Girard and Love Not the World

We become those who no longer imitate the desires of the world, the kosmos structured on a dysfunctional logos (1 John 2:15ff), but instead, like Jesus, become those who seek God and God’s rule with a singular focus. This transformation does not removes us from the world but enables us to be active agents of the transforming character of the love of God in all our relationships. We find a profound congruence here between Girard, Barth, and Bonhoeffer as they discuss anthropology as the collectivity of our human condition.

-Michael E. Hardin, Mimetic Theory and Christian Theology (From the For Rene Girard collection)

His use of the word “kosmos” here and the reference to 1 John 2:15:

(Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.)

…reminds me immediately of Watchman Nee’s work. I need to go and reread it to see if some of the best ideas can be connected up.

Modern war crimes trials make for lousy sacrifices

In the essay collection For Rene Girard, Richard J. Golsan talks quite a bit about the holocaust and our inability to unify the world by thoroughly pinning the blame on someone. In the aftermath of the Balkan war in the 1990’s, this is even more the case. This follows Girard’s assertion that we are increasingly unable to bring peace to our own society through ritual sacrifice. Christianity has undermined the scapegoat mechanism. What we have in the modern-day war crimes tribunal is meant to be a proper and civilized ritual sacrifice. But it just doesn’t have the unifying power that a community lynching used to.

Accompanying this fixation on social decline and cultural decay is the belief that particular groups are responsible for this state of affairs, and that these groups continue to actively and insidiously pursue an agenda of destruction and annihilation.

What the purge trials attempted to accomplish (as do, to a certain extend, all political trials) was to isolate a limited number of culprits on whom the shipwreck of French culture, the collapse of the nation in 1940, and collaboration with the Nazis could be blamed. The reality was, of course, that it was not just a “few individuals” that were responsible.

None of this is to suggest that in the 1990s trials for crimes against humanity the accused were “innocent” or undeserving of their convictions. Quite the reverse. But to the extent that the trials became sacrificial rituals were the broader historical and social intent of expelling a criminal past and thereby unifying the nation, they not only partook of the primitive and cohesive ritual sacrifices that Girard describes.

What makes a really exciting idea? Incompleteness

According to Thomas Kuhn, normal science is research based upon past scientific achievements of a certain type, those that constitute what he calls “paradigms.”

That is to say, achievements that are “sufficiently unprecedented to attract and enduring group of adherents away from competing models of scientific activity.

Simultaneously…sufficiently open ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to resolve.”

-Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Paraphrased here by Jean-Pierre Dupuy)

Life is God’s desire

Because we are among friends here, I can hazard a metaphor: Life is the Desire of God, and this Desire is mimetic because God created man (and woman) “in his image.” The Desire of God – Life – animates and runs through every living thing without distinction, and that is why the supreme heresy and sin consists in invoking God’s aid to destroy another’s life. In this universal and creative Desire of God, which lives everywhere and in everything, the original sin, the one that is at the origin of all the others, is an avatar, a side effect of mimeticism: the invention of false differences that generate conflicts and rivalries. the first and the most toxic of these fallacious differences being the one “ingested” by our first ancestors, the difference between Good and Evil, which since time immemorial has hurled men to their doom and which in our world rages with particular violence.

Desire, being mimetic, my desire and the other’s desire are strictly identical. What is diabolical and worldly is the assertion that “my” desire is Good, that it is inspired and blessed by God, and that the “other” desire is Evil, inspired by the Demon. Obviously what the “other” thinks is a mirror image of this assertion.

-Jean-Michel Oughourlian, My Life with Rene (From the For Rene Girard collection)

This an extension of the “there is no wrath in God” theory. I like it but still, at this point, cannot reconcile it very well with quite a few other things. This needs some serious work. Frankly, I think some of these Girard inspired theologians like James Allison have GOT to do a better job with this or most Christian thinkers and leaders will continue to not take them seriously. For starters you need to reconcile this with the various commands for capital punishment in the Old Testament. Now, I think there are some decent explanations for this, but you guys have got to articulate them. Same thing with the angel of death (in several places in the OT) and also the lake of fire. That God only ever desires life but frequently works outside of human beings to instrument death is not going to fly.

I really want Oughourlian’s idea here to work, but it doesn’t yet.

I’m glad some other folks are bringing this up as well:

Certain difficult and somewhat unsettled questions about the theory have, at times, been tricky to work through. For example, the question of atonement and the sacrifice of the Cross has been difficult to reconcile with traditional theology; certain questions of evolution have been challenging, as have the assumptions of mythical elements i the biblical text; and finally, the mysterious interaction between grace and free will in reorienting “fallen” mimesis has often been difficult to understand. Over time, I have come to see that the faith is the most important thing, and the speculative dimensions of the theory are, well, speculative.

-Tyler Graham, Rene Girard’s Hermeneutic (From the For Rene Girard collection)

The key to proper mentorship

In a genuine, healthy relationship between master and apprentice, there is a third element, the object of the imitation (the painting, in Don Quixote’s own example), with a reality of its own, independent from both master and apprentice. The latter imitates the former only in reference to that particular object, the reality of which sets limits to the imitation itself.

