VIOLENCE AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD:
Introducing the anthropology of René Girard
by Andrew Marr, OSB
[This article is a slight enlarging of the version printed in the Fall 1998 issue of the Anglican Theological Review. It is the basis for my chapter of the same name in Tools for Peace.]
The claims the French thinker René Girard makes for his anthropological theory are as sweeping as they are bold. His theory explains both the root cause for violence and the origin of archaic religions, and then offers a strong apologia for the truth revealed in the Gospels. Girard’s theory puts a finger on the wrenching paradox of our time: the growing ethical concern for victims even while violence escalates at all levels.
René Girard is a Roman Catholic layman who was converted to the Church of his upbringing in the course of developing his theory. Girard himself does not claim to be doing theology, but rather, emphasizes the anthropological dimension of his thought. The importance of his thought for theology, however, is considerable. Gil Bailie, James Alison and Raymund Schwager are among the theologians who have worked on the Girard thesis and I have made use of their work as well as Girard’s.
The Role of Mimesis in Human Violence
The anthropological characteristic that Girard sees as most fundamental to human behavior is mimesis. Human beings are creatures who imitate. Without mimesis, there would be no human culture. We only learn to talk and act in society by copying the behavior modeled to us by others. Through mimesis, our thoughts and desires are intertwined with the thoughts and desires of others. Mimesis does not have to lead to conflict as a matter of principle, but as a matter of daily fact, it does. The conflictive aspect of mimesis can be observed in the nursery. When one child reaches for a toy, another child suddenly wants that same toy, but not any of the other toys in the room. As adults, we might manage to repress acquisitive mimesis in this open a form, but this restraint does not necessarily save us from acting like children. (Girard, René. Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World: Research Undertaken in Collaboration with Jean-Michel Oughourlian and Guy Lefort. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1987, p. 8-9.) Two men might create a triangle because one man’s desire for a woman inflames the other man’s desire for that same woman.
It was seeing this sort of mimetic conflictual behavior in the works of the greatest writers that first set Girard on the road to his theory. The plays of Shakespeare, for example, are full of mimetic rivalry. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, there are four young people are constantly running in ever-shifting triangles. Both young men chase after the same woman, but they switch from one woman to the other in their chasing. The same thing happens with the two women in relationship to the men. In short, the desire of one for another inflames a like desire in somebody else. A particularly telling line in this play is spoken by Hermia when she notes the tendency “to choose love by another’s eyes.” (Girard, René: A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, p.72-79)
Similar insights can be found in the stories and novels of Dostoevsky. Girard finds in “The Eternal Husband” a scenario where the protagonist cannot feel that he really desires a woman unless his rival also desires her. Of course, when he inflames his rival’s desire, he loses the woman to the rival. (Girard, René. Resurrection from the Underground: Feodor Dostoevksy. New York: Crossroad, 1997, p.147-150) In The Brothers Karamazov, both father and son are pursuing the same woman Grushenka. For her part, Grushenka not only sustains this rivalry, but she tries to draw yet another Karamazov, Alyosha into the fray. However, when Alyosha declines to play the game, Grushenka repents and thus keeps the rivalry from escalating. Later in the novel. Alyosha makes friends with a gang of boys and weans them from their scapegoating behavior towards another boy. Here we are looking ahead to Dostoevsky’s awareness of the Christian reversal of mimetic rivalry and its attending violence.
Mimetic conflict is amusing when it happens in the nursery or in a comedy where four young people chase each other in an enchanted forest where sprites trip them up. It is not so amusing when a man and his son pursue the same woman so that murderous rage has developed. In studying the social dimensions of mimetic rivalry, Girard became convinced that this rivalry can escalate to very dangerous levels when two or more people become more and more preoccupied with each other, rather than with the bone of their contention. The object of rivalry dissolves in the heat of this conflict and mimetic rivalry degenerates into conflict for the sake of conflict, just as the identity of the woman did not matter to the two men in Midsummer Night’s Dream. The rivals become mirror images of each other, returning tit-for-tat endlessly. They become what Girard calls “mimetic doubles.” (Girard, 1987, p.12, 142) The more intensely two people engage in mimetic rivalry, the more likely it is that more people will join in. It is possible for such conflict to reach epidemic proportions to the extent that the existence of the society is threatened.
