The Point Yuval Harari Misses of Myth – Bringing René Girard to the Table

A FAMILIAR SCENE BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION

“Why don’t you girls get along with June anymore?” Regina’s mother asked. Regina and her two friends, Gretchen and Eve, stared at her in bewilderment. They were about to go on a shopping spree. For weeks they had gone out without June. “She has changed so much,” Regina answered. “Yes, she spoils the whole atmosphere of the group,” Eve added. “Quite frankly, mother, June has become this ordinary slut,” Regina concluded. Now it was her mother’s turn to stare at the three girls in bewilderment. And off they went.

About a month later, Gretchen accidently ended up next to June in the bus to school. The silence between them was awkward enough to make them talk to each other. Gretchen learned that her pretty companion had been going steady with Lysander for several months. And then it dawned on her: Regina had been gossiping about June being a slut because June had run away with Regina’s big crush, Lysander!

As soon as she had the chance Gretchen confronted Regina. “I talked to June and she is still the same old friend I knew!” she exclaimed. “You’re just jealous of her, that is the truth! You two are the same, you want that Lysander guy as much as she does! June in no way is a slut!” At that moment Eve stepped in to defend Regina and claimed both of them would turn their back on Gretchen if the latter didn’t change her opinion on June.

All of a sudden the clique of three were arguing about who betrayed who and they accused each other of being delusional. Their internal peace at the expense of an outcast had been broken. One of them had shown love for their external enemy, and had thus created internal enmity, within their own household. A new expulsion seemed imminent. Or would they all eventually be able to reconcile themselves with their former enemy?

YUVAL NOAH HARARI VS RENÉ GIRARD ON MYTH

Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)

In his bestseller Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind (London, Vintage, 2015), Yuval Noah Harari points out the consequences of the so-called Cognitive Revolution in human evolution. Between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago new ways of thinking and communicating allowed our ancestors to share more information with each other, not in the least about dangerous animals. Predators regularly threatened bands of humans from the outside. On the other hand, members of the same group of humans could also threaten each other. Hence, as we are primarily social animals depending on cooperation for our survival, we need even more information about each other and about potential threats from the inside.

“Our language evolved as a way of gossiping,” Harari concludes (p. 25). “Gossip usually focuses on wrongdoings. Rumour-mongers are the original fourth estate, journalists who inform society about and thus protect it from cheats and freeloaders (pp. 26-27).”

Harari paints a rather positive picture of gossip. He even refers to it as providing “reliable information about who [can] be trusted,” which allowed our ancestors to “develop tighter and more sophisticated types of cooperation (p. 26).” René Girard (1923-2015) would agree that gossip is a way to unite people. As the story of the introduction makes clear, the bond between Regina and her friends is indeed strengthened by their exclusion of June. However, Girard would also include the more common understanding of gossip as providing questionable or untruthful information. According to this scenario, June can be characterized as a scapegoat. She is accused of things she is not responsible for and seems to be the victim of Regina’s own misjudged desires. It is a type of misjudgment that is already at play very early on in human life.

When a child notices a playmate’s interest in a toy that the child had forgotten about, the child’s desire for the toy will very often be re-awakened. Instead of enjoying whatever he was doing, the child most likely will reclaim the toy as being his and insist that he was “the first” to want it. More often than not the playmate will mirror the child’s behavior and will also claim being the first. In other words, both the child and his playmate imitate and thus reinforce each other’s desire for an object until they forget about it and end up fighting about their very “being”. The more they try to distinguish themselves from each other by pretending that their own desire is not mimetic (i.e. imitative), the more they do imitate each other and become doubles. That is the tragic comic paradox of mimetic rivalry.

While the fighting children both deny the mimetic nature of their desire and claim that their desire is primary, they also both claim that their own violence is secondary. Both children will justify their own violence as a “necessary defense” against a so-called “first aggression” of the other child. Peace is restored when one of the parties either surrenders, is banned, or is somehow eliminated. Of course, the one with the most allies often has a better chance at winning a fight.

Research has shown that we more easily commit violence in groups than on our own, and this is one way by which a sense of personal responsibility for violence evaporates. After all, we are social, mimetic creatures. The well-known bystander effect is but one example of the consequences of our imitative behavior. At the same time, we tend to understand our own violence as “acts of self-defense” against potential threats and rivals, like the above mentioned two fighting children. It allows us to interpret the victim of our violence as the primary cause of that violence. This is yet another way by which a feeling of personal responsibility for violence disappears.

History knows many examples of violence that is justified by the myth of self-defense, which often gives rise to a mimetic dynamic of revenge over different generations. Al-Qaeda, for instance, justified its attacks on 9/11 as acts of self-defense. On April 24, 2002, the Islamist organization released a document about the matter, which also contained the following statement regarding the attackers:

“The only motive these young men had was to defend the religion of Allah, their dignity, and their honor. […] It was a service to Islam in defense of its people, a pure act of their will, done submissively, not grudgingly.”

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US eventually decided to invade Iraq in 2003 and presented its move as a preemptive strike. The violence was justified as an act of self-defense against a regime that, according to the US, possessed weapons of mass destruction. The weapons were never found, but the aftermath of the war did create the conditions for the rise of ISIL… Violence begets violence.

The myth of self-defense indicates the flaws in Harari’s understanding of myth. Harari characterizes myths as merely fictional products of collective imagination, which allow people to develop complex networks of cooperation (pp. 30-31):

“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.

Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. […] States are rooted in common national myths. […] Judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths. […]

Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

The myth of self-defense partly agrees with Harari’s line of thought. It is indeed a story that allows people to develop a large-scale cooperation towards a common goal: the establishment of a peaceful world by eliminating the (so-called) potential sources of violence. What Harari misses, however, is that myths are not merely interchangeable products of collective fiction which create new “imagined” realities, but that they are also interpretations of an already existing reality. As such, myths can be wrong, deceptive and mendacious.

The introductory story of this article already points this out. Regina and her friends justify their own behavior against June by believing the myth of their collective imagination: “June is a slut and we have to defend the group atmosphere by excluding her.” Although this kind of gossip tightens the bonds between Regina and her friends, it also turns out to perpetuate some blatant lies and unacknowledged desires: June is not the slutty girl she is accused of being, and as Regina fancies June’s boyfriend Lysander she is more like June than she likes to admit.

It is striking that Harari presents gossip as a means to provide “reliable information” about other people. It is even more striking that he separates myths – “imagined realities” – from lies (p. 35):

“An imagined reality is not a lie. […]

Unlike lying, an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.

Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, Sapiens have thus been living in a dual reality. On the one hand, the objective reality of rivers, trees and lions; and on the other hand, the imagined reality of gods, nations and corporations.”

René Girard is heir to a tradition that tries to understand the human mind, and its imaginative and rational powers, from within the context of the fears and the desires of the human animal. Our imagination, whether individual or collective, is often a distorted reflection of those dynamics, not just an innocent expression thereof.

Girard more generally understands myths as stories that cover up the complete picture of violent situations. Myths allow people to deny their own responsibility for violence. Hence, for instance, managers can say “it is the economic reality which forces the company to fire half of the employees.” The economic reality is, of course, a myth or – in the words of Harari – “an imagined reality”. From Girard’s point of view, Harari’s story about myths as mere products of collective imagination is itself a myth: his story once again obscures the violent reality (or, better still, the “violence against reality”) behind the cultural imagination.

In the case of the introductory story of this article, Gretchen’s final assessment of June could still be dishonestly presented as “a matter of opinion” equally valid to Eve’s and Regina’s assessment. In the context of, say, the Oedipus myth, it is unequivocally clear that the mythical interpretation of reality does contain lies.

Myths are, apart from fictions, also lies about reality that people believe in, used to justify sacrificial violence.

The Oedipus myth presents the plague in Thebes as the consequence of the behavior of Oedipus. The citizens of Thebes believe that they are violently punished with the plague by disgruntled gods because they tolerate Oedipus as their king – a man who killed his father and married his mother. They as well as Oedipus also believe that the plague will end if Oedipus is expelled from the city.

Just like other myths, the Oedipus myth deceptively deals with the reality of violence. There is no causal relationship between killing your father and marrying your mother on the one hand, and the eruption of the plague on the other. There also is no causal relationship between the expulsion of Oedipus and the potential ending of the plague. In reality Oedipus is a scapegoat, wrongfully held responsible for a disorder and an order he is not responsible for. Nevertheless, the community of Thebes justifies the sacrifice of Oedipus as a divine commandment to finish off the disaster of the plague. The violence of the plague is interpreted as a divine punishment.

In short, the Oedipus myth reveals the two faces of the sacred in archaic religious communities. On the one hand, everything that is considered sacred is taboo because it is associated with potentially uncontrollable chaotic violence. On the other hand, if the sacred is made present in a controlled, structured way through ritual, it is believed to have beneficial peaceful outcomes. Hence destructive epidemic violence is taboo, while the violence of ritual sacrifice is allowed. The latter is the vaccine of controlled violence that should defend communities from the wildfire of violent disasters.

It is no coincidence that Oedipus pays for the wrath of the gods. After all, he is perceived as an embodiment of violence whose presence threatens the stability within the community. He did not honor the hierarchical position of the king. He violated the taboo against killing the king in an unlawful way. He also violated the taboo against desiring the wife of another. Moreover, he violated the taboo against sexuality in a ritually inappropriate way by unlawfully marrying his mother. By violating these sacred taboos, however unwittingly, Oedipus is perceived as having unleashed the violent wrath of the gods and as someone who needs to be sacrificed.

The justification of sacrificial violence is an essential component of mythic storytelling, which is not just “a figment of the imagination” but a deceptive interpretation of reality. The gossip of Regina and her friends reflects a deceptive understanding of themselves and June, which is used to justify the expulsion of June. The fighting child and his playmate have a deceptive understanding of themselves and each other, which is at work in their attempts to expel each other. The religious myth of Al-Qaeda reflects a deceptive understanding of itself and the US, which is used to justify the suicide of its members and the killing of US citizens on 9/11. The nationalist myth of the US reflects a deceptive understanding of itself and wrongfully accuses the former Iraqi regime of having weapons of mass destruction, which is used in 2003 to justify the destruction of that regime. The myth of a so-called inevitable economic reality is used to justify social and ecological sacrifices. The religious myth of the Theban community reflects a deceptive understanding of natural disasters, which is used to justify the expulsion of Oedipus. And so on. The list of stories that represent the deceptive myth of redemptive sacrificial violence is endless.

And yet Yuval Harari separates myths from lies and barely mentions sacrifice in his exploration of the religious and cultural imagination. He refers to sacrifice explicitly only twice. René Girard, on the other hand, remains much closer to today’s common parlance about myth as a story that is basically not true. His mimetic theory explains how our religious and cultural imaginations continue to develop from mimetic origins which are easily misjudged and which lead to the justification of sacrificial institutions.

It is not difficult to imagine how distorted perceptions of mimetic mechanisms underly the mythical imagination of the human animal, from the very beginning until now. Already in early human communities, mimetic rivalry over food, women, social status, power or territory could easily escalate until one of the fighting parties was overwhelmed by a group of opposing allies.

The transformation of a chaotic fight of “all against all” into an orderly unity of “all against one” has an astounding restorative effect, which is not only observable in bands of fellow humans but also in our ape cousins.

As illustrated earlier by the fight between a child and his playmate over a toy, mimetic doubles tend to blame their rival for the violence they experience. When one rival overcomes his enemy by banding together with some allies, his sense of responsibility for the violence will disappear even more. After all, humans feel less personally responsible when they are part of a group whose members imitate each other.

Hence, the phenomenon of victim blaming must have occurred regularly in early human communities as the result of restorative group violence. The rival who becomes the victim of collective deadly violence is perceived as the troublemaker. As long as he was alive, the community experienced violence. After killing him, the community experiences a renewed peace.

Instead of acknowledging its own share in the violence, the community will consider its victim as the exclusive cause of the violence, according to the two mechanisms described above. At the same time, the victim is perceived as the one who restores order in his presence as a dead creature. In other words, the victim is a scapegoat. He is exclusively held responsible for a disorder and an order he is not exclusively responsible for. He is at once villain and hero, horrifying monster and admirable savior (“mysterium tremendum et fascinans”).

On the basis of that deceitful scapegoat mechanism, violence and its victim get an ambiguous meaning. An outbreak of violence is perceived as a return of the “troublemaker” in the community. However, that victim is not visible anymore (in reality, he is dead). Nevertheless, violence more and more becomes associated with those kinds of “invisible persons” – later called ghosts, gods or forces.

Gradually, human communities will consider sacred everything they associate with violence. Insofar as sacred phenomena are associated with destructive violence resulting in disorder, they are taboo. On the other hand, insofar as sacred phenomena are associated with order, ritual allows for a controlled violation of taboos.

René Girard accurately characterizes myths as representing the taboos and the deceptive idea of “redemptive violence” by which communities maintain themselves. Myths are essentially stories that make a distinction between so-called “good” and “bad” violence in any given community.

