Tom Fox and Rene Girard

Tom Fox’s brief allusion to Rene Girard, in Fox’s Nov. 2005 essay “Fight or Flight?”, has been quoted this week in several places, including in this essay, “The Parasites of God,” written by social activist Charles Sullivan, who states at the outset of his piece: “I am not a Christian; nor do I have any desire to be a Christian. I have my own religious beliefs that guide my moral behavior.”

Sullivan’s comments about Fox’s reference to Girard:

“In a piece called Fight or Flight? written on November 30, 2005, Tom Fox made an important distinction between real Christians and the much more common impostors who misuse religion to serve empire and material conquest. He wrote, ‘The French theologian Rene Girard has a very powerful vision of Satan that speaks to me: Satan sustains himself as a parasite on what God creates by imitating God in a manner that is jealous, grotesque, perverse and as contrary as possible to the loving and obedient imitation of Jesus.’

“How could any words define George Bush and his followers more perfectly or succinctly? What must Tom Fox have thought of this evil little man? No doubt, his reaction was not one of malice or hatred; but of pity and forgiveness. It requires inner strength and a generous spirit to forgive such malicious behavior — strength of character that I find sadly lacking in myself most of the time. Tom Fox was a far better man than I. “

My comment on Sullivan’s comment on Fox’s comment on Girard’s comment … (breath) … is that as I understand Christianity, through a probably much-smudged Girardian lens, I am not even free, if I am imitating God’s non-excluding love, compassion, and forgiveness, to label someone “an evil little man.” A man whose actions are evil, yes. A man who does not routinely act in alignment with Christian or Biblical principles as I interpret them, yes.

But from my p.o.v. as a Christian and as a fledgling Girardian, I understand that to label anyone else evil is a subtle way for me to deny my own complicity in evil and my own capacity for it (i.e., “I can see that you are evil, because I am not”), and a predictable way for me to seek to exclude the “evil doers,” whoever I judge them to be, and to imply that if we good people could but expunge the evildoers, the world would be peaceful; this scapegoating mechanism is how Girardian thought explains the functioning of human societies, the usual way humans create an always-temporary and deeply ersatz peace, through expelling or eradicating a person or group that we deem to justifiably deserve eradication and expulsion. My notion and experience of God is that compassion, forgiveness, and love are lavished on all of us, and we whether we “deserve” it or not is inconsequential.

I can’t speak for Tom Fox, but I think he might have seen George Bush (and others who might seem enemies to his perception of and his expression of Christianity) with eyes of compassion, forgiveness, and love.

(Rather different from columnist Cal Thomas’s take on things, as reported at odyssey! Thomas says: “Peace, like happiness, is a byproduct, not a goal that can be unilaterally attained. Peace happens when evil is vanquished. The theology of Christian Peacemaker Teams is as wrong as its politics . . . . Peace ‘activism’ may make its practitioners feel good, or validate their belief that they are doing the will of God, but evil cannot be accommodated. Evil must be defeated if peace on earth is to exist.”)

(Update 3/20: Mennonite pastor David Miller offers a cogent response to Cal Thomas’s comments.)


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