Towards the Death of the #MeToo Movement? – A Case of Killing in the Name of the Victim

Brett Barnes, Karlee Barnes, Omer Bhatti (O-Bee), Aaron Carter, Eddie Cascio, Frank Cascio, Kevin Macaulay Culkin, Bela Farkas, Corey Feldman, Brandi Jackson, Taj Jackson, Sean Lennon, Harriet Lester, Emmanuel Lewis, William Ray Norwood Jr. (Ray J), Danny Oliver, Kelley Parker, Alfonso Ribeiro, David Rothenberg (Dave Dave), Anton Schleiter, Franziska Schleiter.

What do these people have in common?

Well, for one thing, they all got to know Michael Jackson up close and personal when they were young boys and girls.

Secondly, they have all publicly, repeatedly and emphatically denied that Michael Jackson ever approached them inappropriately when they were children. They have claimed the opposite, testifying to nothing but good memories about their experiences with the late pop star.

I will wholeheartedly admit that this doesn’t mean that Michael Jackson didn’t molest any other children. However, often the testimonies in defense of Michael Jackson are read in light of the few allegations of child sexual abuse against him by those who believe that he indeed was a pedophile. Some of the “believers” then go to great lengths to explain the psychology of the people who claim, as adults, that they were never molested by Michael Jackson while they might very probably have been molested. This is a patronizing, belittling and arrogant attitude to listen to people’s testimonies, to say the least.

I would like to propose the opposite approach without, however, “explaining away” the possibility of Michael Jackson as a child molester beforehand on purely speculative psychological grounds. So I suggest to interpret the few allegations in light of the numerous testimonies in favor of Michael Jackson, after which certain non-speculative facts can be considered in relation to the allegations.

Before I go on, some people might want to know if I’m a fan of Michael Jackson. The answer is that I am a fan of his music, although certainly more of his early work as an adult solo-artist. I grew up on his first three albums, but his music generally is not my pick of the day. My taste in music is quite broad, not only in the “classical” sections, but also in the pop and rock sections. Aerosmith, Tracy Chapman, Leonard Cohen, Marc Cohn, DMX, Fleetwood Mac, King’s X, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Todd Rundgren, Bruce Springsteen, The Doors, Toto and U2 are among my favorite artists. One of my all-time favorite bands is Dan Reed Network, which is quite ironic since the director’s name of the controversial HBO-production Leaving Neverland is also Dan Reed.

I wanted to point this out because some people assume all kinds of things when you strongly defend the possibility that Michael Jackson wasn’t a pedophile at all. They assume that Michael Jackson must be your big idol, and that you belong to some sort of “crazy fan cult” that will deny the so-called truth about Michael Jackson being a pedophile at all costs, even in the face of “overwhelming” evidence or indications. I can honestly say that I would not have any problem admitting that Michael Jackson most likely was a pedophile if the evidence or circumstantial evidence would point in that direction. On the contrary, if that were indeed the case, then his victims would be welcome to receive my full support. However, in a world that is founded upon the so-called Age of Reason or Enlightenment, judgments should be made on the basis of facts and these facts point in the direction of false accusations. All the extremely thorough research done by legal and judicial authorities over the years, time and again exonerate Michael Jackson – for more on this, see FACTS TO CONSIDER WHEN WATCHING “LEAVING NEVERLAND”.

NOTE ON THE TWO CASES OF CSA DURING MICHAEL JACKSON’S LIFETIME

It is good to remember some important facts about the two cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) that were brought against Michael Jackson during his lifetime (again, for more on this see FACTS TO CONSIDER WHEN WATCHING “LEAVING NEVERLAND”).

Regarding the Jordan Chandler case of 1993, people should consider the following facts. Jordan Chandler’s parents are divorced. His father, Evan, is a Hollywood dentist who wants to make it in show business. He becomes very disgruntled with his ex-wife June, his son Jordan and Michael Jackson when they don’t sustain the level of communication he expects from them. In a lengthy taped phone conversation between Evan and David Schwartz (Jordan’s stepfather) Evan reveals his plans to “destroy ex-wife June and Michael Jackson” if they don’t return to his desired level of contact. Evan Chandler suggests his plan is to level allegations of child sexual abuse against Michael Jackson. If his ex-wife and Michael Jackson do re-establish contact with him, he promises not to go through with his plan. In other words, Evan Chandler clearly aims to blackmail Michael Jackson. Whatever really happens between Michael Jackson and his son is of no importance to him. When Michael Jackson resists Evan Chandler’s extortion attempts, Evan Chandler tries everything to force his son to level allegations of child sexual abuse against Michael Jackson. Jordan Chandler denies anything inappropriate ever happened between him and Michael Jackson multiple times, until he finally succumbs to the pressure of his father. Evan Chandler threatens to go public with the allegations if Michael Jackson refuses to pay a settlement. Michael Jackson indeed refuses, after which Evan seeks monetary compensations in an official civil case against Jackson. Michael Jackson and his legal team file for the criminal case to go before the civil case so he can clear his name, but to no avail. After the civil case is settled (for $15,331,250) in which an official document makes sure that this is not an admission of guilt on the part of Michael Jackson, Evan Chandler is no longer interested in pursuing criminal charges against Michael Jackson. The criminal case goes on, though, but is rejected by two different Grand Juries – in any case, Michael Jackson did not buy his way out of court!

After the whole circus winds down, Jordan Chandler no longer wants anything to do with his parents anymore and files for legal emancipation. At the trial against Michael Jackson in 2005, his mother declares that she hadn’t been in contact with her son for 11 years. Jordan at some point even obtains a permanent restraining order against the father who had forced him to level allegations against Michael Jackson. If there is one manipulative, abusive person in this whole situation, it is indeed Jordan Chandler’s father Evan Chandler. Not only other people become the victim of his behavior. Eventually Evan Chandler commits suicide, a few months after Michael Jackson’s passing.

The second case against Michael Jackson during his lifetime revolves around Gavin Arvizo, which culminates in the 2005 criminal trial. The Arvizo family turns out to have a history of (at times successful) extortion attempts. On August 27, 1998, when he is only eight years old, Gavin steals two school uniforms and two school uniform pants from a J.C. Penney Department Store. Strangely enough, the incident ends with a settlement between the Arvizo family and J.C. Penney in which the store pays the family $152,200. Janet Arvizo, the mother, claimed that she had been touched inappropriately by security guards. The file about the case clearly indicates her manipulative tactics.

Apart from the Michael Jackson and the J.C. Penney cases, the Arvizos get also caught being involved in fraudulent and manipulative activities against actor and comedian Chris Tucker, comedian George Lopez, television host Jay Leno and editor Connie Keenan. Mother Janet Arvizo also committed welfare fraud.

A very important fact is the changing of the timeline of Michael Jackson’s alleged abuse by the Arvizos. The Michael Jackson Allegations website points out the consequences of this (see also below, Rolling Stone’s account of the same situation):

“Initially the Arvizos claimed that the molestation started as soon as they returned from Miami with Jackson, on February 7, 2003. This version of the story is also represented in the prosecution’s initial felony complaint, filed on December 18, 2003.

However, later they changed this story and said that Jackson started molesting Gavin after February 20. As you will see, this timeline change was not just a minor correction. It significantly changed the narrative of the Arvizos’ initial story.

[…]

According to the story that the Arvizos ended up with due to the timeline change, Jackson started molesting Gavin while the CPS and the police investigated, while there was a huge public attention on him and Gavin because of the Bashir documentary, and while his PR team was working overtime on damage control because of the public relations backlash resulting from the Bashir documentary. To believe the Arvizos’ story you have to believe that all the while this was happening (including a police and a CPS investigation), Jackson suddenly started molesting Gavin Arvizo, even though for three years he had not touched him and not even trusted him and his family. This is exactly the story that the Arvizo family ended up with after they were forced to change their initial timeline because of the discovery of the ‘rebuttal tape’ raw footage.

According to some people, Michael Jackson must have had tons of victims of child sexual abuse. During his lifetime, two cases came out. The first case turned out to be concocted by an overambitious, money hungry and abusive father. His son Jordan didn’t want anything to do with him anymore after he was forced to level allegations against Michael Jackson and after the case wound down. The second case was concocted by a family who had a long history of extortion attempts and who were caught lying on all counts during the trial against Michael Jackson in 2005.

Surprise, surprise? Considering all the supportive testimonies of people who knew Michael Jackson when they were children, it is probably no coincidence that of all the alleged potential victims the only cases that came out were clearly non-credible extortion attempts.

A REPEATING PATTERN

Concerning the cases of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, the pattern to seek monetary compensations for alleged abuse repeats itself. This is a fact. Moreover, Robson and Safechuck were also caught lying on multiple occasions regarding their cases, not only by investigative journalists, but also by judges. This is a fact. It is no coincidence that their cases were already thrown out of court twice. It is probably also no coincidence that Robson first made allegations when he was experiencing financial troubles and troubles regarding his career (he was not accepted as director for a Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil tribute show). And it is probably also no coincidence that Safechuck “suddenly realized” that he had been abused by Michael Jackson only days after the Safechuck family business got sued for nearly a million dollars.

The HBO production Leaving Neverland, about the Robson and Safechuck cases, leaves out all the kind of above mentioned information. It is therefore an unethical piece of journalism for several reasons: it contains significant and proven lies; it profits from a deceased person’s bad reputation who can no longer defend himself; it offers a prosecution’s case veiled as a “testimony of child sexual abuse”; it unashamedly profits from the sympathy of victims of proven child sexual abuse during this #MeToo era. In short, Leaving Neverland is a mere “trial by media” – a witch hunt of increasingly low credibility value.

With Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed finds himself in the company of people like Diane Dimond and Víctor Gutiérrez and their stories about Michael Jackson. Both Dimond and Gutiérrez are tabloid journalists of the worst kind, the latter being convicted for blatantly lying and making up stories on multiple occasions, also regarding Michael Jackson.

It is now proven that Wade Robson read multiple tabloid stories while he was preparing his unpublished book (which contains his first version of allegations against Michael Jackson). He mailed those stories to himself. Robson also declared reading books about the pattern of child sexual abuse, supposedly to make sense of his own experience. Whatever the level of truth in his own story, the tabloid stories and the books on child sexual abuse clearly helped Robson to put the pieces of his own story together. It is also proven that Robson knew about information from tabloid stories not being true, and yet he used that information in the manuscript of his unpublished book. As for James Safechuck, many elements of his story are so comparable to the story that Víctor Gutiérrez concocted in Michael Jackson Was My Lover: The Secret Diary of Jordie Chandler (Alamo Square Distributors, 1996) that they seem copy pasted from that book.