The so-called good violence of ritual sacrifice is presented as a necessary, often sacred demand that preserves the taboo on uncontrollable violence (of sacred wrath). In terms of the introductory story, the “ritual” expulsion of June is deemed necessary to preserve the peaceful atmosphere within Regina’s group of friends. In terms of the Oedipus myth, the “ritual” expulsion of Oedipus is deemed a necessary divine commandment to restore peace and order. What these myths obscure, time and again, is the community’s own responsibility for violence. In this sense, the cultural order, in whatever guise it appears, continues to imitate the lie concerning the first victims of collective violence: every sacrificial expulsion that is justified by a myth of redemptive violence is actually a “re-presentation” of the scapegoat mechanism at the origin of human culture.

Some stories, however, challenge the ever-present myth of redemptive violence in the world of the human animal. The Gospel in particular tells the story of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who consciously runs the risk of being sacrificed. After all, he constantly sides with the ones who are sacrificed (expelled or eliminated) on the basis of the myths of redemptive violence by their respective communities. This makes him suspect. Jesus is subversive to the extent that he reveals the lies behind every sacrificial structure. He thus challenges the core of the cultural order, as that order relies on sacrifice time and again.

Jesus of Nazareth calls people to love the external enemy of their particular groups and thus creates animosity in one’s own “household”. In this sense, he brings an end to the violent peace of the sacrificial order and creates the peace of non-violent conflict – internal debates, for instance.

To come back to the introductory story, Gretchen is a type of Jesus. She reveals that June is not that different from Regina. She reveals that June is not the monster she is called out to be. She reveals the sameness between June and Regina, which is a scandal in the context of the myth about June that Regina tries to defend.

The outcome of this revelation is not sure. Regina and Eve might restore their sacrificial order by expelling Gretchen as well, or they eventually might have a conversion and acknowledge the sameness between themselves and their former enemies.

The latter choice, acknowledging that sameness, paradoxically creates the possibility of accepting the other as other… and not just as a figment of one’s own imagination. 

P.S. Find highly recommended further reading here (pdf): Evolution and Conversion, by René Girard.

Evolution and Conversion (René Girard)

The Power of Myth (Joseph Campbell vs René Girard)

 

Joseph Campbell, a well-known scholar in the field of comparative mythology, became quite famous when his works inspired film director George Lucas to create the Star Wars saga (click here for more on this). Shortly before his death in 1987, Campbell was interviewed by Bill Moyers at Skywalker Ranch (home of Lucas, indeed). These conversations served as the basis for a six part PBS documentary series, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. The series was originally broadcast on television in 1988. It remains one of the most popular documentary series in the history of American public television.

This article will summarize Campbell’s main ideas by taking a closer look at Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Each episode is made available below, with Dutch subtitles (thanks to an anonymous translator). At the same time this article will highlight the main parallells next to some striking differences between Joseph Campbell’s analysis of myth and the analysis of René Girard.

Episode 1: The Hero’s Adventure (first broadcast June 21, 1988 on PBS)

Joseph Campbell mainly considers myths as “metaphors for the experience of life”.  Myths symbolically describe fundamental experiences everyone has to deal with, especially the so-called “hero myths”. They recount “the hero’s journey”, which is a universal pattern visible in a myriad of situations.

Hero myths are expressions of external (physical) and/or internal (psychological) struggles. They represent a transition in one’s identity. Faced with new challenges, the hero leaves home to undergo a series of ordeals, in the process sacrificing his old identity. As the hero learns some lessons from the ordeals, he gradually adopts a new identity until he finally returns home with his treasure (of new experiences) and the ability to renew his world order. Thus hero myths can also be considered as “death and resurrection” stories. In these myths self-sacrifice is a morally justified necessity to achieve a new, more fulfilling life.

One example of a hero’s journey in life is being a student. Students are exempt from regular society life. They are granted time and space to undergo a series of tests while entering their respective fields of inquiry (unknown worlds to them, at first). As they go along, students achieve certain skills and knowledge until they finally adopt a new, more mature identity. This allows them to take up some kind of responsibility in their society. In other words, the student dies to his adolescent self and, returning to society, resurrects as a more fully equipped adult.

All of the above in the words of the man himself:

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: There is a certain typical hero sequence of actions, which can be detected in stories from all over the world, and from many, many periods of history. And I think it’s essentially, you might say, the one deed done by many, many different people.

There are two types of deed. One is the physical deed; the hero who has performed a war act or a physical act of heroism. Saving a life, that’s a hero act. Giving himself, sacrificing himself to another. And the other kind is the spiritual hero, who has learned or found a mode of experiencing the supernormal range of human spiritual life, and has then come back and communicated it. It’s a cycle. It’s a going and a return that the hero cycle represents.

This can be seen also in the simple initiation ritual, where a child has to give up his childhood and become an adult, has to die, you might say, to his infantile personality and psyche and come back as a self-responsible adult. It’s a fundamental experience that everyone has to undergo. We’re in our childhood for at least 14 years, and to get out of that posture of dependency, psychological dependency, into one of psychological self-responsibility, requires a death and resurrection. And that is the basic motif of the hero journey, leaving one condition, finding the source of life to bring you forth in a richer or more mature or other condition.

Otto Rank, in his wonderful, very short book called The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, says that everyone is a hero in his birth. He has undergone a tremendous transformation from a little, you might say, water creature. Living in a realm of the amniotic fluid and so forth, then coming out, becoming an air-breathing mammal that ultimately will be self-standing and so forth, is an enormous transformation and it is a heroic act. And it’s a heroic act on the mother’s part to bring it about. It’s the primary hero form, you might say.

Heroes and their myths function as models for our own way of life. They inspire us to imitate their behavior and deeds. Joseph Campbell, when asked about the potential of movies to provide new hero myths, opens up about some of his own role models:

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: I had a hero figure who meant something to me, and he served as a kind of model for myself in my physical character, and that was Douglas Fairbanks. I wanted to be a synthesis of Douglas Fairbanks and Leonardo da Vinci, that was my idea. But those were models, were roles, that came to me.

Campbell seems to acknowledge the importance of role models and mimesis, but he also insists on the hero being a true outsider, a maverick, someone who goes against the grain (important observations, especially relevant to René Girard’s mimetic theory – see below). Not surprisingly, Campbell considers the hero myth mainly to be a metaphor for an inner, psychological struggle that liberates us from a life in service of an often alienating social system. A contradiction seems to arise when he also considers initiation rituals as typical examples of the hero’s journey (see above). Indeed, through initiation rituals adolescents learn to acquire an identity that will sustain the social order of their community, sacrificing whatever inner or outer obstacle in the process.

At some point in the conversation with Bill Moyers, Campbell compares the hero Siegfried (a figure from Norse and German mythology) to the villain Darth Vader (a figure from the Star Wars mythology). What Campbell apparently fails to notice, is the unchanged sacrificial nature of both stories. Although Siegfried is used, in contrast to Darth Vader, as an example of someone who refuses to submit himself to a human world in the service of a technocratic system, he does submit himself to the powers of nature (the natural system or order).

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: The first stage in the hero adventure, when he starts off on the adventure, is leaving the realm of light, which he controls and knows about, and moving toward the threshold. And it’s at the threshold that the monster of the abyss comes to meet him. And then there are two or three results: one, the hero is cut to pieces and descends into the abyss in fragments, to be resurrected; or he may kill the dragon power, as Siegfried does when he kills the dragon. But then he tastes the dragon blood, that is to say, he has to assimilate that power. And when Siegfried has killed the dragon and tasted the blood, he hears the song of nature; he has transcended his humanity, you know, and reassociated himself with the powers of nature, which are the powers of our life, from which our mind removes us.

You see, this thing up here, this consciousness, thinks it’s running the shop. It’s a secondary organ; it’s a secondary organ of a total human being, and it must not put itself in control. It must submit and serve the humanity of the body.

When it does put itself in control, you get this [Darth] Vader, the man who’s gone over to the intellectual side.

[Darth Vader] isn’t thinking or living in terms of humanity, he’s living in terms of a system. And this is the threat to our lives; we all face it, we all operate in our society in relation to a system. Now, is the system going to eat you up and relieve you of your humanity, or are you going to be able to use the system to human purposes?

Siegfried sacrifices whatever gets in the way of acquiring a new, higher identity in correspondence with the forces of nature, while Darth Vader sacrifices whatever gets in the way of acquiring a new, higher identity in correspondence with the forces of technology. Campbell prefers one order or system over the other. From René Girard’s viewpoint, however, both systems (and the heroes who sustain them) are essentially the same. They imitate each other’s behavior and thereby resemble each other more and more. Both Siegfried’s and Darth Vader’s identity exist at the expense of sacrifice. Siegfried is the representative of a cultural identity that places technology in the service of nature, whereas Darth Vader is the representative of a cultural identity that places nature in the service of technology. In the real world, the advocates of those cultural identities rival each other, imitating each other’s sacrificial behavior: they become mimetic doubles.

Moreover, both Siegfried and Darth Vader are loners or “chosen ones” who are willing to perform sacrifices or sacrifice themselves to establish a certain order. As such, they paradoxically become cultural role models whose acts of (self-)sacrifice will be imitated and repeated in order to preserve, renew or save the social order that lives by their respective stories. In the words of the conversation between Moyers and Campbell:

BILL MOYERS: Unlike the classical heroes, we’re not going on our journey to save the world, but to save ourselves.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: And in doing that, you save the world. I mean, you do. The influence of a vital person vitalizes, there’s no doubt about it. The world is a wasteland. People have the notion of saving the world by shifting it around and changing the rules and so forth. No, any world is a living world if it’s alive, and the thing is to bring it to life. And the way to bring it to life is to find in your own case where your life is, and be alive yourself, it seems to me.

According to Joseph Campbell, if you save yourself you save the world. In other words, we are part of a bigger whole and we should acknowledge and accept that. Moreover, eventually it’s the whole that counts. Campbell is very holistic and nature-oriented in his thoughts, even to the point where nature becomes something sacred, permeated by a larger consciousness. Again, from the conversation between Moyers and Campbell:

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Jean and I are living in Hawaii, and we’re living right by the ocean. And we have a little lanai, a little porch, and there’s a coconut tree that grows up through the porch and it goes on up. And there’s a kind of vine, plant, big powerful thing with leaves like this, that has grown up the coconut tree. Now, that plant sends forth little feelers to go out and clutch the plant, and it knows where the plant is and what to do– where the tree is, and it grows up like this, and it opens a leaf, and that leaf immediately turns to where the sun is. Now, you can’t tell me that leaf doesn’t know where the sun is going to be. All of the leaves go just like that, what’s called heliotropism, turning toward where the sun is. That’s a form of consciousness. There is a plant consciousness, there is an animal consciousness. We share all of these things. You eat certain foods, and the bile knows whether there’s something there for it to go to work on. I mean, the whole thing is consciousness. I begin to feel more and more that the whole world is conscious; certainly the vegetable world is conscious, and when you live in the woods, as I did as a kid, you can see all these different consciousnesses relating to themselves.

BILL MOYERS: Scientists are beginning to talk quite openly about the Gaia principle.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: There you are, the whole planet as an organism.

BILL MOYERS: Mother Earth.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: And you see, if you will think of ourselves as coming out of the earth, rather than as being thrown in here from somewhere else, you know, thrown out of the earth, we are the earth, we are the consciousness of the earth. These are the eyes of the earth, and this is the voice of the earth. What else?

 

Episode 2: The Message of the Myth (first broadcast June 22, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 3: The First Storytellers (first broadcast June 23, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 4: Sacrifice and Bliss (first broadcast June 24, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 5: Love and the Goddess (first broadcast June 25, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Episode 6: Masks of Eternity (first broadcast June 26, 1988 on PBS)

[TO BE CONTINUED]

The Gospel in Star Wars

1. The Myth of the Hero’s Journey in Star Wars

Much has been written about the mythological nature of the Star Wars movie saga. Indeed its creator, George Lucas, is heavily influenced by the writings of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell even became a mentor to Lucas, helping him to create this new mythology for the blockbuster and pop culture audience. Bill Moyers interviewed Lucas about the mythology of Star Wars:

Joseph Campbell became famous for his concept of “the hero’s journey”, one of the main patterns inJoseph Campbell George Lucas Meme mythology, observable in stories throughout the world and recaptured by George Lucas. An exhibition on Star Wars at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney focused on this theme. Here is some explanation from the teachers notes to this exhibition (click here – pdf):

Joseph Campbell, one of the world’s foremost students and scholars of mythology, studied thousands of myths from around the world and discovered that the majority of them shared many common characteristics. In fact, he saw all the stories as variations of one overall tale, which he named the ‘monomyth’. The subject of the hero is no exception. While the heroes of various cultures may be defined as heroic for different reasons, nearly each one fits the stages of the hero journey as developed by Campbell.

According to Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949:245–246) we can summarize the hero’s journey into three main stages.

