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My Core Convictions:
Nonviolence and the Christian Faith
Part I: First Principles -- Theses presented in paragraph format: 1 Evangelical Anthropology as a Necessary Complement to Theology; 2 God is Love; 3 Mimetic Desire and the Two Ways: Love or Resentment; 4 Falling into the Way of Satan; 5 Satan Casting out Satan and Apocalypse (5.4); 6 The Biblical Story as the Story of God Saving Us from Our Violence.
Part II: Nonviolence as the Heart of Jesus' Faith -- An essay that proposes nonviolence as the heart of the Christian faith, featuring the Sermon on the Mount as central teaching that points to the cross; and St. Paul's reworking of "God's Wrath" in Romans.
Part III: 'Nonviolence or Nonexistence' as the Message of Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet -- A follow-up essay that suggests the corollary to a message of nonviolence in terms of the apocalyptic choice to avoid nonexistence, featuring the recent work of N. T. Wright concerning the Historical Jesus; and a overview look at the Book of Revelation.
Part IV: Major Theses for the Life of
the Church -- As in Part I, theses presented in
paragraph format: 1 The Call for
Reform; 2 Re-Formation of Faith in the
"Faith of Jesus Christ." 3
Re-Formation of Doctrines (Atonement, Original Sin, Hell, et
al.); 4 Reformation of Practice (anti-racism, gays
in the church, et al.)
Part V: Ecumenism, Inter-Religious Relations, and the Perspective of the Victim.
Part I: First Principles
1 My choice for the most succinct summary of the Gospel is the one which opens the First Letter of John: "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
1.1 As we shall see, the secondary corollary of "no darkness" is almost more important than the primary pronouncement, "God is light," because the pull of human idolatry is to project our human darkness onto our gods. Only in Jesus Christ do we receive a full revelation of God such that we can finally embrace "that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all."
1.2 The full revelation, then, is not only a theological one, but the anthropological revelation is equally urgent. We learn about the nature of human idolatry at the same time that we begin to know who God really is in Jesus Christ. Conversely, who God really is becomes more clear as we learn to see, under the grace of forgiveness, how we human beings project our darkness onto God.
1.3 "Anthropology" proper benefits from scientific methodology, namely, from its gathering of data from a diversity of cultures over time and geography. The first centuries of scientific anthropology, however, have distanced themselves from all religions and cultures, so anthropologists have not fully benefitted from the Christian revelation of anthropology in Jesus Christ.
1.4 Is an interplay between scientific anthropology and biblical revelation even possible or desirable?
1.4.1 If one believes in the incarnation, then it should be possible. For the Christian faith has always striven to maintain that Jesus Christ is both fully human as well as fully divine. In other words, the revelation through him should unveil true humanity at the same time that it reveals true divinity.
1.4.2 And St. John, for one, seems to be aware that the corollary is a revelation of false humanity and false divinity. As one learns to see that God is light, one also begins to see that in God there is no darkness at all. And John immediately turns (see 1 John 1:8-10 below) to the anthropological matter of forgiveness of sin as that which can help human beings begin to walk in the light. There is an implicit biblical anthropology which is pre-scientific, that is to say, prior in time to the moment in history when its anthropological insights might become universalized for all cultures over time and geography.
1.4.3 Perhaps, then, we might turn around the question of §1.4: Instead of wondering whether biblical revelation is compatible with science, we might press science as to whether it can ultimately be successful in its search for the truth without biblical revelation. Science can never cease being a human endeavor, subject to sin. And so we ask: Is a true scientific anthropology possible without the grace of forgiveness to heal our blindness, to shed light on our darkness? Can we ever have the ability to perceive the truth about ourselves without the grace of forgiveness?
1.4.4 St. John would seem to be raising the same hypotheticals in his corollary to 1 John 1:5:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)1.5 I submit to the reader that in recent years there has come along a scientific hypothesis for anthropology which is in dialogue with the biblical revelation. That evangelical anthropology is represented in the work of René Girard. All that follows in seeking to present my core convictions is an outgrowth from his work (though any errors are mine alone).
1.6 Girard's work essentially presents us with a unified theory of human violence. Violence is the "darkness" we project onto our gods. Thus, Girard's work also offers an hypothesis concerning human idolatry, namely, that idolatry arises to veil humanity's responsibility for its own violence. A common mistake has been to undertake the matter of idolatry from a theological perspective only. But idolatry is in our nature, not God's, and so is more properly a matter for anthropology.
1.7 The subsequent First Principals seek to put forward an implicit explanation of why the biblical revelation is so focused around violence, with the Cross of Jesus Christ at the center. They seek to answer the question: Why is Christ's submission to an act of human violence necessary for our salvation?
2 Even more succinct of a theological proclamation is St. John's simple declaration that "God is love (agape)."
2.1 Love requires at least two things: (1) personal relationships between Lover and Beloved; and (2) personal freedom, because the nature of love is such that it cannot be forced. If the Beloved cannot choose but to return the love, then it is not really love.
2.2 Thus, to say that God is love is already to imply a multiplicity of persons, since love requires personal relationships in freedom. Through the revelation of the Son, Jesus Christ, we have come to know God as a multiplicity of persons, the Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2.3 Love has its requirements (§2.1); it also has at least one result: creativity. Love spills over the boundaries of its relationships, creative of further relationships. God the Trinity must also thereby be God the Creator. The universe is the creative result of God as love.
2.4 Since Love requires personal relationships in freedom, then Creation must ultimately issue forth in creatures capable of personal relationships in freedom. Human beings are those creatures created in the "image of God," capable of a loving relationship with God and with God's Creation.
2.5 But freedom means that we human beings can also find ourselves living in broken relationship with our Creator. To say that humankind finds itself enslaved in sinful living is to say that we do, in fact, find ourselves estranged from our Creator. Rather than living in loving cooperation with God in the power of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves living mired in envious rivalry with God, and with Creation, in the power of Satan (much more on Satan below, beginning at §4.2.4).
3 Desire is a more general and neutral term for the power that either binds persons together in loving cooperation or breaks them apart in envious rivalry.
3.1 Desire is mimetic (imitative, but not necessarily conscious imitation) in structure(1) such that (1) persons can either come together and cooperate toward the same goal, sharing the same desire, or (2) find themselves as rivals toward the same goal, locked in competition and conflict. Love describes the first potentiality of desire; Envy and hatred, or resentment, the second.
3.1.1 God, as St. John says, is Love; the Father and Son are of one desire through the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to do his Father's will (e.g., Matt. 26:42).
3.1.2 Human beings, created in the image of God, are capable of living in God's loving desire. But, since the beginning of our existence, we have continually stumbled into envious rivalry, spoiling our attempts at love. Genesis 3 relates the story of how the serpent, the most beguiling of creatures, mediates envious desire to us so that we find ourselves in rivalry first with God and then with one another. And the situation of constant rivalry is that of constant competition, constant comparisons, and the need to justify oneself vis-a-vis others. As Genesis 3 insightfully shows, we need to place blame on others (Gen. 3:11-13) to aspire to a higher relative standing among creatures.
3.1.3 Even when we might achieve some relative unity of desire with one another, we still fall short of sharing Jesus' loving desire, which is both for the Creator and for the whole Creation. Our attempts at sharing desire with one another, if they are not rooted in the Creator's desire through Jesus Christ, will always leave someone out. In fact, as we shall see (§ 4.2.1ff. below), that over-againstness to others who are left out is the principle of unity for human community which always falls short of God's community (God's "Kingdom"). The leaving-out becomes an active expulsion which unifies the expellers.
3.2 The worldview of love is that there is an abundance in creation, enough of the common goals/objects of desire to share with others: "'I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given" (Luke 19:26a).... The worldview of envy, on the other hand, sees a scarcity in creation, exacerbating the rivalries even more: "but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away" (Luke 19:26b).
4 Created in the image of God, who is a Trinity of persons, human beings are made to be in relationship -- "it is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). But, as we have already seen, relationships can go either the way of love or of envy.
4.1 The way of Love in Jesus Christ, who is the "Second Adam" (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45), is the way of Holy Communion, the way of living together with others in lasting peace -- the way of eternal life.
4.2 The way of envy is the way of violence, the way of hurting one another and of breaking apart relationships -- the way of death. It became the way of the First Adam. When Satan (that is, the serpent of Gen. 3 interpreted as "Satan") mediated envious desire to the man and woman, the results were: rivalry with God; blaming one another; broken and distorted relationship with each other and the earth; and rapid descent into the way of violence -- one son kills the other -- all elegantly summed up in one brief story (Genesis 3-4), the basic story of our lives in sin.
4.2.1 The way of violence includes the way of unholy communions, the generative basis of all human community and thus of all human culture.(2)
4.2.2 The way of unholy communions involves a special form of violence, a 'good' violence that is sanctioned to keep in check the 'bad,' mimetic violence that arises out of rivalrous desire. In modern cultures based on law, this good violence is the sanctioned violence of police and military forces. In more ancient cultures, it is the sacred violence of ritual blood sacrifice. The New Testament witness is that in Jesus Christ we arrive at the end of both Law and Sacrifice -- "end" in both of its senses. Christ is the end in that we cease to live according to the previous practices of Law and Sacrifice. Christ is also the end in the sense of the fulfillment of both Law and Sacrifice. Jesus Christ ushers in the way of God's Culture ("Kingdom"), based on the Law of Love (cf., Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8) and the way of self-sacrifice (cf., Rom. 12:1; Heb. 9:26).
4.2.3 Behind both of these forms of righteous violence -- namely, the cultural order based on law and/or sacrifice -- are real collective murders. The unity, or "unholy communion," of a community is founded on the majority heaping its violence on a few, or the one.
4.2.4 At the heart of such collective violence is the accusation against scapegoats, arising out of both (1) the situation of envious rivalry in which there is a need to blame others and (2) the mimesis of accusation itself. Relative unity is achieved by a mimetic focusing of blame around one person, or a small minority. Compared to the threat of all-against-all mimetic violence, this relative unity based on all-against-one violence is experienced as an awe-inspiring peace -- literally "awe-inspiring," for that awe is the anthropological beginning of human religion and foundation of human culture. But, as we shall see, this is the fundamental mistake of human idolatry: to mistake the satanic for the divine. We mistake the satanic power of an awe-inspiring unanimous accusation as the power of a god who is bringing us together through our obedience. We obey the command of a sacred violence against the accused.
4.3 For focusing accusation is the chief function of Satan, traditionally known as the Accuser. But accusation of 'sinners' appears righteous to us, and so we mistake the satanic accusation for a godly one. The unity of the majority -- that is, the basis of cultures and societies enduring in the face of mimetic rivalry -- is based on the satanic powers and principalities of sanctioned violence against unsanctioned violence. When Satan presents to Jesus all the kingdoms of this world as under his power (Luke 4:5-8; Matt. 4:8-10), Jesus doesn't disagree with this claim by Satan. Rather, he refuses worshiping Satan's powers by simply telling Satan that he, too, must worship God.
4.4 For Jesus to bid Satan to worship God implies that Satan is not a god. His prominent role in the Gospels thus begs an anthropological interpretation (the kind of wholistic treatment that René Girard has provided in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning and throughout much of his work).
4.4.1 In the history of Christian theology, if Satan is not given an anthropological interpretation, there have been two erroneous tendencies. The first is to wander into Manichaeism, the worldview that assumes two great forces, one for good and one for evil, a primeval conflict between light and darkness. The second is to lapse into an idolatry of subsuming the darkness of human violence within the godhead. It is to retreat back from St. John’s pinnacle insight that God is Light and in God there is no darkness at all. It is the idolatry from the foundations of our human worlds.
4.4.2 An anthropological interpretation of Satan refuses either Manichaeism or the idolatry of a dark, violent side to the one true God. Evangelical anthropology properly sees the satanic powers as arising out of human inter-relationships around fallen desire and the resulting efforts to control mimetic conflict through scapegoating. Satan is both the instigator of the 'bad' violence of mimetic conflict (the serpent as the Tempter), and then the one who restores order through the 'good' violence won via unanimous accusation (the Accuser).
5 We have thus arrived at one of Jesus' basic insights which, by Mark's account, was expressed in his first "parable," or riddle. When Jesus is accused -- Satan's basic principle of power -- of having his power come from Beelzebul, he turns their accusation into a riddle:
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come." (Mark 3:23-26)5.1 Jesus is not here denying that Satan does cast out Satan, as is the usual reading of this riddle.(3) No, Satan casting out Satan is precisely what the scribes from Jerusalem have just tried to do to Jesus -- though they, of course, don't see it that way. The scribes see themselves as doing God's work, not Satan's work. But, in charging Jesus with being of Beelzebul, which is another of Satan's names, they are manifesting the mechanism of "Satan casting out Satan." They are acting out the ultimate principle of satanic power, namely, the joint accusation they bring against Jesus, as an attempt to cast him out by identifying him with one of Satan's names. They think they are doing God's work, but Jesus' riddle is cleverly suggesting otherwise.
