Don’t Blame the NON-EXISTENT GOD, Focus on the Reality of LOVE

I’m sure many of us hear the following voices from time to time:

They say that I should trust my boyfriend and respect his personal space and freedom, but that’s easy for them to say. How would they treat their current partners if they had been cheated on by their former partners, not once, but time and again?

***

They say that I should respect my liberal leftist teacher, but every time I open my mouth to talk about my deepest right-wing traditionalist convictions I am accused of being a narcissistic racist by some of my classmates.

***

They say that we should respect the so-called traditional family, but what about my best friend who is a victim of incest?

***

They say that I should respect my rightist classmate, but they forget that I’ve been called a libtard, moron and nigger constantly by many right-wing people over the past few years.

***

They say that I should respect the so-called beauty of nature and that I shouldn’t kick my dog when he’s behaving badly, but what do they know about the earthquake that destroyed my aunt’s house and the horse that smashed my brother’s face to smithereens?

***

They say that I should respect the immigrants who stay in the adjacent refugee center, but that’s easy for them to say. My daughter who lives in another town is harassed, almost daily, by a foreigner on the way to work.

***

They say that I should respect their culture and that I should be able to speak and write in their language, but they are not even themselves capable of writing in their own language without mistakes. In fact, I am better at writing in their language. Why should I accept the instruction of my professor to read one of the so-called great literary works of their culture while my own culture has some great writers as well?

***

They say that I should respect and cherish the so-called god-given gift of life, but they don’t seem to consider my trauma: the people who are dearest to me lost their lives in a car-crash. Why should I respect and believe in a god who apparently let this happen?

Have you ever experienced, like the voices above, a rejection or betrayal of yourself or the ones you love by your family, your friends, your classmates, your colleagues, your government, your president, strangers, foreigners, people with another worldview, or even the universe itself? If so, you probably also already took out your anxieties and frustrations on others in revenge of that rejection, although they had nothing to do with the trauma you experienced.

Your new boyfriend is not the old one who cheated on you. Your teacher is not the classmate who offended you. Your friend’s foster parent is not the uncle who abused your friend. Your rightist classmate is not the racist who doesn’t respect your color. Your dog is not the horse that smashed your brother’s face. Your refugee neighbor is not the foreigner who harassed your daughter. Your professor is not the double-standard hypocrite who expects things from you he wouldn’t expect from others.

All these people are non-existent enemies. They are blamed for things they are not responsible for. In other words, they are scapegoats who suffer from revenge – which is an imitated evil. The ultimate scapegoat, of course, is the non-existent god people sometimes get angry at. There is no god who controls our fate or who can be manipulated to have control over our fate.

The tragedy is that we might become so obsessed with fighting non-existing enemies that we ultimately create the enemy we actually wanted to destroy in order to save ourselves. Innocent others might get traumatized by our anger, and they might end up getting angry at others as well. Trauma often inflicts trauma. We might even become so obsessed with fighting the non-existent god and his illusory belief systems that we end up being dictated by the illusion ourselves.

The non-existent all-controlling god cannot prevent car-crashes in which we lose our beloved ones, nor can he cause them. He is not real. The love that connects us with those beloved ones, through and beyond pain and suffering, is real though. Eventually according to the Bible it is that love which reveals who God really is.

Ultimately, we want to love others and we want the love of others. When we experience the lack of others we love or the lack of love from others, we are hurt to the bone because our deepest desire is not met. We don’t want the pain and the sadness when people hurt us, or when people we love are taken away from us. We want love, even if it is because of love that we are able to feel hurt and sad in the first place. Love carries us. Even if we try to fight love with hate and indifference love is always first. Love is equally the source of our joy and our sadness, as it is the source of our indignation and attempts at indifference.

Focus on Love

So instead of focusing on a non-existent god and non-existent enemies because of our hurt, our sadness, our fear and our anger, isn’t it better to focus on the reality of the love that is felt through and beyond our pain? Isn’t it better to focus on the love that moves us beyond our fear, envy, possessiveness and revengefulness?

Those who were not able to let love in our lives shouldn’t be persecuted in others (or ourselves!) who have nothing to do with their sin. And those who showed us glimpses of what love is and who passed away or said goodbye shouldn’t be buried under grief when they can be gratefully present in our ability to love, each and every day.

Easily said. Not always easily done.

Love casts out Fear

NEDERLANDSE VERTALING:

BESCHULDIG GEEN ONBESTAANDE GOD, RICHT JE OP DE REALITEIT VAN DE LIEFDE

Ik ben er zeker van dat velen van ons gelijkaardige stemmen als de volgende al aan het woord hebben gehoord:

Ze zeggen dat ik mijn vriend moet vertrouwen en dat ik zijn persoonlijke ruimte en vrijheid moet respecteren, maar zij hebben gemakkelijk praten. Hoe zouden zij hun huidige partners behandelen als ze bedrogen zijn geweest door hun vorige partner, en dat niet één keer, maar telkens opnieuw?

***

Ze zeggen dat ik mijn leraar met zijn linkse opvattingen moet respecteren, maar elke keer als ik mijn mond open om te praten over mijn rechtse, conservatieve overtuigingen word ik racist genoemd door sommige klasgenoten.

***

Ze zeggen dat we respect moeten hebben voor het zogenaamd klassieke gezin, maar ze denken daarbij niet aan mijn vriendin die een slachtoffer is van incest.

***

Ze zeggen dat ik respect moet hebben voor die klasgenote met haar rechtse opvattingen, maar ze vergeten dat ik de voorbije jaren vele keren vuile neger werd genoemd door rechts georiënteerde mensen.

