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.

28-33,46,47.indd

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”.

 

 

STAR WARS TUSSEN MYTHE EN EVANGELIE

“Het uiteindelijke idee was om een verhaal over redding te creëren, om te laten zien hoe de schurk eigenlijk de held is.” – George Lucas, in een interview naar aanleiding van AFI Life Achievement Award.

Het doel van het volgende video-essay is om het verschil op het spoor te komen tussen de manier waarop Joseph Campbell mythen begrijpt en de manier waarop René Girard dat doet. Het wil ook hun verschillend begrip van het Evangelie aan het licht brengen.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) wordt onder andere geïnspireerd door Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961). Hij begrijpt het Evangelie als het zoveelste voorbeeld van de mythe. Volgens hem gaan mythen in essentie over een stervende en opnieuw tot leven komende ‘monsterlijke held-god’, wiens noodzakelijke en onvermijdelijke gewelddadige opoffering een altijd voorlopige vrede en orde schept. Bovendien gelooft Joseph Campbell dat dergelijke heldenmythes een onontkoombare dynamiek illustreren die aan het werk is in het menselijk leven en de cultuur, zowel op individueel als op collectief niveau.

René Girard (1923-2015), aan de andere kant, begrijpt het Evangelie als een radicale kritiek op de gewelddadige offercyclus die wordt gerechtvaardigd door traditionele heldenmythen. Het Evangelie neemt de universele mythologische structuur over en ontmaskert haar afhankelijkheid van het leugenachtige zondebokmechanisme van binnenuit. In tegenstelling tot Joseph Campbell laat René Girard zien hoe het Evangelie het idee ondermijnt dat geweld een onvermijdelijke ‘transcendente’ kracht is die de menselijke cultuur beheerst. Het Evangelie laat zien dat geweld menselijk is, niet goddelijk.

De manier waarop het volgende video-essay de gelijkenissen en verschillen tussen Joseph Campbell en René Girard belicht, is door de eerste zes episodes van de Star Wars-filmsaga te analyseren. Zoals bekend werd George Lucas, de bedenker van Star Wars, sterk geïnspireerd door het werk van Joseph Campbell bij de creatie van Star Wars. Campbell zou uiteindelijk zelfs de persoonlijke mentor van George Lucas worden.

Star Wars, begrepen als een ‘mythologische tragedie’, draait om de overeenkomsten en radicale verschillen tussen Mythe en Evangelie, tussen het Offer van de Mythologische Held en het Offer van Christus.

Joseph Campbell en René Girard blijken allebei onmisbare, briljante gidsen te zijn om ‘de magie van de mythe’ bloot te leggen.

Bekijk de onderstaande video (of klik hier om een ​​pdf van de video te bekijken):

 

Star Wars

Tot besluit volgen enkele fragmenten uit interviews met George Lucas over de ideeën die de achtergrond vormen voor de Star Wars saga:

Uit een interview met Ty Burr voor The Boston Globe (25 October 2005):

GEORGE LUCAS: There’s absolutely no conflict between Darwinism and God’s design for the universe – if you believe that it’s God’s design. The problem for me is that I see a very big difference between the Bible and God. And the problem they’re getting into now is that they’re trying to understand intelligent design through the Bible, not through God. Our job is to find all the “intelligent design,” and figure out how He did everything, and I think that’s consistent with science.

All we’re doing in our own fumbly, bumbly, human way with our inadequate little brains is trying to figure out what He did. And once we figure it out, we say “Ooh, that’s great!” And then we just continue on. Will we ever figure out everything? I don’t know. There’ll always be that faith there that there’s something more to figure out.

TY BURR: When you’re in there creating the nitty-gritty of the “Star Wars” universe, figuring out how an inhabitant of a given planet might evolve a given way, do you feel like you’re playing god?

GL: Well, I started out in anthropology, so to me how society works, how people put themselves together and make things work, has always been a big interest. Which is where mythology comes from, where religion comes from, where social structure comes from. Why are these things created? Now we’re getting into more of the social sciences side of the things, but the biological side is starting to float into that. I’m looking forward to the evolution of neuro-anthropology, because I want to see our genes affect how we build our social systems, how we develop our belief systems in terms of our social beliefs and cultural beliefs. We’re at an exciting time.