5.1.1 What Jesus is trying to help us to see with this riddle is that "Satan casting out Satan" is precisely the shape of all our unholy human communions since the foundations of our worlds. Jesus is not challenging the reality: Satan does cast out Satan. The mechanism which generates the peace of human community is that the majority do the work of Satan by accusing a minority of being the satanic trouble-makers, the tempters, and so they cast them out. And the traces of violence by the majority are veiled to them by the idolatry of seeing their satanic casting-out as commanded by God.(4) Whatever the accused perpetrated is seen as a violence against the community, but the violence of the community against the accused is seen as a righteous or sacred act in obedience to higher powers.
5.1.2 Thus, rather than challenging the reality, Jesus is affirming the reality of Satan casting out Satan and challenging the outcome: this mechanism will never result in a lasting peace as we think, but always in a divided house that cannot stand. And, in the cross and resurrection, Jesus' obedience to his Father will challenge the idolatry: what we see as God commanding us to cast out Satan is actually Satan casting out Satan. The God of Jesus, the God who is Love, would never ask us to base our communions in acts of force. But Satan tricks us into thinking that he is God, and so we continue to play his game.
5.1.3 The outcome of "Satan casting out Satan" needs challenging because humankind has unwittingly put its faith precisely in these unholy communions based on accusation and sanctioned violence. We have remained blind to seeing our form of communion as based on Satan casting out Satan. Through his riddle Jesus is inviting us to recognize our unholy communions as unholy -- as commanded by Satan not God -- and as always doomed to fail, always doomed to end in division. All our attempts at culture and community are, at their foundations, based on a being over against someone else, so that all our human communities ultimately end in division. Calling attention to how these satanic powers have operated is thus the first step in their reign coming to an end. Satan falls from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18).
5.1.4 God's Holy Communion in Jesus Christ, the coming of God's reign based on love, thus comes not through yet another form of sanctioned violence, namely, just another chapter in the age-old satanic game. God's reign comes through its opposite, that is to say, through a suffering of righteous violence at the hands of humanity in the cross of Jesus Christ, only to reveal the vacuous power of such violence by raising this Jesus from the dead.
5.2 We have now seen violence in both of its manifestations, with the anthropological interpretation of the satanic powers behind both 'bad' and 'good' violence.
5.2.1 'Bad' violence is the violence which arises from falling to the temptations of rivalrous desire. It begins with mimetic desire among creatures, rather than the creatures following the loving desire of the Creator for the whole Creation, and it quickly descends into brother killing brother (Gen. 3-4). It is a violence with the potential to escalate into an all-against-all deluge of violence, an 'apocalyptic' crescendo of mutual destruction (see Gen. 6:11ff.).
5.2.2 The second basic kind of violence is a 'good' violence, the sanctioned, even sacred, violence used to keep 'bad' mimetic violence at bay -- only for a time, however, since it is always based on an over-againstness and must therefore fall. Such righteous violence is based in the accusation of the majority against a minority of 'trouble makers,' who are seen as demon-possessed or somehow super-human and thus made to take the blame for the mimetic violence of everyone. It can never be the ultimate answer to violence because it relies on one brand of violence to stop the other. In short, it is Satan casting out Satan, a realm divided against itself that can never stand.
5.3 But, akin to the man born blind in John 9,(5) humankind, since its birth, has remained blind to its idolatry around sacred violence. We fail to see our gods who command of us a sacred violence as the satanic powers that they are. In John 9, it proves easier for Jesus to heal the man's physical blindness than it is for him to heal our human blindness around sacred violence. The Pharisees deepen their blindness by performing the age-old satanic function of expelling the man (John 9:34). "Jesus said, 'I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind'" (John 9:39). Jesus ultimately brings judgment against them by letting them judge him and by letting them execute him in an act of righteous violence.
5.4 The revelation of the cross of Christ thus begins a process in history of the progressive unveiling of sacred, sanctioned violence. The Resurrection is not just the survival but the permanent establishment of the victim's experience in history. The satanic interpretation of collective violence, which is the interpretation of the perpetrators of that violence, is now forever challenged by the victim's perspective on that violence. Sacred, or sanctioned, violence is unveiled as violence.
5.4.1 The unveiling of sacred violence, however, has the more immediate consequence of taking away humanity’s only bulwark against ‘bad’ mimetic violence, thus resulting in the potential for increasing that brand of violence.
5.4.2 Moreover, the satanic powers' hold on humanity won't go away that easily. Their attempts at veiled sacred violence become more desperate and generally more lethal. The satanic powers can take advantage of the fact that humankind has never really known any other way to stem the tide of 'bad' violence. It is like an addiction. In fact, the mechanism of sacred violence is similar to taking drugs. The Greek word, pharmakos, that we might best translate as "scapegoat" (because it designated one who was expelled from the community), is obviously related to the Greek word for "drug," pharmakon. The idea is the same behind both. A drug is a poison that, given the right circumstance and precisely the right dosage, can also be a remedy. Sacred violence is a violence -- and violence is ordinarily poisonous to us -- that, given the right circumstance and precisely the right dosage, can also be a remedy against 'bad' mimetic violence. (See my sermon for Epiphany 7B 2003 for more on pharmakos.) Yet addiction builds as the system builds immunity to the drug. Addiction to sacred violence can escalate as the Gospel immunity to it builds within our systems.
5.4.3 Thus, the unveiling of sacred violence in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ can have the more immediate effect of doubly increasing violence for a time -- "doubly" because both forms of violence tend to increase. ‘Bad’ mimetic violence increases because the Gospel unveiling weakens the containment field of sacred violence against it. And attempts at sacred violence increase against the Gospel weakening of it, much like an addiction. In short, the Gospel unveiling is also an Apocalypse. Gil Bailie offers a penetrating summary of apocalypse:
The word "apocalypse" means "unveiling." What, then, is veiled, the unveiling of which can have apocalyptic consequences? The answer is: violence. Veiled violence is violence whose religious or historical justifications still provide it with an aura of respectability and give it a moral and religious monopoly over any "unofficial" violence whose claim to "official" status it preempts. Unveiled violence is apocalyptic violence precisely because, once shorn of its religious and historical justifications, it cannot sufficiently distinguish itself from the counter-violence it opposes. Without benefit of religious and cultural privilege, violence simply does what unveiled violence always does: it incites more violence. In such situations, the scope of violence grows while the ability of its perpetrators to reclaim that religious and moral privilege diminishes. The reciprocities of violence and counter-violence threaten to spin completely out of control. (Violence Unveiled, p. 15)5.4.4 It is no surprise, then, that from the outset the Christian faith offered its interpretation of the Apocalypse. (Cf., Part III below, "'Nonviolence or Nonexistence' as the Message of Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet.") The Apocalypse is represented in the teaching of Jesus (cf., Mark 13 and par.), the writings of Paul (cf., 1 Thess. 5), and the last book of the Christian Bible, the Revelation of St. John.
6 Therefore, from beginning to end, the biblical story is a story of humanity's sinful descension into violence, and of God's planned action of salvation from our violence.
6.1 At the same time, it is also the story of our human idolatry. We continue to choose our human way of salvation from 'bad' violence through sacred, 'good' violence. We persist in a peculiar blindness that stubbornly sees the satanic powers behind sacred violence as divine powers. We continue to choose gods who justify our human violence instead of the God in Jesus Christ who calls us to live in God's reign of Love, the way of nonviolence.
6.2 What is the way out of idolatry and into salvation? The Christian faith invites others to follow Jesus Christ as "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).
6.3 What is perhaps not clearly seen often enough is that the way out of the idolatry of violence must be a way out of both forms of violence, that is, both 'bad' and 'good' violence.
6.3.1 "Conservatives" are generally those who clearly see the danger of 'bad' violence, and the scandals that lead to it, and so they fall into the attempts to re-sacralize a 'good' violence against it. They seek to conserve the traditional human means for order which are dependent on sacred violence.
6.3.2 "Liberals" are generally those who clearly see the systemic 'good' violence as an oppressive means of conserving order, but they underestimate the power of 'bad' mimetic violence to ruin their communal efforts at fighting oppression. The most common reason for such a downfall is an over-reliance on human reason as sufficient against the temptations of desire to fall into mimetic rivalry.
6.3.3 A second danger of "liberalism" is to miss the fact that their efforts to "fight" oppression can so easily themselves turn into justifications for 'good' violence, or "justice." Elijah unveiled the idolatry of worship to Ba'al, but then he himself slaughtered the four hundred fifty priests of Ba'al (1 Kings 18:1-40) -- which Gil Bailie has aptly called "anti-sacrificial sacrifice" (see excerptViolence Unveiled, 169-173). Jonah would not forgive the Lord for forgiving the idolaters of Ninevah (Jonah 4) -- which Sandor Goodhart has fittingly named the "idolatry of anti-idolatry" (see Sacrificing Commentary, ch. 5).
6.4 Evangelical anthropology is a stage in the process of unveiling both forms of violence, and so disciples are guided in the work of the Spirit to better stay on course in following the way of Jesus Christ.
6.4.1 First, to those who, in the faith of Jesus Christ, begin to have their blindness to such violence healed, the only thing left as a bulwark against 'bad' mimetic violence is also the faith of Jesus Christ to live God's desire. For the latter is a non-rivalrous desire, a sharing of God the Father's desire for the whole creation. To live in that faith of Christ ("...it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" -- Gal. 2:20a) is to begin to live free from the power of fallen human desire. It is the power to begin living free from the rivalries that lead to mimetic conflict and violence.
6.4.2 Yet that faith of Christ to live a non-rivalrous life in a sea of mimetic rivalry is a faith that will be -- until the day when Jesus Christ brings all desires in line with God’s (cf., 1 Cor. 15:28) -- a likely target for mimetic accusation. In short, it is the same faith that took Jesus of Nazareth to the cross, in the first place. It is the faith of Christ to trust in God's power of life in the face of the lethal satanic powers of sacred violence. It is faith in God's way of nonviolence as winning the ultimate victory over the satanic human powers of violence.
6.4.3 Let us be clear from the outset, however, that faith in the nonviolent way of Christ is different from faith in human reason to devise a fully worked-out strategy of nonviolence. It remains God's plan of salvation, not ours. Faith in Christ is thus an eschatological faith that hopes in the ultimate victory of the Nonviolent way of the Cross.
7 Having laid down First Principles, the following takes up God's call to the way of nonviolence in essay form.
Part II: Nonviolence as the Heart of Jesus' Faith
It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.... I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain't goin' study war no more." -- Martin Luther King, Jr., March 31, 1968. (6)Nonviolence or nonexistence. The great civil rights leader posed this life-and-death alternative to us in his last Sunday sermon before he himself was felled by violence. I think it can be argued that nonviolence had increasingly become the very heart of King's faith. It has become the core of mine.
The more that I read and interpret Scripture, especially the New Testament, the more I am convinced (1) that "nonviolence" is also at the heart of Jesus' faith, and (2) that this posing of alternatives -- nonviolence or nonexistence -- conveys the meaning behind Jesus' "apocalyptic" preaching (the subject of Part III below).
Beginning with the first of these two theses: Is nonviolence at the heart of Jesus faith? I can anticipate the objection, "What about Love! Isn't Love the broader category of Jesus' proclamation?" Yes, of course, God's Love is the heart of the New Testament faith, when positively stated. Yet the New Testament letter which most clearly thematizes God as Love -- namely, the First Letter of John -- is also careful to clearly state the case in the negative. For example, in talking positively about love, St. John is quick to add the negative corollary about hate: "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars" (1 John 4:20). Even stronger:
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. (1 John 3:14-15).Here we see the explicit connection with violence, namely, murder. It seems that it is not quite good enough to simply tell us about love. St. John must also make clear to us that God is in no way about death or violence, and so we should not be, either.
There is a good reason for St. John's needing to be so explicit about violence. I will highlight in this essay our anthropological propensity toward projecting our human darkness onto God. John's initial summary of the Gospel is careful to state things in both the positive and negative: "God is light and in God there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5b). John is implicitly acknowledging the fact that we so often experience the darkness of an angry, punishing, violent God. But in Jesus Christ we come to definitively understand that these experiences are not of the one true God. These experiences of God must be idols. For God is light and in God there is no darkness at all.
Thus, St. John also knows that it is not enough to simply acknowledge our human problem with violence. In fact, the deeper problem is precisely in the acknowledgment: with the help of our idols, gods who command violence, we delude ourselves from thinking of our violence as violence. The gods command it, so it must be the right thing to do. Our gods sanction the violence we use against our enemies. What our enemy does to us is violence; what we do in response we call "justice," not violence. When it comes to our own violence, in other words, we are in self-denial. With the help of our gods, we lie to ourselves.
In John's Gospel, Jesus makes an incredibly condensed anthropological proposition:(7)
You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He 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. (John 8:44)What is the lie? Isn't it believing that we aren't murderers? That when we kill we do so with justification? In fact, our most common reaction to this saying of Jesus is something like, "I've never killed anyone!" But this is a way of ignoring the truth, of lying to ourselves, that we have killed. Individually, we might never have killed anyone, but collectively we have. In the name of law and order we have executed. We have lived under governments that, for all kinds of reasons, have gone to war. We participate in communities that neglect those in poverty on the fringes, leaving them to die. (8)
In short, we resist recognizing our own complicity in the darkness of violence (see 1 John 1:6-10 (9)). Jesus implicitly recognizes our self-delusion when he 'ups the ante' on confronting our violence (10) in this crucial passage from the Sermon on the Mount (condensed):
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.... 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.... You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:21-22, 38-39, 43-44, 48)I suggest that these verses exhibit the core of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection which most distinguish him among all the world's religions. (11) The Buddha perhaps comes closest. But even he allows violence in defense against one's enemies. In the last century, the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi (one to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. explicitly traveled to study in 1959) held the Sermon on the Mount in the highest esteem when interpreting his own Hindu scriptures to reveal a God who is "perfect" with respect to loving nonviolence.