***

Ze zeggen dat ik de zogenaamde schoonheid van de natuur moet respecteren en dat ik mijn hond niet mag schoppen als hij zich misdraagt, maar zeg dat eens aan mijn tante wiens huis door een aardbeving werd vernietigd, en spreek eens met mijn broer wiens gezicht door de trap van een paard aan gruzelementen werd geslagen.

***

Ze zeggen dat ik de immigranten moet respecteren die in het naburige vluchtelingencentrum verblijven terwijl mijn dochter bijna elke dag wordt lastiggevallen door een vreemdeling op de weg naar haar werk.

***

Ze zeggen dat ik hun cultuur moet respecteren en dat ik hun taal moet kunnen spreken en schrijven, maar ze zijn zelf niet in staat om in hun eigen taal zonder fouten te schrijven. Eigenlijk schrijf ik zelfs beter in hun taal dan zijzelf. Waarom zou ik dan de opdracht van mijn professor aanvaarden om een van de zogenaamd grote literaire werken van hun cultuur te lezen, terwijl mijn cultuur ook grote schrijvers heeft voortgebracht?

***

Ze zeggen dat ik het zogenaamd goddelijke geschenk van het leven moet respecteren en koesteren, maar ze schijnen mijn trauma niet te overwegen: de mensen die mij het nauwst aan het hart liggen, lieten het leven in een auto-ongeluk. Waarom zou ik respect hebben voor en geloof hebben in een god die dit blijkbaar liet gebeuren?

Heb je ooit, zoals de zopas gehoorde stemmen, een afwijzing of verraad ervaren van jezelf of van mensen die je bemint door je familie, je vrienden, je klasgenoten, je collega’s, je regering, vreemdelingen, mensen met een andere levensbeschouwing, of zelfs “het universum” zelf? Indien je inderdaad die afwijzing hebt gevoeld, dan heb je waarschijnlijk ook wel al eens je angsten en frustraties afgereageerd op anderen die eigenlijk niets met jouw trauma te maken hebben.

Je nieuwe vriendje is niet je ex-vriendje dat jou bedrogen heeft. Je leraar is niet de klasgenoot die jou beledigde. De pleegouder van je vriendin is niet de oom die haar misbruikte. Je rechtse klasgenote is niet de raciste die geen respect heeft voor je huidskleur. Je hond is niet het paard dat het gezicht van je broer verbrijzelde. De vluchteling uit je buurt is niet de vreemdeling die je dochter lastigvalt. Je professor is niet de hypocriet die met twee maten en twee gewichten weegt; hij is niet iemand die van jou iets anders verwacht dan van anderen.

Al die mensen zijn onbestaande vijanden. Ze worden beschuldigd van zaken waarvoor ze niet verantwoordelijk zijn. Ze zijn, met andere woorden, zondebokken die lijden onder onze onterechte wraakzucht (en door die wraakzucht imiteren we het kwaad dat ons is aangedaan). De ultieme zondebok is natuurlijk de niet-bestaande god op wie mensen soms kwaad worden. Er is geen god die ons lot controleert en die we kunnen manipuleren om controle over ons lot te krijgen.

Het tragische is dat we zo geobsedeerd kunnen geraken door het bevechten van onze niet-bestaande vijanden dat we uiteindelijk toch een vijand creëren. En eigenlijk wilden we die vijand vernietigen om onszelf te redden. Onschuldige anderen kunnen getraumatiseerd geraken door de woede waarmee we ons afreageren, en daardoor kunnen zij dan weer boos worden op anderen. Trauma’s brengen vaak nieuwe trauma’s voort. We kunnen zelfs zo geobsedeerd geraken door het bevechten van een niet-bestaande god en de valse geloofssystemen die met hem gepaard gaan, dat ons eigen leven uiteindelijk gedicteerd wordt door die illusie.

De niet-bestaande alles controlerende god kan geen auto-ongelukken verhinderen waarin we onze geliefden verliezen, en hij kan evenmin die ongelukken veroorzaken. Hij is niet echt. Daarentegen is de liefde die ons met die geliefden verbindt, doorheen en voorbij ons verdriet, wél echt. Het is die liefde die uiteindelijk volgens de Bijbelse geschriften openbaart wie God werkelijk is.

Uiteindelijk beantwoordt de liefde misschien wel aan ons diepste verlangen: we willen anderen beminnen en we willen door anderen bemind worden. Wanneer we mensen moeten missen die we graag zien, of wanneer we een gebrek aan liefde van anderen ervaren, worden we tot in het diepste van onze ziel gekwetst, precies omdat ons diepste verlangen niet wordt vervuld. We willen niet de pijn en het verdriet wanneer mensen ons kwetsen, of wanneer de mensen die we graag zien ons worden ontnomen. We willen liefde, zelfs als het de liefde is die ervoor zorgt dat we überhaupt pijn en verdriet kunnen voelen. De liefde draagt ons. Zelfs als we de liefde bevechten met haat en onverschilligheid is de liefde nog altijd eerst. Liefde is tegelijk de bron van onze vreugde en ons verdriet, alsook van onze verontwaardiging en pogingen tot onverschilligheid.

Dus in plaats van ons te focussen op niet-bestaande vijanden en een niet-bestaande god wegens onze pijn, ons verdriet, onze angsten en onze boosheid, kunnen we ons misschien beter focussen op de werkelijkheid van de liefde die doorheen en voorbij onze pijn voelbaar wordt. Is het niet beter om ons te laten bewegen door die liefde in plaats van door angst, jaloezie, bezitterigheid en wraakzucht?

We moeten onszelf en anderen niet haten omdat sommige mensen niet in staat bleken om ons liefde te geven. En zij die ons wél een glimp lieten opvangen van wat liefde is, maar van wie we afscheid moesten nemen, zouden niet mogen begraven worden onder jammerklachten. Zij kunnen immers aanwezig blijven in ons dankbaar vermogen om lief te hebben, elke dag opnieuw.

