Science or the Resurrection to Beauty


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Click to watch this scene:

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

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

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

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

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

Click to watch more scenes and their analysis:



Pleasantville and Biblical Feminism

Once again, this post is a translation from a chapter in my book Vrouwen, Jezus en rock-‘n-roll – Met René Girard naar een dialoog tussen het christelijk verhaal en de populaire cultuur (Women, Jesus and rock-‘n-roll. Taking René Girard to a dialogue between the Christian story and popular culture).

Pleasantville (Gary Ross, 1998) is a movie about the twins David and Jennifer who miraculously end up in David’s favorite TV-show, Pleasantville, and become Bud and Mary Sue Parker. At first everything is, also literally, very black and white in their new world. Life is very predictable, every citizen has a clearly defined role, even the roads are like the daily routine: they go in a circle. There’s nothing outside the enclosed 1950’s world order of small town Pleasantville.

Pleasantville 17Pleasantville 16

Bit by bit, however, things start to change with the arrival of David/Bud and Jennifer/Mary Sue. Some people divert from their normal activities and turn from black, grey and white into technicolor. Bill Johnson, for instance, Bud’s boss at the soda shop where he is working, discovers his creativity and artistic freedom as a painter. Other citizens become avid readers, studying books and using their minds to gain wisdom and imagine things “outside of Pleasantville”. In the end, the road doesn’t go in a circle anymore but “keeps going”. This means that life is no longer predictable, the future is open-ended, and individuals get more chances, as well as responsibilities, to work out their own project in life. In other words, the people in Pleasantville abandon the cyclical worldview that was aimed at preserving an order installed by “higher powers”. In yet other words, they move from the ancient mythical view of time as circular to a Jewish and Christian “linear” view of time: instead of leading a life according to the so-called scenario of “the powers that be”, people are liberated to write their own history.

Cyclical vs Linear

Thomas Cahill wrote a very interesting book on this shift, The Gifts of the Jews – How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. From the cover: “The Gifts of the Jews reveals the critical change that made western civilization possible. Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a new conception of men and women as individuals with unique destinies—a conception that would inform the Declaration of Independence—and our hopeful belief in progress and the sense that tomorrow can be better than today.”

On the other hand, a sense of stability and certainty seems forever lost with the arrival of the linear view of history. No wonder, then, that the anxious community in Pleasantville at first tries to suppress the newly found creativity and individual liberties: books are burned, rock ‘n’ roll music is forbidden, painters are not allowed to use colors besides black, white and grey, “(techni)colored” people are separated from the others and sexuality, in particular female sexuality, is considered inappropriate.

Pleasantville 14

Pleasantville 11

Pleasantville 13

Pleasantville 12

Indeed, the women especially begin to question the status quo of the patriarchal society in Pleasantville. Following the example of Mary Sue (a powerful “mimetic model”), girls invite their boyfriends into the garden of Lover’s Lane to explore their sexuality. Bud also imitates his sister, as he takes Margaret on a date to Lover’s Lane…

Pleasantville 9

There, Bud is offered an apple by his girlfriend. Afterwards he is reproached for eating it by the deus ex machina of the movie, a mysterious TV repairman, who yells at him that he doesn’t deserve “to live in this paradise”. This all too obvious reference to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis raises questions about whether or not Judeo-Christian tradition supports oppressive patriarchal social structures. The story of the Fall from Eden eventually blames the woman, Eve, for being the first to succumb to an inappropriate desire, causing her man Adam to sin and resulting in them both being banned from the Garden. The obvious message of the story concerning women seems clear: like her Greek counterpart Pandora, Eve and her female boldness means trouble (for more on this, click here). So far for the Jewish critique of archetypal mythic structures, so it seems…

Pleasantville 4

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René Girard helps us understand why women are depicted as troublemakers and how they, more specifically (sexually) emancipated women, become scapegoats, unjustly held responsible for all kinds of evil in the world. The sexist reasoning often goes something like this. Emancipated women are no longer dependent on their husbands. This means that they can more easily divorce them. Divorces potentially trouble the mind of children and youngsters, who might lose the security of a “home”. Hence juvenile delinquency could increase as young people get together in gangs to create a sense of self-worth and identity. Thus the stability of society as a whole is threatened by women who refuse to remain faithful to the man they’re married off to. Moreover, sexually independent women can stir rivalry and violence between men, which once again destabilizes the internal cohesion of a community. Indeed, sex (eros) might lead to death (thanatos).

