Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 18: A Brief Review of Girardian
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 18: A Brief Review of Girardian

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

This short review is for new members of this list and for those who have found this discussion challenging. Modern science has weakened the faith of many Christians, because the scientific method has indicated that we don’t need God to explain the world around us. Many scientists scoff at Christianity as unscientific, superstitious, and anti-intellectual, noting that believers often seem to reject scientific fact in favor of biblical beliefs. Girard makes a powerful move—he grounds his theology on the social sciences. He asserts that the Bible has revealed truths that are only now being confirmed by modern social sciences. Indeed, Girard has denied that he has made novel anthropological insights—everything, he claims, is already clearly described in the Bible.

In particular, the Bible reveals how mimetic human desire leads to the scapegoating mechanism, which has been “hidden since the foundation of the world.”(Mt 13:35) The Bible describes how our desires are mimetic, i.e., we unconsciously desire what others have or want. Recently, science has more clearly defined the nature of mimetic desire, finding that, in fact, humans are fundamentally mimetic creatures who learn language, manners, and other social skills through mimesis. Girard notes, as Bible stories attest, that “Acquisitive desire” is unconscious—we don’t choose to desire things but rather we unconsciously desire what others have or want. This is important, because if mimetic desire (and its consequences) were conscious, we would not need the Bible to reveal mimesis.

The problem is that what we desire invariably becomes scarce, and competition for objects of desires leads to rivalry, bitterness, and, potentially, violence. When other animals experience frustrated desire, they are briefly angry. Their anger abates when the object of desire, such as food or a sexual partner, are gone. In contrast, humans crave self-esteem, and frustrated desire threatens our self-image as valuable, capable individuals. Therefore, the anger that accompanies frustrated human desire easily engenders bitterness and a thirst for revenge designed to restore self-esteem. These sentiments can divide communities, reducing their ability to obtain food and make them vulnerable to enemies. The “solution” is to find a scapegoat who is held responsible for a community’s growing hostilities, and then to kill or banish the perceived evildoer. Just as the acquisitive gesture is mimetic, the accusatory gesture—pointing at the future victim and declaring, “He’s responsible!”—is mimetic. (See essay 6 for a more detailed discussion of the scapegoating mechanism.

Previous essays have discussed how the Hebrew Scriptures are distinctive among ancient sacred texts in that they see scapegoating from the victim’s perspective. We will see how, increasingly, the Hebrew Scriptures show that God does not want sacred violence. This revelation becomes most clear in stories about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Next week, we will explore one of the thorniest aspects of a Girardian, non-violent reading of the Bible—the sacrifices delineated in Leviticus.

Go on to: Part 19: Sacrifice in the Hebrew Scriptures
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