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"At-one-ment"

from an interview with Rene Girard by James Williams

JW … You said that for you the resurrection is an objective event. Do you distinguish between “objective” as you use it here and “historical.”

RG I am not certain I understand the difference. You see, the thing about the Gospels is that there may be tiny mythical infiltrations in them, but their basis is not mythical. The mythical mentality can take them and construe them mythically, but quintessentially they are the destruction of myth. Early Christian faith intuits or understands the nonmythical element and discerns, one way or the other, the mimetic phenomena that are unraveled. The structure of mythology is repeated in the Gospels, but in such a truthful way that the mythological structure is unmasked. The fathers of the church saw this, but were not able to express it in terms of generative scapegoating and the liberating representation thereof. Our mimetic interpretation is less important than their faith but, if it can help our own vacillating faith a little, it is useful.

Part of the problem in the history of Christian interpretation, beginning already with the fathers, was that the Passion was for them a unique event. That is understandable of course. They saw it as a unique event, a single, unique event in worldly history. It is indeed unique as revelation but not as a violent event. The earliest followers of Jesus did not make that mistake. They knew, or intuited, that in one sense it was like all other events of victimization “since the foundation of the world.” But it was different in that it revealed the meaning of these events going back to the beginnings of humanity: the victimization occurs because of mimetic rivalry, the victim is innocent, and God stands with the victim and restores him or her. If the Passion is regarded not as revelation but as only a violent event brought about by God, it is misunderstood and turned into an idol. In the Gospels Jesus says that he suffers the fate of all the other prophets going back to Abel the just and the foundation of the world (Matt. 23:35; Luke 11:50).

So what theology needs is a corroborating anthropology. This anthropology will open up the Gospels again to their own generative center and witness.

JW You have already presented an atonement theory, in effect. Would you care to say more about it?

RG The word “atonement” is unique to English as far as I know. Atonement is what the French, I believe, would call expiation. Atonement is “at-one-ment,” becoming reconciled with God, and this is the work of Christ.

JW The doctrine that has dominated Christian thought, certainly since Anselm, is the satisfaction theory. According to it, the justice of God and God’s honor are satisfied by the one who dies, who is allowed to be scapegoated for the sake of all.

RG What you can say, in my view, is that the Father is working on a sort of historical schedule. Christ comes at the right time, at the right hour. I think Gil Bailie’s paper is very important because it suggests that kenosis, emptying, here the emptying of the personality, is crucial. Bailie refers to Jean-Luc Marion, God without Being, and helps me understand it. I had struggled with the book. I think the title “God without being” could be translated as “God without the sacred” — God without sacred violence, God without scapegoating. (pp. 281-282 of The Girard Reader)

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