Continuing with Part 4 of René Girard’s CBC interviews from 2011, Girard connects the scapegoating mechanism to the story of Jesus:
When everyone believes the lie that the scapegoat is guilty, the violence of the group is transferred outside and the group can continue in peace. The Bible undoes these illusions: the whole surrogate-victim mechanism is from Satan. Jesus dies like any guilty hero, but the Cross does not ratify His guilt; it proclaims His innocence.
Of course, not everyone saw Jesus as innocent at the time. Some saw Him as guilty. But for scapegoating to work in preserving the peace, all must see the scapegoat as guilty.
Scapegoating preserves the peace as long as the scapegoaters believe the scapegoat to be guilty. Jesus doesn’t work as a scapegoat, as He divided people – some saw Him as scapegoat, others as an innocent victim.
We are living through continued attempts at scapegoating today. Consider the scapegoating done by the social justice warriors. Yet, this will not bring any peace as a good portion of society does not see the intended victims of this scapegoating as guilty. This reality will play right into Girard’s points made later in this interview: focused violence via scapegoating no longer works to bring peace.
The discussion next turns to some interesting and thought-provoking views. The first might offer an insight into why Christian societies have led the evolution from cultural acceptance of violence into a drive toward peace (and also therefore damns those current Christians who cheer on war):
Why do you notice the mote in his eye and ignore the beam in your own? This self-critical spirit will transform the world.
It is often pointed out by critics that Christians have not always lived up to the best of this self-critical spirit. Girard confronts this challenge directly:
Christians will also be accusers, but will never break free from this constantly repeated call to examine themselves and reform. We are the one society in the world that has this capacity for self-criticism.
It is also pointed out – as Girard hints at in the above – that slavery existed in Christian societies, war and the Crusades existed in Christian societies, the Inquisition gained fame in Christian societies, etc., etc., etc.
Yet Christians continuously self-criticize – as long as Jesus is kept in view as the target for our ends and purpose, such practices diminish or are eliminated. This didn’t happen despite Christianity; it happened because of it:
We constantly criticize ourselves, and rightly so. But from what point of view do you criticize? The permanence of Christianity is found in this self-critical power.
Girard expands this point:
It is the Cross that gave us the key to decode mythology. …We even use the Gospel to criticize such practices [as witch hunting]: how could such things have happened during Christian times?
Yes, how could those terrible Christians advocate for such things? Girard points out that those with such views are looking at history in the wrong direction:
The interesting thing about witch-hunting isn’t that it happened in Christian times – all societies had such practices. The interesting thing is that it ended in Christian societies. We recognize that witch-hunting is scapegoating.
He makes a second thought-provoking point (including some commentary from the interviewer):
We didn’t stop burning witches because we invented science; we invented science because we stopped burning witches. This sounds backwards to us, but Girard explains: we used to blame droughts on witches; once we stopped blaming witches, we looked for scientific explanations for drought.
And it was in Christianity that such practices stopped, giving impetus to find better – scientific – explanations for such calamities as draught.
[Christianity] gives us a new freedom – to question old orders, old practices, old hierarchies. But this new freedom operates for ill as well as good. Sacrifice was the anchor for all social order; without sacrifice, social order becomes more fluid, more open to question. This sets free not just good things, but everything that has been contained by the old social order. Everything is set free.
It would seem to make the point: without keeping Jesus in sight as the telos, freedom can (and most certainly will) be used for ill. Liberty soon means libertine.
This comes to play in our current society. Girard cites Tocqueville: when human beings have destroyed the principle of hierarchy, they think that an easy way is open to success and all that they could not reach before. We think that without hierarchy, all obstacles are removed from our path. Instead:
What they don’t realize is that the obstacle has changed places and multiplied – each obstacle is smaller, so many…meaning everybody.
Everyone now stands in our way. Consider all of the social-justice categories and classes of which you are not a part. Each one of these stands between you and some semblance of freedom. And for those who advocate for the freedom of extreme individualism, they don’t see that it stands in the way of their freedom as well.
When revolution destroys the privileges of the few, people confront the desires of everyone. Mimetic desire cannot be satisfied. Eventually what others have is insufficient – we want the other’s being. What I don’t have and what I dream of must be somewhere – I want to become him.
“Mimetic desire cannot be satisfied.” Remember, this interview is from 2011; yet he is describing today’s situation to perfection.
What modern persons seek from each other is the sense of really existing. Everything which was not myself (Proust writes) seems to me more precious, endowed with more meaningful existence.
We make idols out of celebrities and athletes. We all want to Be Like Mike; it just isn’t as innocent today as it once seemed.
Cut off from vital contact with God, men become gods for one another – although always only fleetingly. Mimetic desire pursues an illusion, becoming both urgent and insatiable. The race is intense, but with no finish line. There is no objective element.
Too much is never enough. This is what Girard labels apocalypse: meaning the development, the working out, the unfolding of implications. Its end is self-destruction…and rebirth. In part 5, he will describe why the modern situation is apocalyptic. In the meantime, he offers a hint:
When Jesus proclaims that he came to separate mother from daughter, etc., it was an announcement that the world will no longer be protected by the ritual of sacrifice of a scapegoat. We are left with only Christian love, or hatred.
The apocalypse is what comes if Christian love is rejected and hatred is chosen.
Where is liberty in all of this? Long ago I came to see a glimpse: The Silver Rule (basically the non-aggression principle) would not be sufficient to sustain a society in liberty; The Golden Rule (something more than the non-aggression principle) was necessary.
I am understanding why this is so in ever-more depth. Girard exposes this necessity – I won’t say fully, as I suspect that there will always be more – to a significant degree. Girard was not speaking or writing from a standpoint of liberty as a libertarian might superficially see it, but consider: if the alternatives are unending and increasing violence or love, in which environment does your liberty have a better chance to survive and thrive?
Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.