Begun Oct. 2006 … Last updated March 2017
Girardian Anthropology and Mimetic Theory
These are my current, idiosyncratic notes on Girardian anthropology and mimetic theory, with apologies to all sources cited for any screw-ups on my part. A more ordered and cohesive set of FAQs about mimetic theory, scapegoating, and Girardian ideas is available at The Raven Foundation.
I emphasise aspects and ideas that are difficult for me to articulate and at the same time are most compelling, seem most true to my own experience; and I omit or minimise what I can more easily articulate and what doesn’t interest me — so this is not a comprehensive resource for understanding mimetic theory, by any means! (For that, check out the sources listed at the bottom.) These notes may not make much sense, being spotty, somewhat personal jottings; or, perhaps they will tug at something inchoate and call you to find out more. They have me.
Rene Girard’s ideas are essentially a sociological, anthropogenic theory of human violence (not about dogs, as the image may imply!). His central belief about all religion is that it is founded on a particular ritual: the ritual of sacrifice.
“Religious traditions promise to heal the wounds of human existence by uniting humans to ultimate reality. Yet the history of religions is steeped in blood, sacrifice and scapegoating. The brutal facts of the history of religions pose stark questions about the intertwining of religion and violence. How does violence cast its spell over religion and culture, repeatedly luring countless ‘decent’ people — whether unlettered peasants or learned professors — into its destructive dance? Is there an underlying pattern we can discern?” (Leo Lefebure, in Victims, Violence and the Sacred, p.1226, quoted in “The Theory of Rene Girard and Its Theological Implications, Part I,” by Rob Moore).
By contrast, James Alison frames “the Christian faith” in this way:
“Things become interesting when we step outside a sacred universe in which there are taboos and boundaries, and everything held together by prohibitions, kept together by the blood of sacrifices. That’s what I’m here to undo, so that we can take part in creation, which is open-ended and exciting, and we can do this together. That’s what the Christian faith is about.”
DESIRE and RIVALRY
Desire (which is not the same as appetite) can bind us to others in loving cooperation, or it can break us apart in rivalry.
Each person’s desire is called into being or implanted by other people. We learn to desire according to the desire of a social other. Desire is wholly dependent on relationship. We think we have autonomy, spontaneously desiring and acting, but we do not. We spend a lot of energy hanging onto this notion and protecting it, wanting to believe that we originate our own desire. And whether we see ourselves as originals or imitators, both perceptions belie a shoring up of identity based on ‘the other,’ based on relationship with the other … Am I like you or not like you?
Desire is mimetic. That is, we imitate each other unconsciously or unknowingly, and also consciously at times –as when we openly desire to have the shoes, pets, vehicles, love interests, houses, and lives that celebrities have. We share desires among ourselves and we can either cooperate towards them (this is called love, and is related to a sense of abundance) or lock into competition and conflict with other desirers (this is called hatred, resentment, envy, and it’s related to an experience of scarcity).
James Alison (in On Being Liked, p. 1) puts it rather clearly: “[W]e always learn to see through the eyes of another. The desire of another directs our seeing and makes available to us what is to be seen. In other words, there is no reality ‘out there’ to be seen. What is ‘out there’ is already, inescapably, a construct made real by human desire.” What we see is given value by others. “That is to say, the eyes of another teach us who we are by teaching us what we want” (p.2).
We can imitate G-d’s loving desire, and, we can (and usually do) stumble into distorted desire and rivalry.
Rivalry = competition, comparisons, a need to justify oneself and place blame on others.
Jealousy is an irresistible and habitual impulse to desire what others desire, to imitate others’ desires. The person behaving jealously thinks he desires some object that the other has or wants; he doesn’t see that he actually models his desire after the other. He thinks his desire is entirely spontaneous.
Envy occurs when we fail in trying to acquire our desire and are left with a feeling of impotence. The envious person falsely believes that the model is to blame for his failure to acquire what he wants. That the other possesses something we want is seen as a deliberate expression of contempt towards us, only because the model/rival is secretly revered, has prestige in the desirer’s eyes; the model is revered and yet will not give us what we want.
Damn the model! Girard says in a 2005 interview (mp3) that
“envy today is the emotion that plays the greatest role in our society…. The real repression is the repression of envy. … You cannot help imitating your model. … It’s the most difficult to acknowledge because it involves your whole being, you know. In a way, envy is a denial of one’s own being, and accepting the fact that you prefer the being of your rival.”
When we feel we are thwarted in obtaining our desire, we desire more strongly. “Only someone who prevents us from satisfying a desire which he himself has inspired in us is truly the object of hatred.” (Girard, “Triangular Desire,” in The Girard Reader). The person who hates first hates himself for the secret admiration of the model, and to hide his own admiration (his lack of originality, his derivativeness, his identity founded in others) from others and from himself, he can only see the model, the one whom he has admired, as a shrewd, diabolical obstacle, and a derivative one at that, so that everything that seems to originate with the model is now belittled, though still secretly admired.
Resentment is at the heart of rivalry. Rivals increasingly resemble each other — without realising it; they feel very different, unable to imagine being like the other:
“One of them may win out over the other and regain his illusion of autonomy; the other will then be humiliated to the point of seeing his adversary as sacred. This attraction-repulsion is at the base of all pathologies of resentment: my worship of the model-obstacle and my metaphysical desire for his very being can lead me to murder” (Girard, Battling to the End)
Violence is pushing aside obstacles that seem to block the path to our desire. We need the other as the source of our desire, but we also want to eliminate the other as an obstacle to our desire.
The more alike people are, the more likely that violence will spring up in their midst. We want what people like us want, but as we strive to have what we desire and run into conflict with the other, our perception is that the other person is very different from us. To keep people from seeming too much alike, groups and cultures establish modes of differentiation (girls play with certain toys and want certain jobs, boys play with other toys and want other jobs; companies have well-developed hierarchies; rich people drive certain cars, and poor people drive other cars or take public transportation; etc.), as well as boundaries, taboos, and prohibitions.
We’re not only acquisitively mimetic — that is, we imitate each other in acquiring what we desire; we are also accusatively mimetic — that is, we band together to accuse another. The first kind of mimesis seems to divide us (we fight over desires), while the second seems to unite us and bring peace because we are all unified in desiring to do away with someone else.
Communities and societies create prohibitions to keep violence among its members at bay; and when violence does break out, it creates rituals to reconcile and reorder the ripped-apart society.
Sacrifice is the art of making the victim sacred.
There is no self that is original, prior, autonomous, one’s own creation. “At a certain depth, there is no difference between our own secret and the secret of others…. This profound Self is also a universal Self.” (Girard, “Desire and the Unity of Novelistic Conclusions,” in The Girard Reader.)
Because our preferences, desires, interests, preoccupations, etc., derive from those of others (either through imitation and modelling or through rebellion and opposition — in either case, the other is the reference point), what we think of as our identity, our solid and original self, is an illusion.
