Thursday, April 8, 2010


I have heard of this guy. Not read his works. Probably should have. But, via Fulcrum, came across a link to an introduction to his thought, by James Alison.

Some taster/tasty paragraphs ... and as you read them, could be worth thinking about some ways in which we make certain people in the church the 'fall guys or girls' for the chaotic, tempestuous state we seem to be in:

"Readers with theological antennae will-quickly grasp the significance of this: the possibility of an anthropology which is, at last, compatible with the Catholic faith. If human desire is in principle a good thing, however distorted and inflected it may become by differing sorts of violence in practice, then at last we begin to be able to make anthropological sense of the Church’s teaching on Original Sin – that the Fall did not make us essentially corrupt in such a way that there is no possible reasonable link at all between our ways and God’s ways, God’s action and our action. However, there is nothing rose-tinted about Professor Girard’s understanding of desire (in fact, he is usually accused by those who read him too fast of far too grim a view of human desire). Professor Girard is well aware that human culture since its inception has been lived out with human desire distorted into rivalry and violence leading to and flowing from death.

What he is able to show (exhaustively) is the relationship between that distorted human desire and the foundational mechanism of what he calls surrogate victimage (more popularly called “The Scapegoat Mechanism”). That is to say, human desire, as we live it (and thus the formation from within of our ‘self’ and our consciousness) derives, as a cultural fact, from desire becoming distorted by rivalry, until there is a point where there is so much group violence that unanimity (and thus peace and the avoidance of the collapse of the group) can only be restored when, apparently mysteriously, all become fixated on someone who can be held responsible for the collapse of unity and order within the group and then expelled, permitting the establishment of a new social unity over against the expelled one.

That is to say, an act of collective fratricide against a victim is foundational to all human cultures, with its being absolutely vital for the cultures so founded that they believe in the culpability of the rejected one (or group), and continue to bolster up this belief by forging prohibitions, myths and rituals.

Professor Girard had assumed that the Jewish and Christian sacred texts would show exactly the same thing as all other ancient texts and myths – the threat of collapsing social unity leading to violence and the emergence of a new peace around the cadaver of the victim. To his amazement he found that although they did exactly that – they really are structured around sacralised violence – there was a unique and astonishing difference: the Jewish texts, starting with Cain and Abel – gradually dissociate the divinity from participation in the violence until, in the New Testament, God is entirely set free from participation in our violence – the victim is entirely innocent, and hated without cause – and indeed God is revealed not as the one who expels us, but the One whom we expel, and who allowed himself to be expelled so as to make of his expulsion a revelation of what he is really like, and of what we really, typically do to each other, so that we can begin to learn to get beyond this."

The whole essay is here.

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