rene girardinsights and contributionson a rediscovery of the Bible
Anthropologist Literary ScholarCultural Historian See also: Michael Hardin James Alison Tony Bartlett1
1. Imitation Humans are imitative (mimetic) creatures.
“Acquisitive mimesis” - What you want, I want. What I want,you want.We become mirrors or doubles of one another’s competitivedesires. Will we - supposed friends - become enemies?Because of proximity, a dangerous friend is more frighteningthan an enemy.
The reduction of canine teeth to their currentdimensions occurred a long time before the appearanceof homo sapiens, suggesting that stones had replaceddentition in most of their uses, including intra-speciescombat.... If instead of throwing branches at oneanother as they sometimes do, chimpanzees were tolearn to throw stones at one another, their social lifewould be radically shaken. Either the species woulddisappear, or like humanity it would have to impose itsown prohibitions. (TH 86-87)
Rivalry creates the constantdanger of “all against all” outbreaksof violence, which in turn createsconstant anxiety ...“The more you get along together, the less you get along together.” How will this anxiety be relieved?
1. Imitation2. Rivalry3.Violence and Anxiety4. Scapegoating
The Victimage MechanismThe opposition of everyone against everyone isreplaced by the opposition of all against one. Wherepreviously there had been a chaotic ensemble ofparticular conﬂicts, there is now the simplicity of asingle conﬂict: the entire community on one side, andon the other, the victim.The community ﬁnds itself uniﬁed once more at theexpense of a victim.... The sacriﬁce is simply another actof violence, one that is added to a succession of others,but it is the ﬁnal act of violence, the last word. (TH 24)
The aggressive transference [focusing a group’s generalsocial anxiety upon one individual] is followed by thereconciliatory transference [which] sacralizes thevictim... Because the popular imagination tends topolarize its hopes and enthusiasms, and of course itsfears and anxieties, around a chosen individual, thepower of the individual in question seems to multiplyinﬁnitely, for good or ill. Such an individual does notrepresent the collectivity in an abstract manner, butrather represents the state of turmoil, restlessness, orcalm of the collectivity at any given moment ofrepresentation. (TH 37) The peace created through scapegoating is counted as sacred, supernatural, divine ...
1. Imitation2. Rivalry3.Violence and Anxiety4. Scapegoating5. Religion, Prohibitions, Ritualization
Through prohibitions and taboos, societies seek toavoid the conﬂict and competition of acquisitivemimesis.Through rituals, societies seek to diffuse the socialtensions that arise from that conﬂict andcompetition - especially through ritualizedsacriﬁcial scapegoating.
Religion is nothing other than this immenseeffort to keep the peace. The sacred isviolence, but if religious man worshipsviolence it is only insofar as the worship ofviolence is supposed to bring peace; religionis entirely concerned with peace, but themeans it has of bringing it about are neverfree of sacriﬁcial violence. (TH 33)
People do not wish to know that the wholeof human culture is based on the mythicprocess of conjuring away man’s violence byendlessly projecting it upon new victims. Allcultures and all religions are built on thatfoundation, which they then conceal, just asthe tomb is built around the dead bodythat it conceals.... The tomb-religionamounts to nothing more or less than thebecoming invisible of the foundations, ofreligion and culture, of their only reason forexistence.
Since [many people] do not see that humancommunity is dominated by violence, peopledo not understand that the very one of themwho is untainted by any violence and has noform of complicity with violence is bound tobecome the victim.... people fail to understand that they areindebted to violence for the degree of peacethey enjoy.(210-211)
... the primitive deity is essentially monstrous.” (35)[God becomes an object of fear that is more frighteningthan the threat of a competitive neighbor.]Religious systems form a whole in this sense, such thatthe infraction of any particular rule, no matter howabsurd it may seem objectively, constitutes a challengeto the entire community....In societies that do not have penal systems capable ofhalting the spread of mimetic rivalry and its escalationinto a vicious cycle of violence, the religious systemperforms this very real function. (TH 41)
[T]he common origin of all institutions ...is the reproduction of generative*violence. (79) *Intentional, controlled, sanctioned violence whose intent is to prevent unintentional, uncontrolled, unsanctioned violence
1. Imitation2. Rivalry3.Violence and Anxiety4. Scapegoating5. Religion, Prohibitions, Ritualization6. The Hebrew Scriptures - law/priesthood and/vs prophets
From the ﬁrst lines of Genesis, we have the theme ofthe warring brothers or twins: Cain and Abel, Jacob andEsau, Joseph and his eleven brothers, etc.... It is always by violence, by the expulsion of one of thebrothers, that the crisis is resolved, and differentiationreturns once again.... In the sacriﬁce of Isaac the necessity of sacriﬁcethreatens the most precious being, only to be satisﬁed,at the last moment, with a substituted victim, the ramsent by God.
