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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 7 (Oct. 1994)

Book Notes

This may or may not be a regular feature of the Bulletin. Many books are sent to me which I don't have time to review, at least at the moment, but which are worthy of more than a bibliographical listing. The appearance of a book in "Book Notes" does not preclude its subsequent review. Readers are invited to volunteer to write a regular review of any of the books that appear here.

James Alison's Knowing Jesus (Springfield: Templegate, 1994) is a marvelous use of the Girardian paradigm to explicate what it means to "know Jesus" as crucified Lord. In clear and informal language the author focuses on the "intelligence of the victim" as it came to and through the disciples. Alison's is a model discussion of memory, repentance, and forgiveness in the conversion process. -- Alison says that "Following Jesus meant learning not to be scandalized by him, not to be caused to stumble" (51). In The Scandal of the Gospels: Jesus, Story, and Offense (NY: Oxford, 1994), David McCracken analyzes and interprets the biblical meaning of scandal, and especially Jesus himself as skandalon. One of the virtues of his approach is the way in which he brings Girard's understanding of skandalon into fruitful contact with that of Søren Kierkegaard. -- A book by Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the Christian Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), is a good volume either to read or to use as a reference source. Although Childs scarcely ventures out of traditional biblical studies and theology, he is distinguished biblical scholar who takes the final form of the Christian canon seriously. (A Protestant, he could have done more with the Apocrypha.) The last chapter is titled "A Holistic Reading of Christian Scripture." -- Georg Baudler, in Töten oder Leben: Gewalt und Gewaltlosigkeit in Religion und Christentum (München: Kösel, 1994), continues his project of constructing a dialogue between Christianity and other religions on the fundamental issue of violence and the possibility of nonviolence. Including an extensive survey of texts from the Bible and the early church, he argues that the key to understanding the relation of violence and religion lies in an analysis of sacrifice. If I read him correctly, he seems to have moved toward greater agreement with Girard about originary violence, understanding sacrificial cults as based, in effect, on misrepresentation stemming from the victim, a mixing of the power of life with the power of death and destruction....With respect to the "power of life," Girard, in his interview with Rebecca Adams in Religion and Literature 25:2 (1993), clearly and decisively affirms that mimesis, which is the necessary condition of violence and ontically prior to representation, is good in principle because it is the possibility of opening the self to the world and living in love with others. This issue of Religion and Literature includes also essays by Diana Culbertson and Andrew McKenna. It can be ordered through Rebecca Adams. For her current address, contact me -- Finally, all readers of French who are committed to a Girardian project or who simply wish to observe the probing of the mind of a great thinker, will want to read the record of Girard's conversations with Michel Treguer, Quand ces choses commenceront (Paris: arléa, 1994). The conversations "cover the waterfront" in 186 pages of text. Most of Girard's responses he has long held, although he makes certain points with greater dramatic clarity in the discussion format. Mimetic desire is not evil at all, but it requires a good beginning (25); in fact, it is really very good in itself (70). He defines "political correctness" as "the religion of the victim detached from any transcendence, the social obligation to employ a veritable 'wooden victimary language' which stems from Christianity but which subverts it even more insidiously than open opposition" (65). A resolutely experimental science is democratic in principle in that it represents a break with an aristocratic world and world-view in which masters depend on their slaves and servants to care for them (83). The type of feminism that tries to revalue sorcery and witchcraft is misled in its strategy because one is only a sorcerer "by virtue of a system of accusation" (86). Those who commit themselves to humanity must struggle against nihilism, which is "the principal enemy" (102). To the question as to why René Girard arrives on the scene now rather than in the year1000 or 1500, he replies, "O my, there you're exaggerating! Three-quarters of what I say is already in St. Augustine" (196). There are at least two things really new in these interviews. One is Girard's admission, only recently stated in public and as far as I know never before in print, that in his books he has been too harsh with sacrificial systems. They function to contain violence, "thus to replace a possible generalized violence with a lesser violence, that of sacrifice" (109-10). The other is Girard's first public account of his Christian conversion (189-95).

James G. Williams