René Girard e Gianni Vattimo

Yes, this is how I spent my Saturday night: watching an exchange between Girard and the Italian Christian nihilist Gianni Vattimo (who once famously said “I believe I believe”, which doesn’t actually sound particularly nihilistic, although it does seem to exemplify the philosophy he terms ‘weak thought’ and ‘weak ontology’). I enjoyed this as much as I did, not so much because he spars with Vattimo, but because it reveals how he actually corrects the view of “sacrifice” that he put forward in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. I’ve always had a difficult time accepting this aspect of his intepretation of scripture (while being wildly enthusiastic about most everything else he conjectures), so it’s more than a little reassuring to hear him clarify and actually correct himself on such a crucial aspect of his theory. I think it’s also something that probably strikes most Christians as a pretty ordinary interpretation, or understanding, of the word ‘sacrifice’. Simply put, it’s good to sacrifice, in a self-giving sense, and it’s bad to sacrifice others. Is it good to depend on the sacrifice of another? When that other is God, is it possible to do otherwise?

This is how it comes up in his discussion of the Judgement of Solomon:

“And I said at first in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World … ‘the first woman accepts the sacrifice, the second woman refuses it’ – but it’s not true! The second accepts another form of sacrifice – which corrects the first – which is her own, and there is no non-sacrificial space in which you could stand back in a scientific way and look at both solutions and judge them. You’re either in the first sacrifice, or in the second. But the mysterious use of the word sacrifice is fundamental, and is a less domineering position to analyze. In other words, the only way you can acknowledge the role of Christ completely is to accept the word sacrifice for him, but understanding that he has a radically different meaning. Mankind shifts from the first kind of sacrifice, which God accepts, because it is the only way to reach the second.” (~89:00)

I guess most of this seems pretty obvious. I suppose one could also see Christ in Solomon, eternally present as judge in order to urge us to abandon our self-interest, but I’ve always thought of the story in the terms Girard presents here. I suppose it is because he has so long pondered big and influential thinkers like Nietszche and Freud, as well as problematic texts (all those obscure myths in Violence and the Sacred), but coming to this interpretation really does seem the long way around. Perhaps Girard is at his best when he’s straightening out a Lévi-Strauss or a Vattimo, but it’s still a treat to see him grappling with scripture, as we all must.


  1. The Ironic Catholic says

    “Yes, this is how I spent my Saturday night: watching an exchange between Girard and the Italian Christian nihilist Gianni Vattimo”

    I’m pretty sure there is a 12 step group for that.

    Just don’t let Angelmeg know.

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