René Girard Via First Things

The journal First Things has recently featured on its website a short essay by Peter J. Leithart entitled ‘Clashing Victimocracies!’  The author explores the privileged and problematic position of the ‘victim’ in current social and political debate. In doing so Mr. Leithart invokes René Girard as well as two of Girard’s interpreters Eric Gans and Jean-Pierre Dupuy. Earlier this year a review of a new René Girard biography appeared in the Wall Street Journal of all places. It is encouraging to see widely read periodicals bringing Girard’s work to a larger audience. Our modest efforts here at the Cornerstone Forum have begun a fruitful conversation with the Catholic intellectual and theological tradition. And the Colloquium on Violence and Religion continues to introduce new generations of academics to mimetic theory as well as explore and critique Girard’s work. However, unless one is tuned into specific sites of Girardian interest it is only infrequently that you will hear his work cited.

René Girard

In the early 2000’s during one of Professor Girard’s Friday afternoon seminars on the campus of Stanford University I recall someone asking him what he thought would be the effect of his mimetic theory after he passed from the scene. In his typically self-effacing manner Professor Girard suggested that it would similarly pass from the scene, or perhaps ‘go underground’ (a sepulchral image I thought).  It has only been three years since René Girard departed this life. Even as the ravages of age had taken its toll on his mortal frame in his last years, his humility and gracious manner remained unimpaired. Yet it seemed his prediction was largely correct. The mimetic hypothesis and its apocalyptic perspective on human affairs is given little notice even as the world at large provides daily more evidence for its veracity.


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Something Imponderable…

This Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the end of “The War To End All Wars”. The conflict lasted over four years and involved more than 70 million combatants. An estimated nine million soldiers were killed in the course of the war as well as seven million civilians. The Austrian novelist Robert Musil (1880 – 1942) wrote about Vienna in the period just before World War I in his book  The Man Without Qualities Vol. 1: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudo Reality Prevails, from which the following is offered as a Veterans Day reflection…

Something imponderable. An omen. An illusion. As when a magnet releases iron filings and they fall in confusion again. As when a ball of string comes undone. As when a tension slackens. As when an orchestra begins to play out of tune. No details could be adduced that would not also have been possible before, but all the relationships had shifted a little. Ideas whose currency had once been lean grew fat. Persons who would before never have been taken seriously became famous. Harshness mellowed, separations fused, intransigents made concessions to popularity, tastes already formed relapsed into uncertainties. Sharp boundaries everywhere became blurred and some new, indefinable ability to form alliances brought new people and new ideas to the top. Not that these people and ideas were bad, not at all; it was only that a little too much of the bad was mixed with the good, of error with truth, of accommodation with meaning. There even seemed to be a privileged proportion of this mixture that got furthest on in the world; just the right pinch of makeshift to bring out the genius in genius and make talent look like a white hope, as a pinch of chicory, according to some people, brings out the right coffee flavor in coffee. Suddenly all the prominent and important positions in the intellectual world were filled by such people, and all decisions went their way. There is nothing one can hold responsible for this, nor can one say how it all came about. There are no persons or ideas or specific phenomena that one can fight against. There is no lack of talent or goodwill or even of strong personalities. There is just something missing in everything, though you can’t put your finger on it, as if there had been a change in the blood or in the air; a mysterious disease has eaten away the previous period’s seeds of genius, but everything sparkles with novelty, and finally one has no way of knowing whether the world has really grown worse, or oneself merely older. At this point a new era has definitively arrived.

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The Religious Backdrop of the Vote

This past week people across the United States participated in the public ritual of voting. These days, though, it is becoming less of a public act at the polling place and more of a private affair with the advent of absentee ballots. In the city in which I live most people choose to cast their votes by absentee ballot mostly out of convenience. This year for the first time I used an absentee ballot because I was actually absent from my home on the first Tuesday in November. So, instead of actually voting I spent some time thinking about how we came to call what we do the “vote”. For instance, why don’t we call it “electing” or making a “choice”, words more obviously descriptive of the act. Most likely it is because this act is so named in the Constitution. But where did the framers of the Constitution come up with the word?

