An Introduction to Mimetic Theory

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WATCH ALSO: GIRARD ON THE ORIGIN OF RELIGION (CLICK HERE)

CLICK HERE FOR FAQs (FROM RAVEN FOUNDATION)

KLIK HIER VOOR VERTALING VAN FAQs OVER MT

I compiled the following documentary film on the origin of cultures, in three parts, introducing some major topics of mimetic theory and René Girard’s thinking. Transcription of the videos (in English & Dutch) is available below, beneath PART III.

PART I of the film explores the fundamental role of mimesis (imitation) in human development on several levels (biological, psychological, sociological, cultural). René Girard’s originality lies in his  introduction of a connection between this old philosophical concept and human desire. He speaks of a certain mimetic desire and ascribes to it a vital role in our social interaction. It explains our often competitive and envious tendencies. More specifically, Girard considers mimetic desire as the source for a type of conflict that is foundational to the way human culture originates and develops. In his view the primal cultural institutions are religious. Following a sociologist like Émile Durkheim, Girard first considers religion as a means to organize our social fabric, and to manage violence within communities.

The more specific question the first part of this documentary tries to answer is the following: where do sacrifices, as rituals belonging to the first signs of human culture, originally come from? How can they be explained? Click to watch:

PART II starts off with a summary and then further insists on the fundamental role of the so-called scapegoat mechanism in the origin of religious and cultural phenomena.

PART III explores the world of mythology and human storytelling in the light of Girard’s theory on certain types of culture founding conflicts and scapegoat mechanisms. Girard comes to surprising conclusions regarding storytelling in Judeo-Christian Scripture. 

CLICK HERE FOR FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPTION (PDF)

KLIK HIER VOOR EEN VERTALING (PDF)

KLIK HIER VOOR EEN OVERZICHT (PDF)

CURSUSMATERIAAL AFGELEID VAN VROUWEN, JEZUS EN ROCK-‘N-ROLL

COURSE MATERIAL BASED ON VROUWEN, JEZUS EN ROCK ‘N’ ROLL

 

Sherin Khankan on Islam

Sherin Khankan (°1974), Denmark’s first female imam and one of the leaders of the Mariam Mosque in Copenhagen, was interviewed for Belgian television (May 29th, 2017).

The full interview can be watched here – definitely a MUST SEE:

Here are some transcripted excerpts from the interview:

Interviewer Bart Schols: Did you get some bad reactions on what you’re doing? Because every religion has a very traditional side sometimes, probably also in Denmark?

Sherin Khankan: Actually, I never focus on the bad reactions. I always focus on the support, and we have a lot of support from all over the world. Actually, recently we had a visitor, from one of the world’s largest mosques, the world’s third largest mosque – it’s the Grand Mosque in Indonesia –, and the grand imam he came and he blessed our mosque, and he prayed in our mosque, and he made a written document, saying that female imams are of course a possibility, and it’s a part of our Islamic tradition and theology… So, but of course, when you create change… When you change the structure, when you change the fundamentals, when you challenge the patriarchal structure, you challenge the power balance. And when you do that, people will get upset, it’s natural.

So we are prepared for opposition, but actually the worst opposition that we met so far was not from Muslims. The reactions from Muslims were quite moderate, but from the right wing parties, Islamophobes, Nazi-parties… we had very bad reactions.

Interviewer: More than from the inside?

Sherin Khankan: Yeah, I think it’s because… to Islamophobes progressive Muslims are a greater threat than Islamists are, because we are actually able to change the narrative on Islam in Europe.

Interviewer: Okay. You are traveling around the world with a message, if I may call it like that. What is the fight that you are fighting?

Sherin Khankan: First of all we want to give women the chance to disseminate the Islamic message. We want to create a place where women are equal to men. We want to challenge the patriarchal structure. We want to challenge the growing Islamophobia, and we wish to unite or unify all the great forces throughout the world who are fighting for women’s rights.

Interviewer: That’s in general, but if you, like in different countries, because you travel around the world, around Europe… you have different issues. There’s the headscarf, that’s a discussion about everywhere, also here in Belgium. What is your position on that?

Sherin Khankan: I do believe that, it’s stated very clearly in the Declaration of Human Rights, that any person has the right to practice his or her religion in the public sphere and in the private sphere. So if a person chooses to wear the headscarf of her own free will, it’s her choice and nobody should be able to touch that woman.

Interviewer: Also a police officer, for example?

Sherin Khankan: Of course, why not? A police officer, a doctor, a lawyer, a judge, anyone, because what’s important is not what you wear on your head. It’s what you have inside your head. So even if you ban the scarf, people will still have the same opinions inside. So it’s not a matter of the scarf, it’s a matter of realizing that we are living in a world and we have to accept pluralism as a factor, as a fundament for our societies. If not we are becoming oppressive. So I’m fighting for any woman’s right to wear the hijab and not to wear the hijab…

From a rational point of view, you would expect that Western extreme right-wing parties are delighted with the kind of Islam Sherin Khankan is advocating. After all, their message to people from other cultures has always been: “Adapt or go back to your country!” Exactly what culture people should adapt to or how that culture is defined is never quite clear, but anyways: here you have a kind of Islam that is perfectly compatible with the principles of a Western political, secularized culture, respecting the separation of Church and State. This separation goes both ways, of course. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes it very clear:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Sherin Khankan defends an Islam that does not interfere with the fundamental rights in a modern, Western democracy, so what are some extreme right-wing parties making such a fuss about? Aren’t they defending their “own” Western culture and values? Apparently, we shouldn’t expect too much rationality from them. What happens is quite simple: extreme right-wing parties partly need an “enemy monster” to justify and manage their own existence. If the so-called monster that is Islam turns out not to be such a monster after all, their reason for existence is threatened. That’s why extreme right-wing parties always make reasonable Muslim voices “the exception”. Sometimes they also argue that those reasonable Muslim voices are to blame for the infiltration of Islamist extremists in Western society, as if they function as “hosts” for extremist “parasites”.

