Rene Girard, Donald Trump, and How I Got My Advent Groove Back

I have a confession: In the past, I haven’t liked the season of Advent very much. This is a bummer because I am Christian, and I feel like I should like Advent. I mean, Advent is the time of the year when we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child—the Christ who takes away the sins of the world. It seems like I should feel really excited about Advent.

But in the past I have definitely struggled. During Advent, it seems like there is a lot of pressure to be excited, hopeful, full of wonder and awe. I feel like I continually need to be like the shepherds up on the hill listening to the angels sing. I have been a teacher my whole professional career, and to be honest, usually around Christmas break I am exhausted from the semester. What I would really like is an Advent hibernation cave. But instead of hibernating, it seems like I should be baking cookies, sending Christmas cards (which I never do), and reveling in the anticipated birth of Christ. I often feel like my Advent emotional state is radically inadequate.

I also think the season of Advent carries mixed messages. During Advent, we continually hear the injunction, “Remember the reason for the season”. This is a wonderful message, and I think we should remember the reason for the season. But we are also continually surrounded with decorations, presents, more presents, holiday festivities, and holiday goodies. Who doesn’t look forward to Christmas presents? Who doesn’t look forward to all of the Christmas goodies? I know I do, and perhaps this has filled me with a perpetual sense of Advent anxiety. Advent comes with a calendar, but it doesn’t come with an Advent meter that lets me know when my excitement over Christ’s birth is too low, and my excitement over Christmas presents and goodies is too high.

But there is another reason that Advent has been difficult for me. Advent is often portrayed as a time when we should be grateful because Christ came to the world to save us personally from our sins. Christ’s salvation for me is wonderful news, but I want Christ’s birth to mean the salvation of the whole world. I want Christ’s birth to mean the end of war, the end of abuse and violence, the end of racism and prejudice, and the end of exploitation. And, indeed, I think Christ’s birth does mean these things, but sometimes I struggle to find this message in Advent celebrations.

But this year, I have become excited about Advent again, and I have two people to thank for this: the French philosopher Rene Girard and President-Elect Donald Trump. Now don’t get me wrong. I am no Trump supporter. Like many people in the nation, I was baffled by his meteoric rise in politics, and I was appalled by his unexpected election. After the election, I spent the rest of November in an emotional stew of dark melancholy and anxiety. I was deeply worried about the state of affairs in my country. Donald Trump’s political campaign was filled with language encouraging racism and violence. His private and political speech also regularly degraded women and seemed to encourage aggression against them. While Trump generally seems surprised that anyone would accuse him of being racist or misogynistic, racist groups across the U.S. heard Trump’s message loud and clear and celebrated his victory by scrawling hateful graffiti in public places and delivering alarmingly xenophobic public speeches. After the election, the world felt more violent, aggressive, uncaring, and dark to me. It seems really weird, then, that I would suggest that Donald Trump was instrumental in helping me get my Advent groove back. But this is where Rene Girard enters the story.

Image result for scapegoat pictures

This painting by William Holman Hunt is called “The Scapegoat”.

During one of my darkest weeks of post-election melancholy, I happened to pick up Rene Girard’s book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.[1] Girard writes about the causes of violence throughout history, and he developed a theory of scapegoating to explain societal violence. While Girard’s overall theory is complex, I think the main ideas are pretty simple. He argues that the defining characteristic of human society is something he calls mimetic desire (mimesis means imitation): people tend to imitate others by desiring what other people desire.[2] This object of desire can be resources, power, desirable partners,  public recognition, or other such objects of desire. This mimetic desire often turns into competition and violence. Girard further suggests that history is full of instances in which mimetic desire spread to a whole group of people, much like wildfire raging through forests. He calls this wildfire of desire mimetic contagion.[3] Girard argues that when mimetic contagion breaks out, it propels a group of people into violence and war against one another unless the group can find some kind of communal release for their violent aggression. This is where the scapegoat comes in. Girard suggests that historically, groups of people stricken with mimetic contagion unconsciously select a person or a group of people to be a scapegoat.[4] They convince themselves that the scapegoat is the cause of the violence in the city. They kill the scapegoat, and this scapegoating becomes a medium of catharsis, allowing the people to relieve the mimetic contagion that threatens to destroy them.[5] And then the cycle begins again.  Girard believes that historical persecutions of Jews and events like witch trials are an example of such scapegoating.[6]

As I was reading about the scapegoat mechanism, I couldn’t help think about the racist and violent language that often seemed to dominate Trump’s campaign. His campaign succeeded in large part, I believe, because it stirred up mimetic contagion and suggested a handy scapegoat[7]: Muslims, undocumented immigrants, and other minorities. This is why the campaign felt so dark and violent to many people. Mimetic contagion and scapegoating have been the dark secret of human nature and civilization, and I think Trump tapped into this dark secret. But here is the good news.

Girard suggests that the birth of Christ was a singular event that upended the cyclical pattern of mimetic contagion and scapegoating. The biblical narrative, Girard suggests, exposes scapegoating for what it is by siding with the scapegoat and proclaiming its innocence.[8] In the story of the crucifixion we clearly see the crowds using Christ, the innocent God-man, as a scapegoat for their violence and aggression. But the story doesn’t end there. When Christ conquers death, he defeats scapegoating, violence, and aggression once and for all.[9] This doesn’t mean that scapegoating and mimetic contagion never break out again. Rather, it means that the scapegoating mechanism is exposed once and for all in its stupidity, futility, and brutality. Furthermore, Christ’s death gives humanity the perfect thing to desire mimetically: the Love, Peace, and Goodness of God towards everyone.[10] That is why Christ came—to save the whole world, individually and politically, from darkness, violence, scapegoating, and diseased desire, which is the very nature of sin. Christ’s death broke the power of this sin over all of us, and we now have the power to see it for what it is. I am reminded of the verse from the Christmas hymn “O Holy Night”.[11]

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

I belong to an online group for people who have struggled deeply with this election. People in the group are increasingly sharing stories about encountering blatant racism and hatred in public…and standing up to it. One woman shared a story of a young woman who confronted a teacher making sexist remarks and tacitly condoning rape. Another woman in the group shared a story of a cashier at a local store who was demeaning someone of a different race. The woman’s husband demanded that the cashier apologize to the man and treat him with respect, which the cashier did. Every day, I read stories of people, inspired by the love in the group, acting with hope, courage, and care for the oppressed, for the scapegoats. These stories fill me with hope. Advent hope.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with my friend Sachio, and I was telling him about Rene Girard. Sachio said, “Wow, Girard sounds like really good Advent reading.” And just like that, I got my Advent groove back. I remembered what I had already known all along: Christ’s birth is the Light that shines in the darkness and exposes violence and scapegoating for what they are. While this darkness still threatens to break out sometimes, the night Christ was born foretold the end of violence, darkness, and oppression in my life, your life, and society. It is the night that brought the power to heal our darkness and make us whole again: O Holy Night.

[1] Rene Girard. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. James G. William, trans. Grasset & Fasquelle. Paris, France: 2001.

[2] Rene Girard, I See Satan Fall Light Lightning, chapter 2.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Rene Girard. The Scapegoat. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore: 1986, pgs. 1-8.

[7] I would like to note here that I believe that many people voted for Trump, not because they were stricken with mimetic contagion but because they believed that Trump was the lesser of two evils. So I do not want to imply that everyone who voted for Trump supported the things he said or were participating in scapegoating.