The Latin root of our word ‘vote’ is votum, meaning a vow, or a solemn promise or wish to a god. Vote came into the English language sometime in the mid-sixteenth century from French where its meaning related to religious vows, and so we derive the forms votive, votary, devote. Shakespeare does not use the word ‘vote’, preferring ‘election’. In the Roman republic voting was a very public, personal and physical affair where citizens would on the appointed election day literally stand next to or close to the candidate for whom they offered their support. This was done on the Campus Martius (the Field of Mars dedicated to the god of war). This act was called in Latin, suffragium. Here is where we derive our word “sufferage”. And again, English received this word from French in the 14th century where its meaning related to intercessory prayer.

I wish I knew where and when the first use was made of the word ‘vote’ in English. It does not appear in Magna Carta, nor would one expect it since this was written in the period of monarchy and Parliament was not created yet. However,the backdrop of religious sentiment is evident in the terminology of our episodic choice of government office holders.

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The Public Atmospherics of Health

Here is a very timely message from the pen of Hans Urs von Balthasar, written decades before the current crisis in the Catholic Church:

“The bold venture of speaking openly concerns everything that must urgently be said in Church and State in order to restore the public atmosphere to health, as an aid for the wavering in spirit and for those who have been terrorized, disgusted, and desiccated by the silencing and repressing of the truth. It must be said without pathos or bitterness, without the will to wound or to take a secret revenge, without servile grumbling or supercilious gloating. Rather, it must be that specifically Christian way of speaking that is close to sacramental confession in its gravity and to a physician’s advice in its objectivity and that finds its clean tone in the at once modest and proud competence of the baptized person who makes his home in the Church and there enjoys the full rights of citizenship.”

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New Items from the Archives & Notes on a New Perspective

Gil Bailie c. 1985

When Gil Bailie first encountered the work of René Girard in the mid-1980s he had for years been hosting weekly gatherings for discussion of classics from the Western literary and spiritual tradition. These discussions became over time more in the nature of talks or reflections as those who attended the sessions began to appreciate Gil’s unique perspective. That perspective was radically altered and reoriented when Gil began to seriously engage with Girard’s mimetic hypothesis. The psychological lens provided by Jungian analysis that for many seemed to cast a penetrating light into the nature of human affairs including religion, after contact with Girard, now came to appear as another obfuscating permutation of Gnostic mystification.

The new perspective was provided by an altered source of light. Previously, he had used an intellectual construct from Jungian psychology that stood outside of the literary subjects he was examining.  The light of Girard’s mimetic theory came from within the works themselves, and could be seen to have originated in the revelatory light that burst forth from the literary sources of the Judeo-Christian tradition – the Bible, (as Girard himself acknowledged). It was in this vein that Gil was fond of quoting his friend Andrew McKenna, “The Gospels understand us better than we understand ourselves.”

Some of those presentations recorded around the time of this changed perspective are now becoming available on our website (as well as on Amazon and Audible). The latest of these are Gil Bailie’s Reflections on the Works of Herman Melville including Moby Dick and Billy Budd. They are offered here as CD sets or downloadable MP3 audio files.




Listen to excerpts from these archival recordings:

For anyone who may have read down to the end of this post…I suggest considering re-reading the Elizabeth Jennings poem In This Time that Gil shared earlier this year. It carries the metaphor of outworn myth and light in life’s journey to poetic heights.

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Spiritual Adventure

George Bernanos



I am no George Bernanos, but what the French novelist said about the condition of a Christian writer conforms to my own experience:


“If the good Lord really wants you to bear witness, you must expect to work a lot, to suffer a lot, to have ceaseless doubts about yourself, whether success or in failure. Because, seen in this way, the writer’s profession is no longer a profession: it’s an adventure, and above all a spiritual adventure. And all spiritual adventures are Calvaries.”

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The Work of Humility

Reflections for Labor Day:

Simone Weil

God gave me being in order that I should give it back to him. It is like one of those traps whereby the characters are tested in fairy stories and tales on ini­tiation. If I accept this gift, it is bad and fatal; its virtue becomes apparent through my refusal of it. God al­lows me to exist outside himself. It is for me to refuse this authorization.

Humility is the refusal to exist outside God. It is the queen of virtues.

The self is only the shadow which sin and error cast by stopping the light of God, and I take this shadow for a being.

Even if we could be like God, it would be better to be mud which obeys God.

