Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bonhoeffer's Questions...

In the outline for the book he intended to write, Bonhoeffer asks a very important question:

What do we really believe? I mean, believe in such a way that we stake our lives on it? The problem of the Apostle's Creed? "What must I believe?" is the wrong question.

And so what are the right questions?  Bonhoeffer had a lot of questions that were taking him from a religious kind of faith to a "to the core" kind of faith, tried and tested. 

The following quote from one of his letters from prison....

You would be surprised, and perhaps even worried, by my theological thoughts and the conclusions that they lead to; and this is where I miss you most of all, because I don't know anyone else with whom I could so well discuss them to have my thinking clarified

Yes...I know a lot about those surprised and worried reactions.  I also know how beneficial discussion can be.  It is in the discussion many times that the theological thoughts and conclusions are sorted out and understood.  Sort of a "come let us reason together" way of approaching things.  I mainly do that on EU...where anything can be discussed in a non-threatening, non-combative, nothing to prove kind of way. 

Bonhoeffer continues....

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today.

Nothing like an easy question to get started huh?

He pondered whether man would become become religionless. Or whether man already had become religionless.  He questioned whether the foundation had been taken away from Christianity and only a few "last survivors" remained.

He pondered....

If our final judgment must be that the western form of Christianity, too, was only a preliminary stage to a complete absence of religion, what kind of situation emerges for us, for the church?

And following is a running list of all the questions he spits out...rapid one of his letters to

How can Christ become the Lord of the religionless as well?

Are there religionless Christians?

If religion is only a garment of Christianity - and even this garment has looked very different at different times - then what is a religionless Christianity?

What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world?

How do we speak of God - without religion, i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on?

How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even "speak" as we used to) in a "secular" way about "God?"

In what way are we "religionless-secular" Christians, those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world?

In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean?

What is the place of worship and prayer ina religionless situation?

Does the secret discipline, or alternatively the difference between the penultimate and ultimate, take on a new importance here?

The Pauline question whether circumcision is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation.

Then he says something I can so understand...

I'm being led on more by an instinctive feeling for questions that will arise later than by any conclusions that I've already reached about them.

I used to hate the questions.  I had so many of them...and they tormented me. Big questions, too. To echo one of Bonhoeffer's quotes from the beginning of this post...

What is bothering me incessantly is ____________.

Incessantly describes it well.  I could have filled in the blank with so many different questions about sovereignty, evil, suffering...inerrancy.

  I had to KNOW and  I HAD TO KNOW NOW!!!  I've heard John Gavazonni say that sometimes God gives us answers....sometimes he gives us peace. 

About many things, he's given me peace.  About a few things, he's given me answers.  But more than anything, he seems to give me questions.  Always whispering in my ear....what about this?  What about that?  Hmmmmmm.  He piques my interest and my thoughts  all the time, everywhere, in so many different ways via so many different venues.  And surprisingly, I've come to appreciate the questions as much as I treasure the answers.  

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What About Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

Jack urged me to seek out more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I spent a lot of the weekend doing just that.  I was intrigued by several things about him.  One, of course, was his self sacrifice. He had several opportunities to save himself. For a period of time during the Nazi rule, he lived in New York...and could have stayed, but he chose to return to his own country.  During his imprisonment, arrangements were made for his release...but because he feared it would endanger his family and his fiancee' he let the opportunity pass.  Quite courageous. 

Bonhoeffer is often referred to as a martyr.  He did not hide himself away and was an outspoken opponent to Hitler's regime. As early as 1933 when when he was only 26 years old while delivering a national radio address, he warned that a leader who makes himself an idol is a "misleader."  Before he could go on, they pulled the plug on the broadcast...and he established himself as an opponent of the Fuhrer.  He knew that (to coin his phrase) that the church might be called upon "to fall into the spokes of the wheel" to stop Hitler's war machine.  Sadly, that was his fate. 

Yet, although he was committed to his role in carrying out the assassination of Hitler,  he was never truly at peace about it.  Prior to the political upheaval and subsequent atrocities, he was a pacifist. 