We are not so much individuals as interdividuals, reliant in every way on others to form our identity. Desire is mediated within the context of relationship. So not only is identity formed only in relationship, so too is sin committed only in relationship.
Girard talks in a 2005 interview (mp3), in the context of the advertising industry, about the centrality of religion and relationship at the heart of desire:
“[Advertisers] are always trying to prove to you that this object is desired and possessed by the people you would like to be.” Therefore the ads include ideals, people you might envy, places you might want to be, etc. “Everything you might envy, and therefore there is something sacramental. Religion is always mixed up in these things. If you consume Coca Cola, maybe, if you consume a lot of it, you will become a little bit like these people you would like to be. It’s like a kind of Eucharist that will turn you into the person you really admire.”
Girard’s central belief about all religion is that it is founded on a particular ritual: the ritual of sacrifice. Sacrifice – the art of making the victim sacred — occurs in a culture as a way to bring peace and unity in the face of conflicts and divisions. It happened naturally or randomly the first times, and then, looking back at it, the perpetrators saw that the sacrifice of a victim brought peace to their society, discharged yet greater violence that had threatened to destroy them all. Sometimes they even saw the victim as a god or godlike, because the victim had an amazing power to bring them this peace and stability.
Sacrifice is seen as a non-violent, or less violent, or justifiably violent, way to keep the community from worse violence. We make a solid distinction between sacred violence and profane violence, though they are really one and the same — they’re equally violence; but we perceive them to be completely different from each other and in fact we are very attached to the distinction we make between these violences.
Eric Gans says: “The sacred is ‘nothing but’ the deferral of violence.”
Robert Hamerton-Kelly explains well the origins of religion in violence:
“Human desire is radically imitative; we learn from the other what to desire, thus come to desire the same thing because the other desires it, and so fall into competition that turns violent.” … Because desire is contagious, violence is like a pandemic. In this turmoil of violence, the war of all against all, the social system reaches a culminating level of disorder and then spontaneously mutates back to order. It is a self-regulating, self-healing system, so there is no question of anyone deciding to enter into a contract, rather spontaneously the war of all against all becomes the war of all against one. … Thus the foundation of society is not a social contract, nor a natural affinity and mutual attraction, but a swerve in the symmetry of a self-healing system that throws up a victim, whose death in turn stabilizes the system. Society is fundamentally the unity of the lynch mob. …
“The killing of the surrogate victim is the beginning of culture. All society and culture comes out of the victim in the form of ritual, myth and prohibition, thus the first human social order is religion and the first form of human culture is religious. Religion in this sense is the founding moment (the killing of the victim), the enduring structure (ritual beginning with human sacrifice), the interpretative principle (myth) and the ordering imperative (prohibition) of human society and culture. Thus mimetic theory is a religious anthropology in which violence emerges as a central dynamic element. …
“The mob pauses before the body of the first victim and to its astonishment realizes that it has experienced its first moment of peace and unanimity. Violent desire stops. From this surprised tranquility flow the fatal misinterpretations.
“The first and fundamental misunderstanding is that the victim was the cause of the violent disorder. If by his death he brings peaceful order, in his life he must have caused the violent disorder. He is, therefore, very powerful; he is a god, the creator of the world, in the sense of the order of culture and society.
“This misunderstanding [that the victim was the cause of the disorder] unfolds along three lines, all of which are religious.”
Ritual: “If one death brought order at last, many deaths would maintain or even increase that order. So the event is ritually institutionalized and the cult of human sacrifice comes into being. … We tell ourselves that if we do not provide a daily victim the god will become hungry and bad-tempered and behave erratically.”
Myth: “The mythology of creation in the form of stories of origins that occlude the primal murder and present the dying creator as either the victim of an accident, or a mysterious tragic destiny, or willing, or deserving of death. Myth never discloses that he died by the hand of the mob and that his death is a disclosure of your violence and mine in and through the mob. We hold our mob innocent and non-violent and transfer all responsibility for violence to the victim. He deserved it, invited it, or it was an accident; we are not to blame. Culture comes into being as a cover-up of our own violence.”
Prohibitions: “Thirdly, we consolidate this blaming of the victim by the promulgation of prohibitions or taboos, as follows: We remember that the mimetic behavior which resulted in the erasure of differences caused the violence of unbridled competition, therefore we avoid behavior that threatens to erase distinctions. …. They are presented as commands of the god. We say, ‘If we do such and such the god will be angry and to punish us will cause violence to break out among us.”
There is a also more general product: representation. The victim both does and doesn’t stand for the mob. In fact, “he died instead of us, and that he bears the punishment that I should have borne. This is the moment of the birth of the scapegoat, and it is closely bound up with the first outcome above, the ritual of sacrifice.”
Hamerton-Kelly ends this essay with this:
“Let me close with a note on my own religion, Christianity. I believe it is a faith rather than a religion in the pagan sense I have been describing, but I confess it has been full of paganism for all its history. We Protestant Christians in our better moments protest against the pagan religiosity of Christianity, and so do the Catholic and Orthodox. What form does this protest take? The crucified victim at the center of our symbology discloses the lamb slain as the foundation of the world, the victim from whom all culture comes as Bernardino de Sahagun describes. Thus we acknowledge rather than cover-up the truth that the world rests on the bodies of its victims, that they must die so that we can live, thus we rectify the myth-interpretations of default human paganism. Simply by telling the true story, that the victim did not die by accident, or deservedly or willingly, but was simply murdered, in this case by the state, we give the true interpretation of the mendacity of myth. And when we accept those rules and regulations not as divine threats but as human conveniences, we can love God again as the nurturing rather than the punishing Father. So what shall we do? Confess that we are the murderers of our brothers and sisters, repent, and stop it. Jesus is the last and sufficient sacrifice!”
(Preaching Peace, in “The Pillars of Culture,” also does a good job of summarising the origins and use of ritual, myth and prohibition.)
As Britt Johnston writes in “How Girard’s Mimetic Theory Can Help Us Understand the Relationship Between Science and Religion” (2004):
“One of the things that are hard to get used to with this theory is the idea that the ‘sacred’ is a bad thing. It’s not as bad as the mimetic crisis, but it is nevertheless fundamentally bloody and violent. Violence seems to inhere in the sacred object like an electrical charge. Whoever draws too near runs the risk of inciting the crowd to attack.”
Girard writes in Battling to the End that “Christ took away humanity’s sacrificial crutches and left us before a terrible choice: either believe in violence, or not; Christianity is non-belief.”
SIN and SATAN
These are charged concepts that Girard and girardians see somewhat differently than conventionally and traditionally imagined. Both are essentially seen as mechanisms.