[8] Rene Girard. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, ch. 9-10.

[9] Ibid, ch. 11

[10] Ibid

[11] “O Holy Night”, Adolphe Adam

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21 thoughts on “Rene Girard, Donald Trump, and How I Got My Advent Groove Back

  1. What if a vote isn’t a way to say ‘yes’? What if an election wasn’t really about selecting who takes office? What if an election was turned into a way to say ‘no’?

    There is a remarkable similarity in how both major party campaigns chose to frame “the decision” to be made during the 2016 presidential election.

    “Look! Here we have the epitome of Washington corruption for the past 25 years–lock her up!!”

    “Look! Here we have a loud mouth bully who is so inept he could only succeed in making a mockery of the presidency–a human manifestation of everything deplorable in our society!!”

    The two lines of attack are structurally identical. Listeners to two very different campaign messages were given one and the same opportunity: a chance stand up in opposition to an imminent threat facing society. The voter’s choice was, in effect, to use her vote to point out the emblem of all evil. Or, at least, it would seem that this was the choice both campaigns wanted voters to think they were making when they voted.

    Yes, DJT did scapegoat Muslims and our undocumented neighbors. By November, however, he was trying to have persuaded people to transfer that fear and outrage to HRC herself. Similarly, when HRC secured the democratic nomination, she had to persuade Bernie supporters to transfer their anger toward The Donald before they directed it against her. The transference of various and sundry fears, outrages, and angers such that they all land in a consolidated whole on a single target–this is Girard’s definition of Satan’s work. This is the switch from (a) the war of all against all, which is bred by mimetic contagion, to (b) the war of all against one, which is sacrifice.

    So I feel the need to take issue with your remark in footnote 7: “I would like to note here that I believe that many people voted for Trump, not because they were stricken with mimetic contagion but because they believed that Trump was the lesser of two evils.”

    If you found no qualities in DJT to recommend him for office–but you voted for him anyway just to keep HRC out, then you participated in a democratic version of banishment. If you had nothing favorable to say about HRC taking office–but you voted for her anyway just to spare our nation from the Trump plague, then you believed the priestly lie that sacrifice can be a step toward peaceful coexistence.

    Some folks voted DJT because they agreed (in spirit–if not all the facts) with the accusations he laid out against illegal immigrants and Muslims. Other folks voted DJT because they agreed in spirit with the accusations he laid out against HRC. Both of these two groups of Trump supporters (and there were more groups than just these two) were duped by the same lie. This is the same lie HRC spread concerning Trump: that a society can take a step forward by clearly identifying who is the worst of the worst. Voting for “the lesser of two evils” should be equated with looking for a sacrificial resolution to a mimetic crisis. It you only voted against someone and you didn’t vote for anything, then you scapegoated someone.

    I don’t want to indict my friends and family who voted “the lesser or two evils” for having done something wrong. I only want to recognize that all my friends and family are human and that I shouldn’t be surprised when they (or I) believe a very specific lie, which (as Girard has shown us) humans of all cultures have had a very strong proclivity toward believing.

    This election year (primaries included) there was a string of attempts to harness the single victim mechanism in order to garner votes. While our electoral system was always able to declare a winner, at no point was there ever any unity to be founded upon the vanquishing of an opponent at the polls. When priests in archaic cultures successfully bring order to violence by way of ritual, the “catharsis” you mentioned (in the body of your post right before footnote 5) spreads naturally. When HRC’s appeal to voters was finally extinguished on election night, DJT had to explicitly call for the very thing that should come as a natural consequence:

    “Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time.”

    The speech writers have DJT pleading for the very thing that should flow freely in the aftermath of a scapegoating episode. Why does he have to make a plea? Because no one actually believes that this unity will ever take shape–not even Trump supporters. We’ve all moved on to looking for our next victim. Whether our sacrificial sights are set on (i) the human filth that DJT is going to drain out of the DC swamp or (ii) DJT himself in four years time or (iii) [BYOScapegoat]. . . whichever way the mediator of our desire leads us . . . all members of the American public are already hunting for their next victim before they ever even fully agreed on the last one!!

    After Christ came, sacrificial systems of all shapes and sizes (even the electoral ones) don’t work. They never worked that great before; but now they don’t work at all. They can’t bring even a temporary peace. In a gruesome inversion of Amos’ picture of plowmen overtaking harvesters, our cycles of expulsion are overlapping and starting afresh before any benefit at all can be gleaned.

    In your third paragraph you contrast “Advent anxiety” against “excitement over Christ’s birth,” as if one always abates the other. But what if the two go hand in hand? What if when “the scapegoating mechanism is exposed once and for all in its stupidity, futility, and brutality” it means heightened stupidity, increased futility, and intensified brutality? What if excitement over the coming kingdom of God entails anxiety over violent outbreaks from people who are trying to make sacrifice work again?

    ===============================
    It’s one thing to be a stranger who comes along and comments longer than the original post; it’s another thing to be a Grinch who grumps all over someone’s newly found Advent groove!! I’ll go ahead and apologize for the former right now. Hope I haven’t been a Grinch.

    Thank you for giving us a clear and concise synopsis Girard’s work. And thank you for inviting your intended audience (and even trolling strangers) to think about how Girard’s ideas can help us understand political rhetoric.

    1. Andrew, thanks for your thoughtful and civil comment. You referred to yourself as a troll at the end of your post—if only all trolls were as civil as you! I appreciate your interaction with my post, as it prompted me to think through several issues. I hope my response addresses some of your concerns.

      First, please note that my criticism of Trump’s campaign does not imply my unqualified endorsement of Hillary or the democratic party. Had Hillary won, I still would have written, but my post would have focused on something else, such as Hillary’s tendency towards hawkish and generally neoliberal policies. In addition, I do think that some of the concerns Trump raised about our current trade practices deserve attention, although it is hard to untangle Trump’s general political concern from his scapegoating proclivities. In all of the above issues, we are in agreement, and I also understand that for some people, this election was more about saying “no”, as you say, than about electing someone to office.

      My primary goal in this post was not to criticize the folks who voted for Trump because I think people voted for him for a number of reasons, some of which might have been good reasons and others of which were certainly bad reasons. My goal was to highlight a dangerous tendency that characterizes Trump’s political rhetoric. I think it is essential to call our attention to this tendency because it historically has led to violence against individuals and groups. That is my concern.

      To that end, I must say that I disagree with your claim that Trump and Hillary’s campaign was structurally similar. Trump’s primary mode of campaigning was scapegoating. It was characterized by this theme: “Things are going badly. It is the fault of this group of people. We need to get rid of them, and everything will be better.” While it is possible and likely that Hillary engaged in some scapegoating behavior, when she criticized Trump, she primarily argues that he was not competent to be president and that his political rhetoric reflects a dark side of America. This is reasonable thing for a candidate to do. She didn’t call for the deportation of Trump or Trump supporters, and she didn’t call for the registration of Trump supporters. She also didn’t actively attempt to discourage voter turnout of the scapegoats.

      I think there are two things that especially indicate the scapegoating nature of Trump’s campaign: (1) Trump’s campaign without his scapegoating would really be no campaign at all. Scapegoating was the substance of it. Hillary’s campaign focused more on the things she wanted to accomplish (that is not to say that her campaign was without its problems). (2) Trump’s campaign inspired numerous instances of scapegoating behavior across the nation. While it is true that there has been negative behavior on the part of some non-Trump supporters, there has not been widespread violent graffiti, name calling, and racist tweeting.