TB: What’s neuro-anthropology? I’m not familiar with the term.

GL: It doesn’t exist. [laughs] It’s sort of an extension of neuropsychology, which does exist. But the next step is neuro-anthropology.

TB: The nervous systems of social groups?

GL: Yeah. A friend of mine is writing a book on the social interactions of people based on brain research and how the way we interact with other people is affected by the development of our brains in terms of how the synapses and neurons work. You know, like how married couples influence each other just on a neurological level. What I’m interested in is what happens when you take that to the next level. How do the social institutions reflect the neural activity of the individuals. But that’s an outgrowth of how, in the case of “Star Wars,” I’ve taken psychological motifs from 4,000-year-old stories and put them into a modern vernacular. The reason they worked then is that they were told verbally over and over and over and handed down from father to son. Because they were tested by an audience for thousands of years, they have a certain emotional integrity to them, and you can take those little modules and stick them into a story as they are. They work well because emotionally we have not shifted all that much in the last 4,000 years, whereas intellectually we have.

TB: Are you saying that motifs like the lone hero coming to grips with his father are encoded into our cultural DNA?

GL: I see mythology as a kind of archeological psychology, in which you take psychological fossils that sit in our brain and test to see if they’re still working.

TB: Does your penchant for painting detailed pictures of entire societies come from these interests?

GL: Yes. Also, I love history, so while the psychological basis of “Star Wars” is mythological, the political and social bases are historical. I like to take things and strip them down, then use the model and build a different story on it. You can put in a motif of Saturday-afternoon serials to make it relevant to kids of today, but the political situation of the Empire and the Republic — that’s a scenario that’s been played out thousands of times over the years and that never seems to change much.

I had an interesting discussion when I was doing publicity in Europe for the final “Star Wars” movie. I was sitting around with a dozen reporters, and the Russian correspondents all thought the film was about Russian politics, and the Americans all thought it was about Bush. And I said, “Well, it’s really based on Rome. And on the French Revolution and Bonaparte.” It’s shocking that these things get repeated through history. The same mistakes get made and the tension between democracy and tyranny is always the same. And we haven’t figured out any way around it.

Uit een interview met James Cameron (in zijn serie Story of Science Fiction, 2018), waarin George Lucas enkele beweringen doet die waarschijnlijk “schandalig” klinken in de oren van sommigen: de “goede” Jedi uit de Star Wars filmsaga worden vergeleken met “terroristen”. Lucas praat in dat verband over de Viet Cong, terwijl Cameron Moedjahedin vermeldt. Hun dialoog verwijst met andere woorden naar de onderliggende gelijkenissen tussen tegenstanders in wat René Girard “mimetische rivaliteit” zou noemen (rivaliteit gebaseerd op imitatie):

“Het uiteindelijke idee was om een verhaal over redding te creëren, om te laten zien hoe de schurk eigenlijk de held is.” – George Lucas, in een interview naar aanleiding van AFI Life Achievement Award:

 

 

STAR WARS BETWEEN MYTH AND GOSPEL

“The original idea was a story, ultimately of salvation, of revealing that the villain is actually the hero.” – George Lucas, in an interview on the occasion of the AFI Life Achievement Award.

The goal of the following video essay is to highlight the difference between Joseph Campbell’s reading of myths and René Girard’s reading of myths, as well as their different understanding of the Gospel.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) is inspired by Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), among others. He understands the Gospel as one more example of a myth. According to him, myths are essentially about a dying and resurrecting “monstrous hero-god”, whose necessary and inevitable violent sacrifice establishes an ever provisional peace and order. Moreover, Joseph Campbell believes that such hero myths exemplify inescapable dynamics working in human life and culture, at an individual as well as a collective level.

René Girard (1923-2015), on the other hand, understands the Gospel as a radical criticism of the violent sacrificial structure that is justified by traditional hero myths. The Gospel takes the universal mythological pattern, only to uncover from within its dependency on the lie of the scapegoat mechanism. In contrast to Joseph Campbell, René Girard shows how the Gospel undermines the idea of violence as an inevitable “transcendent” force that governs human culture. The Gospel shows that violence is human, not divine.