Idolatry arises to veil our responsibility for our own violence. God is not punishing, violent, etc. — these experiences of God are idols, created to justify our own violence. Per Paul Nuechterlein (Lent 3B Q&A):
“Idolatry is much more than idolizing our neighbors’ desires. The cultural analysis of mimetic theory helps us to also understand that every culture is founded on idols who command us to undertake righteous, sacred violence against god’s enemies. Even in this secular age, when we no longer call our idols God, we continue to have stand-in idols in the former place of our gods. We are called to defend such sacred things like the Constitution and Freedom. We are still called to make the sacrifice — just the right dosage of righteous violence in order to win the peace. And we still worship our sacrificial victims, namely, the soldiers who make the sacrifice. I prefer to see those fallen soldiers simply as victims of our sacrificial machinery.”
Sin = estrangement from the Creator (love) = living in envious rivalry with God and creation instead of in loving cooperation. Sin = worshipping violent gods who let us feel righteously angry and violent. (I.e., we conceive of and interpret god as a violent being, like us and allowing us to persist in violence, vengeance, hatred.)
“Sin is revealed as the mechanism of expulsion which is murderous, and those are blind sinners who are involved in that mechanism without being aware of what they are doing. The problem is not with those who are only blindly part of the mechanism of exclusion: they at least do not know what they are doing, and thus have no guilt. The problem is with those (like the pharisees who question Jesus in John 9:40) who form part of such mechanisms of exclusion, but think that ‘they see’ — that is, think that they have moral insight, know good from evil, are capable of discernment and judgment. Such people not only take part in mechanisms of exclusion, but justify them as good, and from God. Their guilt remains.” (Alison, “The Johannine Witness,” in The Joy of Being Wrong)
** Sin is not about morality. Alison says:
“The central part of our life of faith is in the first place nothing to do with morals, or what we do. It’s a receiving something. It’s someone having done something for us. That seems to me to be absolutely vital. One of the terrible things that happens in our culture at the moment is the ellision of faith and morals. With the result that we’re supposed to know that Jesus died to save our sins, and therefore to behave in a certain way; rather than, for us to become aware of [the murdered, forgiving victim] coming back to us and therefore finding ourselves behaving in different ways. These are two very different phenomena. Being able to sit — relax, if you like — in the regard of someone who is coming towards us , is a very different thing from knowing something as a theory and saying ‘Since he has done that, therefore I must do that.'”
Alison’s comments (from his Jan. 2004 lecture titled “Embodying ‘God’s Earth-shaking Mercy’“) remind me so much of a favourite quote: “Jesus did not come to make bad people good or good people better. He came to give life to the dead.” (I don’t know where the quote originated, though it may have been Darryl Dash.) It’s not about morality and being good. It’s about the experience of being truly alive, in the flow of life, alive in G-d.
Rivalistic desire is utterly averse to the demonstration of another possibility of desire, one that’s freely offered to us as a means to being different from the way we are, to having real and lasting peace. This other possibility is generally seen as an obstacle to our own desire, because it reveals that the truth of rivalistic desire (sin, the way we routinely live) is death.
An “unholy unity” is found in sanctioned, sacred or seemingly “good” violence that humans allow — through law and ritual sacrifice — to keep “bad” (all vs. all) violence in check in society.
Satan = Accuser (in Greek; and the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete in Greek, meaning the defender of the accused) = the power of accusation. Satan is not a god (Jesus tells him to worship G-d) or an equal force for evil in the world. Satan is simply the power of accusation, which leads to scapegoating, expelling, violence, death. Satan is a mechanism.
The accused is seen as violent and as a threat to order, but the accusers are not.
From the standpoint of the scapegoaters, there is no such thing as scapegoating; the victim must be seen as truly responsible for the troubles of the community, or else the community cannot be at peace when it kills or expels the scapegoat. ** Scapegoating is never conceived as an activity in which we ourselves participate. In fact, victims are often labelled and denounced as scapegoaters themselves, by other scapegoaters who don’t see the irony.
No one talks in terms of “successful scapegoating”! It’s always something that had to happen, because of the fault of the victim.
“A scapegoat remains effective so long as we believe in its guilt. Having a scapegoat means not knowing that we have one.” (Girard, Battling to the End)
How can Satan cast out Satan? (Mark 3:23) Through the power of accusation (Satan), we expel the one we see as the sinner (Satan). This process never results in lasting peace, and yet, we tend to see it as G-d commanding us to cast out Satan (temptation, sin, whatever seems bad or harmful to us). Humans have faith in unholy unity and sanctioned violence, believing they do the trick admirably. We have a hard time distinguishing G-d from Satan.
Accusation against scapegoats is at the heart of collective violence. It’s a way for relative (false and non-permanent) unity to be achieved by all (the majority) vs. one (the few). It feels like peace, it brings about a feeling of awe because everything suddenly feels so good once the scapegoat is expelled. Accusers think they are doing G-d’s will.
Communities transfer disorder and systemic offenses to the scapegoat, and they also transfer newly found peace when the victim is removed, ascribing to the scapegoat the power to destroy and the power to bring peace.
Scapegoating: The process through which two or more people are reconciled at the expense of a third party who appears guilty or responsible for whatever ails, disturbs, or frightens the scapegoaters.
The one we see as the enemy is not the real enemy; Satan (this mechanism for expulsion) is the “enemy,” the thing we can oppose.
There are certain kinds of sacrificeable victims, although any will do in a pinch (violence is highly mimetic and will accept surrogate victims — as when someone is angry at a human and kicks a dog, or at his boss and hits his wife). Particularly sacrificeable are those with perceived physical or other defects, those on the fringes of society (unmarried, without kids, old, young, etc.), the very beautiful and very ugly, those of very low or very high station in life (kings, beggars), etc. Anyone who seems vulnerable at the right time. An excellent essay on this is Thomas Michael’s “How To Scapegoat the Leader: Refresher Course (for those who do not need it)” (unfortunately, no longer available online).
James Alison (in a Sept. 2006 interview), articulates the infinite subtlety of scapegoating:
“My concern is with the structure of scapegoating that is less visible and arises in the way we define ourselves by contrast with others, who then become ‘evil’ and as such are necessary for our self-understanding and our security. It is this structure, which often underlies our “goodness” and our “order,” which over time becomes more violent and destructive than ‘quick-flash mobbing,’ terrible though that is. And worst of all, we become incapable of being self-critical in regard to our complicity. It is easy to look at mobbing and think: how primitive those people are. It is much more difficult to catch oneself being complicit in exactly the same forms of violence disguised in the values of ‘religion’ or ‘family’ or ‘civilization.'”
We are addicted to the drug (pharmakos) of scapegoating to create unity. We can never get enough of it, and it never works very long, and the peace it brings is never real peace, but we crave peace and unity so much that even that short-term pseudo-peace suffices, until it doesn’t, and then we repeat the cycle.
