12 March 2006

Us and Them

Someone has started a website on one of my favourite theologians: James Alison.

I have to confess that I am not yet able to talk about his work in 'easy sound bites', but one of the reasons I like his theology is that I believe he is able to express orthodox Christian doctrine in thought-forms that are more readily accessible to the 21st century person than the old Protestant sound bite of 'Jesus died on the cross to pay the price of your sins.'

Underpinning Alison's theology is the anthropology of Rene Girard. In very simplistic terms, Girard believes that every society in history has maintained internal cohesion by a continuing process of identifying and expelling a scapegoat. Without the mechanism of identifying a 'them', there would be no 'us' because interpersonal rivalry inside the society would destoy it. US versus USSR anyone? How about US versus Iraq / Iran / Radical Islam?

Alison sees the rivalries that would tear apart society without a scapegoat and the scapegoatting process itself as the manifestation of Original Sin. Where 'the world' (my term, not Alison's) would see the scapegoat as fully deserving of divine wrath, Jesus' resurrection turned the entire paradigm upside down. The resurrection is God's 'yes' to life and God's identification with the victim rather than the victimiser.

I cannot do his theology justice, but I would encourage a reading of his works. For my money, The Joy of Being Wrong is the most interesting, but it is also his PhD thesis and so rather academic in tone. Knowing Jesus is probably his most accessible work and Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay is very moving.

My favourite idea from The Joy of Being Wrong is that one can be forgiven for being wrong, but it is the insistance on being right that initiates a pattern of sinful violence. Fundamentalism, anyone?


Sally said...

Thanks Pam, I checked out the site it looks very interesting now I must resist the temptation to go out and buy another book!!!

PamBG said...

Um, resisting the temptation to buy another book. Not easy. I confess to having books on my shelf that I've not yet read!

I might offer to lend you one of his books, if you like. Slight issue is that I might need them at some point!

Sally said...

Thanks Pam there is a part of me that thinks oo good another book, but like you I have some unread books, a few part read books and some I really don't like to let out of my sight...book crazy, they are truly a weakness on my part

Sally said...

Picking up on discussions elsewhere regarding atonement, you hinted that Allison speaks well into this...I led a Bible study on 1 John 4 yesterday and what struck me as people talked was the lack of assurance their faith offers, partly because of the Penal Substitution teaching that has dominated evangelical thinking. Unable to relate to a God who is portrayed in what seems like a cold and detatched way even from his son on the cross people hang onto a semblance of faith by their finger nails and hope for the best. It occurs to me that opening up their thinking on the atonement from a pastoral perspective might help in the area of confidence and assurance...we have more than Penal substitution to offer!!!

PamBG said...

That's a very interesting remark, Sally. Maybe what I need to do is to interview you. Seriously.