Departure

‘The mythological hero, setting forth from his common day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion).’

The Hero's Journey 1Initiation

‘Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again — if the powers have remained unfriendly to him — his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom).’

The Hero's Journey 3Return

‘The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir).’

The Hero's Journey 5Other researchers and scholars have made similar observations regarding this universal mythological and archaic cultural pattern. The pinnacle of the initiation stage is always the “death and rebirth” or, in other words, the “sacrifice and resurrection” of the hero (or heroine). According to Campbell and others, the hero “has to die to his old self” through a supreme (series of) ordeal(s) and return as someone who has the skills to renew life, prosperity, order and peace for his community. It is no coincidence that initiation rituals take the same pattern. In short, archaic cultures defend the idea that a sacrifice (of a hero or his enemy, of a beast or a monster) is necessary to save communities from potentially or ongoing destructive crises. Already James Frazer in his classic study The Golden Bough (click here – pdf) described the necessity of periodic sacrifices as an essential belief underlying myths and rituals throughout the world. The creatures that are sacrificed or sacrifice themselves turn out to be somewhat ambiguous: sometimes they are presented as “bad” as they are considered responsible for all kinds of evil; sometimes they are presented as “good” as their death will save the community; often they are presented as both bad (“monsters” while alive) and good (“saviors” when dead or cast out).

Together with scholars like Frazer, René Girard observes that the above mentioned mythological pattern shows up in the Hebrew Bible and in the Gospels as well, especially in the story of Jesus Christ’s Passion. However, unlike Frazer, Campbell and the like, Girard does not believe that the story of Christ’s Passion is “just one more myth”. The structural pattern might be the same, but the content of this story’s message is very different. The Gospels do not justify the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth. They show how this victim is innocent of the charges put against it. They reveal Jesus as a scapegoat in the way this word is understood nowadays: as someone who is accused of things he is not responsible for. Eventually, the Gospels thus fundamentally question the necessity of violence to build peace and order. From the perspective of the Gospels, there is no “good” vs. “bad” violence, nor “justified” vs. “unjustified” sacrifices. Violence in itself is considered “evil”, even “satanic”.

In light of these considerations, it is interesting to once again take a look at Star Wars and ask the question whether this saga is purely mythical or if it also contains some of the criticisms on myth by the Gospels. As it turns out, Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, seems the key to answer this question.

2. The Tragedy of a Violent Cycle in Star Wars & The Gospel’s Alternative

The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament reveal a cycle of events that shows up again and again in the history of mankind. In a first stage, on a psychological level, humans always reinforce each other’s anxious desire and greed for things like prestige, riches, honor and power. From this comes competition, rivalry and violence, resulting in a second stage: a social crisis. The third stage, the political solution to this crisis, is usually found in the expulsion or destruction of a common enemy or victim – an individual or a group –, which restores order, peace and unity within a human community. The leaders of the newly found order justify that sacrifice as well as their own leadership by presenting the sacrificed victims as creatures who had to die in order to prevent further disorder. The recollection of this sacrifice results in a fourth, cultural stage: (sacrificial) rituals and mythological stories gratefully reenact or retell the events that kept (and still keep) the community together, while all sorts of taboos remind the community of the dangers of certain objects and actions associated with crisis situations. Of course this whole cycle of events starts again when a mutually reinforced desire for things like power resurfaces: as those in power increasingly fear they might lose their status, they more anxiously will hold on to it, thus making their status more desirable for others and thus (tragically and ironically) reinforcing the rivalry they wanted to prevent…

The principle of disorder coming from a rivalry based on mutually reinforced desires for things like power, as well as the principle of order coming from the elimination of those who are presented as mainly responsible for that disorder, is personified as “Satan” in the Gospels. Satan is the “prince of this world”, the personification of the murders and the lies people in power use to solidify and justify their position. “The kings of this world” indeed often refer to all kinds of possible threats in order to present themselves as “saviors” of their community, providing safety and security. The tragic and ironic truth, of course, is that they can only secure their own position for as long as their citizens don’t feel safe but fear those possible threats.

Palpatine and Julius CaesarThe Star Wars saga reveals the satanic cycle in its own way. Senator Palpatine is the politician who takes advantage of political and social turmoil in the Galactic Republic to eventually gain absolute power. He first becomes Chancellor and then, finally, Emperor of the newly found Galactic Empire. In this respect Star Wars is reminiscent of what happened to the Roman Empire with the arrival of Julius Caesar. Both Senator Palpatine and Julius Caesar were given extended rule and power for the sake of the safety of their respective Republic, in the midst of civil wars. However, they both stayed in their position much longer than they were supposed to be, their dictatorship eventually destroying the democracy they were supposed to protect. Moreover, they both were involved in the wars that threatened the stability of their Republic. Senator Palpatine even secretly organized the political turmoil and he provoked the wars in the Galactic Republic. That way he could present himself as the “savior” who was desperately needed. This trick was also used by Syrian dictator Assad (and other dictators in the Middle East, for that matter) when he released Islamist extremists from prison so they could join the rebels who fought against his rule – watch the following clip from 00:50-01:04:

“Extremists from Syria and around the region start traveling to join the rebels. Assad actually encourages this by releasing Jihadist extremists to tinge the rebellion with extremism, make it harder for foreigners to back them.”

Palpatine is able to sell the illusion that he is the one who can bring peace to the Galaxy. Of course he will, ironically, violently suppress every possible “enemy” or threat, thereby feeding the rebellion he is trying to prevent. Once hailed as a savior Palpatine becomes the evil Emperor who needs to be sacrificed himself.

In short, in Star Wars the first stage of the satanic cycle is represented in Palpatine’s reinforced desire for power. This eventually results in the social crisis of the second stage. Then comes the third stage of provisional peace, based on the sacrifice of Palpatine’s and his Empire’s so-called enemies. The cultural order of the fourth stage is only briefly kept. Palpatine’s position almost immediately becomes the object of the ambitions and desires of others.

Palpatine turns out to be Darth Sidious, a Sith Lord. The so-called “evil” order of the Sith is the age-old enemy of the so-called “good” order of the Jedi-knights. However, as Episode III of the Star Wars saga makes clear, the line between good and evil cannot be so easily drawn.

Anakin Skywalker is a young Jedi apprentice who gradually becomes a puppet of the seemingly inevitable “satanic” cycle of events. In a first psychological stage Anakin becomes the victim of fear (of rejection), jealousy, pride, anger, hate and greed. In other words, he suffers from those characteristics which the Christian tradition has identified as “cardinal sins”. Master Yoda, head of the Jedi Council, warns Anakin against the dark forces of fear (from script number 77):

YODA: Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.

ANAKIN: I won’t let these visions come true, Master Yoda.

YODA: Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.

ANAKIN: What must I do, Master Yoda?

YODA: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.

Of course this is rather a Buddhist way of handling things (as, in Buddhism, attachment is seen as the source of suffering and “nirvana” is the state of bliss where one is free of suffering and therefore of attachments). But Yoda’s warning against jealousy also refers to the story of Cain and Abel, where Cain gets an advice from “the Lord” when Cain becomes jealous of his brother Abel (Genesis 4:6-7):

The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Cain, feeling rejected, nevertheless ends up killing his brother. The warnings of Yoda too go in vain. Anakin rather takes advice of Chancellor Palpatine, “Darth Sidious”, who – like the (“hidious, hissing”) snake in the Genesis story of the Fall – feeds Anakin’s feelings of jealousy, greed and resentment (from script number 88 & 118):

ANAKIN: You wanted to see me, Chancellor.

PALPATINE: Yes, Anakin! Come closer. I have good news. Our Clone Intelligence Units have discovered the location of General Grievous. He is hiding in the Utapau system.

ANAKIN: At last, we’ll be able to capture that monster and end this war.

PALPATINE: I would worry about the collective wisdom of the Council if they didn’t select you for this assignment. You are the best choice by far… but, they can’t always be trusted to do the right thing.

* * *

ANAKIN: Chancellor, we have just received a report from Master Kenobi. He has engaged General Grievous.

PALPATINE: We can only hope that Master Kenobi is up to the challenge.

ANAKIN: I should be there with him.

PALPATINE: It is upsetting to me to see that the Council doesn’t seem to fully appreciate your talents. Don’t you wonder why they won’t make you a Jedi Master?

ANAKIN: I wish I knew. More and more I get the feeling that I am being excluded from the Council. I know there are things about the Force that they are not telling me.

PALPATINE: They don’t trust you, Anakin. They see your future. They know your power will be too strong to control. Anakin, you must break through the fog of lies the Jedi have created around you. Let me help you to know the subtleties of the Force.

Cain and AbelIn the end, Anakin, like Cain, also wants to kill his “brother”, his mentor Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (from script number 214):

ANAKIN: This is the end for you, My Master. I wish it were otherwise.

ANAKIN jumps and flips onto OBI-WAN’s platform. The fighting continues again until OBI-WAN jumps toward the safety of the black sandy edge of the lava river. He yells at Anakin.

OBI-WAN: It’s over, Anakin. I have the high ground.

ANAKIN: You underestimate my power!

OBI-WAN: Don’t try it.

ANAKIN follows, and OBI-WAN cuts his young apprentice at the knees, then cuts off his left arm in the blink of an eye. ANAKIN tumbles down the embankment and rolls to a stop near the edge of the lava.

ANAKIN struggles to pull himself up the embankment with his mechanical hand. His thin leather glove has been burned off. He keeps sliding down in the black sand.
OBI-WAN: (continuing)… You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would, destroy the Sith, not join them. It was you who would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in Darkness.

OBI-WAN picks up Anakin’s light saber and begins to walk away. He stops and looks back.

ANAKIN: I hate you!

OBI-WAN: You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.

At this point in the story, Anakin is already involved in the second and third stage of the satanic cycle. He is convinced that the crisis in the Galactic Republic can only be stopped by sacrificing the Jedi and by establishing the rule of the Sith. Moreover, he believes that the power of the Sith will save the life of his wife Padme (but he will tragically accomplish the opposite).

In any case, Anakin is willing to believe Palpatine, who portrays the Jedi as a threat to the survival of the Republic. After being named “Darth Vader” while receiving his new identity as Sith Lord, Anakin is prepared to sacrifice the Jedi in order to prevent further “civil war” and establish “peace” (from script number 88 & 130):

PALPATINE: You must sense what I have come to suspect … the Jedi Council want control of the Republic… they’re planning to betray me.

ANAKIN: I don’t think…

PALPATINE: Anakin, search your feelings. You know, don’t you?

ANAKIN: I know they don’t trust you…

PALPATINE: Or the Senate… or the Republic… or democracy for that matter.

ANAKIN: I have to admit my trust in them has been shaken.

PALPATINE: Why? They asked you to do something that made you feel dishonest, didn’t they?

ANAKIN doesn’t say anything. He simply looks down.

PALPATINE: (continuing) They asked you to spy on me, didn’t they?

ANAKIN: I don’t know… I don’t know what to say.

PALPATINE: Remember back to your early teachings. Anakin. “All those who gain power are afraid to lose it.” Even the Jedi.

* * *

PALPATINE: Every single Jedi, including your friend Obi-Wan Kenobi, is now an enemy of the Republic. You understand that, don’t you?

ANAKIN: I understand, Master.

PALPATINE: We must move quickly. The Jedi are relentless; if they are not all destroyed, it will be civil war without end. First, I want you to go to the Jedi Temple. We will catch them off balance. Do what must be done, Lord Vader. Do not hesitate. Show no mercy. Only then will you be strong enough with the dark side to save Padme.

ANAKIN: What about the other Jedi spread across the galaxy?

PALPATINE: Their betrayal will be dealt with. After you have killed all the Jedi in the Temple, go to the Mustafar system. Wipe out Viceroy Gunray and the other Separatist leaders. Once more, the Sith will rule the galaxy, and we shall have peace.

The reasons given by Darth Sidious (Palpatine) and Darth Vader (Anakin) to justify the murder of the Jedi are the exact same reasons given by the chief priests and the Pharisees in the Gospels to justify the murder of Jesus.

Jesus accuses the Jewish leaders of obeying “the devil”. In the Gospel of John, the devil clearly is a personification of the scapegoat mechanism. Jesus knows that the leaders of the Jewish people, the Pharisees and the chief priests, want him dead and that they try to justify his death with certain lies. They obey “the devil” – indeed the mechanism that justifies the elimination of people based on lies. [Note that Jesus does not believe that God wants him dead. If Jesus paradoxically sacrifices himself eventually, it is a consequence of his obedience to a Love that “desires mercy, not sacrifice”. He does not want to live at the expense of others, not even his “enemies”…]

John 8: 39-44

“If you, Pharisees, were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”

“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

The Pharisees and chief priests are afraid that the growing popularity of Jesus might become a threat to their power. That’s why they try to present him as a rebel leader who could lead an uprising against the Roman occupier of Judea. A war with the Romans would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture. Therefore the Jewish leaders see no other solution than to get rid of Jesus. It’s their way of justifying his elimination.

