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RCL: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; John 1:1-18
RoCa: Sirach 24:1-4, 8-12; Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18; John 1:1-18

John 1:1-18


1. René Girard, Things Hidden, Book II, Ch. 4, "The Logos of Heraclitus and the Logos of John" (pp. 263-280). I give the last word to Girard in the essay "Girardian Anthropology in a Nutshell" from this chapter of Things Hidden. Here is an excerpt from that essay:

Before closing, however, I would like to address a major criticism of Girard's work that brings us back to where we began this particular elaboration of it: his reluctance to accept the modern / post-modern relativizing of truth. A common reaction to Girard's bold truth claims is that they are imperialistic. They touch those chords in us Westerners that strike shame in us for the imperialistic imposition of truth that describes so much of our Christian history. There is no denying the fact that the Christian claims to universal truth have, in the hands of our imperialistic cultures, been turned into the justification for all manners of horrific imperialistic violence against peoples of other cultures.

The question is whether or not we let our shame perform yet another violent expulsion: on the Truth itself. Do we, because of our sin, jettison the Truth along with our abuse of it? 'Throw out the baby with the bath water,' so to speak? Does the existence of a universal truth necessarily mean imperialistic violence? Must we settle for only relative truth? The answer no doubt lies in the Truth itself. If it is a Truth with something like the cross at its center, it should somehow be about being vulnerable to our violence rather than the instigator of it.

On this very important matter, let me give the last word to Girard. In Part Two of Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World, Girard demonstrates a "non-sacrificial" reading of the Gospel, one which makes clear that the sacrifice of the Cross is about our need for sacrificial violence which we project as God's need. We are the ones who, through our false idols, demand sacrifice, not God. The next chapter relates how historical Christianity has lapsed back into a sacrificial reading of the Gospel in order to once again justify our violence. He concludes Part Two with a chapter that draws a dramatic distinction between the Logos of Violence and the Johannine Logos of Love. The Prologue of John (John 1:1-18) is about how the former is continually trying to expel the latter. I leave the reader with the posing of a universal truth which I do not think could be imperialistic. Girard writes:

The Johannine Logos is foreign to any kind of violence; it is therefore forever expelled, an absent Logos that never has had any direct, determining influence over human cultures. These cultures are based on the Heraclitean Logos, the Logos of expulsion, the Logos of violence, which, if it is not recognized, can provide the foundation of a culture. The Johannine Logos discloses the truth of violence by having itself expelled. First and foremost, John’s Prologue undoubtedly refers to the Passion. But in a more general way, the misrecognition of the Logos and mankind’s expulsion of it disclose one of the fundamental principles of human society.

. . .This revelation comes from the Logos itself. In Christianity, it is expelled once again by the sacrificial reading, which amounts to a return to the Logos of violence. All the same, the Logos is still in the process of revealing itself; if it tolerates being concealed yet another time, this is to put off for just a short while the fullness of its revelation.

The Logos of love puts up no resistance; it always allows itself to be expelled by the Logos of violence. But its expulsion is revealed in a more and more obvious fashion, and by the same process the Logos of violence is revealed as what can only exist by expelling the true Logos and feeding upon it in one way or another. (Things Hidden, pp. 271, 274)

2. Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, Ch. 13, "Where Are the Philosophers Now?" Bailie expands a bit on Girard's comparison of Heraclitus and John. Here is a brief summary of why Heraclitus is important to mimetic theory:
Heraclitus offered a theory of cultural origins strikingly different from the myths of creation that were a familiar feature of the pagan cults and the mystery religions of his time. For him, the “world” did not originate with the conniving schemes of Gaia, Uranus, Cronus, and their peevish, incestuous, and parricidal Olympian intrigues. It began with human violence, albeit a violence structured by some mysterious organizing principle. Heraclitus sensed that violence behaved in accord with an enigmatic logic of its own, which he called its logos. This logos or logic of violence made it possible for violence to both create and destroy. Heraclitus wrote:
War [polemos] is the father and king of all things; he has shown some to be gods and some mortals, he has made some slaves and others free . . . . Everything originates in strife . . . . Strife is justice; and all things both come to pass and perish through strife.
For Heraclitus, the logos of violence was an ordering principle that was generated by disorder itself. Once in play, this logos turned chaotic and destructive violence into socially stable and hierarchically differentiated social systems. Heraclitus saw that however random and lawless it is, collective violence nevertheless develops according to certain recognizable patterns, patterns that could not be traced to any cause or any conscious intent on the part of those participating in the violence. Furthermore, he appears to have seen that it is violence of the most lawless and random kind that is the most likely to conform to the mysterious ordering principle he termed the logos. (Violence Unveiled, pages 241-242)
Heraclitus is almost an early version of mimetic theory -- not the whole thing, of course, but significant bits of it in his aphorisms -- bits that have been important to latter day philosophers like Heidegger. What these philosophers haven't seen is the way in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and its logos of agape, is God's answer to the human logos of polemos. And so they also miss that there is an alternative to the logos of violence, tending to go from the descriptive to at least an implied normative. In short, the assumption that violence is behind everything receives an endorsement to use it wisely. Bailie's chapter is an excellent account of how philosophy comes up short.

