Dialogues on the Passion as read by René Girard. Author Paul Gifford in conversation with Revd Greg Bartlem, Vicar of St Peter’s, Wellesbourne.
These were to have been given ‘live’ at the launch event of Prof. Paul Gifford’s book Towards Reconciliation. Understanding Violence and the Sacred in after René Girard , hosted by the Dean of Coventry , Very Revd. John Witcombe. on 31 March, at Coventry Cathedral (St Michael’s House) . The theme chosen was determined by the proximity of Holy Week.
The restrictions introduced by the Coronavirus crisis led to this event being cancelled. However, it was felt that something of Girard’s vigorously original and fascinating thinking, little known in this country, should be made available to a wider public.
“The most stimulating and enlightening book I have read for ages, opening up René Girard in a compelling way.”
-Angela Tilby, Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Cathedral Oxford and Canon of Honour of Portsmouth Cathedral
How did you arrive at the title of Towards Reconciliation: Understanding Violence and the Sacred after René Girard?
Backwards! I knew René Girard (at Stanford University, in California).
The most interesting thing in his work ? How it helps us understand something really gigantic which baffles us all: ‘sacred violence’.Think of how we were absolutely phased to see the beheadings and crucifixions of ‘Islamic State’…What on earth…????
And where does that take us ? ‘Towards Reconciliation’ Because, as we begin to understand where sacred violence comes from, we also begin to understand for the first time what getting over it (‘reconciliation’) really means. We see why, imitating each other’s desires; we all fall into rivalry, conflict and violence. It’s all about the psychic ‘internet’ that links us: already in nature.. Before www and ‘trending’ were ever dreamed of (think of that!)
How would you describe René Girard’s influence on your thinking?
Massive. He brought it all together. ‘Mimesis’ (that’s reciprocal imitation to you and me) is what links things up. So for instance: the baby’s first smile (‘answering’ the mother’s smile) ; the way the world’s stock markets ‘follow’ or ‘react to’ one other (‘New York sneezes, London catches cold’) ; the fashion industry and internet ‘trending’ (copying models of desire, styles, interests etc – and manipulating them!) ; the way we communicate (‘do you copy that, Red Leader?’); the way we are able to learn anything and everything. It’s all a matter of imitation.
Are there any points on which you disagree with René Girard?
Not really. It’s very convincing stuff and breath-takingly original. Perhaps he concentrates more than I would on the negative side of mimesis – the shadow side. But that’s because negative mimesis – the sort that produces two hands reaching out for the same desirable things, getting in each other’s way; falling into tit-for-tat rivalry , conflict and violence is what we least understand. And what we most need to understand!
Has the relationship between violence and the sacred changed in recent times?
Girard says it has. Primitive peoples had rituals which disarmed the fateful dynamic of rivalry and conflict which threatened their very survival. When things got really bad, they took a scapegoat victim; and made him/her into a ritual sacrifice to the powers above. It’s the idea of a lightning conductor taking the hit, turning aside that fearsome thunderbolt that would have destroyed the community as a whole. To ‘sacrifice’ – in that primitive sense – is to ‘fabricate the sacred’. That’s mythical of course: you can’t buy off catastrophe with bloody sacrifices (though you do pacify the conflicts… for a while)
Now, we no longer believe in the power of rituals like that. So we’re entirely exposed to lightning striking our entire house! In the shape FOR INSTANCE of: Coronavirus; climate change, floods and droughts; nuclear accident; wars between the Haves and Have-nots…There’s an awesome lot we need to be protected from! And what do we have to protect us? Or for transforming the game (that’s another way to see ‘Reconciliation’)?
How has René Girard informed your perspective on the Passion of Christ?
Well, Girard sees it, precisely, as God’s way of ‘transforming the game’. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself ‘(as Apostle Paul says) . In a sense Jesus ‘takes the hit’; but the hit doesn’t come from God.(that’s a human misconception: we project our violence onto God) – and there’s notransaction (we really must stop thinking of Jesus bargaining with God – or doing a ‘Deal’ Donald Trump-style, so as to let us off the hook!). The hit comes from our own (blind, self-mystifying – ‘sacred’!) – human violence: ‘They know not that they do’.
