Saturday, November 20, 2010

Part II: Trajectory of Our Knowledge & Why the Atonement - Girard

A continuation of the trajectory of our knowledge steeped in our violence and the excellent post of Athos, which I have cut 'n pasted here to help with the flow of this reflection:

René Girard unveils humanity's deep, dark secret which he explicates in his "mimetic theory." This secret is that human culture is built squarely upon a "single victim mechanism" and it is the unique work of the Gospel in history to bring an end this secret's satanic reign.
But this foundation of human violence was so vital to the construction and maintenance of human culture - re-enacted each time victims were arbitrarily selected and expelled and/or murdered - that for aeons there was no alternative. The "lamb slain since the foundation of the world" (Rev 13,8) was the default way to manufacture human cultural cohesion; the "lowest common denominator" of human society.
Without gainsaying any teaching of the Catholic Church regarding atonement, Girard showed not so much how our Lord's death brought about salvation, but why it needed to happen. It happened because human sin always - always - takes us back to the same place: the place of expelling the victim and scapegoating violence. The way that God chose to reveal and break the inner workings of our satanic (literally: Satan - Σατάν - "the accuser") method of convening had to be to go to the place our sin always took us - the place of sacrificial violence - and undo Satan's power once and for all.
[The following couple excerpts are from James Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes (New York: Crossroad, 1998) and though I differ with James on a few things I feel he does bring some solid Girardian perspectives to the table.]

"Further consequences flow from the model under examination, owing to the way in which desire is shown to be anterior to language (and thus reason), to will (and thus freedom), and to memory (and thus history). In the first place, language is shown to be part of a distorted construction of a worldview. The key binary opposites (good/evil, life/death) are shown to flow from the lynchers' perspective on the victim. Thus the whole human system of signification, rather than being in any sense independent of the sense world and not deceived by it, is already utterly shot through with a certain betrayal of truth. Human reason is a tradition-borne phenomenon, but that human tradition, which is utterly constitutive of the possibility of human culture, is already a form of treason of the truth and can reach truth only with very great difficulty after a long time. In this sense Girard demonstrates that it was not, as is often suggested, that reasonable people proposed scientific theories of causality, and thus showed up the silly superstition of burning witches for the offense against reason that it was. Rather, it was the gradual collapse of belief in the real guilt of such mythical victims which led to the possibility of the proposal of scientific theories of causality..."

"It becomes possible thus to recover the sense in which memory is a cover-up, a certain sort of forgetting that other things may be remembered. This ties in with the very ancient perception that truth, far from having to do in the first place with simple objective facts, as we are inclined to think, needs a certain sort of un-forgetting. That is what aletheia means. Something of the same is contained in our words "discovery" and revelation." Rather than things being clear, and our just meeting them, the truth is covered and must be dis-covered, or veiled and must be re-vealed."  An Excerpt for James Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes (New York: Crossroad, 1998), pages 40-42.
Mass readings today, Saturday November 20, 2010: Rv 11:4-12 and the Gospel Lk 20:27-40 where "those deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead can no longer die." Even though people from every nation "gloat over" the corpses of the dead prophets, death is not the final power in the world. "After three and a half days, a breath of life entered them." A "loud voice from heaven" said to them, "Come up here."  (Magnificat p 281.)

"If God can raise someone from the dead in the middle of human history, the very fact reveals that death, which up till this point had marked human history as simply something inevitable, part of what it is to be a human being, is not inevitable. That is, that death is itself not a simply biological reality, but a human cultural reality marking all perception, and a human cultural reality that is capable of being altered. This it seems to me is the decisive point at which any pre-Christian notion of sin and the Christian understanding must differ. The drastic nature of sin is revealed as something which has so inflected human culture that death is a human, and not simply a biological reality, one which decisively marks all human culture. This nature of sin as related to death is simultaneously revealed as something which need not be. It is not that God can, of course, forgive all our sins, but then there is also death which is just there. It becomes clear that God is not only capable of forgiving us for such things as we might have done, but the shape of his forgiveness stretches further than that, into what we are: we are humans tied into the human reality of death. We need no longer be.

"This it seems to me is an anthropological discovery of unimaginable proportions..." An Excerpt for James Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes (New York: Crossroad, 1998), pages 118-119. 

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