The way the following video essay highlights the similarities and differences between Joseph Campbell and René Girard, is by analyzing the first six episodes of the Star Wars movie saga. As is well-known, Star Wars creator George Lucas was heavily inspired by his eventual mentor Joseph Campbell in the final conception of the Star Wars story.

Understood as a “mythological tragedy”, it will become clear that Star Wars revolves around the similarities and radical differences between Myth and Gospel, between the Sacrifice of the Mythological Hero and the Sacrifice of Christ.

Joseph Campbell and René Girard both turn out to be indispensable, brilliant guides in uncovering “the magic of myth”. 

Watch the video below (or click to watch a pdf of the video here):

Star Wars

To conclude, here are some excerpts from interviews with George Lucas where he exposes some of the ideas that formed the background for Star Wars:

From an interview with Ty Burr for The Boston Globe (25 October 2005):

GEORGE LUCAS: There’s absolutely no conflict between Darwinism and God’s design for the universe – if you believe that it’s God’s design. The problem for me is that I see a very big difference between the Bible and God. And the problem they’re getting into now is that they’re trying to understand intelligent design through the Bible, not through God. Our job is to find all the “intelligent design,” and figure out how He did everything, and I think that’s consistent with science.

All we’re doing in our own fumbly, bumbly, human way with our inadequate little brains is trying to figure out what He did. And once we figure it out, we say “Ooh, that’s great!” And then we just continue on. Will we ever figure out everything? I don’t know. There’ll always be that faith there that there’s something more to figure out.

TY BURR: When you’re in there creating the nitty-gritty of the “Star Wars” universe, figuring out how an inhabitant of a given planet might evolve a given way, do you feel like you’re playing god?

GL: Well, I started out in anthropology, so to me how society works, how people put themselves together and make things work, has always been a big interest. Which is where mythology comes from, where religion comes from, where social structure comes from. Why are these things created? Now we’re getting into more of the social sciences side of the things, but the biological side is starting to float into that. I’m looking forward to the evolution of neuro-anthropology, because I want to see our genes affect how we build our social systems, how we develop our belief systems in terms of our social beliefs and cultural beliefs. We’re at an exciting time.

TB: What’s neuro-anthropology? I’m not familiar with the term.

GL: It doesn’t exist. [laughs] It’s sort of an extension of neuropsychology, which does exist. But the next step is neuro-anthropology.

TB: The nervous systems of social groups?

GL: Yeah. A friend of mine is writing a book on the social interactions of people based on brain research and how the way we interact with other people is affected by the development of our brains in terms of how the synapses and neurons work. You know, like how married couples influence each other just on a neurological level. What I’m interested in is what happens when you take that to the next level. How do the social institutions reflect the neural activity of the individuals. But that’s an outgrowth of how, in the case of “Star Wars,” I’ve taken psychological motifs from 4,000-year-old stories and put them into a modern vernacular. The reason they worked then is that they were told verbally over and over and over and handed down from father to son. Because they were tested by an audience for thousands of years, they have a certain emotional integrity to them, and you can take those little modules and stick them into a story as they are. They work well because emotionally we have not shifted all that much in the last 4,000 years, whereas intellectually we have.

TB: Are you saying that motifs like the lone hero coming to grips with his father are encoded into our cultural DNA?

GL: I see mythology as a kind of archeological psychology, in which you take psychological fossils that sit in our brain and test to see if they’re still working.

TB: Does your penchant for painting detailed pictures of entire societies come from these interests?

GL: Yes. Also, I love history, so while the psychological basis of “Star Wars” is mythological, the political and social bases are historical. I like to take things and strip them down, then use the model and build a different story on it. You can put in a motif of Saturday-afternoon serials to make it relevant to kids of today, but the political situation of the Empire and the Republic — that’s a scenario that’s been played out thousands of times over the years and that never seems to change much.