What extreme right-wing parties rarely notice, of course, is the result of research done by security services all over the world: when people feel very oppressed or frustrated, they can radicalize very quickly one way or the other (extreme right-wing parties, as advocates of the reasoning that “our own culture is under threat”, are also an example). So to suppress a religion like Islam and Muslims is a very bad idea. The British Security Service MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5) claims there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization. Indeed, as the research by MI5 reveals, the vast majority of extremists participating in terrorist attacks in the UK, are British nationals. They are not illegal immigrants and, far from having received a religious upbringing, most are religious novices.

Ah, well… Are we strong enough to create identities beyond the need for an enemy monster? What if “the Wicked Witch of the West” isn’t wicked after all? I can’t help but mention in this context a great book that deals with the recurring dynamic of the need for a monstrous enemy: The Wicked Truth: When Good People Do Bad Things by Suzanne Ross. It is about the musical Wicked, the subversive and challenging prequel to the well-known story of The Wizard of Oz. Indeed, today we could ask the question: “What if the Wicked Witch of Islam isn’t wicked after all?” Maybe we remain anti-rational weaklings who need witches… Or maybe there’s hope, if we just listen to women like Sherin Khankan.

 

The Power of Myth (Joseph Campbell vs René Girard)

 

Joseph Campbell, a well-known scholar in the field of comparative mythology, became quite famous when his works inspired film director George Lucas to create the Star Wars saga (click here for more on this). Shortly before his death in 1987, Campbell was interviewed by Bill Moyers at Skywalker Ranch (home of Lucas, indeed). These conversations served as the basis for a six part PBS documentary series, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. The series was originally broadcast on television in 1988. It remains one of the most popular documentary series in the history of American public television.

This article will summarize Campbell’s main ideas by taking a closer look at Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Each episode is made available below, with Dutch subtitles (thanks to an anonymous translator). At the same time this article will highlight the main parallells next to some striking differences between Joseph Campbell’s analysis of myth and the analysis of René Girard.

Episode 1: The Hero’s Adventure (first broadcast June 21, 1988 on PBS)

Joseph Campbell mainly considers myths as “metaphors for the experience of life”.  Myths symbolically describe fundamental experiences everyone has to deal with, especially the so-called “hero myths”. They recount “the hero’s journey”, which is a universal pattern visible in a myriad of situations.

Hero myths are expressions of external (physical) and/or internal (psychological) struggles. They represent a transition in one’s identity. Faced with new challenges, the hero leaves home to undergo a series of ordeals, in the process sacrificing his old identity. As the hero learns some lessons from the ordeals, he gradually adopts a new identity until he finally returns home with his treasure (of new experiences) and the ability to renew his world order. Thus hero myths can also be considered as “death and resurrection” stories. In these myths self-sacrifice is a morally justified necessity to achieve a new, more fulfilling life.

One example of a hero’s journey in life is being a student. Students are exempt from regular society life. They are granted time and space to undergo a series of tests while entering their respective fields of inquiry (unknown worlds to them, at first). As they go along, students achieve certain skills and knowledge until they finally adopt a new, more mature identity. This allows them to take up some kind of responsibility in their society. In other words, the student dies to his adolescent self and, returning to society, resurrects as a more fully equipped adult.

All of the above in the words of the man himself:

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: There is a certain typical hero sequence of actions, which can be detected in stories from all over the world, and from many, many periods of history. And I think it’s essentially, you might say, the one deed done by many, many different people.

There are two types of deed. One is the physical deed; the hero who has performed a war act or a physical act of heroism. Saving a life, that’s a hero act. Giving himself, sacrificing himself to another. And the other kind is the spiritual hero, who has learned or found a mode of experiencing the supernormal range of human spiritual life, and has then come back and communicated it. It’s a cycle. It’s a going and a return that the hero cycle represents.

This can be seen also in the simple initiation ritual, where a child has to give up his childhood and become an adult, has to die, you might say, to his infantile personality and psyche and come back as a self-responsible adult. It’s a fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo. We’re in our childhood for at least 14 years, and to get out of that posture of dependency, psychological dependency, into one of psychological self-responsibility, requires a death and resurrection. And that is the basic motif of the hero journey, leaving one condition, finding the source of life to bring you forth in a richer or more mature or other condition.

Otto Rank, in his wonderful, very short book called The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, says that everyone is a hero in his birth. He has undergone a tremendous transformation from a little, you might say, water creature. Living in a realm of the amniotic fluid and so forth, then coming out, becoming an air-breathing mammal that ultimately will be self-standing and so forth, is an enormous transformation and it is a heroic act. And it’s a heroic act on the mother’s part to bring it about. It’s the primary hero form, you might say.