The following snippets are from an online (free) e-book called The Third Testament that I happened upon while researching all this stuff.

His own position was the classic pacifist one. As late as 1934, at the Fanö ecumenical conference, he delivered a powerful address in the course of which he said, “Which of us can say he knows what it might  mean to the world if one nation should meet the aggressor not with weapons in hand, but defenseless, praying, and for that very reason protected by a ‘bulwark never failing’?”

And from Bishop Bell, a fellow conspirator...spoken at Bonhoeffer's memorial service

Of those solemn last talks I had with Dietrich I will say nothing further but this: deeply committed as he was to the plan for elimination, he was not altogether at ease as a Christian about such a solution. “There must be punishment by God,” he said. “We do not want to escape repentance. The elimination itself,” he urged, “must be understood as an act of repentance. Oh, we have to be punished, Christians do not wish to escape repentance or chaos, if God wills to bring it on us. We must endure this judgement as Christians.”

Yet, earlier in his life, in a conversation with his brother he said:

"There are things for which an uncompromising stand is worthwhile. And it seems to me that peace and social justice, or Christ himself, are such things" from a Testament to Freedom.

In one of his letters from prison he wrote:

May God in his mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may he lead us to himself.

His story is well is not a plot spoiler to write about the end of the story...when God did lead Bonhoeffer to himself when he was executed by hanging in a Nazi military prison.  H. Fischer- Hullstrung, the camp doctor of the Flossemburg concentration camp gave the following account of his death:

Through the half open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison grab, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God

But it wasn't just his bravery....I was also intrigued by his morphing views and incessant questions...many of which mirror my own questions about God and religion and Christ.  And pondering these questions was the gist of many of his letters from prison...which appear, at least on the surface, to indicate he lost his faith.  But that is only the surface view...for those who are only willing to take a superficial look at his writings.  Perhaps for those who have never pondered some of the difficult questions of Christianity...of faith, it could seem that he wavered in the end.  (A year in a Nazi prison could have that affect) but his death proved otherwise....

There is quite a bit of information online about Bonhoeffer!!!  I found some book length writings about Bonhoeffer at the site "Religion Online" (which is a great site with so much information in the form of original writings by recognized religious scholars and theologians, Bible studies, Counseling, Homiletics, Worship, Missions, Ethics, History and Sociology of Religion and more. One could spend a few years reading there and not run out of stuff to read!!)  There are five writings there about Bonhoeffer...two full length books.  I read some, not all, of the writings. 

I also found excerpts from his famous Letters and Papers from Prison...the first correspondence with his parents, and letters to his best friend about a "religionless" society and his state of mind after the attempt on Hitler's life had failed.

And I found a really interesting blog....the depths of which I have not explored but that is totally focused on Bonhoeffer and what we can learn from him today....very cool.

There is also a resource page from a public radio broadcast about Bonhoeffer that has some really interesting quotes and some links to some podcasts.  (which I did not listen to)

In my next post...hopefully...I will write about some of those incessant theological questions that he asked...and in the post after that I will write about what I think are the answers he found. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

What About the Church in Nazi Germany?

Sadly, resistance to the Nazi regime was the exception and not the rule.  Among those who should have taken a stand for right but didn' fact probably the saddest, sorriest example of all....was the Church...Protestant and Catholic.  Their reaction and actions ran the gamut from doing nothing to stop the actually supporting, promoting and helping to carry out the "Final Solution."  I came across a cartoon that sums up the attitude of the churches in the time of Hitler...and the willingness to conform the church to the political agenda of the day. 


I read quite a bit online about the whys and hows....the reasons the church fell so far short in their response...going all the way back to Luther and his nasty little book, On the Jews and Their Lies:

 First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire...

Second, that all their books-- their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible-- be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted...

Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country...

Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it.

Anti-semitism abounded.  In Girardian thought, the Jews were the scapegoats...the elimination of the Jews would cure all the ills that affected Germany. In fact, the Holocaust was the epitome of scapegoating...a dogged, determined elimination of all those who were in any way different than the Aryans...the master race.  The handicapped, the mentally ill, gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, homosexuals...were all sacrificed to purify Germany.