I had an interesting discussion when I was doing publicity in Europe for the final “Star Wars” movie. I was sitting around with a dozen reporters, and the Russian correspondents all thought the film was about Russian politics, and the Americans all thought it was about Bush. And I said, “Well, it’s really based on Rome. And on the French Revolution and Bonaparte.” It’s shocking that these things get repeated through history. The same mistakes get made and the tension between democracy and tyranny is always the same. And we haven’t figured out any way around it.

From an interview with James Cameron (in his series Story of Science Fiction, 2018), wherein George Lucas makes some claims that might sound “scandalous” in some ears: the “good” Jedi of the Star Wars movie saga are compared to “terrorists”. Lucas talks about the Viet Cong, while Cameron even mentions the Mujaheddin. The dialogue, in other words, points to the underlying similarities between adverseries in what René Girard would call “mimetic rivalry” (rivalry based on imitation):

“The original idea was a story, ultimately of salvation, of revealing that the villain is actually the hero.” – George Lucas, in an interview on the occasion of the AFI Life Achievement Award:

 

The TRUTH that sets us FREE to LOVE

[ZIE VERDER VOOR GEDEELTELIJKE NEDERLANDSE VERTALING]

THE STORY OF PETER

Peter was the new kid in town. Still he felt rather confident at his new school since he knew at least one of his schoolmates beforehand, a guy named Jesus. What Peter didn’t realize, however, was the fact that Jesus was heavily bullied by Peter’s new classmates, although Jesus was in another class. When he became aware of the situation, Peter made a “wise” decision to battle his FEAR of becoming an outcast. To gain the approval of his new classmates, he disassociated himself from Jesus. He pretended not to know Jesus that well. By playing along with the crowd Peter protected his good reputation and HONOR (see below Matthew 26:69-74). It was also a good way to ensure his position within the group; playing along gave Peter control and POWER over what could have been a precarious situation. After a few weeks Peter felt pretty comfortable going to school. Being among his new friends gave him lots of PLEASURE as he enjoyed the WEALTH of their luxurious parties. The fact that his friends did not accept him but only the image he forced himself into did not seem to bother Peter too much. After all, wasn’t that kind of over-dramatically characterized “selling your soul” self-denial in reality but a small price to pay in order to gain this world of honor, power, pleasure and wealth (see below Mark 8:35-36)? Why respect yourself if the rewards of not respecting yourself felt so good?

To make a long story short, Peter’s new life went pretty well until he ran into Jesus one day. Jesus was severely beaten up by some of Peter’s classmates. From that day onwards, Peter made a decision that would have sounded “foolish” to his friends and to his former self (see below 1 Corinthians 1:20b-25). In the face of the victim of the world he had been a part of, Peter decided to abandon a life that was defined by the pursuit of honor, power, pleasure and wealth (see Matthew 5, 1-11). His whole identity was transformed by the love for the enemy of the group he belonged to (see below 1 John 4:16). The fear of being “dead” to his classmates and of “social punishment” changed into a fear of being the cause of the “murder” of others (see below 1 John 4:17b-18). Peter also no longer considered honor and pleasure as ends in themselves, but as possible consequences of a life in love. If taking sides with the marginalized other made Peter DISHONORABLE in the eyes of some of his classmates, then so be it. Peter chose non-violent conflict in his own “house” over the violent peace and unity at the expense of excluded others (see below Matthew 10:34-36). He did not want that kind of sacrificial peace. He desired a different kind of peace, not based on “sacrifice” (see below John 14:27).

If willing the good of someone who had every reason to hate him made Peter feel UNPLEASURABLE, then so be it. The LOVE that was discovered by Peter and that became the basis of his life did not depend on whatever outcome. He would still love others even if, for instance, their farewell or their suffering or death would make him sad and wouldn’t bring him any pleasure at all. Independent of whatever outcome, the love Peter lived by can be called all-powerful in a paradoxical sense. Even if his classmates and their world would hate him (see below 1 John 3:13-14), Peter wouldn’t avoid being vulnerable and eventually POWERLESS from the perspective of that world (see below John 15:19). He would not seek power to dominate others but as a means to serve them (see below Luke 22:24-27), at most. Equally, Peter would not seek wealth as end in itself but as a means to serve others, at most. His spirit would be POOR in worries with regard to his possessions.