      These two facts suggest that Trump (even if it was unconsciously, but I think it was conscious) appealed primarily to the scapegoating mechanism in his supporters. Once again, had Hillary won, there would certainly be problems to blog about, but it probably wouldn’t be the problem of scapegoating. In addition, no matter who wins the next election, we have significant work to do in building unity in American politics and unity as a species worldwide. (Pardon me for referring to another blog post of mind, but this is what I wrote about in my most recent blog post.)

      As to your suggestion that Advent anxiety and Advent hope might go hand in hand, I certainly agree with you. While Girard suggests to us that Christ’s death exposed the scapegoating mechanism for what it is, that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t happen. That we have a tendency to scapegoat should prompt us to be concerned and vigilante. That’s why I wrote this post. I want to continue to point out the scapegoating mechanism wherever it occurs. Being watchful, aware, and vocal (i.e. practicing an active and hopeful anxiety) is how we prevent scapegoating atrocities from occurring again.

      1. I think that a helpful insight this interaction has shown me is that speaking about scapegoating and politics seems to be able to address two kinds of phenomenon whose relationship, and even perhaps numerical identity, must be questioned in various ways. It strikes me that the author and commenter may be speaking about these two, prima facie, distinct conceptions using the same name scapegoating. The author seems to be addressing the tendency in mimetic crisis of how thinking in persecutory terms, of us and them, leads historically privileged to rhetorically identify less privileged groups as the source of their impurity. This leads to a desire to expiate these elements from the larger group. This kind of persecution seems to be primarily against the less privileged group by the more. The author notes that the Trump campaign seems to have some sort of qualitative, quantitative, and/or structural difference in the way that it appealed to this logic than the Clinton campaign. This dovetails with how the author thinks that the Gospel short circuits the scapegoating process and reorients mimetic desire to imitate Christ. In a political context this hope shows us that through education and the exposing power if the cross, we can do social life differently. Questions about this assertion seem to me to miss the more fundamental question of what the author and commentor mean by scapegoating.

        Turning to the commenter, it strikes me that he is addressing how the all against all violence of mimetic crisis tends to lead to whole communities, in a univocal voice, turning against a particular scapegoat. This seems to be slightly different as this kind of scapegoating is not restrained by an us/them divide within the community. This scapegoating process incites all groups who are not the scapegoat in the scapegoating process, regardless of the privilege dynamics. The commenter seems to be asking if voting is the form of this concept of scapegoating, rather than rhetorical action by any one person. This kind of system (voting as symbolic unifying sacrifice), the commenter notes, has been short circuted by the Gospel and shown to be a hollow project of diminishing returns. I speculate that such a process would, after Christ according to Girard, be like chasing a first high. It would never bear fruit, and lead to a kind of collapse of any form the unifying sacrificial system that is attempted. This would cast the Democratic process in an ever increasing pessimistic light. In this framing it seems that both candidates rhetoric plays some structural role in casting them as the source of impurity that must be expiated through the vote. This is likely why the commenter seems to be at odds with author about who is scapegoating. So far this casts the hope of Advent in a somewhat dim light. I would assume that the hope of Advent for the commenter is that in the Church we see the ability for community to reject sacrifice as a unifying principle and accept Communion. Such a radical restructuring of reality might be possible within a political sphere, but would require structural changes.

        At this point in my comment disclosure is in order.

        1. I am friends with both Shelly and Andrew, and have spoken with both about Girard. Andrew and I wrestled with a Girardian account of the atonement, he was more able to appreciate it than I, through a study of Heim’s work, based on Girard heavily, on the Atonement.

        2. I shared the blog with Andrew, as he is very interested in Girad, and has read primary sources Shelly cited. I am encouraged to see such respectful disagreement among friends. This phenomenon is part of my Advent cheer.

        3. I am an adherent to a Penal Substitutionary View of the Atonement, by biblical conviction and creed. This view, which I understand Girard to see as Satanic, likely is a barier to understanding Girard’s robustly. I have tried to interact with Girard charitablly, through a few months of studying him by way of Heim, another limitation. Hopefully this is apparent, and I welcome correction.

      2. Sean: I really appreciate your close and careful reading of both the post and Andrew’s comments. I apologize that I am responding so late to this comment and also that my rather short reply may not do justice to your ideas above. I think you may be right that Andrew is suggesting that scapegoating is inherent in the democratic/voting process, and I think you are very insightful to note that this is probably a basic disagreement Andrew and I have. (I hope he will correct is if we are wrong). I understand why Andrew or someone else would think that voting often has a scapegoating element to it, but I disagree that voting must be inherently scapegoating in the Girardian sense. It is possible, I believe, to value the ideas and political contributions of another party but to believe that the other party does a better job of supporting human rights, democracy, freedom, the values of the kingdom, etc. If I, for instance, vote with this view in mind, I am not using voting as an act of scapegoating. Rather, I am using voting as a means to support a particular conclusion to a political debate. I view politics hopefully and believe that we can definitely take this latter approach to voting (rather than the former scapegoating approach). I would be interested to hear more about the structural changes you believe are necessary to vote in a non-scapegoating manner.

      3. “That we have a tendency to scapegoat should prompt us to be concerned and vigilant. That’s why I wrote this post. I want to continue to point out the scapegoating mechanism WHEREEVER it occurs” [emphasis added (in caps because I couldn’t figure out how to use italics)].

        I agree wholeheartedly, Shelly. This is why I will rather doggedly persist in questioning your position that “had Hillary won, there would certainly be problems to blog about, but it probably wouldn’t be the problem of scapegoating.” With all due respect, I think there most certainly is a blog post to be written concerning the problem of scapegoating in the Clinton 2016 campaign.

        You said it is “reasonable” for a candidate to decry her opponent as incompetent and point out how his rhetoric reflects a dark side of America. Perhaps this is “fair game” in our political environment; but ad hominem attacks don’t become “reasonable” just by being true. What exactly do we gain in our debates when we permit ad hominem attacks against only-those-people-who-target-the-defenseless?

        In a chapter entitled ‘The Bad News about Revelation’ from S. Mark Heim’s book _Saved from Sacrifice_ (2006), passages from Revelation are read as a warning/description of a new type of scapegoating—a type that can only occur in the aftermath of the cross. For Heim, Revelation paints the horrific depiction of a very particular (and false) resolution to mimetic contagion in which a community unifies in opposition against someone who is guilty of orchestrating scapegoating violence. The empathy for sacrificial victims, which is awakened by the cross, is perverted into to call for vengeance against organizers of victimage. “The victimizers! They shall be our victims!” cries the mob—unaware that they themselves become victimizers as they say it. In so doing, the community adopts a portion of Christian revelation (empathy for victims) and manages to return straight away to pagan behavior and probably concoct new mythologies. They pervert the message of the cross to validate the very thing the cross dismantles: the single victim mechanism.

        Heim offers two historical examples of when communities have employed rhetoric that scapegoats scapegoaters: Christian anti-Semitism and some Communist revolutions. I invite you, when you have time, to re-examine Hillary’s campaign rhetoric and see if it doesn’t fit the apocalyptic mold Heim sees in Revelation.

        At the risk of discrediting my attempts here at a dispassionate analysis, I will add that, when it became apparent that The Donald would be the next president of the United States, I became sick to my stomach and lost sleep for days. It has been incredibly difficult for me to suggest that this individual was targeted as a scapegoat by a candidate I supported. I find the man utterly revolting; I want to scream “He—of all people—does NOT merit empathy! The cross calls for us to come to the defense of pretty-much-everybody-BUT-him! The guy who deliberately targets the defenseless—this is the one we need to chase out of town!”

