More James Alison


More from The Joy of Being Wrong by James Alison [any typos are mine]:

“I think it is important to see revelation as a process of human dis-covery, implying that there is something to be uncovered. This means seeing revelation not as a particularly important form of human progress, but rather as a constant counterforce, a constant un-covering of something which we tend to cover up as a result of being human beings as we are. … I am talking about a human process of discovery that is made possible by the irruption, into contingent, historical, human life, of a difference, a difference of perspective and regard on exactly the same human events, accessible by exactly the same human means.”

Alison says that this difference of perspective is the way Jesus sees things, and that the witnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (the disciples, et al.) gradually come to understand that there is a difference between ordinary, cultural human consciousness and Jesus’ awareness and perspective.

He says that discovering who God is is a revelation that “involves learning to see the same reality from a different perspective: specifically, the hugely culturally complex (and apparently very rare) process of learning to look at the act of victimization from the point of view of the victim, which subverts identity (in order to rebuild it), rather than from that of the lynchers, whose viewpoint constitutes an identity that is also a cover-up.”

Continuing, Alison goes on at some length about our degree of denial and blindness, about our need for someone from outside the system to forgive us so as to allow us to see:

“A divine revelation cannot be argued from neutral premises, for there are no neutral premises. According to what you think has been revealed, that is the measure of your revelation. If you think that what has been revealed is something which humans can, with their awareness constituted as it is, look squarely in the face without any prompting or help, then you can dispense with divine revelation. … I do not think that anything human could have revealed the constitution of the human consciousness in human victimization, because I do not think that we can accede to that sort of awareness of who we are without simultaneously being absolved of our complicity in that violence. I know of no neutral description of our complicity in founding violence that is not either part of an accusation (in which case, who is accusing us and why? Are not they too constituted by the same violent relation to the center of our scene of origin?) or part of a forgiveness (which is possible only from someone who is either totally outside scene of origin , or inside it as a victim and not participant, or both). … This too is, of course, all a posteriori. I think all this because I believe in the forgiveness of sin.”

“What we have then, in the apostolic circle, is a group of disillusioned, frightened, guilty, mournful, semi-traitors. It was into their midst exactly as they were that Jesus began to appear starting on Easter Sunday. The whole Christian undersanding of revelation hangs from these appearances: without them there would have been no Christianity.”

“The irruption into their midst of Jesus after his death was totally gratuitous. That is to say it was not part of any ordinary human mechanism of reciprocity. Someone who is attacked may attack back, but someone who is killed does not come back to kill. By killing someone we are in fact terminating the possibility of reciprocity on their part.”

“The difficulty of Jesus’ teaching has something to do not in the first place with its own content, but with the constitution of the consciousness of those he was teaching. It was as if they had a veil over their eyes until after the resurrection. That is to say, what Jesus was revealing was something about which human knowledge is shrouded in self-deception. The disciples’ understanding was (as ours is) formed by what Jesus was trying to change: that is, the constitution of consciousness in rivalry and the techniques for survival by exclusion of the other. … This, they saw, was already present in Jesus’ life: his human awareness was simply not constituted by the same ‘other’ as our own.”


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