If Peter felt worried and guilty at all it was no longer because he didn’t live up to the expectations of the world of his classmates, but because love informed him that he had hurt others. Peter no longer respected social rules and laws because they would gain him recognition, but only insofar as they would be helpful in the service of love (see below Mark 2:23-28; see also Mark 12:29-31 and Paul on “spirit of the law vs letter of the law”); neither would he transgress rules because it would grant him a new social status among “the cool dudes” (see below Matthew 5:17). Love detached Peter from the addictive desire for approval. He tried to no longer imitate a man-made social environment based on exclusion but tried to imitate the flexible ways of love (blowing like the wind, free from all the man-made attachments – see below John 3:8). Love became his “Creator”. In taking sides with Jesus and the marginalized victim of whatever group, Peter lost a “masqueraded” life that was defined by the attachment to honor, power, pleasure and wealth, and he eventually saved his self-respect (see below Mark 8:35-36).

In short, Peter’s story ends with his refusal to take part in the sacrifice of others and therefore he runs the risk of being sacrificed or crucified himself, although he of course hopes that the world is able to show “mercy, not sacrifice” (see below Matthew 9:13). Peter refuses to “crucify himself” to participate in the masquerade of the attachment to approval and therefore he runs the risk of “being crucified”. Peter is willing to run that risk because of his obedience to the demands of love, which is an obedience that allows him to accept the truth about himself as a former persecutor and which sets him free from the destructive “powers and principalities” often governing this world. Because of love, Peter is no longer dead to himself and others (see below 1 John 3:13-14).

THE STORY OF MARY

Peter’s story is reminiscent of Mary’s story. Mary was the victim of a rape that made her pregnant and she was forced by her family to marry her “boyfriend(-rapist)” Saul. She was often beaten by her husband who could make her feel guilty about the beatings, as if she “deserved” them. In reality, Mary was a scapegoat. She was blamed for things she wasn’t guilty of. Sadly enough it took years for Mary to realize how badly she had been manipulated.

For years Mary lived in FEAR. She forced herself to be someone who would receive the approval of her husband, not his beatings. That’s where her HONOR lay, or so she thought. In trying to gain POWER over her husband’s behavior, however, she lost herself more and more. She was really hunting an illusion in her attempts to turn her family life into a comfortable environment of PLEASURE like the one of her best friend. Moreover, she worried about losing the WEALTH of her husband too. She thought that she would not be able to make a living of her own. It was only when her husband started beating her son too that she regained her self-respect: the love for this victim of the situation she had been part of, opened her eyes for the truth that she had hunted one illusion after the other, and liberated her from the addictive attachment to honor, power, pleasure and wealth.

Both the above stories of Peter and Mary show what the Christian tradition is essentially about. Christianity thus:

  • subverts any system (religious or secular) that originates from man’s attachment to honor, power, pleasure and/or wealth (attachments that are based on fear of death), even if that system calls itself “Christian”. Explanations on the origin of religion that rely on man’s attachment to honor, power, pleasure and/or wealth thus do not explain the origin of Christianity as such (but of perverted versions of Christianity). Explanations like the one proposed by Yuval Noah Harari’s (in Sapiens) should be evaluated from this perspective.
  • believes that love is a divine reality, which is not a sentiment or a feeling, but an active willing of the good of the other as other. This divine reality thus is not all-powerful in the sense that it controls everything, but in the sense that it is independent of any calculations about possible outcomes. Love gives itself, regardless of the question whether it is accepted or not. That’s why “grace” is what it is. God as “Creator” should be thought of as a loving dynamic that seeks to hold everything together, although not as an all-controlling entity (see Matthew 27:39-44).
  • shows the futility of many of the things we consider “meaningful” and thus opens up our eyes for a more comprehensive look on reality.
  • does not easily comfort because it challenges us to abandon our “comfort zone”.
  • is not “irrational”. On the contrary, it has a very sharp and clear view on the reality of human life and its absurdities, opening up a logic that could save human life from its absurdities.
  • testifies to a spirituality of “a love for reality because of reality itself, without ulterior motives” that can be found within other traditions as well.
  • is non-dualistic, as it does not seek the destruction of a so-called “evil world” but its transformation and fulfilment through love.
  • is not about “seeking the approval of God”, but is about the paradox of obeying the liberating demands of a love that needs no approval.

