The Scapegoat

René Girard, Yvonne Freccero

Religious school is only a good idea on paper. While it was my only means of learning Christian thought at all, by the same method it dulled, no matter how much I wished otherwise. Not just mere melancholy whenever one's romantic notions of ethics and morals must endure the slings of a vulgar and hypocritical world, but a thing repeated too often for fifteen years straight can take any once-special meaning and rend it into dissociative nonsense. Soon, I looked at biblical stories as like formulae presented in math class: things other people easily understood, but I couldn't.

Eventually there came the secular scholars who helped me reached “an” understanding of the Old Testament, where I could look upon it again and no longer feel a sense of disgust or immense loss. (... if only at an arm's length.) René Girard, too, was my delayed equivalent for the Gospels; but while they no longer ring hollow, the sense of loss prevails.

He's somewhat difficult to get into—even I was only introduced to him through other sources—taking a good 50 pages before you have any idea what he is talking about. Girard lives in an unfortunate quadruple-bind: a man of profound faith, and a humanities scholar in the fine arts, trying to make an actual scientifically-valid hypothesis, about the sociological machinations of entirely religious subject matter. The very definition of a fool's errand, but like other Chomsky-esque iconoclasts, the sheer amount of supporting evidence would make the most adamant skeptic capitulate some small amount through gritted teeth. It's still annoying, though. He always fervently goes through various null-hypotheses at times when I'd much rather him just get to the point. Once he even claimed some assertions are not fully falsifiable, because the suppositions required would end up undoing the entire basis of the scientific process. ... and that the mere existence of the scientific method is further evidence of his point. (A claim, while technically true in that instance, is the most bullshit thing I have ever heard.)

At risk of confirmation bias, maybe I only weathered this book because I was already predisposed to the general kind of point he argues. More than that, in my search for understanding, Girard not only further demystified my own sense of betrayal against Christianity, but also succeeded in ruining my opinions of all possible mythologies from any religion or religion-like-thing whatsoever. He is a master interpreter, and managed to find what might possibly be the seed of all culture; but it is an explanation so thorough, it honestly frightens me. I don't think I really wished to know how that particular sausage got made.

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