The question to determine Michael Jackson’s guilt should not be whether or not the stories of Wade Robson and James Safechuck “fit the pattern” of child sexual abuse. The question should be whether or not the different elements of their stories, which constitute that pattern of child sexual abuse, are actual facts as opposed to lies.

An approach to reality that reduces reality to “correspondence to a pattern” is an externalization of what Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) calls “totality”.

A “pattern” is a way to approach reality. It is not reality itself. Knowledge of a pattern can be used by deceivers to “sell” a story as “truth”. Tabloid journalism excels in this respect. The testimonies below (see also the Open Letter by the Schleiter Family) challenge the standard “totalitarian” story of Michael Jackson as a textbook pedophile. 

The tabloid background and multiple proven lies didn’t help the cases of Robson and Safechuck (who contacted Robson and was eventually represented by the same legal team) regarding their credibility. Several victims of child sexual abuse were outraged about Leaving Neverland and spoke out against Wade Robson and James Safechuck once they knew more about the history of their cases.

THE QUESTION OF VICTIMHOOD

It is patronizing if not arrogant to assume that people who knew Michael Jackson since their childhood only say nice things about him “because they remain under the manipulative spell of his pop star aura.” Let us listen to those testimonies first.

It is patronizing if not arrogant to assume that everyone who defends Michael Jackson “must be a fan.” Let us first find out if his ardent defenders are indeed all fans and if that is the main reason why they defend him.

It is patronizing if not arrogant to assume that big fans of Michael Jackson “would not admit that he was a pedophile even if the evidence pointed in that direction.” Let us first find out why many fans don’t believe that he was a pedophile – do they really have strong reasonable and plausible arguments, or is it mainly a rationalization of emotional impulses?

It is patronizing if not arrogant to assume that the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI, the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services and the Santa Barbara County Superior Court would stand “no chance against the power and money of Michael Jackson.” Let us first find out what kind of investigations were conducted, how the raids on his Neverland ranch were done, how the police took photographs of his genitals and how he was treated when they arrested him.

I think it is important to move beyond those kinds of speculative assumptions because judgment based on assumptions ultimately damages the so-called #MeToo movement big time. The fact that victims have a voice is a breakthrough. As scholars have pointed out, the Judeo-Christian influence on the western world plays a tremendous part in this achievement – Gil Bailie, for instance (Violence Unveiled – Humanity at the Crossroads, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1995, p. 20):

“There’s plenty of truth in the revised picture of Western history that the young are now routinely taught, the picture of the West’s swashbuckling appetite for power, wealth, and dominion. What’s to be noted is that it is we, and not our cultural adversaries, who are teaching it to them. It is we, the spiritual beneficiaries of that less than always edifying history, who automatically empathize more with our ancestors’ victims than with our ancestors themselves. If we are tempted to think that this amazing shift is the product of our own moral achievement, all we have to do is look around at how shamelessly we exploit it for a little power, wealth, and dominion of our own.

The fact is that the concern for victims has gradually become the principal gyroscope in the Western world. Even the most vicious campaigns of victimization – including, astonishingly, even Hitler’s – have found it necessary to base their assertion of moral legitimacy on the claim that their goal was the protection or vindication of victims. However savagely we behave, and however wickedly and selectively we wield this moral gavel, protecting or rescuing innocent victims has become the cultural imperative everywhere the Biblical influence has been felt.

However, the perversion of the achievement to listen to “the voice of the victim” threatens to silence the voice of real victims again: people pretending to be victims murderously persecute others in the name of “the victim” in order to gain power and end up making ever more victims. As French-American thinker René Girard points out (Evolution and Conversion – Dialogues on the Origins of Culture, Continuum, London, New York, 2007, p. 236):

“We have experienced various forms of totalitarianism that openly denied Christian principles. There has been the totalitarianism of the Left, which tried to outflank Christianity; and there has been totalitarianism of the Right, like Nazism, which found Christianity too soft on victims. This kind of totalitarianism is not only alive but it also has a great future. There will probably be some thinkers in the future who will reformulate this principle in a politically correct fashion, in more virulent forms, which will be more anti-Christian, albeit in an ultra-Christian caricature. When I say more Christian and more anti-Christian, I imply the figure of the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ is nothing but that: it is the ideology that attempts to outchristianize Christianity, that imitates Christianity in a spirit of rivalry.

[…]

You can foresee the shape of what the Anti-Christ is going to be in the future: a super-victimary machine that will keep on sacrificing in the name of the victim.

The #MeToo movement should be about a concern for real victims, also victims of false allegations. The focus, time, energy and money of a society should go to real victims, not pretenders. That’s why the #MeToo movement should be concerned about false allegations. It should not lend itself to sustain the condemnation of people in a mere trial by powerful media, especially if those people are no longer here to defend themselves and were already acquitted on all counts during their lifetime. Regarding Michael Jackson, we should focus on what can be known for a fact before speculating and jumping to conclusions.

In any case, the people who have testified against Michael Jackson in a court of law were all caught on multiple and significant lies, while the people who testified in his defense were not (apart from Wade Robson, who claims to have lied in the only criminal trial against Michael Jackson in 2005). Also, many (if not all) people who testified against Michael Jackson sold their stories to the tabloids for big money. These are facts. It is also a fact that Michael Jackson was acquitted on all counts in 2005 and declared innocent. Despite this declaration, many still had doubts about him and Michael Jackson would suffer the consequences of this trial mentally and physically. Michael Jackson never really recovered from the 2005 trial and was virtually destroyed. He would die four years later. The HBO production Leaving Neverland, true or not, further kills the reputation of an already dead man who can no longer defend himself “in the name of the victim”.

To get a clearer picture of the “regular” experiences with Michael Jackson, as opposed to the four exceptional cases of child sexual abuse against him (the Jordan Chandler case, the Gavin Arvizo case, and the Wade Robson and James Safechuck cases), below are some voices of people who are speculated about a lot, but are rarely been listened to.

VOICES OF “NEVERLAND CHILDREN” ON BEHALF OF AN ACCUSED DEAD MAN

SEAN LENNON (son of the late John Lennon) in exclaim! March 6, 2019 – emphasis mine:

“I think that was a super strange time, but not in a dark way. In an odd way, in a unique way. It was odd because Bubbles was all dressed up in dandy outfits and we were all running around playing videogames with this chimpanzee. It was a surreal scene. It was kind of part Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, part Dr. Doolittle, and part, you know, ‘Motown’s Greatest Hits’ or something. It was a convergence of a lot of disparate universes that merged for a while. And that was a strange scene but it was really fun. I mean it was amazing to hang out with all those animals, but there was also something very eccentric about it, you know?

[…]

He was the coolest dude I’d ever met for sure. I mean people, you know, they have a lot of opinions about him and like anything else, my opinions can only be based on my experience. But he was super fun to hang out with. I mean he was like a big kid, you know?

Michael Jackson and Sean Lennon 1

So yeah, the time that I got to spend with him was – it was like Disneyland all day long. He’d set up water balloon fights and pie fights in basketball courts. Just really fun stuff where he’d like invite all his friends over and there’d be two teams and everyone would dress in garbage bags and throw pies at each other. It was like super high-level fun and it was orchestrated fun and insanity.”

Michael Jackson and Sean Lennon 2

ANTON AND FRANZISKA SCHLEITER, An Open Letter, Enough is Enough, March 4, 2019

(https://schleiter-family.com/) – emphasis mine:

“In 1995 we first met Michael at a German TV Show. That day, something that we could never have imagined in our wildest dreams happened. It was the start of a unique friendship. A friendship so normal yet so unusual and magical. One that would last until the very last day of Michael’s life and will continue forever in our hearts.

From the beginning we knew that what we were privileged to experience, was a treasure worth protecting. Especially regarding the world we live in, with media that wants to make up stories that sell, rather than seeking the truth and people who want to read shocking headlines rather than knowing the truth. Over the years we were offered over a quarter million of Euros for interviews, but no money in the world could ever materialize a value that would stand above the value of our memories with Michael. This is the reason why we have never spoken a word publicly about our friendship.

Something has changed our mind about speaking up lately. The utter shocking news of a new documentary that would portray Michael once again as a child molester. Even writing this sentence, putting his name and that word together, makes us feel sick to our stomach. Michael never behaved inappropriately towards us and we neither witnessed nor suspected him doing it to someone else ever.

We have been angry with the public treatment of Michael many times in the past, but we chose to stay silent – hoping the truth to run marathons and protecting Michael and his privacy.

And we had good reason to be angry, for example when Anton was falsely portrayed in a German tabloid as having a homosexual affair with Michael. We witnessed first hand how ugly the media can be and how they make up most terrible lies just to have a story. When our father denied to talk to an inquiring journalist on the phone, the story read something like ‘Father refuses to defend Michael’. Unfortunately scandals sell much better than anything else.

Michael Jackson and Anton Schleiter 1

Spending a lot of time with Michael, we experienced two-faced people more than once. When Michael was in the room, they acted most charming with seemingly good intentions, but once he turned his cheek they would become rude and you could sense that their intentions were not that good after all. In front of us, they didn’t care showing their real face. We were only the shy German family in the background, not worth paying attention to. But we were observing and slowly but surely we started to get a glance at the often difficult world Michael was living in. It was a world in which it was so very difficult to trust.

And yet Michael was kind to everybody he would meet and believed in the good so strongly. Some would call it naiv, to us it was just one of his character traits that made us look up to him. Giving everybody a chance, even if you’ve been fooled by people over and over, really is remarkable. And it makes us even more sad to know, that many took and still take advantage of this.

Being around Michael made us realize that everybody wanted a piece of him. We often wondered why, from all people, he would let us into his circle of trusted friends. Now we understand it was maybe the fact that we didn’t want anything from him and simply enjoyed being together. When he offered to pay for our education, our parents denied because it was too much of a gift. It was a no brainer for us then, but looking back on it now, it was probably something that Michael didn’t experience often.

Michael Jackson and Schleiter Kids

Those who wanted a piece of his fame or his money did not care about Michael as a person or about his kind heart and uplifting spirit. It is truly a shame and we almost feel bad for those people in a way, because blinded by money, they probably didn’t realize that they just had the honor to meet a person that has a uniqueness about him that the world would only witness every other century. His music, his message, his creative and genius mind was truly one of a kind.

While our friendship with Michael was very normal in a sense that we hung out, chatted on the phone, went to the movies just like friends do, it was also magical in the sense that Michael had a warmth about him that was captivating. You would immediately feel comfortable and safe around him. He was one of the most humble persons we’ve ever met, always putting the well being of others over his own.