To avoid these potential troubles patriarchal societies have the tendency to suppress the freedom of women. This means women have to pay for the potential rivalry between men and the potential lack of responsibility of other members of the society. Instead of taking responsibility for their rivalrous and even violent desires and instead of taking control of them, patriarchal men blame women for their own behavior. And instead of taking more responsibility as a parent, patriarchal men also blame women if their offspring ends up on the wrong track… Peace and order in society, according to the patriarchal system, can only be obtained by keeping women in check. In other words, women and their freedom are violently sacrificed in order to establish “peace and quiet”.

As said, the Genesis story of the Garden and the Fall (the third chapter of the book) seems to support this view and seems to legitimize the sacrificial structure of the patriarchal society. More specifically, the story seems to consider (female) sexuality taboo. Eve invites Adam “to eat from the fruits” of the “Tree of Knowledge” in a “Garden Paradise”. In ancient Middle Eastern Cultures gardens are symbolical of sexuality and female sexuality in particular. The Song of Songs for instance, one of the smallest books of the Bible, gives voice to a young woman in a dialogue with her beloved man. At some point she invites her lover to “come into her garden and taste its choice fruits”. Talk of sending a clear message… Moreover, “knowing” often has a sexual meaning or erotic tone in Hebrew. “To know someone” has to do with “intimate wisdom”, with “gaining insight” by “penetrating into” something. So eating from the “Tree of Knowledge” and discovering, afterwards, that you are “naked” adds to the interpretation of the story as containing a taboo on sexuality and the female lust for “knowledge”. No wonder then, again, that the citizens of Pleasantville fear women who “go to the library”, “think” and take the initiative to go to Lover’s Lane… Women shouldn’t become too smart, as “shrewd” women are hard to control, and the third chapter of Genesis seems yet one other sexist story that gets this message across.

Song of Solomon (Raoul Martinez)

A strange thing happens, however, when Genesis chapter three is compared to the already mentioned Song of Songs. At a certain moment, the young woman of the Song complains about the patriarchal society and its taboos. She went looking for her lover but the “watchmen of the city” violently punished her for having an intimate relationship with a man outside her family or outside the ritualized context of marriage. Thereon she eventually sighs (Song of Songs 8:1): If only you were to me like a brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts! Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me.” So the Song of Songs lets the victim of patriarchal violence speak out and act against the regular patriarchal order. A comparison between Eve in Genesis and the young woman in the Song of Songs might shed new light on how to interpret the emancipation of women in the story of Pleasantville from a Biblical point of view. Here it is (CLICK THE PAGES TO ENLARGE OR CLICK HERE FOR PDF):

Pleasantville Garden of Eden and Garden of Female Sexuality

Pleasantville Watchmen

The question from this comparison is whether the God of the Genesis story is on the side of the watchmen who are supporting the patriarchal society and who harass (sexually) emancipated women. At first glance, it seems that this is the case. However, the Song of Songs does allow the victim of patriarchal violence to speak out against this kind of discrimination.

In order to get a fuller understanding of what is actually condemned by the Genesis story, the broader context of the book of Genesis is needed. Read in the broader context of Genesis and the story that immediately follows (Cain and Abel), Eve is not condemned because she is a woman, but because she cannot respect the difference between herself and someone else (“the Lord God”) – just like Cain cannot respect the difference between himself and someone else (“Abel”). Both stories condemn an anxious type of envy and even resentment! In the case of the confrontation between the young woman and her harassers in the Song of Songs, it is clear that the harassers are led by envy, resentment and fear. From the particular Biblical point of view, developed from the broader context in Genesis, they’re the ones whose acts are to be condemned. They fear the emancipation of women because this might mean that women no longer automatically obey the men they’re married off to – which is very frightening for patriarchal men’s status and sense of self-worth. Most probably their wives too resent the emancipated woman, as they secretly envy the life she leads but dare not abandon their own situation for fear of being punished.

The Gospels show how Jesus of Nazareth also takes sides with the woman as a potential victim of patriarchal violence. More specifically in John 8:1-11, when he is confronted with a woman caught in adultery. It might be good to take a fresh look at this well-known text:

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

A Depiction of Jesus and the Woman taken in Adultery (Vasily Polenov)

Jesus prevents the establishment of an order based on sacrifice by making people reflect on their own desires and trespasses, as they might be similar to those of the adulterous woman. Jesus believes God desires “mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).