One of the best articles I found online discusses the church's role in depth discussing among other things: 

Protestantism In the Weimar Republic

German Christians

The Protestant Church and the Third Reich until 1935

The Methodist Church and the Third Reich

and another article,  The Protestant churches in Nazi Germany, explains in detail what was going on at the time and some of the history that led to the situation. 

There were a few Christians who actually stood up to the Nazi regime...and one who stood out among those few..... Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His story and beliefs and courage have been the focus of most of my internet journeys this weekend.

But more on that....tomorrow.....

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What About Hitler?

As Jack and I have been discussing back and forth in the comments, there are some dilemmas and ethical issues this nonviolence stuff brings up.....situations that don't have clear cut answers?. 

It seems that "What about Hitler?" is not only a question those who believe in UR must find a way to answer.  Those who believe that nonviolence is a viable, realistic, workable way to settle conflict must also deal with the Hitler question.  Could Hitler have been stopped by nonviolent means? 

There are many who say yes...if the means had been started before he had risen to the lofty heights of power where he was almost invincible, untouchable.  I read several articles that detailed nonviolent protests that actually worked.  From an article called Hitler and the Challenge of Nonviolence 

In Bulgaria most of the country’s 48,000 Jews were saved when leaders of the Orthodox Church and farmers in the northern stretches of the country threatened to lie across railroad tracks to prevent Jews from being deported. This pressure encouraged the Bulgarian parliament to resist the Nazis, who eventually rescinded the deportation order, saving almost all of the country's 48,000 Jews.

The German army was well prepared to meet armed resistance, but less able to cope with strikes, civil disobedience, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent action. A famous example is when the Norwegian teachers were told to join the Nazi party and teach Nazism in schools or face the consequences. When 12,000 teachers signed a declaration against the new law, 1000 were arrested and sent to prison camps. But the strike continued and after some months the order was canceled and they were allowed to continue their work. In a speech, Quisling summarized: ”You teachers have destroyed everything for me!”

We can just imagine what would have been the consequences if many professions had followed in the footsteps of these teachers. Or if they had prepared such actions well in advance and even had exercises prior to the invasion.

In another article I happened upon entitled "The Ironies of Peace "   it talked about a successful protest that took place in Berlin in 1943, long after the German war machine began carrying out "The Final Solution" the extermination of the European Jews.

In March of 1943, Gestapo headquarters in Berlin ordered the arrest and deportation of the remaining Jewish men who had been left out of the roundups so far because they were married to ‘Aryan’ wives. But then a totally unexpected thing happened. First one, then another of those wives began to converge on the detention center on Rosenstrasse demanding their men be released. By the end of the weekend, they were nearly 6,000 strong and refusing orders to disperse though Gestapo headquarters was only a few blocks away.

And the Gestapo caved in—they released the men. Moreover, as we have learned only recently, in Nazi-occupied capitals all over Europe, officials carefully watched the failed experiment and decided to leave their own Jews who similarly had Aryan spouses alone. In other words, an unorganized form of nonviolence carried out spontaneously by untrained people with no organization and no followup “stopped Hitler’s armies” in their most virulent form, saving tens of thousands of people.

Another who bravely stood in opposition to Hitler's regime was Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor/theologian.  More on him tomorrow....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reading about nonviolence....

I have been rummaging around the internet reading about nonviolence.  There is a lot of information.  There is a lot to think about...and write about....and I will be doing that sporadically.  I was hoping to get some kind of a "series" going....with at least a general idea at the outset of what I want to say/convey...but it's not happening.  Like it ever does here on my blog.  Most every thing....even the multi-part series....are written on the I go...morphing as I learn/ponder/consider....reconsider.  And I invite you to consider...and reconsider along with me.  A bit "flighty" I suppose but I am very much a work in progress....