Girard argues that when the contagion of mimetic rivalry reached a boiling point in archaic societies, peace suddenly and mysteriously emerged out of the chaos of all against all. How did this happen? At the crucial point, when a society teetered on the brink of destroying itself, the mimetic contagion suddenly focused on one person. This one person, and this person only, was deemed responsible for all of the social chaos. As everybody was imitating everybody else in reciprocal violence, now everybody imitated everybody else in blaming the one person. The responsible person was then killed through spontaneous mob violence. The immediate relief of peace and order was dramatic. So great was the sense of awe in the face of what happened that the person killed was then worshiped as a deity. The person who was totally responsible for the social violence became totally responsible for the peace. Girard refers to this process as a scapegoating mechanism. This “solution” was not the result of human ingenuity. Rather, the social escalation of mimetic contagion itself triggered the mechanism of collective violence. In order for collective violence to stabilize a society, it is essential that nobody suffer a moral hangover as a result of the event. One dissenting voice spoils everything. Moreover, the lynching of the victim must not be seen for what it was. There must be a total forgetting of what actually happened.
Although the truth of the collective violence had to be forgotten, it was necessary to sustain the camaraderie generated by that violence. This camaraderie was sustained by means of sacrificial ritual and myth. In many cases, animal sacrifice became a substitute for human sacrifice. But if the catharsis of animal sacrifice was not enough to sustain a society, then human sacrifice was instituted, with the Aztecs being only the most notorious of examples. Many myths from all over the world hint at violent origins, while, at the same time, covering up that violence. Many deities created the world through a process of their own dismemberment. Purusha, for example, created the cosmos and the castes out of various parts of his body. Other myths tell of strife at the dawn of creation, such as Marduk’s defeat of the sea-monster Tiamat. Sometimes the mimetic doubling in a community is portrayed in a myth of two brothers who fight to the death, such as the slaying of Remus by Romulus, who then founds the city of Rome. In a myth of the Yahuna Indians, Milomaki, a singer who enchants the populace with his music is deemed responsible for numerous deaths through fish poisoning. He is cremated on a funeral pyre and from his body grows the first paxiuba palm tree in the world. (“Generative Scapegoating.” In Violent Origins: Walter Burkert, René Girard, and Jonathan Z. Smith on Ritual Killing and Cultural Formation, ed. Robert G. Hamerton-Kelly, 73-145. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1987, p.79-80.) Oedipus is deemed responsible for the plague that has stricken Thebes because he is the one who killed Laius and then married his mother, so he is expelled from the city. The myths of Milomaki and Oedipus are good examples of the mimetic crowd activity of adulation and persecution. Celebrities and monarchs are common targets for collective violence. There is no question of giving a fair trial to the likes of Tiamat, Milomaki or Oedipus. To question the total guilt of any of these victims would spoil the mechanism of collective violence. It is essential that the victim have no voice. Gil Bailie points out that the root of the word Greek “mythos” is “mu”, which means to close or to keep secret. (Bailie, Gil: Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads. New York: Crossroad, 1995., p.33.) Aeschylus understood the importance of silencing. When Agamemnon is about to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, he orders that his daughter’s mouth be gagged (Bailie, Gil, p.31).
In this understanding of religion, there seems to be no place for God. That is precisely Girard’s understanding of the case. God would not want to have anything to do with religion that operates on the basis of sacred violence, and God does not.
The Hebrew Bible
René Girard sees in the Hebrew Bible a radical contrast with mythology. Far from veiling the truth, the Hebrew Bible begins to reveal the truth of sacred violence. There is much tension in the Hebrew Bible between God’s revelation and the old projections of human violence on God. It takes time for God to wean humanity from the old means of keeping society from falling apart.
Like Romulus, Cain kills his brother and becomes a founder of cities. (Gen. 4) It is significant that no clear reason is given why Abel’s offering should have been more acceptable to God than Cain’s. In a crisis generated by mimetic rivalry, nothing matters except the rivalry itself. The crucial difference between this story and that of Romulus and Remus is, of course, that while the blood of Remus was mute, the blood of Abel cries from the ground. The victim has been given a voice. (Girard, 1987, p. 145-6.)
There are many more stories that show mimetic rivalry resulting in violence. Joseph is shown to be the victim of collective violence because of the jealousy of his brothers. More important, he becomes an agent of reconciliation as a live human being rather than a dead one. Saul was driven to a murderous rage when David was credited with slaying tens of thousands and Saul only thousands. (1Sa. 18:7) Not only that, but when his son Jonathan befriended David, Saul tried, in vain to draw his son into his mimetic rivalry against David. Through his renunciation of that rivalry, Jonathan witnesses to a new way for humans to relate to one another in the fear of God.