But is this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount the core of Jesus' faith and teaching? The ultimate test must be the focus of the Gospels themselves, namely, Jesus' act of going to the cross. Jesus came not primarily as a didactic teacher of principles to live by, but as a prophet who came to incarnate God's Word through faith and action. When considering fundamental issues such as a nonviolent response to violence in light of the New Testament, the Cross itself is the center. For the Cross of Jesus Christ is essentially God's nonviolent response to human violence. Richard Hays, in his essay on “Violence in Defense of Justice,” sums this up well:
When the New Testament canon is read through the focal lens of the cross, Jesus' death moves to the center of attention in any reflection about ethics. The texts cannot simply be scoured for principles (the imperative of justice) or prooftexts ("I have not come to bring peace but a sword"); rather, all such principles and texts must be interpreted in light of the story of the cross. The meaning of dikaiosyne ("justice") is transfigured in light of the one Just One who exemplifies it: Christ has become our dikaiosyne (1 Cor. 1:30). When we hear Jesus' saying that he has come to bring not peace but a sword, we can hear it only within the story of a Messiah who refuses the defense of the sword and dies at the hands of a pagan state that bears the power of the sword. The whole New Testament comes rightly into focus only within this story. (12)Placing the Cross at the heart of the New Testament becomes our background, then, in reading its various teachings, including those of St. Paul. It is often noted that Paul elaborates a very different angle on teaching than did Jesus. He is much more theological. But the place where he most closely echoes words of Jesus himself is the above portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Compare it to Paul's ethical exhortation of Romans 12-13:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, (13) hold fast to what is good.... Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, (14) live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath [of God]; (15) for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.We will shortly see how this hortatory text relates to Paul's wider theology of the cross.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 12:9, 14-19, 21; 13:8-10)
The First Letter of John, with which we began, provides another example, for it is essentially a meditation and elaboration on these themes of the Sermon on the Mount. The side of darkness in which we normally participate is the side of hatred, violence, murder, and lies. The side of light is the side of love, nonviolence, service, and truth. God is completely on the side of light -- "no darkness at all." We have not been on the side of light, but we can begin to be so, through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Overall, when Jesus calls us to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect", doesn't this begin to make sense in light of a focus on the human problem of violence? We can strive to be children of light in the sense of nonviolence. We are called to love like God with a love that reaches out even to one's enemies and therefore with a love that never does violence. For violence against our "enemies" is our chief justification for doing violence. If in the cross of Jesus Christ we see God's perfection in loving even enemies -- and thus in suffering our violence and forgiving it, rather than in ever returning it -- then our way to perfection in faith is also one of living in nonviolent loving service to others.
The human problem with violence, however, goes much deeper according to the New Testament witness. The sin which is forgiven in the Cross is, according to the Christian tradition of interpretation, an "original sin." In other words, we understand our sin to go all the way back to human origins. The Christian revelation is an anthropological revelation, even as it is a theological one. It opens the way to a true understanding of what it means to be human, helping us to recognize the sinful ways of being human, back to our origins.
In this essay, therefore, I want to present our sin as idolatry, but especially as a specific form of idolatry for which it takes the event of the Cross to reveal. In short, when St. John speaks of murder and lies from the beginning (John 8:44 above), I want to describe this as our being under an anthropological compulsion to lie by creating gods in our own violent image in order to cover our tracks. I say "compulsion" because it is not a conscious decision of ours to lie, nor to create the violent gods who bid us to do violence. Neither should we think in terms of Freud's "unconscious." Rather, as Jesus hangs convicted of blasphemy, an offense against his persecutors' god, he prays to his God, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." The God of forgiveness to whom Jesus prays is quite simply a different god than the one who, in the eyes of those who put him there, justifies his hanging on the cross. In other words, we have a deep-seated problem with idolatry: we insist on worshiping violent gods who command us to do violence so that we can feel righteous in doing so. Thus, our problem is not simply with violence in general, but even more so with righteous violence -- that is, with violence that the gods of our unwitting creation deem righteous. (16)
More bluntly, this idolatry is commonly known as "vengeance" -- which, interestingly, the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures reserves for himself (cf., Gen. 4:15; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). One of the most poignant passages in the Hebrew Scriptures about vengeance became part of the great commandment in the Christian Scriptures: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18).
It may be objected that this is a selective citation from the Hebrew scriptures. For the few passages that assume we shouldn't take vengeance because it is completely a divine prerogative, we can find many more passages that assume a vengeful God who would seem to justify human violence against God's enemies. But Luke shows us a Jesus who, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27). Below I will argue that St. Paul needed to completely re-interpret the "wrath of God" from his own Hebrew scriptures, according to the revelation of the God he met through Jesus Christ.
Re-interpreting theological notions through Jesus Christ does not mean we diminish the importance of the Hebrew scriptures. The latter remains the remarkable record of God's chosen people coming to the realization of monotheism itself -- which also means the realization of idolatry. And through Jesus the Messiah we come to more clearly see (1) that the true God is, along the trajectory of the formula from the Hebrew scriptures, "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love"; (17) and (2) that the wrathful God of vengeance is more a function of our human penchant for idolatry. For the Hebrew scriptures are further remarkable in their honesty about how tough it is for God's people to kick the human habit of idolatry. Should it be such a surprise, then, if it took the coming of the Messiah to help God's people take the final steps in having our idolatry fully revealed to us?
More precisely, we are faced with an idolatry that turns on the issue of human violence and the compulsion to be deluded about it. For a thousand years, Jesus' people, the Jews, had grown in their recognition of idolatry and, conversely, in their faith in the one true God who had created the world. But there existed, and continues to exist, an idolatry deep within our anthropology that is most resistant to coming into the light. Tragically, Christians have persecuted Jews for their righteous violence against Jesus -- and thereby manifested their own continual falling victim to this same sin. It has required the cross and resurrection to reveal to all human beings the precise sin of idolatry that the cross represents: an act of righteous violence -- that is, an act of violence justified by one of our violent gods (who we, of course, are to deluded to think is "God").
Nonviolence thus becomes central to the Christian faith to the extent that revelation of our idolatry of violence is manifested in the central events of the Christian faith. In the cross Jesus, the "Lamb of God," submits to our human act of righteous violence, and the vindication of the resurrection reveals that righteous violence as violence -- thus 'taking away the Sin of the world' (John 1:29). (18) At the same time that the cross reveals our enslavement to righteous violence, it reveals God's righteousness as nonviolence -- as radical nonretaliation, that is, as forgiveness -- and as a love that reaches out even to enemies.
This, I maintain, is the central theme of Paul's letter to the Romans, namely, the righteousness of God (3:21), as described most succinctly in chapter 5:
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath [of God]. (19) For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)Whereas we have already noted that Paul didn't seem as concerned as the Gospels with specifically transmitting to us the words of Jesus himself, he was very much concerned with interpreting the implications of the entire Christ event. His ethical exhortation in Romans 12-13 is rooted in his theology of a God who has loved us even while we were still enemies.
Further, a much more subtle, but
extremely important, corollary of the righteousness of God's
unconditional love for us can be seen in Paul's reworking of the
notion of the "wrath of God."
Often the first question in response to the thesis of a nonviolent
God in Jesus Christ concerns what to make of the apparently
violent God of the Hebrew scriptures, especially the common theme
of God's wrath. I believe that Paul is giving us, in the Letter to
the Romans, a crucial response to this concern, one he no doubt
needed to answer for himself.
Campbell has offered a bold new reading of Romans, in his
groundbreaking 2009 book The Deliverance of God: An
Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul
[Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009]. And a pivotal point in his
argument helps cement a reading that students of Girard have
offered for a number of years.(20) What
Girardians have noticed is this: Paul, after introducing his
letter, begins the body in 1:18 with a seeming thesis about the
"wrath of God" -- "For the wrath of God is revealed from
heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by
their wickedness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18) -- and then
works it out, with the word orgè, "wrath," appearing
twelve times throughout Romans.(21)
Only that first time, however, does it appear as orgè theou,
the "wrath of God"; the other eleven times the word orgè
appears solo, that is, as simply "wrath." Why? Because Paul is
subtly reworking the "wrath of God" as a function of human
Campbell's reading, though, adds a crucial element: the words wrath of God in 1:18 aren't
even Paul's direct words! Rather, it is Paul speaking the
viewpoint of an opposing Teacher. "Wrath of God" is how his
opponent talks, not Paul. Campbell argues (in ch. 13, "Rereading
the Frame") that the only thesis which solves all the questions
about the reason for Paul writing Romans when he did is that he
had to make a preemptive appeal against the Judaizing Teacher akin
to the one at Galatia. That's why he had to write before making
specific travel plans. That's why much of the language of
"justification" is similar to that of the Letter to the Galatians.
But there is also a significant difference from Galatians. He
started that church. The Galatians knew him intimately and he
them. But Paul hasn't ever been to Rome. They don't know him, and
so he must speak to the Romans differently than to the Galatians.
They don't even have a first-hand version of what Paul's Gospel is
about. He will need to give them a full version in writing. But he
will also have to argue against the opposing Teacher with the
disadvantage that he is there and Paul isn't. What is Paul's
solution? According to Campbell, it is to use the Greco-Roman
rhetorical strategy of Diatribe. And the latter always includes a
statement of the opponents position, often with a
"speech-in-character" effort to put things in the words of the
adversary. Diatribe was generally an oral performance with the
speaker using different voices, or with more than one speaker
involved. Paul would have trained the reader or readers to speak
in different voices. The formidable task for subsequent
generations is to isolate those different voices in a text that is
intended to be read aloud in those voices.
Campbell has begun that process with thoroughness, but it is a
thesis sure to be debated for years. Without making a
determination about the entirety of Campbell's thesis, let us at
least consider here the portion pertinent to Romans 1:18. Campbell
argues that Romans 1:18-32 is Paul's "speech-in-character"
presentation of the opposing Teacher's basic theology. And the
words wrath of God
represent the heart of their disagreement. Campbell writes,
In short, Paul seems to be stating in
v. 18 -- in a suitably pompous manner -- that the initial and
hence essential content of the Teacher’s position is a vision of
the future wrath of God -- of God as retributively just. And Paul
does not think that this is the essential nature of the God of
Jesus Christ. So he contrasts the Teacher’s programmatic
theological claim quite deliberately with the initial disclosure
of his own position -- his gospel -- which speaks of the saving intervention of God and
hence of the divine compassion (vv. 16-17). Paul is
stating here compactly that fundamentally
different conceptions of God are at stake in these two
gospels. Moreover, it is immediately apparent that the Teacher’s
conception has no significant input from Christology. The
stylistic parallel therefore denotes a deliberate contrast between
two quite different theological programs. (p. 543)
If Campbell is right, this makes the Girardian thesis about "wrath" in Romans even more clear. Paul's subsequent solo use of "wrath" is a contrast with the Teacher's typical use of "wrath of God." Paul says "wrath" because the most crucial and obstinate consequence of our idolatry is the kind of wrath we inflict on one another. Having trotted out the Teacher's favorite forms of Gentile idolatry, he turns now to the form of idolatry that only an anti-idolatrous person can commit: wrathful judgment against other people's idolatry. This is made explicit in the "therefore" which immediately follows 1:18-32:
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth." (Romans 2:1-2)This is now Paul beginning to counter the judgmentalism of the Teacher. When we judge others, in other words, it is its own form of idolatry. We portray our judgment as God's judgment. And so, several verses later, St. Paul can deduce the logical consequences of this idolatry: "But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:5). Wrath is simply "wrath" here, and no longer the "wrath of God," because it can instead be seen to be the wrath we store up for ourselves, due to our idolatry of righteous violence. On the "day of wrath," namely, the time when our human wrath comes to roost, God's righteous judgment will be revealed, precisely as something different from our wrath. It will be revealed as a love that reaches out in grace as a free gift in faith (Rom. 3:21-26) even to sinners, to God's enemies (Rom. 5:8-10). Those who refuse the faith of Christ -- namely, faith in an unconditionally loving God -- will continue to live in faith to the false gods of our own wrath and so will end in that wrath. It might be said that, on the day of wrath, the alternative will finally be clear to us: nonviolence or nonexistence. Either we seek the righteous, forgiving, nonviolent judgment of God that we experience in Jesus Christ, or we are handed over to the logical end of our own wrathful, violent judgments upon one another -- and the wrathful gods we use to justify them.