It is telling that Jesus approaches the woman, who already committed adultery, mildly while he firmly condemns men who merely think of adultery (Matthew 5:27-30):

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

It’s his hyperbolic verbal way of compensating for the double standard in patriarchal societies, where adulterous men are often all too easily justified as “victims” of “evil, seductive women” (who are all too easily condemned by the patriarchal system). Apart from this, there are other “feminist” traits in the behavior of Jesus. The situation between Jesus, the crowd and the adulterous woman as it is told in the Gospel of John contains a subtle clue for a subversive, anti-patriarchal reading of the third chapter in Genesis (John 8:3): The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.” Indeed, the woman is said to stand “in the middle”. Compare this to Genesis 3:3, as Eve responds to the snake: God told us, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden. You must not even touch it, or you will die.‘” In other words, Jesus wants to prevent the crowd from “touching” what “stands in the middle” just like the God figure in the Genesis story wants to prevent Adam and Eve from eating from the tree “in the middle of the garden”. In both situations, the acts of “touching what’s in the middle” imply that people are led by envy, resentment and lust for prestige, that they are unable to respect “the other”, and that they want to erase the differences between themselves and the other (by killing themselves or the other – for more on this: click here).

In consonance with Genesis, Jesus calls out for love of one’s neighbor and a refusal of the sacrifice of the other to establish a “peace”. That’s why he says (Matthew 10:34-36):Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” The “sword” Jesus talks about is not the sword of “violence” (indeed, in Matthew 26:52 Jesus, upon being arrested, clearly warns against violence, when he demands one of his companions who tries to defend him: Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”). It is reminiscent of the sword at the end of the Genesis story about the Fall: The Lord God placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and the flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. This sword is a symbol of a Love that creates and preserves differences between people – differences of “color” and personality that is, not of “hierarchy”.

not peace but a swordPeace I leave with you

Jesus time and again questions a peace, order and unity based on the expulsion of a common enemy (a “scapegoat”) and on dictatorial, oppressive leadership (often of a “patriarch”). He tells people, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), which causes conflicts within the groups people belong to but once again prevents people from establishing a community at the expense of certain “enemy victims”. That’s why he can say that his kingdom – his way of organizing society – is, most of the time, “not of this world” (John 18:36). And that’s why he can also say: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

In short, Jesus as a Jew, in consonance with the Scriptures of the Jewish people, wants to establish a peace that allows for non-violent conflicts between people (as people dare to show their “true colors” and thus might clash with each other), while he refuses to establish a violent “easy” peace based on sacrifice (the “Pax Romana”).

In Pleasantville, Bud prevents the community of condemning his mother Betty. She committed adultery, leaving her husband George for Bill Johnson, the owner of the soda shop. Bill painted a portrait of a naked Betty on the front window of his shop, after which an agitated and scandalized crowd “stoned” it. Like Jesus confronted with a crowd and a woman caught in adultery, Bud prevents further violence. He enables people to discover that they’re not so different from Betty and other “coloreds” – which, paradoxically, allows them to respect Betty’s and the others’ own “color” and choices in life.

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Of course, life doesn’t become much easier if we’re trying to respect one another, protesting against “easy sacrifices” of vulnerable victims. Society does become more complex, the future more open and uncertain, but also more interesting, fertile and creative. It certainly is a challenge to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to allow for relationships that are based on a Love born from freedom, and not based on a fear for punishment or a desire to be rewarded and compensated. But hey, it’s better to have an emancipated woman love her man than to have a bitter, scared “slave” stick to her husband, isn’t it? In the words of 1 John 4:18:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

no fear in love

‘Guess we all still have some growing to do, but on a personal note: deep down inside, I do prefer the peace of Christ’s “critical” and flexible Love to the peace of the sacrificial powers in our world. A lot of growing to do, though, but happy to…

To conclude, Bruce Springsteen on the “secret garden she hides…” – CLICK HERE…

More from my book Vrouwen, Jezus en rock-‘n-roll – Met René Girard naar een dialoog tussen het christelijk verhaal en de populaire cultuur (Women, Jesus and rock-‘n-roll. Taking René Girard to a dialogue between the Christian story and popular culture):

