A polymath defends Western culture and the Judaeo-Christian tradition — Rene Girard (1923-2015

From review of Cynthia L. Haven’s Evolution of Desire: A life of Rene Girard, Catholic historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science, in Times Literary Supplement.

Scapegoating demoted.

The Evangelists asserted Jesus’s innocence and exposed the lies of his murderers. They thus unmasked the entire immemorial deception whereby scapegoating had made possible the social order. This is what Jesus meant when he said that he would utter “things hidden since the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35)

Even Nietzsche got it about Christianity.

Girard’s reading of the Gospels has appealed to many theologians, replacing the idea of a wrathful God who demands propitiation [with] an insistence on the absolute necessity of non-violence and forgiveness, the “imitation of Christ” as enjoined in theological tradition. Nietzsche, despite his perversity in favouring the strong at the expense of the weak, had, according to Girard, grasped the true revolution of Christianity, its sympathy with victimhood.

Girard’s friends and non-friends.

One American colleague interviewed by [the author] Haven told her that Girard “goes around baptizing everyone he likes . . . . That’s one of the reasons I love him”. [I love that too.] The Paris intellectual cafés were not so friendly, and he felt ostracized. But Haven finds that the anti-communist resistance in Eastern Europe, at a time when Christianity was under attack, were inspired by his books, which were sometimes shared in samizdat editions.

A non-friend is clearly not impressed:

As one of Girard’s sharpest critics, the historian Hayden White, observed, “the obscurity of the data is essential to its status as evidence”.

Depends on what he means by obscurity, I guess.

A key element in cafe intellectuals’ opposition, by the way, would be his celebration of Western culture.

He saw the unmasking of ethnocentrism as an essential element in the Western intellectual tradition over the past five centuries, dating back to Montaigne and to early world travellers – and this critique had no equivalent in other civilizations.

The “hive mentality.”

He came to see the non-violent message of the Gospels as threatened by Satan, by which he meant the contagion that spreads between individuals to activate a hive mentality.

N.B. Italics mine throughout.

Makes me want to know about him. Toward which goal I present:

Four of his almost 30 books:

Violence and the Sacred

Deceit, Desire and the Novel

Things Hidden Since the…

A theater of envy

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