We didn’t invent sacrifice, sacrifice invented us: unpacking Girard’s insight (Alison, 2013)

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If we wish, then, we can use the language of Jesus offering himself as a perfect sacrifice to the Father, just so long as we remember that this is a way of describing not some private sacrificial intention of Jesus towards a Father who needed satisfying, but the whole obedient acting out by which Jesus came to occupy an all-too-humanly constituted place of shame, violence and death, and not hold it against us. There is an angry deity in this equation, and it is us, in whose midst God, quite without violence, manifests the depth of his forgiving love by plumbing the depths of, and thus defanging our violence.

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Monotheism and idolatry: Preface to a conversation (Alison, 2013)

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I apologise for having started with this long preamble, but it seemed to me an appropriate way into a discussion about monotheism and idolatry. I wanted to illustrate two points: just how difficult really useful self-criticism is, and just how difficult and delicate a matter is the communication of genuine critical insight from another source outside ourselves. And yet there is no helpful discussion of idolatry that isn’t founded in these matters.

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Theology as Survival (Alison, 2013)

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1. So, who is James Alison? What aspects of your life do you consider most central to your identity? What should people who are curious about you know?
James Alison is English, and therefore ontologically incapable of answering a question of this sort about himself….I was brought up in a hard line Evangelical Anglican family – the sort of ambience that would be familiar to US readers as “The Religious Right. For those to whom such names mean something, I was baptised as an infant by John Stott, while family friends included Billy Graham, Chuck Colson and Doug Coe. I wrote about what drew me into the Catholic faith in my most recent book, Broken Hearts & New Creations

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The Portal and the Half-Way House: Spacious imagination and aristocratic belonging (Alison, 2011)

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When we worship an idol, our love, which is in principle a good thing, is trapped into grasping onto something made in our own image. This “something”, which we of course do not perceive as an idol, then becomes the repository for all the security and certainty which we idolaters need in order to survive in the world. We are unaware that the tighter we grasp it, the more insecure and uncertain we in fact become, and the more we empty the object which we idolize of any potential for truth and meaning. And of course because love is in principle a good thing, for us to get untangled from its distorted form is very painful. Nevertheless, against any tendency we might have to blame the idol for being an idol, it is really the pattern of desire in us, the grasping, that is the problem, not the object. For just as the Bible is not an act of communication that we can lay hold of, but the written monuments to an act of communication that takes hold of us, so the Church is not an object that we can grasp, but a sign of our being grasped and held; not something that any of us owns, but the first hints, difficult to perceive, of Another’s ownership of us.

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Girard and the analogy of desire (Alison, 2011)

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All of this has been to bring us to the place where I would like to highlight how Girard can help us. Let us take the phrase: “God is for us”. It seems to me that where traditionally the negative approach to God has hinted at a sense of God who is not in rivalry with anything that is, and thus saved us from the danger of worshiping a god within the order of things that are, it has done so by problematizing the word “is”. It doesn’t offer much help in problematizing either the “for” or the “us” – which are inseparably bound together. It seems to me that Girard’s insight into the mimetic nature of desire, which some people accuse of being far too negative, actually gives us a chance to problematize the “for” and the “us” in very helpful ways. Or to put it into nutshell: when we say that “God is not in rivalry with anything that is” the phrase “not in rivalry” might be a very useful starting place for working towards a sense of a “for” that is not part of our cultural framework, and yet which has a positive incidence in it. So I’d like here to set out some hints of what I might call the Girardian analogy – the via negative of rivalistic desire.

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“Like being dragged through a bush backwards”: Hints of the shape of conversion’s adventure (Alison, 2010)

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It is a very great honour to have been asked by you to share some thoughts about conversion in your midst. You have invited me to develop hints of the way that the understanding of Christianity which I have been pursuing in the light of the thought of René Girard, can open up insights for us. Insights into the role of participation and conversion in religious knowing; into the place of contemplation and the spiritual disciplines in developing ‘post-conversion eyes’; and into how belonging to the Eucharistic community of disciples, with all the attendant difficulties to do with processing conflict, plays its part. Given that this is a modest little question, requiring no more than three or four months worth of lectures, but that I have only a single shot at it, I thought I would at least try open the matter up by means of reading the parable of the Good Samaritan with you, since I think that it plunges us directly in medias res.

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