Paul's reworking of wrath is such an important matter that we should briefly consider several further instances of the word "wrath" in Romans. First, we have already glimpsed the problem here in this essay, when we quoted Romans 12:19 and 5:9 above, while noting (in footnotes 15 and 19) the gross mistranslations in the NRSV. The words of God in the "wrath of God," as translated in these two verses, are completely absent in the original Greek text. The NRSV translators inserted the words "of God," and thus provide an inadvertent illustration of the idolatry of interpreting our human wrath (and the violence connected with it) as of God. Here I am arguing that St. Paul is subtly trying to work towards the opposite insight: that we would finally see human wrath, which we have formally seen as of God, as of us instead.
Second, consider Romans 3:5: "But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.)" In this instance, inflicting wrath is explicitly connected with God, but Paul amazingly also makes explicit that this is precisely a human way to think -- namely, idolatry. I can hardly imagine a more direct presentation of the thesis here. Paul asks about God's justice, whether it can be seen in terms of God inflicting wrath on us, and then explicitly tells us that seeing things in these terms is our human way of thinking, a worldview deeply ingrained in our anthropology, not in God's nature.
Finally, interpreters might still see in Paul's thinking a connection between God and wrath in Romans 9:22: "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction." (22) The translation implies wrath of God by giving us "his wrath," referring to God. But, once again, the translators have added what isn't there in the Greek. Technically, the first his (autou in the Greek) is not there, yielding a more literal translation as, "desiring to show the wrath and to make known his power." I would therefore suggest the following overall message of this verse as: "What if God, desiring to show the [human] wrath and to make known his power, has endured the objects of wrath made for destruction" -- the "objects of wrath" being things like the whip, the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross, etc. In other words, "the wrath" and "his power" are being contrasted here. God has made known his power as distinct from human wrath precisely by enduring in Jesus Christ the typical objects of our wrathful judgment. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, in commenting on Romans 1:18-3:20, says:
the wrath revealed in the gospel is not the divine vengeance that should have fallen on us falling instead on Jesus, but rather the divine nonresistance to human evil (cf. Matt 5:39), God’s willingness to suffer violence rather than defend himself or retaliate. It is the permission granted us by God to afflict ourselves unknowingly; it is the divine nonresistance to human evil. It is God’s unwillingness to intervene in the process of action and consequence in the human world by which we set up and operate the system of sacred violence, and so paradoxically a sign of love as the refusal to abridge our freedom and a respect for our choices even when they are catastrophic. (Sacred Violence, 101-102)In contrast to our violent wrath, God reveals his power as nonviolent love, that is, as love which suffers violence rather than inflicting it.
And I would suggest that Gandhi and King were faithful disciples of God's power in Jesus Christ in living out what they referred to more simply as the way of "nonviolence." In short, I believe we have arrived at my first thesis: that "nonviolence" is also the heart of Jesus' faith, the faith by which he was able to endure the violence of our wrath, because it is a faith in the power of God's unconditional love, a power that manifested itself on Easter morning as the very power of Life behind Creation. It is a faith that the power of human violence can never ultimately defeat God's power of Life.
Part III: 'Nonviolence or Nonexistence' as the Message of Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet
Nonviolence or nonexistence. We arrive at the second of my two stated theses: that the posing of alternatives "nonviolence or nonexistence" conveys the meaning behind Jesus' apocalyptic preaching.
Here, I need to begin with a preliminary thesis about New Testament interpretation: contemporary scholar N. T. Wright is in the process of revolutionizing much of what has passed in the last century as faithful scriptural interpretation but, according to his assessment, has been wide of the mark. I heartily agree with the overall thrust of Wright's project, that goes by the overarching title of "Christian Origins and the Question of God," and is thus far four volumes. (23) Volume 2, Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright's foray into the Historical Jesus movement, is the cornerstone effort in his project and is most pertinent for my thesis here. The following is a summary of Wright's main theses in this book:
Doesn't Wright's work also make sense of the unique call of Jesus to love our enemies -- and the theology of Paul which emphasizes a God who has loved us even while we were still enemies? Jesus could call on his people to love even Romans because they aren't the real enemy. Satan is. Similarly, God can still love us as sinners because the real enemy is Satan.(24)
What is the ultimate outcome when we resort to violence to stop our enemies? We can kill our enemies, but Satan will simply find another instrument for his brand of righteous violence. Any peace will only be temporary.
Consider the flood story of Gen. 6-9. It is essentially a story of God resorting to violence to stop human violence. In the mythical time before history, God tried the way of violence, wiping out all living things except Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark. But it is a fruitless slaughter because humankind quickly falls right back into distorted desire and the violence that goes with it. Thus, the conclusion to the story is the real point. The rainbow carries the promise that God would never again resort to the strategy of violence to stop violence. With Abraham and Sarah God establishes a people who begin to discover a different God than all those other gods who resort to violence. History finally begins -- namely, a gradual way out of the "eternal return," the cyclical view of time in most cultures.
History is essentially the gradual way out of the endless cycles of "Satan casting out Satan." In the second verse of the biblical history proper (Genesis 1-11 being a pre-historical prologue), God gives us the basic formula of covenantal love: "I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2). Opposite to the satanic trajectory of expelling someone in order to achieve communion -- a solution always doomed to fail in bringing a full and complete communion, a Holy Communion, of all of God's children -- 'blessed to be a blessing' to others has a trajectory of always reaching out to include others within the bounds of God's family.
And the climactic moment of history comes when God shows us the way of unconditional love through Jesus Christ, the way of forgiveness rather than vengeance. It is a way that challenges much that passes for "family values" based on satanic over-againstness as providing an incomplete peace. Jesus' family consists in this: "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35). Whoever lives in the Holy Spirit finds themselves able to live God's will from the beginning of history -- namely, the call of Gen. 12:2 of being blessed to be a blessing to others, which is a "spirit of adoption" as God's children (Rom. 8:15). Anything less will always bring a merely temporary peace, something less than our final hope (of which Romans 8 has much to say).
Or, in pondering the outcome of always resorting to violence to cast out violence, consider Jesus' parable of the Wheat and Weeds in Matthew 13. The evil one has sown weeds into the midst of the wheat, but the owner of the field counsels his servants against resorting to a violent weeding out before the harvest. Let them be, forgive them. (25) The weeds will be sorted out in the harvest.
Finally, I would like to call upon one more witness from Scripture, the Book of Revelation. Strangely, it is the book in the New Testament most often called upon by Christians to justify their views of sacred violence, misinterpreting it as a vision of God someday performing the ultimate sacred violence on all the wicked. I would like to invite the reader to see the Book of Revelation as, instead, the most graphic revelation of human sacred violence under Satan's power. It represents such violence as the Beast who has always had the kingdoms of this earth completely deceived by its powers. To thus see in John's vision a divine sacred violence as putting an end to our human violence is a misreading of colossal proportions.
John the Seer's vision, then, is the final defeat of the Beast -- but at the hands of whom? The "Lamb slain since the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). (26) The revelation of the Lamb will lead to the eventual defeat of the Beast as it ultimately sinks into its own hell-hole, its own lake of fire. When this happens, the heavenly way of God's nonviolent love will descend and merge with the earth to make both heaven and earth into a new creation. (27)
In short, satanic violence is ultimately self-defeating. It is a kingdom divided against itself which cannot stand, just as Jesus predicted in his first parable of "Satan casting out Satan" (Mark 3:23-26; see §5 in Part I above). It might be added, however, that from the perspective of Revelation this "self-defeat" required the help of Jesus revealing it, not just in parables, but finally through incarnating it on the Cross as the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world, and by God revealing it fully as the way to death through the eternal power of life in the Resurrection. Because of the latter, all the white-robed martyrs who have suffered the ordeal as victims of sacred violence, "from all tribes and peoples and languages," have a place before the eternal throne of God, where God will wipe away every tear (Rev. 7). Death will be no more; mourning and crying will be no more, for the first things (namely, satanic violence since the foundation of our human worlds) will have finally passed away (Rev. 21:4).
I cannot here offer a thorough reading of the Book of Revelation as a call to nonviolent discipleship of the Lamb, (28) but allow me to at least present a couple of key moments. The first involves the Lamb's first appearance in Rev. 5:6. John is told by one of elders to look up in order to see the lion of the tribe of Judah. In other words, he expects to see that symbol of victorious righteous violence. The lion is the classic mighty Beast. Instead, John sees the Lamb standing slaughtered. It is the Lamb who will thereafter be the dominant figure in this drama, appearing twenty-nine times in Revelation.
At crucial moments of victory, it will always be the Lamb who is most prominently present. The best example is in chapter 12, where Michael and the army of angels win a decisive victory in heaven against the dragon. How is the dragon characterized? Revelation 12:9-10:
The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God."Notice how Satan, the dragon, is characterized as the Accuser. And how is the victory won? Through the superior militaristic might of Michael and the angels? No, Revelation 12:11 gives us the answer: "But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death." In short, sacred violence loses its place in heaven by the revelation of the Lamb slain, and by all those witnesses (martyrs is the Greek word for "witnesses") who do not cling to life even in the face of deathly violence. It is the same kind of moment marked by Jesus when he says, "I see Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18; the title of one of René Girard's most recent books).
Just before the final defeat is described in Rev. 19:11-20:15, the marriage feast of the Lamb is proclaimed (Rev. 19:7-10). Then, it is a new character pictured who actually brings the defeat, a rider from heaven on a white horse who "makes war." But, again, how is this war waged? Through superior firepower? It would seem not. For the rider is described, even before entering into the battle, as "clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God" (Rev. 19:13). Again, it is the witnessing of martyrdom, the "testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 19:10), the Word of God, that wins the victory. The decisive word of God's loving forgiveness in Jesus Christ ultimately results in the self-defeating event of satanic violence sinking into its lake of fire.
Let me conclude this essay portion, then, with the direct call to nonviolence from John the Seer. It is the one moment when he takes time-out from recounting his vision to speak directly to you and me, his readers:
Let anyone who has an ear listen: If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Rev. 13:9-10)John's call to faith is essentially a call to 'nonviolence or nonexistence.' We are called to either faithful discipleship of Jesus the Lamb in the way of nonviolence and life, or to the ultimate consequences of the way of violence and death.
Part IV: Major Theses for the Life of the Church
1 In light of the above First Principals and the two-part essay regarding Jesus' faith and apocalyptic preaching, I invite the reader to confess with me that the Church remains in sore need of reformation, especially to the extent that it is called to sacramentally be a presence of peace in a world torn by violence.
1.1 Martin Luther, under the threat of violence from the church of his day, called the church to return to faith in a God of grace and love. Yet he still seemed to miss the most essential point about this gracious God who sent the Son into the world to save us from our own human violence. This is not so much to blame him. He made a valiant effort at evangelical theology. But here's the point: an evangelical anthropology was still lacking, and so Luther's theological insights fell victim to our idols of violence, which have continued to support our human violence against one another. The process of doing theology at the time of the Reformation even became violent itself, succumbing to a constant over-againstness towards one's opponent's theology.
1.2 A fully adequate evangelical anthropology has not really been possible until, under the influence of the Paraclete's push for truth, modern science came into being,(29) with its abilities to research and study vast amounts of data and so can move toward more universal, global understandings of the truth about human nature and human culture. With the evangelical anthropology of René Girard we finally have an anthropology conversant with scientific hypotheses and adequate to the task of reformation in the Church.
1.3 So this is what the Church finally needs to see: that reformation around the issue of violence, especially sanctioned violence, is the pivotal issue for reform in the Church. Since Constantine made Christianity the imperial religion, Christians have been more aligned with the human way of violence than with Christ's way of peace.
1.4 At the beginning of the 21st Century, after the bloodiest century in human history, Westerners are so scandalized by the violence connected with the long history of Christendom (that period of Western history since Constantine), that they have forsaken the Christian faith in huge numbers. And I submit that our failure to be peacemakers is the number one reason for such mass defections. It is not only our failures in the face of massive bloodshed at times of war, Crusades, etc. It is also the smaller, everyday failures. When I converse with unchurched folks who once were churched, they almost always tell me a story of being deeply hurt -- most often by someone breaking the commandment on bearing false witness, namely, gossip. See James 3:5ff. for an account of the violent destruction wreaked by our tongues: that "the tongue is a fire..., and is itself set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). Doesn't this reference to hell make sense in terms of Satan the Accuser? But as disciples of the One who exposed the work of Satan, shouldn't we in the church have also done a better job over the centuries of not so often succumbing to the violence of gossip?
1.5 Of primary concern to the Christian faith should be the common perception in the modern world that the Christian religion is the most violent of all. This state of affairs ought to be a sign of how far off-course the church has veered, when it comes to the crucial reality of human violence. (See my sermon for Good Friday 2003.)
2 Re-formation of the Christian faith might be envisioned as happening around a focus on the "faith of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 3:22; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:12; Phil. 3:9; verses crucial to the original Reformation; see the webpage for Reformation Sunday). Christ's faith is the true way of being human in the world. The possibility of anyone else living in such faith is dependent on his faith.
