An Introduction to Mimetic Theory

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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)

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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

 

Schandpalen vermijden voor Bart De Pauw… en de vrouwen

Na meldingen over grensoverschrijdend gedrag van Bart De Pauw zet de Vlaamse openbare omroep VRT de samenwerking met hem stop. Dat nieuws geraakt bekend op 9 november 2017.

Bart De PauwBart De Pauw is geen monster. Daarvan ben ik overtuigd. Tegelijk geloof ik ook niet dat de VRT, of de leiding van de zender, zich louter laat leiden door vage insinuaties van “gefrustreerde vrouwen” om de samenwerking met “goudhaantje” De Pauw te beëindigen. Waarom zou de VRT zichzelf op die manier in de voet schieten? Bart De Pauw is geen monster, maar ook de vrouwen die zich slachtoffer voelen van grensoverschrijdend gedrag door hem zijn dat niet. Van dat laatste ben ik eveneens overtuigd.

Ergens is het begrijpelijk dat Bart De Pauw zelf de zaak via de media aan zijn fans voorlegde. Een mens kan wel wat steun gebruiken als hij na dertig jaar gepassioneerde arbeid op die manier een samenwerking beëindigd ziet. Dat is bijzonder pijnlijk. Daarnaast moet het echter ook bijzonder pijnlijk zijn voor de slachtoffers van grensoverschrijdend gedrag dat steunbetuigingen aan Bart De Pauw ontaarden in het fenomeen van blaming the victim. Advocate Christine Mussche wees daarop in Terzake (10 november 2017).

Femme de la Rue posterEnkele jaren geleden maakte Sofie Peeters Femme de la Rue, een documentaire waarin hetzelfde fenomeen van blaming the victim wordt aangekaart (voor meer: klik hier). Sofie Peeters laat zien hoe ze door verscheidene mannen in de straten van Brussel wordt geïntimideerd. Steevast wordt de verantwoordelijkheid voor de seksueel getinte boodschappen die ze te horen krijgt bij haar gelegd. De mannen uit de documentaire redeneren dat ze zich maar niet zo uitdagend moet kleden als ze met rust wil worden gelaten. Terecht is er toen veel kritiek gekomen op dat soort seksistische redenering. De schuld voor seksuele agressie, in dit geval verbale, in de schoenen van het slachtoffer van die agressie schuiven, maakt van het slachtoffer een zondebok: het slachtoffer krijgt de schuld voor iets waaraan het niet, of op zijn minst niet exclusief, schuldig is. De Frans-Amerikaanse denker René Girard (1923-2015) laat in zijn werk zien hoe gemeenschappen keer op keer zulke zondebokmechanismen gebruiken om een bepaald soort sociale orde te creëren en te rechtvaardigen. In patriarchale samenlevingen zijn niet toevallig vrijgevochten vrouwen vaak kop van Jut, en niet alleen van de mannen in die samenlevingen.

De overgrote meerderheid van de publieke opinie in Vlaanderen sprak schande over de manier waarop de mannen uit de documentaire Femme de la Rue zich bezondigen aan het fenomeen van blaming the victim. Die mannen zouden behoren tot “achterlijke culturen”. Vandaag, naar aanleiding van de toestand rond Bart De Pauw, bezondigt de overgrote meerderheid van de publieke opinie in Vlaanderen zich blijkbaar zélf aan gelijkaardige, “achterlijke” redeneringen. De vrouwelijke redacteurs van nieuwssite newsmonkey verwoorden het als volgt in een genuanceerd stuk (klik hier voor het volledige artikel):

“Terwijl Bart De Pauw niet ontkent dat hij berichtjes stuurde, maar de sms’jes afdoet als ‘een manier om een goede band te creëren met mijn medewerkers’, wordt er door diverse media al gemeld dat er dagelijks berichten werden gestuurd met ‘ik wil je neuken’ erin. Vreemde manier om een band met je werknemers te creëren, als je ‘t ons vraagt. En pas op, flirten is au fond geen probleem, maar de sms’en waren ook wel degelijk ongewenst.

We hebben ons waarschijnlijk allemaal al eens schuldig gemaakt aan een aangebrand sms’je dat achteraf gezien misschien niet helemaal gepast was. Maar opnieuw: er is een groot verschil tussen één verkeerd sms’je of een stroom aan berichten waardoor vrouwen zich geïntimideerd voelen.

[…]

Het is waar dat het soms niet even duidelijk is wanneer bepaald gedrag te ver gaat, net omdat die grens voor iedereen ergens anders ligt, maar als slachtoffers worden afgeschilderd als daders en als sensatiezoekers en Bart De Pauw wordt voorgesteld als het slachtoffer, dan wordt het echt wel hallucinant.

[…]

Met tweets als ‘je blokkeert het nummer gewoon’, ‘ze hebben het zeker gewoon uitgelokt’, ‘ze probeerden hogerop te geraken en nu dat niet gelukt is, liegen ze De Pauw in de val’, is het schandalig hoe er wordt gedacht over slachtoffers als de dader een BV is.