The Passion of Christ (His suffering for the world) teaches us to slip out from under that human self-mystification involved in sacred violence. It makes peace truly – without mystification. It gives us a new – and adequate – model for putting things right. And the Resurrection tells us God is in it.
Yes, the Passion does defeat evil on a cosmic scale. When He welcomes back the first batch of 72 disciples sent out to pioneer His mission without Him, Jesus for the first time, I think — contemplates his own self- sacrificial death: ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’. Satan is the founding murder – sacred violence as foundation for our culture, our civilisation and our world. He’ll take the hit; but Satan will fall to earth, broken in his prestige, and in his hold over God’s creation.
Where do you anticipate Girard’s legacy being most apparent?
Well, he himself says he wants increasingly his work to be an argument in favour of Christianity, which is set aside, he thinks, very superficially and foolishly, by modern people. It’s what we most need!
But the fact is that it is.also . universal: you get to know why your baby smiles; why your money disappears, why governments are ‘faking it’; why Darwin isn’t the end of Christianity, but an unrecognised worker in its vineyard…It’ll tell you where real hope lies, etc
In which aspects of everyday life could Girard’s insight be of greatest value?
Personal relations; social interactions ; seeing the opportunity in the present Coronavirus crisis…’Redeeming’ the world for our children and grandchildren
What does your writing process consist of?
Copy and paste, really. You ‘copy’ other writings (register them inwardly); then you re-write (‘reciprocate’) in kind, but creatively, incorporating your own response. Then you repeat the process: you ‘copy’ your own insights; and then reciprocate and paste again, rewriting them better!
What are you currently reading?
One of my own pieces of 2006, on laughter and humour. That’s because I used to teach French; and, yesterday, a French radio station got in touch and said it wanted to do a week’s broadcasting on humour throughout Europe. I have to say, in an interview to-morrow whether there such a thing as ‘European laughter’– or do I think British humour is different?
What will be your next project?
At least I shall know a bit better, having studied Girard, what it is that I am doing…whatever it turns out to be!
Check out the latest review of academic theology title: Shalom and the Ethics of Belief By Nathan D. Shannon (Cambridge, UK; James Clarke & Company Ltd; October 2015; 216 pages; £15.25; Paperback ISBN 9780227175514) published on the website of Reading Religion found here.
“Shannon has done a great service to scholars in unifying the thoughts of Wolterstorff as well as making his work readily accessible.” Gregory Parker, Jr.
Accommodation and Acceptance shows us a ‘gentle way’ for dialogue, mutual respect and even the ‘holy envy’ of admiration which should be ours in the interreligious encounter of the twenty-first century. Mong’s is an authentic voice and merits great attention.”
Rev James F. Loughran, SA, Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, New York
‘Mong masterfully shows how Christian faith needs to be reconceptualized in its encounter with Asian religions, from Christology to ecclesiology to Trinitarian theology. This book is a must-read not only for Asian Christians but also, and one may argue especially, for Western Christians.’
Professor Peter C. Phan, Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University
Accommodation and Acceptance: An Exploration in Interfaith Relations is available to purchase now! For more reviews, extracts and to get your copy, go to: http://tinyurl.com/zlq9o36
In spite of the centrality of the threefold orders of bishop, priest and deacon to Anglicanism, deacons have been virtually invisible in the contemporary Church of England. Inferior Office? is the first complete history of this neglected portion of the clergy, tracing the church’s changing theology of the diaconate from the Ordinal of 1550 to the present day.
Francis Young skilfully overturns the widely held belief that before the twentieth century, the diaconate was merely a brief and nominal period of probation for priests, revealing how it became an integral part of the Elizabethan defence of conformity and exploring the diverse range of ministries assumed by lifelong deacons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lifelong deacons often belonged to a marginalised ‘lower class’ of the clergy that has since been forgotten, an oversight of considerable importance to the wider social history of the clergy that is corrected in this volume.
Inferior Office? tells the story of persistent calls for the revival of a distinctive diaconate within the Victorian Church of England and situates the institution of deaconesses and later revival of the distinctive diaconate for women, as well as subsequent developments, within their wider historical context.
