Universal Tragedy

Tragic stories are fall stories. Whether through moral wrong or through some inadvertent hamartia, the tragic hero falls from a high place. Others are engulfed in the tragedy to one extent or another, but not everyone. Those who watch can experience the catharsis of pity and fear by watching rather than experiencing the tragedy.

Christianity universalizes tragedy: In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. Adam’s sin was catastrophic for everyone. There is no division  between player and audience. We are all players in the human tragedy.

The gospel, of course, undoes the universal tragedy by telling the story of a Last Adam who reverses the wrong of the first by a single act of righteousness. But universalization of tragedy by itself plants the seed that turns tragedy to comedy. As in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we all wear the green girdle. Universal tragedy undermines the mob-versus-scapegoat pattern of tragedy. The scapegoat isn’t sent out, but is here among us, all of us other scapegoats. 

It’s no accident that Sir Gawain ends in laughter. All the knights wear the green girdle and laugh off Gawain’s hubristic sense that he is uniquely a sinner. We don’t stand in judgment over the sinner, but recognize our fellowship in sin. We may face catastrophe, but we all face it together.

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