[…]

Het is net door dit soort gedrag dat slachtoffers niet, of pas vele jaren later, met hun verhaal naar buiten komen. Dus alstublieft, bespaar ons het verwijt dat de slachtoffers nu pas melding hebben gemaakt van De Pauws gedrag. Het is de schuld van iedereen die de schuld in de schoenen van de slachtoffers schuift, dat dergelijke situaties niet op een betere manier worden opgelost.

En Bart, wij hopen enerzijds dat de VRT fout zit, maar we geloven vanuit het diepste van ons journalistieke hart dat zij hun beslissing niet zomaar zullen gemaakt hebben. Dus in plaats van Vlaanderen te misleiden met je mistroostige blik, wees een man. Geef gewoon toe dat je er niet stil bij stond dat je erover ging. En zeg dan nog eens oprécht sorry.”

Gedreven door massahysterie kiezen gemeenschappen hun zondebokken. Als Bart De Pauw niet zo populair was, dan was hij misschien, op basis van exact dezelfde karige informatie, aan de schandpaal genageld. Dat speelt mensen in de kaart die zelf boter op het hoofd hebben, maar hun eigen goede naam beschermen door te doen alsof ze “helemaal niet zoals dat monster Bart De Pauw” zijn. Niet alleen gemeenschappen drijven het kwaad in zichzelf uit door het te projecteren op één of meerdere zogezegd “door en door slechte” anderen die dan sociaal worden “afgemaakt”. Ook individuen doen dat.

SchandpaalHet is belangrijk om zowel collectief als individueel zelfkritisch te blijven om al te gemakkelijke, vernietigende oordelen en nietsontziende, meedogenloze heksenjachten te vermijden.

Bart De Pauw moet niet aan de schandpaal worden genageld. De vrouwen die door hem op een grensoverschrijdende manier werden benaderd evenmin. Hopelijk komt er een bemiddeling waar alle betrokken partijen beter van worden.

(A)theist Killers and the Picture of a Happy Man

card 039 Brian DunningSkepticist Brian Dunning sharply observes the following:

“Who has been the worst throughout history: atheist regimes or religious regimes? Obviously the big numbers come from the 20th century superpowers (China, Russia, Germany) so the answer depends on how you classify those. And this is where the meat of these debates is usually found, splitting hairs on which regime is atheist, which is merely secular, which is non-Christian and thus fair game to be called atheist. […] In summary, the winner of these debates is the one who can convince the other that the big 20th century genocidal maniacs were motivated either by religion or by a desire to destroy religion. The entire debate is the logical fallacy of the excluded middle.

[…]

I’m convinced that arguing either side is merely an opportunistic way to tingle sensitive nerves and sell a lot of books. And, I’m convinced that any discussion of the religious causes of genocide is a divisive distraction from the more worthwhile investigation into the true cultural and psychological causes. We are human beings, and we need to understand our human motivations.

So I am no longer going to participate in the childish debate of what religion has killed more people in history, because it doesn’t matter. The way I see it, you might as well debate what color underpants are worn by the largest number of killers, and try to draw a causal relationship there as well. Religion does not cause you to kill people, and it certainly doesn’t prevent you from killing people. Let’s stop pretending that it does either.”

Dunning, B. “Who Kills More, Religion or Atheism?” Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 27 Nov 2007. Web. 7 Nov 2017. http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4076

See also: http://worldwithoutgenocide.org/

It is strange, indeed, how some people express their outrage about “violent Islam” or “violent religion” on Facebook after an ISIS terror attack in New York that killed eight people (November 3, 2017), while those very same people remain silent about the mass killer in Las Vegas who slaughtered 58 people (October 1, 2017). Makes you wonder if the victims are a primary concern. Maybe victims are primarily used to make political statements?

The problem of violence lies within man himself and in his tendency to deify human preoccupations. Man’s addictive attachment to wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor often creates a deadly cocktail of (self-)destructive behavior. The deification of wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor means that they are considered as ends in themselves (as goals of mimetically driven desires; as goals of love for a mimetically constructed psychosocial (self-)image), and not as means to or consequences of love (for oneself and one’s neighbor).

The deification of wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor prevents the (truly divine) reality of neighborly love. For instance, a capitalist who accepts cheap child labor in his factories is not concerned with his neighbors (in casu the children), but only in the fulfilment of his (mimetically driven) desire for, and love of wealth. Equally, a child molester is not interested in loving children, but in the fulfilment of his love for pleasure and power. Or another example: a student who is only interested in courses when they are “not boring” is primarily interested in the fulfilment of the desire for pleasure. True love is a learning process, though, which is not always and automatically accompanied by “good feelings”. If, for instance, you want to develop the freedom to play whatever piano piece, you will at first have to develop the discipline to obey certain rules about music theory and piano playing techniques. Which might be boring at times, but you will never learn to enjoy the reality of certain music as a player if you are simply driven by a desire for pleasure. The fact that love is more than “feeling good” also appears when you are sad because of the death of a dearly beloved – and yet you are willing to bear sadness because of love (and not, in a masochistic way, because of sadness itself).

