Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Traumatic Truth of Human History

Awhile back, I posted several times about Rene Girard's "anthropological" take on Christian faith, and wondered why we weren't talking about it in the Episcopal Church. It seems to be a really good way for the modern, skeptical mind to begin to catch hold of some of the central concepts of Christianity - and in fact, as one of those articles explains, thinking about it this way convinced Girard himself that Christianity was true.
Girard's genealogy casts an anthropological light on the Christian ethic and on the meaning of the Eucharist; but it is not just an anthropological theory. Girard himself treats it as a piece of theology. For him, it is a kind of proof of the Christian religion and of the divinity of Jesus. And in a striking article in the Stanford Italian Review (1986), he suggests that the path that has led him from the inner meaning of the Eucharist to the truth of Christianity was one followed by Wagner in Parsifal, and one along which even Nietzsche reluctantly strayed, under the influence of Wagner's masterpiece.

Well, apparently we are now beginning to talk about it; Episcopal Cafe has a new video up in which James Alison discusses the topic. It's just a short video, and a quick mention of Girard, but there it is. [EDIT TO ADD: Here's a full James Alison lecture at Trinity on video. It's an hour and 20 minutes - a big file - so it does take a bit of time to load. The theme is "Reconciliation."]

Speaking of: for many months I've been trying to find a particular quote related to this topic. I found it while searching for something else (naturally!), in Terry Eagleton's review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I added the bold below:
Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class.

The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live, to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, might just have a chance of new life – but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation in our currently dire condition. This is known as the resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright-eyed superstition known as infinite human progress, for which Dawkins is a full-blooded apologist. Or they might be well-intentioned reformers or social democrats, which from a Christian standpoint simply isn’t radical enough.

The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then, is your pie in the sky and opium of the people. It was, of course, Marx who coined that last phrase; but Marx, who in the same passage describes religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions’, was rather more judicious and dialectical in his judgment on it than the lunging, flailing, mispunching Dawkins.