Dat is gemakkelijk gezegd, niet altijd gemakkelijk gedaan. Toch is de hoop op een gerespecteerd en respectvol leven een hoop die we blijvend mogen koesteren.

John Steinbeck on Rejection (quote from East of Eden)

 

 

 

 

Hugo Claus, W.F. Hermans, Charles Ducal, Tommy Wieringa en… René Girard

Bij veel fervente lezers is René Girard en zijn gedachtegoed al eens langs geweest zonder dat ze ooit van hem hebben gehoord. De geest van Girard waart niet alleen rond in het werk van grote filosofen. Ook grote romanschrijvers laven zich regelmatig aan zijn inspirerende ideeën. De Tsjechisch-Franse auteur Milan Kundera beweert niet toevallig over Girards eerste grote werk – in Verraden Testamenten, Baarn, Ambo, 1994, p. 160: Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque is het beste dat ik ooit over de romankunst heb gelezen.” Daarnaast is ook iemand als J.M. Coetzee, de Zuid-Afrikaanse Nobelprijswinnaar voor Literatuur, een auteur die uitdrukkelijk met René Girard aan de slag is gegaan.

In het Nederlandse taalgebied heeft academisch onderzoek van de afgelopen decennia meer en meer literaire analyses ontplooid vanuit Girardiaans perspectief. Tegelijk wordt duidelijker gewezen op de expliciete invloed van René Girard op verscheidene literaire meesterwerken, bijvoorbeeld op Het verdriet van België.

Het is alweer tien jaar geleden dat uitgeverij De Bezige Bij het zilveren jubileum vierde van Het verdriet van België, een hoogtepunt uit het oeuvre van Hugo Claus. Naar aanleiding van die verjaardag verscheen volgende samenvatting op de website van de uitgeverij:

‘Het moet een boek worden over het leven in Vlaanderen zoals ik dat gekend heb, maar zoals het nu niet meer bestaat.’ Dat zei Hugo Claus een kleine tien jaar voordat hij Het verdriet van België voltooide: gedeeltelijk een bildungsroman gebaseerd op zijn eigen jeugd, gedeeltelijk ook een boek dat een beeld geeft van de politieke verhoudingen in België tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Maar bovenal een boek over de groezeligheid van de waarneming, de onbetrouwbaarheid, de twijfel en het verraad.

De hoofdpersoon van het verhaal, Louis Seynaeve, is elf jaar en leerling op een nonneninternaat. Verwarring, hunkering en bedrog vormen zijn jongensjaren en alleen door te fantaseren, de werkelijkheid geweld aan te doen kan hij overleven. Het leven in de Tweede Wereldoorlog wordt door Claus opgeroepen in een even complexe als meeslepende roman, die met recht het hoofdwerk uit zijn oeuvre mag worden genoemd.

De publicatie in maart 1983 zorgde in de pers voor een nooit eerder geziene hype. Het boek werd onmiddellijk een grote bestseller en heeft in de voorbije decennia ook in het buitenland veel succes geoogst. Het verdriet van België kan met recht tot een van de klassiekers uit de moderne internationale literatuur worden gerekend.

Op dinsdag 19 september 2006 verdedigde Gwennie Debergh aan de Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) haar proefschrift over het verband tussen René Girard en Hugo Claus. Haar doctoraat kreeg volgende titel (klik hier voor een overzicht van haar hand – pdf): “Zie ik nu dubbel, of word ik zot?” Statische en dynamische mimesis in Het verdriet van België (Hugo Claus).

Hierna volgen twee fragmenten uit Het verdriet van België (Amsterdam: De Bezige Bij – achtentwintigste druk, april 2008) die telkens expliciet een belangrijke pijler vermelden uit het gedachtegoed van René Girard. In het eerste fragment valt de term mimetische begeerte, en in het tweede wordt gewezen op de blijkbaar steeds terugkerende rol van zondebokken bij het creëren van maatschappelijke orde. Betekenisvol in het licht van Girards “mimetische theorie” is ook de manier waarop het joods-christelijke denken over God ter sprake wordt gebracht.

Het hoofdpersonage Louis Seynaeve is in gesprek met zijn mentor op het college, een jezuïet bijgenaamd “De Kei”. De Kei vraagt Louis naar zijn ervaringen in Duitsland, waar Louis een tijdje verbleef – pp. 458-459:

De Kei vroeg: ‘Hoe was het daar?’ en bedoelde: daar in het land van de vijand. Hij zag er steeds minder als een leraar uit, in zijn vlottende toog uitgemergeld als Pater de Foucauld, verteerd in een woestijn, en ontroostbaar.

‘Hebben zij het moeilijk, de gewone mensen? Waar logeerden de Vlaamse jongens? Ik dacht dat ze in kampen zaten, dat alleen de kleintjes tot tien jaar bij pleegouders terechtkwamen? Hoe waren de mensen daar in dat dorp?’

                ‘Zoals bij ons,’ zei Louis.

                ‘Dat kunt ge niet nader bepalen?’

                ‘Neen.’

                ‘Zijn zij bijvoorbeeld onderworpen? Meer dan de Belgen. Ja? Goed. Zijn ze irrationeler, onverdraagzamer, megalomaner? Ja? Goed. De boer waar ge bij hebt gewoond, bewonderde hij Hitler?’

                ‘Hij aanbad hem.’

                ‘Precies.’

                ‘Er zullen altijd leiders zijn, Eerwaarde.’

                ‘Ja. Altijd die mimetische begeerte. De liefdesomhelzing van leiders. Men wil bewonderen, opgezweept worden door sprookjes, door die ene zaligmakende mythe. Ja? Omdat in die hypnose de werkelijkheid wegslipt, de angst verdooft. Ja. Ga nu maar.’