  1. Mimetic Theory in High School (click to read)
  2. Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism (click to read)
  3. Scapegoating in American Beauty (click to read)
  4. Philosophy in American Beauty (click to read)
  5. Real Life Cases of Ressentiment (click to read)
  6. Eminem Reads the Bible (click to read)
  7. The Grace of Prostitutes (click to read)

See also: Finish… The Social Sciences (click to read)

The Grace of Prostitutes

“… the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

[translated from a part in my book Vrouwen, Jezus en rock-‘n-roll]

What a disturbing figure. Jesus openly declares that tax collectors and prostitutes – quintessential sinners – are entering the kingdom of God ahead of the chief priests and the elders of the people of Israel. Go figure.

The chief priests and the elders think highly of themselves. They get recognition from the common people. Or so they think. They have a religious and social status worthy even of some recognition from “the One” Himself. Or so they presume. In comes Jesus. He basically tells them they are high on some grand illusion. He tells them what’s real. And he knows that they know what’s real, deep down inside. Let’s have a closer look at how Jesus proclaims the truth.

Matthew 21:28-32

Jesus said, “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Intervention (Jesus is my homeboy)Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”

As he often does, Jesus tells a story to get his point across. This time it’s about a father and two sons. Basically, the second son is a hypocrite and the first son falls victim to the hypocrisy of his brother. Of course the father will think that the second son is the one who worked in the vineyard and appreciate him for it, while it’s his other son who did all the work. In other words, the second son will get the recognition that should actually be given to the first son.

Apart from the story of Cain and Abel, there’s another Old Testament story about two brothers that resonates throughout this parable of Jesus, namely the Genesis story of Jacob who deceitfully takes a blessing from his father Isaac. This particular blessing was normally reserved for his brother Esau, the firstborn. In the Genesis story (Genesis 27:1-46), Jacob (“he grasps the heel”, a Hebrew idiom for “he takes advantage of” or “he deceives”) is the one who gets protection. As is known, Jacob later becomes “Israel”, ancestor of the Jewish people.

By referring to the story of its ancestor Jacob, Jesus implicitly criticizes how Israel tends to build its identity and structure its society. Jesus criticizes social systems that rely on the exclusion of others through rivalry and hypocrisy. This criticism is at once general and personal. Jesus suggests in his parable that the chief priests and the elders are like the second son. In other words, he tells them that they are hypocrites! He also implies that the tax collectors and prostitutes are like the first son; they fall victim to the hypocrisy of the chief priests and the elders.

HookerOf course the elders and chief priests deal with the tax collectors, but to protect their image they will deny any affiliation with “those collaborators of the Roman Empire who take money from their fellow Jews, in the process also fraudulently, deceitfully enriching themselves…” The reality of the situation is not that black and white though. It is no surprise that some of the chief priests and elders turn out to be as corrupt (or even more) as the tax collectors themselves. There is low life in high places. [AUDIO SONG TIP: Low Life in High Places by Thunder].

As for the prostitutes, Jesus suggests that they too suffer from hypocrisy. Indeed, when they meet a client in public, their client will deny any affiliation with them. Their client, be it a chief priest or an elder or someone else, might say “I don’t know the woman!”, and protect his reputation among the common people. And the prostitute, well, she has no choice but to forgive the hypocrisy of her clients beforehand. It’s part of the game she is forced to play. Otherwise she would lose all her clients. She plays forgiveness. [AUDIO SONG TIP: When You Were Young by The Killers].

Now we might understand a little better why Jesus claims that the tax collectors and prostitutes are “closer to the kingdom of God” and to the righteousness proclaimed by John the Baptist. They experience firsthand how mechanisms of social exclusion allow societies to structure themselves. They understand the injustice of many social systems. They know that acting against that injustice has to do with taking sides with the outcasts. To repent thus means to acknowledge that you yourself are part of a social game that’s played at the expense of others and to do something about it. It means “losing a life that is directed at a socially acceptable image/status/reputation/power” for the sake of “the excluded other”, the consequence being that you “gain your life” (as you no longer idolatrously lose yourself to an image).