Throughout history, there have been numerous attempts to create a utopian peace that could fully satisfy any one of those aforementioned addictions, or a combination of them. The attempts have always led to large numbers of despair, oppression and bloodshed. Utopias turn to dystopias. It’s a law of human history. Those utopias have been religious as well as secular. Indeed, the addiction to wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor is a universal human temptation, which has nothing to do with defining yourself as a theist or an atheist. Theists as well as atheists sometimes deify wealth, pleasure, power and/or honor.

So, it is no coincidence that:

  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Remember, for instance, the war between Mexican drug cartels?
  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify a cultural religious and ethnic identity in order to defend or expand one’s honor and power over against others. Remember, for instance, the Yugoslav wars (1991-2001)? It’s religion and nationalism gone mad.
  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify the pursuit of wealth and capital through power. Remember, for instance, colonialism (15th – 20th century)? Or remember, for instance, the so-called “Great Leap Forward” in China (1958-1962)? It’s socioeconomic relations gone mad.
  • Human history has witnessed the temptation to deify an ethnic identity and a so-called “natural order of racial competition” in order to defend or expand one’s honor and power over against others. Remember, for instance, the Holocaust (1933-1945)? It’s nationalism and pseudo-Darwinian ideology gone mad.

It’s in light of these facts that we can reconsider the beginning of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20, 3-5a):

2commandment“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…”

In other words, nothing should be deified. Deification (whether of a material object, an ideological system or a combination of both) leads to slavery and all kinds of mental and physical violence. Expressed paradoxically: in a Jewish sense, to love God means refusing to consider anything as divine (in order to become “children of God”, which is “deification” in a totally different sense!). It is the paradoxically absolute refusal of absolutism, totalitarianism and idolatry, in order to make way for the reality of love. There is no middle ground here. Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth embodied the absolute refusal of absolutism. That’s why, for instance, Matthew the Evangelist let’s Jesus proclaim (Matthew 12:30a): “Whoever is not with me, is against me…”

[Note: I could have made the following considerations perhaps from a different spiritual tradition, or at least I could have made similar ones. To me, Judeo-Christian tradition is not an end in itself. It is a starting point. So I don’t want to absolutize this religion. On the other hand, I accept that I am a historical creature and I also don’t want to absolutize a so-called self-sufficient a-historical identity. The Judeo-Christian tradition is the woman I coincidentally met and have a relationship with. I don’t need to see all other women first to have an inspiring relationship with this one, enabling me to creatively meet other people as well, men and women.]

Love ultimately is a concern for the reality of the (human and non-human) other because of the other, which is only possible if people are concerned with… their own freedom! Only if you are not fully defined by and attached to your biological need for survival, or your psychosocial mimetically driven desire for safety from potential rivals (power), entertainment (pleasure), or approval (honor), can you become free to experience reality more fully (no longer approaching it from any particular need). Moreover, the refusal to deify yourself (which is, in other words, to love God) means that you might lessen the temptation to sacrifice others to or use them for your mimetically driven desire for approval, as you learn to love the reality of who you are. This is “the logic of Jesus” in his conversation with a lawyer (Matthew 22:35-40):

A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

A Depiction of Jesus and the Woman taken in Adultery (Vasily Polenov)Jesus often confronts people with their narcissistic tendencies, or, in other words, with their tendency to deify themselves. For instance, when he is surrounded by people who are about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), Jesus awakens a sense of reality in each individual. He asks people to consider whether they themselves are “without sin”. After which he decides that “whoever is without sin may cast the first stone”. At first sight this is merely a clever trick that allows Jesus to take control of the situation. Indeed, no Jew would claim to be perfect. That would mean that he claims to be like God, and then he would trespass the first of the ten commandments. So no one can cast the first stone, because that would be one of the greatest sins in the light of Jesus’ saying. At a deeper level, it is precisely Jesus’ constant “iconoclasm” of false self-concepts that, apart from the social position Jesus himself receives for doing so, opens up possibilities for new relationships between people.

Jesus is convinced that the source from which he lives “desires mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). The consequences of this conviction are paradoxical. It implies that Jesus refuses to merely sacrifice the existing worldly structures to establish his own rule. Jesus acts non-dualistically. Hence he says (Matthew 5:17):

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The priority of love implies that existing laws, structures and rituals should be tested against the extent to which they help to avoid making victims and to which they allow for authentic human lives. Man should not live according to rules, as if preserving a social system and its rules would be an end in itself, but rules should be means at the service of individual human beings and society as a whole. When Jesus and his disciples are criticized for doing things that are, strictly speaking, forbidden on the rest day – the Sabbath – Jesus answers (Mark 2:27):

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Again, this is a refusal to deify any worldly or human reality. It is a refusal to deify religion, in this case the Jewish one.

BeatitudesOne of the most impressive summaries of the teachings of Jesus is, without a doubt, the Sermon on the Mount. Father Robert Barron makes some very inspiring observations about the eight beatitudes, especially about the four seemingly more “negative” prescriptions (all the following fragments from Robert Barron are taken from Barron, Robert. Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. New York: Image Books, 2011, pp.43-47):

“Thomas Aquinas said that the four typical substitutes for God are wealth, pleasure, power, and honor. Sensing the void within, we attempt to fill it up with some combination of these four things, but only by emptying out the self in love can we make the space for God to fill us. The classical tradition referred to this errant desire as ‘concupiscence,’ but I believe that we could neatly express the same idea with the more contemporary term ‘addiction.’ When we try to satisfy the hunger for God with something less than God, we will naturally be frustrated, and then in our frustration, we will convince ourselves that we need more of that finite good, so we will struggle to achieve it, only to find ourselves again, necessarily, dissatisfied. At this point, a sort of spiritual panic sets in, and we can find ourselves turning obsessively around this creaturely good that can never in principle make us happy.

