An Introduction to Mimetic Theory





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. 







The Sacrifices of Socrates and Jesus: a Comparison

Much has been written already about similarities and differences between the trials of Socrates and Jesus. This short sketch tries to understand how their sacrifices are interpreted in some key text fragments. It also tries to answer the question whether or not these sacrifices should be understood as vindications of a social order based on sacrifice or, on the contrary, as denunciations of such an order. In the process, this little inquiry also attempts to shed light on Socrates’ and Jesus’ own understanding of their sacrifice, according to the key texts. In the case of Socrates, the focus will lie on Plato’s Dialogue Crito. In the case of Jesus the texts of the canonical Gospels will be questioned, the Gospel of John especially. Readers should please note that the following considerations are merely suggestions for further reflection, as is evidenced by references to some scholarly articles in pdf (see the end).

In Crito, Socrates presents a justification of his death as he reasons from the perspective of an Athenian citizen whose duty it is to obey the Athenian laws. Socrates creates a dialogue between himself and the laws when he tries to convince his friend Crito that he, Socrates, should not escape from prison and accept his punishment. Socrates presents an argument that should be acceptable from Crito’s point of view. In Crito 50e-51c the laws say the following (Socrates impersonating the laws himself):

“Since you [Socrates] have been born and brought up and educated, could you say that you were not our offspring and slave from the beginning, both you and your ancestors? And if this is so, do you suppose that justice between you and us is based on equality, and do you think that whatever we might try to do to you, it is just for you to do these things to us in return? Justice between you and your father, or your master if you happened to have one, was not based on equality, so that you could not do whatever you had suffered in return, neither speak back when crossed nor strike back when struck nor many other such things. Will you be allowed to do this to your homeland and the laws, so that, if we try to destroy you, thinking this to be just, you will then try to destroy us the laws and your homeland in return with as much power as you have and claim that you’re acting justly in doing so, the man who truly cares about virtue? Are you so wise that it has slipped your mind that the homeland is deserving of more honor and reverence and worship than your mother and father and all of your other ancestors? And is held in higher esteem both by the gods and by men of good sense? And that when she is angry you should show her more respect and compliance and obedience than your father, and either convince her or do what she commands, and suffer without complaining if she orders you to suffer something? And that whether it is to be beaten or imprisoned, or to be wounded or killed if she leads you into war, you must do it? And that justice is like this, and that you must not be daunted or withdraw or abandon your position, but at war and in the courts and everywhere you must do what the city and the homeland orders, or convince her by appealing to what is naturally just? And that it is not holy to use force against one’s mother or father, and it is so much worse to do so against one’s homeland?”

And in Crito 51d:

“[…] and yet even so we pronounce that we have given the power to any Athenian who wishes, when he has been admitted as an adult and sees the affairs of the city and us the laws and is not pleased with us, to take his possessions and leave for wherever he wants.”

The Death of Socrates (Jacques-Louis David, 1787)

According to the speech of the laws, a citizen of Athens should act out of a spirit of obedience. An Athenian citizen is said to be “a slave [of the laws] from the beginning”. Moreover, an Athenian citizen should consider it a holy duty to accept execution and should be willing to sacrifice oneself when the homeland, structured and defined by the transcending order of the laws, demands it and when the citizen fails to convince the homeland otherwise “by appealing to what is naturally just”. Hence, “it is not holy to use force against one’s mother or father, and it is so much worse to do so against one’s homeland”.

So, in the end, from this point of view, obeying the laws seems more important than “what is naturally just”. Moreover, as Crito 51d makes clear, those who refuse to accept the order of things in Athens are advised to ban themselves from the city.

This reasoning is crucially different from Jesus’ point of view in the canonical Gospels. According to Jesus, rules (in whatever way they are defined) should be means at the service of individual human beings and society as a whole, not the other way around. When Jesus and his disciples are criticized for doing things that are, strictly speaking, forbidden by Jewish law on the rest day – the Sabbath – Jesus answers (Mark 2:27): “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Contrary to his general ideas on the opinion of the masses (as is clear from other Dialogues), Socrates, speaking from the position of an average Athenian citizen, also uses the desire for recognition by the many as a positive factor in the speech of the laws: “The homeland is deserving of more honor and reverence and worship than your mother and father and all of your ancestors, and is held in higher esteem both by the gods and by men of good sense.” It is difficult to consider such statements as representations of Socrates’ own views in light of other Dialogues. Jesus also criticizes a desire for recognition that becomes an end in itself (see, for instance, Matthew 6:1a: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…”).