John 11: 45-50

Many of the Jews who had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

In the case of Jesus, the Gospel of John leaves no doubt that these allegations are false. The Evangelist lets Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect, unwittingly declare “the truth” about the arrested Jesus, namely that Jesus is innocent. Jesus does not wish to establish a “kingdom” or “peace” in competition with “the kings of this world” (whose kingdoms are based on sacrifices and the expulsion of certain people – like the “Pax Romana”). In other words, the Gospel of John reveals the plot against Jesus by the Pharisees and the chief priests as a scapegoat mechanism: Jesus is wrongfully accused. He refuses to start a civil war that would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture.

John 18: 33-38

Pilate summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri c. 1880“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

Although both the killing of Jesus and the Jedi is justified by the potential danger they supposedly carry with them, there is a crucial difference between the attitude of Jesus and the attitude of the Jedi regarding the charges put against them. Jesus indeed is not drawn into a rivalry with “the kings of this world”, while the Jedi see no other option but to fight “the kings of their world”, the Sith.

In the competition to become rulers of the Galaxy, the Sith and the Jedi imitate each other more and more. As they try to distinguish themselves from each other, they tragically establish the opposite: they become, in the words of René Girard, “mimetic doubles” in a crisis of undifferentiation. At the height of the crisis, the Jedi are convinced that they should temporarily abandon normal democratic rules and replace so-called “corrupted” Senators in order to achieve peace. That’s exactly what Palpatine did earlier when he became a Chancellor with extended power! Moreover, the Jedi justify their politics of excluding “the betrayers” by referring to a potential plot against their order – once again, this is exactly the same as when Palpatine referred to a potential plot against the Senate to justify the eradication of the Jedi. Yoda senses the danger of this situation, as if he realizes that eventually there is no difference between so-called “good” and “bad” violence (from script number 117):

MACE WINDU: I sense a plot to destroy the Jedi. The dark side of the Force surrounds the Chancellor.

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: If he does not give up his emergency powers after the destruction of Grievous, then he should be removed from office.

MACE WINDU: That could be a dangerous move… the Jedi Council would have to take control of the Senate in order to secure a peaceful transition…

Kl-ADI-MUNDI: … and replace the Congress with Senators who are not filled with greed and corruption.

YODA: To a dark place this line of thought will carry us. Hmm… great care we must take.

From this perspective, maybe the greatest wisdom in Episode III comes from Palpatine, Darth Sidious (from script number 88):

PALPATINE: Remember back to your early teachings. Anakin. “All those who gain power are afraid to lose it.” Even the Jedi.

ANAKIN: The Jedi use their power for good.

PALPATINE: Good is a point of view, Anakin. And the Jedi point of view is not the only valid one. The Dark Lords of the Sith believe in security and justice also, yet they are considered by the Jedi to be…

ANAKIN: … evil.

PALPATINE: … from a Jedi’s point of view. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power. The difference between the two is the Sith are not afraid of the dark side of the Force. That is why they are more powerful.

ANAKIN: The Sith rely on their passion for their strength. They think inward, only about themselves.

PALPATINE: And the Jedi don’t?

ANAKIN: The Jedi are selfless … they only care about others.

PALPATINE smiles.

PALPATINE: Or so you’ve been trained to believe. Why is it, then, that they have asked you to do something you feel is wrong?

ANAKIN: I’m not sure it’s wrong.

PALPATINE: Have they asked you to betray the Jedi code? The Constitution? A friendship? Your own values? Think. Consider their motives. Keep your mind clear of assumptions. The fear of losing power is a weakness of both the Jedi and the Sith.

It is no surprise then that both sides use violence: Jedi Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi are killing clones while Anakin – now Darth Vader – is killing the separatists.

In the final battle of Episode III between Anakin and his former mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin once again reveals the insight into the state of undifferentiation between mimetic doubles like the Sith and the Jedi. Both Obi-Wan and Anakin feel the other “is lost” and has to die (from script number 214):

OBI-WAN: I have failed you, Anakin. I was never able to teach you to think.

ANAKIN and OBI-WAN confront each other on the lava river.

ANAKIN: I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over…

OBI-WAN: From the Sith! Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil.

ANAKIN: From the Jedi point of view! From my point of view, the Jedi are evil.

OBI-WAN: Well, then you are lost!

ANAKIN: This is the end for you, my Master. I wish it were otherwise.

If these words of Anakin were applied to the Star Wars saga as a whole, with the Sith portrayed as “the good guys”, the Episodes would have had some mirroring titles, namely (by the way, the working title of The Return of the Jedi for a long time was The Revenge of the Jedi, indeed):

Episode I: A New Hope (as opposed to The Phantom Menace)
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Episode III: The Return of the Sith (as opposed to The Revenge of the Sith)
Episode IV: The Phantom Menace (as opposed to A New Hope)
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: The Revenge of the Jedi (as opposed to The Return of the Jedi)

Star Wars Prequel Trilogy PosterStar Wars Original Trilogy Poster

Perhaps the ultimate difference between the message of Star Wars and the message of the Gospels becomes clear by considering a story told by Palpatine (from script number 88):

PALPATINE: (continuing) Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis “the wise”?

ANAKIN: No.

PALPATINE: I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you. It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life… He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.

ANAKIN: He could actually save people from death?

PALPATINE: The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.

ANAKIN: What happened to him?

PALPATINE: He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. (smiles) Plagueis never saw it coming. It’s ironic he could save others from death, but not himself.

The last sentence of Palpatine’s story also refers to a passage in the Gospels, when Jesus is dangling on the cross and is sneered at by the rulers, for instance in Mark 15:31:

The chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked Jesus among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!”

sacrificial peaceBoth the Sith and the Jedi “save others” by “killing enemies” and “teaching others to become like them”, i.e. killers. Hence the Sith and the Jedi become rivals to both their enemies and their apprentices. This rivalry can only end in the death of one party, until the inevitable cycle of rivalry starts again. This is the meaning of Palpatine’s story. In the Star Wars Universe there has to be sacrifice, one way or the other, to create an ever provisional “peace”. In Episode VI, for instance, in the end either Luke Skywalker or Emperor Palpatine is killed. Darth Vader – Anakin Skywalker – eventually kills the Emperor to save his son. This means that Anakin Skywalker is “the One who brings balance to the Force” after all. He fulfilled his destiny. Moreover, by dying himself Darth-Vader-Anakin-Skywalker, the “evil one” while alive, becomes the “savior” of the Galaxy in the blink of an eye.

It seems that, by telling the story of Darth Plagueis, Palpatine prophesied his own tragic fate. Once again, in this way, the story of Palpatine refers to the history of Caesar, who was killed also by Brutus, his “son”. In the words of Jesus (Matthew 26:52): “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

Darth Vader vs. The EmperorAssassination of Julius Caesar by BrutusThe Gospels hold that there is another way. Throughout the Gospels it becomes clear that Jesus criticizes the universal tendency of human communities to structure themselves according to the identification of a common enemy or a common victim (be it an individual or a group). So on the one hand, concerning the group people are part of and that often manifests itself at the expense of a common enemy (for instance an adulteress who is about to be stoned – see John 8:1-11), it is no surprise that Jesus sows discord. It is no coincidence that he claims (Matthew 10:34-36):

I did not come to bring peace“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

This intention of Jesus, to create conflict where there is a certain order, is actually and paradoxically a plea against violence. Family members who slavishly obey a pater familias, tribe members who harmoniously feel superior to other groups, criminal gangs who blindly pledge allegiance to the mob boss, cult members and fundamentalist believers who are prepared to fight for their leader and their God till death, anxious employees who sell their soul to keep their job in a sick working environment, (youthful) cliques who strengthen their internal cohesion by bullying someone, whole nations who bow to the demands of a populist dictator and execute so-called “traitors” – Jesus doesn’t like it one bit.

Opposed to the small and big forms of “peace” based on oppression and violence, of which the Pax Romana in the time of Jesus is an obvious case of course, Jesus challenges people to build peace differently. Family members who belong to a “home” where they can have debates with each other, members of enemy tribes who end age old feuds by questioning their own perception of “the other tribe”, former criminals who start to behave like “moles” to clear their violent Mafia gang, fundamentalists who – realizing what they do to those who supposedly don’t belong to “the chosen ones” – liberate themselves from religious indoctrination, employees who address a reign of terror at their workplace, individuals who criticize the bullying of their own clique, pacifists who dare to dissent with the violent rule of a dictatorship and unveil its enemy images as grotesque caricatures – Jesus likes it. “Love your enemies”, Jesus says. Everyone who no longer condemns the external enemy of his own particular group because of a stirred up feeling of superiority, generates internal discord: “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” It’s only logical.

In short, Jesus argues in favor of non-violent conflict in order to end violent peace. That’s why he can say on the other hand, eventually (John 14:27):

Peace I leave with you“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”

Indeed Jesus saves others by calling their sacrifice or expulsion from the community into question. When he takes sides with a woman accused of adultery, who is about to be stoned, he does not want to get stoned himself, but he hopes that the community will show “mercy” and will not “sacrifice” (see Matthew 9:13).

Truman Atomic Bombing HiroshimaHowever, in consistently refusing to take part in a social system that constructs itself by means of sacrifices, Jesus is eventually sacrificed himself. Indeed, Jesus saved others, but he cannot save himself: if you stand up for the bullied, you run the risk of being bullied yourself, and you can only hope that others will show mercy as you yourself refuse to take part in sacrifice. When Jesus is arrested to be crucified, he refuses to start a civil war. He refuses to become the imitator of his persecutors, a “prince of this world”, a “Muammar Gaddafi” or even a “Harry Truman” (who considered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified). By withdrawing from vengeance (i.e. the imitation of his persecutors and the ones who betrayed him – his disciples), Jesus creates the possibility of a truly new world. Imitating the One who “offers the other cheek”, the One who forgives and approaches his persecutors and betrayers with compassion, indeed allows each and every one of us to accept and deal with our own and each other’s weaknesses and iniquities, without us being victimized or “crucified” for jumping to this occasion…

To conclude, both the Star Wars saga and the Gospels eventually reveal violence for what it is, with all its tendencies towards undifferentiation, but the Star Wars saga seems to consider this violence to be an inevitable, tragic part of the social make-up. In the end, according to the Star Wars saga, the world always needs some sort of “sacrifice” that allows for a new “order”, i.e. for new “differences” between a group and its common enemy, between “good” and “bad” violence. The Gospels, on the other hand, consider another possibility – the imitation of Christ. In the words of René Girard (from an interview on Dutch television in 1985 – click here):

René Girard portraitYou see, what the Bible tells you and no other religion tells you, is that sacrifice is so inborn in human beings, so important in human society, that you can refuse sacrifice only if you accept to die. Because the moment will come where rivalry, mimetic rivalry between your brother and you, will put you in a situation where either he kills you or you kill him. And I think Greek tragedy stops right there – it says: “Well, I have the right of self-defense. It is mine.” What I think the Bible does, is saying: “You have to go beyond that.”

Star Wars

In Memoriam: RIP René Girard (1923-2015)

From the Dominican Republic to Australia, from the United States of America to countries all over Europe, from Brazil to India and South Korea, from the left to the right in political quarters, from the world of science and the humanities, from believers and atheists alike, from media big (e.g. The New York Times) and small (e.g. Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant): René Girard received numerous accolades at his passing. To cite just a few examples, in honor of this “Darwin of the human sciences”:

René Girard portraitRené Girard was one of the leading thinkers of our era – a provocative sage who bypassed prevailing orthodoxies and “isms” to offer a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history and human destiny.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him “the new Darwin of the human sciences.” The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

International leaders read him, the French media quoted him. Girard influenced such writers as Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and Czech writer Milan Kundera – yet he never had the fashionable (and often fleeting) cachet enjoyed by his peers among the structuralists, poststructuralists, deconstructionists and other camps. His concerns were not trendy, but they were always timeless.

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Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

READ MORE: Patheos, November 4, 2015

Dans un communiqué, le président de la République, François Hollande, a salué la mémoire du philosophe et académicien français René Girard: «C’est un intellectuel exigeant et passionné, exégète à la curiosité sans limite, théoricien brillant et à l’esprit fondateur, enseignant et chercheur atypique aimant aller à contre-courant, René Girard était un homme libre et un humaniste dont l’œuvre marquera l’histoire de pensée», affirme le chef de l’Etat.

READ MORE: Le Figaro, November 5, 2015

Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (René Girard)Fondateur de la « théorie mimétique », ce franc-tireur de la scène intellectuelle avait bâti une œuvre originale, qui conjugue réflexion savante et prédication chrétienne. Ses livres, commentés aux quatre coins du monde, forment les étapes d’une vaste enquête sur le désir humain et sur la violence sacrificielle où toute société, selon Girard, trouve son origine inavouable.

