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.


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13 responses

10 02 2010
Zbigniew Lukasiak

Exactly! It is surprising to see that coming from the discoverer of that polartisation process.

10 02 2010
FrGregACCA

Z: He seem to be pretty onesided, not recognizing apparently that islam and the West (or at least the United States) have been scapegoating each other.

9 02 2010
Zbigniew Łukasiak

I have now read the article I linked to in it’s entirety (by the way it is better rendered in http://textospra.blogspot.com/2009/09/511-rene-girard-achever-klausewitz.html than in the page I originally linked to). One thing that comes to mind after reading the second part of it is – does he not treat Islam as a scapegoat? It is certainly treated as such by some Western politics who gain their power in that way. Terrorism is not closer to the extremum than WWII, just compare the casualties. It is thus an effective scapegoat – because it unites nations with minimal cost.

9 02 2010
FrGregACCA

Thank you, Zbigniew. I indeed was able to access it. A great deal to digest there.

Arturo, any preliminary comments concerning your reading of Girard?

8 02 2010
Zbigniew Łukasiak

Sorry the blog engine here treated the ending parenthesis as part of the address – I hope this time the link will be correct: http://www.zokster.net/drupal/node/4100 . To be frank I found this article by googling for Rene Girard and apcalypse, I remember reading other things he wrote about this – but I don’t remember where exactly, but I hope that interview is specific enough.

8 02 2010
FrGregACCA

Zbigniew: that’s interesting. Could you give me a specific reference? I followed the link above, but couldn’t seem to find it there.

7 02 2010
Zbigniew Łukasiak

A propos: “he fails to see that perhaps the sacrificial\scapegoat mechanisms that develop after the Fall (don’t think he accounts for the Fall at all), may in fact be what keeps humanity from destroying itself prior to the coming of Christ” – I think this is not true, read for example this quote: “And yet, demystification, which is good in the absolute, has proven bad in the relative, for we were not prepared to shoulder its consequences.” (from http://www.zokster.net/drupal/node/4100)

20 12 2009
Sam Urfer

Yup, he’s a practicing Roman Catholic – I’ve been to Mass with him, actually.

Some interesting ideas, but overarching metanarratives can be tricky.

20 12 2009
FrGregACCA

Interesting thing about Girard: he apparently become Roman Catholic – or returned to Roman Catholicism, at some point in his career. He needs to be read, IMHO, in conjunction with Ernest Becker (“Escape from Evil”, “Denial of Death”.)

While I think that Girard (and Becker) are onto something, there are two issues that I think need further exploration. First, Girard rejects any concept of sacrifice within Christianity, i.e., the Eucharist, Romans 12, asceticism. Second, he fails to see that perhaps the sacrificial\scapegoat mechanisms that develop after the Fall (don’t think he accounts for the Fall at all), may in fact be what keeps humanity from destroying itself prior to the coming of Christ. In this view, animal sacrifice ends the need for human sacrifice a’la Girard’s account (although even in the presence of animal sacrifice, human sacrifice continues in other forms: war, genocide, oppression, etc.)

Good luck with your reading. I look foward to reading your thoughts.

18 12 2009
TH2

You’re funny, Adrian. Really like how you equate Catholicism with Manicheanism.

18 12 2009
Adrian

I think the last two commentators will find plenty of ego death in Catholic mysticism, plenty of determinism in Catholic Augustinian currents and plenty of brain-dead Fideism in phony baloney Catholic Marian movements. Catholicism is not a “just right” porridge chosen by Goldilocks — not a narrow middle ground between Pelagian and Calvinist heresies, for example. Catholicism is full of ungainly, contradictory extremes. That’s how you know it’s the real deal.

17 12 2009
Jonathan Prejean

Buddhism and Islam are both forms of self-sacrifice. Buddhism sacrifices the individuality; Islam sacrifices the freedom of the rational soul (like other Christian hereies, namely Calvinism). In some ways, they are more insidious, because the sacrifice is not visible, though equally pointless.

On the other hand, there are natural limits to one’s ability to deceive oneself in this manner; you can’t ever absolutely internalize a falsehood, so these people are always better than their creeds. By contrast, dead is dead. So on the whole, I will take religions that demand sacrifice of the capabilities of the soul over those who ordinarily demand death.

I don’t know Girard, but at least the basic concept of all false religions encouraging some sort of pointless sacrificial destruction seems sound.

17 12 2009
TH2

Your view here is only scratching the service, and you are in the correct mindset to begin reading and reflecting on his work.

As for Buddhism (which is effectively Hinduism gone atheistic), no apparent scapegoat, but recall that it’s inward-subjectivist conception of the universe (a proto-Kantianism one could say), it’s negative attribution of reality/materialism, eternality of the universe – same old pagan stuff… absolutely unlike Christianity.

As for Islam, it came after Christianity and stole from it. Selective, because it is a Christian heresy, until recently referred to as Mohammedism.

From what little I know of Girard… he may not explain everything, but a lot is explained.

P.S. Liked your post on Hahn. Was laughing my head off. The Superstar forgot to unload quite a bit of that Protestant baggage when he crossed the Tiber.

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