        And yet, I have come to see how a careful reading of scripture (especially Revelation) leads me to question the disgust I have literally felt rumbling in my stomach. Is DJT really the source of any problems in our society? Is he a pollutant who contributes to the worsening condition of our society? Did the Trump campaign actually inspire numerous instances of scapegoating behavior across the nation?

        Or . . .

        Is DJT a sign of the times? Is his popularity merely a highly visible symptom of a societal illness? As frightful as this may sound, what if Trump’s campaign had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the scapegoating behavior we see spreading across our nation . . . what if the spread of scapegoating behavior across our nation is what gave life to the Trump campaign?

        Big problems seem fixable so long as we have a scapegoat. Hillary’s campaign tried to present Trump’s-defeat-at-the-polls as an easy fix—when, in reality, the problem is far too big for his his electoral defeat to have had any real effect. I’m not saying that Trump is innocent; I’m saying he isn’t guilty of what Clinton (on many occasions) found it convenient to accuse him of. If this is true—if DJT the politician was a scapegoat used to cover up the real problem (viz. the rise in scapegoating rhetoric)—then defeating him at the polls would have done precisely nothing to stem rise of scapegoating rhetoric. Scapegoating a plague dog offers no lasting relief from a plague; scapegoating a scapegoater offers no lasting relief from scapegoating.

        I would be very interested to know if you think Heim has accurately applied Girard’s theories to the apocalyptic passages in the Gospels and in Revelation. Then, perhaps, we could move on to whether or the Clinton campaign can be added to a list of scapegoaters who scapegoat scapegoaters for being scapegoaters.

        In the meantime, I wanted to share this link:

        I found it amusing that both “American presidents” and “Christmas” came up in a conversation with Rene Girard on apocalypse. For readers of this blog post, I’m only suggesting the first 13 minutes. However, I highly recommend that whole 5 part series for anyone looking to for an introduction to Girard’s work—or anyone who finds French accents amusing.

      4. Hello There, Andrew: Please pardon my very tardy reply to your interesting post above. Please also pardon my somewhat short reply to your ideas. I really appreciated the way you illuminated Heim’s point about scapegoaters becoming new scapegoats. This is a really interesting point, and it is one I will have to consider more. (I may have addressed some of your concerns on this issue in my post “Meditation from the Belly of the Whale” (consider reading that post).

        I agree with you that there are certainly people who scapegoat Trump or Trump supporters in the classic Girardian sense. Here is the main point of contention I believe we still have: I cannot agree with with you that Hillary’s campaign scapegoated Trump in the classic Girardian sense, and I maintain Trump’s campaign did indeed scapegoat others in that classic sense. Several times throughout his campaign, Trump either consciously or unconsciously encouraged violence through deportation or physical aggression against scapegoat groups.

        I agree with you that Hillary engaged in ad hominem attacks, but she did not encourage violence against Trump (either through aggression or deportation). Ad hominem attacks are bad logic and bad politics, but they are not scapegoating in the classic sense. So I believe you and I still disagree on this point, and I am not sure that we are going to be able to resolve this disagreement. You seem to be defining the term “scapegoating” in a wider, more permissive way than Girard does. You are, of course, welcome to do this, but this wider definition of the term is not the kind of scapegoating I am addressing in this blog post, and I believe that is at the heart of our disagreement. (By the way, I still take this to be a congenial disagreement and appreciate your thoughts).

        Having said all of this, I do agree with you that there are some folks on the left who engage in classic scapegoating behavior insofar as they encourage violence against the right as the symbol of all that is wrong with the world. In addition, I agree with you that scapegoating is a problem of both the right and the left, and it should indeed concern us whenever it appears.

        Lastly, it may help you to know that I am neither a republic nor a democrat, and so I am not trying to push a certain political agenda in this post.

  2. Oh wow–in that last paragraph, I meant “vigilant”, not “vigilante”–good grief. I have not yet figured out how to edit my comments on WordPress, so please pardon the couple of typos in the comment above.

  3. Hi Shelly,

    A while back, on January 19, addressing Sean, you wrote: “I think you may be right that Andrew is suggesting that scapegoating is inherent in the democratic/voting process, and I think you are very insightful to note that this is probably a basic disagreement Andrew and I have. (I hope he will correct us if we are wrong).”

    No, I did not mean to suggest that the democratic/voting process necessarily entails scapegoating. I do, however, hope to demonstrate that scapegoating and the democratic/voting process are quite compatible and can easily overlap. Neither is inherent in the other, but the two cohere frightfully well.

    I am convinced, and hope to persuade others, that there is a very fruitful investigation to be had into the how, when, and why politicians employ a particular brand of rhetorical strategy, namely those arguments by which the blame for various and sundry problems is transferred onto a single opponent. However, before we move any further into an analysis of this transference and the political operatives who seek to achieve it, I believe we must clarify a crucial term.

    On January 19, addressing Andrew, Shelly wrote: “I agree with you that there are certainly people who scapegoat Trump or Trump supporters in the classic Girardian sense. Here is the main point of contention I believe we still have: I cannot agree with you that Hillary’s campaign scapegoated Trump in the classic Girardian sense, and I maintain Trump’s campaign did indeed scapegoat others in that classic sense. Several times throughout his campaign, Trump either consciously or unconsciously encouraged violence through deportation or physical aggression against scapegoat groups”

    Three times you refer the “classic sense” of the term scapegoat. Your usage implies a discrete semantic range for this word, which would be distinct from the “modern sense” of the same term. Recognition of the disparate lexical shades attached to this word is certainly explicit in Girard’s writings. In _Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World _ , Girard draws attention to the work of ethnographers (beginning with Frazer) who created a cross-cultural catalogue of ritual institutions in which a pollutant is expiated from a community. This anthropological research is directed expressly at people’s deliberate religious exercises and the consciously held beliefs that inform those practices—to the exclusion of the spontaneous and unconscious transference of blame referred to by the “modern sense” of the word scapegoat.

    In your comment, you take the “classic sense” of the term scapegoat to be synonymous with the “Girardian sense” of this word. You also seem to take “physical aggression” as a necessary component of the social phenomenon that Girard argues Biblical texts seek to disclose. Is this the correct reading of Girard? Girard does, unquestionably, employ a classic/modern distinction in his analysis of our critical term. Does he, however, identify the classic sense of scapegoating to be the sole object of his study? Does he limit his analysis to physical acts of aggression and expulsion—to the exclusion of those instances of blame transference that stops short of physical bloodletting, non-metaphorical banishment, and literal incarceration?

    I believe we could answer these questions most directly by reading a subsection of _Things Hidden_ entitled The Double Semantic Sense of the Word “Scapegoat.” However, this book has not been mentioned yet in own conversation. Shelly, I won’t ask you to read more (as I did with Heim before), but I will ask you to read more closely. Below, you will find selected passages from chapter 12 of _I See Satan Fall Like Lightning_. I’ll ask all readers to keep the questions in the preceding paragraph in mind as they read through them.