Sidebar on The “wrath of God” (orge in Greek) The word is used 12 times in Romans, the first time as the “wrath of God” and the next 11 as simply wrath (though sometimes severely mistranslated, as in the NSRV: Rom. 12:19, 5:9, and 9:22). After introducing the idea of the wrath of God, Paul turns immediately to a discussion of idolatry. He describes the wrath of God as God handing over the Gentiles to the consequences of their idolatry (including idolatry of wrathful judgments we make about others’ idolatry), a major consequence of which is the kind of wrath we inflict on each other. We portray our judgments as God’s. We store up wrath for ourselves by our hard hearts (Rom 2:5). On the “day of wrath,” when human wrath comes home to roost, God’s judgment will be revealed as precisely different from our wrath: it will be revealed as love reaching out in grace as a free gift in faith. God does not abridge our freedom even when we make catastrophic choices. His love suffers violence rather than inflict it.
SUFFERING and DEATH
Alison, in his essay about the events of 11 Sept. 2001 titled “Contemplation in a World of Violence” (in On Being Liked and online separately), talks about false grief and compassion that forms around a “sacred” center:
“How we enjoy grief! It makes us feel good and innocent. … One of the effects of the violent sacred around a sacrificial centre is to make those present feel justified, feel morally good. A counterfactual goodness which suddenly takes us out of our little betrayals, acts of cowardice, uneasy consciences. And very quickly, of course, the unanimity and the grief harden into the militant goodness of those who have a transcendent object to their lives. … We were tempted to be secretly glad of a chance for a huge outbreak of meaning to transform our humdrum lives, to feel we belonged to something bigger, more important, with hinds of nobility and solidarity. What I want to suggest is that this, this delight in being given meaning, is satanic..” By satanic, Alison says he means, partly, that it concerns “the same lie behind all human sacrifices, all attempts to create social order and meaning out of a sacred space of victimisation.” Later (p. 9), he says, “If we are caught up in the world of giving sacred meanings, then we will be caught up in the world of reciprocal violence, of good and bad measured over against other people.”
As opposed to false compassion and making sacred meaning of victimisation, there is the truth of the victim at the center of everything. As Alison puts it in The Joy of Being Wrong, “the victim becomes the criterion for whether one is a sheep or a goat (Matt. 25) or for whether one is a neighbor (Luke 10); it is victims and the precariously placed who are to be at the center of the new victim people of whom is the kingdom of God that is coming into being” (p. 217).
(An interesting reading of the Sheep and Goats parable is offered by Fred Niedner.)
But a warning: When we champion the cause of victims, we invariably victimize the scapegoaters; as Gil Bailie (Violence Unveiled) says: “the moral boomerang comes back … and therefore the whole thing begins to shift again.”
Alison says (The Joy of Being Wrong), that
“to the extent that the marginalized, empty of ‘being,’ acquire force and come back into the world, to that extent they … become another part of the dialectic of power that is the order of the world. … They become another example of the human attempt to realize ‘good’ being immediately devoured by vanity, becoming part of the way in which we produce evil with the best intentions” (p. 210).
** About death, and the idea that death gives humans meaning, James Alison says (in an interview in the Sept. 5, 2006 Christian Century magazine) that we grasp “on to security and identity by depending on death — that of others and oneself — to give one’s life meaning.
This can take the form of rushing ‘heroically’ toward death, fleeing from it or brandishing it. There are almost an infinite number of ways of seeking fake security. Typically but mistakenly, we regard this grasping as intrinsic to being human.”
Desire is part of human nature. We are created in God’s image, and we have the potential and ability to imitate personal desires — but whose? Since the beginning, we have imitated the desire of other, fellow creatures, leading us to envy, and competition for seemingly scarce resources.
The 10 Commandments highlight the dangers of making others arbiters of our desire. The 1st and 10th show that the way of covetousness (making others our gods) leads to false witness, stealing, adultery, murder, etc.
Christianity introduces “a slight, but important, modification” to what was already available concerning the understanding desire. We call this modification ‘the doctrine of original sin.’
“Very briefly put, this doctrine posits that in the light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, it became possible to look back and see that all humans, ever since there has been a humanity (and the codeword for this was ‘since Adam’) have been involved, by the mere fact of being born and socialized into human culture, in a culture run by death, vengefulness and its scapegoating and sacrificial outcomes. We are thus all born into a culture in which desire is distorted against itself and frustrated. This culture seemed to all of us simply to be what is normal. But in fact it is not.” Actually, we are created to share in life, the life of God, which is not about death. And “far from being an abstract denigration of what it is that humans are, [the doctrine of original sin] is the claim that we are all created good, and that there is no such thing as an intrinsically evil desire. All desire is severely distorted, and yet all is capable of being undistorted over time.” And, none of us can judge anyone else, since none of us is outside the social construction of meaning produced by distorted desire, and so our imaginations are “run by rivalry, resistance to change, the longing for security, and by the need to protect ourselves against death by seeking our survival at the expense of others.” (Alison, “Deliver Us From Evil”)
Girard is clear in Battling to the End:
[O]riginal sin is vengeance, never-ending vengeance. It begins with the murder of the rival. Religion is what enables us to live with original sin, which is why a society without religion will destroy itself. … Sooner or later, either humanity will renounce violence without sacrifice or it will destroy the planet. … Thus we can say that religion may have invented sacrifice, but Christianity takes it away.”
Another loaded concept that’s turned on its head in Girardian thinking.
Paul Nuechterlein offers useful comments on apocalypse and revelation in his Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary, Nov. 2006 (cited below).
Among them are these:
“Sacrificial violence is a sacred, sanctioned violence that comes into place in order to keep in check the fearsome profane, random violence. A sacrificial crisis, in the Girardian parley, occurs when the effectiveness of the sacrificial institutions is waning such that the sacrificial violence loses its effectiveness in containing profane violence. If a new sacrificial solution does not come into play, then the profane violence grows into apocalyptic violence. Throughout human history we see cycles of being on the verge of such violence and then new sacrificial solutions come into play to again bring relative peace. During the sacrificial crises, there are often cries of the Final Apocalypse, a violence that will finally consume us. And in sacralized settings, this apocalyptic violence is attributed to the deity: the gods will bring a resounding judgment that will punish the wicked and reward the just. …
“But Girard argues that the continuing effect of the Gospel in history is to desacralize, i.e., to make it clear to us that violence is not of the true God; violence is ours alone. … As more and more people come to see the revelation (apocalypse in the Greek) of sacred violence, however, it also means the increasing ineffectiveness of the sacrificial institutions to contain mimetic violence. The times of sacrificial crises increasingly come closer together, and what looms on the horizon is the possibility of a truly apocalyptic violence: a sacrificial crisis in which a new sacrificial solution cannot assert itself because the revelation of the cross has finally made such solutions impossible. In short, the Apocalypse would be a sacrificial crisis that doesn’t result in a new sacrificial solution — no sanctioned violence to contain the random, mimetic violence. And this is a possibility that the revelation of the cross and resurrection bring about and that the work of the Paraclete slowly has made more real. Girard contends that this is why the New Testament is realistic about the possibility of apocalyptic violence — because it is the Gospel itself which disarms the powers of sacred violence. … And the cross reveals to us that the nature of this defeat over sacred violence is decidedly not by violent overthrow. The divine solution recognizes that sacred violence cannot be overthrown by more sacred violence. Rather, God’s answer is the power of forgiveness and sanctification in the face of the powers and principalities of violence.”
