Monday, November 19, 2012

"Sacrifice, Law and the Catholic Faith": Desire (Part V)

This is the final section of the 2006 James Alison lecture;  See also Parts I, II, III, and IV.

Well, there is much, much more to say in this vein – I would love to have developed more fully the secularising effect in our midst of the doctrine of Creation as made full and complete by Christ, but time and space will not allow it. What I hope to have done is merely reminded you of something counterintuitive: that anything solid and lasting in what we call Enlightenment values of liberty, equality, fraternity and the birth of the scientific spirit comes from a quite specific set of circumstances, brought into being and kept fragilely alive, with many a betrayal and backwards step, by the Happening that is at the root of Catholic Faith. It is the keeping alive of the sacrifice having happened in our midst, the imperative not to do it again, and the realisation that it is only by creating social forms of togetherness such that we do not automatically resolve things by scapegoating, that we can have the space and freedom to discover and work out how our world really works. In other words, our ability to overcome scapegoating by having been empowered to live as if death were not, the realisation that this means one can stand up for the unpopular in order to make the truth shine, and our having started to forge a culture where this is a matter of common sense, this is a necessary precondition for science, for knowledge, and for the possibility of humans coming to live together universally.

Of course, the downside of all this is that the Happening is not our invention, and the power which has undone the roots of our scapegoating culture is not our own. The normal results of the undoing of a scapegoating culture, or of a system of goodness, is wrath, anger, and violence out of control. Because the fragile bulwarks which held that society together have been undone, and there is less and less belief in the authentic “sacredness” of whatever might put them together again. In the midst of this, the slow, patient forging of holy desire, and of the intermediary, negotiable institutions which encourage peace and foment flourishing, is very difficult, and very fragile. We are quite extraordinarily lucky to find ourselves on the inside of the Happening. The Catholic Faith enables us to navigate the wrath which is produced as sacred structures and boundaries collapse from within and a new creation emerges. How we make available to others the uniqueness of this strangely un-religious gift without falling into the trap of allowing that uniqueness to seem like merely another rival form of exclusivity is one of the great challenges of living and preaching the faith in our time.

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