Nuechterlein on “My Core Convictions,” Part 1

Last revised: February 18, 2012

My Core Convictions:
Nonviolence and the Christian Faith

Contents

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 structure1 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” (Violence 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: go to Part 2.

NOTES

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.”

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,” 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; and excerpts from Girard’s essay on Satan.

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.

Go to Part 2

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