Alison is a prolific writer and speaker whose work revolves around the project of reconciling orthodox Catholicism with some decidedly non-orthodox teachings such as nonviolent atonement and homosexuality, primarily rooted in his interpretation of René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire. In The Joy of Being Wrong, his focus is on reinterpreting the concept of original sin as connected to this idea of that humans “desire according to the desire of the other” (p. 9). To illustrate this, he uses the example of Tarzan not finding Jane interesting until a visiting Hollywood director fancies her. Alison says that this “triangular” or “imitative” desire is at the root of much of our conflict with one another. In other words, I want what you want precisely because you want it. Cain’s murder of Abel is seen as the first instance of such conflict leading to bloodshed, but by no means the last.
While you may or may not agree with his defense of traditional doctrines of original sin, the trinity, etc., you can glean some interesting insights either way. His arguments regarding the nature of sin in relationship to religious law, for instance, are well worth consideration. Jesus’s “fulfilment of the law is a subversion from within of the current understanding of the law,” he says, “and was rightly seen as subversive by those who regarded themselves as the guardians of the law” (p. 122). This was the basis of the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees. He goes on to say that “being wrong can be forgiven: it is insisting on being right that confirms our being bound in original murderous sin” (p. 125).
Now of course Alison wholly restricts his reflections on the law and sin to Mosaic law. But might it be worth considering whether this same logic is applicable to the ways in which we either use our religious beliefs to exclude others or make use of the legal structure of the state to impose our moral vision? If the two primary drivers for appeal to the state for intervention in the lives of others are either religious zeal (even in its secular form) to protect or control the actions of others, or financial gain, you have your traditional alliance of Baptists and Bootleggers. Combine this with those who seek to gain or maintain power in political office and you have what could very well be described as an unholy triangular relationship of desire.
Read this passage from Alison on the law and reflect on their implications both within religious contexts but also beyond them to how we make use of the legal power of the government:
In fact, not only does the law permit people to become just, but it locks them further into wrath, which is the judgmental attitude of those who think they have a superior knowledge, leading them to involvement in persecution and death… So the Johannine Pharisees are driven deeper into blindness by their pretensions of sight. And of course,…the paradigm for the law being wrong is the death of Christ (p. 129).
Where have we been driven deeper into blindness by our pretensions to sight – either through our churches or through our government? Where have our judgmental attitudes and presumed superior knowledge led us to involve ourselves in persecution and death through participation in the state’s use of coercion and violence to achieve its ends – and ours? Forgive us our desires that lead us to such sinful ends. Let us not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.