READ MORE: Le Monde, November 5, 2015

Dès demain, vendredi 6 novembre, France Culture bouleverse ses programmes et rend hommage dans Les Matins au philosophe et académicien français, René Girard, « éminent théoricien surnommé « le nouveau Darwin des sciences humaines ».

Entretiens inédits, rediffusions d’interviews à partir du vendredi 6 novembre et tout au long de la semaine prochaine.

Réécoutez La Grande Table du 5 novembre : hommage à René Girard

Dossier spécial sur franceculture.fr :«Mort de l’anthropologue et philosophe René Girard»

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: France Culture, November 5, 2015

Quand, à 18 ans, Jean-Marc Bastière entre dans une librairie et tombe sur un livre de René Girard “des choses cachées  depuis la fondation du monde”, après quelques pages,  c’est comme si la foudre lui était tombé dessus. “Une révélation sur la nature humaine” nous dit-il, “une révélation sur l’humanité parce que je trouvais que ce qu’il disait, était limpide”. Chez Jean-Claude Guillebaud, ami de longue date de l’académicien, c’est un retour dans la religion qui l’a marqué: “je lui dois d’être revenu à la foi chrétienne. Je faisais partie de la génération des soixante-huitards , plus ou moins sécularisé comme beaucoup de jeunes de mon âge”. Progressivement en lisant ces livres, Jean-Claude Guillebaud prend conscience de la pertinence du message évangélique et “redevient chrétien”. D’ailleurs Jean-Marc Bastière retient la même chose, un accomplissement de la pensée, qu’il a pu approfondir et qui, aujourd’hui, est arrivé à maturité.

A écouter : René Girard dans notre émission Face aux chrétiens.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: RADIO NOTRE DAME, November 5, 2015

In de Verenigde Staten is de Franse antropoloog en literatuurwetenschapper René Girard overleden. De Frans-Amerikaanse intellectueel wordt gezien als een van de grootste denkers van de voorbije 100 jaar. Hij schreef over de menselijke begeerte en was de ontdekker van het zondebokmechanisme als het verborgen fundament van religie en maatschappij. Cultuur, godsdienst en geweld staan centraal in zijn werk.

READ MORE: VRT Nieuws, deredactie.be, November 5, 2015

René Girard geldt als een van de belangrijkste denkers over de menselijke cultuur en godsdienstgeschiedenis van zijn generatie. Zijn reputatie vestigde hij met zijn even bejubelde als omstreden studie God en geweld. Elke cultuur gaat uiteindelijk terug op een gewelddaad, zo betoogde hij, en wordt juist cultuur doordat ze dat geweld weet te beteugelen. Het was een klap in het gezicht van ieder die meende dat de (moderne) beschaving juist tegenover het geweld en de religie staat, in plaats van eruit te zijn ontstaan.

READ MORE: NRC Handelsblad, November 5, 2015

La obra de Girard parte del campo de la historia, pero se mueve siempre de forma transversal entre la antropología, la filosofía y la literatura. Parte de una noción central: la de “mímesis” o imitación, que él toma directamente de Platón y Aristóteles para reconducirla en la elaboración de una concepción del hombre que encuentra refrendada tanto en la literatura como en la historia (la pasada y la presente). 

READ MORE: El País, November, 5, 2015

Nascido no dia de Natal de 1923, em Avignon, René Girard escreveu bastante sobre a diversidade e unidade das religiões.

René Girard viva nos Estados Unidos desde 1947. Ensinou em várias universidades, como Duke, Johns Hopkins e, sobretudo, Stanford, onde dirigiu durante muito tempo o departamento de língua, literatura e civilização francesa.

Terminou a sua carreira académica em Stanford em 1995.

READ MORE: RTP, November 5, 2015

O acadêmico francês René Girard, eminente teórico conhecido como “o novo Darwin das ciências humanas”, morreu nesta quarta-feira (4), aos 91 anos, nos Estados Unidos, anunciou a universidade de Stanford, onde lecionou durante muitos anos.

READ MORE: Globo, November 5, 2015

Zum Tod des Kulturanthropologen René Girard – Wolfgang Palaver im Gespräch

LISTEN TO: ARD Mediathek, Deutschlandfunk, November 5, 2015

Vielfach ausgezeichnet, war Girard nach seiner Aufnahme in die Académie Française „unsterblich“. Seine Bücher werden bleiben – als Deutungsschema und Zündstoff im Zwillingskonflikt der Religionen, zwischen denen er keine Gleichheit ausmachen konnte.

La violence et le sacré (1972)READ MORE: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Dank Figuren wie ihm hatten die Gegenstimmen zur “French Theory” das letzte Wort. Es waren Stimmen, die sich als die des “Realen” verstanden, gegen jene der Generationsgenossen Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Derrida, welche die Mythen, Religionen, literarischen Texte, philosophischen Systeme vor allem für struktural zerlegbare Produkte der Fantasie hielten. Der Philosoph, Anthropologe und Religionsforscher René Girard weigerte sich jedoch, den Trieb, den Mythos oder das Kunstwerk einfach als Strukturelement eines immanenten Bedeutungssystems aufzufassen. Er suchte die gesellschaftliche und psychologische Wirklichkeit dahinter.

READ MORE: Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Der 1923 in Avignon geborene Girard war zu seinen Lebzeiten ein singulärer kulturgeschichtlicher Denker. Aus seinem umfangreichen Werk sticht vor allem seine “Mimetische Theorie” und der “Sündenbockmechanismus” hervor.

Girard erklärt damit den Zusammenhang zwischen menschlichem Zusammenleben, der Entstehung von Gewalt und ihrer Eindämmung durch Religion, Tabus und Verbote. René Girard analysiert die menschliche Kultur und Geschichte aus der Perspektive der Gewaltentstehung und ihrer Opfer.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: Österreichischer Rundfunk, November 5, 2015

Denn so subtil seine Beschreibung sozialer Phänomene ausfiel, so obsessiv versuchte er, sie für seine Zwecke, die Apologie der Religion, zu instrumentalisieren. Deshalb wirken seine Befunde manchmal überraschend und überzeugend, manchmal aber auch erzwungen.

Girards ganzes Werk ist eine Polemik gegen den Wunschtraum von der «rationalistischen Unschuld» der Moderne. Dass dieser Wunschtraum heutzutage tatsächlich ausgeträumt ist, ist nicht wirklich Girards Verdienst, aber Grund genug, sein Werk als Wegzehrung auf die Reise der Menschheit nach dem Ende der Unschuld mitzunehmen.

READ MORE: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Academicianul francez Rene Girard, un eminent teoretician supranumit “noul Darwin al stiintelor umaniste”, a incetat din viata miercuri, la varsta de 91 de ani, in Statele Unite, a anuntat universitatea Stanford unde acesta a predat pentru o lunga perioada de timp, transmite AFP.

“Renumitul profesor francez de la Stanford, unul dintre cei 40 de nemuritori ai prestigioase Academii Franceze, a decedat in casa sa de la Stanford miercuri, dupa o indelungata boala”, a declarat universitatea californiana intr-un comunicat de presa.

Rene Girard si-a inceput cariera ca teoretician literar, fascinat de toate stiintele sociale: istorie, antropologie, sociologie, filosofie, religie, psihologie si teologie.

READ MORE: HotNews.ro, November 5, 2015

Rođen 1923. u Avignonu , kršćanin Girard mnogo je pisao o raznolikosti, ali i univerzalnosti religija, a svoju je misao crpio iz vjerskih tekstova i velikih književnih klasika.

READ MORE: SEEbiz, November 5, 2015

Girard’s extensive oeuvre has generated a wide range of responses across many disciplines, not least within Christian theology.

In 2005, on his election to L’Académie française, Girard was acclaimed by Michel Serres as the “Charles Darwin of the human sciences.” The post-modern intelligentsia – deeply wedded to the dogma of culture’s irreducible plurality – remains sceptical, also despising any attempted rehabilitation for the Queen of the Sciences.

Girard, with a dash of Gallic insouciance, referred to his critics’ small intellectual ambitions as “the comprehensive unionization of failure” – and of course his theory gives a good account of such academic rivalry, as well as the individualist’s refusal of personal conversion that acceptance of his theory demands.

Unsatisfied with uncovering the origin of culture and explicating the emergence of secular modernity, however, Girard came eventually to predict the apocalyptic acceleration of history towards a tragic denouement.

As for Rene Girard himself, he was an observant Catholic layman for 55 years and he knew that God’s Kingdom was not of this world. He looked forward to union with God, and there in faith and hope we leave him, where all the victims of history are vindicated and every tear is wiped away.

READ MORE: ABC, Australia, November 5, 2015

René Girard visited the UK on three occasions and was grateful to the Jesuits in Britain for the welcome he received here. His first visit was to Oxford, where stayed at Campion Hall and where he delivered the D’Arcy Lecture to 200 people in the university. This was followed by two visits to Heythrop, the second of which was to receive an honorary doctorate, as he was on his way to Paris to be received into the Académie française as one of their 40 immortels.

At times he was like an evangelical about his insights, but he was also capable of being playful, even offhand: ‘People are against my theory, because it is at the same time an avant-garde and a Christian theory … Theories are expendable. They should be criticized. When people tell me my work is too systematic, I say, I make it as systematic as possible for you to be able to prove it wrong.’

READ MORE: Jesuits in Britain, November 5, 2015

The following tribute is adapted in part from the forthcoming book Raising the Ante: God’s Gamble by Gil Bailie, a long-time friend and student of René Girard.

READ MORE: Catholic World Report, November 5, 2015

A társadalomtudományok új Darwinjaként méltatták, amikor a múlt század ’70-es éveiben kifejtette civilizációelméletét.

Életének 92. évében elhunyt René Girard francia tudós, aki a mimetikus vágyelmélet, a bűnbakképzés és a bibliamagyarázat terén megfogalmazott elméleteivel újfajta antropológiát alapozott meg. Kora egyik legjelentősebb gondolkodójaként, a társadalomtudományok új Darwinjaként emlegették. A Francia Akadémia tagja hosszan tartó betegség után szerdán hunyt el az Egyesült Államokban, halálhírét a Stanford Egyetem közölte. A francia gondolkodó hosszú ideig tanított a neves intézményben.

„Látám a sátánt, mint a villámlást lehullani az égből.” E könyvében a kereszténység kritikai apológiáját nem teológiai alapokon, hanem racionális bizonyítások útján írja meg. Valójában a zsidó-keresztény vallási tradíció rendkívül eredeti antropológiáját tárja az olvasó elé, magáévá téve Simone Weil egyik gondolatát, miszerint az Evangéliumok mindenekelőtt egy „emberelméletet”, egy antropológiát tartalmaznak, és csak ez után tekintendők „Istenelméletnek”, teológiának.

READ MORE: 24.hu, November 5, 2015

Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du mondeUn pensiero potentemente originale, quello dell’antropologo accademico di Francia che ha inventato — nel senso etimologico di “scoprire” — teorie illuminanti come il desiderio mimetico e il rito del capro espiatorio, perché non nato da schemi speculativi astratti, ma dall’osservazione dei meccanismi interiori che muovono quell’animale strutturalmente sociale che è l’uomo. L’essere umano di ogni epoca, non nel migliore dei mondi possibili ma nel mondo reale, dove si soffre e si muore per mano dei propri simili, vittime a loro volta — spesso inconsapevoli — di un automatismo interiore che li trasforma in carnefici certi di essere nel giusto e di obbedire a un dovere morale. Un pensiero letteralmente vicino all’origine, quello del «Darwin dell’antropologia», come lo chiamano in Francia, e quindi capace di illuminare anche i recessi più oscuri di quel mistero che chiamiamo genericamente coscienza, una chiave di lettura semplice e geniale allo stesso tempo scaturita più dalla lettura attenta dei capolavori di Proust, Dostoevskij, Dante e Cervantes che dalle pagine dei manuali di filosofia.

Un pensiero tanto celebrato quanto contestato, quello dell’antropologo francese che ha continuato a lavorare e a scrivere anche dopo aver superato i novant’anni, capace di anticipare successive scoperte scientifiche.

READ MORE: L’Osservatore Romano, November 5, 2015

L’antropologo, 91 anni, è morto ieri a a Stanford, negli Stati Uniti. Fondatore della “teoria mimetica”, da anticonformista della scena intellettuale aveva costruito un lavoro originale, che unisce riflessione accademica e predicazione cristiana. I suoi libri, commentati in tutto il mondo, sono tappe di una importante indagine sul desiderio umano e sulla violenza sacrificale da cui qualsiasi società, secondo Girard, trova la sua origine vergognosa. In Italia i suoi libri sono pubblicati da Adelphi.

READ MORE: Rai News, November 5, 2015

Pour finir, je voudrais dire un mot des implications pour le lecteur d’une telle théorie. Devenir «girardien», ce n’est pas appartenir à une secte ; ce n’est pas tenir pour vrai tout ce que Girard a écrit; c’est d’abord se laisser aller à une «conversion» qui n’est pas d’ordre religieux, mais qui est un bouleversement du regard sur soi, une critique personnelle de son propre désir.

