Approaching René Girard

17 12 2009

I found this interesting discussion in my meanderings around the Internet. Although I really dislike Bouyer, I will give him the benefit of the doubt on his reflections on Girard’s work on sacrifice, violence, and mimesis. Reading Girard is an intellectual project I have set out for myself next year, if only to clear up some intellectual unfinished business.

I actually first encountered Girard in person when he gave a presentation at the Dominican School of Theology in Berkeley. I won’t bother going into giving a usual summary of Girard’s work, and leave to the reader to look it up on Wikipedia and other reputable sources. AG, who was also there, not surprisingly understood Girard’s presentation better than I did, though a lot of this was due to the fact that my first impulse when I encounter such complex metanarratives is to begin to link them to other things I have encountered and begin to take them apart in my head. The one aspect that I did get, and apparently what Bouyer may have been critiquing, was the idea that Christ’s sacrifice was the end of “religion” in that the scapegoat model that he uses to analyze all religion was inverted in the murder of the Son of God. Whereas in other religions, according to Girard, a god is a guilty victim put to death and deified by such a murder; in Christianity the god is innocent and his death breaks the scapegoat cycle.

While I think such observations have some truth to them, I still was left feeling that Girard was chanelling the snake oil salesman in his presentation. Such theories try to present themselves as cure-alls, but often they fail to deliver. For he could not answer intelligently an objection by one woman in the audience concerning any sort of scapegoat in Buddhism, for example. The same could be said of the religious consciousness of Islam, which also has no sacrifice. I think trying to apply such categories to Latin American folk Catholicism would also breed all sorts of problematic results.

But I have yet to read all of this from the horse’s mouth, though my main question is, “why is he becoming so popular now?” And the other issue that I have is that such metanarratives often seek to “reform” religious practices along the lines of what they deem to be most correct. What potential does Rene Girard’s theory have, so averse to the idea of sacrifice, within the post-Vatican II church? Is he just one more weapon in the arsenal of conservative neo-modernists who would reconcile modern forms of religious thought with something that apes the traditional? Again, only reading and reflecting on Girard will tell for sure.