There was never a single moment of doubt of his pure heart and intentions, which also led our parents to allow us to travel alone with Michael.

Though we’re speaking up today, we still want to protect and respect our personal stories. What we can say though, is that each and every time we had to say good bye to Michael, we all cried because we knew how much we would miss him. The times we spent together were the most fun. And while Michael was always up for a good water balloon fight, he was also a great mentor, teaching us about life and sharing his incredible knowledge. We can remember how excited he was to tell us about the Wright brothers when he learnt that we had never heard of them. He gave us books and movies of stories we could learn from and he was eager for us to develop our talents.

We understand that our story can only put a small piece of the puzzle together for those who are still in doubt of what to believe about Michael Jackson. To those who still doubt that he was innocent, we can only plea to simply do your own research. And if the fact that Michael had to endure every possible raid of privacy in his trial in 2005 and still was found NOT GUILTY on ALL CHARGES, if this fact is still not enough for you, then maybe you can simply listen to his music.

Meeting many of his fans over the years, we were astounded how much they ‘got him’ as a person, even though they never personally met him. Michael and his fans had a unique friendship of their own. He trusted them and it is no wonder why they continue to trust in his good heart. They simply listened to his music and to his words. If you listen closely you’d know all of his stories and you’d know what kind of person he was. You would know that his mission for his time on earth was not only to bring happiness in form of melodies and rhythm but also to change the world to the better.

Boy, how he could inspire us to be our best selves and to show more love and respect to each other! Yet people choose to blow up lies that threaten to overshadow all of the greatness this man has brought.

Enough is enough.


Today we speak up for Michael because he deserves better and because he was the best friend we could have ever imagined.

Anton and Franziska and our parents Marlies and Wolfgang

Michael Jackson and Schleiter Family

COREY FELDMAN  

For CNN, Piers Morgan interview, October 28, 2013 – emphasis mine:

Well, Michael was the big brother I never had quite honestly. He was everything to me as a kid. He taught me so many things. He’s taught me about loving animals, vegetarianism, animal rights, environmental issues, caring about your fans, how to treat your fans, the fact that the moment that you meet your fans may just be a fleeting moment to you and something that you’re in the middle of things that you got to take time for. But to them – they’re going to remember this moment for the rest of their lives. So how important it is with that exchange and how you treat them a lot.

[…]

We discussed everything, you know what I mean, and it was literally like a big brother, little brother relationship where we’ve talked about everything, I would talk about the abuse that I endured in school which is also in the book, the abuse with my parents and also the difficulties of having to go to work everyday instead of being able to play. You know both of us shared that similarity.

Michael Jackson and Corey Feldman

We were robbed of our childhoods. We weren’t able to just have sleepovers or go play at the arcade with other kids or take your bike down the street and do what you want. That didn’t exist for us. That wasn’t a reality. So instead we ought to, you know, go for meeting to meeting and, you know, sit in a room full of people all day and be judged and have people question you about everything that you do, again, life under the microscope, totally different, a very different perspective than most people ever have the experience of having.”

For HuffPost, November 2, 2013 – emphasis mine:

“I don’t know a lot of things that happened in the years I wasn’t around, but all I can tell you is remarking about the person that I know, the person that was my close friend, that was like a brother to me. Michael was not that guy.

He was a guy who was so innocent, so kind of sheltered, you couldn’t even swear around him. You couldn’t talk about drugs, you couldn’t talk about nude women, you couldn’t talk about sex. You couldn’t talk about anything, because he was a very religious man for much of the early stages of his life and career.

When I got arrested, I was afraid, to be honest with you, that he’d never talk to me again because he had such a clean image — that I really expected that he’d just be like, ‘see ya!’ you know? And that really showed me the value of what type of person he was.

The fact that when I did get arrested, even though his image was still squeaky clean and by all rights he could have stepped aside and moved me back, but he didn’t.

He called me. I got that message on my answering machine, which said, ‘Hi Corey, it’s Michael. Is everything ok? Call me if you need me.’ You know, he was a friend. He was supportive. And thank God for that.”

For NBC – The Today Show, Matt Lauer interview, October 30, 2017 – emphasis mine:

FELDMAN: “I told the police [the names of Hollywood pedophiles]. In fact if anyone wants to go back to 1993, when I was interviewed by the Santa Barbara Police Department. I sat there and gave them the names. They are on record. They have all of this information, but they were scanning Michael Jackson. All they cared about was trying about to find something on Michael Jackson.”

LAUER: “Who you said, by the way, did not abuse you.”

FELDMAN: “Who Michael was innocent. And that was what the interview was about with the pollice in 1993. I told them, he is not that guy. And they said, maybe you don’t understand your friend. And I said, no, I know the difference between pedophiles and somebody that is not a pedophile because I have been molested. Here’s the names, go investigate.”

KELLEY (KELLIE) PARKER, for RTL 4, Erik Mouthaan interview, July 6, 2009 – emphasis mine:

“I have nothing but amazing memories from the entire time that I knew Michael and was friends with him. I can’t say enough good things. He just had this unconditional love. He was so pure. And… I just have so many great memories.”

Kelley Parker on Michael Jackson Tweet

Michael Jackson and Kelley Parker

KEVIN MACAULAY CULKIN 

For CNN, Larry King Live, May 27, 2004 [also talking about the criminal trial back then, in which Macaulay Culkin would eventually testify on behalf of his friend Michael Jackson] – emphasis mine:

KING: “What happened at the house? That’s what all the things that people are concerned about.”

CULKIN: “That’s what’s so weird.”

KING: “What did happen?”

CULKIN: “Nothing happened. You know, nothing really. I mean, we played video games. We, you know, played at his amusement park.”

KING: “Did he sleep in the bed?”

CULKIN: “The thing is with that whole thing, oh, you slept in the same bedroom as him. It’s like, I don’t think you understand, Michael Jackson’s bedroom is two stories and it has like three bathrooms and this and that. So, when I slept in his bedroom, yes, but you understand the whole scenario. And the thing is with Michael he’s not good at explaining himself and he never really has been, because he’s not a very social person. You’re talking about someone who has been sheltered and sheltering himself also for the last like 30 years. And so, he’s not very good at communicating to people and not good at conveying what he’s actually trying to say to you. So, when he says something like that people – he doesn’t quite understand why people react the way that they do.”

KING: “Why do you think he likes young people so much?”

CULKIN: “Because the same reason why he liked me, was the fact that I didn’t care who he was. That was the thing. I talked to him like he was a normal human being and kids do that to him because he’s Michael Jackson the pop singer, but he’s not the God, the ‘king of pop’ or anything like that. He’s just a guy who is actually very kid-like himself and wants to go out there and wants to play video games with you.”

Michael Jackson and Macaulay Culkin (1991)

KING: “Did your parents encourage it?”

CULKIN: “They weren’t against it. It wasn’t like they encouraged it or pushing me upon it. I wanted to hang out with him and they were fine.”

KING: “What do you make of what he’s going through now?”

CULKIN: “Like I said, it’s unfortunate, and you know, it’s a circus.”

KING: “Do you think it’s a bad rap?”

CULKIN: “You know, I think so. Yes. Listen, look what happened the first time this happened to him. If someone had done something like that to my kid, I wouldn’t settle for some money. I’d make sure the guy was in jail. It just really goes to show as soon as they got the money they ran. I mean, that’s what really happened the first time. And so I don’t know. It’s a little crazy and I kind of have taken a step back from the whole thing, because it is a bit of a circus. And you know, if the same thing was happening to me, I wouldn’t want to drag him into it and vice versa. So I try my best to take a distance from it, but like I said he’s still a friend of mine.”

KING: “If they asked you to be a character witness, would you appear?”

CULKIN: “I guess so, but probably not. Like I said, it’s crazy, and I don’t really want to be a part of it.”

 KING: “You like him.”

CULKIN: “I like him and he’s a friend of mine. I’m not saying I wouldn’t. It hasn’t been brought up to me and I don’t think he’d want me to either. Just because, like I said, if the same thing was happening to me…”

KING: “What reaction has happened to you from all of this?”

CULKIN: “What do you mean?”

KING: “Do people inquire of you a lot about it?”

CULKIN: “Sometimes. You know, people always have their opinions. It’s funny. People always talk to me about him, because you know, I’m one of these people who will tell you anything about my life, really, to get me going. You know, so yes, I mean, I’ve openly and freely talked about him and stuff like that. But overall, you know, he’s just a good friend of mine.”

KING: “You wish him well.”

CULKIN: “Of course I do.”

On the Inside of You podcast, Michael Rosenbaum interview, January 15, 2019 – emphasis mine:

“It’s almost easy to try to say it was ‘weird’ or whatever, but it wasn’t, because it made sense.

He reached out to me ’cause a lot of things were happening big and fast with me. I think he identified with that.

[…] I think that’s one of the reasons also why we got along, is that everyone’s always thoroughly impressed by him. So the fact that somebody treated him like a normal person… It was that simple.”

EMMANUEL LEWIS, CBC Television, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, October 10, 2012 – emphasis mine (by the way: notice how the website “MJFacts” manipulated the following photo, adding bottles and changing a few other details):

Michael Jackson and Emmanuel Lewis (original vs manipulated)

You know this guy is great. You know Michael’s got a heart of gold. You know that he wouldn’t do any of those things that people were talking about. Later on, of course, after he died, a few of those people came forward and said, ‘You know, it never happened, we didn’t do anything, was pressured by parents, by this or that; we needed money real bad…’ and they figured that was a way to get out. And there’s people out there in the press that actually came clean. But it’s a little late, you know. Thanks a lot, you know what I mean? You put him through hell.”

 

Michael Jackson and Emmanuel Lewis 2 (Visit to Disney World, 1984)

EDDIE AND FRANK CASCIO, Oprah, December 6, 2010 – emphasis mine:

FRANK CASCIO: “We grew up with Michael, literally, since he was three and I was five, and so being around him was just normal.”

Michael Jackson with Cascio Brothers

 

 

EDDIE CASCIO: “He really just was so humble and then never really played off on the fact that he was, you know, Michael Jackson, you know. He was just Michael. He was just our friend.”

Michael Jackson with Frank Cascio

DAVE DAVE, Larry King Live, September 3, 2009 – emphasis mine:

“I believe that Michael was a great person. He has never hurt a soul and I am happy to have been his friend for all these years, and been a dedicated friend.”