2.1 First of all, we need to deal with a problem of Bible translation. We need to agree that the better translation of the Greek pisteos Iesou Christou in the above verses (Rom. 3:22, etc.) is "faith of Jesus Christ," instead of the more common translation these days of "faith in Jesus Christ." I first came across this issue of translation in Charles B. Cousar's A Theology of the Cross, (30) where he summarizes the point I am trying to make: "that the concern in Romans 3 is not between two human activities, obedience to the law or believing in Christ, but between a human activity and the activity of Christ." The "activity" in question in this essay is how to respond to violence. Human beings have a fallen way of responding, either fight or flight. Jesus Christ came with God's response, the only response truly different, and thus the only response capable of saving us from our violence. In Jesus Christ, God submits to our violence on the Cross and shows it to be impotent in the Resurrection. Christ was the one who was finally faithful to a God who "desires mercy not sacrifice" (Jesus' words in Matt. 9:13; 12:7, quoting Hos. 6:6). It is his faithfulness that saves us.
2.1.1 If the Reformation insight is that we are saved by God's grace, then the first focus of that gift from God should be on Christ's faith, not on ours. Again, it is an emphasis on Christ's activity that helps us most appreciate the graciousness of God's gift.
2.1.2 If the emphasis is the other way around -- namely, on our faith in Christ, as it has seemingly become since the Reformation -- then the tendency is to make a "works righteousness" out of our acts of believing and on the contents of our beliefs -- all abstracted away from the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in its historical incarnation.
2.1.3 And if the emphasis is backwards, then the faith of the historical Jesus can then also be readily exchanged for the "Christ of faith," that is to say, the Christ in whom the Church came to believe. This is Rudolf Bultmann's basic move in reading the Gospels, a move that has dominated New Testament interpretation over the last century. Instead of Jesus' faith, we talk about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John's faith in Jesus. This is the same move that N. T. Wright is so earnestly trying to undo (see my summary of Wright's work in Part III above): that what Jesus believed about God takes a back seat to what persons believe about Jesus, an approach that is completely backwards.
2.1.4 If, on the other hand, we correctly translate and emphasize the "faith of Jesus Christ," then the historical incarnation of Christ's faith makes all the difference in the world. And we have characterized the faith of Christ in these "Core Convictions" as a faith in God's way of nonviolent love even in the face of the satanic powers of righteous violence and death. Jesus Christ's faith took him to the Cross, an event par excellence of righteous human violence; and his was a faith which was then vindicated in the life-giving power of the Resurrection.
2.2 Let's not get things backwards, then: Christ's faith in God comes first as the pre-condition of our faith in Christ. The role of human faith in Christ, therefore, is the secondary role of receiving the power of Christ's faith through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. This work can be most readily seen through the traditional "means of grace," namely, God's Word and the Sacraments. These remain basic to the life of the Church, and some brief remarks are in order in light of the proposed reforming influence of evangelical anthropology.
2.2.1 God's Word. My hope is that the work of René Girard and his students, myself included, is a sign of an encounter with Scripture renewed by the perspective of an evangelical anthropology. Does this perspective bear the fruit of renewing the church's encounter with the Word? I humbly offer my work on "Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary" as undertaken with this hope.
2.2.2 Baptism is a daily dying and rising with Christ so that Christ (his faith included) lives in us and we in him. Since we have already died and risen with him, we need not fear the satanic powers of violence and death as we have characterized them here. We are empowered to live in the faith of Christ such that we would sooner sacrifice ourselves to those powers than to become a conduit for inflicting them on others. With the help of Christ's faith through the Holy Spirit, we do our best in faith to live the way of nonviolent love.
2.2.3 Baptism is also an eschatological (the fancy theological word for "future-oriented") washing of our sin-born selves, such that we are simultaneously saints and sinners. As such, we are not the ones who will save the world. To the extent that we are saved, we have the exciting call to participate in God's saving the world in Christ. But we do not live the way of nonviolence as a means or strategy to ourselves bring about the fulfillment of Creation. Baptismal life is living the way of nonviolence as eschatological signs (sacraments) of God's reign of peace breaking into the world. In other words, we live nonviolently because we have seen the ending of the story, that it is God's nonviolent love in Jesus Christ which wins the victory. Our lives of nonviolence can continue to be signs of that victory in this world in anticipation of its peaceful conclusion.
2.2.4 The Eucharist is participation in Christ's kenosis, his self-emptying, that paradoxically fills us, such that we might be eschatological signs (sacraments) of Christ's self-emptying love as it fills the world. It is a participation, a liturgy, that anticipates and celebrates fulfillment of Creation such that we are nourished and filled for self-emptying, loving service in the as-yet broken world. I agree with Gandhi's assessment that "Poverty is the worst form of violence" -- which also fits the biblical emphasis on reaching out in loving service to the poor.
2.2.5 The Eucharist, in anticipating the fulfillment of Creation, is eschatologically inclusive of all. As St. Paul warns the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 11:17-34, practices of the Lord's Supper which exclude others cannot truly be the Lord's Supper. Instead of Holy Communion, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they practice their own unholy communions to their own detriment and sickness. And so do we, to the extent that we exclude others. Holy Communion, akin to Jesus' own table fellowship with "sinners," is especially inclusive of all those people most commonly marginalized by humankind's unholy communions.
3 A re-formation of faith -- like the one I am calling for, that counts on the Paraclete's recent work of evangelical anthropology -- also effects a revitalization of faith's theological content. Crucial doctrines that have long become entrenched in the typical faith of Christendom can be seen in new light. Following is a short (non-exhaustive) list of such doctrines.
3.1 Atonement. Perhaps chief among the erroneous doctrines are the traditional substitutionary doctrines of atonement. Evangelical anthropology helps us to see that the Cross exposes all idolatries which make God involved in our sacred violence. Traditional doctrines of atonement largely bring us right back into such idolatries, having Christ save us from divine violence that would otherwise be directed at us. It's not only evangelical anthropology but also the Gospels that clearly paint a different picture. All of Jesus' own Passion predictions, as well as the apostles first sermons, make clear that it is we human beings who kill and God who raises up. (See the first five recorded sermons in the history of the church. Although they come on diverse occasions, they all ring out the theme that we human beings kill, and God raises to life: Acts 2:23-24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:30; and 10:39-40.) Traditional atonement doctrines create so many problems that it is among the most urgent business for the church to get clear about. And it has been among the most frequent uses of evangelical anthropology to help clear up. See my webpage "The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement."
3.2 Original Sin. I am calling for reform in these pages, but what follows in the next paragraphs might actually be judged (by those with a better historical knowledge of the 16th century theology than me) as closer to the Catholic position on Original Sin -- as officially posed in the Council of Trent's reaction to Augsburg -- than to the Reformed position. Catholics and Lutherans have agreed in recent years on a theology of grace. In terms of official doctrines, I would venture that they never really differed on this score, despite the fact that Protestants still like to identify themselves by their theology of grace. I would like to suggest that where Catholics and Protestants have differed, and perhaps still differ, is regards to anthropology and the doctrine of original sin. (31) The doctrine of Original Sin must always have an anthropological component since it fundamentally involves human nature.
3.2.1 So what guidance might an evangelical anthropology informed by mimetic theory give us? In this essay, the groundwork is laid, I believe, in Part I beginning with §3. There we established that human desire is an essential part of human nature. As such, it is created good, that is to say, created in the image of God as that which gives us the ability to follow in the loving desire of our Creator for the whole creation.
3.2.2 But mimetic theory helps us to understand that human desire is not itself created as a loving desire for Creation. Rather, it is created in the "image." It is created as the ability to imitate personal desires such as those revealed between the Father and the Son. The crucial question always involves whose desire we imitate, given our ability. The story of the Fall in Genesis 3 shows us that, since the beginnings of our existence, humankind has imitated the desire of other creatures rather than of God, leading into the way of envy instead of the way of love. Far short of a loving desire for the abundance of God's Creation, we imitate in one another a competitive desire for the same objects, which appear scarce to us precisely because we are competing for them. (For example: when two children imitate each other's desire for the same teddy bear, they experience that teddy bear as scarce, even if they fight over it in a room full of teddy bears.)
3.2.3 Thus, in Part I §3.1 above, we described human desire as a created potentiality. Depending upon whose desire we imitate, human beings have the potential for the way of envy and conflict or the way of love and peace. The story of the Fall relates to us the path onto which we have fallen, namely, of course, the way of envy -- or, in the terms of that good biblical word, the way of covetousness.
3.2.4 The Ten Commandments share this picture of sin. The first and last commandments combine to show us the way of covetousness. In substituting our neighbor as our models of desire -- taking them essentially as other gods in substitution for following the loving desire of the one true God -- we are constantly falling into covetous desire, and so we fall into rivalry and the ensuing ways of violence: tearing down one another's reputations ("bearing false witness"), stealing, adultery, and killing, the middle commandments.(32)
3.2.5 I believe that the evangelical anthropology sketched out here is highly resonant with St. Paul's typological way of speaking in the Letter to the Romans (and Galatians). The way of covetousness is to live "according to the flesh." (33) To begin living in the way of love, on the other hand, is to begin to live "according to the Spirit." Because of the First Adam humankind had become trapped in living according to the flesh. But because of God's gracious sending of the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, we can now begin to live according to the Spirit.
3.2.6 In terms of the historical debates, then, does the evangelical anthropology of mimetic theory lend some further clarity? It agrees with a theology of grace: humankind, mimetically following in the way of the First Adam, would remain trapped in life according to the flesh if not for the gracious sending of the Second Adam, who alone fulfills our human potentiality for living according to the loving desire of our Creator, our heavenly Father. We are forgiven nothing less than our way of death which put the Second Adam on the cross. In the resurrection, he returns as God's forgiveness, which alone can begin to set us on a different path, the path of imitating Christ, the path of being his disciples, the path of living according to his Holy Spirit. The latter might be described as "grace perfecting nature," as a life of sanctification. Once justified by the grace of God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ, we are able to begin living a life of sanctification in the Holy Spirit. We are able to begin living according to our potentiality for imitating the loving desire of our Creator.
3.3 Creation. The doctrine of Original Sin which we have just outlined is also very much dependent on a doctrine of ongoing Creation which holds both the protological and the eschatological (beginnings and endings) in creative tension. (34)
3.3.1 By emphasizing the word "ongoing," I mean to distinguish this from the kind of thinking which is protologically stuck. By this I mean the kind of approach that sees Creation as a done deal "in the beginning." We then get the kind of salvation history which goes something like this: God created the world in the beginning as good; humankind sinned and corrupted everything to the core; Jesus took our sentence of death on the cross; God forgives us in raising Jesus from the dead; and so now we human beings can go to heaven to be with Jesus forever when we die.
3.3.2 For one thing, this scheme anticipates our next doctrinal 'correction' below on heaven. So many popular Christian accounts of salvation include the rest of Creation in the corruption and death caused by humanity's sin, but then they leave it completely out of the salvation rendered, in favor of the otherworldly view of human souls going to a place called heaven. We will address this further in a moment.
3.3.3 The doctrine of Original Sin outlined above requires a thinking about creation as ongoing, that is, as a process of coming to fulfillment. What fulfillment? The fulfillment of God's loving desire as put forth in Part 1 §2. God is Love, and Love is creative, especially of new relationships with the potential (but only potential since love also requires freedom) for returning love. Human beings are those creatures made in the image of God who are able to return God's love for Creation. The story of the Fall recounts how the First Adam failed to return that love and fell onto the way of envy. We who are descendants of the First Adam remain stuck in that way of envy and conflict since our beginnings. Our falling is also ongoing. But the Fall did not somehow erase our potential for love. Thus, with the advent of the Second Adam who has fulfilled that potential for sharing God's loving desire, another way, the way of love, has finally been established as part of Creation's ongoing process of coming to the fulfillment of God's Love.
3.3.4 Human beings who live in faith for the way of Christ thus begin to live as creatures who are part of Creation's ongoing process of coming to fulfillment. In this created time between the beginnings and endings of Creation, we are thus, to the extent that we live in Christ, both saints and sinners. We are creatures who began in the way of the First Adam, the way of envy and conflict, but we are also creatures who, in the gracious forgiveness of the Second Adam, are beginning to live toward our fulfillment in the way of love. We begin to live according to the power of the resurrection, the power of life, on the way of being freed from our powers of death that have bound us.
3.3.5 We see this most clearly, I think, in John's Gospel. It is the Gospel which carefully frames itself by opening with a proclamation of the Word who was creating in the beginning. That Word became flesh, entering into the world on its way to death through the way of envy and conflict. (Was John's Word, the Logos in Greek, intentionally offered as a foil to the philosopher Heraclitus's Logos of violence? Heraclitus, after all, was the one who philosophically both expounded on the Logos and then also famously proclaimed that, "Conflict [polemos] is the father and king of all things." (35)) John's Jesus is also shown to be continuing that ongoing "work" of creation when healing, (36) and it is clearly presented as a continuing process. Jesus says of his healing the lame man, "My Father is still working, and I also am working" (John 5:17). In short, Creation is a work still in progress. The picture is even more dramatic in John 9. Jesus and his disciples happen upon a man born blind, and the disciples immediately want to take a protological view of Creation which then places a moralized version of Original Sin upon him: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Isn't Jesus' response ["Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:3-4)] made more clear by the doctrines of Original Sin and Creation being outlined here? In other words, Jesus came to open our eyes to a renewed way in which we can begin to experience Creation as God's work. Instead of seeing it as forever trapped in the power of our sin, we can begin to come to see it as forever on its way to fulfillment. When our eyes are fixed on the cross in faith -- remembering that in John's Gospel, the cross is the lifting up that begins the Resurrection and Ascension (see John 3:13-14; 12:32-33; 20:17) -- our eyes begin to open to the fulfillment of creation. Jesus cries out from the cross, "It is being fulfilled" (John 19:30; tetelestai in the Greek). For those who believe in Jesus, they thus are empowered to begin participating in God's power of eternal life such that they "will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12).
