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The End Of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World [Hardcover]

Miroslav Volf

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Book Description

Nov. 9 2006
Can one forget atrocities? Should one forgive abusers? Ought we not hope for the final reconciliation of all the wronged and all wrongdoers alike, even if it means spending eternity with perpetrators of evil? We live in an age when it is generally accepted that past wrongs - genocides, terrorist attacks, bald personal injustices - should be constantly remembered. But Miroslav Volf here proposes the radical idea that letting go of such memories - after a certain point and under certain conditions - may actually be the appropriate course of action. While agreeing with the claim that to remember a wrongdoing is to struggle against it, Volf notes that there are too many ways to remember wrongly, perpetuating the evil committed rather than guarding against it. 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. Controversial, thoughtful, and incisively reasoned, The End of Memory begins a conversation hard to ignore.

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About the Author

Miroslav Volf is Henry B Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School. His other books include Exclusion and Embrace and After Our Likeness.

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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Timely Dec 19 2007
By James Korsmo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Miroslav Volf is an evangelical theologian and professor at Yale Divinity School. He also grew up in the former Yugoslavia and its communist rule. And it is precisely his experiences in Yugoslavia during his year of mandatory military service that provide the focus for this book, a sustained reflection on the meaning of memory and grace with regard to wrongs committed against us.

Volf sets up his reflections by recounting his memory of the sustained interrogations to which he was subjected by "Captain G." during his year of military service. Because of his training in America, his background in theology, his critique of Marxism, and his marriage to an American, he was a person of suspicion. This resulted in sustained interrogations, threats of detainment, and psychological torture. This background leads him to the question, What does it mean to remember these wrongs done against us?

The first stage of his argument deals with the question of if we should remember. In today's culture, especially in the wake of the Holocaust and other attrocities of the past century, the answer seems an obvious yes. And Volf echoes this answer, marshalling the call of such people as Elie Wiesel, who rally around the cry, Remember! It is important to acknowledge wrongdoing, and to recognize both those who are wrong and those who have been wronged. But, he also turns us to wrestle with the question of how we should remember.

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. was operating within a system that condoned and encouraged his behavior toward Volf and other suspects. 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. 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: it's not our history, though that plays a role; who we are is ultimately grounded in God.)
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another gripping read from Volf Nov. 28 2006
By D. Corl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've just started reading this newest book by Volf, and its every bit as nuanced and sophisticated as "Exclusion and Embrace" and accessible as "Free of Charge." If either of these books grabbed you, you'll want to read this one, too. Hopefully, this be as widely read and acclaimed as Volf's other books, and Eerdmans will issue a paperback edition. If I were back in seminary, I would certainly want this to be on any reading list I received having to do with contemporary Christian ethics and social issues.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely & thoughtful May 18 2007
By Claudia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Volf gets to the heart of our society's bullying stance by asking: How much of my (our) future will I (we) allow our tormentors to colonize? With the mind and method of premier scholarship and the heart of a poet, Volf probes the question personally and asks it publicly. Never an easy read, but probably an essential one for folks of real hope and deep honesty. He is clear, "Both ways in which this book disturbs conventional opinion are rooted in a single conviction: the proper goal of the memory of wrongs suffered-- its appropriate end-- is the formation of the communion of love between all people, including victims and perpetrators."(p.232) He desires a radical responsibility of all people and challenges us to step into it by learning to "remember rightly."
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Volf Continues to Challenge - A Must Read March 17 2007
By G. Recipient - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In a post Holocaust, post (this is ethonocentric, I know) 9/11 world the world, we are commonly called to Remember the wrongs, both terrible and minute, forever. The idea runs: If we forget, we disgrace the victim and allow the perpetrator to go free. But Volf, stirred deeply both by his own trying life situations and abiding faith in Christ, declares we should not allow this false form of eternal remebering to take us away from the work of Christ. Not to seek reconciliation, not to seek forgiveness in its proper way is to fail to understand who Christ, the gracious act of redemption and reconcilliation with the Triune God, and the ultimate eschatological goal Christ draws us towards (this is primary to Volf's understanding of theology in general. Faith in Christ is eschatologicaly pulled forward).

The book is accessible and thought provoking. We must let Volf's vision of faith challenge and grow us.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Compassionate May 28 2012
By Dwight Davis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a brilliant work of psychological theology. Volf argues for a correct remembering of wrongs done to us in order that we may enact what he calls "non-remembrance." Volf builds this theory on his own experience of interrogation in Yugoslavia and the wrongs done to him by Captain G. The book ends in a beautiful imagined reconciliation with his interrogator. Volf also engages with the work of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Freud on the necessity of forgetting and shows how the logic of forgetfulness is ultimately flawed and calls for his own brand of healing, that of non-remembrance which entails reaching a place of forgiveness where one no longer recalls the wrongs committed to them. Ultimately, all of this is bound up in the forgiveness that Christ has accomplished for all men. This is a brilliant and compassionate work and I highly recommend it.

Although this has nothing to do with the substance of the work, this volume is particularly aesthetically pleasing. The typeface and spacing is impeccable. A joy to read.

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