From Anthropology to Social Theory

In the introduction to their “From Anthropology to Social Theory,” Arpad Szakolczai and Bjørn Thomassen remark on the entries found in the 2017 Sociology Catalogue:

“What [the catalogue] offers as social theory in 2017 is clearly a representative collection. It indeed represents something, even simply presents it: the utopian impulse of Marxism that can always be rejuvenated towards a finally realized socialism, liquification of the past in a constantly faster-moving present, post-meta-post ideologies, inciting youth with an invitation to transgress the threshold into a brave new world loosened from restricting norms, a relentless insisting on the Enlightenment values of autonomy and freedom to safeguard our liberal democracy. This is indeed a catalogue; a sort of war damage report of the most serious problems that plague our times. What we need is not a brand new social theory, as any step forward from here would just exacerbate the situation. We simply cannot go on like this. What we need is a proper stock-taking of this cul de sac, and a reassertion of what went lost along the road.”

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…will he find faith on the earth?

In a post from late last year the question Jesus poses in Luke 18:8 regarding the Son of Man’s return and what he might expect to find was left for us to ponder. The steady receding of many of the cultural bulwarks of traditional manifestations of Christian faith in the West along with the implosion of previously highly regarded Christian institutions have led some to a diminished confidence in what the Lord may find on his return.

But the spectacle of waning faith in the lands of plenty may be offset by the evidence of a living faith not susceptible to the media displays of the technologically advanced world to be found in poor villages of lands to which we give little or no notice. It is with profound gratitude that we should then glimpse this world that Martin Mosebach has provided in his The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs. First Things has published an essay adapted from Mosebach’s book. A martyr is etymologically a witness, someone who gives personal testimony to the truth of what they have seen and heard. Of that testimony we become witnesses in turn. Something like this is recounted in the related stories of the martyrdom of St. Stephen and the conversion of St. Paul. And so, the Church throughout the world is descended from such witnesses

In February 2015 a propaganda arm of the Islamic State (ISIS) posted on the internet a well-produced video of the ritual beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians entitled “A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross”. The civilized world looked away in horror from this barbaric depiction of the slaughter of 21 men who would not deny their Christian faith even to save their lives. In the First Things essay Mosebach writes:

Not long after the Twenty-One were beheaded, I met with a German cardinal. I asked him why the Catholic Church did not formally recognize the testimony of these men of faith, as the old Church generally had in cases of martyrdom. “But they’re Copts!” he answered…. then and there I decided I had to learn more about the Copts, and the Twenty-One in particular.

Mosebach asks us to not look away but rather to look directly into the faces and lives of these martyrs. By doing so we of the lands of plenty and waning faith may find something that we have lost and may yet regain…but not without cost.

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Feb 1st & 2nd at DSPT: The Role of the Laity in the Church



Gil Bailie will be one of the featured speakers at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley at the 10th annual convocation of the College of Fellows held on Friday and Saturday February 1st and 2nd. (click on the image above for details)

If you are in the area and would like to attend please register through the DSPT website. Those out of the area may attend remotely from a web browser via live stream. (Details HERE).

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Keep the Faith

Here is something Joseph Ratzinger told an interviewer in 1996, before he became pope:

“ . . . the church lives not only synchronically but diachronically, as well. This means that it is always all—even the dead—who live and are the whole church, that it is always all who must be considered in any majority in the church. In the state, for example, one day we have the Reagan administration, and the next day the Clinton administration, and whoever comes next always throws out what his predecessor did and said; we always begin again from scratch. That’s not the way it is in the church. The church lives her life precisely from the identity of all the generations, from their identity that overarches time, and her real majority is made up of the saints.”

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What is Orthodoxy?

Gil Bailie reviews a recent release from Angelico Press:

This is an immensely important work which has the potential of enriching and deepening the ecumenical conversation. The scholarly density of the text is regularly interrupted by almost breathtaking moments of originality and luminosity.

Read the complete review at The Catholic World Report

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Looking ahead . . .

In the preface to his translation of Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ, William C. Creasy sketched the historical circumstances in which the book was written:

“When Thomas wrote The Imitation, he saw a world in deep conflict, a world whose foundations seemed to be cracking and crumbling. The death of Pope Gregory XI on March 27, 1378, set the stage for the Great Schism, that rending of Western Christendom that shattered the Church for two generations. … It was the start of a scandal that sapped the moral and spiritual strength of Christendom like an open, infected wound for nearly forty years.”

Mercifully, we are not now in the midst of a Great Schism, but neither is such a thing any longer unthinkable, for reference is regularly made today to the existence in the Catholic Church of an undeclared or incipient schism, and from such cracks gaping chasms can open. This was not lost on the translator, who thought it worth mentioning that in 1978, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the century in which Thomas wrote the Imitation entitled: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century.

Of course, the Imitation of Christ is a timeless spiritual classic, of pertinence to every age. It begins with these words, in Creasy’s translation:

“’Anyone who follows me shall not walk in darkness,’ says the Lord. These are the words of Christ, and by them we are reminded that we must imitate his life and his ways if we are to be truly enlightened and set free from the darkness of our own hearts. Let it be the most important thing we do, then, to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ. . . . Anyone who wishes to understand Christ’s words and to savor them fully should strive to become like him in every way.”