SUMMARY (click here for pdf):

AGAPE LOVE

To finish, some excerpts from the Bible on which all of the above is based:

Matthew 26, especially 26:69-74: Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), especially the Beatitudes (click here for more).

1 Corinthians 1:20b-25: Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 John 4:16: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:17b-18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'”

John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Matthew 9:13: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 8:35-36: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

John 15:19: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

1 John 3:13-14: Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Mark 2:23-28: One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

P.S.: THANKS TO James Alison, Robert Barron, René Girard, Emmanuel Levinas and many others for the inspiring insights into the reality of Christian life.

HET VERHAAL VAN PETRUS

Petrus was net verhuisd. Toch voelde hij zich vrij zelfzeker op zijn nieuwe school omdat hij ten minste een van zijn medescholieren al kende: een jongen genaamd Jezus. Petrus realiseerde zich echter niet dat Jezus hevig gepest werd door sommige van zijn nieuwe klasgenoten, hoewel Jezus tot een andere klas behoorde. Toen Petrus eenmaal begreep hoe de vork in de steel zat, nam hij een “wijze” beslissing om zijn ANGST voor sociale uitsluiting te bezweren: om de waardering van zijn nieuwe klasgenoten te verkrijgen, nam hij afstand van Jezus. Petrus deed alsof hij Jezus helemaal niet zo goed kende. Het bezorgde Petrus de EER van een goede reputatie in de wereld van zijn klasgenoten (klik voor Matteüs 26, 69-74a). Door het spel van de groep mee te spelen en zich niet met Jezus bezig te houden, kreeg Petrus controle en MACHT over de nieuwe situatie waarin hij zich bevond. Gaandeweg verwierf hij zekerheid over zijn positie binnen de groep. Na enkele weken voelde Petrus zich helemaal comfortabel op zijn nieuwe school. Hij ervoer veel GENOT in aanwezigheid van zijn nieuwe vrienden en hij verdronk in de WEELDE van hun rijkeluisfeestjes. Het feit dat zijn vrienden niet hem aanvaardden maar alleen het imago waaraan hij trachtte te voldoen, deerde hem niet al te erg. Zelfverloochening leek helemaal geen dramatische “verkoop van je ziel” als je in ruil daarvoor een wereld van eer, macht, genot en weelde won (klik voor Marcus 8, 35-36). Waarom zou je jezelf respecteren als de beloningen voor een gebrek aan zelfrespect zo goed voelden?

Om een lang verhaal kort te maken: Petrus genoot met volle teugen van zijn leven totdat hij op een dag Jezus opnieuw tegen het lijf liep. Die was in elkaar geslagen door enkele van Petrus’ klasgenoten. Vanaf die dag nam Petrus een beslissing die “dwaas” zou hebben geklonken in de oren van zijn vrienden en van zijn vroegere zelf (klik voor 1 Kor 1, 20b-29). Geconfronteerd met het slachtoffer van de wereld waarvan hij deel had uitgemaakt, besloot Petrus zijn leven niet langer te laten definiëren door het streven naar eer, macht, genot en weelde (klik voor Mt 5, 1-11). Zijn hele identiteit werd getransformeerd door de liefde voor de vijand van de groep waartoe hij behoorde (klik voor 1 Joh 4, 16b). De angst voor “sociale afstraffing” en om “dood” te zijn voor zijn klasgenoten veranderde in een vrees voor de “moord” op anderen (klik voor 1 Joh 4, 17b-18). Petrus beschouwde eer en genot niet langer als doelen op zich, maar als mogelijke gevolgen van een leven in liefde. Als partij kiezen voor de gemarginaliseerde ander hem ONEERVOL maakte in de ogen van sommige van zijn klasgenoten, dan was dat maar zo. Hij was bereid om daarover te discussiëren. Petrus verkoos niet-gewelddadig conflict in zijn eigen “huis” boven de gewelddadige vrede en eenheid die parasiteerde op een gemeenschappelijke externe vijand (klik voor Matteüs 10, 34-36). Hij wou geen vrede die gebaseerd was op uitsluiting. Hij verlangde een ander soort vrede die niet op offers was gebaseerd (klik voor Johannes 14, 27).