So this post will be very short...with a few thoughts I found in one of the articles I read entitled, "Nonviolence: An Introduction" by Thomas Weber and Robert J. Burrowes

Basically, according to this article, there are two main ideologies of nonviolence based on the principles of Christianity or Ghandi's  Satyagraha.  The aim of both is to initiate a heart change in the opponent.  Two quotes from the article..which was one of the better writings I found on the web. 

About the Christian approach...

Quakers believe that there is something of God in every person and that in the face of evil, as Christians, they are called upon to act in a way that is most likely to reach 'that of God' in the other and so change an evil mind into a right mind. And this is not something that can be achieved by violence.

And about Ghandi's approach...

'It is based on the idea that the moral appeal to the heart or conscience is ... more effective than an appeal based on threat or bodily pain or violence'


aims to attain the truth through love and right action; it demands the elimination of violence from the self and from the social, political and economic environment.

The article began with the following quote...which is so true...

"People try nonviolence for a week, and when it 'doesn't work' they go back to violence, which hasn't worked for centuries."

-Theodore Roszak

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This peaceful Jesus stuff...

The excerpt I posted the other day by Brian McLaren...writings by Shane Claiborne....Greg Boyd...Yoder, Preston Eby (and his heart moving/rending essay on why a son of God should never bear arms against another human being) the words of Jesus, the exhortations for unity, peace and love in the New Testament all resonate in my spirit...they touch my heart...they move me. 

Just to be clear, however, and I think I have been in the past when I've written about this stuff, I am not living this out in my day to day life.  Sometimes...once in a while, every so often I am close...but more often than not, I totally miss the mark.

God does, however, continue to give me daily opportunities to practice.  There are my three kids who have vexed me and tried my patience in numerous, varied and unimaginable ways since they were born.  They sort of have an advantage though.  I love them with a depth of love I never knew possible before I had kids so it is not so much of a leap to get to the unconditional level of love for them...and subsequent forgiving behavior.  

There are many people and situations in my day to day life that figuratively seem to "slap me on the right cheek" more than I would like.  A lot more. I usually don't "turn the other cheek."  This could be someone who (as I've written about before) takes my turn at Confusion Corner...or whose dog barks and whines all day, interrupting my quiettude when I am home attempting to read and relax.  It could be those whose opinion of me often seems harsh and critical. 

How do I react?  Well, I've flipped a few people off at Confusion Corner, I've fretted and stewed and fumed about the the whining dog and harbored hatred in my heart for his owners.  I've also not turned away wrath with a gentle answer when I've felt attacked.  Usually...virtually always...I react out of my carnal nature...but every so often I don't miss the mark.  Once in a great while. 

I am a pacifist wannabe.  All of the writings resonate. The war mongering rhetoric of the Christian right (epitomized for me in Ann Coulter and kind) seem so far from the words of Jesus.   


        (Sculpture available for sale at Blue Metal Designs)

Do I have it all figured out?  No.  I have admitted that freely here before.  I continue to ponder how all of this fits together...

More ponderings and come....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Excerpt From A New Kind of Christianity....

I really, really like the following excerpt from Brian McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity.  I bought two McLaren books at a discount book store in Pigeon Forge when we were there for a day or so during our recent vacation.  I haven't gotten a chance to read either one of them.  One is "Everything Must Change"....the other....ah....Finding Faith...a Search for What Makes Sense.  (I also got both Shane Claiborne books....Jesus For President and Irresistible Revolution...but haven't read them yet either)  Anyway...I came upon the following excerpt from A New Kind of Christianity  on the Reflections blog...which you really should check out too since he often posts thought provoking writings, both his own and from others.  The excerpt below....


To repeat, Revelation is not portraying Jesus returning to earth in the future, having repented of his naive gospel ways and having converted to Caesar’s "realistic" Greco-Roman methods instead. He hasn’t gotten discouraged about Caesar seeming to get the upper hand after his resurrection and on that basis concluded that it’s best to live by the sword after all (Matt. 26:52). Jesus hasn’t abandoned the way of peace (Luke 19:42) and concluded that the way of Pilate is better, mandating that the disciples should fight after all (John 18:36). He hasn’t had second thoughts about all that talk about forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22) and concluded that on the 78th offense you should pull out your sword and hack off your offender’s head rather than turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39).