Jesus himself always takes sides with the excluded others, and deeply understands the hidden truth behind our socially mediated identities. That’s why he says, after yet another parable (of the tenants) in the same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel:

Jesus RockJesus Rejected Cornerstone‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’

(Matthew 21:42)

Because he is willing to take the position of the social outcast, Jesus is right when he proclaims the paradox of the Gospel (Matthew 16:25-26):

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

Jesus lives out (of) the Love of “the One” who is “Other than human” and therefore his identity and self-concept is not dependent on the socially mediated idolatries of this world. His self-respect is not dependent on the respect he gains from other people and therefore he is able to stand up for the outcasts in society.

Of course, when you imitate Jesus and take sides with the socially excluded, there are two possibilities: or other people will show mercy, or they will sacrifice you as well. Jesus is willing to run this risk because the love for his neighbor is stronger than the fear of becoming a victim himself. He refuses to sacrifice himself to a socially acceptable self-image at the expense of others. He is in no ways a masochist. Jesus believes that his Father – Love – “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). That’s why he indeed can save others but cannot save himself when he is arrested and crucified (Matthew 27:39-41). If he would start a civil war others would be sacrificed because of him, and he thus would no longer obey to the call of Love.

As we know, Peter at first does not imitate Jesus. Peter succumbs to the fear of becoming a social outcast when Jesus is arrested (see below, excerpts from Matthew 26). He denies any affiliation with Jesus because he fears becoming a victim himself. If, on the other hand, he would have taken sides with Jesus, he would have chosen for himself more fully (as he would not have chosen for his image or reputation).

However, like the clients of the prostitutes might say “I don’t know the woman (the prostitute)!” to protect their reputation, Peter says “I don’t know the man (Jesus)” to protect his position in society. Peter wants to secure himself.

At the same time, like the prostitutes forgive the hypocrisy of their clients, Jesus forgives Peter’s hypocrisy beforehand. But unlike the prostitutes, Jesus does have the choice not to forgive Peter, which makes his actual forgiveness more fully an act of grace.

Nevertheless, Matthew makes clear that the grace of Jesus indeed has to do with the grace of “prostitutes”. The Evangelist deliberately constructs a genealogy of Jesus (in the first chapter of his Gospel) wherein he mentions four Old Testament women who had a questionable reputation. Tamar and Rahab are known as prostitutes, Ruth is a seductress and Bathsheba, “Uriah’s wife”, is known as an adulteress…

Maybe one of the first steps towards the righteousness of “the kingdom of Love” has to do with the acknowledgment that our identities exist by receiving grace from those we tend to despise… To realize this might imply the tears that begin to wash our sins away, tears of true metanoia… as we follow in Peter’s footsteps.

Matthew 26:31-35

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

The_Denial_of_Saint_Peter by Caravaggio_(1610)Matthew 26:69-75

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

This post follows the suggestions for a high school course on mimetic theory. The aforementioned situations are examples of the third type of the scapegoat mechanism (this time about SHAME and not ressentiment).







Here are the previous posts:

  1. Mimetic Theory in High School (click to read)
  2. Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism (click to read)
  3. Scapegoating in American Beauty (click to read)
  4. Philosophy in American Beauty (click to read)
  5. Real Life Cases of Ressentiment (click to read)
  6. Eminem Reads the Bible (click to read)

Eminem Reads The Bible

This post follows a thread on suggestions for the development of a high school curriculum on Mimetic Theory. Click the following titles to see what else I’ve done on this so far (be sure to check out the pdf-files!):

  1. Mimetic Theory in High School (click to read)
  2. Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism (click to read)
  3. Scapegoating in American Beauty (click to read)
  4. Philosophy in American Beauty (click to read)
  5. Real Life Cases of Ressentiment (click to read)

Eminem (Horns)The story of Cain and Abel (in the book of Genesis) is compared to the story of Stan (by Eminem) to illustrate what I’ve called types 1 and 2 of the scapegoat mechanism. Cain and Abel is an example of the second type of scapegoat mechanism, namely hetero-aggression. Stan is an example of the first type of scapegoat mechanism, namely auto-aggression. By the way, the comparison between Cain and Stan is a translation of a text that first appeared in Dutch in my book Vrouwen, Jezus en rock-‘n-roll (Averbode, 2009).





