Sunday, November 04, 2007


'Love Your Enemy: Within a Divided Self', the second lecture in the Autumn education programme offered at St Martin-in-the Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London on 30 October 2007, is another fine piece of work by theologian James Alison. A full transcript has just gone up on his website. One key component is an exposition, in Girardian terms, of Matthew 5. 43-48 in its wider Christian and Jewish setting - You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Alison writes: "[I]t is perfectly normal for the culture in which we live, and not just modern culture, but human culture altogether, to speak through our minds and our texts such that they, minds and texts, wedded together, become guarantors of reciprocity, and we are confirmed in our assumptions that we should do good to those who do good to us, and take revenge on those who do evil to us. It is this normal human cultural way of living out reciprocity which Jesus is pointing to. He knows that we are reciprocally-formed animals; he seems to understand that we are ourselves radically imitative creatures who are very seriously dependent on what others do to us, for what we do.

"Jesus is offering a contrast between this way of being, this pattern of desire which runs us, and how God desires. God, he says, causes ‘the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’. And our typical reading of this is as if Jesus were saying that God is somehow indifferent, in that removed, detached sense which we normally give to the word “indifferent”... Far from it! The sort of “indifference” about which Jesus is talking could not be more removed from that sort of apathetic detachment. Jesus is making a point about a pattern of desire which is not in any way at all run by what the other is doing to it, is not in reaction in any way at all, but is purely creative, dynamic, outward going, and able to bring things into being and flourishing. If the “social other” tends to teach us a pattern of desire such that what is normal is reciprocity, which of course includes retaliation, then Jesus presents God as what I call “the other Other”, one who is entirely outside any being moved, pushed, offended, any retaliation of any sort at all. On the contrary, God is able to be towards each one of us without ever being over-against any one of us. God is in no sort of rivalry at all with any one of us, is not part of the same order of being as us, which is how God can create and move us without displacing us. Whereas we who are on the same level as each other can only move each other by displacing each other."

See also: titles from and about Rene Girard on the Ekklesia online bookshop.

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