And so Jesus says: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5:3). This is neither a romanticizing of economic poverty nor a demonization of wealth, but rather a formula for detachment. Might I suggest a somewhat variant rendition: how blessed are you if you are not attached to material things, if you have not placed the goods that wealth can buy at the center of your concern? When the Kingdom of God [love, mercy, grace] is your ultimate concern, not only will you not become addicted to material things; you will, in fact, be able to use them with great effectiveness for God’s purposes [love]. Under this same rubric of detachment consider the beatitude ‘Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Mt 5:4). Again, this can sound like the worst sort of masochism, but we have to dig deeper. We could render this adage as how blessed, how ‘lucky’… you are if you are not addicted to good feelings. Pleasant sensations – physical, emotional, psychological – are wonderful, but since they are only a finite good, they can easily drive an addiction, as can clearly be seen in the prevalence of psychotropic drugs, gluttonous habits of consumption, and pornography in our culture. Again, Jesus’s saying hasn’t a thing to do with puritanism; it has to do with detachment and hence with spiritual freedom. Unaddicted to sensual pleasure, one can unreservedly follow the will of God, even when such a path involves psychological or physical suffering.”

I wrote an earlier post on this blog about the religious vows (click here for more). It joins these considerations by Father Barron:

Saint Francis of AssisiBefore I got to know the Christian faith I always thought the three religious vows were an abomination. Why would anyone deliberately choose a seemingly masochistic way of a life in “poverty, chastity and obedience”? Only after I saw a documentary on the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York and only after I delved into the Gospels more carefully I discovered that these vows were not ends in themselves, but should actually be understood as means to seeming antitheses of those very vows. It turns out that the three religious vows are anything but masochistic. They should be based on the paradox of the Gospel:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24a-25).

Concerning the vow of poverty: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to become rich will become poor… Indeed. Ever met those people who “wanted it all” – perhaps in the mirror? Those who want to enjoy as much parties as possible? If you want all the clothes in the world and go out shopping all the time you won’t ever fully enjoy any of your clothes. If you want to attend ten parties in just one night you will not have enjoyed any of them, because you will constantly worry about the next party you might be missing. If you want to love all the women in the world, you won’t have loved any of them in the end.

The challenge is to choose life where it’s present. As a present. To quote John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The challenge is to live in the here and the now. To choose quality instead of worrying about quantity. Intensity. NON MULTA SED MULTUM. Epicurus (BC 341-270) already warns against discomposing desires: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” If you stop trying to possess what others have (which is the same as no longer surrendering to mimetic desire), you will become aware of the things you do have and discover that there’s a world of plenty in one single moment, at one place.

Saint Francis of Assisi (Regina Ammerman)Imagine what this attitude of “having enough” could mean for the natural environment! It’s no surprise Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) deeply respected and enjoyed the riches of nature… If only we could follow his example a little better.

Concerning the vow of chastity: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to love everyone will not be able to love anyone… If you are a heterosexual bachelor who tries to develop a friendly relationship with a woman, you might soon find out that the woman herself or others fear you’re friendly because you want “something more”. This fear might prevent the possibility of more intimate relationships. On the other hand, when people know you’re married or that you took another voSaint Francis and the Sultanw of chastity, they will not have to fear you’re “after something more than friendship”. This opens up the possibility of more authentic and intimate relationships. It opens up the possibility of meeting the other as “other”, of true personal care – CURA PERSONALIS. Of course, we all know that in human relationships there is no black and white. There’s lots of colors in between the limits of a “grey zone”.

In yet other words, using another formula from the Gospels (the aforementioned “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”):

Wealth is there for man (in service of neighborly love – considering wealth as a means to help our neighbor), not man for wealth (we shouldn’t exploit our neighbor to become wealthy – considering wealth as our goal, and not our neighbor). That’s why Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [the reality of love]” (Mt 5:3).

The development of a sexual relationship is a consequence of our love for the other, it is not the end of our relationship. The other should not be a means to satisfy our sexual desires, but our sexual desires are, in ideal circumstances, consequences of a very intimate friendship. True love accepts to bear sadness when beloved others are unhappy, it does not seek pleasure at the expense of others (a child molester, for instance, doesn’t care about the brokenness of his victim as he is addicted to pleasure). That’s why Jesus says: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4).

