in situations where we have been wronged to make out the perpetrator as the "evil" party and ourselves as the "good" or "innocent" party.

But the facts often reveal a more complex picture. While the evil can still be named as such, there is often more to it, such as the fact that Captain G. A second important facet of our remembering is that it is to be in service of reconciliation. We are to strive to bring a full and accurate account of events to mind so that we can fully acknowledge the situation, along with the perperatator, and then offer forgiveness and grace to that person, and, when it is received, enter into a new and reconciled relationship with them, beyond the roles of perpetrator and victim, where the wrong is forgotten.

This brings us to the third major theme of Volf's book. Beyond memory, and beyond a certain type of remembering in service of grace, comes forgetting. We should strive toward and look forward to a grace-filled world in which wrongs are fully acknowledged and then forgotten. In light of Jesus' death on the cross, a death which dealt with all evil, we look forward in hope to a time when that grace will embrace our situation. Volf is careful to remind that this forgetting is always on the other side of acknowledgement, forgiveness, and reconciliation, but it is still an end.

We should though it is not easy long for a time when perpetrator and victim can come together without those labels, when a new and reconcilied relationship has forgotten completely those earlier roles, and draws them together as friends and companions.

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This is Volf's vision of the life to come, on the other side of the final judgment, a life that we can begin to experience here and now through a drive for reconciliation as opposed to retribution. Volf's End of Memory is an honest wrestling with the true nature of Christianity, the atonement, and grace. It helps paint a fuller picture of grace by looking beyond what grace means for me personally to a look at what grace should mean for my enemies, as well. He makes a convincing case for the importance of memory, a truthful and just type of memory, but then qualifies this memory as provisional.

We instead look toward the end of memory, that time when all things will be made new, all wrongs remembered and then forgotten, and all eyes turned from past hurts to fulfillment and joy in Jesus Christ. It is a great and challenging vision of a grace-filled life. And is also a deep reflection what shapes our identity hint: Though Volf only occasionally mentions being a pacifist within these pages, I love this book as it benefits the discussion of pacifism as not merely a simple subscription to "war is bad", but as true respect for human life and Christ's love.

The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World

Volf points out we do not have to be afraid of being forgotten. He quotes Kirkegaard again: There is one thinking about him: God in heaven, or love is thinking about him.

God is Love, and when a person, out of love, forgets himself, how then would God forget him! Volf touches on the theme of identity and memory once again here, answering the objection that to forget wrongs suffered would strip people of a meaningful part of their identities. He brings up the opposite — if we are not going to forget wrong-doing, then we are saying it should be eternally remembered—and do we really want that?

Would it be right for one horrible deed to mark us eternally? Volf points out that the entry into the eternal world begins with the final judgment. It is not that wrongs will be shoved under the carpet—they will all be brought to light, their full horror revealed, and then forgiven.

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He highlights the idea that for modern Western people, redemption and salvation seem to hinge on meaning. We are able to redeem past suffering if we are able to weave them into our narrative identity as meaningful. Must suffering be given meaning to be redeemed? He gives the example of a Holocaust survivor, who tells about arriving at the concentration camp, and telling his little brother to go with his Mom in the other line.

His little brother resisted, but the older brother forced him to go, thinking it would be better. Later, he found out that he had sent his brother to the gas chamber.