Pour comprendre à quel point la théorie de Girard est vraie, il faut avoir cheminé à rebours de son désir, non pas pour atteindre un illusoire «moi» authentique, mais au contraire pour aboutir à l’inexistence de ce moi, toujours déjà agi par des «désirs selon l’autre». La théorie mimétique est un dévoilement progressif dont le lecteur n’est jamais absent de ce qui se dévoile à lui. Elle menace l’existence du sujet que je croyais être. Elle s’attaque à ce que je croyais le plus original chez moi.

Il n’est pas un lecteur de Girard, même le plus convaincu, qui ne se soit dit à la lecture de Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque : «Il a raison, tout ça est vrai. Heureusement que pour ma part j’y échappe en partie.» Il serait suicidaire de ne se lire soi-même qu’avec les lunettes girardiennes ; on a besoin de croire un minimum aux raisons que notre désir se donne ; ces raisons constituent toujours une résistance en nous à la théorie mimétique, plus ou moins grande selon les individus. Il ne s’agit pas de s’en défendre, mais de le savoir. La lecture de Girard nous impose donc un double processus de révélation : on se rend compte d’abord que notre propre désir obéit aux lois décelées par Girard ; et dans un second temps, on se rend compte qu’on a feint l’adhésion totale à ses thèses, et qu’il reste en nous un moi «néo-romantique» qui ne se croit pas concerné par ces lois. Ainsi, la découverte de Girard doit nous interdire, in fine, le surplomb de celui qui aurait compris, contre tous ceux qui seraient encore des croyants naïfs en l’autonomie de leur désir.

READ MORE: Causeur.fr, November 5, 2015

René Girard 1979

Largement traduite, souvent admirée hors de son pays, comme aux Etats-Unis ou en Italie, l’oeuvre de René Girard reste assez mal connue du grand public en France. «Pour un intellectuel qui a longtemps été considéré comme un auteur à contre-courant et atypique, l’élection à l’Académie est une forme de reconnaissance», déclarait-il au quotidien La Croix le 15 décembre 2005, jour de sa réception à l’Académie française.

«Je peux dire sans exagération que, pendant un demi-siècle, la seule institution française qui m’ait persuadé que je n’étais pas oublié en France, dans mon propre pays, en tant que chercheur et en tant que penseur, c’est l’Académie française.»

READ MORE & WATCH: Le Parisien, November 5, 2015

Je me souviendrai toute ma vie de ce jour où mon ami François et moi, nous nous sommes annoncés chez lui dans le VIIème. Il avait la gentillesse de nous recevoir alors qu’il était au milieu de sa famille. Il nous parlait. O temps suspends ton vol. Le monde familier qui l’entourait n’existait plus pour lui. Cette longue conversation qui n’était pas la première, m’a beaucoup fait réfléchir sur le mal. François, passionné de Thomas d’Aquin, trouvait Girard pessimiste. Quant à moi, j’ai décidé ce jour-là de remonter, avec Girard, de saint Thomas à saint Augustin.

Girard est-il pessimiste? Il le serait, il serait gnostique si l’on découvrait dans son oeuvre un refus quelconque de la chair et de la condition charnelle de l’homme. C’est tout le contraire. Le désir charnel n’intéresse pas Girard comme il intéresse Freud, parce que Girard le méridional sait très bien ce que Freud ne sait pas : le désir n’est pas une production physique de l’animal humain mais une construction psychique.

“For me he completely undid the secular Enlightenment’s undoing of Christianity.”  (Sean O’Conaill).

READ MORE: acireland, November 5, 2015

René Girard Scapegoat cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Comprendere «nello stesso momento, perché i credenti dapprima, e sul loro esempio i non credenti poi, sono sempre passati vicino al segreto, peraltro così semplice, di ogni mitologia»: è stata questa l’ambizione e l’esito della ricerca del francese René Girard, che si è spento a Stanford, negli Stati Uniti. Una ricerca che era impossibile (lo dimostra l’intervista autobiografica del 1994 con Michel Treguer) incasellare nei riquadri angusti delle discipline accademiche.

Da questa ricerca iniziata con Dostoevskij arriva l’opera che ne fa un filosofo e un antropologo della religione: La violenza e il sacro del 1972 (Adelphi, 1980) elabora una teoria della genesi della religione. Nella mitologia e nella sua elaborazione filosofica e letteraria Girard ritrova l’atto iniziale di occultamento che «inganna la violenza»: il «sacro» che assorbe la violenza destinata fatalmente a nascere e la riversa su una entità non vendicabile e insieme in apparente continuità con coloro al posto dei quali viene sacrificato. Così il capro espiatorio placa e fonda la società in questa ombra religiosa che è «il sentimento che la collettività ispira ai suoi membri, ma proiettato fuori dalle coscienze che lo provano, e oggettivato».

READ MORE: Corriere della Sera, November 6, 2015

Jean-Pierre Elkabbach et Europe 1 ont souhaité rendre hommage à l’académicien et philosophe René Girard disparu à l’âge de 91 ans.

WATCH & LISTEN TO: Europe 1, Crif, November 6, 2015

Difficilement «classable» dans une pensée ou l’autre, René Girard a toujours affiché sa foi chrétienne malgré les critiques d’une partie de la communauté scientifique. Il s’est ainsi beaucoup penché sur l’origine et le devenir des religions, jusqu’à leurs formes extrémistes d’aujourd’hui.

Ce sont d’ailleurs ses recherches sur la Bible qui l’ont conduit à la foi chrétienne, comme l’explique à Anne-Sophie Saint-Martin le théologien jésuite Dominique Peccoud.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: Radio Vatican, November 6, 2015

In his 1950s poem “Vespers,” W. H. Auden recalls a meeting of representatives of two different political standpoints. They come together:

to remind the other (do both, at bottom, desire truth?) of that half
of their secret which he would most like to forget,
 
forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim
(but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget
the innocence),
 
on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is
one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy
are alike founded:
 
For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be
innocent) no secular wall can safely stand

Nobody familiar with René Girard’s mimetic theory can read this poem and not think somehow that Auden “got it.” Girard himself never discussed this poem, but argued convincingly that so many of the greatest literary giants—Proust, Dostoevsky, Freud, Shakespeare, Sophocles, the evangelists, the Psalmist—got it, or very nearly got it. Girard’s doggedness led him on a wild intellectual journey from the great novelists to Greek tragedy, from biblical texts to the writings of Freud and Nietzsche. He devoted his final book to the thought of a Prussian military historian, Carl Clausewitz.

Even in taking full measure of Girard’s impact on the human and social sciences, it seems silly to label Girard a “genius.” Besides being a Romantic descriptive that Girard would have certainly abhorred, such a moniker ignores the fact that Girard’s great insight was not his at all. His primary talent was to notice how others captured the mimetic quality of human desire, and the consequences of this peculiarly human way of desiring.

There is an Ignatian quality to mimetic theory. Mimetic forces operated loudly in the life of St. Ignatius, and his “Exercises” and contemplative practices seem geared to helping us gain awareness of the undercurrents that otherwise manhandle us. This explains to some extent why the first theologian to discover Girard was a Jesuit—Raymund Schwager—and why Henri de Lubac, perhaps the greatest Jesuit theologian of the past century, read Girard and assured him that nothing in his thought could not be reconciled with orthodox Christianity.

READ MORE: America Magazine, November 6, 2015

Girard is a thinker who combined an utter lack of self-importance with the boldest intellectual risk-taking. A Stanford colleague, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, declares that Girard is:

“a great, towering figure – no ostentatiousness. … Despite the intellectual structures built around him, he’s a solitaire. His work has a steel-like quality– strong, contoured, clear. It’s like a rock. It will be there and it will last.”

READ MORE: Thinking Faith, November 6, 2015

Typiquement, le girardien sans christianisme, cet oxymoron  qui prolifère aujourd’hui, s’efforce de découvrir la violence, les boucs émissaires et le ressentiment partout, sauf là où cela ferait vraiment une différence, la seule différence qui tienne, c’est-à-dire en lui-même. C’est ainsi que les bien-pensants passent leur temps à dénoncer le racisme dégoutant du bas-peuple de France sans paraître voir le racisme de classe dont ils font preuve à cette occasion.  Ce girardisme sans christianisme est le pire des contresens d’un monde qui pourtant n’en est pas avare: le monde post-moderne est plein de concepts girardiens devenus fous.

READ MORE: Causeur.fr, November 6, 2015

Achever Clausewitz (2007)«Existen graves malentendidos en lo que concierne a mi trabajo. A menudo se ve en mí un reaccionario o, al contrario, del lado de los cristianos, una especie de herético utopista.» (René Girard).

Podrá estarse de acuerdo o no con muchas de las propuestas de Girard, podrá surgir cierto empalago entre sus lectores (me incluyo entre ellos), mas lo que no puede negarse es su capacidad de provocar pensamiento, de atravesar diferentes campos del saber y comportarse, tras su pista como, un cazador furtivo que penetra en campos inesperados y que en principio parecen acotados para otros acercamientos. Llegados a este punto no queda más que desear al pensador desaparecido, verdadero agitador del campo del pensamiento … que la terre vous soit légère.

READ MORE: Kaosenlared, November 6, 2015

Quelle est la nature du désir humain? Quelle est l’origine de la violence? Comment naissent les religions? Qu’est-ce qu’une culture? Ce ne sont là que quelque unes des questions fondamentales auxquelles les travaux de l’anthropologue français René Girard, décédé le 04 novembre à l’âge de 91 ans, permettent de répondre.

Considéré à juste titre comme l’un des penseurs majeurs de la seconde partie du XXième siècle, il était parfois surnommé depuis le début du troisième millénaire « le Darwin des sciences humaines ». Une reconnaissance tardive pour celui qui publia son premier ouvrage en 1961 – Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, devenu un classique – mais qui donne une idée de l’ampleur de l’apport girardien au savoir universel.

Comme le naturaliste anglais, René Girard est un penseur des origines. Sa découverte de la nature mimétique du désir et des mécanismes de désignation et de meurtres de boucs émissaires qui en découlent, partage avec la notion darwinienne d’évolution une simplicité explicative à l’efficacité redoutable, pour ne pas dire incontestable.

Mais il y a une différence entre les deux penseurs. Alors que les découvertes de Charles Darwin l’amenèrent à perdre la foi, c’est en comparant des mythes du monde entier avec la Bible que René Girard renoua avec une foi qu’il avait passablement oubliée.

READ MORE: Atlantico, November 7, 2015

Tommy WieringaDe mens heeft, zoals we weten, de geheimzinnige neiging om te gaan lijken op zijn tegenstander. De religieus geïnspireerde oorlogsretoriek van George Bush was op den duur niet meer van die van Osama bin Laden te onderscheiden. Vijanden bestuderen elkaar zo diepgaand, dat ze elkaar gaan nabootsen. De filosoof en religiewetenschapper die daar veel over heeft geschreven, René Girard, overleed deze week op 91-jarige leeftijd. Zijn werk heeft het denken over begeerte, geweld en rivaliteit veranderd.

Een variant op deze nabootsing tussen vijanden doet zich voor bij betogers tegen vluchtelingenopvang. Zo beducht zijn de betogers voor verkrachting, geweld en maatschappelijke ontwrichting door vluchtelingen, dat zij andersdenkenden verkrachting toewensen, geweld toepassen en maatschappelijke ontwrichting veroorzaken.

READ MORE: Column Tommy Wieringa, Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant, November 7, 2015

“Die Rivalität spielt eine so gewaltige Rolle, daß man den Versuch, die Nachahmung auszutreiben, vergeblich unternimmt.”

Der Verfasser dieser so rabiat richtigen Sätze ist am vergangen Mittwoch in Stanford knapp 92jährig verstorben. René Girard, der Bibeltreueste aller französischen Denker, erreichte ein biblisches Alter.

READ MORE: artmagazine, November 7, 2015

The publishing world says that the title to be called a “bestselling book” rather than an advertisement gives stronger motivation for Korean readers to purchase the book. When best-selling products sell more, we call it the theory of social evidence in social psychology.

“Following what others do” is particularly evident in Korea. Imitating others’ preference and desire, however, is one of the features of modern society. That’s why TV commercials prod consumers’ desire to buy products by showing a rice cooker that Kim Soo-hyeon uses and beer that Jun Ji-hyun drinks. René Girard (1923-2015), French philosopher who died in the U.S. on Wednesday, formulated the structure of human being’s desire into the theory of “triangular desire.”

In many cases, the coercion by parents who push their kids to become a doctor or a lawyer regardless of their aptitude derives from “mimetic desire.” The triangular desire can be dreadful in that people are not aware of the fact that they live their lives mimicking others. Girard says that the mankind competes each other to mimic other’s desire and creates collective stress such as jealousy and animosity that is relieved in a wrong manner by using socially marginalized people as scapegoats. Peeping into the desire of others through social network service has become a daily routine. Now, we need to practice not to be swayed by the desire that “seems to be mine, but is not mine, still looks like mine” just like a line of a popular song.

