Fear of Dying
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Fear of Dying
Comments by Stephen Kaufman - 14 Dec 2004

Just as Becker and Girard based their theories, in part, on their own experience, Dena's experience is informative and valuable.

I think Dena makes a valid and important point in that we should be skeptical of broad psychological theories. Human psychology is too complex, and too much is hidden under the terrain of consciousness, for simple theories to explain everything.

Both Becker and Girard, like many 20th Century thinkers, tried to understand human destructiveness. Their motivation seemed to be largely dismay at the consequences of two world wars and a recognition that, as our tools of war become increasingly destructive, we must address human destructiveness if we are to save human civilization. The reductionist method of science has its place, but a broader understanding is necessary if we are to derive reasonable programs to address human destructiveness. This broader understanding won't perfectly characterize people, and for some people it will decidedly miss the mark, but it may still prove useful to both explain human behavior in general and to derive strategies for encouraging more benign behavior.

Girard said that our desires are invariably mimetic, but we do not need to mimic our peers. As I will discuss in future essays in the series Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence, Girard argued that "good mimesis" involves having the same desire as Jesus Christ, that is, to fulfill the desires of God. Such mimesis is not competitive, because God's love is infinite.

It is possible to obtain self-esteem through following Christ without harming anybody or anything. On the other hand, attempting to gain self-esteem through material possessions or social power generates winners and losers. The losers are angry and resentful, and their bitterness can easily lead to violence. Communities remain bound together by directing the violent sentiments at a scapegoat.

The scapegoats tend to be peripheral members of the community who are least able to defend themselves and least likely to find allies who would say, "The accusation that this person is the source of our problems is wrong!" In Nazi Germany, the Jews were scapegoated by the loss of World War I and the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. Right now, I think there is an attempt to scapegoat homosexuals for the breakdown of the nuclear family.

Similarly, animal advocates are at risk for being scapegoats for callousness towards fellow humans, as we often hear our opponents claim, "you care more about animals than people." Jesus accepted his role as a scapegoat rather than violently resisting the mob's hysteria. That was a supreme act of faith.


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