Michael Jackson and Dave Dave

BRETT BARNES

Michael Jackson and Brett Barnes (Photoshoot)

Emmanuel Lewis tweets a couple of times on behalf of Michael Jackson’s defense after the airing of Leaving Neverland, the HBO production containing new allegations against the late pop star. Already on May 8, 2013, after Wade Robson goes public for the first time with his allegations against Michael Jackson, Brett Barnes tweets in Michael Jackson’s defense:

“I wish people would realise, in your last moments on this earth, all the money in the world will be of no comfort. My clear conscience will.”

Brett Barnes Tweet on Wade Robson Lies

To this day he keeps defending his late friend.

Michael Jackson and Brett Barnes

RETURNING ONCE AGAIN TO THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST MICHAEL JACKSON

FOR MORE, SEE FACTS TO CONSIDER WHEN WATCHING “LEAVING NEVERLAND”

1993 – THE JORDAN CHANDLER CASE

In a taped phone conversation with David Schwartz (Jordan Chandler’s stepfather), Evan Chandler threatens to make allegations against Michael Jackson and his ex-wife if they continue to refuse communicating with him. Eventually, Evan indeed forces his son Jordan to make allegations of child sexual abuse against Michael Jackson. Once the allegations are made, Evan manages to make an appointment with Jackson and his lawyers. When he sees Michael Jackson on the day of the meeting, Evan walks up to him and amicably hugs the pop star – the alleged molester of Evan’s son Jordan. The hug is described by Evan’s own brother, Jordan’s uncle Ray, among others. Jackson refuses to settle for money at that point. Therefore, Evan goes public with the allegations.

Michael Jackson and his legal team relentlessly try to get the criminal trial ahead of the civil trial by filing motions, all of which are rejected by Judge David Rothman. California law at the time allows the civil trial to go ahead of the criminal trial. Michael Jackson and his legal team lose four (yes, four) motions in their attempt to postpone the civil suit until the criminal proceeding is completed. In other words, Michael Jackson is eager to go to trial to clear his name! The Chandlers, on the other hand, turn out to be only interested in a civil suit of which they want a settlement before any criminal proceedings.

Eventually, Jackson’s legal team advises him to settle the civil case for $15,331,250 so focus can be on the upcoming criminal trial. Jackson makes sure that an official statement is signed that this is not an admission of guilt. Michael Jackson’s legal team prepares for the criminal trial. The prosecution presents the case to two different Grand Juries, but the case is rejected twice. The Chandlers are not interested in cooperating with the authorities for the criminal case. Clearly they are not interested in a conviction of their son’s alleged molester.

Rolling Stone describes the end of the case as follows (January 29, 2019):

Jordan Chandler went on to attain legal emancipation from both of his parents. June Chandler testified at Jackson’s 2005 trial and said she had not spoken to her son in 11 years. Evan Chandler, who closed his dental practice in 1994, killed himself in 2009.”

People should make up their own mind about this whole matter, but to me this looks like an extortion plot set up by Evan Chandler, which destroyed his own family and the relationship between parents and son. It seems money was the driving force of the Chandlers, especially since they were not interested in pursuing criminal charges.

2005 – THE GAVIN ARVIZO CASE

Rolling Stone, April 7, 2005 (Inside the Strangest Trial on Earth, p. 36),  summarizes the case of child sexual abuse against Michael Jackson in 2005 as follows – emphasis mine:

“The prosecution’s case, seldom satisfactorily explained in the mainstream media, goes as follows. On February 6th, 2003, the Bashir documentary, in which Jackson is seen admitting that he sleeps in his bedroom with young boys, is shown on British TV. Among the children who appear in the video is his accuser in this case, a thirteen-year-old cancer survivor who had been introduced to Jackson during his chemotherapy treatments several years before.

According to the prosecution, Jackson had not molested the boy at the time the Bashir documentary aired, but he was sufficiently concerned that the boy might make such allegations that he and a band of Neverland courtiers entered into an elaborate conspiracy to “falsely imprison” the boy and his family for nearly five weeks (in luxury hotels, at Neverland ranch and other places), during which time they coerced the family into denying, on camera, that anything untoward had ever happened between Jackson and the boy.

[…]

At any rate, it was only after the filming of this so-called rebuttal video – which, incidentally, Jackson then sold to the Fox Network for $3 million – and after authorities had begun an investigation into Jackson’s relationship with the boy, that Jackson allegedly molested the child, in early March.

The prosecution’s case therefore boils down to this: In a panic over negative publicity, Jackson conspires to kidnap a boy and force him to deny acts of molestation that in fact never happened, and then he gets over his panic just long enough to actually molest the child at the very moment when the whole world is watching.

It is a fantastic argument, a bilious exercise in circular prosecutorial logic: conspiracy to commit conspiracy, false imprisonment for the sake of it, followed by a sudden act of utter self-destructive madness. And none of it makes sense…

No wonder the prosecution’s case doesn’t stand a chance, and no wonder Michael Jackson is acquitted on all counts in 2005. And rightly so – justice is served.

Michael Jackson’s defense team catches the Arvizos lying, contradicting themselves and each other and changing their stories in significant ways.

Moreover, the Arvizos are not only caught lying in their case against Michael Jackson, they are also caught lying in other cases. They have a history of creating extortion plots.

Again, people should make up their own minds about this, but “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck”, then it probably is a scam – once more.  

2013-2019 – THE WADE ROBSON AND JAMES SAFECHUCK CASES 

Readers should take a look at the following link to understand how both of these cases fall apart and why they were already twice rejected by a court of law:

FACTS TO CONSIDER WHEN WATCHING “LEAVING NEVERLAND”

Both Wade Robson and James Safechuck continue to seek huge monetary compensations, although a company like HBO recognizes them as victims – well are they?

All the facts that have come to light since the HBO-production Leaving Neverland aired, indicate that these cases too are scams.

CONVERSION?

The apostle Paul came to the conclusion that he had been in fact a persecutor while he was under the impression that he was defending (potential) victims. Some people have a similar audacity and spiritual humility regarding the Michael Jackson case and admit that they were wrong in persecuting Michael Jackson. This is what “conversion” looks like, also from a Christian point of view – becoming aware of your own complicity in violence, and turning away from that violence towards love:

Damien Craig Carter on Michael Jackson

I guess we all need redemption from a world that is dominated by greed and lust for power.

Conversion_on_the_Way_to_Damascus-Caravaggio_(c.1600-1)

Let’s get back to life. Back to reality.

FINAL NOTE ON MICHAEL JACKSON AS A “POWERFUL PERSON”

It is weird how some people keep describing Michael Jackson as a “powerful man”. He is dead. He cannot defend himself against the accusations that are now leveled against him by people who are backed by powerful institutions like HBO and Oprah Winfrey. Many assumptions about Michael Jackson’s so-called “power” simply aren’t true.

Michael Jackson’s properties got raided several times by police forces, his computers were meticulously investigated by the FBI, he barely had any privacy, his genitals were photographed by the police, tabloids continuously sought to publish scandalous stories about him (paying huge amounts of money for whoever wanted to tell a story), and he constantly had people around who wanted to take advantage of him (as is also testified by the Schleiters in their Open Letter). In 1993, during the first of two cases leveled against him during his lifetime, Michael Jackson and his legal team relentlessly tried to get the criminal trial ahead of the civil trial by filing motions, all of which were rejected by Judge David Rothman. California law at the time allowed the civil trial to go ahead of the criminal trial. Michael Jackson and his legal team lost four (yes, four) motions in their attempt to postpone the civil suit until the criminal proceedings were completed. In other words, Michael Jackson was eager to go to trial to clear his name, but he didn’t stand a chance. That’s how “powerful” he was.

Even when Michael Jackson was acquitted on all counts in 2005 for a case that was actually too ridiculous to go to trial at all (see above why), he had to face the fact that many people still believed in his guilt. And (tabloid) media kept feeding that perception. Michael Jackson could never defend himself against the bulk of venomous tabloid vomit. Again, that’s how “powerful” he was. Some people keep thinking Michael Jackson was acquitted in the Arvizo case because of his power and money, without looking at the case itself and its ridiculousness. Leaving Neverland of course confirms that assumption (at first sight that is). And anyone who dares to consider even the possibility that Michael Jackson is innocent of the charges levelled against him, is arrogantly labeled “a crazy, irrational fan”. And yet people who are not a fan of Michael Jackson have spoken out against Leaving Neverland and have discredited the allegations by Robson and Safechuck.

If the #MeToo movement wants us to accept that emotionally manipulative and deceitful cinematic productions by powerful media, launched to the world for big money, are more important to determine a person’s guilt than the facts that are revealed through arduous investigative proceedings – selling the former as “rational” and the latter as “irrational” -, then the #MeToo movement will eventually be more about defending grifters than about defending real victims of (child) sexual abuse.

That is not a world that I want to be a part of.

MADONNA’S TESTIMONY

 

P.S. OTHER CASES KILLING THE #MeToo MOVEMENT

In a reaction on Facebook to this post, Leigh Fetter commented:

“Look at the recent acquittals of Oscar winning actor Geoffrey Rush, actor John Jarrett, the imminent quashing of the guilt verdict against Cardinal Pell et al. not to speak of Ms Amanda Knox and Raffaello Sollecito based on extraordinarily flimsy evidence in a time of moral panic. Accusations contagiously invoke the archaic bloodlust latent in crowds, by a drumming up crimes against the most innocent ‘victims’ such as girls and children. This enables a veneer of righteous indignation and sanctimonious fury, much like the blood-libel accusations of the Middle Ages, to shield the accuser from his own participation in the diabolical genesis of a sacrificial crisis and its desired catharsis, in the condemnation and putting away of the one called ‘diabolical; a predator’. As Girard has taught us, the existence of one voice of doubt destroys the blindness – and therefore the satisfaction and effectiveness – of the sacrifice. The number and intensity of these recent accusations speaks to a profound spiritual crisis at the heart of our ‘post-Christian’ societies and, I dare say, there will be many more victims who will be condemned as ‘rapists’, ‘homophobes’, ‘paedophiles’ etc like the terms ‘Christ killers’ and ‘kidnappers of Christian children’ that gave cover for the the fundamentally arbitrary persecutions in the Middle Ages.”

Also read Love the Enemy’s Side of the Story (Covington Kids vs Nathan Phillips).

Challenging Stories of Revelation

On Seven Stories – How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible

SEVEN STORIES – GENERAL OUTLINE

In 2017, Anthony W. Bartlett publishes a remarkable book, Seven Stories – How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible (Hopetime Press, Great Britain, 2017). It is the result of a lifelong personal engagement with Biblical texts and their existential, spiritual and cultural implications. The book’s title already suggests its multi-layered character.