Heroes and their myths function as models for our own way of life. They inspire us to imitate their behavior and deeds. Joseph Campbell, when asked about the potential of movies to provide new hero myths, opens up about some of his own role models:

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: I had a hero figure who meant something to me, and he served as a kind of model for myself in my physical character, and that was Douglas Fairbanks. I wanted to be a synthesis of Douglas Fairbanks and Leonardo da Vinci, that was my idea. But those were models, were roles, that came to me.

Campbell seems to acknowledge the importance of role models and mimesis, but he also insists on the hero being a true outsider, a maverick, someone who goes against the grain (important observations, especially relevant to René Girard’s mimetic theory – see below). Not surprisingly, Campbell considers the hero myth mainly to be a metaphor for an inner, psychological struggle that liberates us from a life in service of an often alienating social system. A contradiction seems to arise when he also considers initiation rituals as typical examples of the hero’s journey (see above). Indeed, through initiation rituals adolescents learn to acquire an identity that will sustain the social order of their community, sacrificing whatever inner or outer obstacle in the process.

At some point in the conversation with Bill Moyers, Campbell compares the hero Siegfried (a figure from Norse and German mythology) to the villain Darth Vader (a figure from the Star Wars mythology). What Campbell apparently fails to notice, is the unchanged sacrificial nature of both stories. Although Siegfried is used, in contrast to Darth Vader, as an example of someone who refuses to submit himself to a human world in the service of a technocratic system, he does submit himself to the powers of nature (the natural system or order).

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: The first stage in the hero adventure, when he starts off on the adventure, is leaving the realm of light, which he controls and knows about, and moving toward the threshold. And it’s at the threshold that the monster of the abyss comes to meet him. And then there are two or three results: one, the hero is cut to pieces and descends into the abyss in fragments, to be resurrected; or he may kill the dragon power, as Siegfried does when he kills the dragon. But then he tastes the dragon blood, that is to say, he has to assimilate that power. And when Siegfried has killed the dragon and tasted the blood, he hears the song of nature; he has transcended his humanity, you know, and reassociated himself with the powers of nature, which are the powers of our life, from which our mind removes us.

You see, this thing up here, this consciousness, thinks it’s running the shop. It’s a secondary organ; it’s a secondary organ of a total human being, and it must not put itself in control. It must submit and serve the humanity of the body.

When it does put itself in control, you get this [Darth] Vader, the man who’s gone over to the intellectual side.

[Darth Vader] isn’t thinking or living in terms of humanity, he’s living in terms of a system. And this is the threat to our lives; we all face it, we all operate in our society in relation to a system. Now, is the system going to eat you up and relieve you of your humanity, or are you going to be able to use the system to human purposes?

Siegfried sacrifices whatever gets in the way of acquiring a new, higher identity in correspondence with the forces of nature, while Darth Vader sacrifices whatever gets in the way of acquiring a new, higher identity in correspondence with the forces of technology. Campbell prefers one order or system over the other. From René Girard’s viewpoint, however, both systems (and the heroes who sustain them) are essentially the same. They imitate each other’s behavior and thereby resemble each other more and more. Both Siegfried’s and Darth Vader’s identity exist at the expense of sacrifice. Siegfried is the representative of a cultural identity that places technology in the service of nature, whereas Darth Vader is the representative of a cultural identity that places nature in the service of technology. In the real world, the advocates of those cultural identities rival each other, imitating each other’s sacrificial behavior: they become mimetic doubles.

Moreover, both Siegfried and Darth Vader are loners or “chosen ones” who are willing to perform sacrifices or sacrifice themselves to establish a certain order. As such, they paradoxically become cultural role models whose acts of (self-)sacrifice will be imitated and repeated in order to preserve, renew or save the social order that lives by their respective stories. In the words of the conversation between Moyers and Campbell:

BILL MOYERS: Unlike the classical heroes, we’re not going on our journey to save the world, but to save ourselves.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: And in doing that, you save the world. I mean, you do. The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there’s no doubt about it. The world is a wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting it around and changing the rules and so forth. No, any world is a living world if it’s alive, and the thing is to bring it to life. And the way to bring it to life is to find in your own case where your life is, and be alive yourself, it seems to me.

According to Joseph Campbell, if you save yourself you save the world. In other words, we are part of a bigger whole and we should acknowledge and accept that. Moreover, eventually it’s the whole that counts. Campbell is very holistic and nature-oriented in his thoughts, even to the point where nature becomes something sacred, permeated by a larger consciousness. Again, from the conversation between Moyers and Campbell:

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Jean and I are living in Hawaii, and we’re living right by the ocean. And we have a little lanai, a little porch, and there’s a coconut tree that grows up through the porch and it goes on up. And there’s a kind of vine, plant, big powerful thing with leaves like this, that has grown up the coconut tree. Now, that plant sends forth little feelers to go out and clutch the plant, and it knows where the plant is and what to do– where the tree is, and it grows up like this, and it opens a leaf, and that leaf immediately turns to where the sun is. Now, you can’t tell me that leaf doesn’t know where the sun is going to be. All of the leaves go just like that, what’s called heliotropism, turning toward where the sun is. That’s a form of consciousness. There is a plant consciousness, there is an animal consciousness. We share all of these things. You eat certain foods, and the bile knows whether there’s something there for it to go to work on. I mean, the whole thing is consciousness. I begin to feel more and more that the whole world is conscious; certainly the vegetable world is conscious, and when you live in the woods, as I did as a kid, you can see all these different consciousnesses relating to themselves.