An apocalypse is an unveiling, a revelation, a seeing. When our own violence is unveiled, it has “apocalyptic” consequences. Before the unveiling, our own violence seemed respectable and justified; afterwards, we see it for the violence, hatred, rivalry, and envy that it is.
Girard, in 2007, said that “the present Christian fundamentalists are apocalypse believers in a mistaken sense; they believe God will punish man, not that man will punish himself. Today, we must have a regard for the apocalyptic, in order never to forget that violence is indigenous with man.”
He writes extensively about apocalypse in “On War and Apocalypse” in the Aug/Sept 2009 issue of First Things, including this:
… [D]emystification, which is good in the absolute, has proven bad in the relative, for we were not prepared to shoulder its consequences. We are not Christian enough.
The paradox can be put in a different way: Christianity is the only religion that has foreseen its own failure. This prescience is known as the apocalypse. Indeed, it is in the apocalyptic texts that the word of God is most forceful, repudiating mistakes that are entirely the fault of humans, who are less and less inclined to acknowledge the mechanisms of their violence. The longer we persist in our error, the stronger God’s voice will emerge from the devastation. …
A scapegoat remains effective as long as we believe in its guilt. Having a scapegoat means not knowing that we have one. Learning that we have a scapegoat is to lose it forever and to expose ourselves to mimetic conflicts with no possible resolution. This is the implacable law of the trend to extremes. The protective system of scapegoats is finally destroyed by the Crucifixion narratives as they reveal Jesus’ innocence and, little by little, that of all analogous victims. The process of education away from violent sacrifice thus got underway, but it moved very slowly, making advances that were almost always unconscious. It is only today that it has had increasingly remarkable results in terms of our comfort—and at the same time proved ever more dangerous for the future of life on Earth.
To make the revelation wholly good and not threatening at all, humans have only to adopt the behavior recommended by Christ: Abstain completely from retaliation and renounce the trend to extremes. Indeed, if the trend to extremes continues, it will lead straight to the extinction of all life on the planet.
Gil Bailie (in Violence Unveiled, p. 15) writes:
“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.”
The lie: We believe that we are not murderers. We believe that our killing, expulsion, and abnegation of the other is justified, whether it’s individual or collective. Examples of sanctioned violence: war, the death penalty, letting the poor die (“Poverty is the worst form of violence” — Ghandi), legal retributive justice (vs. restorative justice). The truth is that we are complicit.
As Girard discusses at great length in Battling to the End, whose focus is war and the end times, we never believe we are the aggressors or attackers. Our ‘defense’ is justified by another’s ‘attack.’ “He started it!” pretty much describes our feeling about any conflict:
“[A]mong humans, the fact that no one ever feels they are the aggressor is because everything is always reciprocal. … The aggressor has always already been attacked. Why are relations of rivalry never seen as symmetrical? Because people always have the impression that the other is the first to attack, that they are never the ones who begin, though in a way they are always the ones. Individualism is a formidable lie.”
Further, even hating, stoking and flaming the fires of anger towards, and being derisive of, others = murder (1 John 3:14-15; Matthew 5:21-48; Romans 12:9ff, Rom 13:8ff). There are many ways to kill, to eliminate, to be anything but loving.
Conversion is the moment when the seductive power that keeps us from knowledge of our own sin is broken. “Sin destroys the consciousness of sin, and when that consciousness reemerges it means that something is at work that is weakening the self-veiling power of sin.” (Bailie, “The Mystery of Sin”)
SCRIPTURE and SALVATION: MONOTHEISM
The Jewish texts, starting with the story of Cain and Abel, “gradually dissociate the divinity from participation in violence until, in the NT, G-d is entirely set free from participation in our violence — the victim is entirely innocent and hated without cause — and indeed G-d is revealed not as the one who expels us, but the One whom we expel, and who allowed himself to be expelled so as to make of his expulsion a revelation of what he is really like, and of what we really, typically do to each other, so that we can begin to learn to get beyond this.” (Alison, “Girard’s Breakthrough”) The scapegoat is the focus of many a Bible story, and the victim is revealed as such over and over again, though not every time.
The Hebrew Scriptures show how tough it is for us to kick the idolatry habit, even to come to monotheism.
Girard has said (March 2007) that monotheism’s gift is
“the prohibition against human sacrifice. The modern world has decided that the prohibition is nonsense. Religion has returned to being conceived of as the costume of the good savage, a primitive state of ignorance under the stars.
“Religion, however, is necessary to suppress violence. Man is a unique species in the world: he is the only one who threatens his own existence with violence. Animals in sexual jealousy do not kill each other. Human beings do. Animals do not know vengeance, do not know the destruction of the sacrificial victim, which is a phenomenon tied to the mimetic nature of the applauding multitude. … This is the essence of human existence. It is the origin of the prohibition of sacrifices and the prohibition of violence. Where religion has dissolved, there is the beginning of a process of decomposition. Micro-eugenics is our new form of human sacrifice. We no longer protect life from violence. Rather we smash life with violence. … Eugenics is the culmination of a school of thought initiated two centuries ago and which constitutes the greatest danger to the human species. Man is the species that can always destroy itself. For this reason, religion was created. … Eugenics is the negation of human rationality. If one considers man as the outcome of mere chance and as crude material for the laboratory, a malleable object to be manipulated, one reaches the point of being able to do anything to man. That ends with the destruction of the fundamental rationality that belongs to the human being.”
Because the Jews have been victims in history, they are uniquely able to aid in the survival of the intelligence of the victim, the victim’s perspective. The Hebrew scriptures are “texts in travail” — struggling to finally, clearly give voice to the victim. Even in the story of Cain and Abel, Abel’s blood cries out from the ground and is heard.
Jesus’s death at the hands of his accusers reveals the vacuous power of such expelling violence. His death represents an act of “righteous” violence — i.e., an act of violence justified by one of our violent gods (whom we are deluded in seeing as G-d). Jesus reveals our enslavement to violence, and he reveals G-d’s righteousness as non-violence, radical non-retaliation, forgiveness of enemies. His death shows the way to be forgiveness, not vengeance.
