René Girard

I’ve heard a lot about René Girard for years and been intrigued, but had yet to get around to reading him.  I’m finally making my way through one of his books, and I love it.  I will now probably read most, or much, of what he’s written.  He is an original thinker and captures so much that is just over-looked or not dealt with adequately.  His writing is simple, but profound.  From the book:
“The resurrection of Christ crowns and finishes both the subversion and the unmasking of mythology, or archaic ritual, of everything that insures the foundation and perpetuation of human cultures.  The Gospels reveal everything that human beings need to under-stand their moral responsibility with regard to the whole spectrum of violence in human history…”
We might say that with the death and resurrection of Christ (which is not simply the coming back to life—this life—it is not like the raising of Lazarus) we see the end of religion.  Christ does not found another ‘religion’ or myth; he puts an end to both.  He does this peacefully and it is in that very peace that religion is ended, because religion and myth are founded and perpetuated by violence.  The Christian narrative isn’t something added, placed over, or is in addition to something already in existence.  Rather, ‘religion’ and myth are the additions, the result of the fractures in, or the “Fall” of, creation and because of Christ are now only the vestigial remains (scars) to the wounds now healed.  
Of course ‘religion’ is still with us but only as an echo, a ripple, a scar of pagan antiquity now manifest as a contrived secularism that tries to act as if it were the opposite of ‘religion’ or its negation.  In fact, it is just the modern embodiment of ‘religion’, with the state/industry as church or sacred space, scientists/economists/financiers as priests, and material goods/physical pleasures as the chief end or teleology of man (which is why our physical environment is dying).  Patriotism and capitalism are the twin fuels used by this church to continually identify the scapegoats, the ‘other’, those who threaten the sacred community and will re-act violently (ignite) to protect the ‘right’ of the community to seek its chief end (and the physical environment and those out-side the camp, be damned).

The Christian narrative acts as that which stands as an end to all such violent ‘religions’ and myths, because it is a sign of the true state of the natural/existence/creation, the steady state of whatever was before, what is possible now—though always fractured, and what is to come, which is eternal peace, shalom.  Whether or not we live this out or lean this way, in this life, is another matter.  Regardless, it is the ‘grain of the universe’, the course of all rivers, the beauty to which all desire points, and the Sabbath rest of all creation.   
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5 Responses to René Girard

  1. RonH says:

    Yeah, Girard is great. I discovered him while trying to make sense of the Atonement. However, once you get how memetic desire and scapegoating work, you can see them in operation in so many aspects of human society. I've found it a practically helpful pattern to recognize. (And its implications for Christianity are also huge.)

    Back in one of the epic conversations we have around here, I linked to a paper called “After Postmodernism” by P. J. Watson. It proposed an interesting way in which Girard becomes a response to Nietzsche. Were you ever able to track it down? You might enjoy it. I can get you a copy if you don't otherwise have access.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Hi Ron,

    I did just find an on-line version I didn't need to pay for. I will read it and get back to you. Glad you found Girard too.

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  3. Darrell says:

    Ron,

    I read the Watson paper and it is great. I would encourage others read it too. A Google search will lead to link where one can download it to their computers to read. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. RonH says:

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. I thought it was a very interesting thesis. I like Girard, and I like Nietzsche (some of the time). Putting the two together in that way had never occurred to me.

    I first ran across Girard years ago… Maybe going on ten now. Found him in Anthony Bartlett's book Cross Purposes, which is a fantastic title for a book on violence and the Atonement, and was the only book the library had on the subject that looked interesting to me. (Well-chosen cover art, also.) From there I went to I See Satan…. However, leafing through my copy — which I haven't touched in years — I realize that I read it before I'd really paid much attention to Nietzsche. I probably should go back and read it again — especially since I've got a fresh re-read of “On the Genealogy of Morals” in my head from a few months ago.

    I've heard positive things about Discovering Girard by Michael Kirwan. It's supposed to be an accessible intro to Girard. Possibly good for introducing his perspective to folks that might otherwise find his work difficult. And there's always Shirley Jackson's short story, “The Lottery”. I read it in jr. high, and it's always haunted me.

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  5. Darrell says:

    Ron,

    Right, this is why I tell atheists/agnostics that Nietzsche is the one atheist they need to listen to because he truly understood what the Christian narrative meant. He was courageous enough to realize and face what it would mean to walk away from that narrative.

    How funny, last week I put “Discovering Girard” by Kirwan on my Amazon wish-list and will certainly read it eventually. I have not read “The Lottery” but have heard of it—I will take a look at some point. Thanks.

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