    (Several of these quotations are paragraph length. This is for Sean’s benefit. He has not read any portion of this book, and yet, I would hope he might read enough here to feel comfortable weighing in on this issue, over which you and I so obviously disagree. I ask Sean to merely assume that the quotations I’ve selected are representative of Girard’s position and proceed provisionally with the awareness that he may not have gotten the full story on Girard from his buddy Andrew’s clippings from one chapter. I ask Shelly to challenge my selection decisions mercilessly should they strike her as misrepresentative of Girard’s overall analysis of scapegoats in _I See Satan_.)

    “In the primitive and archaic world there are rituals of expulsion everywhere, and they give us the impression of enormous cynicism combined with a childish naiveté. In the case of the scapegoat the process of substitution is so transparent that we understand it at first glance. It is this comprehension that the modern usage of “scapegoat” expresses; in other words, it is a spontaneous interpretation of the relationship between the ancient Jewish ritual and transferences of hostility in our world today. These latter are not longer part of religious ritual, but they always exist, usually in an attenuated form.” (155)

    “In a world where violence is no longer subject to ritual and is the object of strict prohibitions, anger and resentment cannot or dare not, as a rule, satisfy their appetites on whatever object directly arouses them. The kick the employee doesn’t dare give his boss, he will give his dog when he returns home in the evening. Or maybe he will mistreat his wife and his children, without fully realizing that he is treating them as “scapegoats.” Victims substituted for the real target are the equivalent of sacrificial victims in distant times. In talking about this kind of phenomenon, we spontaneously utilize the expression “scapegoat.” . . . Scapegoat phenomena, therefore, continue to play a definite role in our world at the level of individuals and communities, but they are scarcely studied as such.” (156)

    “Today as in the past, to have a scapegoat is to believe one doesn’t have any. The phenomenon in question doesn’t usually lead any longer to acts of physical violence, but it does lead to a “psychological” violence that is easy to camouflage. Those who are accused of participating in hostile transference never fail to protest their good faith, in all sincerity.” (157)

    “Metaphorical recourse to this ritual expression, “scapegoating,” is often arbitrary in practice, but it rests on a logic that makes sense within its own frame of reference. The similarities are great between phenomena of attenuated expulsion that we observe every day in our world and ancient scapegoat rituals, as well as countless other rituals of the same sort—so great that they must be real.” (157-8)

    “Scapegoating phenomena cannot survive in many instances except by becoming more subtle, by resorting to more and more complex casuistry in order to elude the self-criticism that follows scapegoaters like their shadow.” (159)

    “Thus the expression “scapegoat” designates (1) the victim of the ritual described in Leviticus, (2) all the victims of similar rituals that exist in archaic societies and that are called rituals of expulsion, and finally (3) all the phenomena of nonritualized collective transference that we observe or believe we observe around us. This last meaning leaps over the barrier that anthropologists attempt to maintain between archaic rituals and their modern substitutes, the phenomena whose persistence shows that, yes, we have changed a little since the time of archaic rituals but less than we would like to believe.
    I believe that the modern usage of “scapegoat” is basically valid. This is contrary to anthropologists who want to maintain the illusory autonomy of their discipline and who avoid using the expression “scapegoat” so they won’t have to involve themselves in complex analyses that become inevitable when the absolute separation of the archaic and the modern is abolished. My own view is that the modern uses of the term are a sign that the Jewish and Christian revelation is becoming continually more effective and so is far from being a dead letter in our society.
    The modern shedding of ritual brings to light the psychosocial substratum of ritual phenomena. We cry “scapegoat” to stigmatize all the phenomena of discrimination—political, ethnic, religious, social, racial, etc.—that we observe about us. We are right. We easily see now that scapegoats multiply wherever human groups seek to lock themselves into a given identity—communal, local, national, ideological, racial, religious, and so on.
    The arguments I make are based on the popular insight that crops up in the modern sense of “scapegoat.” I am attempting to develop the implications of this insight. It is richer in true knowledge than all the concepts anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists have invented. All discourses on exclusion, discrimination, racism, etc. will remain superficial as long as they don’t address the religious foundations of the problems that besiege our society.” (160)

    At this point, I’ll return to Shelly’s January 19 post addressed to me:“You seem to be defining the term “scapegoating” in a wider, more permissive way than Girard does. You are, of course, welcome to do this, but this wider definition of the term is not the kind of scapegoating I am addressing in this blog post, and I believe that is at the heart of our disagreement.”

    In light of the passages above, it appears that stressing the continuity between “classic” and “modern” scapegoats does not—in itself—risk any departure from Girardian analysis. Quite the contrary, these seem to indicate that Shelly is departing from Girard by emphasizing a discontinuity between “classic” scapegoats and “modern” scapegoats.

    I believe Girard would contend that it is a mistake to insist that aggressions and expulsions must become physical before the targets qualify as scapegoats. He wants his readers to classify the “classic” scapegoats and their bloody demises as a subset of the set of all scapegoats. He lament ethnographers that take “classic” scapegoats to be the template for all scapegoats everywhere.

    Dr. Johnson, it has taken me while to write this post for two very related reasons. One, it is with no small amount of apprehension that I have mustered up the audacity ask someone who reads philosophic texts for a living to reread certain passages more closely. I hope this doesn’t strike you (or anyone else still reading this far down the comment train) as impudence. If I didn’t think you were qualified to assess my reading of Girard and point out my faults, I would not have posted this. If I didn’t have good reason to believe you are a teacher with a gracious attitude toward honest inquiry, I would not have come to you and asked you to “read theses passages over my shoulder”—as it were—and help me understand. In short, it’s only because Sean has shared his high esteem for you as a caring and critical interlocutor that I have taken the liberty to be so challenging.

    Two, I have been rereading _I See Satan_ in its entirety, and I have limited myself to no more than one chapter a day because I did not want to fall headlong into the flow of the author’s presentation like the first time I read it. Rather, with the turning of every page, I wanted to keep the relevant questions at the forefront of my mind: Is there always a physical dimension in Girard’s conception of scapegoating violence? Do consolidators of blame who stop short of calling for a physical manifestation of violence thereby escape the epithet of “scapegoater”? I knew my answers were a “no” to both questions; but I tried to keep your view in mind the whole time. I would ask myself after every chapter, could I give Shelly’s “yes” answers to those two questions and still agree with what Girard wrote here. Most of the time, I could. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to chapter 12 that I felt I had the grounds to write this post.

    That said, I would be remiss if I did not draw attention to a passage in this book that might appear to speak against my position. In chapter 13, Girard argues that our world is steadily progressing toward a fuller realization of an explicit concern for victims, and that this is the true engine of global progress.

    “The most effective power of transformation is not revolutionary violence but the modern concern for victims. What pervades this concern and makes it effective is a true knowledge of oppression and persecution. It seems that this knowledge was at first very limited, and then it became bolder by virtue of its early successes. To summarize this knowledge, we must return to the analyses of the preceding chapter: it is the knowledge that separates the ritual meaning of the expression “scapegoat” from its modern meaning. It deepens continually, and soon the mimetic reading of the structure of persecution will become more and more widespread.” (168)

    If I’m right and Girard sees classic scapegoats as a subset of a larger set of all scapegoats, why would he say that the true knowledge of oppression and persecution is one that SEPARATES the ritual meaning of “scapegoat” from its modern meaning? Shouldn’t I expect Girard to say the exact opposite: that this true knowledge would UNIFY the ritual meaning with its modern meaning?

