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 34: John the Baptist, part 2
John the Baptist announced Jesus’ arrival, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Why did John the Baptist regard Jesus as the Lamb of God?
Recall that those who engage in scapegoating regard their violence as sacred as a manifestation of divine justice. If Jesus had violently destroyed scapegoaters, then the formerly weak, victimized people would assume power. They would quickly resort to scapegoating themselves, since they, too, would envision that their violence was the will of their violent leader. The only way to dismantle the scapegoating mechanism, to take away the sin of the world, was to expose it as a falsehood and a scandal. Since nonviolence was essential to revealing the scapegoating mechanism, Jesus had to assume the role of the innocent scapegoat himself!
Normally, people justify victimizing the scapegoat by pointing to some misdeed of their future victim. He or she deserves death, they say, for their sin against God. Since all of us sin, it’s usually pretty easy to find some charge with which to condemn the victim. However, the gospels describe Jesus as sinless, and when people realized that they had murdered an innocent man, they started to recognize their involvement in, and the scandal of, the scapegoating mechanism. What they needed was revelation, the truth, the light.
John the Baptist was uncompromising when it came to truth, and this literally cost him his head when he shamed Herod’s wife. What differentiated John the Baptist’s martyrdom from that of Jesus and St. Stephen, however, was that John the Baptist exhibited anger and resentment. In this respect, Jesus was indeed greater, because he loved everyone and even while being crucified he declared, “Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do.”
John the Baptist was a prophet, and Jesus noted that prophets had repeatedly been killed. Indeed, Jesus and his early disciples met an early, violent end. People have always resisted the truth, because they intuitively know that scapegoating keeps communities together. Since the message that God wants mercy and love undermines the scapegoating mechanism, there is a strong temptation to scapegoat the messenger as evil and deserving to die, rather than acknowledge the truth of his prophecy.
John the Baptist called for repentance of sins, and he baptized with cleansing water. John the Baptist announced “he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:17) What does this mean? I think “fire” refers to the sentiment that underlies total love for God. This passionate love makes one prepared to do whatever it takes to reflect God’s love and forgiveness. John the Baptist continues, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Looking at the Bible through the lens of mimetic theory, I don’t see Jesus as being called to participate in the all-consuming fires of sacred violence. Rather, I think, Jesus will destroy the chaff—the sin of the world—which is the scapegoating mechanism in which our mimetic desires lead to destructive rivalries that are resolved by scapegoating the innocent.
Jesus revealed how to live for God. This could involve simple acts of kindness and generosity, but it might mean choosing to be a victim of the scapegoating mechanism rather than resorting to “righteous” violence. From this perspective, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by cleansing people of sins, and baptism from Jesus’ hands was even more cleansing and liberating, because Jesus offered the guidance and the inspiration to carry out God’s will.
A difficulty remains: How can we recognize our violence as inspired by human desires rather than divine will? After all, the scapegoating mechanism is always hidden (see Part 6). We needed Jesus to expose the scapegoating mechanism, to “take away the sin of the world.” Before he could do that, however, he needed to directly confront and overcome his own mimetic desires that derived from his human nature. In addition, Jesus needed to show his followers that it is possible for humans to transcend our own acquisitive mimetic desires. He did this by allowing himself to be fully exposed to the most powerful human acquisitive mimetic desires. This is what happened when Satan tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness. We will turn to this story next week.
Go on to
Part 35: The Three Temptations (Mt: 4:1-11; Luke
4:1-13), part 1
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