What the prophets come down to saying is basicallythis: legal prescriptions are of little consequence as longas you keep from ﬁghting one another, so long as youdo not become enemy twins. This is the newinspiration ... Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself(Lev 19, 18). [154-155)So the three great pillars of primitive religion - myth,sacriﬁce and prohibitions - are subverted by thethought of the Prophets, and this general activity ofsubversion is invariably governed by the bringing tolight of the mechanisms that found religion: theunanimous violence against the scapegoat. (TH 155)
In the prophetic books, this conception [of God] tendsto be increasingly divested of violence characteristic ofprimitive deities.... in the Old Testament we never arriveat a conception of the deity that is entirely foreign toviolence. (157)... The sacriﬁces are criticized, but they continue; the lawis simpliﬁed and declared to be identical to love of one’sneighbor, but it continues. And even though he ispresented in a less and less violent form, and becomesmore and more benevolent,Yahweh is still the god towhom vengeance belongs. The notion of divineretribution is still alive. (TH 158)
1. Imitation2. Rivalry3.Violence and Anxiety4. Scapegoating5. Religion, Prohibitions, Ritualization6. The Hebrew Scriptures7. Jesus and the gospels
The Old Testament [was] a ﬁrst step outside thesacriﬁcial system, and the ﬁrst gradual withering ofsacriﬁcial resources. At the very moment when thisadventure approaches its resolution, Jesus arrives onthe scene - Jesus as he appears in the gospels.From now on, it becomes impossible to put the clockback. There is an end to cyclical history, for the veryreason that its mechanisms are beginning to beuncovered. (206)
Behaving in a truly divine manner, on an earth still in theclutches of violence, means not dominating humans, notoverwhelming them with supernatural power; it meansnot terrifying and astonishing them in turn, through thesufferings and blessings on can confer; it means notcreating difference between doubles and not taking partin their disputes. ‘God is no respecter of persons.’ Hemakes no distinction between ‘Greeks and Jews, men andwomen, etc.’ This can look like complete indifference andcan lead to the conclusion that the all-powerful does notexist, so long as his transcendence keeps him inﬁnitely farfrom us and our violent undertakings. But the samecharacteristics are revealed as a heroic and perfect loveonce this transcendence becomes incarnate in a humanbeing and walks among men, to teach them about thetrue God and to draw them closer to Him. (234)
[The text of the Gospels] speaks incessantly ofeverything we have said ourselves; it has no otherfunction than to unearth victims of collective violenceand to reveal their innocence. [TH 138]
Satan = Destructive Imitation,ViolenceIt is no abstract metaphysical reduction, no descent intovulgar polemics or lapse into superstition that makesSatan the true adversary of Jesus. Satan is absolutelyidentiﬁed with the circular mechanisms of violence,with man’s imprisonment in cultural and philosophicalsystems that maintain his [way of life] with violence.That is why he promises Jesus domination providedthat Jesus will worship him... Satan is the name for themimetic process seen as a whole. (162)
Mary = NonviolenceIn innumerable episodes of mythical birth, the godcopulates with a mortal woman in order to give birthto a hero. Stories of this kind always involve more thana hint of violence.... the birth of the gods is always akind of rape... The orgasm that appeases the god is ametaphor for collective violence.... No relationship of violence exists between thosewho take part in the virgin birth: the Angel, the Virginand the Almighty.... The complete absence of any sexualelement has nothing to do with repression ... All thethemes and terms associated with the virgin birthconvey to us a perfect submission to the non-violentwill of the God of the Gospels. (220-221)
The Death of Jesus = End of Sacriﬁcial ReligionThe Gospels only speak of sacriﬁces in order to rejectthem and deny them any validity. Jesus counters theritualism of the Pharisees with an anti-sacriﬁcialquotation from Hosea: “Go and learn what this means, ‘Idesire mercy, and not sacriﬁce’” (Matthew 9:13).There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest that thedeath of Jesus is a sacriﬁce, whatever deﬁnition(expiation, substitution, etc.) we may give for sacriﬁce.At no point in the Gospels is the death of Jesus dﬁnedas a sacriﬁce.... Certainly the Passion is presented to usin the Gospels as an act that brings salvation tohumanity. But it is in no way presented as a sacriﬁce.(181)
Jesus = Nonviolent Word of GodIf love and violence are incompatible, the deﬁnition ofthe Logos must take this into account. The differencebetween the Greek Logos and the Johannine Logosmust be an obvious one, which gets concealed only inthe tortuous complications of a type of thought thatnever succeeds in ridding itself of its own violence.(270)
The gospel interpretation of the Old Testament can besummed up in this approach ... the replacement of theGod that inﬂicts violence with the God that only suffersviolence, the Logos that is expelled.... When theconsequences of this substitution ﬁnally come tofulﬁllment, there will be incalculable results. (275)
