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Engaging with Tragic Spirituality and Victim Sensibility: On the Cultural Setting of Mission in the West Today

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Researchers into contemporary spirituality in Britain raise the question of a possible return of the classical tragic sense of life once displaced by Christianity. Such a sense of life renders faith incredible. This profound mission challenge shows itself especially in "tragic spirituality" and in an exalted "victim sensibility." The intrinsic relation between tragedy and victimhood is here explored. Since the experience of tragic victimhood is personally demanding it is characteristically evaded, in one of two basic ways: either by adopting a dismissive attitude, or by giving in to being overwhelmed and spiritually defeated. Both responses are destructive: the former tends to create or re-victimize victims, while the latter turns into self-destructive resentment and rage which readily creates new victims. Jesus Christ accepted the vocation of the ultimate victim who embraces radical victimhood without evasion and empowers others to do the same. Nevertheless Christians have sometimes either been dismissive of victimhood by appealing superficially to the resurrection, or have made Jesus the mere icon of tragic suffering.

Western culture is now seen to foster vulnerability towards overwhelming by victimhood. This vulnerability is associated with the cultural fostering of depleted, narcissistic personalities. Such overwhelming often shows itself in rage and the search for scapegoats. The relation between overwhelming, the sacrifice of scapegoats and the sacred is now explored with attention to René Girard's writings. His discernment here of a contemporary "twofold Nietzschean heritage" is presented as a vital context for mission today, together with "scapegoating" tendencies in fundamentalist religion. In conclusion, an underlying issue is alternative understandings of "the sacred" and the ensuing relation between sacred and secular, and the need to witness to what true sacredness is. This is to be found in Christ's self-sacrificial love towards all who dismiss or are overwhelmed by the painful demands of this same love.


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