3.3.6 God's plan of salvation is of one piece with God's work of creation; it is an aspect of the ongoing process of bringing Creation to fulfillment. Doesn't this also help to make sense of Romans 8? St. Paul indicates a certain ordering within the wider plan of Creation. The rest of Creation is dependant on the children of God -- the creatures created with the ability to return God's love -- the rest of Creation is waiting for us to get our acts together. As we begin to live according to the Spirit, instead of living according to the flesh, Creation begins to move more decidedly towards its fulfillment. Which brings us to that matter of the popular notion of heaven as a destination which leaves the rest of Creation behind.
3.4 Heaven. N. T. Wright had originally planned to end Vol. 2, his work on the historical Jesus, with a chapter on the Resurrection. But he found popular Christian piety about heaven to be so off the mark that he ended up writing an entire 800-page volume on it, The Resurrection of the Son of God. His main point in this book is that the popular Christian thinking about heaven is more from Plato than it is from Jesus and our Jewish heritage. Most Christians think in terms of heaven as a separate place where one goes after death, accompanied by a hope along the lines of, 'This earthly life is but a desert dreary, heaven is my home.' The grave problem with this thinking is that a first-century Jew, namely, Jesus and all the apostles, would never have a hope in terms of devaluing the Creation. Their faith in God is faith in the Creator who lovingly created the heavens and the earth. Such a God would not scrap the earth in favor of a heaven as a holding tank for migrated souls (Plato's hope). The Jewish/Christian hope is for resurrection of the body and the fulfillment of Creation. Popular Christian thinking prays that souls go to heaven when the body dies. The Lord's Prayer prays that, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven." In other words, it prays that heaven comes to us on earth, not that we go to heaven. Heaven is the unseen dimension of Creation where God's will resides. We pray for God's will, for heaven, to merge with earth and bring it to fulfillment. Devaluing the earth in favor of a heavenly home gives us an excuse to treat it sacrificially, that is, as another victim of our sacred violence.
3.5 Hell. Popular thinking has this as the partner place to heaven, an eternal repository for souls condemned by God. In the Gospels, the Greek word behind the English translation "hell" is most often Gehenna.(37) It's the Hellenized name for the valley of Ben Hinnom outside of Jerusalem, a place where we know that Israelites practiced child sacrifice; see Jer. 7:30-34. In short, the popular notions of hell once again try to shift the responsibility for violence from us to God. When Jesus says Gehenna in the Gospels (Matt. 5:22, 29f; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5), he is talking about suffering the consequences of our own sacrificial violence. When modern Christians speak of hell, they are generally talking about a place where souls eternally suffer the violence of God's punishment for sin. Evangelical anthropology calls us to give up such idolatry. Jesus Christ came to save us from our own violence, not from God's violence. Does this mean that there is no place of prolonged human punishment? Not necessarily. But it would be a punishment of our own making, for refusing to live by God's grace and instead remaining entrenched in the consequences of our own human violence.
3.6 Judgment. "A punishment of our own making." To continue this line of thinking from what we've said about hell, mimetic theory helps us to see how the biblical theme of judgment is subverted from within -- namely, from the idolatrous view of a wrathful God judging us to the Gospel view of a loving God "handing us over" to the consequences of our own wrathful actions. In short, the biblical theme of judgment is realigned in Jesus Christ to a theme of self-judgment.
3.6.1 We have already seen this subversion from within, for example, in our exegesis of Paul's reworking of the "wrath of God" in Romans (the end of Part II). It begins with God turning us over to the consequences of our idolatry in Romans 1:24, 26, 28. Eventually, the consequences of such idolatry always turn into our judging one another, and suffering our acts of wrath against each other (Rom. 2:1-5). When in 2:6 St. Paul says, "For he will repay according to each one's deeds," the theme of divine judgment is stated: "while for those who are self-seeking (eritheia) and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury" (Romans 2:8). Whose wrath and fury? By now St. Paul has made it clear that it is our own human wrath and fury. The word eritheia is most often translated as "selfish ambition" in the NRSV; see Phil. 1:17; 2:3; Jam. 3:14, 16. In James it is paired both times with zelos, envy. And the simplest translation of eritheia might be "rivalry" -- in short, those infamous twins of mimetic theory, envy and rivalry. In Rom. 2:8, rivalry (eritheia) is paired with obeying unrighteousness instead of the truth, and the predictable result, according to Paul (and mimetic theory), is wrath and fury. The judging one another of Rom. 2:1 becomes the self-judgment of Rom. 2:5-8.
3.6.2 Is self-judgment also the underlying reading of "Satan casting out Satan," Part I.5 above? Human beings are under the spell of Satan casting out Satan, and so we are perpetually a house divided against ourselves. Satan casting out Satan is essentially our constant judging of one another, resulting in the self-judgment of never attaining lasting peace
3.6.3 John's Gospel also seems to make clear the subversion of judgment into self-judgment. There almost seems to be a strange parallel to Mark's Satan casting out Satan. In John 12:31, Jesus says, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out." Similarly, John 16:8, 11: "And when the Paraclete comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned." In both these sayings it is ambiguous, I think, who is "the ruler of this world." Is it Satan who is judged by his own casting out of himself? Or is it Jesus, about to be condemned by Pilate, which the Paraclete makes clear is a judgment on our human judging? Mark has his brand of riddles and John has his.
3.6.4 Also working in tandem in John's Gospel are 3:19: "And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil." And Jesus remarks in 9:39 to the Pharisees who judge the man born blind and himself: "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Both of these verses convey a strong sense of humanity's self-judgment.
3.6.5 In several of the parables in the Synoptic Gospels, particularly Matthew's "parables of judgment," the theme of self-judgment may also be fleshed out. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-34), for example, the Unforgiving Servant experiences the incredible grace of being forgiven a huge debt. But he steps back into the world of keeping debts when he holds the meager debt of a fellow servant. His master's judgment is according to the servant's own actions. Invited into a world of incredible grace, the servant himself retreats back into the world of keeping debts. (See my sermon from Proper 19A, “The Parable of the Servant Who Chooses Hell.”)
3.6.6 Finally, let me recommend Raymund Schwager’s Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, one of whose central points is precisely that the drama of Jesus letting himself be judged is God's salvation of humankind from its own self-judgment. More than any other Girardian, Schwager has helped to elucidate the Gospel subversion of God's judgment into God's salvation of humanity from its own self-judgment. (See, for example, the section "Apocalyptic and the Self-judgment of Humankind," pp. 133-134; and the highly nuanced summary of his argument in this excerpt of pp. 195-196.)
4 Living in Christ's way of peace has many implications for life in the Church. Evangelical anthropology sheds new light on age-old challenges for the life of Holy Communion. Following is a brief (non-exhaustive) list concerning practice of the Holy Life.
4.1 Being catholic in a world where the scapegoat mechanism continues to generate conventional culture raises great challenges for the church's call to be cross-cultural and inclusive.
4.1.1 One of the ironies of Western culture -- namely, the culture in closest proximity to the Gospel for the longest time -- has been its historical accident of having the Gospel work its way of Holy Communion from within. "Western culture" has seen unparalleled progress in learning to recognize our patterns of scapegoating along lines of race, religion, gender, physical and mental abilities, sexual preference, etc.
4.1.2 Yet the power of the scapegoating mechanism is such that the forms of scapegoating become even more subtle. White-males, for example, can find token ways of sharing some of the power while still essentially remaining in control, making sure that things continue to be done according to their basic terms. Evangelical anthropology understands that the satanic powers of sin run right to the core of what generates our cultures and institutions, in the first place. Christian conversion is thus about more than personal conversion. Institutional transformation generally proves to be an even more difficult aspect of living a life of sanctification.
4.2 Anti-racism continues to be a most difficult challenge in this regard. As Euro-American culture continues to push its culture globally, the phenomenon of "white racism," now bolstered by global market capitalism, is the reigning, over-arching form of the scapegoat mechanism in our world.
4.2.1 One of white racism's most insidious tactics is to promote "multi-culturalism" in racist ways, that is to say, the white-controlled power structure celebrating multi-culturalism to its own advantage. Well-meaning white churches, for example, can foster relationships with African-America congregations without even realizing how they continue to control the terms.
4.2.2 As with the power of sin in general, one cannot ordinarily begin to undo the power of white racism without intentional strategies that include the transformation of institutions from within. Racism goes far beyond personal prejudice. It involves the power of prejudice as having shaped our institutions, over several centuries, to privilege white people. Undoing such systemic racism thus involves institutions being intentional about realigning the way in which power and privilege happens. With white racism, this generally involves white people intentionally relinquishing their privilege in order to meaningfully share it with people of color.
4.2.3 Therefore, a ministry that is intentionally anti-racist goes to the very heart of the understanding of evangelical anthropology to allow God's Culture to transform from within our human cultures formed by the scapegoating mechanism. It seeks to transform institutions from within so as not to privilege any group. This is no easy task. In today's world, where "white racism" continues to go global as the reigning kingdom of Satan, anti-racism ministry is the epitome of communities in Christ truly seeking and finding themselves to be Holy Communions -- namely, as communities based on the self-sacrifice of those with power, rather than based on the ancient way of sacrificing those with little power.
4.2.4 The issues of Capital Punishment and Restorative Justice vs. Punitive Justice are decidedly under the category of racism in contemporary North America. People of color are victims of capital punishment and of our current punitive justice system at rates far out of proportion to the overall population.
4.2.5 An excellent para-community ministry of supporting other communities in being anti-racist is Crossroads Antiracism of Chicago (see their website).
4.3 Anti-Sexism. In light of the scapegoat mechanism and scapegoating around gender, we can simply ask: Can church communities that do not allow the ordination of women ever achieve meaningful catholicity?
4.4 The place of gay and lesbian persons in the church. This raises a similar issue involving catholicity and scapegoating. Many contemporary church bodies are especially facing two specific policies as crucial: the blessing of monogamous gay relationships by the church, and the ordination of gay persons who openly live in such blessed relationships. Gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ rightly challenge their heterosexual friends that, if gays and lesbians must always follow in the terms dictated by fellow heterosexual members, can they truly be the body of Christ together?
4.4.1 "Straight" folks counter that, even though the evidence in Scripture is scant, it is consistent in its condemnation of "homosexual" behavior. In short, this issue of practive goes to the very heart of how we interpret our Holy Scriptures through Jesus Christ. At the risk of being too brief for such an important subject, I would like to at least point the reader in the direction of a reading informed by evangelical anthropology.
4.4.2 The most crucial passage is that of Romans 1:26-27 where homosexual behavior is clearly described, the only place in scripture where lesbian sexual acts are specified. (38) Yet we have already highlighted this passage above in our arguments regarding Paul's transformation of the "wrath of God." In other words, Paul's highlighting of homosexual behavior in 1:26-27 is at least partly in the service of making a wider, more crucial point. He uses the grossest examples of Gentile idolatry -- which made liberal use of all kinds of sexual acts as part of their ritual religious practices of blood sacrifice -- in order to make the point to his Jewish brothers and sisters in 2:1-2 that judging such idolatry is its own kind of idolatry. The cross of Jesus Christ stands, in fact, as a much more direct judgment on our judging. It is not our sexual sins that most directly put Jesus on the cross; rather, it is the satanic sin par excellence of accusing, judging, and executing -- in short, scapegoating the Lamb of God -- that most directly puts Jesus on a cross. (See also my webpage entitled "A Different Angle on Resolution #1: Which Is the Sin that the Lamb of God Came to Take Away?")
4.4.3 This does not mean that we ignore the indirect role of sexuality mixed up with idolatry in leading to scapegoating. Idolatrous sexuality leads to swirling scandal, which eventually swirls around a sacrificial victim. An indirect factor in the Nazi Holocaust, for example, was the German cabaret movement (one of idolatrous sexuality), leading into the reactionary response of totalitarianism seeking a scapegoat. In short, the Bacchanal festivities of Dionysus lead to the mad sacrificial sparagmos (Greek, "tearing apart") of Dionysus. (39) We need to pay attention to the idolatry of sexuality in our contemporary culture, both heterosexual and homosexual. There are signs of it everywhere. Paying attention to the ways in which idolatrous sexuality might lead to scapegoating, however, is markedly different than using it as the next excuse to scapegoat someone.
4.4.4 Can we also make a distinction between idolatrous sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual, and sexuality that is being redeemed in Jesus Christ? With the two policies most prominently in question, gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ are challenging the church around the issue of being covenantally faithful in our sexual relationships. Scientific study is showing serious indication of homosexual preference as a natural inclination. (Recall in 1.2 above the positive historical role of science from the viewpoint of evangelical anthropology.) Can heterosexuals be open to such studies and join in encouraging covenantal faithfulness in gay relationships?