Seven Stories (Anthony Bartlett)

First of all, the book presents itself as an instrument for individual and communal spiritual reflection. After an introductory chapter on methodology with key concepts and hermeneutical starting points, the reader is invited to reflect on key Biblical texts by following the development of seven stories throughout the Bible. Each chapter starts off with an overview containing a lesson plan, the main learning objectives, the synopsis of the story as a whole and some key words and concepts. This is followed by three lessons on the actual story, each of them containing the necessary information to understand the Biblical texts that are mentioned. Every lesson also ends with an invitation to further explorations (i.e. lesson questions, questions for personal reflection, a glossary, a list of resources and background reading, and some cultural references).

Secondly, content-wise the book lays bare the often hidden challenge represented by the Biblical texts themselves, which is to understand their two-fold revelation. On the one hand, the Biblical texts reveal how human identity is tarnished and generated by violence, resulting in a wrongful understanding of God as violent. On the other hand, the Bible also reveals that God is actually nonviolent: God is a God of love.

The seven stories thus contain, thirdly, an invitation for a transformational journey: from an awareness about our complicity in the world of violence to our participation in a reality that is not dependent on violence – the reality of the God of Jesus. That’s what the “conversion” experience is all about in a Biblical sense. In his introduction Anthony Bartlett explains the aim of the book as follows (p. 9):

“Today we are on the cusp of an enormous shift, from colluding with inherited tropes of violent divinity, to surrendering completely to the dramatic truth revealed through the whole Bible: nothing less than a nonviolent God bringing to birth a nonviolent humanity. We offer this coursebook as a heartfelt contribution to this worldwide movement.”

Bartlett follows three main interpretive principles that allow him and his readers to understand the Bible the way he does:

  • an academic and scholarly background of historical-critical research
  • the anthropology of French-American thinker René Girard (1923-2015) – explained very well in the first chapter
  • a faith relationship with a God of nonviolence – in the author’s case as part of the Wood Hath Hope Christian Community, among others

These principles counter the temptations of Marcionism on the one hand and of fundamentalism on the other. The God of the Old Testament is consistent with the God of the Sermon on the Mount, but this becomes clear through a collection of Biblical texts that contains both the default human understanding of God as violent and the revelation of God as nonviolent. Again from the introduction (p. 9) – emphasis mine:

“If the Bible is anthropological revelation – showing us the violence of human cultural origins – then the Bible must carry within itself a critique of its own theological forms. If on the one hand the Bible tells about human violence and on the other about God, texts about the latter will always be written and read in tension with texts about the former. It is only over the course of development of the whole Bible that resolution will be possible, but the tension must be always kept in mind. […] The whole labor of the text, from Genesis to Revelation, is a journey of decoding the Bible by the Bible.”

To understand the Biblical texts as texts “in travail”, on the way to a more complete revelation of the human and the divine, allows for a non-fundamentalist approach of the Bible’s authority. Anthony Bartlett explains this very well – once again from the introduction (pp. 12-13), emphasis mine:

“In order to get to that final twist we first must have a continuity of narrative which can bring us to that point. In order for the new to arrive there must first be the familiar and the known. Thus Seven Stories includes cycles on the Land of Israel and the Jerusalem Temple. These institutions and their symbolic value provided the necessary historical and narrative arc within which the plot of the new could emerge. In the Seven Stories understanding, the Land of Israel and the Jerusalem Temple are the stable rock of ordinary human culture in and through which the stresses of the new show themselves, and finally break through into new creation.

The upshot of all this is a very clear understanding of the authority of the text. To claim authority for scripture does not depend on an abstract notion of inerrancy, so that somehow every single statement in its literal and grammatical form has the weight of a courtroom statement by or about God. To assert this is to create nothing more than a weapon of authority where the authority is more important than the story, than the transformation wrought by the stories. No, the authority of scripture is much more consistent with a God of creative love, and of loving creation. Its authority lies within the transformative process itself, within its slow, gentle but unfailing agency to bring creation to perfection in peace and love. Is this not a much more credible notion of authority, represented in the slow patient progression of Biblical texts and their final realization in the person of Jesus? Rather than a rock falling from the sky the Bible is a seed sprouting from the earth. Whatever is consistent with this generative process has authority. Everything else is the rock of human culture against which the seed is slowly but irresistibly straining.

[…]

The Bible is always in discussion with itself and the informed student will see and feel this at every point. Genesis is in discussion with Exodus-through-Kings, Job with Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes with Proverbs, Jonah with Nahum, Ruth with Nehemiah, Song of Songs with Genesis, and Daniel with almost all of the above. For a Christian the point where the discussion is resolved is with Jesus. And so the persona and teaching of Jesus always constitute the third lesson in each cycle, folding into his story the transformative changes detected in his scriptural tradition. He is also mentioned freely in the course of the Old Testament lessons, because he is indeed the final interpretive lens, the final twist that makes sense of everything.”

SEVEN STORIES – CONCRETE EXAMPLE

A concrete example from the book shows how rich and enriching the above described approach truly is. The first of the seven stories bears the title Oppression to Justice and deals with the Hebrews as Hapiru – a class of dispossessed people from different ethnic backgrounds –, their Exodus experience and the interpretation of that experience by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The end of the second lesson, on the Exodus experience, combines all the different layers present in Bartlett’s book. It is but one of many superb examples of how historical-critical research, combined with Girard’s anthropology and an overall interdisciplinary approach open up well-known Biblical texts as if for the first time, allowing for personal and communal spiritual growth in unexpected ways (pp. 59-60) – emphasis mine:

“The Law’s justice includes reciprocal violence. For example, Ex. 21.29-30 (if an ox kills someone then the ox and owner must be killed). This acts as a deterrent to breaking the law – a fear of retributive violence. It also attempts to be commensurate, not excessive. Nevertheless, it remains the effect of generative violence.

This reciprocity is at work in the death of the first born, the ultimate violent act of God to free the Hebrews. How can we reconcile the story with a nonviolent God? The answer lies in how the Exodus Hebrews produced an interpretation of real events. The Bible reveals as much about us as it does about God. If we explain the narrative of the ten plagues as a cultural lens by which those who told the story saw God then it becomes simply a layer of text which points beyond itself. The ten plagues can be explained from a factual point of view: natural events which are then constructed as divine violence.

For example, the Ten Plagues theory of Dr John Marr (epidemiologist) and Curtis Malloy (medical researcher) understands the plagues as a series of closely linked natural events.

At http://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/04/garden/biblical-plagues-a-novel-theory.html .

The basic point is there is a plausible natural explanation for disasters which then, in the tradition, are read as a direct effect of divine action. But it is the root change in human perspective that counts and which is the work of revelation – God is on the side of the oppressed and is creating a new people based in this relationship.

From a Girardian-anthropological point of view, the Egyptians could also see the plagues as caused by a cursed people who actually had to be expelled (cf. Ex. 11.1). Egyptian historians from the 3rd century BCE in fact report this viewpoint – the Exodus Hebrews were diseased and expelled. (See The Bible, Violence and the Sacred, by James G. Williams.)

The Hebrews fleeing Egypt perceive that God is on their side in terms of generative violence, while the Egyptians see the same events based on the same generative violence, but in terms of a cursed group. Both parties interpret the events according to the default human frame of meaning. Nevertheless, in the overall Biblical narrative something amazing is happening: a God of human transformation is being revealed. From the anthropological perspective the Exodus picture of divine violence is an interpretation of natural events, but the underlying truth is God’s intervention on behalf of a group of oppressed people, laying the foundation of a transformative divine and human journey. This is the true work of the Biblical God, changing our human perspective progressively and continually, including our perception of God as violent. In the following cycle we will see how the book of Genesis prefaces the book of Exodus with a profound critique of human violence. So, a deeper change of meaning (semiotic shift) is already set up in the Bible text before we even get to read Exodus! In our next lesson we will see how Jesus reinterprets the Law, reading its radical intent, and teaches us the full revelation of a God of nonviolence.”

Readers who are by now eager to know what more liberating spiritual treasures await them can purchase Seven Stories on Amazon. I cannot recommend it enough.

SEVEN STORIES – THE BROADER MOVEMENT

Anthony Bartlett is but one of those scholars whose theological reflections are deeply inspired by the work of the late René Girard. Not only is Girard’s work very interesting for people who embrace a vastly interdisciplinary approach to social sciences and cultural studies, but it also enables an understanding of theology and Biblical studies as anthropological resources – as resources that give a clear picture of what it means to be human (pointing out humanity’s limitations, pitfalls and possibilities).

Apart from Anthony Bartlett, I would like to take the opportunity to mention a few others (out of many scholars) who adopt a similar approach to theology and Biblical studies, and who are part of a broader movement of contemporary theology that is inspired by the work of René Girard: the late Jesuit Raymund Schwager (1935-2004), Paul Nuechterlein (editor of the highly informative and inspiring Girardian Lectionary), the people from The Raven Foundation and, last but not least, James Alison.

A couple of years ago, in 2013, James Alison in cooperation with The Raven Foundation and Imitatio produced Jesus the Forgiving Victim series (a series of videos, books and a website). In the second book of the series, God, not one of the gods (Doers Publishing, Glenview, 2013), Alison highlights a transformative reading of Joshua 7, in the same vein as Bartlett reads Biblical texts.

Joshua 7 is basically the story of the people of Israel behaving as a lynch mob, blaming a certain Achan for loosing a battle against the Amorites. The story of the stoning of Achan is told from the perspective of people who believe that God demands such a stoning. James Alison shows what a transformative reading of this story looks like by using the Emmaus story in Luke as a reference – thus, in the words of Anthony Bartlett, “the Bible decodes the Bible” (pp. 109-117); emphasis mine:

In the Joshua passage the voice of the victimized one [can] not be heard. But in the Emmaus story we [find] ourselves in the presence of one who is telling the account of a lynching from the perspective of the person who was lynched. This was a voice that had not been heard before, as indeed it is not heard in the Achan story. It is as though at last, Achan’s version of events is beginning to pour out through the cracks between the stones which had covered him over. What I want to suggest is that when it says of Jesus on the road to Emmaus ‘… He opened up to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’ what we are getting is the crucified victim telling the story from Achan’s point of view. The story of how a gang of people needed to find an enemy within and set it up so that one was found, and this was what happened to him. The dead man talking would be Achan giving Achan’s account of his lynching. And indeed you can imagine many other similar stories where someone who is hated without cause can begin to tell their version of events.