He hasn’t given up on that "love your enemies" stuff (Matthew 5:44) and judged it naive and foolish after all (1 Cor. 1:25), concluding instead that God’s strength is made manifest not in weakness but in crushing domination (2 Cor. 12:9). He hasn’t had a change of heart, concluding that the weapons he needs are physical after all (2 Cor. 10:3-4), which would mean that the way to glory isn’t actually by dying on a cross (Phil. 2:8-9) but rather by nailing others on it.

He hasn’t sold the humble donkey (Luke 19:30-35) on eBay and purchased chariots, warhorses, tanks, land mines, and B-1s instead (Zech. 9:9-10) … He hasn’t decided that the message of the cross is a little too foolish after all (1 Cor. 1:18) or that Christ killing his foes is way more exciting than that lame, absurd, "hippie" gospel of "Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

He hasn’t decided that … nobody can be expected to worship a king they can beat up (Matt. 27:27) … Jesus matters precisely because he provides us a living alternative to the confining [violent] narrative in which our world and our religions live, move, and have their being too much of the time.

Revelation celebrates not the love of power, but the power of love. It denies, with all due audacity, that God’s anointed liberator is the Divine Terminator, threatening revenge for all who refuse to honor him, growling, "I’ll be back!" It asserts, instead, that God’s anointed liberator is the one we beat up, who promises mercy to those who strike him, whispering, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bring your mind clear and clean....

I am taking a break from the current "series" about mimetic rivalry and Girardian thought.  I am not finished. What remains to be said is the best part.  The Bible is a progressive expose' of the scapegoating mechanism...and Jesus and the crucifixion is the crowning illumination of the whole process.  His death was identical to the many, many victims of scapegoating through the ages...yet, totally unique for many reasons, not the least of which, he was the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. He came to set creation free. He is the head of the body. He is the savior of the world.  More on that to come...

I  closed my last post with some musings about the we filter the Bible through our own prejudices and beliefs...sometimes ignoring all other possible interpretations but the one we are the most comfortable with. 

What prompted me to ponder this in more detail?  I happened upon two last night before bed, the other during my early morning surfing session which began at 5 am. 

On my nightstand is a book...a random book I took from the bookshelf a while back to leaf through...a book obtained years ago through a Christian book club (because I was late in sending back my "no thanks, I don't want this month's selection") Actually it was a series of three books by .  Two are still here in the living room bookcase.  The third book..."How Can I Find You God?" by has been propped against the alarm clock on our nightstand for the past few months...blocking the (too bright) glow of the numbers.

Well, last night, even though I was yawning and ready to go to sleep, I picked up the book, checked out the table of contents...turned to the chapter on the Holy Spirit and read what she had to say.  I enjoyed the retelling of her journey from a disbelief in the gift of actually speaking in tongues herself.  She wrote from a conservative Christian a conservative Christian audience.  Not a charismatic audience because she was well aware her views on the Holy Spirit might not be well received.  In urging her readers to consider that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is still available today (duh) and that the gift of tongues did not go out with the apostles, she said this:

Now divorce yourself from man-made doctrines, forget all the stock dismissals, negations, explanations and assumptions you've ever heard.  Bring your mind clear and clean to the Gospels and listen with your own ears to what they say.

I pondered that awhile...

Then, this morning...while following links from the facebook page of Clyde Pilkington Jr, I came upon a collection of articles from the Bible Students Notebook.  I read quite a few of the writings there...snipping quotes to save to my already bulging quote file (because one can never have too many quotes).  The perspective of most of the articles, many of them from writers of yesteryear, was a bit more conservative than how I see things but still so much to be gleaned from reading them.  One in particular caught my attention because, it expressed the same thoughts (in much more detail) as the snippet I read last night. 

"Bring your mind, clear and clean, to the Gospels and listen with your own ears to what they say."