BILL MOYERS: Scientists are beginning to talk quite openly about the Gaia principle.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: There you are, the whole planet as an organism.

BILL MOYERS: Mother Earth.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: And you see, if you will think of ourselves as coming out of the earth, rather than as being thrown in here from somewhere else, you know, thrown out of the earth, we are the earth, we are the consciousness of the earth. These are the eyes of the earth, and this is the voice of the earth. What else?

 

Episode 2: The Message of the Myth (first broadcast June 22, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 3: The First Storytellers (first broadcast June 23, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 4: Sacrifice and Bliss (first broadcast June 24, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 5: Love and the Goddess (first broadcast June 25, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 6: Masks of Eternity (first broadcast June 26, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

No Self-Respect at Harvard University

Some atheists nowadays are a bit confused as to what contemporary theology is all about, also in Belgium. Hence it is no surprise that Maarten Boudry, a quite public philosopher of science and a devoted opponent of all things religious, could tweet the following statement:

Well, what do you know, according to Maarten Boudry, Harvard is no self-respecting university and neither is Yale, because they both have faculties of theology! How could they?

In a piece for Belgian newspaper De Standaard Boudry tried to explain why he thinks that contemporary theology is not a scientific activity. One of his final sentences reveals a great deal about his ideas on theology and literary criticism:

The equivalent of a theologian in literary criticism is someone who asks himself where exactly 221B Baker Street is located, or someone who searches a map for Middle-Earth.

Okay, let’s see if this statement is true for theologians who received their education at universities like Harvard and Yale by briefly interpreting a story from the Bible. Why not take the well-known story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis (Chapter 4)? If you read the work of Harvard theologians, then you will notice that none of them ever claims this story is anything else but a myth. However, being a myth, it nevertheless expresses the universal experience that “human beings can be so jealous that they are capable of killing the human being they are jealous of”.

Anyway, both those theologians and (supposedly also) Maarten Boudry know that great literature can reveal universal truths through stories that never really happened. Even fiction about fiction can be true in that sense. Read for instance how the character of the Chinese butler Lee interprets the story of Cain and Abel in John Steinbeck’s magnificent novel East of Eden (click here).

It should be noted that metaphors and allegories may also refer to real historical events and experiences. The story of Jesus who is tempted by the devil in the desert, for instance, says that Jesus was historically experienced as someone who didn’t give in to the lust for power, among other things.

It’s common for writers to use images. There’s nothing “sophisticated” about this type of interpretation. Of course, we might have to study a bit to understand the idiom and images of an ancient culture. But hey, that’s what science and rationality are for. Who knows, in two thousand years’ time, people might have to explain that the Dutch expression “Hij heeft vele watertjes doorzwommen” (“He swam through many waters”, meaning “He’s been through a lot in his life”) can be true even if the person in question doesn’t know how to swim.

By the way, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth never existed is, from a scientific point of view (in the eyes of both atheist and non-atheist experts), as ridiculous as the claim that creationism is more plausible than the theory of evolution. For more on this, click here.

Now that the error about Harvard theologians and the like is corrected, we can perhaps deal with some other issues as well in order to get a clearer picture of what contemporary theology is all about. Let’s take another tweet from Maarten Boudry as a new starting point to again correct some errors:

We shouldn’t unnecessarily complicate matters. If you take a look at what scholars do research on in pneumatology, their research questions take the same shape as other research questions in the humanities. An example:

What are the views of Augustine of Hippo concerning the Holy Spirit?

This type of question can be dealt with by any researcher, regardless of the fact that the researcher is an atheist, a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian or anyone else. The main things needed are access to the work of Augustine, critical and scientifically sustained research on the Bible, ancient philosophy and the Church Fathers, and a thorough knowledge of Latin and other classical languages.

Of course, as is the case with all subjects of the humanities, in order to conduct an objectifiable research, also the interpretive starting points must be taken into account. No interpretation of Augustine’s work is neutral, but once researchers have agreed on their interpretive framework, they will be able to conduct a research that comes to similar conclusions as the research done by other scholars who use the same framework.

Pneumatology is but one part of a Christian theology. More generally speaking, contemporary theology is concerned with the scientific study of concepts of God and their implications. Again, an example:

Where was God at Auschwitz?

The answer to this question of course depends on the concept of God one uses. If God is thought of as an almighty being in the sense that God has the power to control everything, and at the same time as a being that is all good, it becomes clear that such a God, in the face of the Holocaust, cannot exist. If, on the other hand, God is, among other things, thought of as a love that manifests itself regardless and independent of the possible risks (and thus ‘almighty’ in a totally different sense than ‘in total control’), then God is present during the Holocaust in the loving attempts of people to save their suppressed neighbor’s life.

Anyway, to conclude, here are some more examples of questions in contemporary Christian theology which prevent other errors concerning this field of study. Again, these questions can be dealt with in an objectifiable way by believers and non-believers alike:

What does the Catholic Church mean when she says that God is revealed through Christ?

Is Catholic priest and famous physicist Georges Lemaître (founder of the “Big Bang” hypothesis) in agreement with the age-old teachings of his Church on the Bible as one way of ‘divine revelation’ when he claims the following: “Once you realize that the Bible does not purport to be a textbook of science, the old controversy between religion and science vanishes. […] The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less – some more than others – on the question of salvation. On other questions [scientific, historical, moral] they were as wise or ignorant as their generation.”