출판시장에선 잊을만하면 사재기 베스트셀러 순위 조작 논란이 불거진다. 편법을 써서라도 베스트셀러 순위에 오르면 판매실적이 올라간다는 믿음 때문이다. 출판계에 따르면 국내 독자의 구매 욕구를 자극하는 건 광고보다 베스트셀러 타이틀이다. 가장 많이 팔린 상품이 더 많이 팔리는 현상을 사회심리학에서는 사회적 증거의 법칙이라고 부른다.

한국사회에서 유독 남들 따라하기와 쏠림현상이 심하기는 하지만 타인의 취향과 욕망을 모방하는 것은 현대 사회의 특징이다. TV 광고에서 김수현이 쓰는 밥솥과 전지현이 마시는 맥주를 보여주며 대중의 소비 욕망을 자극하는 것도 그 때문이다. 이 같은 인간 욕망의 구조를 욕망의 삼각형 이론으로 체계화한 프랑스 사상가가 4일 미국서 별세한 르네 지라르(19232015)였다.

문학평론가에서 출발한 지라르는 철학 역사학 인류학 종교학 등을 두루 통섭하는 업적을 남겨 인문학의 새로운 다윈으로 평가받는다. 미국에서 반세기 넘게 살았음에도 2005년 불멸의 40인으로 불리며 국민의 존경을 받는 프랑스 아카데미 프랑세즈의 정회원이 됐다. 그는 소설 분석을 통해 우리가 원하는 것이 실은 남의 욕망을 베낀 것에 지나지 않는다는 결론을 내렸다. 예컨대 보바리 부인에서 상류사회를 동경하는 엠마의 욕망은 자연발생적인 것이 아니다. 단지, 사춘기 때 읽은 삼류 소설 주인공의 욕망을 본뜬 것이다.

부모가 자녀 적성에 관계없이 의시나 변호사가 되라고 강요하는 것도 모방욕망에서 비롯된 경우가 많다. 욕망의 삼각형이 무서운 이유는 자신이 남의 욕망을 모방하며 살고 있다는 사실 자체를 자각하지 못하는 것이다. 지라르에 따르면 인류는 경쟁적으로 남의 욕망을 모방하다 쌓여가는 질투 적개심 같은 집단적 스트레스를 사회의 소외된 사람을 엉뚱한 희생양으로 삼아 해소한다. 소셜네트워크서비스(SNS)를 통해 남의 욕망을 엿보는 게 일상이 돼버렸다. 유행가 가사에 나오듯 내 것인 듯 내 것 아닌 내 것 같은 욕망에 휘둘리지 않는 연습이 필요한 시대다.

READ MORE: The Dong-A Ilbo, November 7, 2015

In 2001, my spiritual mentor Bob Holum gave me a book that completely changed everything for me: Rene Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of This World. I learned the sad news that Girard died this past week, so I wanted to reflect on how his ideas helped Jesus’ cross and the Christian gospel make a lot more sense to me.

READ MORE: Patheos, November 7, 2015

Many Christians have not yet caught up with his scholarship on these themes, disclosing not so much new ideas but original themes often hidden. The life, teaching and death of Jesus are shown to continue the work of unraveling human violence and scapegoating and to reveal the divine as the source of creative love unfolding through history and culture. His work is not an easy read but many other scholars, authors and teachers are making his work accessible. Thank you René!

READ MORE: Modern Church, November 7, 2015

For Girard, one summary view might have it, at the very beginning it is not religion that leads to violence, but violence which leads to—which indeed creates a need for—religion, as a way of channeling and constraining the use of force. But once the process starts, religion can of course fuel violence, as Girard could see. You don’t have to be one of his devotees to observe that scapegoating as a form of team-building has taken many different forms, from the Salem witch-trials to the anti-communist hysteria of 1950s America to ritual denunciations of erstwhile comrades by the Soviet Politburo. But there is something particularly vicious and destructive about a religiously inspired lynch mob whose blood is up, and has somehow been convinced that its own salvation (and internal cohesion) lies in annihilating the heretic or the infidel. At the very minimum, Girard’s work is a help in understanding how religions (Christianity in particular, but perhaps also Buddhism) can be pacifist in content but often violent and bullying in historical practice. Think of the mobs that rampaged through Jewish quarters in European cities during the Middle Ages, especially in Holy Week. At a time when Christians were supposed to be identifying with a victim of scapegoating, they perpetrated that very thing.

 

READ MORE: The Economist, November 7, 2015

Mercredi 4 novembre, René Girard a rejoint le ciel de la vérité romanesque en compagnie des grands romanciers qui lui ont donné à penser sa théorie du désir mimétique. L’occasion de revenir sur les essais et les concepts qui ont jalonné sa carrière intellectuelle iconoclaste.

Avec son premier essai paru en 1961, Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, Girard approfondit les grands textes de Don Quichotte à L’Éternel mari, au point d’élaborer une clef de lecture qui dépasse le strict cadre de la littérature. Grâce à une analyse comparée des classiques, il remarque que Dostoïevski, Flaubert, Stendhal ou Proust, surmontent tous un passage romantique pour embrasser une vérité romanesque. L’épreuve romanesque d’un Julien Sorel, celle d’une Emma Bovary, rappellent combien nous ne sommes jamais seuls avec nos désirs les plus intimes.

Scandale pour les structuralistes de l’époque qui ne lui pardonneront pas une lecture thématique ouverte à la psychanalyse, l’essai accouche d’une théorie décisive pour les sciences humaines. Un tiers est toujours là, qu’il soit rival ou modèle souverain, à l’origine de toutes nos actions. Avec son mythe individualiste qui nous veut maîtres de nos propres désirs, la littérature romantique participe à cacher cette vérité dérangeante. Pourtant, si Madame Bovary trompe son médiocre mari et noie son ennui dans des romans à l’eau de rose, elle imite, fascinée, ses lectures qui l’invitent à l’évasion sentimentale. Tous les grands romanciers ont conscience de ces modèles qui hantent leurs personnages en situation de crise, souvent dans le sang et les larmes.

READ MORE: Philitt, November 7, 2015

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, November 8, 2015:

Cord Riechelmann René Girard

Acaba de fallecer (4.XI.2015) en Estados Unidos, donde vivía y enseñaba desde hace unos decenios, el mayor de los antropólogos y quizá de los pensadores cristianos de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.
R. Girard ha repensado y ha querido superar la visión del hombre que ofrecen Marx y Freud, con una teoría abarcadora (universal) que permite integrar (interpretar y recrear) los temas radicales de la conciencia individual y social, con la mímesis, la lucha mutua y violencia.

Su investigación crítica (hipotética en algunos puntos) resulta necesaria para entender algunos de los temas más significativos de nuestra cultura, como son la violencia y el victimismo o, mejor dicho, la existencia de las víctimas, primero asesinadas y después manipuladas por los mismos asesinos.

Todos los políticos que yo conozco hablan de la importancia de las víctimas, quizá sin saber que ese lenguaje se lo deben a Girard, aunque no hayan entendido lo que él quiere decir…, aunque no aceptarían muchas de sus propuestas.

A los ojos de Girard, la crítica de Nietzche en contra de la religión resulta más aguda que la de Marx, pues él ha puesto de relieve unos mecanismos de proyección reactiva de los oprimidos que tienden a satanizar a los triunfadores, haciendo de la religión un principio de venganza. Pero tampoco Nietzsche ha llegado hasta el fondo del problema, pues su filosofía sigue presa en los esquemas o mecanismos del chivo expiatorio.

READ MORE: Salamanca RTV, November 8, 2015

Larga vida a las obras magistrales de René Girard.

READ MORE: Milenio, November 8, 2015

A veces digo que Girard me salvó la vida. Yo andaba por esa época obsesionadísimo con las aristas fascinantes y suicidas del hombre del subsuelo de Dostoievski: Raskolnikov y su forma demente de ver el mundo, trastornado por una rabia insondable. Si no llego a leer esa primavera su análisis crítico y clarividente de las pulsiones subsuelíticas, difícilmente habría llegado a la treintena. Todavía hay gente que hoy me considera un exaltado, pero lo de ahora no es nada comparado con esa época.

READ MORE: El Mundo, November 9, 2015

Sous les couronnes, on tend à passer sous silence qu’on l’a fortement critiqué, car il dérangeait les philosophes marxistes et qu’il portait un éclairage différent sur l’anthropologie structuraliste. De plus, son analyse du phénomène religieux était considérée comme superflue à une époque où l’on prétendait que “Dieu était mort”. 

Les intellectuels français, plutôt que de débattre, ont préféré exclure. C’est ainsi qu’un des penseurs les plus reconnus mondialement est décédé à Los Angeles.

READ MORE: Les Echos, November 10, 2015

‘जमाव कधीच निरपराध नसतो. सामूहिक हिंसाचार हा खोटारडेपणाच्या आड दडलेला असतो’, हे विधान फ्रेंच विचारवंत आणि मानव्यसंशोधक रेने गिरार्ड यांनी येशूच्या सुळी जाण्यासंदर्भात केले होते खरे, पण ते कोणत्याही देशातील/ काळातील सामूहिक हिंसाचाराला लागू पडावे. गिरार्ड यांचे निधन गेल्या आठवडय़ात, वयाच्या ९२ व्या वर्षी झाले आणि जगाने तत्त्वचिंतक- अभ्यासक गमावला. युद्ध, हिंसाचार आणि ‘संस्कृती’ यांच्या संबंधांचा अभ्यास करताना वाङ्मय, तत्त्वज्ञान, मानसशास्त्र, इतिहास यांचा आंतरशाखीय विचार करून त्यांनी ‘बळीचा सिद्धान्त’ मांडला होता. या अनुषंगाने, ‘आपल्या इच्छा आपल्या नसतात’ (मानवी अनुकरणाचा सिद्धान्त) आणि अनुकरण करता येत नाही म्हणून- किंवा दुसऱ्याकडे आहे ते आपल्याकडे नाही म्हणून संघर्ष/ हिंसाचार, कारणाचे सुलभीकरण करून निरपराधांना नाडण्याची प्रवृत्ती.. अशी सत्ये त्यांनी साधार मांडली. चार्ल्स डार्विनचा नैसर्गिक निवडीचा सिद्धान्त हा मानवी संस्कृतीत टिकून राहिलेल्या बहुविधतेलाही लागू आहे असे सांगणारे गिरार्ड ‘मानव्यविद्यांमधील डार्विन’ म्हणून ओळखले जात.

READ MORE: Loksatta, November 10, 2015

Girard’s first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961 in French; 1965 in English), used Cervantes, Stendhal, Proust and Dostoevsky as case studies to develop his theory of mimesis. The Guardian recently compared the book to “putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world come into focus. At its heart is an idea so simple, and yet so fundamental, that it seems incredible that no one had articulated it before.

READ MORE: The Wire, November 10, 2015

Too few people know about René Girard, who passed away on Nov. 4 at 91. He was undoubtedly one of the most important men of the 20th century.

In the end, his country recognized him, giving him perhaps its highest honor for intellectuals of the humanities, a seat at the Académie Française.

Girard’s work, summed up under the heading “mimetic theory,” is like a flash of lightning on a dark summer night, suddenly illuminating everything in a strange new light. Girard’s thought has had an influence in fields as diverse as literary criticism, history, anthropology, philosophy, theology, psychology, economics, and even Silicon Valley entrepreneurship.

READ MORE: The Week, November 10, 2015

En Colombia vivimos un tanto crispados por la polarización entre posiciones extremas, que siempre tienden a descalificar al adversario. Así, el principal reto para la construcción de la paz es el cambio cultural. Algunos proponen aplicar técnicas de diverso orden, para aprender a gestionar los conflictos sin recurrir a la violencia; otros, incrementar el estado liberal de derecho y fortalecer el mercado, restringiendo el poder de la religión, considerada como causa del fanatismo que nos impide vivir en paz.

Con Girard, podríamos aprender cómo salirnos de los enredos que nos conducen a la violencia, tanto la cotidiana como la que enfrenta a diversos grupos y afecta dramáticamente a la sociedad. Y también podríamos aprender a ganar una distancia crítica frente a las posiciones que consideran que la paz significa más mercado y más Estado de derecho. Y lo haríamos al reconocer que estos son también sistemas constituidos sobre exclusiones y centrados en elementos incuestionables, que ocupan el lugar de lo sagrado primitivo; dicho brevemente, son sistemas religiosos.

Así, gracias a Girard podríamos volver a apreciar el valor de ese viejo libro, la Biblia, que nos expone los mecanismos religiosos, o sea, de violencia, que constituyen a las sociedades, al tiempo que nos invita a tomar distancia y a reflexionar en silencio.

READ MORE: El Tiempo, November 10, 2015

Peter Thiel - Forbes Cover StoryMr. Thiel, of PayPal, said that he was a student at Stanford when he first encountered Professor Girard’s work, and that it later inspired him to quit an unfulfilling law career in New York and go to Silicon Valley.