Het verdriet van BelgiëIn een chronologisch later fragment beklaagt Louis Seynaeve zich over het lot van de joden, voor wie hij gaandeweg meer sympathie krijgt. Louis is in gesprek met zijn Papa, die daarentegen sympathiseert met de Duitse vijand – pp. 516-517:

             ‘De joden die overal in de weg zitten, die overal weggejaagd worden, het is onrechtvaardig.’

                ‘Staat dat in dat boek?’

                ‘Nee. Maar ge voelt het.’

                ‘Joden kunnen het goed zeggen.’

                ‘Maar wat ze zeggen is waar.’

                ‘Ge moet de waarheid van een jood altijd met een korreltje zout nemen.’

                ‘En die van u niet zeker!’

                ‘Ge moet daarom niet schreien.’

                Louis wist zeker dat dit zijn vader niet was. Ik ben ook het kind van Mama niet. Zij weten het zelf niet dat ik, toen ik in windsels lag in ‘t moederhuis, verwisseld ben met een ander kind. Alleen Peter weet het en die houdt zijn mond hierover, of heeft het alleen aan zijn lieveling, Tante Mona, verklapt, zij doet altijd zo raar tegen mij.

                ‘En de Boeren in Zuid-Afrika die door de Engelsen in concentratiekampen uitgehongerd en gemarteld zijn? De Ieren, de Indiërs door de Engelsman uitgemoord. En onze jongens in de loopgraven van Veertien-Achttien? Daar spreekt ge niet over. Daar hebt ge geen traantje voor over. Er moeten altijd zondebokken zijn, en nu zijn dat de joden.’

                ‘Altijd, Papa?’

             ‘Omdat er altijd zondebokken moeten zijn, hoort ge niet goed? Dat is het leven. ‘t Is hard als ge ‘t zelf moet zijn, maar er is iets als geluk en geen geluk in ‘t leven.’

              ‘De meeste wetten zijn op geluk gebaseerd, heel de orde van de Staat,’ zei Peter.

                ‘En de zondebok was een Lam,’ zei de Kei.

                ‘Nee! Nee!’ riep Louis koppig.

De Kei sprak trager dan ooit, die dag. ‘Hoe onrechtvaardig onze gemeenschap kan zijn, kijk rondom u, toch is zij onze mogelijke redding. Ik zal het niet meer meemaken, maar zij kan gered worden. Gelijkheid en rechtvaardigheid, die begrippen die zo kunstig worden rondgestrooid door precies diegenen die ze elke dag vertrappen, kunnen alleen door de gemeenschap komen, door de staat, maar welke staat? Die van God? Welke God? Hij die het gezicht heeft van de ander. Welke revelatie hebben wij te verwachten voor wij erkennen dat er in de werken van de mensen iets goddelijks is? Géén revelatie? Neen? Toch? Nee. Het beestachtige dat ons overvalt, jongens, de gruwelen zonder weerga waarvan men geen weet wil hebben, ik geef toe, daar valt geen sprankeltje in waar te nemen van het licht dat ik God noem, en dat ik dacht in elke mens te zien gloeien. En toch die God die, zoals Paulus zegt, onbekend zal blijven, waar kan hij zijn als wij willen dat hij er ooit is? In de vernederdsten onder ons.’

Voor meer over de verbanden tussen Hugo Claus en René Girard, zie ook:

Een andere literaire grootheid uit het Nederlandse taalgebied, Willem Frederik Hermans, behandelde dan weer die aspecten van de werkelijkheid die in het werk van René Girard centraal staan, maar dan zonder het werk van Girard zelf te kennen. Daarin kwam verandering toen de halfjoodse Amsterdamse schrijfster Sonja Pos analyses van het werk van Hermans begon te maken vanuit Girardiaanse invalshoek. Uiteindelijk publiceerde ze daarover een proefschrift. Willem Frederik Hermans schreef over haar werk onder andere het volgende aan een vriend, meer in het bijzonder over haar analyse van zijn roman De donkere kamer van Damokles:

Sommige beschouwingen over mijn werk kan ik niet lezen zonder angstgevoelens. Ken jij: Mimese en geweld, beschouwingen over het werk van René Girard, Kampen 1988? Hierin staat een opstel van Sonja Pos over De donkere kamer van Damokles, dat me bang van mijzelf liet worden toen ik het las. Nou ja, ik overdrijf een beetje. Het is een van de beste beschouwingen die er ooit over dat veelbesproken verhaal zijn verschenen.

Tommy Wieringa, een recentere coryfee aan het firmament van grote Nederlandstalige romanschrijvers, heeft dan weer zijn kennis van het werk van René Girard verwerkt in zijn roman Dit zijn de namen (klik hier voor meer en klik hier voor een recensie van Gwennie Debergh). Hij heeft daar in verscheidene interviews op gewezen, onder andere in het onderstaande, waarin hij verwijst naar “het werk van René Girard” (vanaf 25:30):

Op de vraag waar hij zichzelf situeert op het vlak van geloof antwoordt Tommy Wieringa in een interview het volgende:

Charles Ducal, een van de beste hedendaagse dichters in het Nederlandse taalgebied, doet sterk vermoeden dat ook hij bekend is met het werk van René Girard, en dan vooral in het gedicht Mimesis (Alsof ik er haast ben – verzamelde gedichten 1987-2012, atlas contact: Amsterdam/Antwerpen 2012 – derde druk april 2014; p. 249). Hij krijgt het voorlopig laatste woord in deze korte verkenning van Girards invloed op de Nederlandse letteren (wordt ongetwijfeld vervolgd):

 

Mimesis

 

Ergens in een ander huis zit iemand

net als ik, schrijvend tegen mij,

zoals ik schrijf aan zijn gedicht.