Father Barron again:

“Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land’ (Mt 5:5). I don’t know of any culture at any time that would be tempted to embrace this beatitude as a practical program of world conquest! Meek people don’t come to positions of political or institutional influence. But once more, Jesus is not so much passing judgment on institutions of power as he is showing a path of detachment. How lucky you are if you are not attached to the finite good of worldly power. Many people up and down the centuries have felt that the acquisition of power is the key to beatitude. In the temptation scene in the Gospel of Matthew, the devil, after luring Christ with the relatively low-level temptations toward sensual pleasure and pride, brings Jesus to the top of a tall mountain and reveals to him all of the kingdoms of the world in their glory and offers them to Jesus. Matthew’s implication is that the drive to power is perhaps the strongest, most irresistible temptation of all. In the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien, who had tasted at first hand the horrors of the First World War and had witnessed those of the Second, conceived a ring of power as the most tempting talisman in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. But if you are detached from worldly power, you can follow the will of God, even when that path involves extreme powerlessness. Meek – free from the addiction to ordinary power – you can become a conduit of true divine power to the world.

The last of the ‘negative’ beatitudes is ‘Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 5:10). We must read this, once again, in light of Thomas Aquinas’s analysis. If the call to poverty holds off the addiction to material things, and the summons to mourn counters the addiction to good feelings, and the valorization of meekness blocks the addiction to power, this last beatitude gets in the way of the addictive attachment to honor. Honor is a good thing in the measure that it is a “flag of virtue,” signaling to others the presence of some excellence, but when love of honor becomes the center of one’s concern, it, like any other finite good, becomes a source of suffering. Many people who are not terribly attracted to wealth, pleasure, or power are held captive by their desire for the approval of others, and they will accordingly, order their lives, arrange their work, and plot their careers with the single value in mind of being noticed, honored and endowed with titles. But this again involves the attempt to fill up the infinite longing with a finite good, and it produces, by the laws of spiritual physics, addiction. Therefore, how lucky are you if you are not attached to honor and hence are able to follow the will of God even when that path involves being ignored, dishonored, and, at the limit, persecuted.”

agape loveTo gain social recognition often means that you’re accepted not for who you are, but for the image you’re presenting of yourself. Indeed, you’re losing your life while trying to “gain the whole world”. This process might also imply that you’re sacrificing others to protect that socially acceptable image. The apostle Peter denies knowing Jesus when the latter is arrested. Fearing that his association with Jesus will make him socially unacceptable as well, Peter presents an untruthful image of himself. From this angle Jesus rightfully says: “But whoever loses their life for me will save it…” (Luke 9:24b). If you lose your socially acceptable image to defend the one who is socially deprived, you will gain a truer identity as an unexpected and surprising consequence. To (re)establish relationships with the excluded is to take part in the dynamic of agape (love for one’s neighbor). It is making the “Body of Christ” – which is a body of Love – transparent. In short, if you lose the love for your image, then you gain love for yourself and others.

Faces of Christ (Body of Christ)

Concerning the vow of obedience: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to be free will be imprisoned… Oh yes, we tend to listen to the ones who are promising us a great future, a beautiful career, happiness etc. – in one word: “paradise”. But if a workaholic keeps on listening to his boss, he will remain a puppet of a degrading work ethic. If a drug addict keeps on believing the drug dealer who tells him that he doesn’t really have any problem, he will remain an enslaved human being for the rest of his life… In contrast, the vow of obedience means that you will try to obey to the Voice of a Love that wants what’s best for you. It means listening to a Voice that liberates you and enables you to be who you are… Only if you’re capable of accepting and loving yourself, you will be capable of loving others as well. The drug addict is so in need of drugs that he will approach others because of this need. He will use others to satisfy his needs and he won’t be able to approach them as ends in themselves. But if he frees himself from these needs and takes responsibility for himself he will be able to take responsibility for others as well. FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY are twin brothers, or sisters…

Father Barron has the last word:

Thomas Aquinas (Gentile da Fabriano)“Thomas Aquinas said that if you want to see the perfect exemplification of the beatitudes, you should look to Christ crucified. The saint specified this observation as follows: if you want beatitude (happiness), despise what Jesus despised on the cross and love what he loved on the cross. What did he despise on the cross but the four classical addictions? The crucified Jesus was utterly detached from wealth and worldly goods. He was stripped naked, and his hands, fixed to the wood of the cross, could grasp at nothing. More to it, he was detached from pleasure. On the cross, Jesus underwent the most agonizing kind of physical torment, a pain that was literally excruciating (ex cruce, from the cross), but he also experienced the extreme of psychological and even spiritual suffering (‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’). And he was bereft of power, even to the point of being unable to move or defend himself in any way. Finally on that terrible cross he was completely detached from the esteem of others. In a public place not far from the gate of Jerusalem, he hung from an instrument of torture, exposed to the mockery of the crowd, displayed as a common criminal. In this, he endured the ultimate of dishonor. In the most dramatic way possible, therefore, the crucified Jesus demonstrates a liberation from the four principal temptations that lead us away from God. […]

But what did Jesus love on the cross? He loved the will of his Father [Love]. […] What he loved and what he despised were in a strange balance on the cross. Poor in spirit, meek, mourning, and persecuted, he was able to be pure of heart, to seek righteousness utterly, to become the ultimate peacemaker, and to be the perfect conduit of the divine mercy to the world. Though it is supremely paradoxical to say so, the crucified Jesus is the man of beatitude, a truly happy man. And if we recall our discussion of freedom, we can say that Jesus nailed to the cross is the very icon of liberty, for he is free from those attachments that would prevent him from attaining the true good, which is doing the will of his Father [Love].