Het goede willen voor iemand die meer dan genoeg redenen heeft om je te haten, levert GEEN GENOT op. Het voelt op zijn zachtst gezegd onwennig aan, maar dat hield Petrus niet tegen. De LIEFDE die hij had ontdekt en die de basis werd voor zijn leven, was niet afhankelijk van enig mogelijk resultaat. Petrus zou anderen liefhebben, zelfs als bijvoorbeeld hun afscheid, hun lijden of hun dood hem verdriet zou doen. Onafhankelijk van gelijk welk resultaat kan de liefde die Petrus draagt op een paradoxale manier almachtig worden genoemd. Ook als zijn klasgenoten en hun wereld hem zouden haten (klik voor 1 Joh 3, 13-14), zou Petrus niet ophouden om zich kwetsbaar en zelfs MACHTELOOS op te stellen vanuit het perspectief van die wereld (klik voor Johannes 15, 19). Als hij al een machtspositie zou aanvaarden, dan zou hij dat niet langer doen om anderen te domineren maar dan zou hij die macht gebruiken als een middel om anderen te dienen (klik voor Lucas 22, 24-27). Op dezelfde manier zou Petrus ook niet langer weelde nastreven als een doel op zich, maar opnieuw als een middel om anderen te dienen. In ieder geval zou zijn geest ARM aan zorgen zijn inzake zijn bezittingen.

Als Petrus zich al zorgen maakte en zich schuldig voelde, dan was het niet langer omdat hij misschien niet aan de verwachtingen van de wereld van zijn klasgenoten beantwoordde, maar omdat de liefde hem had geopenbaard hoe hij anderen had gekwetst. Petrus was niet voor of tegen de sociale regels en wetten die heersten (klik voor Matteüs 5, 17), maar terwijl hij vroeger voor of tegen regels was om ergens aanzien te verwerven, stelde hij zich nu de vraag op welke manier de regels het best de doelen van een liefdevolle gerechtigheid dienden (klik voor Marcus 2, 23-28). Met andere woorden, de geest van de wet werd voor Petrus belangrijker dan de letter van de wet (zie Paulus alsook Marcus 12, 29-31). De liefde bevrijdde Petrus van het verslavend verlangen naar erkenning. Liefde werd zijn “Schepper”: de identiteit van Petrus hing niet langer af van een door mensen gecreëerde sociale omgeving, maar van een liefde die, als een frisse wind wars van de bekommernissen om eer, macht, genot en weelde, relaties aanknoopte met al wie en wat zogezegd “geen betekenis” had (klik voor Johannes 3, 8). Door partij te kiezen voor Jezus en het gemarginaliseerde slachtoffer van om het even welke groep, verloor Petrus een onwaarachtig leven in functie van eer, macht, genot en weelde, en redde hij uiteindelijk zijn zelfrespect (klik voor Marcus 8, 35-36).

Het verhaal van Petrus eindigt, kortom, met een Petrus die weigert om nog langer te participeren aan een wereld die is gebaseerd op offers. De liefde heeft Petrus de waarheid omtrent zichzelf doen ontdekken: hij is een vervolger geweest, iemand die zijn medemens kwaad doet. Gehoorzamend aan die liefde wordt hij, paradoxaal genoeg, vrij van de “duistere machten en krachten” die vaak deze wereld beheersen. Omdat hij niet langer in de ban is van de duistere gehechtheid aan eer, macht, genot en weelde, is hij ook niet langer dood voor zichzelf en anderen (klik voor 1 Joh 3, 13-14).