The Jewish religion is founded on violence, but with a radical difference from the founding mythology of other religions. Here, the story is told from the viewpoint of the victims. The Jews are the collective victims of Egyptian society, which has enslaved them. God’s deliverance of the Jews from slavery does not, however, heal them of their own problems with mimetic rivalry and sacred violence. Violent tensions erupt periodically during the journey through the desert. In some instances, the people gang up on Moses and Aaron. In other instances, the people gang up on somebody else. Leviticus 23 narrates, in a straight-forward manner, the story of a man of foreign extraction who commits “an act of blasphemy.” An oracle cast by Moses says the man who committed the blasphemy should be stoned by all the people, and they obey the oracle. In each case, the stories show the collective violence for what it is. (Williams, James G. The Bible, Violence, and the Sacred: Liberation from the Myth of Sanctioned Violence. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991, p.70-98.) That violence is often projected unto God shows that the association of God with violence is still alive even with the chosen people.
The sacrificial violence as practiced by the other nations proved to be a constant temptation to Israel. The prophets constantly had to denounce the people for offering” up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination, causing Judah to sin.” (Jer. 32:35) (All quotations from the Bible are from the New Revised Standard Version.) Josiah tried to abolish this human sacrifice but, unfortunately, he did it by having all the prophets of Baal slain on their altars. (2 Kings 23:20) In the act of fighting the victimization of the innocent, Josiah created more sacrificial victims.
The prophets were opposed to all of the sacrificial rites in Israel. Amos was not just offering a polite corrective when he proclaimed the oracle: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21) Raymund Schwager says, “If Girard’s theory is correct…according to its basic structure, the sacrificial cult is a ritual repetition of the scapegoat mechanism, then it cannot by itself pave the way to the true God.” (Schwager, Raymund. Must there be Scapegoats?: Violence and Redemption in the Bible. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978., p.83.) What was needed were people who would “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17)
Complaints of collective violence are voiced many times in the psalms from the standpoint of the victim. The Psalmist is often surrounded by enemies who combine violence with lying: “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?” (Ps. 69:4) Note that the Psalmist does not claim to be innocent of all wrong doing, but does claim to be innocent of the charges at hand. It also needs to be said that the cries for vengeance that accompany many of these complaints, though understandable, show that the Psalmist is still caught in the encompassing violence that requires victims.
The scenario of all against one reach its most powerful statement, of course in the Songs of the Suffering Servant in Deutero Isaiah. As in the complaints in the psalms, it is stated clearly that the Servant of Yahweh was persecuted without cause. “By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people…although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Is. 53:8-9) These passages prophecy the Passion of Christ in the sense that it was predicable that when the Logos came into the world, the world would not know him.
The Lamb of God
Jesus preached the Kingdom of God in an attempt to gather everybody into the all-encompassing love of God. Through parables such as the mustard seed (Mk. 4:30ff), Jesus “taught that this coming is coming [as] a pure gift from God.” (Schwager, 1978, p.167.) At the same time, Jesus challenged his hearers to take a profound responsibility, not only for their actions but for their inner passions.
Like the prophets, Jesus warned his listeners of the connection between mimetic rivalry and violence. “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Lk. 20:46-47) The suggestion here is that the competitive jockeying for position results in the oppression of the most helpless members of the society, the widows and orphans, whom God cares for. The mimetic rivalry among Jesus’ disciples could hardly receive more emphasis than it does, as these squabbles over who is the greatest are coupled with Jesus’ predictions of his upcoming suffering and death. In response to this rivalry, Jesus posits a helpless child, such as the disciples tried to keep away from Jesus, as a model of the kingdom of God (Lk. 9:46-47)
In His preaching, Jesus admonished his followers to follow precisely the opposite behavior than that modeled by the practice of reciprocal violence. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Mat. 5:38-39) Schwager points out that lest one think that the right inner attitude is enough, the New Testament texts “never separate inner disposition from outward action.” (Schwager, 1978, p.172.) Girard says:
Violence is the enslavement of a pervasive lie; it imposes upon men a falsified vision not only of God but also of everything else. And that is indeed why it is a closed kingdom. Escaping from violence is escaping from this kingdom into another kingdom, whose existence the majority of people do not even suspect. This is the Kingdom of love, which is also the domain of the true God. (Girard, 1987, p. 197.)