Why doesn’t the Catholic Church accept the fundamentalist reading of the Bible (click here for more)? What God concept and concept of revelation lie behind the rejection of fundamentalism?

What are the core differences between a fundamentalist reading of the Bible and medieval interpretations of the Bible? What concepts of God lie behind these differences?

What arguments are there to claim that Jesus of Nazareth, as he is depicted in the Gospels, was a masochist who believed in God as a sadist? What arguments are there to claim that Jesus of Nazareth, as he is depicted in the Gospels, was anything but a masochist, and what does this mean for the idea that “God is revealed through Christ”?

Do Catholics have to agree with everything the pope says regarding moral issues? Is it acceptable for the Church that, for instance, 63 % of white American Catholics is in favor of the availability of same-sex marriage (this percentage from the same poll on the legalization of same-sex marriage shows that American Roman Catholics are more supportive of marriage equality than are the average American by a full ten percentage points – click here for more).

What kind of different texts are there in the Bible and how can we read them to do them justice?

What concept of God and of revelation is used by the Evangelical minister Pat Robertson and what are the implications regarding ethics, world-view and the view on what it means to be human?

What concept of God and of revelation is used by the Catholic Jesuit priest Karl Rahner and what are the implications regarding ethics, world-view and the view on what it means to be human?

[By the way, knowledge through revelation is a day-to-day experience which is not necessarily crazy or irrational: somehow you would expect that you know a person who reveals himself to you, every day, honestly and faithfully, better than a person you only know from scientific descriptions but have never met. Or would it be true that the “real” and “complete” identity of a person (his “soul”, to use an age-old word) can be reduced to what science may say about him?]

What are the main differences between Lutheranism and Catholicism?

Anyway, to put it succinctly: Stars exist, Concepts of God exist. 🙂

There is no need to change the definition of theology. The discipline and faculty of theology and its researchers have the right to define themselves within the required criteria of the academic world, even at Harvard University. 😉

A REPLY TO MAARTEN BOUDRY’S REPLY

P.S. Maarten Boudry tweeted two times in reply to this post. In his second reply he called me a “sweaty theologian”. I’m not sure where that came from 🙂 , but anyway, I expected some ad hominem comment sooner or later from him.

Boudry’s first reply reminded me of a story about a certain Theo Longshot. Theo was quite a character, a philosopher with strange, challenging ideas. Many people knew his name, they knew he existed, but very few had actually met or seen him. Photographs of the mysterious man were non-existent.

Martin Swissair was a young, ambitious reporter who decided to write an article on Theo. Since he lacked the time to talk to Theo directly, Martin decided to interview people who claimed to know Theo. In other words, his research was based on hearsay. Martin started off his article with a description of Theo’s appearance. Theo was white, supposedly had half long, light brown straight hair, wore glasses over blue eyes, was about 6-foot-tall and was dressed in costumes. He often wore a hat. The informants told Martin that Theo was 50 years old.

However, a couple of days after Martin had published his article on Theo Longshot, a young looking man appeared on his doorstep. He was black, had long and curly black hair, brown eyes, wore no glasses, was 5 ft 3″ tall and wore jeans and a T-shirt. He was 40 years old. He introduced himself as Theo Longshot, the man Martin had wanted to write an article about. Martin’s reply was very weird, to say the least: “If you’re not white, and if you don’t have blue eyes and don’t wear glasses, if you’re not 50 years old and if you don’t walk around dressed up in costumes, you shouldn’t call yourself Theo Longshot.”

Well, that’s basically Maarten Boudry’s reply as he is confronted with the fact that contemporary theology is not what he thought it was. Instead of admitting that he was fighting a straw man, he argues that the existing faculties of theology should accept his definition and idea of theology and shouldn’t call themselves theology at all. In this case, he behaves as if he is some totalitarian ruler of the academic world. However, just like Theo Longshot from the above mentioned story has the right to be who he is, contemporary theology has the right to be what it is, regardless of whatever straw man fallacy. One would expect that philosophers are able to question and criticize their own assumptions. Apparently, that’s a wrong assumption in this case.

READ MORE ABOUT BOUDRY’S FAULTY ANALOGY BETWEEN THEOLOGY AND ASTROLOGY HERE (IN DUTCH, ARTICLE BY WIM VANRIE FOR MIRARIPROJECT.COM).

Patrick Perquy interviews René Girard

The following interview with René Girard by Patrick Perquy was last broadcast on Belgian national television April 23, 2000 (Braambos). The interview was recorded on the occasion of an honorary doctorate from the University of Antwerp for Girard in 1995. It’s in French with Dutch subtitles. The two men talk about Shakespeare, Greek Tragedy and the Bible among other things. Be prepared for some sharp insights. Enjoy this interesting conversation:

Let’s kill Jesus!

tintin-writingThis is the story of Jesus, the reporter. He did a series of interviews with representatives of different extremist factions in this world. This post contains fragments of his conversations, references to actual events and commentaries by an expert. It also reveals what eventually happened to this alleged devil’s advocate.

From an interview with Richie, representative of the Right to Eliminate Disorder (RED) party.

Jesus: What is your ultimate political goal?

Richie: We want to protect our western system of law and order by eliminating the main source of violence in this world, which is Islam.

Jesus: Don’t you think that Muslims might feel discriminated against if you try to ban their religion from your society? The majority of Muslims is not causing any problems. More of them might when they feel attacked.