Another contrast between the Athenian laws and Jesus is perhaps highlighted by the following comparison. Socrates says (Crito 51c): “It is not holy to use force against one’s mother or father, and it is so much worse to do so against one’s homeland.” Compare this with the following words of Jesus (Matthew 10:34-36): “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” Opposed to the small and big forms of “peace” based on oppression and violence, of which the Pax Romana in the time of Jesus is an obvious case of course, Jesus challenges people to build peace differently. Family members who belong to a “home” where they can have debates with each other, members of enemy tribes who end age old feuds by questioning their own perception of “the other tribe”, former criminals who start to behave like “moles” to clear their violent Mafia gang, fundamentalists who – realizing what they do to those who supposedly don’t belong to “the chosen ones” – liberate themselves from religious indoctrinations, employees who address a reign of terror at their workplace, individuals who criticize the bullying of their own clique, pacifists who dare to dissent with the violent rule of a dictatorship and unveil its enemy images as grotesque caricatures – Jesus advocates it. “Love your enemies”, Jesus says (Matthew 5:44). Everyone who no longer condemns the external enemy of his own particular group because of a stirred up feeling of superiority, generates internal discord: “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” It’s only logical. In short, Jesus argues in favor of non-violent conflict in order to end violent peace. Hence Jesus’ conclusion in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”

The Athenian laws in Socrates’ speech justify a sacrificial order of things (a sacrificial peace) by demanding the death of Socrates. If Socrates would not accept his death, the laws suggest that he then is in a state of “trying to destroy the laws and his homeland”. Equally, the enemies of Jesus justify Jesus’ death by referring to a potential destruction of the nation. However, by effectively accepting his death, Socrates paradoxically demonstrates that the accusations he is charged with are fundamentally false, and by that he also demonstrates the injustice of his death sentence. Biblically speaking, Socrates “turns the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). In Crito, Socrates does not sacrifice the laws of Athens to establish his own rule. Instead, he accepts the legal verdict and, thus, resists a competition between his potential own sacrificial order of things and the actual one. In short, Socrates paradoxically “sacrifices himself against sacrifice”, much in the same vein as René Girard (1923-2015) describes the death of Jesus. It could be argued that, like the Gospels, Crito already reveals the scapegoat mechanism structuring communities, albeit in a slightly different way.

The Gospel of John perhaps more elaborately reveals how the scapegoat mechanism is at the origin of human culture (and sacrificial ritual).

It is noteworthy that Jesus does not believe in a God who wants him dead. If Jesus paradoxically sacrifices himself eventually, it is a consequence of his obedience to a Love that “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). He does not want to live at the expense of others, not even his “enemies”. That’s why he says, when he is questioned by Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Jesus does not want to start a civil war. He does not want to establish a rule based on the sacrifice of a previous order. In other words, Jesus refuses “mimetic rivalry” (for more, click here). He does not want to abolish the law, but wants to put it at the service of neighborly love (which was the intention of the Jewish law all along).

In the Gospel of John, the devil is a personification of the scapegoat mechanism (which means that an innocent individual or group is wrongfully accused). Jesus knows that the leaders of the Jewish people, the Pharisees and the chief priests, want him dead and that they try to justify his death with certain lies. They obey “the devil” – indeed the mechanism that justifies the elimination of people based on lies.

John 8: 39-44

“If you, Pharisees, were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The Pharisees and chief priests are afraid that the growing popularity of Jesus might become a threat to their power. That’s why they try to present him as a rebel leader who could lead an uprising against the Roman occupier of Judea. A war with the Romans would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture. Therefore the Jewish leaders see no other solution than to get rid of Jesus. It’s their way of justifying his elimination.

John 11: 45-50

Many of the Jews who had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

In the case of Jesus, the Gospel of John leaves no doubt that these allegations are false. The Evangelist lets Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect, unwittingly declare “the truth” about the arrested Jesus, namely that Jesus is innocent. Jesus does not wish to establish a “kingdom” or “peace” in competition with “the kings of this world” (whose kingdoms are based on sacrifices and the expulsion of certain people – like the “Pax Romana”). In other words, the Gospel of John reveals the plot against Jesus by the Pharisees and the chief priests as a scapegoat mechanism: Jesus is wrongfully accused. He refuses to start a civil war that would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture.

