Over at Commonweal.com you can read a very interesting interview with the British theologian and priest Fr. James Alison, which resulted from an online conversation between the interviewer (Brett Salkeld, a doctoral student in Canada) and Alison. Commonweal has published an abbreviated version of the interview with the full text of the interview to follow on several websites (see links in the original post). Here is the opening discussion:
Brett Salkeld: You were not born a Catholic. What drew you into the Catholic faith? What drew you to religious life? What drew you to academic life?
James Alison: I was brought up in a hard-line Evangelical Anglican family—the sort of ambience that would be familiar to Americans as “the religious right.” I wrote about what drew me into the Catholic faith in my most recent book, Broken Hearts & New Creations:
What brought me into the church was a mixture of two graces. The first was having fallen in love with a Catholic classmate at school some years earlier. He was and is straight, but I perceived a certain warmth of personality in him which seemed untypical of the world of Protestant schoolboys in which I lived, and I associated that warmth with his being Catholic. The second was a special grace at a time when I was at a very low ebb, having just started to “come out” as a gay man in a very hostile conservative evangelical environment, shortly before going to university. This grace I associate absolutely with the intercession of Padre Pio, since it came at a time when I glimpsed something of the link between his stigmata and the sacrifice of the Mass; and I then knew, and have always since known, the Mass to be no mere memorial supper. This grace, which was accompanied by an astounding joy, literally blew me into the church.
I’m not sure, at this stage, what led me to attempt to join a religious order. On the positive side: the lucidity, intelligence, and serenity of the Dominicans I encountered, the legacy of St. Thomas, the lack of fussy piety—all these gave me some hope that I could emerge from the sense of annihilation that came with my background. On the negative side, I’ve come to see that in my case, joining a religious order was a decorous way someone who considered himself worthless could throw himself away without committing suicide. I had come very close to doing just that while an undergraduate in the late 1970s.
I’m also not sure that I’ve ever been drawn to the academic life as such. Theology has been a matter of survival for me. If I have a carapace of academic presentability, it is thanks to the wonderful teachers I had, among both the Dominicans in England and the Jesuits in Brazil. Even more than these, it is the thought of René Girard and that of some of his closest followers and friends that has given me, and continues to give me, something big to gnaw on, something organic from which to work out an intelligence of faith.
Salkeld: Can you tell us a little about your work in theology? What excites you? What questions do you pursue?
Alison: What has excited me ever since I came across René Girard’s thought has been the fecundity for theology of Girard’s mimetic insight concerning desire and violence. Thanks to Girard’s insight into the scapegoat mechanism at work throughout human culture it has become possible to make sense of Jesus’ death as being salvific for us in a way that is entirely orthodox and takes us away from imputing any vengeance or retribution to God. Girard has also opened up for me a very rich hermeneutic for Scripture, one that avoids the temptations to Marcionism on the one hand and Fundamentalism on the other. These three areas, God, Salvation, and Scripture, are the areas I pursue most relentlessly. The paradigm shift Girard enabled for me has led me to develop an adult introduction to the Christian faith, a course of twelve sessions that some friends are working to make available to a wider public. I hope this will be a contribution to the New Evangelization to which we are called—one that is genuinely good news and not bogged down in moralism.
I’ve also been trying for some time to make the case that the church can indeed, from within its own resources, move out of a false, and often a hateful, characterization of and set of attitudes toward gay and lesbian people. I’m convinced that no new evangelization will get very far while its principal proponents, apparently unaware of the power of the gospel they preach, remain hobbled by this sacralized taboo. More and more young people seem to pick this up very quickly.
Read the rest here…