He gave Facebook its first $100,000 investment, he said, because he saw Professor Girard’s theories being validated in the concept of social media.

“Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly mimetic,” he said. “Social media proved to be more important than it looked, because it’s about our natures.”

The investment made Mr. Thiel a billionaire.

A nonpracticing Roman Catholic, Professor Girard underwent a religious awakening after a cancer scare in 1959, while working on the conclusion of his first book.

“I was thrown for a loop, because I was proud of being a skeptic,” he later said. “It was very hard for me to imagine myself going to church, praying and so on. I was all puffed up, full of what the old catechisms used to call ‘human respect.’ ”

The Christian influence on his work was most apparent in “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World,” written in 1978 and published in English in 1987. In that book he said Christianity was the only religion that had examined scapegoating and sacrifice from the victim’s point of view.

His final work, published in 2007, posited that the mimetic competition among nations would lead to an apocalyptic confrontation unless nations could learn to renounce retaliation.

That forthright religious stance may have cost him status in university circles, said Robert Pogue Harrison, a professor of literature at Stanford. “No doubt it was an obstacle,” he said. “He believed in Christian truth, which isn’t going to find ready acceptance in contemporary academia.”

Much recognition came to Professor Girard late in life. He was elected to the Académie Française in 2005 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Modern Language Association in 2009. In 2013 he received the Order of Isabella the Catholic from the king of Spain for his work in philosophy and anthropology.

READ MORE: The New York Times, November 10, 2015

Exclusif: un entretien inédit avec René Girard (1923-2015) réalisé en 2008 à l’université de Stanford.

READ MORE: Contrepoints, November 11, 2015

Han blev inte en tänkare på modet, men René Girards analyser av litteraturen lämnade ovärderliga bidrag till förståelsen av människan, skriver Anders Olsson.

Men med hjälp av de nycklar han haft till hands har han gett oss ovärderliga bidrag till förståelsen av människans fatala – eller underbara – bundenhet vid sin nästa. Med stort mod och stor envishet har han fått oss att se dolda mekanismer som formar och bryter ner kulturer och samhällen, men som vi har ytterst klena resurser att bemöta. Av sådant skapas uppenbarligen inga trender. Behovet ligger djupare, i den vilja till insikt som mödosamt och föga gloriöst söker upp det vi inte vill veta av.

READ MORE: Sydsvenskan, November 11, 2015

There are some thinkers that offer intriguing ideas and proposals, and there is a tiny handful of thinkers that manage to shake your world. Girard was in this second camp. In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power.

In the second half of the twentieth century, academics tended to characterize Christianity – if they took it seriously at all – as one more iteration of the mythic story that can be found in practically every culture. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Wars, the “mono-myth,” to use Joseph Campbell’s formula, is told over and again. What Girard saw was that this tired theorizing has it precisely wrong. In point of fact, Christianity is the revelation (the unveiling) of what the myths want to veil; it is the deconstruction of the mono-myth, not a reiteration of it-which is exactly why so many within academe want to domesticate and de-fang it.

The recovery of Christianity as revelation, as an unmasking of what all the other religions are saying, is René Girard’s permanent and unsettling contribution.

READ MORE: The Boston Pilot, November 11, 2015

Looking at patterns across historical cultures, Girard had noticed a the prevalence of “scapegoating” or ceremonially placing communal indiscretions onto one person. This is so prevalent today that our ears are likely deaf and eyes blind to it when it happens. A celebrity who kisses the nanny and divorces their spouse is, in some sense, hated all the more not because of what they did but because their behavior embodies “everything wrong with the world,” even our own longing for adventure. Girard’s unique perspective, focused through years of studying literature, mythology, and religious texts, saw scapegoating behavior as imitative or “mimetic.” That is, once the needs of survival are met, humans begin to develop wants that are shaped communally, in emulation of one another. This always leads to competition – indeed, competitive desire is the primary assumption of Western economics.

READ MORE: Huffington Post, November 11, 2015

MORE INTERESTING ARTICLES AND MORE MEDIA:

Obituary by Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer in Journal do Brasil

Radio Feature by Joe Gelonesi on ABC, Australia (with references on the passing of Rene Girard)

Interview with James Alison (Video) in America Media

Hommage for René Girard (Audio) by Raphaël Enthoven in franceculture

Article by Rodrigo Negrete in Nexos (Mexico)

Obituary by Antoine Lagadec in Revue des deux Mondes (France)

Obituary by Thomas Assheuer in Die Zeit (Germany)

Obituary by Józef Niewiadomski in Die Furche (Austria)

Obituary by Nelson Tepedino in Prodavinci (Venezuela)

Article by Roberto Ago in Artribune (Italy)

Obituary by Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard (USA)

Obituary by Suzanne Ross in Patheos

Obituary by Social Science Space

Obituary by Antoine Nouis and Jean-Luc Mouton in Réforme (France) – including a long interview with René Girard from 2008

Article by Michael Kirwan in Thinking Faith (UK)

Hommage René Girard (Video), École Normale Supérieure

Obituary SanatAtak (Turkey)

Obituary by Pierre-Yves Gomez in The Conversation (UK)

Obituary by Joanna Tokarska-Bakir in wyborcza.pl (Poland)

Obituary by Pier Giacomo Ghirardini in Tempi (Italy)

Article by Stéphane Ratti in Revue des deux Mondes (France)

Obituary by Alfio Squillaci in gliStatiGenerali (Italy)

Obituary by Roberto Calasso in Re Pubblica (Italy)

Article by Jean-Baptiste NOE in La Synthèse (France)

Article by The Raven Foundation: Many Voices in Celebration – a Tribute to René Girard

Article by Cynthia Haven, remembering today’s funeral (November 14, 2015) of René Girard and paying tribute to the victims of yesterday’s (November 13, 2015) terrorist attacks in Paris

RENÉ GIRARD, “THE EINSTEIN OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES” IN FORBES, NOV 30, 2015

READ ALSO: Killing Idols – Commemorating René Girard’s Spirituality

To conclude, this video interview by Daniel Lance:

 

Mythical Thinking after 9/11

René Girard is among those scholars who like to point to the similarities between myths from around the globe. In this regard his work follows in the footsteps of people like James Frazer, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade. Girard’s explanation of the source of mythological structures and motives, however, is quite different from the approaches of his colleagues. Girard maintains that the archetypal mythological pattern is eventually rooted in a so-called scapegoat mechanism, following a typical ritualistic pattern that is rooted in the same mechanism (for more on this, click here).

Aztec human sacrificeMyths can be considered as tales which contain the worldview of a culture, transmitting from generation to generation the belief that certain phenomena (from certain things to certain persons and acts) are sacred or belong to the gods. Traditionally, the realm of the gods or the sacred is also the realm of violence. If the sacred order of things is not respected or approached in a proper (i.e. ritualistic) way it brings about violent chaos, diseases, death and destruction in the (human) world. Next to connecting chaotic situations to the realm of the sacred (portraying chaos as “the wrath of god(s)” or “bad karma”), myths also contain messages on how to transform sacred disorder into sacred order. Following René Girard, myths can thus be understood, more specifically, as justifications of certain taboos and of certain types of sacrifice which should help to conserve or renew order in the world.

In short, according to René Girard, mythical thinking consists in connecting violent mayhem, natural disasters and contagious diseases to “god(s)” or “a sacred realm”. As such, violent mayhem etc. are explained as necessary moments of disorder from which a new order is generated. This never ending mythical cycle of “disorder – order – disorder – order – …” at the same time often functions as justification of the sacrifice of certain people whose death should bring about order.

A comparison between some ancient myths and contemporary interpretations of today’s international terrorism makes clear that mythical thinking as Girard understands it is on the rise again, especially in an eschatological sense and also in secular circles that hold on to a naïve version of the myth of human progress. Just take a look at the schematic presentation below presenting the mythical structure, time and again… (for more on the sexist implications of many myths, click here).

A) The Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods

Prometheus Gustave Moreau1) A WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realms
=> Fire belongs to the gods and is considered TABOO

2) (TRANSGRESSION OF TABOOS brings about) A MOMENT OF DISORDER
(“MANQUE” or “CHAOS”/“CRISIS”)
with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Prometheus steals the fire from the gods

3) Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Prometheus is banned to the Caucasus mountains, where he is chained and tortured

4) GOAL = A (RE)NEW(ED) WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO”)
again with clear distinctions between different realms

B) The Hebrew myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

• A WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realmsAdam and Eve driven out of Eden by Gustave Dore (1866)
=> Fruits of the Tree of Knowledge belong to God and are considered TABOO

• (TRANSGRESSION OF TABOOS brings about) A MOMENT OF DISORDER
(“MANQUE” or “CHAOS”/“CRISIS”)
with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Adam and Eve “eat from the forbidden fruit”
[from a comparison with the Song of Songs: this is a transgression of the taboo on sex]

• Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Adam and Eve are banned from Eden and have to accept a life with suffering and death

• GOAL = A (RE)NEW(ED) WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO”)
again with clear distinctions between different realms

C) The Greek myth of Oedipus

• A WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realms
=> Killing the “father-king” and taking the “mother-queen” is considered TABOO
[Note: “thanatos” and “eros” motif]

• (TRANSGRESSION OF TABOOS brings about) A MOMENT OF DISORDER
(“MANQUE” or “CHAOS”/“CRISIS”)
with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Oedipus kills his father, the king, and marries his mother, the queen and allegedly causes a plague in the city of Thebes

Oedipus stabs out his eyes• Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Oedipus stabs out his eyes and goes into exile

• GOAL = A (RE)NEW(ED) WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO”)
again with clear distinctions between different realms

D) A religious fundamentalist mythical interpretation of 9/11 (“end times”)

(Jerry Falwell & Pat Robertson)

• A WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realms
=> Types of relationships which differ from the “traditional”, patriarchal family are TABOO

• (TRANSGRESSION OF TABOOS brings about) A MOMENT OF DISORDER
(“MANQUE” or “CHAOS”/“CRISIS”)
with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Feminists, gays, lesbians and other “liberals” challenge the patriarchal family structure

• Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Two days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two evangelicals, shared their “theological” views on the terrorist violence (transcript from the 700 club, a well-known evangelical television program in the States – September 13, 2001). Especially these comments are telling (for more, watch the video below the transcripts):
survivors of 9-11 attacksJERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.
PAT ROBERTSON: Well yes.
JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I 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.”
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur…

In other words, 9/11 is interpreted as an unavoidable SACRIFICE, sanctioned by God; it is “the wrath of God” caused by people who keep on transgressing “sacred” laws and taboos. This sacrifice manifests itself in a twofold manner: the autoaggression of the terrorists’ suicide implies the heteroaggression against the victims in the planes and the twin towers.

Conclusion: “Secularists” or “the secularist lifestyle” (as Falwell and Robertson understand this – which corresponds to the Islamic fundamentalists’ notion of “the satanic West”) should be abandoned or banned.

• GOAL = A (RE)NEW(ED) WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO”)
again with clear distinctions between different realms

To conclude this post, I’d like to mention an article by John Gray on the book The Pursuit of the Millenium by Norman Cohn. Gray points to the eschatological myths of religious and secular political ideologies, from Christian Millenarianism (especially in today’s context we might think of Islamic Millenarianism as well) to Nazism and Communism. All these ideologies have justified sacrifices and massacres to bring about a new world order, a “paradise” – hence every utopia turns into dystopia… At the end of his article, Gray also warns for new versions of the eschatological myth in “liberal humanism”:

There is a line of reasoning which accepts that totalitarian ideologies were shaped by apocalyptic and utopian thinking, while insisting that liberal humanism is entirely different. They – the Nazis and communists – may have been deluded and irrational; we – enlightened meliorists – have purged our minds of myth. In fact, the belief in progress in ethics and politics, which animates liberal rationalism, is itself a myth: a view of history as a process of redemption without the Christian belief in a single transforming event, but nonetheless a faith-based narrative of human salvation. It is obvious that human life can sometimes be improved. Equally, however, such gains are normally lost in the course of time. The idea that history is a process of amelioration is an article of faith, not the result of observation or reasoning.

Reading Cohn will not lead secular thinkers to relinquish their cherished myths. The need to believe in them is far more powerful than intellectual curiosity. But, for those who want to understand the origins of the conflicts of the past century and the present time, The Pursuit of the Millennium may be, as it was for me, a life-changing book.

Considering all this, we might want to rethink the concept of “eschatological battle” as a struggle we have to face within ourselves, in the depths of our soul… The true fight is a spiritual one, as we are converted from our human violence (and all our man-made gods, idols and ideologies justifying that violence) to the absolute non-violence of the God of Love, The Merciful One… 

The challenge is to build an order and a “peace” that is not built on the violence of sacrifices, but to build a peace that allows for “non-violent conflicts…” (a “non-totalitarian peace”).