With apologies to popular apologetics today, I have never found them as helpful as they claim to be. From what I have seen, they attempt through proofs and logic to prove that Christianity is the best and most reasonable religion, and that the Bible is the only and most perfect holy book. There is a place for all of this, of course; having logical reason to see the Bible as true is essential to helping the Christian witness. But insofar as the discipline of apologetics have presented Christianity as a religion, I have not found it satisfying.
Recently, though, I have been reading an interpretation of René Girard’s theories by Gil Bailie, and suddenly it made so much more sense. Bailie gives a Christian apologetic by presenting the gospel of Christ as the thing that came from Heaven to destroy religion, not simply another religion. Here is a rough summary of some of Bailie’s argument:
Religion is a complex animal that performs many societal tasks. In the area of conflict and violence, religion—especially primitive religion—plays a very specific role. Generally speaking, it takes the violence inherent in society, which is mostly cyclical and subject to mimesis, and makes a system out of it. It blesses certain kinds of violence, condemns others as profane, and creates rituals and myths that help tell the story of that society from the perspective of those who created the given religion. The “profane” violence is utterly despised, and “sacred” or simply “good” violence is used in attempts to straighten society out—again, though, from the perspective of those creating the religious system. The myths that are created come, in the minds of the religion’s adherents, to be believed as accurate “history,” even though they only tell one side of the story, obscuring every other.
In a religious society such as this, scapegoating becomes a problem as well, as religionists try to explain away their problems by blaming, and thus sacrificing, persecuting, or killing certain individuals, ethnicities, or societies.
This is pervasive in our world, and can be observed in almost any culture. Into such a system, the gospel message of Christ comes and confounds everything. It preaches grassroots action, taking the side of the poor and oppressed, vindicating the scapegoats, and befriending the prostitutes. It threatens, although fairly subtly, the existing hierarchies, both political and religious. And it clearly has no need for the myths that try to uphold the social system and proclaim the need for violence. It then culminates its message by having its leader die a criminal’s death by crucifixion, but then beats the system of death by coming back to life. Where other stories had presented the society as good and those who died as evil, or deserving of their fate, the gospel message presents God as taking that exact role of scapegoat, the one who took the violence of the system upon Himself. This is not simply another myth; no, this is the anti-myth, the anti-religion. Christ and His apostles did not simply seek to re-regulate society, control violence, and form new political and ethnic myths. They taught emphatically that that time is over, and the followers of this new faith are to reject the old system that is based on domination.
Other systems of belief, of course, have claimed to be the anti-religion, the answer to religious destruction. Various modern and postmodern philosophies fit this bill, hoping to be able to set right the world and enlighten it, free it from the bondage of religion. But these systems themselves have become enslaved to the most destructive tendencies of primitive religion, because they have not managed, as the gospel has, to turn upside-down the worldly assumptions of domination, scapegoating, and ethnocentricity. In a very real way, then, the Christian gospel is not simply the best and most reasonable religion to believe in; it is rather the only entity in this world that has true power to destroy religion once and for all. Such is the power of the gospel.
I should point out before I finish that I do not see this as replacing all other apologetic arguments, nor do I see this as capturing the totality of the Christian faith. I do, though, see the ideas of Girard and Bailie to be vindicating and stimulating as I have delved deeper into Christianity.