I wonder if you remember the motto of the hit TV series The X-Files: “The truth is out there”. It seems a bit naïve now, doesn’t it? In our post-truth world, the possibility of truth has been called into question. Like the blurring of fact and fiction on the show, we have been subjected to lies, half-truths and smoke screens from politicians, social media and news outlets. But unlike Mulder and Scully, who never lost their faith in the truth, we have begun to doubt our ability to tell the difference between lies and truth, or even if such a difference exists. Mulder and Scully risked their careers and their lives in order to find the truth but what has become of the search for truth today? If we give up the search, will truth be able to find us?
This week we are going to do some digging for the truth with theologian Grant Kaplan, author of the recently published book, René Girard: Unlikely Apologist (2016, University of Notre Dame Press). In a free webinar this Thursday at 1:00 Central,* Grant is going to explore three questions raised by The X-Files that defined the career of René Girard and are woven throughout the mimetic theory for which he is famous.
Faith and Reason
FBI Agent Fox Mulder saw evidence of aliens almost everywhere he looked. His colleague, the scientific Dr. Scully, insisted that he saw what he wanted to see. In other words, because he believed in aliens he interpreted events to fit his belief. Similarly, Girard saw evidence of the impact of the Christian revelation on human culture almost everywhere he looked. His critics have accused him of seeing what he wanted to see because he already believed. Girard himself admitted, “All of my books have been written from a Christian perspective.” But he also insisted that mimetic theory required no prior faith commitment to understand, that it was a purely scientific theory. Can he have it both ways? Grant’s answer forms the central argument of his book.
Truth and Grace
Both Mulder and Scully were committed to finding the truth about the existence of aliens. Girard was equally as dedicated to finding the truth, but he was concerned with human existence here on earth. One of Girard’s inspired insights was that long ago at our origins, humanity became convinced that a lie about peace and violence was sacred truth. Girard was able to explain the human reality behind a Christian truth claim about the gift of grace: that only a divine intervention could break the hold of the sacred lie on our hearts and minds. Weirdly, the appearance of grace can feel like an alien invasion, so foreign is it to the lie we all believe. How does Girard’s understanding of grace help us find the truth about ourselves?
Scapegoats and Enmities
Grant quotes this important insight from Girard: “To become Christian is, fundamentally, to perceive that it isn’t just others who have scapegoats.” This is an unusual way to envision the effect of Christian conversion on our lives, but for Girard it is the only way that counts. Girard often lamented the human inability to see our own scapegoats. We are paradoxically quite “proficient in discovering other people’s scapegoats,” Girard wrote, but “we only have legitimate enmities.” In the current climate of escalating enmities from the left and right of the political spectrum, we’ll ask Grant for some tips on how to spot our own scapegoats so we can be sure our efforts on behalf of victims do more good than harm.
*Please join me on Thursday, February 16 at 1:00pm Central for the important and timely conversation with the insightful theologian and mimetic theory scholar, Grant Kaplan. You can join the conversation live by smart phone or computer by following this link about 10 minutes before the scheduled start of the interview. A recording will be made available on Friday at ravenfoundation.org.
Grant Kaplan is an associate professor of systematic theology at Saint Louis University. He received his Ph.D. in systematic theology from Boston College in 2003. His first monograph, Answering the Enlightenment: The Catholic Recovery of Historical Revelation (Crossroad, 2006), examines the German Enlightenment’s critique of revelation and the Catholic response to this critique. His second monograph, René Girard, Unlikely Apologist (Notre Dame, 2016) focuses on bringing mimetic theory into conversation with fundamental theology. In addition to mimetic theory, Dr. Kaplan centers his research around modern Christian theology, with an emphasis on 19th century German Catholicism. He is currently writing a book on the relationship between faith and reason in the Christian tradition. He has received external grants from the Fulbright Association, the DAAD, the Peter Thiel Foundation, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He and his wife are raising their two boys in Saint Louis.