What I wanted to bring out is that the two stories, the Achan story and the Emmaus story, are structurally identical stories, but told from opposite perspectives. There is the top-down version, the version told by the successful organizers of group togetherness, the persecutors’ account, and then there is the bottom-up version of the same story, told by the victim from under the stones, on the cross, or in the pit. All the elements of both accounts are the same: rivalry leading to a collapse of morale and structure, leaders trying to find a way to recreate morale, managing to do so by setting up a way of getting everyone together against someone else, and when this finally works, and the ‘someone else’ is got rid of, unanimity, peace, is restored, order is born again, and everyone is telling the same story.

The only trouble is that the moment that the victim’s story can be heard, it reveals that the other story is untrue. It is a lie. Its perpetrators need to believe it for it to work. They need to believe that they’ve really got the bad guy, and indeed in their account the bad guy even agrees with them. These are two entirely different perspectives on exactly the same story. The perspective of the survivors and those who have benefitted from the lynching, which is a lie, and the perspective which is never normally heard, and starts to emerge into our world thanks to the crucified and risen Lord, the perspective which tells the truth and which reveals the official perspective to be a lie. The survivors needed to believe the lie because they thought it would bring them together. But in fact it won’t. In fact they’ll soon be at each other’s throats about something else, and will need to go through this all over again and get someone else in the neck.

I hope you now see why I [refer] to the Emmaus story as not just a story but a paradigm, or model, of interpretation. The structure of how the New Testament operates is that it brings alive the same old story, but told from underneath, and it is this that is the fulfilment of Scripture.

[…]

I want to suggest to you why the Hebrew Scriptures, even a passage like [Joshua 7], are an enormous advance on the world of mythology. I’m going to do so by describing what I call two equal and opposite mistakes regarding the reading of Scripture. One I’m going to label the Marcionite error, in honour of an early Christian interpreter of the Scriptures called Marcion. In a nutshell, Marcion, faced with texts like the one we’ve just seen from the Hebrew Scriptures, said something to the effect of “These are awful stories – it cannot be the same god as the God of Jesus that is at work in them. It’s got to be another god altogether. ” So he proposed ditching the Hebrew Scriptures, as something to do with another god, and in fact he found himself pruning much of the New Testament as well, and ended up making a sort of compendium of the Gospels based on Luke, which he found to be nicer than the rest, making other things fit into it. Church authority, on the other hand, said ‘No! The Scriptures are one, and we receive both Testaments as making sense of each other.’ So Marcion’s view was rejected. Nevertheless, typically, in the modern world, it is Catholics who are tempted to his mistake.

The reverse of this, which is the mistake to which Protestants are more tempted in the modern world, is a fundamentalistic reading of Scripture. The fundamentalist position would be to say that, far from it being the case that there are two different gods in the different Testaments, there is in fact one God, and this God is the same at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. So where the Old Testament says ‘God’ or ‘the Lord’ it means exactly the same as the God of Jesus Christ. Well, if you think like this, then when you are faced with a text like our Joshua text, you are going to have to come up with a complicated account of how God did in fact organize the sacrifice of Achan, but only so as to show in advance by what means he planned to undo the whole sacrificial system later, through the sacrifice of his Son. You can imagine the sort of rigorous mental gymnastics by which people seek to justify the word ‘God’ in the Joshua text, where it manifestly refers to the organizer of a lottery. How do you disentangle the sort of God who does that from doing nasty things to his Son in the crucifixion? You can see why a certain reading of Jesus’ death as being demanded by his Father, with the Father punishing the Son for the sins of others, is so popular. It fits in exactly with the need to say ‘It’s the same God.’

What is difficult for both parties to understand is quite how the New Testament works as interpretative key opening up the Hebrew Scriptures. What the New Testament does is allow us to see how, slowly and inexorably, the one true God, who was always making Godself known in and through the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, was always coming into the world. And in the degree to which God comes into the world, in the degree to which the revelation of Godself as simultaneously God and Victim comes into clearer and clearer focus, so what is being done by us in the human world of victimizing gets clearer and clearer, harder not to see as obvious, before our eyes. It is the growing clarity from the self-revealing victim coming into the world that leads to the stories surrounding victimary happenings getting nastier and nastier, since they are ever less successful in ‘covering up’ and ‘making things nice’.

The Joshua text we’ve looked at is a particularly good example of this just because it seems so nasty. It would be easy for us to say ‘But this text is the exact opposite of the New Testament. Marcion could scarcely have asked for a better example of what he’s talking about.’ And that, as I see it, is the mistake. If the Emmaus living interpretative principle I have suggested to you is true, than what you would expect is that as it gets closer and closer to becoming clear that it is the victim who is telling the true story, what you can also expect is that it will become clearer and clearer in the texts what is really going on in the movement towards the lynching. Therefore the texts will look nastier.

You can imagine earlier texts, and we have plenty of such texts in mythic literature, in which it is gods who organize things, gather people together, and produce expulsions or sacrifices, and the people take no responsibility at all. Whereas in the text we listened to, from Joshua, the word ‘God’ is very easily switched on or off, but what remains absolutely clear whether it’s on or off is the anthropological dimension of what’s going on. Everything is set out in anthropological terms, without responsibility being displaced onto the gods. You can tell exactly what’s going on here. The text is teetering on the brink of giving itself away. So when we read it, our Gospel-inspired skepticism takes us over the brink. Our skepticism which is provided for us by the gift of faith. If you believe that Jesus, the crucified victim, is God, you stop believing in the gods, you stop believing in weird forces revealing who is ‘really’ to blame, and you get closer and closer to seeing things as they really, humanly, are.

What I’m bringing out here is an understanding of progressive revelation. How it is that as the truth emerges more and more richly in our midst we cannot expect the textual effects of that emergence to get nicer and nicer. You would expect them to get nastier and nastier, but clearer and clearer. And finally you see exactly the same story being told from exactly the inverse perspective, so that there are no longer even the remains of any mythical bits at work. It requires no great imagination to think either ‘The Old Testament is bad and the New Testament is good’ or ‘All word values are the same in both Testaments.’ It requires rather more subtlety to imagine a process in which, as the self-manifestation of the innocent victim becomes clearer and clearer, so the understanding of how humans typically are inclined to behave becomes darker and darker, but more and more realistic.

Compare this with, say, the story of Oedipus, which is essentially the same story as the one we saw in Joshua. There is a plague and social problems in Thebes, and a conveniently slightly deformed outsider, who has provoked jealousy by marrying a prominent heiress, is forced to agree that he was really responsible for certain things that he almost certainly didn’t do, and even if he had done them, they wouldn’t have caused a plague. He is accused of killing his father and sleeping with his mother, while not knowing that this was what he was doing. He succumbs to confessing to this. And then he is expelled, sent off to exile so that the city can return to peace. Now this story is much nicer than the Hebrew story. The townsfolk were not responsible for a violent expulsion, they were victims of a horrible plague, and were confirmed in their horrible suspicions regarding their interloper, and the guilty one got his just reward. The Greek version remains mired in self-delusion. However, the Hebrew version of the same dynamic is radically more truthful, because it is on the point of giving away what was really going on.

Even the editor of the text in the Book of Joshua clearly has doubts about this story – the little hints of skepticism about what’s going on are one of the wonders of the Hebrew Scriptures. The editor starts by saying ‘But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things.’ So, it starts with a plural and then moves to a singular: ‘For Achan, son of Cami…’ and so on. And then you have the oddity of God’s behaviour. Although he might be expected to know everything, he appears to need a lottery to help find out ‘who did it’. And in fact, God tells Joshua that it is the people of Israel, in the plural, who have disobeyed him, before giving the instructions for the lottery that will find a singular victim. As you can imagine, an ancient rabbinical storyteller telling this story in a liturgical context, using this text as his Expositor’s Notes – which is very probably how such texts were handled in the ancient world – would have a good deal of fun wondering aloud about these things with his audience.”

There is much more to discover from authors like Anthony Bartlett and James Alison. I hope readers already enjoyed the above mentioned challenging and inspirational ideas.

Happy discovery!

P.S. The RavenCast did a series on Seven Stories that can be watched on YouTube. Here is one of the episodes – Adam Ericksen and Lindsey Paris-Lopez are joined by Linda and Tony Bartlett:

To Jesus or Not To Jesus? (JECSE, January 22-25, 2019)

2019 started with a bang for some pastoral workers and teachers of Jesuit high schools from all over Europe. From Tuesday January 22nd until Friday January 25th, representatives of pastoral care groups assembled in Manresa, Spain, for a conference that was dubbed Can we talk about Jesus? About 100 participants from 17 countries gathered to learn from each other. The conference was organized by JECSE (Jesuit European Committee for Primary and Secondary Education).

The participants were divided into several “dynamic groups” to exchange experiences and reflections about their work and the speakers of the conference. This proved to be encouraging and inspiring at the same time. Encouraging, because the challenges a Christian pedagogy is faced with are similar across the European continent, and no Jesuit high school has to face these challenges all by itself (we indeed are part of “dynamic groups”). And inspiring, because people could hear new promising ways of dealing with those challenges from their international colleagues.

Manresa 1

Apart from the different workshops, key note speakers Fr. Adrian Porter sj and Fr. José María Rodríguez Olaizola sj gave food for thought and practice. Both these Jesuits mainly focused on the multi-convictional context in which today’s Jesuit high schools have to develop their pedagogical vision.

Adrian Porter went back to the sources of the Jesuit projects, namely the life and spiritual development of the order’s founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Paradoxically, this “step back” presented a clearer picture of the current situation and of possible answers to that situation. José María presented some important features of the Christian faith and how these features might contribute to an emancipatory project in the face of some of today’s potentially suppressive psychosocial dynamics. The second part of his talk focused on how the emancipatory character of Christian faith could be transmitted. The following text is an attempt to summarize the content of both speeches in a reflective way. The speeches themselves can be found elsewhere.

Shifting Contexts

First of all, concerning the question about the characteristics of the situation in which Jesuit education takes place, it is clear that the context in which Ignatius developed his spiritual life and pedagogical vision is different from today’s context. Ignatius lived his life in countries whose culture was marked by Christian references. It is true that people can still encounter many of those references in contemporary Europe, but they often don’t understand them anymore. The cultural idiom has changed. Therefore, if we want to talk about Jesus at all in a sensible way and in a way that “sticks”, it is important to develop a “Jesus culture” in schools. This can be achieved through a conscious use of images, music, plays and other forms of cultural expression.ESP_Mundosi_500 The Jesuits can build on a long-lasting tradition in that respect. It is no coincidence that the pop band of the Jesuit project MUNDOSI performed at the conference one of the evenings. The group consists of lay people and Jesuits.