[As an aside, it is possible to criticize Nietzsche’s concept of Judeo-Christian tradition as a product of ressentiment by comparing the third type of the scapegoat mechanism (ressentiment, indeed) with the story of Cain and Abel as an example of the second type. It is clear that, in the biblical story, the Lord condemns the actions of Cain. This implies that the Lord would condemn the actions of persons that are consumed by ressentiment as they take the parallel position of person A (Cain’s position). Thus the god born out of the ressentiment of the so-called slaves (a god who recognizes the slaves while condemning the so-called masters) is not the God of Judeo-Christian tradition.]

[As a second aside, click here for more on hip-hop and theology.]

In short, what the following comparison is all about: mimetically ignited love – eros – for the imagined situation of the other leads to hate towards one’s own life and the life of the other (or, which is the same, love for a so-called acceptable self-image) – a crisis of identity and social order. Person A (CAIN or STAN) tries to resolve the crisis that arises out of a comparison with person B (ABEL or SLIM) by sacrificing the other or by sacrificing him/herself – thanatos!

PDF-text of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-18)

PDF-text of Stan (by Eminem)



Cain and Abel develop similar activities:
In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.

Stan and Slim have similar experiences:
“See I’m just like you in a way… I never knew my father neither – he used to always cheat on my mom and beat her. I can relate to what you’re saying in your songs…”


Cain becomes angry because Abel gets attention from the Lord while he himself doesn’t seem to get any attention at all:
And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

Stan becomes angry because Slim does get recognition from his fans – Stan being one of them – while Stan seems to find no recognition at all:
“Dear Mister-I’m-Too-Good-To-Call-Or-Write-My-Fans, this’ll be the last package I ever send your ass! It’s been six months and still no word – I don’t deserve it?”


The Lord worries about Cain:
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?”

Slim worries about Stan:
“… why are you so mad?”


The Lord advises Cain to do well:
“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you…”

Slim advises Stan to calm down and to do well:
“I really think you and your girlfriend need each other or maybe you just need to treat her better. […] I think that you’ll be doin’ just fine if you relax a little…”


The First Mourning (Adam and Eve mourn the death of Abel) by Bouguereau 1888“… but you must rule over it…”

“I just don’t want you to do some crazy shit.”


Cain kills Abel:
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Stan kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend:
“Some dude was drunk and drove his car over a bridge and had his girlfriend in the trunk, and she was pregnant with his kid…”

Real Life Cases of Ressentiment

This post follows some previous posts in the development of a high school curriculum on Mimetic Theory:

  1. Mimetic Theory in High School (click to read)
  2. Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism (click to read)
  3. Scapegoating in American Beauty (click to read)
  4. Philosophy in American Beauty (click to read)

This post will provide some real life cases of ressentiment that could be explored in different disciplines.

  • PSYCHOLOGY & MEDIA – real life cases of ressentiment and homophobia, similar to the story of Frank Fitts in American Beauty:

Ted Haggard's fallWell-known evangelical pastor Ted Haggard became the center of a scandal in 2006 when a certain Mike Jones, a homosexual prostitute, claimed that he had had a three-year sexual relationship with Haggard. Later on, Haggard admitted to sexual contact with Jones and other men. Haggard had always preached against homosexuality and to this day considers it sinful and problematic. He is still married to his wife.Ricky Martin GQ Australia

Pop singer Ricky Martin came out as a gay man back in 2010. However, the star has admitted he used to struggle with his sexuality. He even bullied gay men whilst growing up in Puerto Rico. ‘I look back now and realize I would bully people who I knew were gay,’ Martin told the September/October 2013 edition of GQ Australia. ‘I had internalized homophobia. To realize that was confronting to me. I wanted to get away from that.’

  • HISTORY – ressentiment and racism in Nazi Germany:

It can be argued that Adolf Hitler developed an attitude of ressentiment towards the Jewish people and that he nourished this attitude to a national German scale. One can say that Hitler distanced himself from the qualities he would hate about himself by projecting those qualities on ‘the Jews’. He considered them to be ‘totally different’ from him and other German or, more broadly, ‘Aryan’ people. By hating and scapegoating the Jews for having so-called loathsome qualities, Hitler established a sense of self-worth. It was his way to get revenge for not being confirmed as the man he desired to be. It was his way to get even with the ones he secretly envied but learned to despise. Here’s what Hitler writes in Mein Kampf on the so-called radical difference between his ‘objects of study’ (‘the Jews’) and ‘the Germans’:

“Yet I could no longer very well doubt that the objects of my study were not Germans of a special religion, but a people in themselves; for since I had begun to concern myself with this question and to take cognizance of the Jews, Vienna appeared to me in a different light than before. Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Particularly the Inner City and the districts north of the Danube Canal swarmed with a people which even outwardly had lost all resemblance to Germans.”