Richie: Every Muslim is a potential terrorist because of the true, decadent, barbaric and violent nature of Islamic ideology. Only a tiny minority of so-called Muslims is able to live among us in a lasting peaceful fashion because they’re actually no real Muslims. We’re defending our western culture.

Jesus: One of the main achievements of your culture is the freedom of religion and the separation of Church and State. Aren’t you destroying that culture, instead of defending it, by prohibiting Islam?

Richie:  No. You have to understand that Muslims want to impose their way of life on the rest of the world. They have no respect for the separation of Church and State. Just look at Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. So, instead of destroying our culture with its separation of Church and State and freedom of religion, we would defend it by politically and legally prohibiting the religion of Islam.

Jesus: Aren’t you imposing your way of life then? In fact, aren’t you imitating countries like Saudi Arabia by imposing your ideological preferences?

Richie: We’re not imposing any ideological preference. We’re protecting a true, neutral perspective.

Jesus: By prohibiting Islam, based on your interpretation of that religion?

Richie: Our interpretation corresponds with the interpretation of organizations like ISIL.

Jesus: And that’s a neutral interpretation?

Richie: Well, yes!

Jesus: They are in favor of a particular ideological Islamic system, while you are against that system, but you are both convinced of the same system representing the true nature of Islam? There’s no discussion about that?

Richie: No discussion. Accept the truth: they want to eradicate us! Ask me something else!

Jesus: Are you willing to sacrifice yourself to protect your cultural identity?

Richie: Yes. I would consider it an honor.

Jesus: Am I getting this right? You are prepared to sacrifice yourself because you don’t want to become the victim of an organization like ISIL; becoming its victim would be a disgrace, becoming a sacrifice by fighting it would be an honor? You are prepared to die so you won’t get killed? It seems you’re accomplishing exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Instead of saving your life, you’re losing it.

Richie: Listen, for once and for all, the Muslims are attacking us. We have the right to defend ourselves. Our violence is justified, theirs is not justified. I’m willing to die in the name of righteousness to establish an order and a peace where the terrorists are eliminated.

Jesus: If I may refer to Star Wars, you are the Jedi and they are the Sith?

Richie: Exactly!

Jesus: But isn’t that a matter of perspective? In the end, you’re both killers, establishing a peace at the expense of sacrifices?

filip-dewinter-assadFACT, NOT FICTION: At the beginning of February, 2017, Filip Dewinter, member of Belgian’s federal parliament and one of the leaders of far-right political party Vlaams Belang paid a visit to Assad and his regime. He turned a blind eye to the massive violence of that regime (a new report reveals more Syrians are killed by Assad’s regime than by Jihadist organizations), claiming the regime of Assad was a bulwark against terrorism. Instead, he could have considered that the violence of Assad might convince more Syrians to take sides with Jihadist factions. What if your brother is arrested, tortured and murdered by the Assad regime on vague charges of ‘insulting the regime’? Wouldn’t you be angry at the regime, also at those you perceive as allies of the regime? So, instead of eliminating the threat of terrorism Filip Dewinter seems to feed it!

Richie: This is the way of the world. There’s a constant battle of good versus evil.

Jesus: But how good is ‘good’ when it establishes a system in the same way as the so-called ‘evil’ side would do it?

quebec-shooting-vigilsFACT, NOT FICTION: January 30, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old university student, killed six people in a mosque in Québec (Canada). Sociologist Stephen Ledrew wrote a very, very interesting book (The Evolution of Atheism – The Politics of a Modern Movement) on the so-called New Atheism as an “atheist Right” that mirrors the Christian Right. Precisely the case of Alexandre Bissonnette is a symptom of this. Ledrew wrote an article about it, Atheism’s Dark Side Aiding the Trump Agenda. Find it by clicking here or here.

Richie: What do you propose then?

Jesus: Maybe the question is not whether you are in favor of or against a particular system. Maybe the question is whether the system can be used or transformed in such a way that it enables you to love your enemy? After all, our enemies remain fellow human beings. If we can love them, then they can love us too. If we can transform our system, then they can do the same thing.

My advice would be: don’t imitate the hatred and the violence of certain people by taking revenge on those you associate with them (but who are actually innocent). In other words, don’t look for scapegoats, because it will only plant seeds for new violence. The threat you feared but wasn’t there, will become real, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Richie: Shut up with your nonsense! The threat is real and has always been real. What did you say your name was again?

Jesus: Jesus.

Richie: I’ll remember you.

From an interview with Idris, representative of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) party.

Jesus: What is your ultimate political goal?

Idris: We want to protect our Islamic system of law and order by eliminating the main source of violence in this world, which is western culture.

Jesus: Don’t you think that westerners might feel discriminated against if you try to ban their culture from your society? The majority of westerners is not causing any problems. More of them might when they feel attacked.

Idris: Every westerner is a potential terrorist because of the true, decadent, barbaric and violent nature of western culture. Only a tiny minority of so-called westerners is able to live among us in a lasting peaceful fashion because they’re actually no real westerners. They converted to Islam. We’re defending our Islamic culture.

Jesus: One of the core convictions of your culture is the conviction that there should be no compulsion in religion. Aren’t you destroying that culture, instead of defending it, by prohibiting western culture?