Jesuit education has always tried to reconcile human culture and religion. It does not consider “the world” as a place that we should liberate ourselves from to encounter God, but precisely as the place that we can co-develop in a responsible manner in order to find and even please God. This goes right back to the spiritual growth of Ignatius. At first he experienced his new life in the footsteps of great monks and saints in a military fashion (being the knight that he had been, but under different circumstances). Gradually however, he discovered that the spiritual life was not about “abandoning the world” or “conquering the life of a saint over the life of ordinary man,” but about “ordering the life of ordinary man in light of God’s vocation and grace.” Ignatius eventually no longer sought some sort of entitlement to God’s grace through his own efforts, but realized that God’s love had already been given to him apart from his efforts – which is in fact the experience of grace. In Manresa, Ignatius started writing his Spiritual Exercises. The Exercises consist of forty contemplative imaginations of the life of Jesus. Apparently, Ignatius himself developed a “Jesus culture” right from the start. It allowed him to actively accept what he saw as God’s love. Ignatius lived that love as a dynamic that allowed him to give back love and to do things for the good of the world.

One of the things that Ignatius and the first Jesuits developed for the good of the world was good education. An Irish Jesuit at the conference used to hear quite regularly that “the Jesuits know their Cicero better than their Scripture.” From the get-go, Jesuit institutions indeed focused on young people, from all kinds of social backgrounds, who were destined for a worldly career. As Ignatius perceived the world as God-given, a worldly career for the benefit of mankind could very well be a service to God. However, in today’s multi-convictional and also often secularized context, this creates a tension between the expectations of certain parents and the motivations of Jesuit pedagogy.

The Place of Ignatian Spirituality

Many parents are very much interested in the fruits of the Ignatian tradition, a good education for their children. They often are less interested in the sources of that tradition, the belief that it is God who desires human beings to be “fully alive”. Hence it comes as no surprise that a second point addressed by both speakers is the question why we should talk about Jesus if today’s context might not be interested in the so-called “good news” proclaimed by Christianity.

The answer from a merely cultural and pedagogical point of view is, essentially, that the Christian tradition played a major role in human history on several levels – for better or for worse – and that no emancipatory pedagogical project can leave its students in the dark about the way that the Christian tradition co-created the world we are living in. In order to understand and critically question today’s society, we need a basic insight into the worldviews that are still at work in that society. Since the Christian tradition is often no longer explicitly understood in today’s culture, a re-introduction into the Christian cultural idiom might be mandatory. From the sixteenth century onwards, Jesuit education has always given attention to inspiring and influential historical figures from the past, and made those figures known. One workshop in particular, Educating the Hero Within by David Tuohy sj, reclaimed that tradition. It is clear that Ignatius and Jesus are figures who could use a renaissance today.

From a spiritual point of view, the Christian tradition functions as a critical resource vis-à-vis several current and often dominant ideas on happiness, freedom, (religious) faith, the meaning of life and what it means to be human. As Friedrich Sperringer sj made clear in his workshop on his experiences in Kosovo, the focus on Jesus paradoxically might intensify an open and multi-religious conversation about those questions.

In this context, it is noteworthy that the Jesuit order does not take its name from its founder, as is the case with most other religious orders in Christianity. The Jesuits want to stress that, ultimately, Ignatian spirituality is relative to the goal of that spirituality: the challenging emancipatory yet “comforting” encounter with Jesus. Ignatian spirituality is not about Ignatius, it is about Jesus. And if it is about Jesus, then Christian spirituality should – imitating the example of Jesus – imply an openness and respect to people from other cultures and traditions.

Adrian Porter referred to a presentation by Michael R. Carey with the title If You Meet Ignatius on the Road, Kill Him! (for the Jesuits of the Oregon Province and their Collaborators in Ministry – Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington July 30, 1992). Carey explains this title as follows:

If you meet the Buddha on the road kill himThe title is an allusion to the story of the Zen Buddhist master who struggled to bring his disciples along the road to the achievement of satori, or enlightenment. His were good disciples, reflectively reading from the Buddhist scriptures, earnestly chanting their prayers, patiently sitting in zazen, or seated meditation, in front of a great statue of the Buddha. The master understood that the disciples’ focus on Siddhartha Guatama as the historical Buddha might stand in the way of their each individually becoming the Buddha (which means, simply, ‘one who is awake’), so he asked them, ‘What should one do if he should meet the Buddha on the road?’ A few of the disciples attempted answers while others sat in reflection over this new koan, or problem, of their master. Finally, the Zen master warned, ‘If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!’ It was said that many of his disciples achieved satori on that day. Others, very possibly, became even more confused!

The analogy is clear. If, in our search for the reality of the type of love that is present in Jesus, we get stuck in the Ignatian tradition as such (and its mediators, teachers and pastoral care workers), we should reorient our attitude towards that tradition: it is a means to another end, not an end in itself.

On the other hand, mediators are necessary in spiritual growth. Ignatius followed the example of the saints and of Jesus, and he also acknowledged the importance of intellectual work not to fall in totalitarian forms of subjectivism and relativism – wherein “the other as other” is reduced to a highly personal interpretation or experience of the other. As one participant from the Netherlands expressed it, “spirituality without reason (theology) that is merely about ‘feeling (good)’ is ‘spiritual masturbation’ and is not spirituality at all.” Eventually, every true spirituality fosters love of oneself and of others. Hence it opposes both the tendencies of a totalitarian subjectivism and objectivism.

In a previous post, Left with Right Identity Politics? – A Jewish Challenge, I wrote about the Jewishness of Jesus and the Christian tradition to explain why a truly Christian spirituality takes cultural traditions seriously as it also relativizes them:

Contrary to traditional 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’, irreducible to the particular characteristics of any ‘group’. To be a cultural animal from a traditional 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.) 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’ might lead 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. 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 with 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. 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 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.

Creating Opportunities for Spiritual Growth

An important third question both speakers addressed at the JECSE conference was how to share the life-giving experience of the encounter with Jesus. The present text already hinted at several ideas concerning this question: the creation of a conscious “Jesus culture”, using today’s cultural language to recount the story of Jesus (this world is not a place that should be avoided), and the creation of multi-religious communities (as is the case in Kosovo) around the figure of Jesus and figures from other traditions (“educating the hero within” by providing the experience of inspiring examples). It is also important to provide students with the intellectual means to counter both the temptations of religious fundamentalism and the so-called New Atheism. As José María Rodríguez Olaizola put it, “if you’re going to be an atheist, be an atheist in a truly critical manner.” If one thing became clear concerning the question how to transmit the idea that faith is a critical and inspiring option, it was that there is a lot of dynamic creativity in Jesuit high schools.

Ignatius by Gudiol

The JECSE conference in general proved to be a hotbed of inspiring ideas and of heartwarming international encounters. It was an opportunity for spiritual growth in itself. Mass was celebrated intensely at the place that was so important for the spiritual growth of Ignatius – the Cave in Manresa –, also because some of our colleagues had to cope with the sad news that some of their students had recently lost their lives. In the end, Ignatian spirituality is about empowering each other and about the encouragement to use all of our human faculties the best we can, for the good of ourselves and of the world, based on the faith that there is a loving God in whose hands we find shelter.

For sure the conference brought together the group of Flanders. Each of the seven high schools had sent one representative to the conference. Under the guidance of Peter Knapen and Tom De Bruyn, Wouter, Liesbet, Anne-Sophie, Heleen, Vera, Ruben and myself experienced four days of authentic, open, reflective and energizing encounters among our group. Just thinking about it makes me smile. I’m sure that I’m not the only one looking back with much gratitude, and with a great desire to develop some projects from within this group in the future.

Erik Buys

SJC Aalst, Belgium

 

Love the Enemy’s Side of the Story (Covington Kids vs Nathan Phillips)

I was ready alright. I saw a clip on YouTube where “white privileged teen boys of an all-male Catholic school (Covington)” were taunting and mocking Nathan Phillips, an Omaha Tribe member and Vietnam veteran. This happened after the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Moreover, some of the boys were wearing caps that said MAGA (“Make America Great Again”), especially also the boy with an apparent smirk on his face who seemed to block Nathan’s way.

Ever since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated by Native American culture, especially since the Kevin Costner movie Dances with Wolves (1990) came out. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of Donald Trump and the way he wants to “Make America Great Again”, to put it mildly.

So I was ready alright. Ready to defend the oppressed, ready to take up the underdog cause. Ready to go on a rant against “conceited racists”. I spontaneously identified and empathized with Nathan Phillips. In doing so, I equally spontaneously vilified especially that smirking boy with the MAGA cap. My primal conclusion run parallel with this kind of meme:

nathan phillips and the maga hat wearing teens

However, luckily some people pointed to other clips about the event and I had to radically alter my vision. Don’t get me wrong. I still sympathize with people like Nathan Phillips, but now I also no longer vilify the teens from Covington Catholic High School. And here is why (thanks for this video by Dinkleberry Crunch):

 

Surely this video adds more context to the whole situation, and prevents me from thinking of one side as “noble knights” and the other as “big monsters”. The truth is that the knights (the “Jedi”) aren’t that noble and the monsters (the “Sith”) aren’t that monstrous. Moreover, by choosing sides the way I did, I became somewhat a self-righteous monster myself.

Jesus demands (Matthew 5:44): “Love your enemies.” Father Robert Barron pointed out that this kind of “love is not a sentiment or feeling. It is actively willing the good of the other.” Indeed, if love were a mere feeling, we could never love our “enemies”, for we mostly associate them with negative, dark sentiments. The reality of the love Jesus is talking about cannot be reduced to feelings, though. It has to do with a conscious act of the will. Love demands us to look at a conflict from “the enemy’s side”. This leads to a kind of self-criticism that allows us to restore a healthy relationship with “the enemy”. Love as an act of will operates in the hope that the enemy will imitate this kind of behavior, be self-critical himself, and make a new healthy relationship a reality – in whatever form. In other words, that kind of love has the potential to create a space for mutually reinforcing “good mimesis”.

Anyway, Jesus warns against perversions of “defending victims”. He fully stands with the oppressed, but refuses “to persecute others in the name of victims”. After all, by persecuting others in the name of victims, we tend to become oppressors ourselves, and we become the monsters we wanted to destroy. That’s what kind of happened to me, I must admit, in the case described above. Sometimes we need the words of wise, spiritual people to be more aware of what happens to ourselves and the world. So, to conclude this post, two quotes by the wise voices of Gil Bailie and René Girard:

René Girard in Evolution and Conversion – Dialogues on the Origins of Culture, Continuum, London, New York, 2007, p. 236:

We have experienced various forms of totalitarianism that openly denied Christian principles. There has been the totalitarianism of the Left, which tried to outflank Christianity; and there has been totalitarianism of the Right, like Nazism, which found Christianity too soft on victims. This kind of totalitarianism is not only alive but it also has a great future. There will probably be some thinkers in the future who will reformulate this principle in a politically correct fashion, in more virulent forms, which will be more anti-Christian, albeit in an ultra-Christian caricature. When I say more Christian and more anti-Christian, I imply the figure of the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ is nothing but that: it is the ideology that attempts to outchristianize Christianity, that imitates Christianity in a spirit of rivalry.