4.4.5 Another crucial element to this issue is thus the "orders of creation" argument, namely, that God creates only a heterosexual order and thus anything else is "unnatural," and therefore disallowed in even covenantally faithful relations. Here, evangelical anthropology can once again give us pause. For it understands how, through the ages, the creation stories in all cultures tell the stories about societal order mythologically represented as results of the 'natural' order. (40) The story of creation in Genesis 1 has demythologized much of that aspect. But one strong mythical element remaining there happened to be the element which Jesus most clearly fought in his ministry: namely, the misuse of the Sabbath order to lord it over others.(41) The Sabbath is not actually a 'natural' order of God's creation; other cultures mark time in ways other than the seven-day week. But the Sabbath order is presented as a 'natural' order of creation in Jewish society in ways in which sin can take advantage, leading to scapegoating. So here are the crucial questions with regards to the place of gay and lesbian people in the church: Do we also misuse the 'natural' order of "male and female" (Gen. 1:27) when heterosexual Christians use it to lord over gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ? Is "male and female" truly a 'natural' order of God's making, or more reflective of our human societal order that leads to scapegoating those who are deemed 'unnatural'? Non-literalist Christians complement the Genesis 1 picture of creation with the picture science gives us. Can we also complement the "male and female" of Genesis 1 with the scientific data about gender and gender-preference around human sexuality? (See my sermons from Proper 16C 2004, Transfiguration A 2002, and Epiphany 2B 2003.)
4.5 Domestic Violence and Abortion. Ideally, there would
never be 'problem pregnancies' and abortion would thus never be
sought as a solution to a problem. But this is not yet an ideal
world, and the issue of abortion is so often treated as a rational
calculus within a framework of rational moral decision-making. But
far too often actual decisions for abortion are made within the
living nightmare of domestic violence. There's very little that's
rational within such a living context for moral decision-making.
By "domestic violence," I mean physical, emotional, spiritual,
and, yes, sexual abuse. Even in far too many marriages the
expectation of the man is to be able to have sex any time he wants
it, even if the woman doesn't. If a wife is trying to say no to
sexual relations and the husband forces it, isn't this rape? And
the frequency of such abuse multiplies greatly when we go beyond
marriage to live-in and dating relationships. Domestic violence,
simply put, is a reign of terror of a man over a woman. When
pregnancy becomes a reality within such a reign, a woman doesn't
have the luxury of making a decision within the best, most
rational context of moral deliberation. As long as such reigns of
terror continue to exist in relationships between men and women, I
will continue to support the legal right of women to choose
abortion. (Domestic violence can sometimes be reversed as a woman
abusing a man, and it is also present within gay relationships.
But I limit myself here to the by-far most common domestic
violence of men over women because of its connection to pregnancy
4.6 Poverty and Economic Justice. Instead of offering my
own reflections on the next three sections (4.6-4.8), I would like
to highly recommend one of the most important books of our time: Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change: Jesus,
Global Crisis, and a Revolution of Hope [Nashville:
Thomas Nelson, 2007]. McLaren describes the Equity System (4.6),
the Prosperity System (4.7) and the Security System (4.8) as three
cogs in what is the current "Suicide Machine" of Western
Civilization -- and our calling as disciples of Jesus to help
transform these three systems. I don't believe that McLaren
benefited yet from Girard's Mimetic Theory when he wrote this
book. But he has since become an enthusiastic supporter of Mimetic
Theory, and I believe his work in this book anticipates that
support. In any case, it is a lucid analysis of the problem and a
faith-centered elaboration of what disciples might do in response.
Again, I highly recommend the studying of, and putting into
practice, Brian McLaren's
Everything Must Change.
4.7 Consumerism vs.
Stewardship of Creation. See 4.6.
4.8 "Conscientious Objection" and War. See 4.6.
5 Ecumenism, Inter-Religious Relations, and the Perspective of the Victim. I have saved for the end what is perhaps the most controversial aspect of René Girard's thesis. Girard has continued to argue for the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures in general and for the Christian Gospel in particular. (42) His work renews the meaning of Peter's bold claim in Acts 4:12: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." Hopefully, the reader by now has a good sense for answering the question we raised near the outset of this essay (Part I, §1.7), "Why is Christ's submission to an act of human violence necessary for our salvation?" In a nutshell, we might answer: because our human entrenchment in idolatry of sacred violence is so steadfast that only God's submission to it in Jesus Christ, followed by the powerful, life-giving event of Resurrection, could begin to break the hold.
5.1 In short, the Cross alone does not win our salvation. It is only with the Resurrection that our salvation is truly launched. In the conclusion of I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Girard writes:
During the Passion, the little group of Jesus’ last faithful followers was already more than half-possessed by the violent contagion against Jesus. Where did they suddenly find the strength to oppose the crowd and the Jerusalem authorities? How do we explain this turnabout so contrary to all we have learned of the irresistible power of mimetic escalation?5.2 And it is the uniqueness of the Resurrection of Christ that also accounts for the unique place of the faith in the Resurrected Crucified One.
Until now I have always been able to find plausible responses to the questions posed in this book within a purely commonsensical and “anthropological” context. This time, however, it is impossible. To break the power of mimetic unanimity, we must postulate a power superior to violent contagion. If we have learned one thing in this study, it is that none exists on the earth. It is precisely because violent contagion was all-powerful in human societies, prior to the day of the Resurrection, that archaic religion divinized it. Archaic societies are not as stupid as we tend to think. They had good reasons to mistake violent unanimity for divine power.
The Resurrection is not only a miracle, a prodigious transgression of natural laws. It is the spectacular sign of the entrance into the world of a power superior to violent contagion. By contrast to the latter it is a power not at all hallucinatory or deceptive. Far from deceiving the disciples, it enables them to recognize what they had not recognized before and to reproach themselves for their pathetic flight in the preceding days. They acknowledge the guilt of their participation in the violent contagion that murdered their master. (pp. 188-189)
5.2.1 It should first be acknowledged that such claims for uniqueness have become scandalous in the modern context of inter-religious dialogue -- and for good reason. Beyond mere acknowledgment, modern Christians are often called to sorrowful repentance for the sacred violence done in the name of Christ throughout the centuries. Rather than save us from our anthropological predilection for sacred violence, the cross of Christ, interpreted sacrificially, (43) has too often been our banner over some of history's worst offenses of sacred violence -- especially those against Jews. When Jesus voices condemnation as he does in Matthew 11:21-22 ["Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you."] it speaks to the crimes of Christians throughout the ages. For Jesus is basically saying, 'You are the ones who have heard my message and claim to believe. You should know better! It will be worse for you on the day of judgment than for those of far-off lands who never heard and claimed to take it to heart.'
5.2.2 But this only makes evangelical anthropology more urgent, for it makes crystal clear the direct betrayal of the Gospel whenever any sacred violence is done in the name of Christ. Yes, it claims uniqueness for faith in the Resurrected Crucified One but never as a banner of violence to hold over other faiths.
5.2.3 We have also already argued against the sacrificial interpretation of the cross which has been a key to Christians sacralizing their violence. See §3.1 above on traditional doctrines of atonement; I recommend again the webpage "The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement."
5.2.4 Finally, the most important point here is the one which makes for the sub-heading (§5.2): the uniqueness of the Resurrection of Christ. For the claim here is primarily for its uniqueness as a historical event, and only secondarily as an event which creates a certain brand of faith. This is not a triumphalistic claim of one religion over all others. It is not even a religious claim, in an anthropological sense, if we stand by our anthropological thesis that all human religions are infected with sacred violence. Christianity as a religion in history has decidedly put an exclamation point on the truth of that proposition. But if we can entertain the Resurrection of Christ as a unique event in history, in distinction from the history of Christendom, then hopefully an inter-religious dialogue can take the shape more of a scientific conversation than of the next prelude to war.
5.3 In what sense do we claim the Resurrection of Christ as a unique event in history? Our answer: as not simply the survival of the victim's perspective on sacred violence, but as the resurrection of the victim's perspective -- and specifically as forgiveness, not vengeance! As resurrected to an eternal life, the Victim's perspective on sacred violence is an ongoing force in history that goes by the name, in John's Gospel, of Paraclete. René Girard's work has made more clear the interpretation of the notoriously mysterious title of Paraclete -- namely, as the opposite of Satan and the satanic powers in this world. The Satan is the Accuser. The Paraclete is the Defender of the Accused. Scholars have been aware of this Greek word being titular, but evangelical anthropology finally makes John's reason for using it clear. See the webpage "The Anthropology of René Girard and the Paraclete of St. John."
5.4 What evangelical anthropology helps bring to light is that the victim's perspective on violence will always play a unique role in history. Andrew McKenna states that "the matrix of difference is the victim." (44)
5.4.1 The ordinary matrix by which we humans live is the perspective of the perpetrators of collective violence against victims. Human enslavement to the perpetrator's perspective of sacred violence is at the foundation of all human culture. With the perpetrator's perspective penetrating everywhere to things human, it is the victim's perspective which is truly unique.
5.4.2 Behind the anthropological predilections against the victim's perspective, there is a very practical, quasi-historical reason: namely, the victim is shunned and often killed. In the ancient world, the role of music during ritual sacrifice was often to drown out any cries from the victim. (45) It is crucial that the victim not be heard. The practical mechanics of making victims means that it is unusual for the victim's perspective to survive. In the world of ancient ritual it was probably impossible.
5.5 In general, then, the survival of the victim's perspective is highly unusual as a historical phenomenon -- until more recent history, that is, when the victim's perspective has finally established a beachhead in Western culture, namely, the cultures most often in closest contact with the Gospel (more on this below). (And it must be emphasized that the close contact is in the category of being an accident of history and not by any meritorious claims for Western culture. In short, the perspective of the victim has established a place in Western culture not because of any inherent merit in Western culture but because of the historical accident of being in close proximity to the Gospel over a long period of time.)
5.5.1 Which raises the important question: Under what kind of historical conditions could the perspective of the victim survive?
5.5.2 Proposal: under the kinds of conditions endured by Yahweh's chosen people, the Jews, over centuries of maintaining an identity despite being trampled upon by every other empire in that part of the world. Isn't their identity as a people, in fact, unique, precisely by virtue of maintaining a strong national identity not by being great conquerors but by being conquered? Moreover, their identity was initially forged as a liberated slave people in their exodus out of Egypt.
5.5.3 This is not to say that the victim's perspective is on display everywhere in the Hebrew scriptures. Girard has called them a "text in travail," that is to say, a text struggling to finally and clearly give voice to the victim in history. The Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah 53 is but a pinnacle in this long, excruciating process in history of the victim's voice becoming heard -- which then becomes an interpretative hermeneutic to read back through Israel's own history, even its de-mythologizing interpretation of pre-history. For example: contrary to the founding Roman myth in which Romulus is justified in murdering his brother Remus, Yahweh confronts Cain as having heard the voice of his murdered brother's blood cry out from the ground. Talk about hearing the voice of the victim! Taken as a whole, then, Girard argues that the Bible presents us with a matrix of the victim's perspective the extent to which cannot be found in any other text.
5.5.4 The Resurrection of the Jewish Messiah, as proclaimed by the Jewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth, thus fulfills this process of the victim's perspective coming to light. James Alison calls it the "intelligence of the victim" (see the webpage "James Alison on 'The Intelligence of the Victim'"). It is the clarity of this intelligence of the victim which, from the perspective of evangelical anthropology, Christians may claim as unique.
5.6 But does uniqueness mean that Christians have a monopoly on this perspective of victims? By no means. And that means another crucial opening for inter-religious dialogue.
5.6.1 Beginning with Christian inter-faith dialogue with our Jewish brothers and sisters, they, of course, have a firm foundation from which to talk -- the foundation, in fact, for the Christian faith itself. The Cross and Resurrection only make sense within the matrix of the Hebrew Scriptures, in the first place. And the Christian betrayal of the Gospel, in the form of anti-Semitic sacred violence, gives evidence to the fact that the Jewish people have continued to more faithfully live out the call of Yahweh to be on the side of victims. In the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust, many Jews are heard to cry out, "If this is what it means to be the chosen people, then please, God, choose someone else." Is this an echo of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to take his cup of suffering away? Yet this would seem to be the strange truth of history: namely, that the true God calls the victims of violence to let their voices be heard, and promises through Jesus Christ that their voices will not only be heard but will finally determine the end of history, when God's peace will be all-in-all.
5.6.2 American Indians and African-Americans might tragically provide another historical example of peoples whose faith in God has been shaped by centuries of being oppressed -- again, mostly by people calling themselves Christians whose perspective has obviously lapsed into that of the perpetrators. Such oppression, it might be argued, has led many native Americans to interpret their 'pagan' religions more truly according to the perspective of the victim than did the Christians who perpetrated such systemic, institutional violence against them. Many contemporary people are finding more spiritual truth on the reservations than in many of the churches.
5.7 In general, Christian inter-faith dialogue with other world religions can proceed with an openness to explaining and then exploring the "intelligence of the victim" in other religious traditions. It can also share and commiserate with other religious traditions how easy it is to fall into the anthropological 'default position' of the perspective of the persecutors. Christians can be honest about the ways in which it has persecuted other faiths in its long history, while, at the same time, offering a picture of how the Resurrected Christ establishes a history of the "intelligence of the victim" in world history. Can much of this be done in a spirit of a scientific exploration of history?
