Girard’s Achievement

Gil Bailie notes in his recently published God’s Gamble (25, 27) that modern thinkers have often pointed to the similarities between gospel and myth as evidence against the uniqueness of Christian faith: “The anthropological discovery of the paschal structure in extant remnants of archaic religion appeared to present a serious challenge to the claim of uniqueness. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that the defense of Christian uniqueness would increasingly have to be made in a world that was becoming one large electronically lined Areopagus in which Christian truth-claims had to be made within the hearing of countless people, cultures, and religious traditions to whom these claims seemed both ludicrous and offensive.”

In response, some Christians “have chosen the line of least resistance, adopting an ahistorical status-quo pluralism ideologically averse to any criteria that might compromise their multicultural bona fides by putting either Christianity, or the cultures under its influence, in a favorable light vis-a-vis other traditions and cultures.” This “ideological sentimentality” makes a mockery of Christian catholicity and the instinct “to genuflect before . . . fashionable slogans” is unfaithful to the gospel.

By contrast, Girard performed a neat jiu-jitsu: “it was by completing the work of researchers who thought they were disproving Christian claims of uniqueness that Girard has been able to substantiate these claims decisively.” Traditional believers were often disturbed by the fact that “Girard cited the evidence adduced by others to prove that Christianity was just another myth” to make his case. Girard upended such traditionalists too, since he rejected the idea that “myth and gospel are dealing with two totally different realities.”

On both of these points, Girard is right, and a compelling atonement theory has to follow Girard’s lead at least to this extent: It has to demonstrate that the gospel answers to the problems of myth, with emphasis on answer.

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