-Cesareo Bandera, My Encounter with Rene Girard (From the For Rene Girard collection)

I have always heard a ton in Christian circles about “discipleship” and mentoring.

That’s all good except you HAVE to be on the lookout for the big pitfall of discipleship: imitating the master himself and not the craft to be mastered. This is how teacher/student relationships can get flipped around and turn into rivalries. The closer (and more effective!) they are, the more this is a risk. This is why in many, perhaps even most church splits, the devisive faction is led by an assistant pastor who was originally mentored by the senior pastor. If they were to both keep their eye on the ball (the external objective) then they could work together in peace and mutual benefit. But if the apprentice imitates the master himself, he will always, if he follows the road long enough, end up in opposition to the master.

The psychology behind all this can be discussed at length, but it doesn’t need to be to grasp the principal. This dynamic is really easy to prove. It also naturally hides itself from the actual people involved.

Jesus is the only one we can safely imitate in the long run without creating this trouble. A mentor (in any subject!) is best when both the student and teacher always keep the higher cause in mind.

On imitative idol worship

To worship another god than the true one is to worship another’s god, which is the same as worshipping the other, sharing and participating in the delusional transcendence that the others confide in or appear to embody.

-Andrew J. McKenna, Great Books (From the For Rene Girard collection)

Good ideas rejected because they are “too” simple

That many scholars are harder to convince, I attribute to a professionally induced prejudice against commonsensical observation in favor of more sophisticated, abstract modes of representation, and this in spite of the demonstrable fact that the modern university owes less to the doctors of the Sorbonne than to the devastating mockery of their learned vernaculars by the likes of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Swift.

-Andrew J. McKenna, Great Books (From the For Rene Girard collection)

Ph.D. types without common sense? Say it isn’t so! This is something that Girard mentions often when discussing the resistance by academics in accepting his ideas. Often one of the biggest problems is that they seem too simple. If your day job is to work with really big words and long sentences you may develop an allergic reaction to simple words and ideas, however true or superior they may be.

Another writer in the For Rene Girard collection also brings this up.

In general, the major pedagogical challenge in teaching Girard is to dramatize the discover and fuel interest in further research. However, often mimetic interpretations are so “obvious” that their nature – or importance – is hard to see. Or, if the insights are not obvious, it is difficult to show why they are believable.

-Tyler Graham, Rene Girard’s Hermeneutic (From the For Rene Girard collection)

Today’s “religious” wars the same as the old “religious” wars

How can we escape from mimeticism, from rivalry, from the blind mechanisms of the scapegoat victim? Those who pretend that they fight for God kill and are killed for only a phantom of Caesar. I the time of the religious wars, Montaigne noted that one didn’t find a single combatant in a thousand who would sear to kill for his faith. Violence returns among us and among the divine as well. We live, even today, the return of these ghosts.

-Michael Serres, Receiving Rene Girard (From the For Rene Girard collection)

I didn’t know that folks as early as Montaigne pointed out that there was very little that was religious about the religious wars (the crusades). That this still gets used as a stick to beat up historical Christianity is ridiculous. It’s only sufficient as a stick to beat up mankind.

The Muslims are always fighting amongst themselves as well. The front is theological differences of course (Shiite, Sunni, etc.) but I think anyone on the ground will tell you it’s over the same old clan and territorial disputes, some of them very very old. Same things goes for the ethic cleansing violence in Africa. You think those machete wielding guys who attack the next village are that concerned about religious details?

For Rene Girard notes

The recently published collection For Rene Girard is a group of about 20 essays from friends and colleges writing about Girard’s influence on them and occasionally getting in to some of their own work. Girard is getting pretty old so I guess they figured they should get it published while he could still appreciate them himself. It was interesting to see the swath of people who have found Girard to be valuable. Most of them are Christians and a surprising number detail how Girard’s theory was actually pretty instrumental to their conversion to Christianity as well. James G. Williams, one of my favorite Girardian scholars, brings this up right off the bat.

Of course, the question always arises: “What difference does it make?” That is, is it a theory or model that makes a difference to human relationships that can actually be applied in situations of conflict to reduce or eliminate mimetic rivalry, scapegoating, or violence, whether on a small or a large scale? Or is its usefulness limited to its explanatory power? Is it able to show us what we are doing while lacking the guiding power to enable us to be better as human beings? The problem, I believe is one of religion and conversion. The mimetic scapegoat theory helps us spiritually and morally only if it impels us into a process of conversion.

This is one of the most difficult aspects of Girard’s work, and I think we have to engage it openly and honestly. It owes much to its biblical and Augustinian heritage. It does not make sense and it does not work unless we see that a scapegoat mechanism is at the root of our attitudes, behavior, and language. This has been one of the most important insights for me. It has confirmed my Christian formation and has enabled me to understand it in a way that is powerful and compelling.

-James G. Williams, In the Light of Rene Girard (From the For Rene Girard collection)