Reason, faith and René Girard

Dominique Irigaray, a French lay Dominican, has started a new blog looking at how René Girard’s thought can help to renew the church’s self-understanding, proclamation and practice: Raison girardienne & Foi chrétienne.

In his opening post, Dominique describes how he first encountered Girard’s ideas. He first encountered Girard by seeing him expound his ideas on TV, but it was only on studying Girard’s books that he came to perceive:

…the incredible richness of the concepts of mimetic desire and the scapegoat mechanism. It is in reading René Girard that one perceives the relevance of his ideas. There is no other way: but it isn’t a chore. Our author is not a member of the Académie Française for nothing.

(Note: all translations in this post are a collaboration between my GCSE French and Google Translate. Corrections or improvements are welcomed!)

It is Girard’s ideas that brought Dominique back to a faith he lost for 25 years because “no one around me was able to explain to me the meaning of Christianity.” Coming to adulthood in the 1970s was not a time conducive to faith, as French society shifted from broadly Catholic to “largely agnostic”.

This weakened a church that had “lost all coercive means to propagate the faith, and had decided instead to preach only a God of love”. Vatican II (while a good thing in itself) lacked the necessary point of support to renew the church in France, and Dominique continues:

I remain convinced that disaffection with the faith of the Church arises from the fact that she lacks a sufficient understanding of herself to be able to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It’s one thing to find prayer a consolation in childhood, Dominique continues, but it is difficult for such a “faith without reason” to survive: which then raises the question of what form of reason can support faith, a question that has preoccupied the papacies of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Both popes have sought the answer in philosophy, which Dominique describes as:

a bloodless discipline that needs to be resuscitated itself before it can resuscitate faith. It would be better, in my opinion, to acknowledge finally the failure of that association and to seek another way to support faith with reason.

The other problem in today’s church is less abstract: namely, how rare it is for modern Christianity to produce saints. As Dominique puts it:

Thank God, the Church is holy, and I am not saying that she is failing to carry out her mission, but it would be surprising, wouldn’t it, if the spouse of Christ was unable to improve on her current performance; if only for the good of those who have been left beached on the shores of life by her ebbing tide.

So here is where the church finds herself (and this seems as true in England as it is in France): lacking a clear understanding of her gospel and her mission, lacking compelling reasons for faith, and weak in saintly living. Dominique’s diagnosis is clear:

The reason for the current situation, in my opinion, is that the encounter between the Christian faith and the mimetic theory of René Girard has yet to occur.

It is to help bring about that encounter that Dominique has set up his blog. “I will do only what I can,” he concludes modestly – but I for one am looking forward to it.

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2 thoughts on “Reason, faith and René Girard”

  1. “Both popes have sought the answer in philosophy, which Dominique describes as ‘a bloodless discipline that needs to be resuscitated itself before it can resuscitate faith.'”

    I think there’s quite a bit in that, just as a general comment. Philosophy is often helpful, but it seems the philosophers sometimes start thinking they can do theology, too, and then we get into all sorts of trouble. For example, there are plenty of Christian doctrines where one finds theologians well able to articulate the warrant and the importance, but which even Christian philosophers attack as incoherent. Divine simplicity, for example: I can’t work out what William Lane Craig or Alvin Plantinga make of the atonement, or justification by faith, if divine holiness, justice, mercy and grace are not a perfect unity. Give me a decent Thomist over either of them when it comes to this one.

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