5.8 A similar approach can be made with ecumenical, inter-denominational dialogue. As one of the most violently persecuted of the developing Protestant churches, did the Mennonites, for example, gain the victim's truth about such violence? Evangelical anthropology can help us to understand our history of inter-church conflict, and to serve as a basis for living the answer to our Lord's prayer to his Father in Heaven "so that they may be one, as we are one" (John 17:11). It is imperative, after such a long history of schism, that the Church of Christ find new ways to live its sacramental calling of being a presence of Holy Communion in the midst of this world of unholy communions -- in other words, that same dynamic of John 17 of being sent into the world but not belonging to the world.
Last modified: February 18, 2011, adding to Part II
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1. "Mimetic desire" is the most important concept for understanding the work of René Girard, who calls his anthropology "mimetic theory." It is the subject of his very first book and continues as the basic principal through all his works. See for example the opening pages of his recent book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning where he begins with a good description of "mimetic desire" around a discussion of the Ten Commandments, in chapter 1, "Scandal Must Come" (excerpt).
2. These "unholy communions" are my description for René Girard's second primary thesis, that sacred violence lies at the foundation of all human cultures, the theme of his second book Violence and the Sacred. His term for unholy communions is "victimage mechanism," or "scapegoat mechanism."
3. René Girard first offered the following alternative interpretation of Satan casting out Satan in his book The Scapegoat, where chapter 14, "Satan Divided against Himself," is devoted to it. It has found a prominent place in many of his subsequent essays and books. See for example the opening to chapter 3, "Satan" (excerpt), of I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, where he calls Mark 3:23-26 "the main text on the subject." See also my webpage for Proper 5B, where Mark 3:20-35 is the Gospel Lesson.
4. I intentionally used "traces" as an indication that Girard's work is close here to the deconstructionism of Jacques Derrida, the contemporary philosopher who is the 'guru' of "post-modernism." Derrida lifts up the violence in language which he calls "logocentrism" -- sometimes even "theologocentrism" to indicate the religious aspect. Logocentrism consists in the majority imposing their preferences for meaning on the minority, while failing to see their imposition as violent. They simply see it as true and often invoke the gods in support. The deconstructionist must uncover the "traces" of their violence through creative, even "playful," juxtapositions of their texts. Girard's thesis is very close to this, except behind the violence in texts he is bold to hypothesize a real collective violence of the majority against the minority, a collective violence which is generative of all human culture -- including language, so it should come as no surprise that texts manifest violence, too. For a brilliant juxtaposition of Girard and Derrida, see Andrew J. McKenna, Violence and Difference: Girard, Derrida, and Deconstruction (Chicago: University of Illinois, 1992).
5. John 9 is a pivotal passage for Girardian theologian James Alison. See his "The Johannine Witness" (excerpt) to The Joy of Being Wrong and chapter 1, "The Man Blind from Birth and the Creator’s Subversion of Sin," in Faith Beyond Resentment.
6. Martin Luther King, Jr., from a sermon delivered the last Sunday (March 31, 1968), Palm Sunday, before being assassinated, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., entitled "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution." A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington (Harper San Francisco, 1986), 276-277.
7. John 8:44 is another key text for René Girard and his students. See the full bibliography on my webpage where John 8 appears in the lectionary on Reformation Sunday.
8. Neglect of the poor might not seem like killing. But consider Martin Luther's catechism for the Fifth Commandment: "You shall not kill. What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor's life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life."
9. 1 John follows up the summary of the Gospel (1 John 1:5 quoted above) with just such a recognition of our complicity in darkness, alongside God's bright grace: "If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 John 1:6-10)
10. Once again consider Martin Luther on the Fifth Commandment in the Small Catechism (see note 7 above) in reading how Jesus 'ups the ante' on this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount.
11. For an excellent exposition of these verses, placing them at the center of an argument that the Christian faith is about nonviolence even in defense of justice, see Richard B. Hays, "Violence in Defense of Justice," chapter 14 in The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996, pages 317-346.
12. Ibid., 338.
13. Notice that Paul says to hate "what is evil" and not to hate the evil person. (The Greek clearly uses a neuter form, poneron, rather than the masculine, poneros, which is generally used to refer to an evil person. There are places less clear, such as the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Deliver us from the Evil One" [Matt. 6:13], in which the noun form, ponerou, is both masculine and neuter and so is less easily determinable). Hating what is evil in a person as opposed to hating the person is a helpful distinction.
14. Is St. Paul allowing for personal choice here in the event that our Christian calling to live in peace conflicts with our society's call to support war? Romans 13:1-8 gives thanks for civil servants who protect us with violence, with "wrath." But does a phrase such as this one, "as far as it depends on you," give us a special responsibility within our responsibility to respect governing authority?
15. The words "of God" are added in the NRSV translation (not the King James, however) and are not present in the original Greek. I will have much more to say below on "wrath" in Paul's Letter to the Romans.
16. The infamous 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers is a clear instance of such righteous violence. Less clear, perhaps, is the United States' counter-violence in order to righteously defend its freedom, or Constitution -- if the latter are counted as transcendent entities, or "gods," used to justify our violence.
17. This formula appears in nearly identical words in no less than eight places: Exod. 34:6, Num. 14:18, Neh. 9:17, Ps. 86:15, Ps. 103:8, Ps. 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jon. 4:2.
18. Note that the singular "Sin" is original -- which makes sense of the characterization here of righteous, or sacred, violence as the most persistent sin plaguing humankind since our origins.
19. This is another instance of the words "of God" being added in the NRSV. See note 15 above and the further discussion of "wrath" yet to come.
20. The basic insight for this reading of "wrath" in Romans comes from Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 101-103, and James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 126-128 (see excerpt "The Pauline Witness").
21. Romans 1:18, 2:5(2), 2:8, 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22(2), 12:19, 13:4, 13:5. See the webpage "A Re-Formation of Faith" for the full text of these verses. The most puzzling of these references to wrath for me are the two in Rom. 13:1-8, a notoriously difficult passage that I need to more closely grapple with someday.
22. The crucial phrase, translated in the NRSV as "desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power," is in the Greek, endeixasthai tèn orgèn kai gnrisai to dynaton autou.
23. The ELCA publishing house, Augsburg Fortress, has thus far been the publisher of N. T. Wright's project, under the overall heading of "Christian Origins and the Question of God": Vol. 1, The New Testament and the People of God (1992); Vol. 2, Jesus and the Victory of God (1996); Vol. 3, The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003); Vol. 4, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2013).
24. Wright's emphasis on "the satan" as "the accuser" goes extremely well with René Girard's presentation of evangelical anthropology when he expresses it in the language of the Gospels. See especially his recent book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (for example, this excerpt on "Satan") and his essay on "Satan" (excerpts) in The Girard Reader. Wright’s fleshing out of "the satan" as an anthropologically generated power, however, is quite thin (basically covered in only a 17-page section, pages 446-463 of Jesus and the Victory of God) and could benefit greatly from the support of Girard's evangelical anthropology.
25. Matthew 13:30: "Let them both grow together until the harvest..." The word for "let them," aphete, is the most common Greek word used to say, "Forgive them."
26. John's actual word order in Rev. 13:8 in the Greek is: en to biblio tes zoes tou arniou tou esphagmenou apo kataboles kosmou. The King James Version faithfully repeats this exact word order: "in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." The NRSV -- wrongly, in my opinion -- switches John's word order around to: "from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slaughtered."
27. John also adds the strange note that "the sea will be no more" (Rev. 21:1). Why? My suggestion is that the sea is often a metaphor for the chaos and disorder of human/satanic violence. See, for example, Psalm 69, in which the metaphor is made explicit.
28. It is becoming increasingly common, outside of more conservative circles, to interpret the Book of Revelation as a call to nonviolence. Here's a short list of examples: J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 20-33; Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 169-185, 332; G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1966. Finally, see my sermon "Faith Is Trusting that the Satanic Violence Is Self-Defeating" for another wholistic reading of Revelation.
29. One of René Girard's most quotable quotes is from ch. 15, "History and the Paraclete," in The Scapegoat: "The invention of science is not the reason that there are no longer witch-hunts, but the fact that there are no longer witch-hunts is the reason that science has been invented. The scientific spirit, like the spirit of enterprise in an economy, is a by-product of the profound action of the Gospel text." For more on the connection between science and the Gospel, see my sermon for Epiphany 6B 2003.
30. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990, p. 39, note 28. More recently, I have found the translation "faith of Jesus Christ" being argued for by N. T. Wright in the New Interpreter's Bible on Romans (vol. 10; Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), page 470. See also my sermon for Reformation Sunday 1993.
31. For this point, and for all that follows concerning original sin, I am indebted to the work of James Alison, whose major opus on the topic is The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin through Easter Eyes. Pertaining to the particular point here, Alison succinctly stated in a footnote in a recent talk (November 18, 2003, entitled "Following the still small voice: Experience, truth and argument as lived by Catholics around the gay issue"; not yet published): "The Catholic and the Reformed positions are identical in recognising the completely free and gratuitous initiative of God who saves. The difference between them is an anthropological one concerning who we are who are being saved and what that salvation looks like as a human process over time."
32. René Girard opens his recent book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning with a similar analysis of the Ten Commandments, pp. 7ff.
33. Notice, too, how at a crucial moment in his argument Paul focuses in on the commandment about coveting: "What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead" (Romans 7:7-8). For more on an interpretation of Paul from the perspective of mimetic theory, see Robert Hamerton-Kelly's Sacred Violence: Paul's Hermeneutic of the Cross; on these verses, 7:7-8, and the topic of Original Sin, see especially ch. 4, "Sacred Violence and Original Sin: Adam's Transgression as the Deformation of Desire."
34. Again, I am very much graciously dependent on the work of James Alison whose work on original sin always includes a component on creation. In The Joy of Being Wrong, for example, see "Creation in Christ" (excerpt), pages 94-102, and chapter 7, "The Trinity, Creation, and Original Sin." In subsequent works, there are also excellent pieces on creation; see "hints of a new creation," pages 97-103 in Faith Beyond Resentment, and "creation in Christ," chapter 4 of On Being Liked.
35. For more on this, see my webpage for the Second Sunday after Christmas, for which John 1:1-18 is the Gospel Lesson.
36. See James Alison's writings on John 9 both in The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 119-125, "The Johannine Witness" (excerpt), and Faith Beyond Resentment, ch. 1. He points to the use of "work" in the healing stories of both John 5 and John 9.
37. See for example Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled (New York: Crossroads, 1995), "Fires of Hell" (excerpt), pages 210-212.
38. It is important to recognize that homosexuality as a sexual-preference is a modern idea. There was no notion in biblical societies of people of the same gender preferring by nature sexual relations with each other. They only spoke in terms of homosexual behaviors. Many of the terms used in Hebrew or Greek, then, are controversial as to what sexual behaviors are being specified -- or lumped together indiscriminately. Only in Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:26-27 is homosexual behavior clearly described as lying with a person of the same gender.
39. See, for example, René Girard's analysis of Euripides' The Bacchae in Violence and the Sacred, pp. 126ff.; and Gil Bailie's analysis in his taped lecture series "The Dionysian Revival: 'Liberation into Savagery.'"
40. An excellent example of creation myths giving us the human social order as 'natural' is the Hindu myth (Rg Veda 10.90) in which the primal human being is sacrificially carved up to create the traditional caste system of Indo-Hindu culture. See Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook translated from the Sanskrit, with an introduction by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty [London: Penguin Books, 1975], pages 27-28. Link to an excerpt of these pages, "Dismemberment: the Primeval Man Is Sacrificed."
41. I count at least seven separate stories in the Gospels about Jesus resisting the Sabbath practice of his contemporaries: healing a man with an unclean spirit and Peter's mother-in-law on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-31and par.); plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28 and par.); healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6 and par.); healing of the crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17); healing of a man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-6); healing of a lame man (John 5:1-47); healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-41).
42. Girard's recent book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning has consecutive chapters (chs. 9-11) titled "The Uniqueness of the Bible," "The Uniqueness of the Gospels," and "The Triumph of the Cross."
43. René Girard himself began early-on to write about the consequences of Christendom's falling back into a sacrificial interpretation of the cross. See especially Book II, Chapter 3 of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, a chapter entitled "The Sacrificial Reading [of the Gospel] and Historical Christianity." Anthony Bartlett's book, Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement, elaborates on this Girard's thesis of a sacrificial reading, showing how Anselm's doctrine of atonement in Cur Deus Homo? was not just coincidently written as the Western Church was gearing up for the First Crusade.
44. Andrew McKenna, Violence and Difference, 218.
45. The Greek verb myo means to close the mouth or shut the eyes. There is debate about whether myo plays a crucial role in the etymology of other significant words such as myth, mystery, and even music. These etymologies make sense within the Girardian hypotheses. Myth means to close ourselves to the victim and tell the tale according to the perpetrator's perspective; mystery cults are based on the silence of the victims; music derives from drowning out the voice of the victim.