[…]

You can foresee the shape of what the Anti-Christ is going to be in the future: a super-victimary machine that will keep on sacrificing in the name of the victim.

rené girard quote on caricature of christianity

Gil Bailie in Violence Unveiled – Humanity at the Crossroads, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1995, p. 20:

There’s plenty of truth in the revised picture of Western history that the young are now routinely taught, the picture of the West’s swashbuckling appetite for power, wealth, and dominion. What’s to be noted is that it is we, and not our cultural adversaries, who are teaching it to them. It is we, the spiritual beneficiaries of that less than always edifying history, who automatically empathize more with our ancestors’ victims than with our ancestors themselves. If we are tempted to think that this amazing shift is the product of our own moral achievement, all we have to do is look around at how shamelessly we exploit it for a little power, wealth, and dominion of our own.

The fact is that the concern for victims has gradually become the principal gyroscope in the Western world. Even the most vicious campaigns of victimization – including, astonishingly, even Hitler’s – have found it necessary to base their assertion of moral legitimacy on the claim that their goal was the protection or vindication of victims. However savagely we behave, and however wickedly and selectively we wield this moral gavel, protecting or rescuing innocent victims has become the cultural imperative everywhere the Biblical influence has been felt.

gil bailie quote on myths justifying violence

 

 

Environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth and his Pagan-Christian Spirituality

Paul Kingsnorth is a former green activist who believes that the environmental movement has gone wrong. An interview with him appeared on Dutch television channel VPRO (tegenlicht series). Watch it here (or click here for PDF with background information in Dutch; or read the article by Frank Mulder on his website here):

 

Kingsnorth’s analysis of many current sociological attitudes towards the environmental crisis is similar to an analysis from a viewpoint inspired by René Girard or Slavoj Zizek, although the latter two wouldn’t fully embrace the conclusion proposed by Kingsnorth. All quotes by Kingsnorth in the discussion below are from the interview in tegenlicht.

First, Kingsnorth describes the myth of progress as the religious story we use in a secular society (oh, the paradox!) to make sense of the way we should behave and act in the face of the current crisis:

It seemed to me for years that the notion of progress is the religious story that we tell ourselves in western civilization. It’s the story that everything will keep getting better, because it just has to. And the more I look around me, the more I think that we don’t really know how to deal with the possibility that that might not be true.

According to René Girard, myths are stories that societies tell themselves to make a distinction between (violent) acts that are taboo (in order to avoid a crisis) and (violent) acts that are allowed to present a solution to crisis situations. The latter acts are often directed at people who are perceived as bringing about the crisis. Not surprisingly, punishing those people or removing them is believed to offer a solution to the crisis. As a myth, the story of progress identifies the so-called ‘monsters’ responsible for the crisis. At the same time, the story of progress justifies a noble ‘fight’ against those monsters: activism. Paul Kingsnorth says:

Activism is predicated on finding an enemy. So you find the bad guys, and then you go out and you campaign against the bad guys in any number of different ways.

Following René Girard, Slavoj Zizek argues that Judeo-Christian tradition gradually dismantled the sacred myths of archaic religion. The story of Christ’s Passion takes the universal pattern of mythology and criticizes it from within. The Gospel reveals that the myths of archaic religion are based on an ever recurring lie: the ones who are presented as ‘monstrous people’ in the religious stories that societies tell themselves to justify the sacrifice of those people, are really innocent or no more guilty for the crisis than other members of the society. In other words, the ‘monstrous people’ are actually scapegoats, which means that their sacrifice can no longer be justified.

The revelation of the scapegoat mechanism as the cornerstone of archaic religion also implies that a crisis situation can no longer be interpreted as ‘the wrath of gods who need sacrifices to be appeased.’ If the violent force of disruptive crisis situations can no longer be transmitted to a so-called sacred realm that would be responsible for those situations, then there are mainly two possible outcomes: or people will take responsibility for their own share in a crisis situation and refrain from further (activist) fighting, or they will become part of an ever more intense ‘endless fight’ that occasionally comes to a temporary halt with the creation of scapegoats. Paul Kingsnorth also points to the disappearance of the realm of the sacred. His ideas on the consequences of this disappearance are similar to the ideas of Zizek and Girard:

We don’t have a religion in the broad sense of the word. But more than that: we don’t have a sense of anything that’s greater than us, that we have to bow our knee to, that we have to humble ourselves before – whether it’s a god or a goddess, or the divinity of nature itself. We don’t recognize those terms really. We see them as antiquated. We see them as old-fashioned and backward and reactionary. Part of the myth of progress that we believe in is the notion that we’re evolving beyond religion. […] It’s been a long journey for me to realize that if we don’t have anything that we believe is above us, then we become destroyers.

Paul Kingsnorth, as many of us, clearly is a child of a culture that is affected by the revelation of the scapegoat mechanism. Kingsnorth criticizes the secular religion of progress that, not unlike the myths of archaic religion, tries to identify so-called ‘monsters’ we should fight against in order to save ourselves. We are ourselves part of ‘the bad guys’, Kingsnorth says:

But what if you’re the bad guy? What if you are the one on the airplane, you are the one driving the car, you are the one using the central heating, you are the one doing the things that are destroying the planet? Which you are! And I am, and everybody watching this is, right? And that’s not a blame game. That’s not anyone’s fault. We’re just born. We’re just living our lives. But by being born into this world, we are part of the problem that we are creating.

confessions of a recovering environmentalist (paul kingsnorth)

Apart from the similarities, maybe the biggest difference between archaic religion and the current secular religion of progress, which is often reduced to ‘economic growth’, lies in their assessment of human desire. Archaic religion tried to keep human desire in check by a system of prohibitions and rituals, often resulting in a structure of society that is hierarchical in principle: as a subject, you couldn’t just desire what belonged to the king, or your parents, or your neighbor. Mimetic (i.e. imitative) desire was strictly regulated. Today, however, society is not hierarchical in principle. We can imitate each other’s ambitions and desires because we are all ‘equal’. In principle, everyone can run for president.

In economic terms, the myth of progress turns into a system that generates ‘scarcity’ by creating ever new demands in order to ensure ‘economic growth’. From an economic viewpoint, human beings have to keep on desiring, which of course leads to a culture of consumerism. This, in turn, has a devastating effect on the environment. Like René Girard, Paul Kingsnorth argues in favor of a kind of spiritual control over greed (which can be understood as a variation of mimetic desire):

What do you think the problem is with this society that we’ve got to this point? I don’t think it’s a technological problem. I think it’s a cultural problem, even a spiritual problem that we’ve got in our relationship with the rest of life, in our relationship with our own desire and our own greed, and our notion of what we mean by progress – which is usually very narrowly defined. To me, there’s a kind of spiritual emptiness at the heart of it. We don’t really know what relationship we want to have with the earth. Okay, maybe you can fuel your capitalist growth society on solar power instead of oil. But you’ve still got the same problems in terms of the world that you’re eating, the amount that you’re consuming, the values that you have, the individualism, the kind of digital narcissism that we have as a culture. It’s not a healthy culture we live in.

In the end, Paul Kingsnorth believes that a type of revived archaic religion, some sort of animism or neo-paganism, might provide the means to regain control over those desires of ours that are destructive and violent:

And the conclusion – if there is a conclusion, maybe it’s just a step on the road –, is: if there’s going to be any future for the kind of culture we’re in or whatever it turns into, it’s got to be in finding some sense of the sacred in nature itself. It’s got to be going back to or going forward to some almost pagan or animist sense of the divinity in everything: the gods in the sea, the gods in the stones, the spirits of the air. I don’t know how you would put it. But if you can’t recognize this web of life that we are part of is anything more than just a resource that you think you can understand and harvest, then you’re doomed.

René Girard would agree with the call to humility and with a greater realization of our possibilities and limitations as ‘human animals’. However, he would not argue in favor of a restoration of archaic religion. At the most, from a Girardian point of view one could argue in favor of a transformation rather than restoration of archaic religion. In any case, also Kingsnorth interprets the violent consequences of the disappearance of a respect for ‘the sacred’ as ‘human violence’ (see higher: “It’s been a long journey for me to realize that if we don’t have anything that we believe is above us, then we become destroyers.”). The ancients would see the violence as a consequence of a lack of respect for ‘the sacred’ as ‘the wrath of the gods’. The Gospel reveals that violence as human violence.

Human beings not only have to come to terms with their own violence, apart from their ability to love. They also have to deal with the cruelty of nature, apart from its beauty. Moreover, apart from being children of nature, human beings are also children of a vocation that is not merely defined by nature. Some people call that vocation ‘grace’.

Paul Kingsnorth formulates the reality of grace in his own way:

Once you drop from your shoulders the self-imposed burden of having to save the world from everything, you can kind of breathe a sigh of relief and say, ‘Ah, okay, now what can I actually still do?’ For me it comes down to the work you have to do on yourself. What values have you got? What sort of person do you want to be? How can you use the few skills you have got to do what you need to do? […] Whatever it is that you have the skills and the ability to do.

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P.S. ON ACTIVISM

injustice quote martin luther kingOn social media (especially in certain Facebook groups) several people pointed out that not every form of activism can be reduced to scapegoating. Rebecca Adams, for instance, commented that “telling the truth about oppression and resisting it is not automatically scapegoating.” And she added, “it’s ridiculous for instance to name Dr. Martin Luther King’s very real nonviolent activism as merely looking for an enemy.”

I fully agree with the statement of Rebecca Adams and I believe Paul Kingsnorth would as well. However, the context wherein Kingsnorth makes his claim on activism is quite particular: it is about an activism that does not question the status quo as such. It is not about an activism that wants to change or transform “the system” but about an activism that wants to “repair” the system. As such, this type of activism is a fight amongst “oppressors” themselves; it is not a struggle by “victims” against “oppressors”. In short, it is a fight over victimhood, in the sense that people are saying of themselves, “Well, we are not guilty of this crisis, we’re really the victims of the people that control the system…” The reality in this context, of course, is that we are all more or less responsible for maintaining “the system”.