Whether under its surface our moment in history bears any resemblance to the turmoil of the fourteenth century may be debated, but those words of Christ will not pass away, nor will we ever plumb their deepest depths. The question remains, however, whether our historical circumstances, and the theological and anthropological resources now at our disposal, might make it possible to provide substantiating evidence for the central claim of Thomas’ masterpiece? In the months ahead, I will be devoting much of my time to trying to answer that question in the affirmative.

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The Catholic meaning of the church

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Benedict XVI



In an interview in 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – the future Pope Benedict XVI – to his interviewer:


“My impression is that the authentically Catholic meaning of the reality ‘church’ is tacitly disappearing, without being expressly rejected. Many no longer believe that what is at issue is a reality willed by the Lord himself. Even with some theologians, the church appears to be a human construction, an instrument created by us and one that we ourselves can freely reorganize according to the requirements of the moment. In other words, in many ways a conception of church is spreading in Catholic thought, and even in Catholic theology, that cannot even be called Protestant in a ‘classic’ sense. … Thus, without a view of the mystery of the church that is also supernatural and not only sociological, Christology itself loses its reference to the divine in favor of a purely human structure, and ultimately it amounts to a purely human project: the gospel becomes the Jesus-project, the social-liberation project, or other merely historical, immanent projects that can still seem religious in appearance, but which are atheistic in substance.”

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A Girard Christmas Card

This excerpt from the Hoover Institute’s Uncommon Knowledge series in which Peter Robinson interviews René Girard was recorded in 2010. We make it available at this time of year in celebration of the Christmas feast which also coincides with the anniversary of the birth of René Noël Théophile Girard.

Merry Christmas!

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The House of Broken Dreams

Bob Dylan & Roland Janes

And now for something completely different….A Christmas story courtesy of Bob Dylan and Roland Janes:

The story linked to below was posted on the Bob Dylan website in August of 2017. It is one of those rambling narratives reflective of lives that have taken complicated paths and somehow end up at Grace’s house…

Roland Janes

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In the Gospel reading for Monday of the Second week of Advent Jesus heals a paralytic who has been lowered down through the ceiling of the crowded room where Our Lord has been teaching. It is a well-known story. Luke tells us when Jesus saw the faith of those who lowered the man on the stretcher he says to the paralytic, “As for you, your sins are forgiven”. The Scribes and Pharisees are offended for, they say to themselves, “Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Thereupon, Jesus tells the paralytic to arise, pickup his stretcher and go home, showing that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”. And so he does. The assembled crowd is awe struck saying, “We have seen incredible things today”.

In the Greek text of Luke’s Gospel the word translated as ‘incredible’ is ‘paradoxa’. Without getting into a debate about the relative meanings of cognate words in different languages, I would like to reflect on paradox. At he end of an interview published in First Things in 2008 Grant Kaplan asks René Girard, “How do you think the main theses of your work will be played out in the coming decades?”, to which Girard responds, “I think the question and the paradox of the scapegoat (it is there when you don’t see it, and not there when you see it) is going to be understood better and will play a role in apologetics that it has never played. The view of Christianity is not paradoxical enough. I think that when you read Kierkegaard carefully he is not very far from several of the things that the scapegoat theory can formulate more rationally.Therefore, it can be a tool of apologetics that hasn’t been discovered yet.”

It is interesting that Girard connects the paradox of the scapegoat with a rational apologetic for Christianity. Certainly, among Girardians, there are many who found the interpretive lens of mimetic theory focused on the Passion of Christ opened a profound intellectual understanding as well as a doorway into unexpected spiritual depths, Gil Bailie being a prime example (see the ending of Violence Unveiled). Our work is an outgrowth and development of just this apologetic. The Christian paradox is recalled in Gil’s question from one of his presentations in the mid-1980s, “How is it that we are saved by a hanged man?”. This eventually became “Why did it take the Crucifixion to save us?” in the Emmaus Road Initiative and God’s Gamble, exploring and elucidating the paradox of the scapegoat.

 It is well known that the enigmatic and prolific Danish philosopher and preacher was a premier proponent of Christian paradox, but Girard’s reference to Kierkegaard as an ally for an intensified sense of Christian paradox was surprising, however. The following excerpt gives a sense of this perspective:

 The Christian fact has no history, for it is the paradox that God once came into existence in time. This is the offense, but also it is the point of departure; and whether this was eighteen hundred years ago or yesterday, one can just as well be contemporary with it. Like the polar star this paradox never changes its position and therefore has no history, so this paradox stands immovable and unchanged; and though Christianity were to last for another ten thousand years, one would get no farther from this paradox than the contemporaries were. For the distance is not to be measured by the quantitative scale of time and space, for it is qualitatively decisive by the fact that it is a paradox.

On Authority and Revelation, page 60-1

The Scribes and Pharisees in Luke’s story from the Gospel were offended that “God once came into existence in time” to forgive sins and bring healing, but some in the crowd saw a paradox and believed. I read recently about Ivan Illich saying that the believer and the non-believer are like two men who are listening to a joke: “Both understand the words, but only one of them laughs and grasps the point of the story”

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