John 18: 33-38

Pilate summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

Christ on the Cross (Jacques-Louis David, 1782)

René Girard comments on how the Gospels, in principle, destroy the devil or “Satan” as the endless violent cycle of mimetic rivalry and scapegoat mechanisms ruling the human world (in I see Satan Fall like Lightning, Orbis Books, New York, 2002, p.142):

“By depriving the victim mechanism of the darkness that must conceal it so it can continue to control human culture, the Cross shakes up the world… Satan is no longer able to limit his capacity for destruction. Satan will destroy his kingdom, and he will destroy himself.”

In yet other words (Col 2:15):

“Having disarmed the powers and authorities, Christ made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

In what way Socrates also made a “public spectacle” of “the powers and principalities” as a kindred spirit to Christ, is open to further debate. An important difference is the fact that Socrates fought in the Peloponnesian war (431 – 404 BC), while Christ radically refused violence (see Matthew 26:52).

Some scholars have argued that the speech of the laws actually represents Socrates’ own view – see, for instance: Socrates Misinterpreted and Misapplied: An Analysis of the Constructed Contradiction between the Apology and the Crito (by Masha Marchevsky, Macalester College). Others understand the speech as an attempt to persuade Crito and indeed reveal something fundamental about the nature of politics – see, for instance: Law, Philosophy, and Civil Disobedience: The Laws’ Speech in Plato’s Crito (by Steven Thomason, Ouachita Baptist University).

As for now, I tend to side with those who consider the speech of the laws as not representing the views of Socrates himself. On a personal note, I should thank my friend George Dunn, who, after a lively and sharp Facebook discussion, forced me to reconsider my initial position and made possible the above reflection.

Christian Love During Christmas Exams (Nietzsche vs Scheler)

It’s that time of year again. Advent? Christmas shopping? Charity fundraising? Sure. All of that and more. But also, exams!

It made me think of a particular situation between two friends, Jack and Bob. Jack used to come up to Bob in the morning, while Bob was repeating his courses for the exam that was about to take place. Jack would ask Bob these questions: “Did you pay special attention to that chapter? How long did you study, yesterday, for that part? At least five hours, no? Did you make sure to repeat the extracurricular material?” It drove Bob nuts! Jack made Bob feel bad about himself. Bob always thought that he was prepared well enough for his exams. After five minutes in the presence of Jack, however, Jack somehow managed to give Bob the eerie feeling that Bob might not be up to the task at hand, time and again!

Years later, I realized that this might have been Jack’s purpose all along, albeit maybe rather unconsciously. Sure, his annoying questions and remarks were always wrapped in a package of so-called “good intentions”. He seemed concerned about Bob. But as it turned out, this concern really was a way of troubling Bob. Jack’s “love” came from a little jealousy and resentment. After all, at the end of the day, Bob’s grades were always much better than Jack’s!

Things got worse when Bob started a relationship with the girl Jack secretly had fallen in love with. Her name was Marilyn. At first, Jack comforted himself with the thought that Marilyn “really was a dumb blonde”, and that “Bob was stupid for wanting a relationship with her”. Other friends of Jack confirmed Jack’s ideas. Jack hated Bob for being “so blind”. In the end, however, Jack’s hatred of Bob transformed to pity, even compassion. He felt sorry for Bob, who was “wasting time” with a girl like Marilyn. Once again, Jack managed to make Bob feel bad about himself!

According to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Christian love is comparable to Jack’s so-called love for his friend Bob.

Nietzsche claims that, in Antiquity, the Jews represented a group of weak people who were secretly jealous of the people in power. However, because they couldn’t possess the same position as the powerful, the Jews started comforting themselves with the delusion that “there is one true God who takes sides with the weak, the oppressed and marginalized victims”. The Jews became convinced that the gods at the side of the powerful were false, and that they wouldn’t want to trade places with “those blind, powerful people”. It is clear, in Nietzsche’s scenario, that this hatred of the powerful people’s position comes from hidden jealousy (hidden, even, from the jealous persons themselves). To get back to the aforementioned situation between Jack and Bob: Jack, who is secretly jealous of Bob, makes himself believe that he wouldn’t want to be in the situation of Bob with Marilyn to comfort himself for not obtaining that situation, like the Jews make themselves believe that they wouldn’t want to be in the situation of the powerful to comfort themselves for not obtaining that situation.