Set against this backdrop, Young presents a balanced case both for and against the further development of a distinctive diaconate today, offering much for further discussion and debate amongst clergy of the Church of England and all those with an interest in the rich tapestry of its history.
“Francis Young’s book is a welcome antidote to the generally impoverished view of the diaconate that has prevailed in the Church of England in recent years. It is a timely and significant contribution to the Church of England’s understanding of the order of deacons within her threefold ministry, and will be a valuable and informative tool for those charged with the restructuring of the allocation of church resources in the 21st century.” Dr Serenhedd James, Hon Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford
“Young’s scholarship adds much to our understanding of the diaconate within the threefold ministry in the Church of England.” Stephen Platten, in Theology, Vol 119 (2)
“This erudite book makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the history of the diaconate in the Church of England from the Reformation to the present day.” Gloria Cadman, in The Reader, Vol 115, No 2
Dr Young’s book is available to purchase here now!
Make sure you get your copy to unlock the secrets of the often most overlooked section of the Anglican clergy. Follow Dr Young’s journey in tracing the role of the diaconate from the Reformation through to the present day; clarifying the debate about its future.
At James Clarke & Co. we are saddened to hear of the recent passing of Sir Geoffrey Hill yesterday evening. The British Poet, best known for Mercian Hymns in 1971, published over twenty volumes in his lifetime and was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University from 2010-2015.
We have had the pleasure of working with the award winning writer’s work in discussing the invaluable nature of poetry in developing and communicating theological insights. Within David C. Mahan’s book, An Unexpected Light: Theology and Witness in the Poetry and Thought of Charles Williams, Micheal O’Siadhail and GeoffreyHill the writer explores favourites such as “Pitch of Attention” and “Poetic Kenosis” in The Triumph of Love; drawing together notions of poetry and theology into their own combined discourse.
“This book shows how poetry and theology can come together to light up the great questions of human life today. Above all, his profound engagement with three fascinating poets – O’Siadhail, Williams, and Hill – will expand the circle of those who recognize their great significance for the twenty-first century” David F. Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge
“An Unexpected Light comes highly commended by prominent scholars in the literature and theology field. … we have cause to celebrate the remarkable explicatory gifts on display here, and to thank the author for inspiring us to discover or to appreciate anew three poets of rare significance.” Robert Rhys, in The Glass, No 23
Apostolic and Prophetic: Ecclesiological Perspectives
‘You’re gonna have to serve somebody, Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, But you’re gonna have to serve somebody’, Bob Dylan sang during the chorus of Gotta Serve Somebody , a song released in 1979. These words represented a new Dylan, the born-again Christian, who started expressing his strong personal faith and his belief in Christian teachings and philosophy. It was the time, when he was on a mission to spread the word of god, when he fulfilled the apostolic task
Bob Dylan can certainly be seen as an example of the ‘so called “simple people of faith”’ G.Thiessen refers to in Apostolic and Prophetic: Ecclesiological Perspectives whom, she feels, the church, people in the field of theological studies, need to lend an ear. The book is an advocacy for a modern church committed to being apostolic, prophetic but also radical. Thereby, asking the church for regarding the arts is one of her principle demands, as she is convinced art has the potential to show a challenging, a radical, a new perspective on the idea of faith and of the church.
‘I would like to briefly note, in our context of envisioning the church as apostolic,ecumenical, prophetic, and radical, that the integration of the arts— literature,visual art, music, film, theater, etc.—can offer significant perspectives to ecclesiologyin particular and systematic theology at large. […] there are things that cannot be expressed in any other way than through the poetic, the visual, or the musical.’
(Apostolic and Prophetic, p.174)
With Apostolic and Prophetic, G.Thiessen presents a critical observation on ecumenical ideas and praxis. She critically examines the church’s concept of unity in diversity, which, as she thinks, has led to the church slowly losing a common identity in its contemporary manifestation characterised by its disparate denominations. The church’s consideration of the arts, a radical change of thinking, she recognizes, might be an attempt to bring back a unity among the church and its various denominations.
Apostolic and Prophetic: Ecclesiological Perspectives