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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Love

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

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

Easily said. Not always easily done.

Love casts out Fear

NEDERLANDSE VERTALING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Steinbeck on Rejection (quote from East of Eden)

 

 

 

 

To This Day

Shane Koyczan is a spiritual man. A man of poetry and gentle madness. A man of stories, a man of truth. A man of beauty. His poem To This Day would be a great way to end a first part of a journey with mimetic theory in high school, especially regarding what I’ve written so far on the film American Beauty. It could follow these posts:

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

quote A weed is but an unloved flower Ella Wheeler WilcoxTo This Day and Shane’s TED-talk contain many themes I’ve written about before, for instance in a post entitled Atheism: a lack of unbelief?:

A person’s worth cannot be determined solely by human perception and judgment. Man is not simply the child of a “social other”, i.e. the product of a man-made social environment in which he gains or loses a sense of (self-) worth. He’s also, following the thoughts of people like James Alison and Emmanuel Levinas, a child of “the other Other”, and we should postpone any final judgment on other people and ourselves.

It also reminded me of this famous quote: “Every finite spirit believes either in a God or in an idol” (Max Scheler, 1874-1928). I wrote about this in several posts before, for instance in a post entitled That is (not) the question, about rap star Diam’s conversion to Islam – it talks about how we have the tendency to sacrifice ourselves and others to the demands of a so-called admirable (self-)image that seeks confirmation and recognition:

quote Shane Koyczan Be the weedDiam’s discovered how she tried to live up to the expectations of her fans, and how this enslaved her. She was kneeling to an image of herself as the admirable idol her fans wanted her to be. Kneeling to Allah, on the other hand, apparently meant that Diam’s no longer bowed to the demands of the music and entertainment industry. It was a turning point in her life. It enabled her to free herself, and to criticize the priorities in her life. From now on, she would seek and explore another source of motivations for her life.

Finally, Shane Koyczan’s story is reminiscent of Peter Howson’s story in a post entitled Desert Moments with Peter Howson:

“I used to be very badly bullied at school and when I was a bouncer in a nightclub for quite a few years I changed in a false sense then, and became a bully myself.” In other words: Howson became the imitator of his persecutors… He followed the mimetic principle of vengeance.

CLICK TO WATCH the video To This Day (click here to read the lyrics in pdf):

I’d like to give some quotes from his TED-talk as well, because they illustrate some key insights from René Girard’s mimetic theory and they reminded me of those previous posts:

quote do not be conformed by this world RomansWe were expected to define ourselves at such an early age, and if we didn’t do it, others did it for us. Geek. Fatty. Slut. Fag. And at the same time we were being told what we were, we were being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always thought that was an unfair question. It presupposes that we can’t be what we already are.

See, they asked me what I wanted to be, then told me what not to be. And I wasn’t the only one. We were being told that we somehow must become what we are not, sacrificing what we are to inherit the masquerade of what we will be. I was being told to accept the identity that others will give me.

quote be this guyOne of the first lines of poetry I can remember writing was in response to a world that demanded I hate myself. From age 15 to 18, I hated myself for becoming the thing that I loathed: a bully. When I was 19, I wrote, “I will love myself despite the ease with which I lean toward the opposite.

CLICK TO WATCH Shane’s TED-talk:

Turn the other cheek

Once there was this girl, having the time of her life in a happy relationship. Until her boyfriend cheated on her. After that, she couldn’t go on with him. So they broke up.

A year later, she met this other guy. Love at first sight. They started dating. A few months down the road of this new romantic affair, a little fear started creeping into her mind: “What if I’ll be cheated on, again?” The fear grew bigger, as did her desire to safeguard her relationship. So she started controlling her new boyfriend, pressing him to inform her about his whereabouts. He didn’t do anything wrong, but he nevertheless had to suffer from her anxieties. Until he couldn’t stand it any longer, and her worst fear came true: he broke up with her. Tragic. Ironic. All she had done to avoid the destruction of the relationship brought about the relationship’s downfall. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it… (Matthew 16:25a).

What happened? Well, the girl was hurt, and she had been sad and angry because of it. Instead of letting go of her sadness and frustration, she started focusing on these emotions again while being in a new relationship. And she started hurting a guy who hadn’t done anything to cause her pain, insinuating he was not trustworthy and accusing him of being a liar and a cheater. In other words, she imitated the blows inflicted on her persona by inflicting similar blows on someone else. It was her way of taking revenge. Her new boyfriend turned out to be her scapegoat: someone who had to answer for her anger, although he was innocent. There is indeed, as René Girard and so many other Christian thinkers rightly point out, a nearly inextricable connection between the mimetic principle of vengeance and the scapegoating impulse.

In order to break the vicious cycle of hurt inflicting hurt – the cycle of original sin -, Christ invites us to take part in an act of creation. This is a creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), meaning that our actions are no longer defined by the lesser and greater evil we endured in the past. To return to the situation of the girl: Christ invites her to “turn the other cheek” as she begins a new relationship. To turn the other cheek indeed means that you refuse to let your relationships and yourself be defined by the hurtful mechanisms that eventually destroy relationships. Christ invites the girl to trust being vulnerable again. He invites her to keep faith over fear – for “fear leads to anger, to hate, to suffering” as some famous wise man summarized Christ’s advice…

Forgiveness is at the heart of creation, destabilizing the balance of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” – for, as some other wise man allegedly said: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”. Coming from outside the cycle of bad deeds or “bad karma“, the grace of forgiveness opens up the possibility of a new kind of imitation or mimesis. Instead of imitating each other in trying to assert ourselves over against one another – as theologian James Alison would say –, “turning the other cheek” is an invitation to begin an imitation of recognizing and accepting each other’s vulnerability. Recognizing that “no one is without sin”, in order to end “casting the first stone”. It’s an invitation to shy away from self-assertion over against one another – which would be called a movement of kenosis (“self-emptying”) in theological terms. The imitatio Christi would thus lead to the recovery of human beings, for “being human” means “being in relationships”, and the act of grace Christ invites us to take part in is precisely aimed at restoring those relationships. Therefore: Whoever loses his life for me will find it… (Matthew 16:25b).

So Matthew 5:38-39 is not an invitation to be masochistic. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a radical refusal to surrender to the evil that we experience from time to time. It’s an invitation to obey the creative call of Love (click here to read more) – which is, paradoxically, truly liberating:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…”