One of the most brutally realistic and spiritually powerful depictions of the crucifixion is the central panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece painted in the late fifteenth century by the German artist Matthias Grünewald. Jesus’s body is covered with sores and wounds, his head is surrounded by a particularly brutal crown of thorns, his hands and feet are pierced, not with tiny nails, but with enormous spikes, and, perhaps most terribly, his mouth is agape in worldless agony. The viewer is spared none of the horror of this most horrible of deaths. To the right of the figure of Jesus, Grünewald has painted, in an eloquent anachronism, John the Baptist, the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. John is indicating Jesus as the Lamb of God, but he does so in the most peculiar way. Instead of pointing directly at the Lord, John’s arm and hand are oddly twisted, as though he had to contort himself in order to perform his task. One wonders whether Grünewald was suggesting that our distorted expectations of what constitutes a joyful and free life have to be twisted out of shape (and hence back into proper shape) in order for us to grasp the strange truth revealed in the crucified Christ.”

Isenheim Altarpiece (Matthias Grünewald)

GEEN VREDE, MAAR EEN ZWAARD (Erik Buys)

GEEN VREDE, MAAR EEN ZWAARD – Een christelijke provocatie in tijden van Facebook, IS en vluchtelingenstromen is onder andere te bestellen bij uitgeverij Averbode – klik hier. Geïnteresseerden kunnen hieronder meer informatie vinden.

De wereldgeschiedenis is meer dan eens getekend door utopieën van vrede die telkens tragisch ontaarden in dystopieën van geweld. Jezus’ woord in Matteüs 10,34 komt voor christenen dan ook bevreemdend over: “Ik ben geen vrede komen brengen, maar een zwaard.” De vraag is wat bedoeld wordt met dat zwaard.

geen vrede, maar een zwaard (front cover) - Erik Buys

geen vrede, maar een zwaard (back cover) - Erik Buys

In dit boek overweegt Erik Buys waartoe Jezus van Nazareth, zoals hij wordt voorgesteld en verder bediscussieerd in de canon van het Nieuwe Testament, inspireert en uitdaagt met betrekking tot al te menselijke dromen van vrede, voorspoed en harmonie. Het eerste deel neemt de vorm aan van een christologisch essay vanuit de zoektocht naar het voorbeeld dat Jezus wil stellen. In een tweede deel worden de ‘christologische principes’ toegepast op actuele situaties.

Op zaterdag 4 november, van 11 tot 12 uur, wordt het boek voorgesteld op de Antwerpse boekenbeurs in de vorm van een panelgesprek met Mark Janssens (presentator bij Klara), Nikolaas Sintobin s.j. (internetpastor), Filip Noël o.praem. (redacteur bij uitgeverij Averbode), Alexander Van de Sijpe en Karel Brackeniers (oud-leerlingen van het Sint-Jozefscollege, Aalst).

 

Prof. dr. Wolfgang Palaver, Institut für Systematische Theologie, Universität Innsbruck:

Wie vandaag geconfronteerd wordt met de uitdagingen van sociale media, populisme, terrorisme of de vluchtelingencrisis, krijgt in dit boek een diepgaand perspectief, geworteld in de evangeliën en gebaseerd op de antropologie van René Girard.

Prof. George Dunn, University of Indianapolis, USA & Zhejiang University, China:

De manier waarop Erik Buys het evangelie begrijpt, is grondig geïnformeerd door zijn verkenning van René Girards mimetische theorie, die hij kent als zijn broekzak. Hij slaagt erin om met een veelheid aan goed gekozen voorbeelden de betekenis van het evangelie te belichten met behulp van Girards inzichten. Daarnaast heeft hij een uitzonderlijk scherp oog voor de complexe dynamieken van verlangen en ressentiment, die vormgeven aan actuele gebeurtenissen. Hij geeft een intrigerend christelijk antwoord op de crisissen van onze tijd.

Interview door Adam Ericksen van The Raven Foundation:

Here are a few topics we discussed:

The logic and the scandal of Jesus are both provocative.

If you call yourself a “Christian nation” but you exclude refugees, then you aren’t a Christian nation.

You have more in common with your enemy than you think.

Narcissism. Like, was Jesus a narcissist?

The Gerasene Demoniac and our need for common enemies.

How, in the 19th century, Nietzsche explained the motivation of ISIS warriors. Whoa … Nietzsche was brilliant.

The real miracle of Jesus is not that he can manipulate nature and natural forces. The real miracle is that he is concerned about people who do not belong to the group. All any of us want is to belong. Well, with Jesus, you have a place at the table. You belong. But so does your enemy … That could be awkward … So, where are you going to sit?

Hope you enjoy this provocative conversation!