Jesus’s death on the cross continues the process of progressive unveiling of sanctioned violence, showing it to be simply violence. It does so because the victim’s perspective is available to challenge the perpetrators’ false interpretation. This unveiling removes our bulwark against bad mimetic violence; the only other bulwark against apocalyptic violence is to live G-d’s desire (Gal. 2:20):
“In his study of the scapegoat, Le Bouc émissaire (1982), Girard identifies Christ as a new kind of victim — one who offers himself for sacrifice, and who, in doing so, shows that he understands what is going on. The words ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ are pivotal for Girard. They involve a recognition of the need for sacrifice, if the guilt and resentment of the community is to be appeased and transcended, and the added recognition that this function must be concealed. Only those ignorant of the source of their hatred can be healed by its expression, for only they can proceed with a clear conscience towards the tragic climax.” (Roger Scruton, in an essay titled ‘The Sacred and the Human,’ Prospect magazine, Aug. 2007)
The human way of salvation from bad (all vs. all) violence is through “good” or sacred violence. We can’t see that they’re the same. And we choose gods to justify our human violence.
The faith of Jesus (the faith that Jesus had, that we can imitate) is to trust in G-d’s power of life in the face of lethal Satanic powers of sacred violence. Having faith “in Jesus” doesn’t save us. Having Jesus’s faith and understanding of G-d is what saves us, leading us to the cross. We do not live the way of non-violence as a means or strategy to ourselves bring about the fulfillment of Christ. We participate. We live non-violently because we have seen the end of the story.
Jesus is not primarily a didactic teacher, but rather a prophet, incarnating God’s word. We can interpret the Gospel in light of this. Jesus interprets to us the Scriptures (Luke 24:27); he reveals that wrath, vengeance, and our view of God are violent.
Jesus’s death was not a substitutionary atonement — i.e., God killing Jesus instead of us, letting Jesus take the rap for our sin. We are the killers, not God; God raises Jesus up. Jesus doesn’t win our salvation but launches it through revealing the nature of reality and the nature of human culture.
It’s not our sexual sins or any other sins that put Jesus on the cross. It’s the Satanic sin par excellence of scapegoating: i.e., of accusing, judging, and executing.
The resurrection of Jesus is unique in history: (1) Survival of the victim’s perspective on sacrificial violence, instead of simply the perpetrators’ view/lie. Usually, the victim can’t be heard, is either killed or expelled. (2) The victim’s perspective is one of forgiveness, not of vengeance for the violence done to him.
I think it’s possible to see through a Girardian lens without believing that Jesus is divine. If the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection resonates when told in this way, then there can be felt a deep understanding of Jesus’s pivotal role in human history — as victim, co-creator (as we are), prophet, and perhaps most importantly for the Girardian lens, entirely loving revealer of reality.
(My experience is triune, of Jesus as one of the G-dhead, and it’s hard for me to see around that experience; but it seems to me that most of Girardian anthropology does not rely on a belief that Jesus is G-d. It does rely in part, however, on a belief that the Gospels are unique in the story they witness.
James Alison disagrees, I think, and I take his point:
“A divine revelation cannot be argued from neutral premises, for there are no neutral premises. According to what you think has been revealed, that is the measure of your revelation. If you think that what has been revealed is something which humans can, with their awareness constituted as it is, look squarely in the face without any prompting or help, then you can dispense with divine revelation. … I do not think that anything human could have revealed the constitution of the human consciousness in human victimization, because I do not think that we can accede to that sort of awareness of who we are without simultaneously being absolved of our complicity in that violence.” )
FORGIVENESS and LOVE
Forgiveness of sin allows us to walk in light, to heal our own blindness, to lift the veil of idolatry. G-d forgives our way of death, in the resurrection.
Judgment: The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt. 18:23ff), in which someone is forgiven a huge financial debt and yet is unwilling to forgive others their debts. The forgiven servant is invited into a world of incredible grace, but instead he retreats to the world of keeping track of debts. We are invited into a world of incredible grace, yet we tend to want to keep track of what’s given, what’s owed.
“When Jesus shows up, we humans have always had a way of taking away sins. We take away sins by putting it on the back of our scapegoat, getting rid of it and feeling righteous. Jesus is about to destroy that way by showing us the face of the innocent victim. … Jesus is now giving us another way of taking away sin. The Biblical God is not going to take away sin with a wave of the wand. … God is not going to take away sins by the wave of the wand because that would rob us of our freedom and our dignity. … And if you are going to create enough freedom so that love can be freely offered you are going to have to live in a world made perilous by what people do with that freedom. … How is He going to take it away then? He will take them away instantly if we ask that they be taken away. All we have to do is, first of all recognize our sinfulness, our complicity, that is to say, hear the cock crow and ask for forgiveness. The key is to ask for forgiveness. And we can’t ask for forgiveness until we recognize our sinfulness. And we can’t recognize our sinfulness until we go to the pit of that little machine that used to wash it away and we see what we have been doing. We hear the cock crow and we have that moment of conversion.” (Bailie, “Entering the Biblical Story at the Eucharistic Table”)
James Alison seems to see it differently — see his words above: “we can accede to that sort of awareness of who we are without simultaneously being absolved of our complicity in that violence,” which I take to mean that without already feeling forgiven, we could not bear to look at the way we have behaved, we could not recognise our sinfulness.
Alison speaks of G-d’s forgiveness as “a receiving something. It’s someone having done something for us.” It’s being able to relax in the regard of someone coming towards us, someone who likes us, someone always offering us friendship. Our expectation is that the “someone coming toward us” wants to punish us, because we have victimised them; but instead, they want to be friends, they want to share in the abundance of life with us.
Love requires two things: relationship, and freedom
James Alison speaks of our forgiveness of others in this way, looking at Mt 5: 43-48 in his “Love Your Enemy: Within The Divided Self” (Oct. 2007):
“The instruction is not one about being a doormat, it is one about how to be free. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ means ‘do not be towards them as they are towards you, for then you will be run by them, and you and they will become ever more functions of each other, grinding each other down towards destruction. … Instead of that, allow your identity to be given to you by your Father who is in heaven, who is not in any sort of reciprocity with them, and is able to be towards them as one holding them in being and loving them, without reacting against them.
“Given that you can’t do this by a simple act of decision, you will require that your whole pattern of desire, formed in reciprocity, be turned around, and the only way to do that is to pray for them. For in praying for them you are beginning to allow the pattern of desire which is God to enter into your life, so allowing you to recognise your similarity with your enemies, rather than your exaggerated differences.”
(Alison sees the problem with “not being towards them as they are towards you” and writes eloquently on the danger of claiming the moral high ground and the subtle forms of accusation and violent reciprocity that could be embedded in ‘forgiveness’ in the chapter “Re-Imagining Forgiveness” in On Being Liked.)
FAITH, HOPE, & LOVE – James Alison’s view and mine)
I very much like Alison’s take on faith, hope, and love, with his key point being that these are not things we have to struggle to feel or do — and the more difficult our struggle, the more virtuous we are — but rather gifts given to us by God, which then shape our actions. In “Taking Cinderella to the Ball”: How a Mimetic Anthropology Restores the Theological Virtue of Hope (July 2015), he writes:
“Many of us live with a characterisation of each of the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity that is run from within by at least a strong residue of a modern, individualistic, picture of the self. The result is that, without our being able to help it, we find ourselves living a caricature of what those virtues are. So Faith becomes a counterfactual ideological position, called belief, that we are emotionally blackmailed into holding if we want to be “saved”. … Charity then appears as a huge demand on the will to continue to think positively of, and act generously towards, others; and especially the bastards, whoever they may be. … And Hope becomes a polite way of talking about wishful thinking, … dressing up resignation as a virtue.”
