It is because we have wanted to distance ourselves from religion that it is now returning with such force and in a retrograde, violent form. Rationalism was thus not real distancing, but a dike that is in the process of giving way. In this, it will perhaps have been our last mythology. We “believed” in reason, as people used to believe in the gods.
The Old Testament law reveals to us something about the nature of God, but it is also an impossibility for us. Christ is our mediator in both directions. He stands not just between our sin and God, but he is also the only way we know God first hand. He only did what he saw the father doing. Only by imitating Christ can we imitate God and grow to be more like him.
Christianity invites us to imitate a God who is perfectly good. It teaches us that if we do not do so, we will expose ourselves to the worst. There is no solution to mimetism aside from a good model. Yet the Greeks never suggested we imitate the gods. They always say that Dionysus should be kept at a distance and that one should never go close to him. Chris alone is approachable from this point of view. The Greeks had no model of transcendence to imitate. That was their problem, and it is THE problem of archaic religions. However, in a world where the founding murder has disappeared, we have no choice but to imitate Christ, imitate him to the letter, do everything he says to do. The Passion reveals both mimetism and the only way to remedy it.
Paul’s conversion is often explained (rightly so) not of a bad man suddenly becoming good, but of an already very good and passionate religious man, a “Pharisee of Pharisees”, whose trajectory was tweaked by his meeting with the risen Jesus Christ.
From the standpoint of violence though (what Girard cares about), Paul’s conversion needs to be described a bit differently.
Reality is not rational, but religious. This is what the Gospels tell us. This is at the heart of history’s contradictions, in the interactions that people weave with one another, in their relations, which are always threatened by reciprocity. This awareness is needed more than ever now that institutions no longer help us and we each have to make the transformation by ourselves. In this, we have returned to Paul’s conversation, to the voice asking, “why do you persecute me?” Paul’s radicalism is a very appropriate for our time. He was less the hero who “rose” to holiness than the persecutor who turned himself back and falls to the ground.
Mimetism is contagious and will attack nature itself. We are thus in the process of seeing that, far from making them obsolete forever, the confusion between nature and culture in the apocalyptic texts, which used to be seen as naive, is becoming unexpectedly relevant, with the ultramodern theme of the contamination of nature by human hands.
-Rene Girard, Battling to the End, p.114
Girard develops this idea more in other places (not in this book). I have heard others (can’t remember who) mention it as well. It describes an interesting phenomenon: The increasing confusion over what is caused by nature and what is caused by humans. The bulk of environmentalism in the past ten years has taken on a very religious tone.
It’s because of this we can have a natural weather phenomenon like a hurricane simultaneously declared to be a direct judgmental action by God (against gays, abortionists, America, etc.) AND also something entirely the fault of humans. (The hurricane isn’t god’s doing, it’s OURS!) This is part of the global warming mythology. See the poster for Al Gore’s movie a few years ago for an illustration.
Girard sees this as a natural part of the escalation to extremes: confusing the work of nature, God, and man.