Idris:  No. You have to understand that westerners want to impose their way of life on the rest of the world. They have no respect for the conviction that there should be no compulsion in religion, one way or the other. Just look at western countries trying to ban Muslims. It’s just one of the measures suppressing Muslims. Muslims who live in western countries are constantly discriminated against. However, no one can prevent me from being a Muslim, and I will avert any culture that tries to suppress Islam.

US President Trump swears in General Mattis as US Defense Secretary . DCFACT, NOT FICTION: President Trump signed an executive order on January 27 that banned entry into the US by anyone from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days, and banned nearly all refugees for 120 days.

Jesus: But aren’t you imitating potential Muslim bans by averting western culture all together? Aren’t you imposing your ideological preferences just the same?

Idris: We’re not imposing any ideological preference. We’re protecting a true, divine perspective.

Jesus: By advocating Islam, based on your interpretation of that religion?

Idris: Our interpretation corresponds with the interpretation of the wicked who try to ban us.

Jesus: And that’s a true interpretation?

Idris: Well, yes!

Jesus: They are against a particular ideological Islamic system, while you are in favor of that system, but you are both convinced of the same system representing the true nature of Islam? There’s no discussion about that?

Idris: No discussion. They refuse to accept the divine truth and want to eradicate us. Ask me something else!

Jesus: Are you willing to sacrifice yourself to protect your cultural identity?

Idris: Yes. I would consider it an honor.

Jesus: Am I getting this right? You are prepared to sacrifice yourself because you don’t want to become the victim of an organization like RED; becoming its victim would be a disgrace, becoming a sacrifice by fighting it would be an honor? You are prepared to die so you won’t get killed? It seems you’re accomplishing exactly what you’re trying to avoid. Instead of saving your life, you’re losing it.

Idris: Listen, for once and for all, the westerners are attacking us. We have the right to defend ourselves. Our violence is justified, theirs is not justified. I’m willing to die in the name of righteousness to establish an order and a peace where the terrorists are eliminated.

Jesus: If I may refer to Star Wars, you are the Jedi and they are the Sith?

Idris: Exactly!

Jesus: But isn’t that a matter of perspective? In the end, you’re both killers, establishing a peace at the expense of sacrifices?

Idris: This is the way of the world. There’s a constant battle of good versus evil.

Jesus: But how good is ‘good’ when it establishes a system in the same way as the so-called ‘evil’ side would do it?

Idris: What do you propose then?

Jesus: Maybe the question is not whether you are in favor of or against a particular system. Maybe the question is whether the system can be used or transformed in such a way that it enables you to love your enemy? After all, our enemies remain fellow human beings. If we can love them, then they can love us too. If we can transform our system, then they can do the same thing.

My advice would be: don’t imitate the hatred and the violence of certain people by taking revenge on those you associate with them (but who are actually innocent). In other words, don’t look for scapegoats, because it will only plant seeds for new violence. The threat you feared but wasn’t there, will become real, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Idris: Shut up with your nonsense! The threat is real and has always been real. What did you say your name was again?

Jesus: Jesus.

Idris: I’ll remember you.

Comments by Parry, the Paranoiac.

I’m an expert in politics. It is crystal clear that RED and ISIL made a pact. After all, they need each other to exist.

On the one hand, a violent act by RED can be presented by ISIL as proof of the fact that western culture is the enemy of Islam, and then ISIL can sell itself as a Messiah that will liberate the Muslim world of all evil.

On the other hand, a violent act by ISIL can be presented by RED as proof of the fact that Islam is the enemy of western culture, and then RED can sell itself as a Messiah that will liberate the western world of all evil.

Of course, in both cases, the evil cannot really disappear for these so-called Messiahs can only justify their existence and hold on to their power because of the problem they’re supposedly fighting against. In other words, they are false Messiahs.

Anyway, Satan cannot cast out Satan.

assad-false-messiahFACT, NOT FICTION: Syrian dictator Assad released Jihadist extremists to tinge the rebellion against his regime with extremism. Thus he made it harder for foreign forces to back the rebels, at the same time presenting himself as a ‘savior’.

From an interview with Seth, representative of the Secularists of Society (SOS) party, and some excerpts from comments by Robbie, yet another member of the Right to Eliminate Disorder (RED) party.

Jesus: You claim to have a solution for the problem of the so-called ‘culture war’ between parties like RED and ISIL. Could you present your main ideas?

Seth: I’d be happy to. The core of the problem is the very concept of a cultural identity based on all kinds of ancient national traditions or religious ideas. My organization is convinced that the economy, more specifically a global system of economic liberalism, serves as the best basis for developing whatever identity. Instead of one culture violently competing with another because they want to occupy the same position (and thus cannot accept each other’s differences), the economic system will guarantee that differences are established after an honest competition for similar positions (and thus must be accepted).

Peace would be established if everyone agreed upon the same economic system, and if everyone was granted the same chances within that system. If this were the case, your social identity and position would be based on your own merits, and no one would be allowed to question the identity and position of another. Cultural and religious items would become private items, available at and provided by the market as well, for each individual. The problems from the past, where social identities and positions were often established because of cultural and religious traditions, would evaporate. In any case, identities based on nationalism or religion (or both) need to disappear in favor of identities based on a global meritocratic system.

