Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth
Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
Part 31: The New Testament: Introduction
[Acknowledgement: I have received many insights into the application of Girard’s thought by Rev. Paul Neuchterlein, whose insightful commentaries on the Lectionary and sermons can be found at http://girardianlectionary.net .]
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
This opening passage describes the Word of God creating order from chaos. From a Girardian perspective, chaos describes the primal human condition. Mimetic rivalry engenders universal hostility, and community (and therefore culture) is impossible. The human creation story we see in nearly every religion is that killing a scapegoat unifies the people and generates civilization. What is remarkable and distinctive about the Judaic-Christian creation story is that there is no violence. In contrast, consider the central Hindu creation myth, as described by Rev. Paul Neuchterlein:
Purusha, the primal human being who is described with godlike, grotesque dimensions (symbolizing the chaos), is dismembered and made into an offering to the gods by the gods. From his body derives everything, but what is specified in the myth is not so much the universe in general as things of human culture and institutions: purified butter for the ritual sacrifice, verse and chants, domesticated animals. Most telling is the Hindu hierarchical order for human community itself, the caste system: Purusha’s head becomes the priestly class, the arms the noble-warrior class, the thighs the populace, and the feet the untouchables. The anthropologist can begin to deconstruct this myth: behind Purusha there is a real person collectively murdered who represents the chaos of the mimetic crisis and whose murder brings the ensuing order. In The Scapegoat, Girard elaborates such demythologizing with numerous examples.
“Light” is a frequent metaphor for revelation, and The Gospel According to John frequently equates God’s revelation with light. “He [John the Baptist] came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. . . The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:7,9) John (the Gospel writer) also proclaimed: “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Similarly, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the light” (John 14:6).
From a Girardian perspective, Christ’s ministry is about revelation. Jesus said, “I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.” (Mt 13:35; see also Luke 11:50-51) What does Christ reveal, which has been hidden since the foundation of the world? The Girardian answer is the innocence of the sacrificial victim. Since the beginning of human culture, scapegoating has bound communities together. People have always attributed the scapegoating violence to their gods, failing to recognize that the people themselves have generated the violence. Jesus, reflecting the growing recognition among the ancient Hebrews that God wants love, not violence, declared, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13, 12:9) As we will see in future essays, Jesus exposed the scandal of sacred violence and showed that God wants us to love.
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Part 32: Jesus’ Birth
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