The sacriﬁcal interpretation of the Passion must becriticized and exposed as a most enormous andparadoxical misunderstanding - and at the same time assomething necessary - and as the most revealingindication of mankind’s radical incapacity to understandits own violence, even when that violence is conveyedin the most explicit fashion. (181)
To say that Jesus dies, not as a sacriﬁce, but in orderthat there may be no more sacriﬁces, is to recognize inhim the Word of God, ‘I wish for mercy and notsacriﬁces’.... Where violence remains master, Jesus mustdie. Rather than become the slave of violence, as ourown word necessarily does, the Word of God says noto violence. (210-211)
A non-violent deity can only signal his existence tomankind by having himself driven out by violence - bydemonstrating that he is not able to establish himself inthe Kingdom of Violence.But this very demonstration is bound to remainambiguous for a very long time, and it is not capable ofachieving a decisive result, since it looks like totalimpotence to those who live under the regime ofviolence. That is why at ﬁrst it can only have someeffect under a guise, deceptive through the admixtureof some sacriﬁcial elements, through the surreptitiousre-insertion of some violence into the conception ofthe divine. (219-220)
1. Imitation2. Rivalry3.Violence and Anxiety4. Scapegoating5. Religion, Prohibitions, Ritualization6. The Hebrew Scriptures7. Jesus and the gospels8. The violent reversion of“historical/sacriﬁcial Christianity”
What turns Christianity in on itself, sothat it presents a hostile face to all that isnot Christian, is inextricably bound upwith the sacriﬁcial reading. (225)
Historical Christianity covers the texts with a veil ofsacriﬁce. Or, to change the metaphor, it immolates themin the (albeit splendid) tomb of Western culture. (249)But the process requires an almost limitless patience:many centuries must elapse before the subversive andshattering truth contained in the Gospels can beunderstood world-wide. (252)
... there has never been any thought in theWest but Greek* thought, even when thelabels were Christian. Christianity has nospecial existence in the domain ofthought. Continuity with the Greek Logoshas never been interrupted... everything isGreek and nothing is Christian. (273)*i.e. imperial, with centralized, sanctioned, institutional violence
Sacriﬁcial Christianity still believes in divinethunderbolts, while its progressive double completelystiﬂes the apocalyptic dimension and so deprives itselfof the most valuable card that it has in its hands, underthe ﬂimsy pretext that the ﬁrst priority is to reassurepeople. (442-443)
- Beware resurrecting what you are trying to lay to rest:If we believed that we were justiﬁed in condemningsacriﬁcial Christianity we would be repeating the veryerror to which sacriﬁcial Christianity itself succumbed.We would be taking our stand on the Gospels and thenon-sacriﬁcial perspective they introduce, yet beginningall over again the abominable history of anti-semitism,directed this time at Christianity. We would be startingup the victimage mechanism once again, while relyingon a text that, if it were really understood, would putthat mechanism out of use once and for all. (245)
1. Imitation2. Rivalry3.Violence and Anxiety4. Scapegoating5. Religion, Prohibitions, Ritualization6. The Hebrew Scriptures7. Jesus and the gospels8. The violent reversion of “historical/sacriﬁcial Christianity”9. Our apocalyptic moment
The Christian religion doesn’t understand its own gospel:[The Gospel] discredits and deconstructs all the godsof violence, since it reveals the true God, who has notthe slightest violence in him. Since the time of theGospels, mankind as a whole has always failed tocomprehend this mystery, and it does so still. (429)
The ancient and violent violence-management system is breaking down ...In contemporary society ... no more taboosforbid one person to take what is reserved foranother and no more initiation rites prepareindividuals in common, for the necessary trialsof life. (291)
Our weapons have achieved divine status -A truly wonderful sense of the appropriate has guidedthe inventory of the most terrifying weapons to choosenames that evoke ultimate violence in the mosteffective way: names taken from the direst divinities ofGreek mythology, like Titan, Poseidon, and Saturn, thegod who devoured his own children. We who sacriﬁcefabulous resources to fatten the most inhuman form ofviolence so that it will continue to protect us... how canwe have the extraordinary hypocrisy to pretend thatwe do not understand those people who ... made ittheir practice to throw a single child, or two at themost, into the furnace of a certain Moloch in order toensure the safety of the others? (256)
Either we are moving to ineluctably towardnonviolence, or we are about to disappearcompletely.... The genuinely new element is thatviolence can no longer be relied upon to resolve thecrisis.Violence no longer guarantees a ﬁrm base. Forviolence to be capable of carrying out its cyclicaldevelopment and bringing back peace, there must be anecological ﬁeld that can absorb the damage done in theprocess.... The environment can no longer absorb theviolence humans can unleash. (258)As for the terrors of the Apocalypse, no one could dobetter in that respect nowadays than the dailynewspaper. (260)
