Christian Love During Christmas Exams (Nietzsche vs Scheler)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calvin and Hobbes Resentment

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

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

Max Scheler & Friedrich Nietzsche

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

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

adoración de los pastores (Murillo)

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

Fun@School (SJC Aalst, Collegecross, 2017)

Muslim WomenOnce upon a time, there was this Muslim woman who wore a headscarf and always went on a rant when she saw other Muslim women without headscarves. She thought Muslim women without the scarf were “bad Muslims”. After her husband died, however, she herself decided not to wear the scarf any longer and let her hair hang down. As it turned out, she had been afraid of her husband, her family and the village she used to live in, and that was the real reason why she had worn the scarf. She thought that she would have lost face when she didn’t dress like the other women in her village. All along, she had desired to walk around like Muslim women without a headscarf, but because she hadn’t been able to fulfill this desire, she had convinced herself that she didn’t want to walk around without a headscarf, and she had begun to despise women who didn’t wear a scarf. That’s how she had comforted herself, how she had reconciled herself with her situation. In other words, this woman had been driven by ressentiment: she had developed an aversion towards something she had secretly desired.

Muslim WomanA couple of years ago, I had the privilege of welcoming some Muslim girls in my religion class. Among them were two sisters from Chechnya. Years later I came across them again in the streets of my hometown. One was wearing a headscarf, the other was not. I asked the one without the scarf if she considered herself less religious than her sister. She assured me that this was not the case, and her sister, the one with the scarf, added that it was not really an issue. The latter also wasn’t at all disturbed that her sister didn’t wear a scarf. She was happy with wearing a headscarf, it was her freely chosen way of symbolizing her faith, but she could understand that her sister made other choices.

Makes you think… Apparently, to point the finger at someone sometimes has to do with a desire to uphold a certain reputation or image. If you do things because of love for what you are doing, you are less inclined to judge people who make other choices (within certain ethical limits, of course).

Collegecross SJC Aalst 2016Yesterday our high school (Sint-Jozefscollege, Aalst – Belgium) organized its yearly run. Since a couple of years, our senior year students try to make their run more playful and humorous, instead of competitive. They just want to have some fun together. What I notice, however, is that a few of them do feel tempted to act like a nuisance to other students (or, in the past, to teachers and principals as well). They can’t seem to accept that not every student has the same idea of fun and humor. To those (few) students who point fingers at supposedly “uncool” and “lacking sense of humor” classmates, I would ask: if you are enjoying yourselves and if you are having fun (because of love for… the fun!), why would you care about others and their idea of fun? The thing is, if “having fun” and “being humorous” become serious business, not allowed to being put into perspective and to being criticized, then they gradually lose the fun and the humor. Especially when they become moral instruments for judging others.

This all happens when “having fun” is not primarily a sign that people are enjoying themselves, but is a way of establishing a “cool” reputation or image. Some students seem to imagine that they are performing some “heroic act against an all too disciplined school system” (which is not the case; our school is very tolerating – but maybe some of our students are a bit spoiled?). Their all too necessary “humor” becomes an outlet for frustrations. Although they reproach others with being humorless, they themselves seem filled with bitterness, unable to minimize the importance of their “fun”. Fun at the expense of others is no fun at all. It is often a sign of ressentiment.

In short, like a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf because she wants to uphold a certain reputation, some students “have fun” because they want to be noticed as “cool dudes”. It’s basic narcissism. And like the Muslim woman who wears a headscarf because of her image has the tendency to point fingers at others (she blames Muslim women without a headscarf for “not being true Muslims”), some students who “have fun” because of their image also have the tendency to point fingers at others (they blame the student who doesn’t take part in their particular activity for “not being humorous”).

Charlie Chaplin Quote on Laugh

On the other hand, a Muslim woman who freely wears a headscarf, because of love, will not have the tendency to point fingers at others. She will not bother or harm others. After all, she loves how she dresses. Equally, students who freely enjoy themselves, because of love, will not have the tendency to point fingers at others. They will not bother or harm others. After all, they love what they are doing…

Gay & Muslim, Twice the Scapegoat

Who or what is to blame for the massacre at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida (June 12, 2016)? Muslims? Religious people in general? Islam? Religion in general? Or just the twisted mindset of a troubled individual?