To be what the pencil is for me when, blindfolded, I feel the table by means of its point-to be that for Christ. It is possible for us to be mediators between God and the part of creation which is confided to us. Our consent is necessary in order that he may perceive his own creation through us. With our consent he per­forms this marvel. If I knew how to withdraw from my own soul it would be enough to enable this table in front of me to have the incomparable good fortune of being seen by God. God can love in us only this con­sent to withdraw in order to make way for him, just as he himself, our Creator, withdrew in order that we might come into being. This double operation has no other meaning than love; it is like a father giving his child something which will enable the child to give a present on his father’s birthday. God who is no other thing but love has not created anything other than love.

Simone Weil

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Summer Newsletter & Complimentary Download – King Lear Pt 4

Here in California it looks like we are in for another difficult and dangerous fire season. The skies are again hazy with the smoke of numerous not too distant blazes. As we pray for those who fight the fires and work to save lives and homes threatened by them, we remain grateful for our families, homes and communities and the opportunity to continue the work to which we have been called. Dependent as we are on the kindness and generosity of our friends and supporters, we understand that every gift ultimately is a gift of grace from the source of all good gifts.

Below you will find a link to a complimentary downloadable MP3 audio file of Part 4 of Gil Bailie’s Reflections on Shakespeare’s King Lear. We are offering this as a gift to everyone who may visit our website this month. Click on the link below to download this free MP3 from our store by using the coupon code ‘summer’. (If this is unfamiliar to you please take a look at a short ‘how to do it’ video HERE.)

Reflections on Shakespeare’s King Lear Pt 4

Gil’s ‘Notes in the Margins’

You might be tempted to eat the fruit. Do not eat the fruit. You might want to rest your hand on the trunk, or touch a branch.  Do not touch the tree trunk or any branches. Do not stand under or even near the tree for any length of time whatsoever. Do not touch your eyes while near the tree. Do not pick up any of the ominously shiny, tropic-green leaves. If you want to slowly but firmly back away from this tree, you would not find any argument from any botanist who has studied it. . . . This is the manchineel, known sometimes as the beach apple, or more accurately in Spanish-speaking countries as la manzanilla de la muerte, which translates to “the little apple of death,” or as arbol de la muerte, “tree of death.”[1]

This warning is obviously based on bitter experience over a long period of time. It comes not only as a warning but as a gift to those to whom the manchineel tree looks perfectly appealing and who don’t suspect just how deadly the tree actually is. This is how a living tradition operates. Long experience provides each new generation with warnings it would have to learn the hard way all over again. This is especially helpful when behavior or principles of action that might seem unproblematic to one generation produce dire consequences for subsequent generations. Those who do not wish to learn the hard way about “the little apple of death” will be grateful for the tradition that warns them, and they will, in turn, make it their business to warn those who come after them.

Alas, we fallen creatures inhabit a world where multiple species of “the little apple of death” are found, each as seductive to the unsuspecting. But those who live in a self-consciously progressive age learn in a thousand little ways that traditions constrain our freedom, and those who are bold enough to strike out on their own, ignoring the warnings of their ancestors and predecessors, are valorized for doing so.

This being the 50th anniversary of the Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, we are now in a position to judge the accuracy of its warnings about the consequences of the widespread acceptance of artificial means of birth control. The encyclical was widely mocked as hopelessly out of date, the fears of an aging celibate about matters on which he lacked the experience to “pontificate.” That he was drawing on millennia of experience by the oldest institution in history seemed to many all the more reason to ignore his warnings:  that easy access to artificial contraception would lead to a breakdown in sexual morality and undermine the stability of the institution of marriage, to casual sex, abortion and the hardness of heart required to imagine it to be morally acceptable, and not least to the demographic winter which will ravage our civilization and drastically compromise the cultures our children and grandchildren will inhabit.

Who would have thought a tree as lovely as the manchineel or something as seemingly innocuous as artificial forms of contraception would be so fraught with dire consequences? Almost no one knew based solely on his or her experience, but the accumulated experience and wisdom of our forbearers very often knows such things. The chief reason we need such a tradition is because some of the mistakes we are likely to otherwise make are not only virtually irreversible but their terrible consequences will fall on our children and grandchildren, whose welfare largely depends on how we conduct ourselves, personally and culturally. Which brings me to one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets.