Ik ken hem niet, alleen de razernij

 

die ons gelijkmaakt, ik of hij,

alleen de dwang, de afgunst en de schrik

de regel te verraden die hem schikt.

Er kan maar één de sterkste zijn.

 

Altijd en overal hijgt de score,

in elke krant, elke zaal, elke blik:

God stukgevallen in duizend goden,

en allen zo machtig als ik.

 

 

 

Left with Right Identity Politics? A Jewish Challenge

“Cutting off hands, Congo is ours!”

These words are sung regularly nowadays by certain young people across Flanders, Belgium. I heard them last year during a sporting event organized by the school I’m working in. I also heard them more recently on a TV news report. Amateur footage showed how a young Belgian-Rwandese woman suffered harassment at a music festival from a group of young men. The men were singing “Handjes kappen, de Congo is van ons” (“Cutting off hands, Congo is ours”). They of course refer to a horrible practice by colonists in former Belgian Congo: colonists sometimes cut the hands of workers who tried to escape oppressive labor conditions. In short, “Handjes kappen, de Congo is van ons” is a very racist song, referring to barbaric aspects of western history and culture.

Leopold II and Congolese hands cut off

Apart from plain racist statements, nationalist claims are also a hype. “This is Flemish soil” are words which often come from the very same people who sometimes sing the Congo song, thereby jeopardizing the cause of those Flemish nationalists who want nothing to do with racism. At least at the already mentioned sporting event this was the case. “Handjes kappen, de Congo is van ons” was uttered by students who write “Dit is Vlaamse grond” (“This is Flemish soil”) everywhere they can (on walls and desks, in notebooks, etcetera). It is quite ironic that people who claim to defend “the Flemish cause” associate themselves with a brutal practice of Belgium’s colonial past.

Godwin's LawIf the racist song is merely a self-proclaimed (however horribly misguided) “joke”, then the singers are really taking a basic element of a so-called politically correct framework as their moral reference point: racism should be rejected. If it is not a joke, then the singers truly reject what is often loathed as “political correctness”. In the latter case, the singers carry out Adolf Hitler’s worldview. Before going any further with this, it should be stressed that Godwin’s law is not at work here.

Claiming that “Flanders is for the Flemish” or, say, “Sweden belongs to the Swedes” on the one hand, and that “Congo belongs to the (Flemish) Europeans” on the other, is the same as claiming that some people have more rights than others. Apparently it is believed that Congo does not belong to the Congolese but to the Flemish.

Black Earth (book cover)To understand how those claims are connected to Hitler’s worldview it is recommended to read the work of historian Timothy Snyder (who was the first to deliver the René Girard Lecture at Stanford University, organized by Imitatio). Snyder explains Hitler’s worldview also in an interview with The Atlantic:

What Hitler says is that abstract thought—whether it’s normative or whether it’s scientific—is inherently Jewish. There is in fact no way of thinking about the world, says Hitler, which allows us to see human beings as human beings. Any idea which allows us to see each other as human beings—whether it’s a social contract; whether it’s a legal contract; whether it’s working-class solidarity; whether it’s Christianity—all these ideas come from Jews. And so for people to be people, for people to return to their essence, for them to represent their race, as Hitler sees things, you have to strip away all those ideas. And the only way to strip away all those ideas is to eradicate the Jews. And if you eradicate the Jews, then the world snaps back into what Hitler sees as its primeval, correct state: races struggle against each other, kill each other, starve each other to death, and try to take land.

[…]

It’s a very dark, empty universe. I mean, that’s how Hitler describes it to himself. There are really no values in the world except for the stark reality that we are born in order to take things from other people. And so Hitler sees the only good thing as removing the Jews who pervert, as he says it, human nature and physical nature. […] Unnatur is actually a term that Hitler uses, and I think it’s a really telling term. […] He sees the Jews as being the thing which destroys the world, which infects the world. He uses the term “pestilence” in this sense—the Jews have infected the world. They’ve made the world not just impure in some kind of metaphorical sense—he really means it. And so the only way to purify the world—to make things go back to the way they’re supposed to be, to have a natural ecology, to go back to this struggle between races, which Hitler thinks is natural—the only way to do that is to physically eliminate the Jews.

[…]

I went back and reread [Hitler’s manifesto] Mein Kampf, and reread the second book, and read all the major Hitler primary sources, and I was really astonished at how clearly these ideas came out—that, in fact, Hitler’s quite explicitly an ecological thinker, that the planetary level is the most important level. This is something that he says right from the beginning of Mein Kampf, all the way through. And likewise, I was struck that Hitler explicitly said that states are temporary, state borders will be washed away in the struggle for nature. In other words, the anarchy that he creates was actually there in the theory from the beginning. Hitler says from the very beginning, what we have to do is destroy the Jews; strip away the artificial political creations that the Jews are responsible for; and let nature just take its course. And what he means by nature’s course is [that] the stronger races destroy the weaker races.

[…]

In short, the “natural order”, according to Hitler, is the struggle between races, whereby the stronger “races” take land from the weaker. And so it happens that people to this day can claim that “Congo belongs to the Flemish” (which means that the Congolese are seen as belonging to a “weaker race”). Also according to Hitler, the so-called “natural order” is “morally preferable”. The Jews, in Hitler’s view, challenge the idea of a direct causality between a so-called “natural physical order of things” and “what is morally preferable”. I think Hitler is quite right about the latter case.