Calvin and Hobbes Resentment

Hatred is the first phase of resentment or, better still, ressentiment. Ressentiment literally is an aversion one develops towards something one secretly desires but cannot obtain. In Dutch a synonym for aversion (Dutch: “afkeer”) is “weerzin”, which goes back to a translation of the Latin prefix “re-” (“weer”) and the Latin noun “sensus” (“zin”). Sometimes ressentiment evolves into a second phase, whereby hatred transforms into a kind of compassion and love. Again according to Nietzsche, Christianity represents the second phase of the ressentiment of the Jews: instead of hating the powerful, Jesus of Nazareth starts pitying them. It’s like the story of Jack: in the end he no longer hates Bob, but he develops a feeling of compassion for Bob.

Still following Nietzsche, the dynamic of ressentiment is complete when the people one is secretly jealous of start feeling bad about themselves. That’s the ultimate revenge. Nietzsche claims that a Judeo-Christian morality based on ressentiment eventually contaminated western culture as a whole: powerful people started feeling bad about themselves. The powerful started developing a bad conscience, just like Bob under the influence of his so-called “worried friend” Jack.

Max Scheler & Friedrich Nietzsche

With all due respect to Nietzsche’s impressive account of ressentiment in the development of the West’s morality, it could be argued that Judeo-Christian love itself is not the result of ressentiment. Max Scheler (1874-1928) has done this. He concedes that ressentiment plays a powerful role in our world, but he firmly disagrees with Nietzsche concerning the true nature of Judeo-Christian morality. According to Scheler, Jesus of Nazareth embodies a love that is born, not from ressentiment or hidden jealousy, but from freedom. The love coming from Jesus of Nazareth is like the love of Johnny, yet another friend of Bob’s. Johnny truly was a happy camper, grateful for a life filled with more than he needed. He had a good relationship with his girlfriend Jacoba, for one thing, and at school he always got good grades. He was happy for Bob when Bob started his relationship with Marilyn. He was also concerned about the way Bob prepared for his exams, but contrary to Jack, Johnny sincerely looked after Bob because of Bob, and not because he needed to satisfy his hidden frustrations. In short, with his love, Johnny empowered Bob. Moreover, Johnny was able to reveal to Bob how Jack really was driven by resentment (or, better again, ressentiment), much in the same way as Jesus of Nazareth unveils the fears, the ressentiment and the ulterior motives of the people he meets. These types of revelations make possible new types of relationships between people: from love of one’s self-image (and its confirmation by others) to love of oneself and others. (For more on all this, especially on the way Jesus unmasks ressentiment, click here.)

It’s that time of year again, when we are challenged to imagine ourselves that a Being of Abundant Life comes to us as a fragile child in a manger, not because that Being of Abundant Life is secretly jealous of us, mere mortals, but to offer us a participation in its Abundant Life. That child in a manger does not want us to feel bad about ourselves, but it wants to empower us to love. And what other love responds more to the reality of that little, vulnerable babe than a love that comes from our fullness, from what we have to give rather than from our needs or what we are lacking? What other love responds more to the reality of that little, vulnerable babe than a love that is not driven by fear, wounded pride or resentment, but by hope and joy?

adoración de los pastores (Murillo)

A shepherd wants us to become shepherds, like a resurrected Abel, so like shepherds we shall adore him.

Slavoj Zizek on Atheism & Christianity

It is no secret that atheist philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, relies quite heavily on René Girard’s assessment of Christianity.

Slavoj Zizek refers to René Girard‘s work in the book God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse and concludes that Christianity, revealing the innocence of erstwhile sacrificial victims, “[undermines] the efficiency of the entire sacrificial mechanism of scapegoating: sacrifices (even of the magnitude of a holocaust) become hypocritical, inoperative, fake…” As this sacrificial mechanism is the cornerstone of religious behavior, Christianity thus indeed is “the religion of the end of religion” (atheist historian Marcel Gauchet). Zizek, still in the aforementioned essay, also briefly explains how Christianity potentially brings to an end the ever-present sacrificial temptation: “Following René Girard, Dupuy demonstrates how Christianity stages the same sacrificial process [of archaic religion], but with a crucially different cognitive spin: the story is not told by the collective which stages the sacrifice, but by the victim, from the standpoint of the victim whose full innocence is thereby asserted. (The first step towards this reversal can be discerned already in the book of Job, where the story is told from the standpoint of the innocent victim of divine wrath.)” This assessment of Christianity could also help to understand Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s call for a “religionless Christianity” (or maybe we should speak of a Christianity transforming religion rather than destroying it – click here for more).

