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THE MAN BLIND FROM BIRTH AND THE SUBVERSION OF SIN: SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT FUNDAMENTAL MORALS1 James Alison I would like to undertake with you a reading of a passage from the Bible, John Chapter 9. I hope that we will see this chapter yield some interesting insights in the light of my attempt to apply to it the mimetic theory ofRené Girard. I'm not going to expound mimetic theory for you: there is no shortage of books in which such expositions are to be found.2 I'mjust going to put the theory to work, with minimal recourse to technical jargon, in a reading from Scripture, hoping that it will be something like an exercise in publicity for the fecund use to which any of you might put mimetic theory. The reading will not be a simple commentary, but an attempt to experiment with the perspective of the reading. That is to say, we're asking "Who is reading this passage?," "With whom do we identify?" And the reason for this approach is to nudge us into beginning to raise certain questions of fundamental morals, how 'This paper was first published in Theology andSexuality 6, March 1997, and appears here by kind permission ofthe editor. With minor alterations this is the author's translation and adaptation ofa talk given at the Instituto Teológico de America Central (ITAC) in San Pedro Montes de Oca, San José, Costa Rica in May 1995. For instance: R. Schwager, Must there be Scapegoats? Violence andRedemption in the Bible (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987); R. Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence: Paul's Hermeneutic ofthe Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992); J. Williams, The Bible, Violence and the Sacred: Liberationfrom the Myth ofSanctioned Violence (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991); Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: Crossroad, 1995)—this is the most accessible ofthe accounts. James Alison27 we talk about them, or live them in a more or less coherent and convincing way. I can't promise you any great conclusions, because I'm only just beginning to get into this subject. For that reason, I'll begin by saying that what follows is somewhat experimental, and will end with a few hints as to possible future paths to follow. I should also begin by saying that my intention is not to cause scandal, but to provoke a discussion which allows a fuller way ofliving a Christian life. In this sense what I'm trying out is an attempt at a search for a theological method which I have not yet mastered and which, if developed, will, I hope, prove somewhat emancipatory for all ofus. Miracle or theological debate? Let us begin our reading of John 9. At first sight we have an account of a miraculous healing. It is the story of a man blind from birth who receives his sight from Jesus one Sabbath, and then of the consequences of this healing among the people who witness, or hear about, the matter. Ifthe account were to be found in one of the synoptic Gospels, perhaps it might remain at that—there is no shortage of such stories. I have no doubt that in the background to the story we're dealing with an historical incident of a healing carried out by Jesus on a Sabbath. However, here the "miraculous healing" element doesn't receive much emphasis, nor does the Sabbath or rather, the matter ofthe Sabbath does receive a certain weight, as we will see later on, but with some very idiosyncratically Johannine touches. In any case, the purpose of this Chapter is determined by the debate about sin, sight, blindness and judgement within which it is set: these are the jeweller's artwork which show forth, and make sense of, the gem ofthe healing. Let us look at the beginning of the story. Jesus sees a man born blind, and his disciples ask him: "Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answers them: "Neither this man nor his parents. He is blind so that the works of God may be made manifest in him." That is to say, the whole story which follows comes as an illustration...


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