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

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Anthropological Reflections

In "The History of Religions" published by the University of Chicago in 1959, Mircea Eliade traces the development of the sacred from primitive cultures. He advances the idea that in the 20th century, symbolism has been found in depth-psychology, especially that "the activity of the unconscious can be grasped through the interpretation of images, figures, and scenarios". He adds other factors that contribute to the study of symbolism such as the rise of of abstract art and "the poetic experiments of the surrealists" as well as the research of ethnologists in primitive societies, and finally the role of researches of certain philosophers, epistemologists, and linguists who wanted to show the symbolic character not only of language, but also of all other activities of the human spirit, from rite and myth to art and science." (Pages 86, 87). In the same book, Jean Daniélou clarifies "The history of religions today confronts us with an immense amount of material dealing with myths, symbols, and rites" (Page 68).

In "Truth and Tolerance" published in 2003, Joseph Ratzinger refers to Mircea Eliade's "Patterns in Comparative Religion" first published in 1948 and translated to English in 1958. Ratzinger writes "Today's man has a concept of religion that is always very much a matter of symbols, which despite the ultimate unity of the language of human symbols (as is increasingly demonstrated today by psychology and religious anthropology), vary in many details but nonetheless mean just the same thing" (Pp.23-24). Ratzinger outlines three distinctive paths in human cultures:
1. In the form of mysticism, the myth as a merely symbolic form is stripped of its illusion, and the absolute value of an unnameable experience is set up.
2. In the monotheistic revolution of Israel, the myth is rejected as man-made.The absolute nature of the divine call issued through the prophet is maintained.
3. In the form of enlightenment, first on a large scale in Greece, the myth is outgrown as a prescientific form of knowledge and rational knowledge is set up as the absolute value.  

Another finding in "generative" anthropology is attributed to René Girard, retired professor of civilizations at Stanford University and member of l'Academie francaise! 
In his theory of mimetic rivalry, René 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. He became my model since we both desire the same object, but now I  must surpass him to acquire the object for myself.  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.(Cf. Frederiek Depoortere;  "Christ in Postmodern Philosophy"; T&T Clark; 2008 - Pages 34-91).

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. 

Today's Quote

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


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