Inhoudsopgave (pdf)

geen vrede, maar een zwaard (inhoudsopgave eerste deel)geen vrede, maar een zwaard (inhoudsopgave tweede deel)

Peace I leave with you

Fun@School (SJC Aalst, Collegecross, 2017)

Muslim WomenOnce upon a time, there was this Muslim woman who wore a headscarf and always went on a rant when she saw other Muslim women without headscarves. She thought Muslim women without the scarf were “bad Muslims”. After her husband died, however, she herself decided not to wear the scarf any longer and let her hair hang down. As it turned out, she had been afraid of her husband, her family and the village she used to live in, and that was the real reason why she had worn the scarf. She thought that she would have lost face when she didn’t dress like the other women in her village. All along, she had desired to walk around like Muslim women without a headscarf, but because she hadn’t been able to fulfill this desire, she had convinced herself that she didn’t want to walk around without a headscarf, and she had begun to despise women who didn’t wear a scarf. That’s how she had comforted herself, how she had reconciled herself with her situation. In other words, this woman had been driven by ressentiment: she had developed an aversion towards something she had secretly desired.

Muslim WomanA couple of years ago, I had the privilege of welcoming some Muslim girls in my religion class. Among them were two sisters from Chechnya. Years later I came across them again in the streets of my hometown. One was wearing a headscarf, the other was not. I asked the one without the scarf if she considered herself less religious than her sister. She assured me that this was not the case, and her sister, the one with the scarf, added that it was not really an issue. The latter also wasn’t at all disturbed that her sister didn’t wear a scarf. She was happy with wearing a headscarf, it was her freely chosen way of symbolizing her faith, but she could understand that her sister made other choices.

Makes you think… Apparently, to point the finger at someone sometimes has to do with a desire to uphold a certain reputation or image. If you do things because of love for what you are doing, you are less inclined to judge people who make other choices (within certain ethical limits, of course).

Collegecross SJC Aalst 2016Yesterday our high school (Sint-Jozefscollege, Aalst – Belgium) organized its yearly run. Since a couple of years, our senior year students try to make their run more playful and humorous, instead of competitive. They just want to have some fun together. What I notice, however, is that a few of them do feel tempted to act like a nuisance to other students (or, in the past, to teachers and principals as well). They can’t seem to accept that not every student has the same idea of fun and humor. To those (few) students who point fingers at supposedly “uncool” and “lacking sense of humor” classmates, I would ask: if you are enjoying yourselves and if you are having fun (because of love for… the fun!), why would you care about others and their idea of fun? The thing is, if “having fun” and “being humorous” become serious business, not allowed to being put into perspective and to being criticized, then they gradually lose the fun and the humor. Especially when they become moral instruments for judging others.

This all happens when “having fun” is not primarily a sign that people are enjoying themselves, but is a way of establishing a “cool” reputation or image. Some students seem to imagine that they are performing some “heroic act against an all too disciplined school system” (which is not the case; our school is very tolerating – but maybe some of our students are a bit spoiled?). Their all too necessary “humor” becomes an outlet for frustrations. Although they reproach others with being humorless, they themselves seem filled with bitterness, unable to minimize the importance of their “fun”. Fun at the expense of others is no fun at all. It is often a sign of ressentiment.

In short, like a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf because she wants to uphold a certain reputation, some students “have fun” because they want to be noticed as “cool dudes”. It’s basic narcissism. And like the Muslim woman who wears a headscarf because of her image has the tendency to point fingers at others (she blames Muslim women without a headscarf for “not being true Muslims”), some students who “have fun” because of their image also have the tendency to point fingers at others (they blame the student who doesn’t take part in their particular activity for “not being humorous”).

Charlie Chaplin Quote on Laugh

On the other hand, a Muslim woman who freely wears a headscarf, because of love, will not have the tendency to point fingers at others. She will not bother or harm others. After all, she loves how she dresses. Equally, students who freely enjoy themselves, because of love, will not have the tendency to point fingers at others. They will not bother or harm others. After all, they love what they are doing…

Science or the Resurrection to Beauty

  • THE SPIRITUALITY OF A SCIENTIFIC ATTITUDE

Spirituality or a spiritual attitude basically consists of an interest in reality because of reality itself. It means that you do not reduce reality to a particular need or something that is useful (and, of course, what human beings need is not only defined by nature; we also mimetically learned to desire things beyond merely biological needs – nurture has its way as well in human life). It also means that the question of something’s or someone’s worth is not dependent on the question of usefulness. For instance, in a spiritual sense it makes no sense to ask about a newborn baby what he or she can be used for.

Nowadays we often seem brainwashed to approach reality from a utilitarian or even purely economic point of view. But this means that other aspects of reality and a more complete understanding of it remain in the dark. Therefore, St. John of the Cross writes:

St John of the Cross quote on spiritual understandingIf you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually. If you deny your appetite for them, you will enjoy their truth, understanding what is certain in them.