The Jews eventually, in the course of their history, question any determination of human beings by the physical forces that govern our universe. In ancient “pagan” (in this context “non-Jewish”) cultures these forces were deified and worshipped as “gods” (or “the divine” – “the sacred”). They were the authors of human life, whose laws prescribed the ultimate meaning and destiny of that life. Hitler re-interprets those forces in a somewhat pseudo-Darwinian sense, likewise claiming that the goal of human life is necessarily determined by the “laws of nature” as he defines them (see above). By contrast, the God of Israel ultimately calls human beings to become the authors of their own life and to understand themselves as relatively independent of “the given order of things”. To “the given order of things” belong our spontaneous inclinations, which also do not automatically determine our behavior (and the very fact that we can choose to follow our inclinations or not proves that we are relatively free and not determined by them). Even allegiance to a family, to a “father” and a “mother” becomes something that is not naturally, automatically given in a Jewish sense: it becomes a revealed commandment in the Ten Commandments. This might encourage us to focus our attention on those people who truly are father and mother figures in our lives, those who are not necessarily our biological father or mother (see The Judgment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-28). Jesus maybe goes even further, as he invites us to question our attachment to our own family and culture (see previous post: Jesus Christ, Narcissist?) in order to love our neighbor and “love our enemy”. In any case, to many people, like victims of incest, it is probably a relief that abusive family members or oppressive cultural customs do not determine their identity.

What is ultimately at stake in the ideological battle between Judaism and, for lack of a better word, (neo)paganism is a question about what it means to be a cultural animal. Some people would say that the identity of every human being is determined by a particular culture and its history. In this case, any attempt to overcome our paradoxical so-called natural attachment to “our own cultural in-group” is perceived as a “perversion of nature” that is bound to tragically fail. From this perspective we are born into a culture whose given traditions, customs, norms and values we should deeply respect. It is also believed that history shows whose culture is “superior” to other cultures. Again paradoxically, it seems like an endless and necessary law that we are committed to deify our history and cultural heritage.

Contrary to the traditional pagan notions of identity, the Judeo-Christian influence on history instills us with the idea that we are also free individuals. In other words, our identity is not determined by any particular cultural group, history, sexual orientation or even gender we’re born into. As individuals we do not necessarily belong to any particular group except, paradoxically, to humanity. Thus Judaism indeed opens up the possibility to perceive the other as “other human being” (as Hitler would have it and detests it, see above), irreducible to the particular characteristics of any “group”.

the-very-relationship-with-the-other-is-the-relationship-with-the-future-quote-1

To be a cultural animal from a (neo)pagan viewpoint means that a human being is born into a given culture that he naturally tries to maintain and develop.

[Anarchy in this context is the ability to exist without being dominated and determined by other cultures. This usually results in the exclusion or destruction of other cultures, understood as a “natural evolution” in the cyclical order of things. There is no goal in this context but the goal to “preserve” and “obey” the endless laws governing human history.]

To be a cultural animal from a Jewish or Judeo-Christian viewpoint means that a human being is born with natural gifts to adapt to and create any culture.

[Anarchy in this context is the ability to exist without being dominated and determined by the physical order of things, and to consider the possibility of the beyond, the revolutionary and truly new “meta-physical”; it is a consideration of a non-cyclical, linear future.]

Cyclical vs Linear

It is clear that Judaism warns against the deification of any particular culture or history. Claiming the moral high ground by thinking that one’s culture is “superior” leads to the oppression of “others” who are perceived as “less human”, and Judaism battles this inhumane outcome. In this sense, Judaism is directly opposed to many far right identity politics. Ecclesiastes very nicely points to the futility of any human culture – generations and kings come and go (Ecclesiastes 1:11 & 4:14-16):

No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

On the other hand, Judaism also warns against the deification of individuality and human freedom. Claiming the moral high ground by thinking that one is “enlightened” and free from particular cultural traditions and historical influences unlike “backward others” leads to stores of rage and resentment from those others (who are merely “tolerated” but not really engaged in dialogue). In this sense, Judaism is directly opposed to far left-wing and all too liberal identity politics, which feed the resentment right-wing identity politics thrive upon.

Levinas Quote on War

Jesus warns his fellow Jews against the illusion that they are not dependent on historical influences like their ancestors. To think that we would not have made the mistakes our ancestors made in their time, is to deny the inescapable historicity of our humanity, and again leads to a rejection of the other as “other human being”. Again we then show the tendency to reduce others to the particular characteristics of a “group” different from “us”. In the words of Jesus (Matthew 23:29-32):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!”

In short, Judeo-Christian tradition acknowledges that there are physical forces and cultural laws which precede our existence, but they are merely starting points. They do not determine the goals and destiny of our lives. We are called to live an existence as individuals who ultimately belong to no particular group but humanity. Thus we are called “to love our neighbor as ourselves”. Therein lies the essence of “human nature” in a Judeo-Christian sense.

P.S. 1 It remains to be seen if a young Flemish nationalist movement like Schild & Vrienden is also a racist movement. Dries Van Langenhove, leader of the movement, called the above mentioned racist Congo song “an edgy student song, sung at nearly every party”. I hope he doesn’t mean that it should therefore be accepted. The supposed racism of “other cultures” doesn’t in any way justify racism in one’s own quarters (although it might make it comprehensible). To be proud of your own culture means that you don’t imitate morally questionable practices of other cultures, and that you don’t take those practices as a reference point to justify your own practices. In the case of responding to the racism of others, we are responsible for our own behavior, and we shouldn’t blame others for the way we act – that would be hiding behind a scapegoat mechanism.