    No, Girard’s analysis does bring all scapegoats together (whether or not they were victims of physical aggression). He able to do so by employing the modern meaning of scapegoats in his analysis of all scapegoats everywhere (whether ancient or contemporary). He could not have achieved this unification with the ritual meaning of scapegoats. The ritual definition posits a real transference of sins before the act of expulsion; the modern definition asserts that people are merely pretending that they can transfer their sins to someone else before they proceed to vent their anger on an arbitrarily victim. The ritual meaning identifies a scapegoat as something that can and does resolve problems; the modern meaning identifies scapegoats a as something that can only aggravate problems. Girard UNIFIES all scapegoats, so that they are all of one type and serve the same purpose in the context of a mimetic crises. And yet, Girard SEPARATES two meanings for the expression “scapegoats”: one characteristic of Israelite traditional religions, and the other is Christian.

    Is this an okay way to read this paragraph? Or do you still think I am force-projecting my own understanding of scapegoats onto Girard’s work?

    1. Hello Andrew:

      Thank you for your extremely thoughtful, detailed, and gracious reply to my post. You were quite right to challenge my comment about the classic Girardian use of the term scapegoating. Your gracious reply has made several things clear to me. First, I made a rookie mistake of assuming that one quick reading of one book by Girard entitled me to speak authoritatively on his use of the term scapegoating. I should have known better. Second, you did a very nice job of highlighting crucial passages that indeed show that Girard is writing about both archaic and modern, more subtle forms of scapegoating. You were quite right to insist that I read the text more closely. I vividly remembering reading that passage about kicking one’s dog or bullying one’s family as a subtle iteration of the scapegoating mechanism. I am a bit chagrined that I did not catch on sooner to the two different types of scapegoating—the first (more archaic) which I was focusing on, and the second (more modern) that you, perhaps, were focusing on.
      You have definitely helped me to gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of Girard’s use of this important term, and I plan on ordering both __Things Hidden__ and __The Scapegoat__ so that I can read these books more in depth. I also want to commend you on your careful and thorough reading of __I See Satan Fall Like Lighting__ as well as your careful citing of salient passages. You have been an exemplar of a thoughtful interlocutor on this thread. I also think that I have a much better understanding of what your concern is—at least I think I do. I take it that you are concerned that whether we engage in archaic or modern forms of scapegoating, both are dehumanizing to people and prevent us from addressing the root of our problems and critical issues in society. You are also concerned that both parties engage in scapegoating. Given the expanded definition of scapegoating we have been discussing, I agree with your concern. I do indeed believe that especially the more subtle, psychological form of scapegoating is a problem of both parties, although I still have the strong impression that in this election, President Trump’s campaign engaged in more scapegoating, or perhaps a more dangerous form of scapegoating, than Clinton’s. However, this is not a point that I wish to argue further right now because I do agree with you that scapegoating (more broadly defined) is, indeed, a problem of both parties.
      Rather than discussing who won the most recent scapegoating award (or if the candidates are tied for that award), I would like to raise two concerns about dealing with scapegoating in our current administration. I would like to know what you think about these concerns. First, let us grant that scapegoating occurs in both parties. Let us also grant that both types of scapegoating are a serious problem we must address. Having granted both of these points, here are my two concerns. First, it strikes me that while all forms of scapegoating are a serious problem, archaic violent scapegoating presents a more serious, immediate threat. Subtle, psychological scapegoating is no doubt destructive, but it does not usually kill or maim people, all things being equal. Therefore, if President Trump’s brand of scapegoating raises the specter of archaic violent scapegoating (and I believe it already has and still does), there is good reason to be especially concerned about it because its consequences are irrevocable.

      Second, while both parties engage in scapegoating, we need to be especially concerned about scapegoating that occurs with the ascendant political power, while not forgetting the scapegoating of the other party. For example, it seems wholly unproductive to address President Trump’s scapegoating by arguing “Democrats/Liberals/Whoever scapegoat, too”. (I am not suggesting that this is what you are doing, Andrew. When you first wrote, I thought that, but now I think you are doing something different and much more productive). All things being equal, it is essential to address issues of scapegoating with the ascendant political power (especially when the power controls both houses in our country) because their scapegoating can translate into policies, which crush people’s ability to live. As a person with liberal leanings and an academic, I know I have been scapegoated before. Nevertheless, I am much more concerned about the scapegoating going on with refugees, undocumented immigrants, Jews, and other minority groups right now because their lives are in danger. Mine is not. As Scripture continually admonishes us to defend the oppressed and the victimized, I believe Christians have a special calling to be specifically concerned about this kind of scapegoating, and that is especially the type of concern that motivated this original blog post on Trump and scapegoating.

      These are two concerns that I would like to hear you address if you are so inclined. Thank you so much again for your thoughtful interaction on this thread. Peace to you.

  4. Scapegoating is scapegoating, but the world we inhabit is changing.

    In a pagan context, scapegoating is “the transference of blame to an innocent victim.” The act of transference, however, always goes unnoticed. A mythological veil covers it up. Pagan tales of human origins also dissemble a second transference, in which a community’s surrogate victim is divinized. Pagans are never made conscious of either the first or the second transference; they merely tell (and are told) mythologies.

    In the Biblical religion of the Israelites, people are made aware of the second transference that archaic religions conceal, i.e. the human capacity to “make” gods. The Israelites call this transference idolatry, and they reject the practice out of hand as ludicrous.[1] As for the first transference, Hebrew scripture (again in contrast to pagan mythologies) makes explicit reference to the practice. This time, however, the practice is not dismissed out of hand as ludicrous; it is validated and ritualized. For the Israelites, a priest really can transfer the sins of the nation to a goat. This would be news to pagans who, even though they participated in such acts regularly, never realized that this is what they and their priests were doing when they honored their gods in sacrificial rituals. Still, for both pagans and Israelites, scapegoating is “the transference of blame to an innocent victim”; the difference lies in whether or not the practitioners are aware of what they have done.

    In our modern context, too, scapegoating refers to “the transference of blame to an innocent victim.” We stand squarely within Hebraic religious heritage, because we are most capable precisely where pagans were most incapable: we can make explicit reference to the practice of scapegoating when it occurs. However, in modern worlds (unlike the prescribed religious practice of the Pentateuch), scapegoating can never be validated under any circumstances. Today, scapegoating is categorically immoral. No one believes that the blame for internecine strife can be successfully transferred from community members to a goat. The scapegoating of Leviticus 16 is just as absurd as to us as idolatry was to the ancient Israelites. In this respect, we stand squarely outside the traditions of our Hebraic cultural predecessors. Ask any Levitical priest if blame can be transferred to an innocent victim, and he’ll say “Most assuredly, that is a large part of how we reconcile the nation of Israel to YHWH every year on the Day of Atonement.” Ask anyone today the same question and she’ll say “People certainly try it all the time. The thing is . . . those folks delude themselves. They pervert justice when they scapegoat, and they always come away looking foolish.”

    In all three contexts, “the transference of blame to an innocent victim” is one and the same social phenomenon. The difference between the modern and archaic usage of the term is a matter of human understanding—not a matter of human behavior, which has been consistent throughout. What we have is the unveiling of truth. At each stage, something was uncovered. Israelites saw, with clarity, a transference that pagan mythologies obfuscated. Christian revelation (which spread through the world like yeast working its way through a lump of dough) exposes the injustice of blame transference. The Torah was not, in any way, wrong to prescribe ceremonies that purposely drew practitioners attention to blame transference; this was the only way to get to the truth of what humans were actually doing in a world that was ordered by the surrogate victim mechanism. In Christ, however, a new world has arrived. The cosmos is no longer ordered like it once was. Heaven (human understanding of what ought to be) and earth (human understanding of what is) have both passed away. A new heaven and earth arrive. This doesn’t mean that Torah has been abolished; it means Torah has been brought to its moment of completion in the inauguration of the kingdom of God by the work of a truly faithful Israelite. The old is gone, a new manner of being human is here.