Indeed, if a student no longer approaches a poem merely because of a possible test about it and because of a desire to get good grades, the student can become interested in the poem because of the poem itself – and enjoy its beauty. Indeed, if a physicist does not approach nature from the question how it can be made of use for the survival of the human species (what physicists rarely do, anyway), the physicist may approach the truth of nature more fully – and enjoy its poetry.

carrot and stick methodTruth, in whatever sense, does not primarily have to be useful. Truth has to be true. Nowadays, all too often in science too, research is legitimized by utilitarian concerns. But this is not what drives scientists who are involved in a quest for truth. The following clip may illustrate this. It is about assistant Professor Chao-Lin Kuo who surprises Professor Andrei Linde with evidence that supports cosmic inflation theory. The discovery, made by Kuo and his colleagues at the BICEP2 experiment, represents the first images of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time. These waves have been described as the “first tremors of the Big Bang.” Note that possible recognition by organizations like the Nobel Prize Committee is a consequence of what these scientists do, it is not a goal that serves as the source of their passion and vocation as “truth seekers” (they are not enslaved donkeys who need that kind of carrot to move). Click to watch:

 

  • SPIRITUALITY IN AMERICAN BEAUTY (SAM MENDES, 1999)

The core of the spiritual attitude is portrayed magnificently in American Beauty (the 1999 Sam Mendes picture that would eventually win 5 Academy Awards out of 8 nominations). Lester Burnham, the main character (played by Academy Award winning actor Kevin Spacey), “passes from death to life” as he awakens to a fuller awareness of reality. In the beginning of the film Lester is entangled in the preoccupations of a society that focuses on appearances. Clearly he has gradually learned to approach other people and things from the question whether or not they are useful in his pursuit of happiness. Instead of giving him a fulfilled life, this utilitarian approach has left him empty and alienated from himself and others. “In a way, I am dead already,” he says.

Playboy Bunny Carrot CartoonThroughout the film, Lester becomes obsessed with the young “American Beauty” Angela, a friend of his daughter Jane. He mainly fantasizes about her as the ultimate fulfillment of his sexual desires. Angela knows about this male gaze all too well, and she presents herself accordingly in order to gain some sort of (questionable) recognition. Maybe she could have become a playboy bunny in the mansion of the late Hugh Hefner (1926-2017), who knows?

Angela appears to be a sexually very experienced girl. The reality, however, is that she is still a virgin. Lester awakens to this reality when he is on the verge of having sex with her. “This is my first time,” she tells him. This statement literally brings Lester to his senses. After that, he no longer approaches Angela from his particular needs, but he opens up to the more complete reality of the vulnerable angel that she is. In short, Lester becomes interested in Angela because of Angela herself, and not because of the satisfaction of his desires. For the first time he really looks at her more closely. He learns to love the truth and beauty of who she is, and is no longer blinded by who she appears to be. He converts to Love.

Lester has rediscovered a truly spiritual perspective on life, a perspective that is exemplified throughout the film by the character of Ricky, the son of the family next door. Ricky is able to contemplate reality because of reality itself and discovers beauty in all things. He is even moved by a bag, dancing in the wind. As he watches the film he made of it together with Jane, he says:

Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever filmed? It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing. And there’s this electricity in the air. You can almost hear it, right? And this bag was just… dancing with me… like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know that there was no reason to be afraid… ever. Video is a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.

Click to watch this scene:

These words of Ricky are repeated at the end of the film by Lester, whose voice over is actually the voice over of a dead man, a murdered man. By quoting the words of Ricky, Lester shows that he has truly become alive to reality as a whole. The paradox, of course, is that in the beginning of the film Lester is physically alive but dead spiritually (remember him saying, “In a way, I am dead already.”). At the end of the film he is dead physically but resurrected to a spiritually fulfilled life.

Biblically speaking, Lester went from being like Cain to being like Abel (see Genesis 4). Apparently, Cain’s goal in life is the recognition of others. He desires the affirmation of a certain idea of himself, and thus does not love himself nor others (he is not interested in others because of themselves, but because of his desire for recognition). Abel, on the other hand, approaches others because of a love for those others themselves. He presents a gift to make someone happy, not to gain some sort of status or prestige. Of course, the possible consequence of love is recognition. Cain, in contrast, presents a gift to get attention. That’s why he becomes jealous of his brother Abel when he sees that Abel’s gift is noticed and his is not. If Cain’s goal would have been to love the other, he would have been happy to see the other happy, even if it wasn’t with his gift. Cain’s deeds, however, clearly are not inspired by love. That’s why he becomes mad and that’s why he is unable to feel gratitude for the attention he does receive when the other he presented his gift to asks him, “Why are you so mad?” Dead to himself, Cain is dead to others as well. Eventually, Abel is also physically murdered by him. Indeed, if you’re associated with others who become obstacles to a desirable social image, you run the risk of being banned, eliminated or killed. Concerned with socially acceptable images, people tend to be in a constant state of transiency (“eternal life does not reside” in their identity, as they constantly have to change it to what’s popular), which, like Cain, leads them to hate themselves and others. In the New Testament, the first letter of John summarizes all of these insights (1 John 3: 11-15):

This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

In American Beauty, Lester becomes one of those victims of people who want to protect their self-image. However, instead of mimetically responding to the lack of love and the evil that he had to endure by seeking revenge, he focuses on the love he did receive. That’s why he does not stay mad. That’s why he is eventually fulfilled with gratitude. Filled with grace, he becomes merciful – a forgiving victim (see James Alison’s theology). These are his final words:

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… You will someday.

Click to watch more scenes and their analysis:

 

CLICK HERE TO SEE SCAPEGOATING IN AMERICAN BEAUTY