Just as Jürgen Habermas's dialogue with Cardinal Ratzinger shifted critical theory's stance toward religion, the dialogue between Gianni Vattimo and René Girard reveals tensions within philosophy's critical appropriations of Christianity. Vattimo draws on Heidegger and hermeneutics to claim that the dissolution of any transcendent source of value and authority in the modern world—the advent of nihilism in that sense—is a liberating opening initiated in Western culture by the figure of Christ: Paul's interpretation of Christ's kenosis, divinity lowering itself into human mortality, is the first announcement of the death of God. Girard, disputing Vattimo's interpretive strategies, identifies the crucifixion as a world-historical exposure of the sacrificial origins of human society: the Christian scapegoat undoes the myths that found society's unity on a hidden act of violence and exclusion. Habermas's recent efforts to redeem the contents of religious traditions within his secular moral-political proceduralism revive an aspect of his early work that draws on Hegel's politico-religious idea that the violent reparation of social disunity manifests the “causality of fate.” A critical reflection on the entwining of religious symbols and social theory by Habermas, Vattimo, and Girard brings to light an alternative project, namely, the aestheticization of religion.

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