Jesus: But then again a type of rivalry will arise. Not everyone will accept a definition of his or her identity by the economic system. Also this system exists at the expense of sacrificing other systems. Moreover, what will happen if people don’t just accept their position and get frustrated because they belong to the so-called ‘losers’ of society? Maybe they will create a counter-culture like ISIL where they feel like ‘winners’, and, being guided by resentment, thus condemn the society they previously desired to be a significant part of. And then we’re back from where we started.

auto-radicalizationFACT, NOT FICTION: Europol notices that more and more young people who didn’t grow up in Muslim families become jihadists. The federal prosecutor of Belgium Frédéric Van Leeuw recently said that “the reason why young people depart for Syria lies in society”. The European Institute of Peace recently put together a social mapping of Molenbeek (Brussels), and looked at the causes of violent extremism in neighborhoods with the highest amount of foreign fighters. Not surprisingly perhaps, these neighborhoods were the poorest of Molenbeek. The research reveals that, because of the very superficial knowledge of Islam, religion is not the cause of radicalization; a feeling of being discriminated against is. Religion is an outlet, a consequence of frustrations which are the true cause of violent extremism. Young people with identity issues, who feel left behind and excluded by our performance oriented western culture, auto-radicalize through the internet where they find a virtual community of ‘fellow excluded people’ (for instance Muslims and refugees). CLICK HERE FOR AN ARTICLE WITH MORE INFORMATION BY DE STANDAARD (“Ze spreken amper Arabisch en kennen hooguit een handvol Korancitaten”). CLICK HERE FOR “WOMEN AND THE SPIRITUAL CLASH WITH TERROR”.

Seth: What did you say your name was again?

Jesus: Jesus.

Seth: I’ll remember you.

Comments by Robbie, member of RED.

I totally disagree with the policy of Seth and SOS. I’m a nationalist, and I have the right to protect my national cultural identity. Moreover, I’m also religious (contrary to Richie, our representative). I just can’t stand God’s laws being threatened by a decadent consumer culture. Mark my words, it won’t be long until the wrath of God descends upon us.

From an interview with Lizzy, representative of the Being Left Unjustly Exposed (BLUE) party, and some excerpts from comments by Ibrahim, yet another member of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) party.

Jesus: You criticize the solutions to the current crisis in the world proposed by SOS. Do you have a better one?

Lizzy: Well, yes. The problem is that meritocracy isn’t functioning like it should. People, especially young people, get frustrated because some people get way more than they deserve. If we redistribute wealth, give everyone the same basic income, we can stop organizations like ISIL from recruiting depressed and frustrated young people. The need for religion will automatically disappear, especially if we don’t talk about it anymore in schools and in education.

FACT, NOT FICTION: Communist regimes of the past already tried to eradicate religion, with due consequences for religious people (who experienced discrimination). For instance in the Soviet Union.

Jesus: Is that a good idea, making religion a taboo? It will continue to flourish on the internet, and young people who don’t know anything about it might fall victim to malicious minds who use religion for evil purposes.

Lizzy: We will do everything to eradicate religion, smoothly. After all, we don’t need it, do we?

Jesus: Once again, also this system exists at the expense of sacrifices. Is our identity as a human being only defined by what we need (or learned to need)? That’s a poor way of approaching others. As if others are only worth something because I would need them.

Lizzy: What did you say your name was again?

Jesus: Jesus.

Lizzy: I’ll remember you.

Comments by Ibrahim, member of ISIL.

At first I thought BLUE was protecting Muslim interests. It provided extra educational programs for free, which I thought was a good thing. Coming from a poor family, I didn’t have the means to catch up with my friends in high school. We were all just playing around, but the wealthy parents of my friends could pay for tutors and extra classes when they were not studying well. I was left behind. My friends were characterized as ‘adventurous youth’, while I was characterized as a ‘dipshit’ for committing the same misdemeanors. If BLUE thinks that I would give up on my religion to lead the same decadent life as my former friends, then it is wrong.

Epilogue by Parry, the Paranoiac.

This is how the story of Jesus and his interviews ends.

A small part of religious RED members forged an alliance with a small part of ISIL members, fighting the secularism of both SOS and BLUE. As the rivalry between RED and ISIL for the same position in society thereby somewhat temporarily ended because they found a common enemy, also the rivalry between SOS and BLUE to gain control over society temporarily ended because of their common religious enemy.

FACT, NOT FICTION: Two days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two evangelicals, shared their “theological” views on the terrorist violence (transcript from the 700 club, a well-known evangelical television program in the States – September 13, 2001). Especially these comments are telling:
survivors of 9-11 attacksJERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.
PAT ROBERTSON: Well yes.
JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur…

As time went by, however, the old animosities became apparent again, until… the Evil Mastermind appeared. He was able to sense that Jesus had irritated all parties. Jesus had been everybody’s obstacle. The Evil Mastermind could turn him into the enemy of all, uniting the whole world against Jesus. “Let’s kill Jesus!” became his war cry. Thus the Evil Mastermind created peace, once again, at the expense of a sacrifice.

kruisiging-servaes

The story of Jesus could have ended here, were it not that within each faction against him, there were people who realized that Jesus had done nothing wrong. They felt guilty because they hadn’t done anything to protect him, although Jesus himself had always pointed out the danger of eliminating innocent people (scapegoats) to establish peace. Some of them claimed that they had experienced the presence of Jesus beyond his death, meaning that they experienced a second chance to protect his life, the life of the scapegoats. They started questioning the unity against the common enemy of their respective factions. They created non-violent enmity in their own household by loving their external enemy, thus opening up the possibility of a peace that is not established at the expense of sacrifice – a peace of a different world.

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