Oakes on Girard, Balthasar, and Atonement

Fr. Edward T. Oakes has a rumination on Rene Girard and the Atonement over at the First Things blog.

I’ve only read Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, but found it very thought-provoking. However, I think Fr. Oakes is on to something when he points out that Girard can’t make sense of the traditional idea that God was at work in the Cross of Christ. I also can’t help but think that Girard’s scheme of mimesis-and-scapegoating offers a reductive understanding of (non-Christian) religions. Though my knowledge of his work is admittedly limited.

2 thoughts on “Oakes on Girard, Balthasar, and Atonement

  1. But didn’t you enjoy Oakes’s comment, “The issue of sacrifice, no matter how primitive it might seem to us in our sanitized culture—where we studiously ignore even so obvious a fact as how meat reaches our tables—just won’t go away; in fact, it comes close to reaching the very core of the gospel.”

    Girard often seems to posit a God who diagnoses rather than acts. But I think in his view, the very revealing of the nature of sacrifice is God’s act. In other words, Jesus rips off the masks of the sacrificial priests, and they kill him for it. (Kind of like Dr. Dysart’s fear in the play Equus: he is afraid that his mask will slip off and the other priests will kill him when they see that he doesn’t believe in sacrifice anymore.) Jesus’ action is to reveal “religion” as an illusion and make possible trust in the non-violent Father.

    However, what Girard seemingly can’t do is account for those situations in which our mimetic sin goes unrecognized and yet can be forgiven. I can see where a critic might say that Girard and his followers credit salvific efficacy not to God-in-Christ but to the believer’s proper (Girardian) understanding of what God-in-Christ reveals, perhaps emphasizing the fides qua over the fides quae.

    By the way, were you fired? I thought you weren’t going to have as much time to post anymore. Not that I’m complaining. 🙂

  2. Ah – I can’t believe I missed that line the first time I read it. That’s great. There’s definitely a future blog post there.

    I like your take on Girard – the revealing of the scapegoat mechanism is the divine act that gives the cross its efficacy.

    I also think your critique is spot-on. William Placher has made a similar point to the effect that the Girardian scheme only works for people who are already basically good: we see the scapegoat mechanism revealed and are rightly horrified. What’s less clear, he says, is that a Girardian atonement can be good news for sinners.

    Oh, and on the job front, the first six months were rough, but I’ve got enough of a handle on it now that I can give bloggin the attention it deserves. 😉

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