1. Imitation2. Rivalry3.Violence and Anxiety4. Scapegoating5. Religion, Prohibitions, Ritualization6. The Hebrew Scriptures7. Jesus and the gospels8. The violent reversion of “historical/sacriﬁcial Christianity”9. Our apocalyptic moment10. The challenges before us
- A new kind of Christianity must be resurrected from the old:... this sacriﬁcial concept of divinity must ‘die,’ and withit the whole apparatus of historical Christianity, for theGospels to be able to rise again in our midst, notlooking like a corpse that we have exhumed, butrevealed as the newest, ﬁnest, liveliest and truest thingthat we have ever set eyes upon. (235-236)
- We must rediscover Jesus as the nonviolent Word of God - Reﬂecting on John 1There is no privileged stance from which absolute truthcan be discovered... That is why the Word that statesitself to be absolutely true never speaks except fromthe position of a victim in the process of beingexpelled.... [F]or two thousand years this Word hasbeen misunderstood, despite the enormous amount ofpublicity it has received. (435)
- We must make a break with all violent images of God:[T]he complete break between the sacriﬁcial god andthe non-sacriﬁcial God - the Father who has been madeknown to us only through Christ - in no way excludes acontinuity between the sacriﬁcial religions and thisuniversal renunciation of violence to which all humanityis called.... There is an absolute separation between theonly true deity and all the deities of violence, who havebeen radically demystiﬁed by the Gospels alone. Butthis should not prevent us from recognizing in thereligions of violence, which are always in search ofpeace, anyway, the methods that initially helpedhumanity to leave the animal state behind and then toelevate itself to unprecedented possibilities, though theyare combined with the most extreme dangers. (410)
- We must rediscover the primacy of love:The New Testament contains what amounts to agenuine epistemology of love, the principle of which isclearly formulated in the ﬁrst Epistle of John: He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 3:10-11)... Only Christ’s perfect love can achieve withoutviolence the perfect revelation toward which we havebeen progressing.... (277)
- We must not slip into another cycle of fruitless scapegoating:I do not think that we should mince our words. Wemust refuse all the scapegoats that Freud andFreudianism have offered to us: the father, the law, etc.We must refuse the scapegoats that Marx offers: thebourgouisie, the capitalists, etc. We must refuse thescapegoats that Nietzsche offers: slave morality, theresentment of others and so on. All of modernism in itsclassic stage ... merely offers us scapegoats. (287)
- We must practice the opposite of scapegoating - the sacred protection (rather than sacriﬁce) of victims:... there can be no victim who is notChrist, and no one can come to the aid ofa victim without coming to the aid ofChrist. (429)
- We must rediscover the Bible:Pascal writes somewhere that it is permissible to correctthe Bible, but only by invoking the Bible’s help. That isexactly what we are doing when we re-read Genesis andthe whole of the Old Testament, and the whole ofculture, in the light of these few lines from the Prologueof John. The immense labor that went into the inspiredtext of the Bible (which is also the onward march ofhumanity toward the discovery of its own truth) can allbe summed up in this repetition of the ﬁrst sentence ofGenesis and the ‘slight’ rectiﬁcation it carries out. (276)We were able to detect a series of stages in the Biblethat invariably pointed toward the attenuation and laterelimination of the practice of sacriﬁce. (443)
- Genesis in a New Light:Good creation (no violence)Knowledge of good and evil (dualism, us-them anxiety,judgment, accusation, expulsion, violence)Adam and Eve Acquisitive mimesis - partners, destructive imitation Fruit - violence?Cain and AbelHagar and SarahIsaac and IshmaelAbraham and IsaacJacob and EsauJoseph and brothersGenesis 50
50:15 Realizing that their father wasdead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What ifJoseph still bears a grudge against usand pays us back in full for all thewrong that we did to him?’ 16So theyapproached* Joseph, saying, ‘Yourfather gave this instruction before hedied, 17“Say to Joseph: I beg you,forgive the crime of your brothers andthe wrong they did in harming you.”Now therefore please forgive thecrime of the servants of the God ofyour father.’
Joseph wept when they spoke to him.18 Then his brothers also wept,* felldown before him, and said, ‘We arehere as your slaves.’ 19But Joseph saidto them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in theplace of God? 20Even though youintended to do harm to me, Godintended it for good, in order topreserve a numerous people, as he isdoing today. 21So have no fear; Imyself will provide for you and yourlittle ones.’ In this way he reassuredthem, speaking kindly to them.
In [the] future, all violence will reveal whatChrist’s Passion revealed, the foolish genesisof bloodstained idols and the false gods ofreligion, politics, and ideologies. Themurderers remain convinced about theworthiness of their sacrifices. They, too, knownot what they do and we must forgive them.The time has come for us to forgive oneanother. If we wait any longer there will notbe enough time. The Scapegoat, 212