Instead of these commonly accepted caricatures of the trio, Alison suggests another way of seeing them, first establishing that virtue (“a stable disposition for the good, which has been generated in you through your habitual response to this or that set of circumstances”) comes about through imitation of a good model. In the case of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, the model is God, and Faith, then, “is the stable disposition produced in you by God’s truthfully persuading you, through the presence of Jesus’ life and death, that you are loved by God as you are.” Because we are persuaded of being utterly known and loved, over time we can habitually relax into ourselves, and so we are able to live without fear of death (since when God loves us, we are held deathless; death is moot because God is alive). Alison notes that the ordinary emotional correlate of faith is relaxation, i.e. not “having to strain belief towards something unknown. Rather, the effort, strain, and hard work, is on the part of the One who is trying to persuade you to relax into being known as you are.”
Charity, Alison suggests, is the stable disposition by which God empowers us habitually to receive ourselves through giving ourselves away. As he said earlier, we tend to think that love is “a self-starting exercise of the will by which we must love God above all things and others as ourselves. And the more difficult and demanding this is, the better. Such a demand very quickly turns us into generous-seeming emotional blackmailers, run by all the pathologies of self-sacrifice that Girard has so well illuminated.” But “a sane anthropology, or a sane theology, or indeed anyone who remembers 1 John 4, knows perfectly well that it is because we are loved first that we are able to love; and the presence of real love towards others in a person’s life is a sure sign that they are operating out of being loved first. … And the emotional correlate that goes along with this disposition is Joy.
Finally, hope: Alison suggests that “Hope is the stable disposition by which we allow ourselves habitually to be stretched, by an apparently future fullness that is coming upon us, into receiving who we really are, while undergoing a recasting of our past.” The emotional correlate of Hope is a sense of adventure, a “rejuvenating zest.”
And these three virtues , or dispositions, Alison says, “are totally non-directive – not telling us what to do. They give shape to the way we work out for ourselves what to do. And what we will want to do will flow from what we discover ourselves becoming. It is because of this that there are no specifically Christian morals.”
CREATION and HEAVEN
Creation is ongoing (John 5:17, John 9:3-4). It’s still unfolding.
We are engaged in an ongoing process of falling, but falling never erases our potential for love. We began in the way of envy and conflict, but through Jesus’s death, resurrection, and G-d’s forgiveness, we begin to live toward our fulfillment in the way of love.
The rest of Creation is waiting for us to live by the Spirit for its fulfillment.
Jews’ and Christians’ hope is for the fulfillment of Creation and the resurrection of the body. Thy kingdom come = heaven comes to — or is recognised on — Earth (we don’t go to heaven). Heaven = an unseen dimension of Creation where G-d’s will resides. Hell = Ghenna = where Jews engaged in child sacrifice. When Jesus talks about it, he is speaking of suffering the consequences of our own sacrificial violence.
Alison says, in a talk about hope, that “what Jesus opened up for us, what he promised us, and what he fulfilled for us in going to his death, was access to the fullness of the deathless reality that creation really is. And it is this sense of the stretching towards us of the fullness of what creation really is, and of our being stretched beyond ourselves into being turned into people who are up to the privilege of being the heir and insider in it, that produces Hope in us. Once you understand that Jesus did it for us, that he was the fulfilment of God’s ancient promise to us, and that that promise was fulfilled in his death; then, once the testator dies, the inheritance is already there, and starting to be instantiated in us as we are inducted into full possession of what both is, and is not yet, ours. But the whole point of hope is that it is linked to reality.”
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in. — Edwin Markham
Discovery is part of salvation. That is, it is as we come to discover and recognise ourselves as loved, liked, forgiven creatures, that we at the same time discover and experience our own creativity, our own forgiveness, our own joy in loving.
As Alison says (On Being Liked),
“the process of finding ourselves, through narrative, not mathematics [or theory], is the most trustworthy form of access to truth, and finally the one our humanity cannot do without” (p. 22). He has earlier spoken of the model of learning something in our heads, which then filters down to our hearts and desires, which makes its way into our actions, as “simply unacceptable as a model for how any human in fact learns anything” (p. 20-21).
He goes on: “No one learns to ride a bicycle by mastering theory and then putting it into practice.” We learn by imitating someone else, first in our desire to ride and then in learning how to ride. This is how it is with salvation, as well, humans inducted into a series of practices, discovering who we are and who G-d is as we go along.
Galileo said “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” Easy to understand, yes; to articulate, perhaps not.
For myself, it’s not a question, as some pose it, of belief (head) vs. experience (heart, body). For one thing, my experience of phenomena is already interpreted by me and for me by my beliefs, whether I like it or not, as well by dozens of other filters (opinions, assumptions, hopes and fears, emotions, prior experiences, expectations, cultural ethos, my conscious narrative of my life, etc.), so it’s not as though I can perceive phenomena directly or clearly, unfiltered, most of the time, except when I am in some form of altered consciousness, perhaps when I am very mindful, or meditative, or when dreaming. And I certainly can’t consciously appropriate and articulate my own felt experience without words and images, which are a form of mediation.
It’s suggested in Buddhist practice that we not “take on faith” what we’re told is true but to be open to the possibility of the truth, to observe, to notice, to check with our own experience and see if what we’re told is corroborated by it. Alison says something like this (again in On Being Liked, p. 28): “Revelation is never a matter of simple disclosure of information, but always received as a process of discovery.” Simply being told something or having something suggested to me (being given advice, e.g.) doesn’t transform me, but having words to explain something that I recognise as my own experience can be very powerful; for me, this is the essence of discovery. I can imagine that for someone else, having images that explain experience might fulfill the same function, and for others, possibly discovery happens with no explanation needed.
When I first read Girard, and then Alison and others, I wasn’t just taking in theory and developing belief based on it. What I was reading and hearing corroborated and articulated so well my experience internally of myself, my motivations, my actions, and my observations of others’ actions. It still does, as I continue daily, hourly, to test the theory (or hypothesis) against my experience and my observations. Reading girardian ideas also, as Alison has said, “has given me back the Bible as something I can read” after many years of disillusionment with it as a reliable source.
( “The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.” — Arthur Koestler )
Girard, in Things Hidden, says:
“In reality, no purely intellectual process and no experience of a purely philosophical nature can secure the individual the slightest victory over mimetic desire and its victimage delusions. Intellection can achieve only displacement and substitution, though these may give individuals the sense of having achieved a victory. For there to be even the slightest degree of progress, the victimage delusion must be vanquished on the most intimate level of experience.”