In other words, Christianity is – in a profound sense – one of the main sources of secularization. Secular societies are challenged to build a world without “sacred sacrifices”. As Zizek notes, “the sacred sacrifice to the gods is the same as an act of murder – what makes it sacred is that it limits/contains violence, including murder, in everyday life.” Precisely because a secular society, heir to the dismantlement of “the archaic sacred” by Christianity, no longer possesses the traditional religious means to contain violence, it has to find other ways to deal with violence, or else destroy itself. Zizek quotes Jean-Pierre Dupuy in this regard: “Concerning Christianity, it is not a morality but an epistemology: it says the truth about the sacred, and thereby deprives it of its creative power, for better or for worse.” And Zizek continues: “Therein resides the world-historical rupture introduced by Christianity: now we know [the truth about the sacred], and can no longer pretend that we don’t. And, as we have already seen, the impact of this knowledge is not only liberating, but deeply ambiguous: it also deprives society of the stabilizing role of scapegoating and thus opens up the space for violence not contained by any mythic limit.”

(Quotes from Zizek in Slavoj Zizek & Boris Gunjevic, God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse [Essay] Christianity Against the Sacred, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2012, pp. 63-64).

Zizek’s understanding of Christianity, in line with Christians like Girard, Chesterton and Bonhoeffer (see below), allows him to criticize the “religious atheism” of people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and the like. For instance in the clip below:

Chesterton‘s reading of those famous ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?’ (‘Father, why have you forsaken me?’) is that only in Christianity, and for him this is crucial, God himself becomes for a moment an atheist. And this is so tremendously important for me.

I think far from this fashionable idea that the Christian era is over, you know, all of this Aquarius bullshit, and we are entering a new era… Yes, we are, but I don’t like this new era, neo-paganism and so on… I think that today precisely we should stick to this tremendous explosive impact, we are still not ready to confront it, of what Christianity is truly telling us.

This is why I like to say paradoxically that to be an atheist, but don’t be afraid, not in the Richard Dawkins – Christopher Hitchens sense, but this authentic atheism in the sense of experiencing the radical absence of any transcendent guarantee (and in this sense, for me, Stalinists, communists, Darwinists are not atheists… no, they always have some higher figure of necessity and so on…), you have to go through Christianity.

My formula is not just that I try to give some atheist reading of Christianity, how God is really meant, that’s bullshit, but that only through the Christian experience can you reach the abyss of what I call atheism, which, again, is something much more radical than all the bullshit of Richard Dawkins and so on.”


Zizek also explains how Christianity destroys every possible “scapegoat” people can use to escape their own freedom and responsibility. There is no “karma”, no “natural necessity”, etc. that justifies and explains why people are and behave as they do:

“The only way really to be an atheist is through Christianity. Christianity is much more atheist than the usual atheism, which can claim there is no God and so on, but nonetheless it retains a certain trust into the Big Other. This Big Other can be called natural necessity, evolution, or whatever. We humans are nonetheless reduced to a position within the harmonious whole of evolution, whatever, but the difficult thing to accept is again that there is no Big Other, no point of reference which guarantees meaning.”


Compare all this with the following quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from Widerstand und Ergebung):

“Und wir können nicht redlich sein, ohne zu erkennen, daß wir in der Welt leben müssen — ,’etsi deus non daretur’. Und eben dies erkennen wir – vor Gott! Gott selbst zwingt uns zu dieser Erkenntnis. So führt uns unser Mündigwerden zu einer wahrhaftigeren Erkenntnis unsrer Lage vor Gott. Gott gibt uns zu wissen, daß wir leben müssen als solche, die mit dem Leben ohne Gott fertig werden. Der Gott, der mit uns ist, ist der Gott, der uns verläßt (Markus 15, 34)! Der Gott, der uns in der Welt leben läßt ohne die Arbeitshypothese Gott, ist der Gott, vor dem wir dauernd stehen. Vor und mit Gott leben wir ohne Gott. Gott läßt sich aus der Welt herausdrängen ans Kreuz, Gott ist ohnmächtig und schwach in der Welt und gerade und nur so ist er bei uns und hilft uns. Es ist Matthäus 8,17 ganz deutlich, daß Christus nicht hilft kraft seiner Allmacht, sondern kraft seiner Schwachheit, seines Leidens!

Hier liegt der entscheidende Unterschied zu allen Religionen. Die Religiosität des Menschen weist ihn in seiner Not an die Macht Gottes in der Welt, Gott ist der deus ex machina. Die Bibel weist den Menschen an die Ohnmacht und das Leiden Gottes; nur der leidende Gott kann helfen. Insofern kann man sagen, daß die beschriebene Entwicklung zur Mündigkeit der Welt, durch die mit einer falschen Gottesvorstellung aufgeräumt wird, den Blick frei macht für den Gott der Bibel, der durch seine Ohnmacht in der Welt Macht und Raum gewinnt. Hier wird wohl die ‘weltliche Interpretation’ einzusetzen haben.”