The preaching of Jesus goes hand in hand with his ministry of healing. Prominent among the acts of healing are exorcisms. Schwager reminds us that in the Bible, “illness is a disorder in the totality of human behavior, in ones’ relationships to self, neighbor, and God.” (Schwager, 1978, p.169.) That is why Jesus confronted the demons who have taken over human personalities with violence and raving fantasy. The story of the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5: 1-17 illustrates the social dimensions of healing. Girard argues that “Mark’s text suggests that the Gerasenes and their demoniac have been settled for some time in a sort of cyclical pathology.” (Girard, René. The Scapegoat. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986 p. 167-183.) In short, the possessed man had become a perpetual scapegoat for the community. It is curious that the swineherds asked Jesus to leave in response to a healing that, supposedly, they wanted. Girard argues that the swineherds were actually angry over being deprived of their scapegoat.
As the Kingdom encountered more and more resistance, Jesus emphasized the reality of collective violence in his teaching. When “the Jews” declared Abraham to be their father, Jesus retorts that their father “was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (Jn. 8:44-45) The phrase “from the beginning” makes it clear that Jesus is accusing all of humanity and not just one ethnic group. The twin allies of violence and untruth are unmasked at one stroke. Not surprisingly, the listeners proved Jesus’ point by picking up stones to throw at him. The famous parable of the wicked tenants who kill the servants and then the heir of the vineyard (Mt. 21:33-46) also zeroes in on the theme of collective violence. The chief priests reacted the same way as did the audience of John 8. This parable is one occasion among many in the New Testament for quoting Psalm 117:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The one who is expelled will be the source of the true human order of goodness grounded in God. (Girard, 1987, p.178-179.)
It is, of course, the Passion narratives that definitively reveal the truth of sacred violence. The crowd in Jerusalem demonstrates that when mimetic contagion takes over, all awareness of the truth is lost. The same crowd that throws palm branches on the road in Jesus’ honor cries out for Jesus’ crucifixion. So great is the contagion that Jesus’ closest disciples flee when their leader is arrested, and Peter denies that he knows Jesus rather than separate himself from the crowd in the courtyard of the high priest. Jesus, as we all know, was executed on a cross, the most dishonorable death possible at the time. Contrary to any notion that Jesus was in any way a sacrifice offered up by God or to God, the Gospel texts clearly show that the death of Jesus was committed entirely by a collective effort of human beings who blamed the Just One for all the social tension in Jerusalem. Caiaphas stated the logic of sacred violence straight out: “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (Jn. 811:50)
If Jesus had stayed dead, the Gospels, as we have them would never have been written. The disciples recovered from mimetic contagion to the extent that Peter heard the cock crow, and some of them gathered in a locked room. But how could such a small group that was running scared end up proclaiming the truth of Jesus’ death with such boldness? It was humanly impossible for the disciples to overcome the mimetic contagion to that degree. But God did what humans could not do. God had not sacrificed Jesus in any way. What God did do is raise Jesus to life. The risen Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, on the disciples to give them the gift of God’s life. Girard says:
It is, of course, the Risen Jesus who re-gathered the disciples and gave them this power. The Resurrection is responsible for this change, of course, but even this most amazing miracle would not have sufficed to transform these men so completely if it had been an isolated wonder rather than the first manifestation of the redemptive power of the Cross. (Girard, René. “Are the Gospels Mythical?” First Things 62 (April 1996): 27-31.)
In his anthropological approach, Girard does not try to tackle ontological questions. However, he insists “the Son alone is united with the Father in the fullness of humanity and divinity.” Jesus is the “only mediator, the one bridge between the kingdom of violence and the Kingdom of God.” (Girard, 1987, p. 216.) In short, the the acts of Jesus are the acts of God.