    Shelly, in our discussion regarding the difference between the archaic and modern notions of scapegoating, you have distinguished the two by using the same boundary that runs between ‘brazen physical aggression’ and ‘subtle psychological manipulation’. I hope my comments to this point make clear that I readily concede, in principle, an archaic/modern distinction when defining the term; but I disagree with your chosen line of demarcation—and I believe I am following Girard in my disagreement.

    When, in the third paragraph of your March 14 comment, you write, “. . . let us grant that scapegoating occurs in both parties. Let us also grant that both types of scapegoating are a serious problem we must address. Having granted both of these points, here are my two concerns . . .” I feel the need to interrupt. I simply cannot “grant the serious of all types of scapegoating” just so we can then move on to focus on those particular forms of scapegoating that are supposedly more destructive than others. I can only “grant the seriousness of all types of scapegoating” because that is the Gospel truth.[2] In your second paragraph, you refer to an “expanded definition of scapegoating.” I would prefer to talk about a fully unveiled definition of scapegoating.

    Refresher of Shelly’s first concern by way of a snippet: “First, it strikes me that while all forms of scapegoating are a serious problem, archaic violent scapegoating presents a more serious, immediate threat. Subtle, psychological scapegoating is no doubt destructive, but it does not usually kill or maim people, all things being equal. Therefore, if President Trump’s brand of scapegoating raises the specter of archaic violent scapegoating (and I believe it already has and still does), there is good reason to be especially concerned about it because its consequences are irrevocable.”

    Indeed, the thought of attempting to reinstate archaic violence in a modern context is especially frightful. We agree here, but not—I think—for the same reason. The special danger of archaic violence today is that it doesn’t work in the modern world like it did in archaic cultures. People used to be able to hold sacred violence distinct from profane violence. Now, the two have been rendered indistinguishable by the Gospel. Even if certain individuals can still manage the bifurcation in their own minds, it won’t be accepted across the wider population—western culture now takes for granted the dictum that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

    So, for example, if Trump managed to implement a campaign of deportations, which he then publicized to rally support for his presidency, this would be truly scary. Not simply because it would certainly split families and lead to unnecessary injuries/loss of life—but scary because this campaign could never be perceived as sacred (reconciliatory) in our modern context. Supporters of such a campaign would never attain a cathartic resolution and would, therefore, persistently call for more and more deportations; whereas opponents of such a deportation campaign would be led to take it as a call to arms and reciprocate in kind. The primary threat of the archaic sacred in the modern world is not that it entails more bloody exclusions than bloodless exclusions; the special danger owes to the tottering instability of any attempt at a modern sacred—every violent [3] act (bloody or not) opens two new channels of violence (one for supports, one for opponents). So long as reconciliation is sought through sacred violence, escalation is unavoidable in the modern world.

    Refresher of Shelly’s second concern by way of another snippet: “All things being equal, it is essential to address issues of scapegoating with the ascendant political power (especially when the power controls both houses in our country) because their scapegoating can translate into policies, which crush people’s ability to live.”

    Mimetic theory warns us against “pushing back” against rivals merely because they are rivals; this is precisely the type of reciprocity that leads to crises.

    I have to assume that there is—somewhere—a school of political science that affirms the ability of opposing forces to push one another toward progress. I haven’t actually read any philosophical works on this idea, and I honestly can’t even name drop a single significant figure in the field. Let me confess my ignorance, and say that I am merely reacting to my informal encounters with this school of thought. For example, in an interview, Noam Chomsky might say something along these lines: “When I’m in Ramallah I critique the Palestinian Authority; the next day, speaking in Tel Aviv, of course, I’ll be criticizing the Israeli government.”

    Now, Chomsky doesn’t seem to think that the governing powers directing Israel and Palestine can serve each other as dialectical partners in a back and forth shuffle toward justice; and yet he does seem to privilege himself with just such a position. He wants to affirm that, as an academic, he can push back against abuses of power in what amounts to the promotion justice.

    Do you see the bind I’m in?

    On the one hand, I want to believe in the work of academic social critics like Chomsky. (There are probably better examples of what I’m getting at, but I’m just a dude who pokes around youtube—so I’m going with Noam as my example. I hope it is clear what I’m getting at.) On the other hand, Girard’s analysis of human nature gravely cautions against activity that is purely adversarial.

    So, we must ask ourselves if political ascendancy, by itself, can be taken as a reason to make someone a special target of our criticism—lest our “criticism” become a mask for transference of blame to someone who is innocent of the very problems we claim to be addressing. We cannot merely assume that rulers, by virtue of being “in power”, deserve extra push-pack. We must honestly ask these questions: which societal ills are our leaders’ rhetoric and policies really contributing to, and which societal ills are our “leaders” merely blabbering and floundering in the face of? If we merely assume that the powerful deserve rebuke because things are bad . . . if we, through a collective transference, transform a spectacularly emblematic instantiation of a problem into the source of our problem, then our critical push-back becomes nothing more than an effort to thwart an arbitrarily selected rival . . . and we fail to follow the Gospel’s example of a fully human, fully divine model of desire. Once we descend into conflictive mimesis, we are no long capable of contributing to the corrective forces that bend the arch of history in King’s vision toward justice. If we allow ourselves be scandalized by Trump (or any other “leader”), our efforts to thwart “damnable oppressors” will blind us to the true nature of our problems, and we will proceed blindly contributing to the spread mimetic contagion.

    We now live in world where accusations of scapegoating can themselves be used to scapegoat. As Gil Bailie puts it in _Violence Unveiled _, we bombard our enemies with their victims. “You marginalize these people!” “Oh yea, well you marginalize those people!” To find the narrow entryway into the kingdom of God one must, at every moment, scrupulously avoid participating in every form of scapegoating. Letting “lesser” forms of scapegoating pass so as to directly combat the more “egregious” forms is precisely the manner of redirection that scapegoaters always employ. Let’s say several bands of witch-hunters are terrorizing innocent people in our village. If we get caught up in an attempt to round up the worst of the witch-hunters, we can slip into a witch-hunt of our own making. This is how wide and spacious the road to destruction is; it will funnel in even those who come to destroy it.