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

Skepticist 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.

See also:

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. It means that they are considered as goals of mimetically driven desires; as parts of a love for a mimetically constructed psychosocial (self-)image, and not as means to or consequences of a love for one”self” (a self that is, paradoxically maybe, always “relational”) 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 and social status (“honor”) because of that wealth. Equally, a child molester, like a pedophile priest, 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! In the words of Robert Barron: “Love is not a sentiment or feeling. It is actively willing the good of the other.” Only if you are not fully defined by and attached to your biological need for survival, or your mimetically driven psychosocial desire for safety from potential rivals (power), for entertainment (pleasure), or for approval (honor), can you become free to experience reality more fully (no longer approaching it from any particular need). A scientist is truly a scientist when he is interested in reality because of reality itself, and not, for instance, because of his biological need for survival or because of a psychosocially mediated desire to become famous for his discoveries. What is true is true apart from whatever “need” or “desire”. Truth transcends those circumstances. 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. If you don’t deify yourself, if you don’t surrender to idolatry (of illusionary ideas of yourself), then you become able of accepting yourself more realistically (with your limits and mistakes), and then you might also be more able to accept others (with their limits and mistakes). In other words, if you “love God” (i.e. refuse to deify anything, including yourself), then you open up the possibility of “loving yourself”, which is the condition to “love others”.

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 the previous 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 might be a consequence of our love for the other, as 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).

If you don’t flee sadness because of the loss of a dearly beloved by “drinking away ‘bad feelings’ with alcohol”, you might allow the source of your sadness, which is the reality of the love for the person you lost. And by allowing that love, you also allow the comforting gratitude for what that person gave you and meant to you. 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, instead of defending Jesus. 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)

Original Latin text Robert Barron refers to:

Sancti Thomae de Aquino Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum (reportatio Reginaldi de Piperno)

(Textum Taurini 1954 editum ac automato translatum a Roberto Busa SJ in taenias magneticas denuo recognovit Enrique Alarcón atque instruxit)

Articulus 4

Passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus et sepultus


Nam, sicut dicit beatus Augustinus, passio Christi sufficit ad informandum totaliter vitam nostram. Quicumque enim vult perfecte vivere, nihil aliud faciat nisi quod contemnat quae Christus in cruce contempsit, et appetat quae Christus appetiit. Nullum enim exemplum virtutis abest a cruce.


Si quaeris exemplum contemnendi terrena, sequere eum qui est rex regum et dominus dominantium, in quo sunt thesauri sapientiae; in cruce tamen nudatum, illusum, consputum, caesum, spinis coronatum, et felle et aceto potatum, et mortuum. Igitur non afficiaris ad vestes, et ad divitias: quia diviserunt sibi vestimenta mea, Psal. XXI, 19; non ad honores, quia ego ludibria et verbera expertus sum; non ad dignitates, quia plectentes coronam de spinis imposuerunt capiti meo; non ad delicias, quia in siti mea potaverunt me aceto, Psal. LXVIII, 22.

Dutch Translation – Vertaling:

Artikel 4

Geleden onder Pontius Pilatus, gekruisigd, gestorven en begraven


Want zoals de zalige Augustinus zegt, de passie van Christus volstaat om de totaliteit van ons leven vorm te geven. Wie volmaakt wil leven, zou niets anders moeten doen dan verachten wat Christus verachtte op het kruis, en verlangen wat Christus verlangde [op het kruis].


Als je een voorbeeld zoekt van de verachting van aardse dingen, volg dan hem die de koning der koningen is en de heer der heerscharen, in wie zich de schatten bevinden van de wijsheid; op het kruis werd hij ontkleed, bespot, bespuwd, geslagen, gekroond met doornen, en gelaafd met azijn en gal, en is er gestorven. Daarom, wees niet gehecht aan kledij, en aan rijkdommen: want ze verdeelden mijn kleren onder hen, Psalm 21, 19; [wees] ook niet [gehecht] aan eer(bewijzen), want ik heb harde woorden en verwijten ondergaan; [wees] ook niet [gehecht] aan sociale rang (waardigheid, macht), want een doornen kroon wevend plaatsten ze die op mijn hoofd; [wees] ook niet [gehecht] aan genotvolle dingen, want in mijn dorst gaven ze mij azijn te drinken, Psalm 68, 22.