Mimesis and Jesus
Jesus himself modeled for us the right way to embody the human quality of mimesis. Jesus carried out the works his father had given him to carry out. (Jn. 5:36) He did not speak and act for himself. It was the Father, living in him who was doing the work. (Jn. 14:11) Raymund Schwager points out that Jesus studied carefully the models of the Messiah offered in the Old Testament and other Jewish traditions and he was very selective as to which models he followed. The term “Son of Man,” for example, had two contrary images in the Jewish world of Jesus’ time. One image was that of a powerful warrior appearing from Heaven to avenge all of the enemies of God with violent wrath. The other image was derived from the Songs of the Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah, which stressed the suffering of the Son of Man at the hands of the people. It was the latter model that Jesus chose to follow. (Schwager, Raymund. Jesus im Heilsdrama: Entwurk einer biblischen Erlösungslehre. Innsbruck, Vienna” Tyrolia-Verlag, 1990. p.100-109. Now translated into English under the title: Jesus in the Drama of Salvation. ) When Peter rebuked Jesus for predicting an ignominious death, Peter was called “Satan,” a stumbling block, because he was tempting Jesus to follow the wrong model. No wonder Peter had trouble allowing Jesus to wash his feet! (Girard insists on retaining the traditional translation of skandalon as stumbling block. See his article “Satan” in The Girard Reader. New York: Crossroad, 1996., p.195-210.)
It is, of course, the model of non-violent suffering that is offered to all who would be followers of Jesus and accept the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed. I n the famous hymn in Philippians, St. Paul enjoins all Christians to follow the model of Christ “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Phil. 2:6-7) Many times St. Paul stresses the importance of being an example for others. (Phil. 3:17, 1 Th. 1:7) All of us are called to model Christ to each other. James Alison suggests that the more an infant receives a sense of life as a gift from its parents, the less need the infant has to grasp at life in a competitive way. (Alison, James. Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination. New York: Crossroad, 1996. p. 18-19.) Hence the importance of our not being a skandalon to the “little ones.” The persons of the Holy Trinity imitate one another in love, with no competition between them. That is the model revealed by Jesus Christ.
The Intelligence of the Victim
The collective violence of all-against-one requires the avoidance of truth. For this violence to succeed in holding society together, the society must project its violence on the victim in the name of God. It is no accident that the pacifistic verses in the Sermon on the Mount are accompanied by solemn cautions against projection. “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3) The tendency to project violence back unto God leads many readers of the New Testament to think that Jesus was throwing a tantrum at those who rejected his message when he uttered apocalyptic sayings of doom. Girard, however stresses that the “Wars and rumors of war” are simply the natural consequence of choosing mimetic violence rather than the kingdom of God. (Girard, 1987, p. 186.) That is, it is not God who inflicts violence on humanity as a punitive measure for being bad. Rather it is humans who inflict violence on other human violence as a sign of a collective rejection of God. When we insist on choosing to act in this way, God delivers us over to our own passions and allows us to live with the result. (cf. Rom. 1:18-25)
Girard also brings up the theme of projection in his interpretation of the parables that come at the climax of Jesus’ teaching ministry. In the parable of the talents, the master says: “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?” (Lk. 19:22) It is the lazy servant who said the master was hard, not the master. (Girard, 1987, p. 187-190.) Likewise, Schwager points out, although the listeners of the parable of the wicked servants in the vineyard said that these servants would come to a bad end, the risen Jesus did not, in fact, come to destroy those who had crucified him. Rather, the Risen Jesus restrained himself from any show of strength against those who killed him or forsook him. By offering forgiveness and the strength to imitate the lamb of God in word and deed, the Risen Jesus definitively counters the worldly tendency to resolve human issues through the competitive use of power. (Schwager, 1996, p. 173-175.) Instead, Jesus revealed himself as “the forgiving victim.” (Alison, James. Knowing Jesus. Springfield, Ill.: Templegate, 1993 p. 37.)
It follows that any act or even any thought of making a victim of another casts a veil over the truth. It also follows that only the voice of the victim can reveal the truth. James Alison calls this “the intelligence of the victim.” (Alison, 1993, p.31-59.) The writers of the Gospels do not tell the story of Jesus’ judicial murder from their own point of view. “It is the victim’s intelligence that is allowed to provide the lines which make the story what it is.” (Alison, 1993, p. 39.) The victim’s intelligence also reveals that God has nothing to do with death. “Jesus was working out of an imagination which was simply untinged by death, so that he could work beyond it.” (Alison, 1996, p.42.) Jesus demonstrated that by commending his life to his heavenly Father, he received life from his heavenly Father
There is no question that the example of Jesus has triggered an enormous amount of sympathy for victims, from the hospitals for lepers that sprouted in the early Christian centuries to the extensive ministry to those suffering from AIDS in our own time. Unfortunately, the notorious examples of sacred violence committed by Christians are too many and too well known to need enumerating in this essay. As an example, Girard begins his book The Scapegoat with an analysis of a document by the 14th-century poet Guillaume de Machaut, which explains why the Jews are entirely to blame for the Black Death plague and, on that account, were worthy of the collective violence that was inflicted upon them. (Girard, 1986, p.1-11.) Such examples should caution us against being quick to assume that possession of the Gospel saves us from perpetrating sacred violence. The disciples, when fighting over who was the greatest, prove to be a more attractive model to Christians than Jesus, who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.” (Phil 2:8) Because of our tendency to perpetuate the mimetic rivalry of the disciples, we perpetuate the exclusionary mechanisms that we still prefer as a means of holding society together. It stands to reason, then, that Christian tradition would develop over time. The process of absorbing the “intelligence of the victim” is a slow one. It isn’t a case of God having a change of mind and heart on some issues. Rather it is a case of the time it takes for God’s people to understand how wide the kingdom of God really is and then to adjust to that reality.
