Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
From All-Creatures
Christian Living

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.
http://www.christianveg.com

Part 48. The Resurrection, part 3: Breaking Free of Our Culture of Death

Mimetic theory posits that culture is founded on the scapegoating mechanism. (See parts 2-7.) Consequently, all social institutions, all academic disciplines (including the sciences), and even the languages of primal societies are grounded in scapegoating violence and murder. Like the fish who cannot appreciate water, primal societies cannot see how their entire notion of righteousness and justice is based on “sacred” violence. They regard their scapegoating as “sacred” because they believe that their violence has been ordained by their god (or gods). After the Judeo-Christian revelation exposed the scapegoating mechanism, we now recognize the scandal of scapegoating violence. However, we remain attracted to scapegoating, because it offers the hope of peace, order, and protection from perceived evil forces.

James Alison (The Joy of Being Wrong) notes that people whose values and sense of identity have developed in a culture grounded in death* can’t see how death affects every component of that culture. It is somewhat analogous to fish being unable to recognize the water in which they live. Only someone from outside such a culture can see its morbid outlook. Allison has written, “It is in this sense that Jesus was able to understand with perfect clarity the way that human culture, including the culture in which he lived, is produced by, and runs towards, death.” How would we describe someone who is not part of this culture of death and who refuses to participate in its acts of violence? Such a person is a prophet, who recognizes God’s desire for love, peace, and reconciliation. The problem is that people have always intuitively understood that it is better to have small doses of “sacred,” scapegoating violence, which they believed is ordained by their god or the gods in order to maintain peace and order, rather than to allow profane violence (due to envy and bitterness engendered by mimetic rivalries and not ordained by the divine) to get out of hand. Prophets, by claiming that God has compassion, mercy, and love for those who have been scapegoated (e.g., women, slaves, gay people, people with diseases, people of other ethnicities, etc.), have exposed the scapegoating mechanism as scandalous and encouraged people to question their justifications for violence. Since the prophets have challenged the scapegoating mechanism, which has seemed essential to keeping general peace, people have often despised prophets and have frequently killed them. Alison has observed, “Human culture reacts as if faced by a threat, expelling, and preferably killing, such a person.”

Alison’s thesis is that we have been very wrong about death and life. God is about creativity and life, not death. Whatever fate awaits us after our bodies cease to function, as creations of God, we are not about death, either. This, I think, is what Jesus was trying to communicate when he told Martha (Lazarus’ sister), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believe in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25)

The resurrection assures us that death is not the final word, it just seems this way because our culture has roots in violence and death. If this is so, then it doesn’t make much sense to claim that humans experience everlasting life, while most of God’s creation (the animals) do not. If humans are saved from death, then we may thank God’s compassion for our destiny. I see no good reason to believe that God’s compassion stops at the species barrier. Indeed, Revelation 21:4 describes that, at the end of time, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more.”

Next week, we explore the implications of Jesus’ return after the Resurrection.

* As discussed in parts 6 and 7, the collective murder of scapegoats binds people together and generates human culture.

Go on to Part 49: The Resurrection, part 4: Jesus’ Return
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Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence

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