3. Within philosophy itself Derrida's deconstructionist movement is largely about uncovering the violence embedded within philosophy. Andrew McKenna's book, Violence and Difference: Girard, Derrida, and Deconstruction, is a brilliant analysis of how Derrida comes so close and yet how the philosophical method ultimately comes up short compared to the anthropological hypotheses of mimetic theory.

4. Gil Bailie, "The Gospel of John" audio tape series, tape #1. Bailie's commentary on the Johannine Prologue is interspersed with comments on T.S. Eliot poetry and combined with Girardian insights into John 8. John 8:44 -- "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." -- expresses Heraclitus' logos of violence. For a full bibliography on John 8, see Reformation Day.

5. James Williams, The Bible, Violence & the Sacred, pp. 204-210.

6. James Alison, Raising Abel, pp. 49-56: his discussion of "Creation in Christ" (excerpt) elaborates on NT passages like John 1:1-3.

7. James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong. Alison cites this passage at several points in Part 1, ch. 3, "The search for a soteriology." This chapter unfurls "the intelligence of the victim," which is the insight gained by the apostles in the wake of Jesus' Resurrection. Alison says, for example:

What was unique was the way in which, after Jesus' death they began to be able to tell the story of this life and death not from their own viewpoint, as muddled hangers-on, but from the viewpoint of the dead man, of the one who had become the victim. It is not as though they had invented a profound new insight into Judaism to honor the memory of a dead teacher. Rather they were now able to see clearly the inner unity of the interpretation of Judaism which their teacher had been explaining to them as with reference to himself. They were able to see his life through his own eyes: that is, tell the story of the lynch from the viewpoint of the victim's own understanding of what was going on, before the lynch, leading up to, and during it. (p. 80)
What the disciples became aware of after the resurrection was that the person whose consciousness is constituted in rivalry and survival by victimization does not possess the intelligence of the victim. The beginning of the perception of the intelligence of the victim is already an alteration in what constitutes human consciousness, permitting us to see things from the viewpoint of the victim, and from the point of gratuitous self-donation. (p. 81)
"Gratuitous self-donation" becomes an important theme in Alison's Girardian framing of the Gospel. The place that John's Prologue plays in this is that of placing the self-giving back to the beginning:
John takes the final step of tracing back explicitly the gratuitous self-giving of this man into God. In his Prologue John shows the self-giving as prior to the rejection, and in the Passion narrative he shows God giving a victim into the hands of men that is far more than any of the cultic victims which the figures of the Old Testament sought to offer to God. (pp. 82-83)
This chapter in JBW also includes a more expansive discussion of the "Creation in Christ" material cited above in Raising Abel. Alison suggests that "creation ex nihilo" is a product of the Resurrection and expands the discussion into that of the doctrine of the Trinity. For example:
It is already clear that John alludes to creation in his account of the first day of the Resurrection. This becomes even clearer in his prologue, which can be seen, as can the whole of the Johannine re-casting of God, as the consequence of the shift in perception permitted by the intelligence of the victim. The resurrection of Jesus made it possible to see that the same self-giving towards victimization present in the life of Jesus was the perfect image and imitation of the Father, revealing the Father as he really is, fount of all self-giving. The self-giving of Jesus was then the Word, the Logos, the full self-revelation of the Father. Furthermore, the self-giving of Jesus exactly reflects (but does not exhaust) the self-giving of the Father, and this means that the relation of gratuity anterior to all that is, is common to both of them, Father and Son. (p. 99)
Finally, Alison has an important interpretation of related text 1 John 1:5 ("This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all."):
In the light of the resurrection it gradually becomes possible to see that it was not that God was previously violent, now blessing now cursing (see Deut. 32:39), but had now brought all that ambivalence to an end. Rather, it became possible to see that that was all a human violence, with various degrees of projection onto God. God had been from the beginning, always, immutably, love, and that this love was made manifest in sending his Son into the midst of the violent humans, even into the midst of their persecutory projections of God, so that they might treat him as a human victim, and thus reveal the depth of the love of God, who was prepared to be a human victim simultaneously to show the depth of his love for humanity, and to reveal humanity as having been locked into the realm of the Father of lies. (p. 108)
What do you think? What does it mean to say that in God "is no darkness at all"? Does 1 John 1:5 support the Girardian tactic that all violence and death is of the human realm and not of God's? Is all talk of violence and death in connection with God a projection?
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