Volf, Miroslav. The End Of Memory. Remembering rightly in a violent world. Wm. B, Erdman’s Publishing Co. 2006.
M.V.- Director of the Yale Center of Faith and Culture and Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology at Yale Divinity School.
This book is written as an autobiographical narrative where the author examines problems of abuse, memory, and reconciliation. A primary point of reference is his personal experience of a month of abusive interrogations while he was a member of the Yugoslavian army. He was considered a spy. The conclusions about ‘remembering rightly’ are transferable concepts that I believe can be applied to relationships that involve painful and/or abusive (emotional, psychological, etc.) memories that most of us experience in ‘normal’ living. I found the read a bit of a challenge because of its inclusion of philosophical and theological material that I am unfamiliar with. (More stretching!)
“To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned,” (9) by the victim. The challenge for one loves (even the enemy) comes to this; “how should the one who loves remember the wrongdoer and the wrongdoing”. (9) Memory may become a shield and sword as we deal with abuse and suffering.
“Memories are “morally ambiguous”. (39) Our craze for memorials has taken the place of actual memories. By remembering wrongs we declare some level of justice. If we wish to ‘redeem the past’ we must remember rightly. We must also remember truthfully to the best of our ability. Remembering truthfully is a requisite to reconciliation. “When ‘truths’ clash, conflicts are exacerbated.” (57) There is quite a difference between speaking the truth in love.
“Integrating remembered wrongdoing into our life story” (76) is part of inner healing. We have a God-given identity. “In addition to new identity, Christ offers new possibilities.” David Kelsey Tzvetan Todorov “advocates exemplary memory with what he calls literal memory”. (87) The Exodus and the Passion are presented as part of a sacred memory that impact identity, community, the future, and God.
A complete chapter is focused on “the sacred memory of the Exodus and the Passion”. (103) How Israelites were to treat slaves and aliens reflected lessons from the Exodus. The treatment of enemies, e.g. Amalak, was consistent with how God treated Israel’s enemy, Egypt, e.g. pharaoh’s army. The lessons from the Passion centered on “unconditional grace, claims of justice, and to aim for communion”. (121)
Drawing from the writings of Dante and to some extent Plato, the author explores “the rivers of memory and forgetting.” (131) The forgetting of wrongs is a gift which is always easy to accept. In place of the term ‘forgetting’ the author prefers the term “non-remembrance or not-coming-to-mind”. (145) Forgetting is not the absence of memory. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Freud are presented as “defenders of forgetting”. (152) (There is some ‘heavy duty’ reading in this chapter.) Forgiving is modeled for us by God. Love is the key to forgiving and forgetting.
“Memories of suffered wrongs will not come to the minds of the citizens of the world to come (heaven?) For in it they will perfectly enjoy God and one another in God.” (177)
Remembrance is a major part of identity. “Identity-shaping recollection” (195) is impacted by forgetting, ‘non-remembrance’. “The heart of our identity lies not in our hands, but God’s hands.” Martin Luther. If memory were eternal it would give evil the power to permanently mark its victims.