Anyway, here is an interview with Dries Van Langenhove by Lana Lokteff of Red Ice. It reveals some of the suppositions of Schild & Vrienden concerning “identity formation” and some of their views on what it means to be part of a cultural realm:

P.S. 2 For more on the word culture and its etymology click here for slides on Australian pop culture (assembled by Angela Ballas – Yaryalitsa). Or watch the powerpoint:

The Jesus Treatment of Bullying

In Catholicism, A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image Books, 2011) Robert Barron explains the nonviolent way of Jesus in the face of evil as a “third” way, apart from violently fighting or fleeing the evil (pp. 48-51):

In words that still take our breath away, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43-44). In order to understand this radical teaching, we have to be clear on what Jesus means by “love” (agape in Matthew’s Greek). Love is not a sentiment or feeling, not merely a tribal loyalty or family devotion. Love is actively willing the good of the other as other. Often we are good or kind or just to others so that they might be good, kind, or just to us in return. But this is indirect egotism, not love. And this is why loving one’s enemies is the surest test of love. If I am good to someone who is sure to repay me, then I might simply be engaging in an act of disguised or implicit self-interest. But if I am generous to someone who is my enemy, who is not the least bit interested in responding to me in kind, then I can be sure that I have truly willed his good and not my own. And this is why Jesus says, “For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? … And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?” (Mt 5:46-47). Jesus wants his followers to rise above the imperfect forms of benevolence that obtain among the general run of human beings and to aspire to love the way that God loves: “for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Mt 5:45). […] If we are truly free from our attachments, especially from the attachment to approval, then we can become “sons and daughters” of [this Love], this God and hence conduits of his peculiar grace. […]

The already radical teaching on loving one’s enemies becomes even more intensely focused as Jesus turns his attention to the practice of nonviolence. Giving voice to the common consensus among law-abiding Jews, Jesus declares, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well” (Mt 5:38-40). It is most important not to overlook the fact that this was, for its time, quite an enlightened, compassionate rule, for many individuals and nations would have felt justified in answering a violent affront with a devastating and disproportionate counterviolence. The seemingly brutal “eye for an eye” rule was in fact an attempt to delimit the retaliatory instinct. But, as we can see, Jesus is uneasy even with this relatively benign recommendation. I fully realize that Jesus’s instruction can sound like simple acquiescence to the power of violence, but we have to probe further. There are two classical responses to evil: fight or flight. When confronted with injustice or violence, we can answer in kind – and sometimes in our sinful world that is all that we can reasonably do. But as every playground bully and every geopolitical aggressor knows, this usually leads to an act of counterviolence, and then still another retaliation until the opponents are locked in an endless round of fighting. Gandhi expressed it this way: “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” The other typical responses to aggression are running away or submitting – and sometimes, given our finite, sinful situation, that is all we can do. But, finally, we all know that ceding to violence tends only to justify the aggressor and encourage even more injustice. And therefore it appears as though, in regard to solving the problem of violence, we are locked in a no-win situation, compelled to oscillate back and forth between two deeply unsatisfactory strategies.

In his instruction on nonviolence Jesus is giving us a way out, and we will grasp this if we attend carefully to the famous example he uses: “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well” (Lk 6:29). In the society of the time, one would never have used one’s left hand for any form of social interaction, since it was considered unclean. Thus, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, he is hitting you with the back of his hand, and this was the manner in which one would strike a slave or a child or a social inferior. In the face of this kind of violence, Jesus is recommending neither fighting back nor fleeing, but rather standing one’s ground. To turn the other cheek is to prevent him from hitting you the same way again. It is not to run or to acquiesce, but rather to signal to the aggressor that you refuse to accept the set of assumptions that have made his aggression possible. It is to show that you are occupying a different moral space. It is also, consequently, a manner of mirroring back to the violent person the deep injustice of what he is doing. The great promise of this approach is that it might not only stop the violence but also transform the perpetrator of it.

Robert Barron then gives some examples of this strategy, as it was used by Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and Pope John Paul II (see the video fragment below):

The award winning social skills educator Brooks Gibbs, who tries to educate people to live by the Golden Rule, took the “mirroring strategy” of Jesus as a way to deal with bullying. What the mirroring strategy does, basically, is to take away the power of the bully to humiliate the victim. The words of the bully are received as “badges of honor”. It is comparable to the way the word “nigga” is sometimes used nowadays among African-American youngsters themselves, so the word gradually loses its power to have a derogatory meaning. I remember being called “homo” one time and thanking the one who yelled it for “the compliment”. In other words, the mirroring strategy in the face of evil is a kind of transformative mimetic practice that invites evildoers to imitate another set of practices and assumptions to end the evil. It could be an example of what René Girard calls “good mimesis”.Tupac on Niggas

Does it work? Not always, but if it does, the results are stunning, as is shown in the video below by Brooks Gibbs:

Freedom Defined

I live in Belgium.

Belgium is a small country in continental Europe, internationally known for its beer, chocolate, waffles, currently world class soccer team, Brussels (the capital and “the capital of Europe”) and, well… French fries.

gueuze girardin

A lot of Belgians also pride themselves on having one of the most liberal legislations concerning moral issues like abortion, euthanasia, and LGBTI-rights (Belgium was the second country in the world to allow for gay marriage, for instance).

Some legislations definitely emancipated people from oppression by what was often perceived as “Catholic morality”. For years certain clerics indeed claimed the moral high ground in Belgium. Nowadays, especially since the child abuse scandal broke out in the Catholic Church, the tables have turned. So-called liberals have the strongest voice in traditional media like newspapers, magazines, radio and television, and they define what is morally preferable.

male dominated cultures cartoonIn short, secular liberals took the place of Catholic clerics on moral issues. The problem with this is that morality often is not constructed in a positive way, but that it is, in practice, merely defined by a “being against” everything religious. Of course Islam is also targeted. Rather strangely perhaps, secularists on the left and the right sometimes become divided over the treatment and rights of Muslims, for instance over the right for women to wear a headscarf in public. Some (mostly socialists, on the left) claim to protect the rights of a threatened and suppressed minority as they are in favor of the right for Muslim women to wear the scarf. Others (mostly nationalists, on the right), by questioning the right to wear a headscarf, also claim to protect potential victims, namely women who might be discriminated against by certain cultural obligations and habits. So there is a rivalry going on here on the question of victimhood.

who's the real victim

The most extreme secularists, both on the left and the right, forget the ideological differences between them when they find themselves united against “the evil of religion”. They pursue their ideological battle against religion with religious fervor, actually imitating their religious counterparts (who are mostly fundamentalist extremists). Unwittingly and unwillingly (and therefore tragically), both parties resemble each other more and more. Extreme secularists do not dismiss a religious rationality regarding moral issues on rational grounds, but simply because it is labeled as “religious”. Likewise, fundamentalist extremists refuse to listen to “secular voices” simply because of the term “secular”, not considering the possibility that “a rationality of what’s good” (ethics) could reveal itself independently of one’s own (religious) cultural tradition.