For once, Hitler considered himself to be a talented artist and painter, whose work was not recognized by the main artistic forces of his time. It is known that he was not accepted at the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. In his autobiographical work Mein Kampf, it becomes clear that he identifies Jewish art as an inferior but nevertheless dominant cultural expression, which supposedly prevents ‘real artists and real art’ to come to the fore. This becomes just one source of his resentment towards the Jews. Here’s what Hitler writes in Mein Kampf on the influence of Jews on artistic life:

“I now began to examine carefully the names of all the creators of unclean products in public artistic life. The result was less and less favorable for my previous attitude toward the Jews. Regardless how my sentiment might resist my reason was forced to draw its conclusions. The fact that nine tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy can be set to the account of a people, constituting hardly one hundredth of all the country’s inhabitants, could simply not be tanked away; it was the plain truth.”

Der Ewige JudeHitler allegedly was not always too confident of his own health and appearance. He wanted to be filmed or photographed from certain angles in order to ‘look good.’ Again in Mein Kampf, he projects his doubts and fears and his sense of inferiority onto ‘the Jewish people’ in order to create a sense of superiority:

“The cleanliness of this people, moral and otherwise, I must say, is a point in itself. By their very exterior you could tell that these were no lovers of water, and, to your distress, you often knew it with your eyes closed. Later I often grew sick to my stomach from the smell of these caftan-wearers. Added to this, there was their unclean dress and their generally unheroic appearance.”

The Plot The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (by Will Eisner)Apart from Hitler’s particular psychological biography, Germany and Europe in general were susceptible to anti-Judaism and anti-Jewish feelings. The 1929 stock market crash marked the beginning of a worldwide economic depression. The image of Jews as rich merchants and money-grubbers who could not be trusted is but one of many negative images concerning Jews with a long history in Europe. Rich and intellectually refined Jews were envied and resented, especially during the difficult economic times of the 1930s. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Jewish hoax claiming to describe a Jewish plan for world domination, completed the anti-Jewish European paranoia. Thus the Jews once again became Europe’s scapegoats. In Hitler’s universe, the sacrifice of the Jews was considered necessary to free the world from its crisis and to establish a new peace and order. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in Russia in 1903, were used by the Nazis as part of their justification of the Holocaust. It would be interesting to explore the history of this document by reading The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a masterpiece by Will Eisner, the ‘father’ of graphic novels.

image from The Plot (by Will Eisner)

  • POLITICS, SOCIOLOGY & RELIGION: ressentiment and sexism (among others in fundamentalist religious groups)

Find more background information regarding sexism as a transcultural (religious as well as non-religious) phenomenon in this previous post: click here for “Temptresses”.

sexismHans van Scharen, Belgian journalist, comes across a clear example of what Nietzsche and Scheler would describe as ressentiment in Pakistan. Writing about his experiences in Peshawar [capital of the area formerly known as North-West Frontier Province], van Scharen reports (translation by E. Buys):

“You can see the influence of fundamentalist Islamic parties in the streets of Peshawar. Even innocent commercials for tea are smirched by grey paint to cover the female face of a depicted couple. By June 2003, the Sharia was accepted as the highest law and is often interpreted strictly, although not (yet) as ruthless as the Taliban would have it. The Muttahida MajliseAmal (United Council of Action) proposed a bill to prohibit the depiction of women in advertising. Sami ul-Haq, leader of an important Madrassa, claims that this is done ‘merely out of respect.’ ‘If you depict women naked, you kill their honor and the honor of their families. That is totally unacceptable. Women are precious, like rare flowers, and you should treat them accordingly.’ Naked? Even tea commercials are already offensive, apparently. Our guide sneers, ‘Well, it’s them fundamentalist bearded men demanding burqas who secretly watch videos of lascivious female dancers, and those men are highly fascinated by what they see. Ul-Haq’s brother teaches here, at the Islamic University, and like his brother he has the reputation of being a womanizer.’ […] – Taken from Knack magazine, November 29th, 2006, De comeback van de Taliban, p.99-100, by Hans van Scharen.