Wie het opneemt voor wie wordt gepest, loopt evenwel het gevaar om zelf ook te worden gepest. Petrus weigert de “afgodendienst van het sociale succes” en weigert aldus iedere vorm van “zelfkruisiging”, maar loopt daardoor ook het gevaar dat hij zal “gekruisigd worden”. Natuurlijk hoopt hij dat de wereld in staat is om te kiezen voor “barmhartigheid en geen offers” (klik voor Matteüs 9, 13), alleen weet hij niet op voorhand of de wereld die keuze zal maken. Wie niet buigt voor het bedrieglijke, vernietigende verlangen naar totale controle (“de almachtige god die alle touwtjes in handen heeft”), maar wel leeft vanuit een God die liefde is, kan anderen redden maar zichzelf niet (klik voor Matteüs 27, 39-44). Als je het opneemt voor wie wordt gepest, leg je je lot immers in handen van anderen die zich al dan niet tot “de liefde” zullen bekeren. Voor hetzelfde geld word je ook gepest. Als er dan toch nog sprake is van “almacht” in deze context, dan ligt ze in het feit dat je zelfrespect niet afhangt van het respect dat je al dan niet van anderen ontvangt als je vanuit de goddelijke liefde leeft. De narcist is afhankelijk van de erkenning die hij van andere mensen krijgt voor een onwaarachtig zelfbeeld. De mens die zich door de liefde gedragen weet, kan de realiteit van en omtrent zichzelf en anderen op een completere manier beleven.

HET VERHAAL VAN MARIA

Het verhaal van Petrus doet denken aan het verhaal van Maria. Maria was het slachtoffer van een verkrachting waardoor ze zwanger werd. Haar familie had haar gedwongen om met haar “vriend(-verkrachter)” Saul te huwen. Ze werd vaak geslagen door haar echtgenoot. Hij slaagde er bovendien in om haar een schuldgevoel te geven over dat geweld, alsof ze de slagen “verdiende”. In werkelijkheid was Maria een zondebok: ze werd beschuldigd van zaken waarvoor ze niet verantwoordelijk was. Jammer genoeg duurde het jaren vooraleer Maria zich realiseerde hoezeer ze door Saul en haar familie was gemanipuleerd.

Jarenlang leefde Maria in ANGST. Ze dwong zichzelf om iemand te zijn die waardering zou krijgen van haar echtgenoot, en geen slagen. Daarin lag haar EER, dacht ze. Terwijl ze MACHT probeerde te verwerven over het gedrag van haar man verloor ze zichzelf echter meer en meer. Ze jaagde werkelijk een illusie na in haar pogingen om GENOT in haar gezinsleven te vinden. Daarbovenop maakte ze zich zorgen over het verlies van WEELDE als haar echtgenoot haar zou verlaten. Ze vreesde dat ze de eindjes niet aan elkaar zou kunnen knopen als ze er alleen zou voor staan. Alleen toen Saul ook hun zoon Stephanus in elkaar begon te slaan, herwon ze haar zelfrespect: de liefde voor het slachtoffer van de situatie waarvan ze deel uitmaakte, opende haar ogen voor de waarheid dat ze de ene na de andere illusie had nagejaagd, en bevrijdde haar van de verslavende gehechtheid aan eer, macht, genot en weelde.

Zowel Petrus als Maria keerden zich af van een leven in functie van een imago dat waardering moest opleveren. Petrus verheerlijkte zichzelf niet langer, waardoor hij respect kreeg voor zichzelf en niet langer op anderen als Jezus neerkeek. Maria verheerlijkte haar echtgenoot niet langer, waardoor ze zich bevrijdde van een minderwaardigheidscomplex en meer respect kreeg voor zichzelf. Bij beiden leidde het herwonnen zelfrespect tot meer respect voor (onderdrukte) anderen. Anderen werden niet langer benaderd als middelen die het onrealistisch zelfbeeld van Petrus en Maria moesten bevestigen, maar als doelen op zich.

Zowel het verhaal van Petrus als van Maria openbaart de bekering tot een levenswijze waarop de christelijke traditie in essentie doelt.

EEN SAMENVATTING:

(klik hier voor pdf van het overzicht, en klik hier voor pdf inzake zaligsprekingen en voor post over zaligsprekingen en religieuze geloftes)

AGAPE LIEFDE