Fundamentally, the mimetic (imitative) rivalry between extreme secularists and fundamentalist extremists is about the question how to define human nature. Paradoxically connected to this question is the question of human freedom. In both instances, “freedom” of individual human beings is understood as the result of having received the opportunity to realize one’s so-called “true nature”. Freedom, understood in these terms, thus indeed is paradoxical, since it is about obtaining the ability (the “freedom”) to fulfill the deepest desires (and urges?) one was born with (and did not freely choose). Apart from pedophiles and serial killers, the so-called individual true “nature” of human beings often seems allowed to have its way in our society…

Readers should please note that the idea of a so-called true identity one was born with, “from the beginning”, does not represent my own views on identity formation.

An example of the conviction that we have some hidden, “true nature” (from birth?):

find-your-true-nature-1

Both the extreme secularists and the fundamentalist extremists consider the other party as representing a decadent perversion or suppression of our “true” nature. Hence the different attitude regarding homosexuality by, for instance, certain Muslim fundamentalists who try to prohibit it and secular liberals who defend gay rights. Both groups claim to protect human nature and human freedom (those Muslims might argue that prohibiting homosexuality is like prohibiting alcohol – a drug that could turn people into addicts).

And so you get weird situations like the following (especially if you’re an alien visiting earth, more particularly a country like Belgium), to name but two…

  • MUTILATION OR LIBERATION?

The Belgian Advisory Committee on Bioethics regards ritual circumcision of boys on religious grounds as a custom that should be abandoned. It leaves open the possibility for this type of circumcision for grown-ups. The financial burden of such a circumcision should, according to the Committee, also not be carried by society.

Circumcision

On the other hand, transgender surgery is partially paid back by the Belgian healthcare system. Moreover, treatment preparing possible transgender surgery is allowed for minors when puberty begins.  The Belgian Advisory Committee on Bioethics recommended the Belgian legislation concerning transsexuality.

In short, surgery as the result of the craving to establish a certain identity is considered “mutilating” by official standards in Belgium in the case of male circumcision. Even when adult (Jewish or Muslim) men would decide to have themselves circumcised, it is believed that the financial burden for this operation should not be carried by society. Moreover, an identity issue on religious grounds is often perceived as the result of a kind of “psychological illness” (people having been “brainwashed” and what not).

On the other hand, surgery as the result of the craving to establish a certain identity is considered “liberating” by official standards in Belgium in the case of sex reassignment surgery. It is believed that parts of the financial burden for this operation should be carried by society, and already minors can start a therapy with puberty blockers. Moreover, all kinds of action groups try to “stop trans pathologization”, and the influence of these groups is already visible in documents like the Ferrara Report on the Situation of Fundamental Rights in the European Union.

Again a little note to readers as to where I stand personally: I do not think that the financial burden for surgery as a result of mere “identity formation” (on religious grounds or otherwise) should be carried by society. I am also not in favor of non-medical circumcision of young boys, as I would question hormone therapy for non-medical reasons on a young age. The debate is open. If adults ask for tattoos, piercings, circumcision and the like, then they are themselves responsible to pay for it. Sex reassignment surgery as a consequence of a medical condition like “gender dysphoria” is something else, of course, although it is only one way of dealing with this condition. Other ways of dealing with it should also be considered. Belgium has an elaborate health care system that supports the treatment of any kind of medical condition. To the extent that a trans person does not suffer from a medical condition (I indeed agree to “stop trans pathologization”), it should be examined whether or not the health care system should intervene (and, to be consistent, it should not intervene).

We should at least acknowledge some inconsistencies in our assesment of the children depicted below (a Jewish Kid and a Trans Kid):

Jew Child

Trans Child

  • MADNESS OR RATIONALITY?

Nuns and monks of enclosed religious orders are often mocked for living a so-called alienated mad life (sober and in community), and are also accused of “not contributing anything useful to human society”.

Brother Michelangelo Best (Franciscan Friars of the Renewal)

Hipsters, who try to live ecologically responsible, often by embracing vegetarianism and by experimenting with new types of community housing, are hailed as “the dynamic, enlightened young future of human society”.

Hipster Travel Beard

However, the ecological footprint of the average hipster is presumably bigger than that of the enclosed nun or monk, as the hipster often feels the need to “travel the world” in order to “find him- or herself”. And yet the lifestyle of those nuns and monks is never praised as “an example to the world”…

Maybe it is time to ask ourselves the question what our ethics and legislations regarding certain moral issues are actually based upon, as well as our assessment of “religious life” in general. It should be something more than the “being against” as the result of the ever changing game of mimetic rivalry, no? Yes, often the protection of vulnerable life is a valid motivation, but are we sufficiently consistent in what does or does not protect that life?

Anyway, we do not escape the mimetic aspects of our nature, so we best learn to recognize and understand them…

quote-we-live-in-an-age-that-hath-more-need-of-good-example-than-precepts-george-herbert