Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Apocalypse Now!

René Girard’s latest work on “War and Apocalypse” (First Things, August/September) stirred much-needed debate in the intellectual realm. The Stanford professor (whose theory of mimetic rivalry was a pioneer in contemporary anthropological and psychological research) has come back.

But before we discuss his latest article, we need to explore his thought. In his theory of mimetic rivalry, Girard shows how we are born with a tendency for selfishness. Mimetic rivalry, that is imitative rivalry, exists in human natural relationships. According to him, I desire what "the other" has, not only because it is good, but more importantly because he also desires it. Thus, in effect, by desiring what he has, I want to fulfill myself by “raping” and destroying him. I am my god, and will expand my family, my tribe, my nation, my religion, and my culture only because they are mine! When people fight because of rivalry, it becomes contagious, and society descends into chaos and disorder. The only Satanic remedy to restore order found in the early cultures was the scapegoat. In pagan cultures, men would collaborate and exclude or kill a person they accuse of not following them. The act of killing unites them again and order is restored. This is the ritual of sacrifice in archaic religions. Following the exclusion or killing act of the “innocent” person, the band starts feeling guilty as they see the victim not moving anymore. They then attempt to reintroduce him in their memory by making him divine, and celebrating his feast with dance and festivities. This remembrance accomplishes again what Satan wants: a lie. Order is re-established based on a lie (killing an innocent person), and a person is now divine based on another lie. This powerful chain was only broken by the death of Christ. This is the Satanic power that Christ reversed by his death, not because he was innocent but because being innocent he did not retaliate. On the cross he forgave his accusers.

In his research, Girard found that the story of killing an innocent person violently goes back to the earliest human people. Archaic religious texts and mythology are based on the same theme. The exception is the Bible. Contrary to the mythic stories of other religions, in the Genesis story of Cain killing his brother Abel, the author does not condemn the victim but the killer. The victim is also justified in many other Biblical events such as the story of Joseph who resisted the invitation of Egypt’s ruler's wife to intercourse and ended up being imprisoned for his innocence. Joseph was released and eventually became the prime minister of Egypt. As the people of God become more responsive to the Spirit of God, God reveals himself more fully in terms of relationships to His people (e.g. the victim husband Hosea to his people). The full self-revelation of God becomes actualized in Jesus Christ, His Only Son. Only in Christ, the truth is fully revealed and Satan’s lie is revealed. The only way out of the vicious circle of violence is to not retaliate which means becoming like Christ. It is because Christ gave himself, died a victim of violence voluntarily and did not retaliate that he in his human body lived again in glory (the Resurrection and Ascension in body and soul). It is true that since Christianity came into the world, a great development of morality has taken place moving entire cultures from the more violent to the less violent and accomplishing great deeds for the dignity of humanity. However, in Girard’s thought, the Spirit of Christ is working in cultures and time. The development of moral values has taken time. For example, although it was always pronounced by the Church, only in the 18th century has slavery started to be recognized and eliminated in Christian societies and the rest of the world.

Girard says that Christians are not fully Christian until they have renounced violence in all its forms, not only in their culture but also in their individual hearts. Now we can talk about Apocalypse. Since 9/11, Girard says, an abhorrent phenomenon has appeared. Fundamentalist Muslims use new technology to force America and the free world into embracing Islam. Islam is spreading everywhere in Europe, a dying continent. The religion that initially grew by the sword in the 7th century is growing again through violence. Since primitive culture and religion grew by violence, there is a renewed concern that humanity will succumb to violence again. What makes it worse is the experience of the 20th and 21st centuries – two World Wars, followed by a Cold War, followed by more struggles and wars that took place recently in Islamic countries. In my view 9/11 is not the beginning of Islamic fundamentalism. Since the mid 1970s, there has been a violent revival of Islamic fundamentalism (in fact, the Wahabi movement in Arabia started fundamentalist Islam in the 19th century and eventually they were given the entire Arabian desert by the British upon the end of World War I). This includes Iran, Saudi Arabia, Palestine/Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. But we cannot blame Muslims alone for the disasters of the world. In spite of a development in moral values because of the Christian influence all over the Western world, we are still self-destructive because, as humans, we have the power to think selfishly and act violently. In spite of the Spirit of Christ, Christians were killing each other in Northern Ireland until a few years ago. Who invaded Iraq in 2003 but Christians? Who was following his own self-interest but a Christian President of America? That is why we are not yet Christians in the full sense. By invading the "other" we are still not fully Christians - the act of true self-giving is missing not only at the cultural level but also at the individual level. There are probably more people of good will in other religions than those self-proclaimed evangelizers in North America. Satan is still going around like a lion seeking who he can swallow as recorded in the New Testament. Satan is called the accuser, divider and destroyer and he lives victorious in our civilizations, bringing us closer every day to destroy each other. This is the epitome of self-annihilation - Hell.

Another phenomenon is intriguing today. Contrary to the martyrs who died for their faith, Muslim fundamentalists die to bring death to "the other" (Christians and Jews). How would hell look like if we add to the equation the great emerging economies and military powers? China and Russia are among the leading military and economic powers today. They are trying hard to get ahead of themselves. They may be a threat to the superior West. Girard thinks that the world military powers have been studying the military theory of Carl von Clausewitz (19th century) for decades!

Should we be concerned? Will America and Europe succumb to the new might? We cannot predict the end yet, for Christ himself warned us that no one knows the hour except God. Apocalypse was meant for hope and support to Christians when John wrote it at the end of the first century, but is it also meant for the last days? As Christians we cannot fail to hope, for the Saviour is with us till the end of the world. John Henry Newman in the 19th century wrote about development of doctrine and faith. There is a development in our understanding of everything Christian, not only because the Second Vatican Council affirmed it in the 20th century, but precisely because it is guided by the God of Love.

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


See Links to Websites Below