Omar Mateen, a 29 year old American Muslim of Afghan descent leaves 49 people dead and 53 injured after opening fire at Pulse, the gay night club he allegedly visited himself on a regular basis. He was eventually shot by the police. Being a regular visitor of the club, as well as his use of gay dating sites, suggest Mateen was gay himself. His ex-wife also made the claim that he was gay. So maybe it was ressentiment that drove him (for similar examples, click here)?

Whatever the case, there is no doubt that religion often advocates intolerance and hatred against LGBT people. Religious leaders past and present have discriminated against LGBT people. For instance, two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Christian evangelicals Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed gays and lesbians, among other people, for the attacks (which they interpreted as “the wrath of God”). Jerry Falwell stated (for more on this, click here):

Muslim Lesbian Gay HappyI really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”

In other words, some religious people hold LGBT people themselves responsible for the oppression and violence they have to endure, allegedly “because they don’t respect God and His laws”. Seen from the perspective of René Girard’s mimetic theory, this is a form of scapegoating: instead of taking responsibility for their own intolerant and sometimes violent attitude, the perpetrators of hate crimes blame the victims and even God for their own terrorist behavior.

The aversion to LGBT people and their sexuality by certain religious people is sometimes mirrored by an aversion to religion by certain “anti-theists”. In the words of Girard, this makes the latter doubles of their theist counterparts. Because religion is seen as one of the main causes of evil, hatred and violence in the world, certain people would rather eradicate religion, blaming religious people for fostering one of the main breeding grounds for evil, and thus start scapegoating themselves. Bill Maher, for example, in the mockumentary Religulous:

LGBT MuslimsThis is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. […] If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a Mafia wife, with the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of a religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was: That we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That’s it. Grow up or die.

Well, seen from Bill Maher’s perspective, you’re in big trouble if you are gay and Muslim. You shouldn’t be surprised that you experience violence because being a Muslim, being religious is, in the words of Bill Maher, being “an enabler of homophobia and violence”. Once again the (potential) victim, in this case the gay Muslim, is held responsible, this time by so-called anti-religionists, for the violence the victim might have to endure.

In short, some people scapegoat people for being gay, others scapegoat people for being religious. Being gay and muslim means running the risk of being twice the scapegoat.

I am Gay and Muslim

From a spiritual perspective we are challenged to criticize ourselves by listening to the Voice of our (potential) Victim, by listening to the voice of the scapegoat, in order to become “the change we want to see”. Maybe “true Islam” is not a religion of bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and violence. Maybe “true Islam” is the religion of a “radical minority” that testifies to the Love of “the Merciful One”.

In the words of a gay Muslim man from the documentary I am Gay and Muslim:

No one has the right to tell me whether I’m a good Muslim or not.



To put things in perspective, an overview of mass shootings in the US of the last decades shows that most of the murderers didn’t need religion to get them to kill people. Some even hated religion. All they needed was easy access to guns and all too human characteristics played out in the wrong circumstances:

July 18, 1984: unemployed security guard James Oliver Huberty kills 21 people at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California. He is killed himself by a police sniper.

October 16, 1991: George Jo Hennard crashes his pickup into a Luby’s cafetaria and begins firing, killing 22 people before taking his own life.

April 20, 1999: Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people before taking their own lives.

April 16, 2007: student Seung-hui Cho kills 32 people on Virginia Tech campus and eventually commits suicide.

April 3, 2009: Jiverly Voong kills 13 people when attacking Binghampton immigration center in New York state.

November 5, 2009: Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, attacks Fort Hood in Texas and kills 13 people.

July 20, 2012: James Holmes kills 12 people in what became known as the Colorado cinema shooting, during the screening of the new Batman movie.

December 14, 2012: Adam Lanza kills 27 people, including himself, during an attack on Newtown school in Connecticut.

September 16, 2013: Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor, kills 12 people at Washington Navy Yard.

June 18, 2015: Dylann Roof kills 9 people at Charleston prayer meeting.

December 2, 2015: Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik kill 14 people at a community centre in San Bernardino. They die in police shootout.