In Battling to the End, Girard says:
“We are immersed in mimeticism and have to find a way around the pitfalls of our desire, which is always desire for what the other possesses. I repeat, absolute knowledge is not possible. We are forced to remain at the heart of history and to act at the heart of violence because we are always gaining a better understanding of its mechanisms. Will we ever be able to elude them? I doubt it.”
And further, in the same source, Girard clearly states:
“This faith [Hegel’s, discussed previously] in the necessary reconciliation of men is what shocks me most today. I was a victim of it, in a way, and my book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World expressed the confidence that universal knowledge of violence would suffice. I no longer believe that….”
In On Being Liked, Alison agrees that it’s the practice and not merely an intellectual assent that is what Girardian “thought” is all about:
“to the degree to which we cease to have our mind and heart formed by death, we cease having our mind formed by the perception that the social ‘other'” is hostile or ambivalent, and we can discover that ‘the other’ is “benevolent, limpid, without ambivalence and without ambiguity. That is to say, the relationship between God and everything that is, is gratuitous and trustworthy. And if it is to be trusted, then we need not fear discovering the truth about what is, however little convenient that might seem in its social repercussions.”
His major point here is that what we discover is “something that is present, and able to be lived in the here and now.” We can put into practice ourselves “the same overcoming of our culture shot through with death, trusting in a generosity that does not know death, and which will take care of us.”
To agree with Girardian ideas, intellectually, is potentially damaging and yet another way to participate in the rivalrous violence; as Girard says, it can lead to a sense that I have a greater insight into human nature than someone else does, which, in terms of rivalry, feels like a “win.” We can also consciously use insights about mimesis to coerce others. Clear sight may be necessary to see the delusion for what it is; but if such sight (or insight) does nothing to change my actions, then it just allows me to continue living a lie.
Talking about Girardian ideas is useful, I think, so long as it reminds us to open our eyes, and helps us to do so, to see what’s real, what’s revealed; but talking about something can easily become a substitute for doing it, living it, being transformed by it … And revelation that doesn’t lead to transformation, and true compassion, is false, just another delusion that allows us to continue in our violent, rivalrous ways with ever more self-justification.
Alison, James. “The Anatomy of Reconciliation: From Violence to Healing.” Talk given 10 Oct. 2005 at Trinity Church.
—. “Blindsided by God: Reconciliation from the Underside.” Presentation for “Anatomy of Reconciliation” Conference, Trinity Institute, New York City, 30 January – 1 Feb 2006.
—. “Creation in Christ.” Excerpt from Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination. New York: Crossroads, 1996, pp. 49-56.
—. “Deliver us from evil.” Presentation for A Conference on Evil: A two day Dialogue among Psychoanalysts, Philosophers and Theologians, organised by the Metropolitan Center for Mental Health and the Metropolitan Institute for Training in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. New York City 30 April – 1 May 2005.
—. “Girard’s Breakthrough.” James Alison.Theology. 1996. Article originally appeared in The Tablet, 29 June 1996.
—. The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 1998. Pieces of the book are online, including The Johannine Witness <http://girardianlectionary.net/res/jbw_4b_john9.htm>.
—. “Love Your Enemy: Within A Divided Self.” Oct. 2007.
—. “Taking Cinderella To the Ball: How a Mimetic Anthropology Restores the Theological Virtue of Hope.” July 2015.
—. “Violence Undone.” Interview with Alison by Christian Century editors, Sept. 5, 2006. (Requires small payment to view.)
—. “Worship in a Violent World.” Transcript of a talk given in Brisbane, Australia, August 2004.
Bailie, Gil. “Entering the Biblical Story at the Eucharistic Table: A talk given by Gil Bailie.” Date unknown.
—. Violence and the Sacred: René Girard’s Insights into Christianity and The Mystery of Sin: René Girard’s Insights into Christianity
—. “The Vine and the Branches Discourse: The Gospel’s Psychological Apocalypse” Originally published in Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture. Vol 4: Spring 1997. 120-145.
Gans, Eric. “WWII and the Victimary Era: I.” Chronicles of Love and Resentment 426 (July 14, 2012).
Girard, Rene. “Are the Gospels Mythical?” First Things 62 (April 1996): 27-31.
—. Battling to the End: Conversations with Benoît Chantre. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2010. Published originally as Achever Clausewitz, Editions Carnets Nord, 2007.
—. “A conversation with Professor René Girard about his theory of mimetic desire” (13.5 mb mp3). Girard interviewed on “Entitled Opinions” by Robert Harrison, Stanford University Radio, 17 Sept. 2005. One hour. Heavy on mimesis in Shakespeare, but at the very end of the interview Girard speaks clearly about politics, war, and non-violence.
—. “A conversation with Professor René Girard about ritual, myth, and religion” (14.2 mb mp3). Girard interviewed on “Entitled Opinions” by Robert Harrison, Stanford University Radio, 4 Oct. 2005. One hour.
—. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.
—. Intellectuals as Castrators of Meaning: An Interview with Réne Girard. Girard interviewed by Giulio Meotti in Il Foglio, March 20, 2007, reprinted at First Principles in Sept. 2008.
—. “On War and Apocalypse,” First Things, Aug/Sept 2009.
—. Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1987.
Hardin, Michael and Jeff Krantz. Preaching Peace website. Including Introduction to Mimetic Theory for Preachers; Mimesis, Mimetic Theory; The Scapegoat.
Haven, Cynthia. “History is a test. Mankind is failing it. – René Girard scrutinizes the human condition from creation to apocalypse.” Stanford Magazine. July/Aug. 2009. Good intro to Girard the man, after the publication of his book Achever Clausewitz (Eng. transl.: Battling to the End: Politics, War, and Apocalypse).
Northey, Wayne. Rene Girard and Violence. Originally presented at South Langley Mennonite Brethren Church, April 29, 2001.
Nuechterlein, The Rev. Paul J. The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement. Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary. Last modified: 12 July 2013. 8 Aug. 2006.
—. Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary. Excellent resource, with bibliography, lectionary-oriented sermons, essays, links to excerpts from various girardian writers, summaries of girardian thought. Some sermons of interest: Choosing to Live in the World of Forgiveness, Faith is Trusting That the Satanic Violence is Self-Defeating.
—. “My Core Convictions Part I: Non-Violence and the Christian Faith.” Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary:Understanding the Bible Anew Through the Mimetic Theory of René Girard. 2 February 2005. This is an excellent summary and in some cases extension of Girardian thought. See also Core Convictions Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.
—. “Opening Comments on Apocalyptic.” Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary, Proper 28. Last revised 17 Nov. 2012.
Preaching Peace. The Pillars of Culture: Prohibition, Ritual and Myth
Stork, Peter. An Introduction to the Work of René Girard. 17-page PDF. 13 Jan 2011.
Williams, James G. The Girard Reader. New York: Crossroad Publishing Co., 2003.