Memory eternal: René Girard


René Girard, a major influence on my faith and theology, died yesterday.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him “the new Darwin of the human sciences.” The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

More here: Stanford professor and eminent French theorist René Girard, member of the Académie Française, dies at 91 | Stanford News Release

The article on the Stanford website is quite telling in that it makes little or no mention of Girard’s faith or his influence on modern theology. While Girard did seminal work in literary theory and art criticism, I believe it is his insights into the meaning of the Atonement that will have the most lasting impact on Western thought.

My preaching and the way I read the biblical narratives have been totally transformed by his work from the first day I read “The Scapegoat“.

My hope is that there will be a number of articles posted in the next few months that try to communicate what an earth shattering insight into human society his theories on mimesis and scapegoating have had. Those of us who have been studying his thought for years will have now look to his disciples Gil Baille, James Allison and others to extend his work.

Update: Additional articles are starting to be posted like this one by Adam Eriksen in which he writes:

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”


“Science alone cannot save the planet”

Religion / Science

Anglicans and Orthodox believers are organizing in advance of the upcoming UN Summit on Climate Change:

Science alone cannot save the planet the spiritual leader of an estimated 300 million Orthodox Christians has insisted, as he joined forces with the Archbishop of Canterbury urging followers around the world to fight climate change.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, insisted that global warming is a “moral crisis” requiring millions of people to change their day-to-day behaviour as much as politicians making treaties on the environment.

More: Science alone cannot save the planet, insists spiritual leader of Orthodox Church – Telegraph

The Creation Museum: More about the founder’s fears than their faith



Savannah Cox, writing in Salon about the Creation Museum Petersburg KY:

A closer look at the Petersburg attraction reveals that the questions raised in the museum are deeply existential, and ones which are steeped in — and troubled by — an atheistic logic: If it is indeed true that Adam and Eve did not literally exist, as science says, then there is no original sin. If there is no original sin, then Jesus did not have to die for it. If Jesus did die, but not for our sins, then why is he our savior? If he is not our savior, then what is he? What are we?

Viewed this way, the Creation Museum becomes less of a clearly demarcated home for the irrational, but rather a metaphysical space for individuals deeply troubled by emerging forms of authoritative rationality. The museum complex, which sprawls over dozens of acres, is less of an amusement park for fanatics and more of a fortress for the vanishing fearful. It is a space where the likeminded can physically enter a mindset that they know, and that they worry — if science has anything to say about it — might one day become unknown. Questions of social justice, evolution and humankind’s place in the universe are answered here — and usually in 150 pages or less. Indeed, the Creation Museum offers itself as a vital, life-affirming buffer against the spiritually weathering effects, and warnings, of coming worlds.

Source: My Creation Museum quest: A skeptic’s genuine search for faith, science and humanity in a most unlikely place –

Cox concludes: “If only the museum’s founders believed enough in their own faith to see them through it.”

‘Zeno effect’ verified—atoms won’t move while you watch


From the Weeping Angels developmental lab:Doctor_Who_Weeping_Angel_from_The_Time_of_Angels

One of the oddest predictions of quantum theory – that a system can’t change while you’re watching it – has been confirmed in an experiment by Cornell physicists. Their work opens the door to a fundamentally new method to control and manipulate the quantum states of atoms and could lead to new kinds of sensors.

The experiments were performed in the Utracold Lab of Mukund Vengalattore, assistant professor of physics, who has established Cornell’s first program to study the physics of materials cooled to temperatures as low as .000000001 degree above absolute zero. The work is described in the Oct. 2 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters

Of course this doesn’t answer the real, more fundamental question: How do the atoms know we’re watching?

Source: ‘Zeno effect’ verified—atoms won’t move while you watch

Pew: Non-religious people see conflict between science and religion. Religious people don’t.

Religion / SOSc

New Pew study on the perceived levels of conflict between science and religion in American culture:

While 59 percent of U.S. adults say they saw science and religion in conflict, that drops to 30 percent when people are asked about their own religious beliefs.

It turns out that the most highly religious were least likely to see conflict.

And those who said they saw the most conflict between the two worldviews in society are people who personally claimed no religious brand, the “nones,” according to the report.

So – it appears that Rowan Williams response to Richard Dawkins is more true than expected. People are rejecting a God that most religious people don’t believe in either.

Source: Do science and religion conflict? It’s all in how you see it | The Christian Century

How quantum theory helps us understand intercession


Christianity Today on whether prayers make an external difference:

This means that at the macro level as well as the micro, the idea that the world is fixed and predictable is just wrong, and that arguments against an interventionist God don’t work. So, Wilkinson says, chaos might give “space for God to work in unusual and specific ways within the scientific description of the world”. Again, he quotes John Polkinghorne, who says that chaos means that the world is open to the future: “This means that we can pray and God responds by working in the openness of a chaotic system.”

Source: What God does when we pray: How quantum theory helps us understand intercession | Christian News on Christian Today

Lucas Mix: Toward a definition of Life

Religion / Science / SOSc

My friend Lucas Mix, who is Warden of the North American Chapter of the Religious Order of which I am a member is working on a definition of “life” – a project which is taking on new significance now that we have found water on Mars…

He writes in introduction to a series of posts he’s planning:

I would like to suggest five prominent approaches to how we model life. I do not claim these five ways are exclusive or exhaustive. Rather they are five well worn paths that many have taken in search of the meaning of “life.” Specific models – such as Aristotle’s nutritive soul or Schrodinger’s delayed entropy – can be assessed by the work they do in each approach. Often they will have been designed with one approach in mind and be very successful in that way. Often they will then be appropriated by thinkers to do work in another approach – with mixed success.

Each of the approaches comes associated with a focusing question or two that highlights what I see as a central concern. I hope to better identify the place of these various approaches in specific conversations – for example scientific origin-of-life research or Catholic environmental ethics – as well as global conversations on the definition of life. I will return to these questions at the end with my own concerns – how to search for life in space and how to build healthy relationships between individuals and communities. First though, I hope to improve communication between a wide variety of people with a wide variety of concerns by talking about what may be at stake for them – and for all of us – as we discuss “life” together.

Read more at the source: Lucas’s Weblog | An Ecclesiastical Peculiar

David Hart: No one is making a serious argument to support their atheist stance.


David Bentley Hart in First Things on the present state of Atheism:

In the course of writing a book published just this last year, I dutifully acquainted myself not only with all the recent New Atheist bestsellers, but also with a whole constellation of other texts in the same line, and I did so, I believe, without prejudice. No matter how patiently I read, though, and no matter how Herculean the efforts I made at sympathy, I simply could not find many intellectually serious arguments in their pages, and I came finally to believe that their authors were not much concerned to make any.

Source: Believe It or Not by David Bentley Hart | Articles | First Things

Why we must create a non-abusive online experience


Umar Hague argues convincingly that social media has not fulfilled its promise because it has allowed a culture of abuse to flourish. And that has driven people away – abuse turned Facebook into something it didn’t start out to be and abuse is threatening to end Twitter.

He ends the essay thus, calling for companies to focus on the abuse of others at least as much as they focus on serving up advertisements:

Can we create a better web? Sure. But I think we have to start with humility, gratitude, reality — not arrogance, privilege, blindness. Abuse isn’t a nuisance, a triviality, a minor annoyance that “those people” have to put up with for the great privilege of having our world-changing stuff in their grubby hands. It will chill, stop, and kill networks from growing, communities from blossoming, and lives from flourishing.

Do read it all, it’s worth your time.