René Girard has died. Girard, one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century, developed a scapegoating theory of Jesus’ death that has been immensely helpful to those of us looking for a new, hopeful interpretation of the cross. I wrote about it on this blog, and in a couple books.
Just today, on the very day that he died, I was speaking a the Haven for Hope in San Antonio to a group of men who are addicts and often homeless. We established that these men were familiar with a version of the atonement that says God is upset about our sin, and Jesus’ blood had to pay a price.
Instead, I asked them if they’d been involved in a situation of gang or mob violence. They all had, both as the mob and as the victim of the mob. I went on to describe the scapegoating mechanism — how one person becomes the focus of the mob, and made responsible for a problem in society. And then I explained how Jesus’ death shows that God rejects the idea that blood sacrifice appeases his wrath. Instead, it shows in full relief that the system of blood sacrifice (and scapegoating) is bankrupt.
In all my years of espousing Girard’s theory, never has it been so poignant as it was today. And then I returned to my hotel room to discover that Girard died this morning.
RIP to a great thinker. Girard’s ideas, however, will not die anytime soon.