The Rule by Richard Wilbur:

The oil for extreme unction must be blessed
On Maundy Thursday, so the rule has ruled,
And by the bishop of the diocese.
Does that revolt you? If so, you are free
To squat beneath the deadly manchineel,
That tree of caustic drops and fierce aspersion,
And fancy that you have escaped from mercy.
Things must be done in one way or another

Sincerely yours,
Gil Bailie

[1] Dan Nosowitz, “Do Not Eat, Touch, or Even Inhale the Air Around the Manchineel Tree,” Atlas Obscura, May 19, 2016.

Randy’s Executive Director’s Report:

While Gil continues working on his writing projects I have been steadily progressing on our initiative to make Gil Bailie’s archival audio materials available on Amazon and Audible. Currently we have six titles on Amazon as CD audio albums and three on Audible as downloadable/streaming audio books. The content of the audio materials being offered on Amazon & Audible is the same as products we offer on our webstore. However we have added new introductions and ending credits that they require. In addition, Audible has specific audio quality standards that necessitate further audio editing for materials offered through that platform. The price of the Amazon CD versions is the same as on the Cornerstone Forum webstore, although the shipping costs vary from our store’s flat rate shipping. Audible has its own pricing formula. Additionally, the packaging of the CDs has been made more uniform to help identify Cornerstone Forum products.

We hope many more people than currently visit our lowly website will have he opportunity sample our audio offerings on the giant global marketplace that Amazon and Audible provide. Another factor in our consideration is that the demise of the audio compact disc (CD) has been repeatedly reported over the past number of years. The latest harbinger of its death being the news that the retailer Best Buy recently stopped selling music CDs in their stores. While we don’t think we are in the same category as pop music, we realize that new listeners to Gil Bailie’s talks who are under the age of 40 will likely be more familiar with listening to streamed audio materials on their mobile phones than on a CD.

We will continue to offer CD versions of Gil’s talks as long as we can. Our 7 year old in-house production equipment is working well for our current low volume needs. However, if demand were to increase significantly due to sales on Amazon (not at all a bad prospect), or an equipment failure (a decidedly bad prospect) we would be faced with the challenge of how to fulfill the demand. Outsourcing CD production is possible. But for a low volume enterprise like ours, costs would increase substantially.

So, we trust that our audio initiative will bear fruit for a wider audience and a new generation of listeners in whatever media format it is offered. We encourage you to share any materials you receive from the Cornerstone Forum with friends who may appreciate them. And if you purchase any of our audio materials from either Amazon or Audible please leave a review as it helps those who are considering listening to Gil’s talks.

Thank you, again, for your interest in our work.

Randy Coleman-Riese – Executive Director

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Feeding the gods

Monumental Aztec Edifice of Skulls of Their Sacrificial Victims

One of the great values of what John Paul II called the Splendor of Truth is that it shatters even the most impervious ideological barriers erected to hide it.

A recent archeological find in Mexico City detailed in Science magazine (to view a short video and read the article click on the image to the left) has confirmed the existence of a Tzompantli – a monumental display of thousands of skulls of sacrificial victims. Some scholars had believed it to be a figment of the Spanish conquistador’s  imagination, or perhaps an exaggeration meant as a slur against the indigenous people of Tenochtitlan – the chief city of the Mexica culture.

If we could line up the millions of unborn children killed on the stainless steel altars of the abortion industry we might be able to recognize the return to pagan principles that is occurring in a once Christian civilization.

The truth will set us free.

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The 4th of July Prayer Party

We are aware (and thankful) that we have many friends and supporters who live in countries around the world. Gil Bailie and I pray for those whose names we know wherever they happen to reside. However, today is our national ‘birthday’ celebration here in the USA and so I would like to ask a favor of you, to please say a prayer for the United States of America. I especially encourage anyone stopping by our lowly website to consider spending part of this national Independence Day holiday to take some time to pray to God for this country, its leaders, public servants, and citizens. My favorites are, “God help us!”, and “Lord, have mercy”.

There are many types of prayer, thanksgiving, supplication, penitential, etc – take your pick.

And don’t forget to pray for yourself and your own county and community as well.

God help us…

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