    [1] In chapter one of an abridged translation of Yehezkel Kaufmann’s multivolume _The Religion of Israel_ (trans. Greenburg 1972), Hebrew scripture is shown to be lacking in its criticism of pagan deities. Biblical authors seem to think that pagans actually worship the idols themselves, as if they were practicing some form of fetishism. The ubiquitous line of attack throughout scripture is that “the gods of the nations” are pathetic because they are wood and stone. Clearly, polytheism is no small issue in the Bible. Why, then, would Biblical authors restrict themselves exclusively to rhetoric that amounts to little more than a cheap shot at a straw man? Kaufmann sees only two possibilities. (i) The Biblical authors so adamantly disbelieved in pagan gods that they chose to express it with blatant dismissal. (ii) The Biblical authors were truly ignorant of paganism. If it were (i), argues Kaufmann, then the authors of scripture failed at their presumed objective, viz. to present a cogent case that undermines the belief of people who actually did believe in pagan gods and sincerely employed idols in their worship of such deities. In other words, it would mean Biblical authors deliberately chose to write texts that expounded an anti-polytheism bravado, and they were only ever intended for audiences of incurious monotheists. So, Kaufmann prefers (ii). The ham-fisted treatment of polytheistic religion in the Bible owes to a true ignorance on the part of its authors. They could not thoroughly dismantle paganism, because they didn’t understand how it worked—they had far too little exposure to paganism to posses any nuanced comprehension of it. At this point, it should be noted that one of Kaufmann’s expressed goals was to argue against the view (first put forward by Wellhausen) that, until the exile, there was little, if any, difference between Israelite folk religion and paganism (see the Introduction of Kaufmann1972). Kaufmann’s response to Wellhausen’s students is this: if you are right . . . if nearly everybody in Israel (except the religious elite) was inclined toward polytheism, how exactly could a priestly cast get away with compiling scriptures that included such an impoverished argument against the very thing everyone else in Israel already believed?

    I think Girard gives us a third explanation of the Biblical treatment of idolatry. The motif that idols are (laughably) handmade, along with the Biblical insistence not to budge one step beyond this single point of criticism, is a laser focused synecdoche. It is a rhetorical move that allows the entirety of paganism (in all its variations) to be roundly rebutted by focusing on the single component they all have in common: all pagan deities are manmade (by means of communal transference) just as all pagan idols are manmade (with chisels and whittling knives).

    [2] In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that a meeting of the Sanhedrin is appropriate for a man who calls his brother a fool (Matthew 5.21ff). No doubt, this is an exaggeration; Jesus doesn’t want his followers traveling to Jerusalem to convene with religious officials every time someone loses his temper. All the same, it would appear that Jesus employs this exaggeration (within his exposition on how to fully understand the commandment not to kill) with the express intent of blurring—if not eradicating—the line between rivalry that leads to bodily damages and rivalry that leads to soured interpersonal relationships.

    During the wedding celebration in Cana, Mary comes to Jesus and says, “They have no wine.” (John 2.3). If we take “his hour” to be a reference to the Passion, Jesus’ response to his mother might strike us as overly serious: “They have no wine.” But Jesus answered her, “Ma’am, what has this concern of yours to do with me? My hour has not come.” Is Jesus actually comparing Mary’s concern over beverages with is gruesome death? Students of John’s Gospel might answer Jesus’ question with one of their own: “But sir, what has Cana to do with Golgotha?” Raymond Brown mentions the possibility that the supply of wine for a Jewish wedding ceremony in those days might well have been dependent on the gifts brought by the guests (Anchor Bible Commentary, vol. 29, p. 102). If this were indeed the case, Jesus and his disciples, because of their poverty, may have appeared—at least in the eyes of some—to have failed in their responsibilities as wedding attendees by drinking more wine than they brought. Could Mary have felt the need to draw attention to her son’s faux pas? Might there not have been more than a hint of accusation in her statement: “They have no wine.” All three synoptic Gospels recount an episode in which Jesus gives unequivocal preference to a crowd of disciples over and above his own mother (Mark 3.31-35). Such an encounter is at least consist with the hypothesis I am pursuing here: that Jesus had a mother who was less than impressed with her son’s “ministry”—at least at the start—, and she felt no compunction to suppress her exasperation: “Do you really want me to tell you what my concern has to do with you? Do I have to spell out the implications of what is means when your tacky behavior says to the whole wide world that you ain’t had no upbringing?” There is, of course, absolutely no reason to suspect that anyone involved in this episode saw any physical aggression on the horizon; and yet, when Jesus refuses to own the fault implicit in his mother’s statement, what is her response? She gathers the wait staff and focuses their attention directly at her son. Some who’ve preached at my church would have us believe that this is an act of faith on Mary’s part. The evangelist, however, makes no such comment, and the text is just as open to the opposite reading: Mary was uniting a crowd against Jesus. Her line “Do whatever he tells you,” is not actually directed to the servants, and it certainly doesn’t mean “Y’all just wait and see what miracle my boy does next!” Rather, the line is a passive-aggressive attempt to make Jesus uncomfortable, “Ok, son, if you won’t answer me—you see how all these fellas are glaring at you right now? Why don’t you tell them why they can’t do their job! It’s your fault, isn’t it? You’re the reason the wedding feast is over early! Everybody can see it—clear as day—except for you!” This is a reading of the dialog at Cana that allos for the events of Cana to parallels the Passion. Jesus is well aware that he will, one day, become a scapegoat, but this is neither the time nor place. Jesus doesn’t rebuke his mother and tell how wrong she is to accuse him. He doesn’t fault her for uniting mistrust against him. He doesn’t tell her to just get over it already. He doesn’t pass the blame on to somebody else. He senses a looming mimetic crisis from the very moment of its conception and he makes a way out so that no one is left taking the blame. In other words, he performs a miracle . . . a sign of the coming kingdom of God . . . an indication of how people will live in the coming age.

    In Mark, the plotting of the scribes and Pharisees (14.1-2) and Judas’ decision to betray Jesus (14.10-11) sandwich the account of a nameless woman who anoints Jesus with perfume during dinner (14.3-9). This ABA structure is a repeated feature in Mark. Impending violence drenches the bookends, but what happens in the middle? We are shown a woman who is perceived to be out of place by disciples who quickly become indignant toward her. Although there is certainly no threat of bloodshed at the dinner in Bethany, Jesus is depicted as a savior who protects someone from a scandalized collective ready to vent its frustration on the most defenseless victim available. I’m not so sure that Jesus himself wasn’t a little nonplused at first; nevertheless, he found gracious prophetic words which derailed the grumbling of his disciples. Judas, however, carried the grumbling with him. Turning from the woman to Jesus, he demonstrates how fickle substitutions can be. Judas, along with his peers, had wanted to talk bad about a woman who was doing something rather odd. Jesus stops them gently but firmly, and Judas takes offense at Jesus stopping their grumbling—and he turns on Jesus. Could something so incredibly petty really have been the final straw in Judas’ decision to betray Jesus? It seems incredible, but perhaps the passage is teaching us something that is, in fact, very very hard to believe. Could a narrative explain any more clearly than Mark 14 just how insignificant of a provocation can trigger someone to turn on a loved one?

    In Matthew, we find explicit instruction from Jesus not to bother distinguishing instances when rivalry leads to murder from instances when rivalry leads to aggressive speech. In John, the narrator employs the motif of Jesus’ hour to connect the story of a rash, momentarily spiteful accusation from an otherwise loving mother to the roaring, bloodthirsty mob who condemn Jesus to death. In Mark, a story of conflictive—yet bloodless—mimesis serves as the core of the larger story about those who plotted to co-opt a mimetic crisis in order to assassinate Jesus.

    [3] I do not mean violence to necessarily imply physical aggression. Violence is any act a scandalized human being makes in the effort to differentiate herself from her rival. Due to the work of Christ, sacred violence is no longer capable of ordering societies. In the aftermath of the cross, sacred violence fails because it bolsters states of undifferentiation.

  5. Whats up are using WordPress for your site platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set
    up my own. Do you need any coding knowledge to make
    your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

    1. Hello There, Jasa: I do not have any coding knowledge. Generally speaking, I have found WordPress pretty easy to use. I have just spent a lot of time playing around with the different features and examining all the options that are available. I really enjoying using it as my blog platform. Good luck!

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