June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen kills 49 people and injures another 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

no to homophobia islamophobia

Scapegoating in American Beauty

Scapegoat Mechanism – Type 3 (SMT3): ressentiment

[see previous post “Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism”]

 

an example

 

 

THE CHARACTER OF COLONEL FRANK FITTS

IN THE Movie

american beauty

(DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES)

 

 

American Beauty Ricky Fitts FilmingAlan Ball, who wrote the story, said the following about the main theme of the movie:

“I think I was writing about … how it’s becoming harder and harder to live an authentic life when we live in a world that seems to focus on appearance … For all the differences between now and the [1950s], in a lot of ways this is just as oppressively conformist a time … You see so many people who strive to live the unauthentic life and then they get there and they wonder why they’re not happy … I didn’t realize it when I sat down to write [American Beauty], but these ideas are important to me.”

– Alan Ball in Chumo II, Peter N. (January 2000). “American Beauty: An Interview with Alan Ball”. Creative Screenwriting Magazine (Los Angeles: Creative Screenwriters Group) 7 (1): 26–35 (p.32).

 

The character of “Colonel Frank Fitts, US Marine Corps” certainly is one poignant example of someone who is “keeping up appearances” at a very high price. His situation can be summarized as follows:

CLICK TO SEE THE SCHEME (PDF)

Frank Fitts

American Beauty Rose Plastic BagThroughout the film it becomes clear that Frank Fitts is secretly gay and that he is jealous of gay people who “came out of the closet.” He dares not reveal himself as a homosexual, though, for fear of being cast out by the social environment whose recognition he has mimetically learned to desire. Frank Fitts always presents himself as “Colonel Frank Fitts, US Marine Corps” and apparently this self-concept considers homosexuality as “something to be ashamed of.” He can’t stand being around openly gay people, like his two neighbors Jim and Jim, because they awaken his hidden homosexual desires. Frank Fitts resents and hates what he actually desires. When he thinks that his son Ricky is in a gay relationship with his neighbor Lester Burnham, he threatens to throw him out of the house and to banish him forever. Frank Fitts constantly justifies his acts of terror by making his victims responsible for the violence they have to endure. He constantly applies some sort of scapegoat mechanism, his victims “should be ashamed!” They should feel guilty about something they actually shouldn’t feel guilty about…

Frank Fitts is willing to do anything to protect his socially mediated (self-)image. His scapegoating of openly gay people helps him to be somewhat  at peace with his own life, although he is a bitter man. Finally, he reveals himself as a homosexual to his neighbor Lester Burnham, whom he wrongfully considers gay. Frank tries to kiss Lester, but Lester turns him down. Afraid of what might happen, Frank ends up murdering Lester in order to prevent the loss of his so-called acceptable (self-)image. In other words, the sacrifice of Lester – in no ways responsible for what happened to Frank, hence a scapegoat – seems necessary for Frank to fulfill his desire for recognition. In still other words, eros – a mimetically ignited love for some image or social status – leads to thanatos (death) to put an end to some identity crisis.

BE SURE TO WATCH THE EXCERPTS FROM AMERICAN BEAUTY WITH ADDITIONAL NOTES TO SEE HOW THE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS DEAL WITH

“THE LOSS OF APPEARANCES”

 

– CLICK TO WATCH:

Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism

Click here to read Mimetic Theory in High School.

In this post I’d like to present three types of the scapegoat mechanism as it evolves out of mimetic interactions, in a formulaic way. The following weeks I’ll post examples of these types (rap song Stan by Eminem, the biblical story of Cain and Abel and one storyline from the movie American Beauty – I already worked on these examples in my book, published in Dutch: Vrouwen, Jezus en rock-‘n-roll). This will show how these types or ‘formulas’ can be used to analyze inter/intrapersonal and social situations.

CLICK HERE FOR A PDF VERSION OF THE THREE TYPES OF THE SCAPEGOAT MECHANISM

metaphysical mimetic desire

THREE TYPES OF THE SCAPEGOAT MECHANISM

Scapegoat Mechanism Type 1 AUTO-AGGRESSIONScapegoat Mechanism Type 2 HETERO-AGGRESSIONScapegoat Mechanism Type 3 RESSENTIMENT OR SHAMEShame (explanation)