One of the interesting signs of our times is that it is becoming more and more “politically correct” to show sympathy for victims, from unpopular groups within society to animals and the environment. There is much in Girard’s theory to gratify anybody who is serious about being “politically correct.” There is also a serious caution. As the example of King Josiah reminds us, there is always a danger that we will defend victims at the cost of creating victims. Another danger is that we can focus so intently on certain victims that the impact of our actions on other victims is not be noticed. Worse, a victim may claim entitlement to vindictive behavior that keeps the cycle of violence going. Alison writes:
If you know the crucified and risen victim, you know that you are not yourself the victim. The danger is much more that you are either actively, or by omission, or both, a victimizer…The person who thinks of himself or herself as the victim is quick to divide the world into ‘we’ and ‘they.’ In the knowledge of the risen victim there is only a ‘we.’, because we no longer need to define ourselves over against anyone at all. (Alision, 1993, p. 92.)
Many of us feel that we are living in a precarious time. Girard argues that this perception is true, and that the reason this is so is because Jesus has destroyed the mechanism of sacred violence once and for all. The old ways of stabilizing society can only fail now that Jesus has blown the cover on sacred violence. When we try them anyway, we fragment society splintering into small groups, each united around one victim or group of victims. Instead of one victim providing the centerpiece of a society, we have several victims providing several centers, which is to say there is no center at all. Since these acts of violence no longer “work,” the violence escalates. Add the tendency of reform-minded people to defend victims in ways that create more victims, and we have the perfect recipe for social chaos. That’s the bad news. The Good News is that God continues to gather all of us to the Kingdom of God’s peace through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, is our Advocate, our lawyer for the defense. We have to realize, of course, in the depths of our hearts, with God’s grace, that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate of everybody. Following Jesus means becoming an advocate for all of God’s people. God does not exclude anybody from the Kingdom. We can exclude ourselves, however, by excluding others.
We return to the mimetic quality of our desires. A Girardian analysis of human behavior suggests that when the desires of two or more people become enmeshed in one another, conflict is the usual result. This conflict is not absolutely inevitable, however. It was possible for Jonathan to desire the kingship for David rather than for himself. The more our human desires are enmeshed in the desires of Christ, the more we desire that the life God offers each of us be given to all other people. Then, and only then, do we have the courage to model ourselves on Jesus who laid down his life in the faith that the heavenly father desired, not death, but only life abundantly.
See Tools for Peace for a book putting Girard into dialogue with the Rule of St. Benedict.
See Moving and Resting in God’s Desire for a book outlining Christian spirituality that helps one live by Girard’s insights.
Purchase Tools for Peace at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iUniverse
Purchase Moving and Resting in God’s Desire at: Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
This is a fascinating article! Thanks for taking such an in depth look at the subject of violence in Scripture. I know many Christians (including myself) have real difficulty grappling with the violence in the Bible and that sometimes makes it harder for us to share the Gospel with others. I look forward to learning more!
Peace be with you
I’m glad you find the article helpful. You can explore this in more depth in my book “Tools for Peace” which puts this line of thought in dialogue with the Rule of Benedict. You can also explore this with other authors mentioned in my book. The sound theological interest you show in your fine post on the Transfiguration suggests you might look up “Jesus in the Drama of Salvation” by Raymund Schwager and “Raising Abel” by James ALison. They have done the best theological work with Girard’s anthropological insights.
Thank you for your response and your book recommendations! I am enjoying exploring your blog and I look forward to following it.
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