The article was written by Ross Purdy and was entitled  "Enjoy the Learning Process That Lasts a Lifetime."  In the article, he discusses the way to interpret scripture in spite of our tendency to filter it through our existing belief system.  Lengthy excerpts follow:

 Different approaches (dispensational, covenant, progressive dispensational) can often come to different interpretations because they are forced there by deductions they have already made with respect to other interpretations on other passages. Much theology is then biased and instead of letting Scripture speak for itself, an interpretation is forced on it.

..... people assume a number of things before even having studied something out. I think it is a big mistake to not test those assumptions in the first place and at the very least, leave them open to questioning and discussion. In other words, to really engage Scripture honestly, we have to remain open to modifying our theology and understanding. other words we go to scripture with preconceived ideas...not with a "clear and clean" mindset and determine what it says based on our pre-existing beliefs.  We do not remain open to modifying our theology and understanding.  This applies to all points on the liberal/conservative, progressive/fundamentalist, believer/nonbeliever spectrum. "So where do we start?" he asks. 

...with something that at least appears consistent. Dispensational theology qualifies. But we must be active and dynamic in study. We must allow our position to be challenged. We must never take the position that “I have the truth which must be guarded at all costs.” No man or organization can claim such infallibility. We rather trust in the written Word of God against which we can study and compare all things like Bereans. We lean on other saints who edify us. We test what we learn in day to day living by practicing the principles of God’s Word. These things will keep us closer to God and safer than any doctrinal statement or movement or denomination claiming to have recovered the truth.

Then the author asks another question....

What does this mean for you?

Rather than quote the article word for word...paragraph by paragraph, I've put his thoughts in bulleted form.  Please note, these are the thoughts of the author rearranged a bit into guidelines for studying scripture and forming beliefs...these are not my original ideas, although I do agree with what he has to say. 

  • We all have to start somewhere and the best way to do that is to borrow someone else’s interpretation.
  • Take a position and study it. We use that as a starting point from which to learn and explore.
  • It should never ever be a resting spot beyond which we never venture.
  • Challenge it yourself in light of what you read and learn.
  • Take up different and opposite positions and try to defend them as if you held them whether you do or not. That is the best way to see their merits.
  • Ask others to challenge it and reflect.
  • Ask questions of those you respect and see how it affects your understanding.
  • Always find out from the folks who hold a position as to what they believe. Never take the word of someone who is against a certain interpretation as to what people actually believe who hold the position.

In other words....for example....

  • Never trust a Calvinist to tell you what an Arminian believes and vice-versa.
  • Some things will always be confusing in Scripture, but over years of study, some of them clear up. Sometimes a new interpretation clears it up.
  • Leave it sit awhile on the shelf and when you come across something in your study that reminds you of it again, revisit it and study a little more and put it back on the shelf again.
  • Allowing our knowledge and understanding to be challenged allows us to go back to the Word and learn, explore more, and grow in God’s grace.
  • Be responsible yourself for what you believe. It is better to have very little you have mined for yourself than much borrowed from someone else.
  • Don’t grasp any theological interpretation or teaching so tight that you can’t let go of it when you learn that it is wrong.
  • What is scary is that sometimes this method challenges big chunks of your own theology and you have to toss it all out. You feel like you have to start all over again and it is going to be painful! It might happen several times in your life! But the joy is in learning and exploring and living and knowing we are not trapped in something that never lets us move beyond it.
  • Have no fear!
  • Even if one does go really wrong on some doctrine, I am convinced that living it out and continued study of the Word and the love of the saints will be very, very effective in correcting the error.
  • Please enjoy the opportunity to learn and teach.   Enjoy the learning process which lasts a lifetime.

Friday, April 9, 2010

And Yet More About Scapegoating....

This is my third attempt at "reiteration"....but somehow through a fluke in computer technology, I  lost both previous attempts. Truthfully, I'm pretty sure both involved human error...I forgot to save one attempt.  Duh.  The other, I was dinking around with a new (to me) program, Mozilla's scrapbook, and somehow erased what I had written.  I try to tell myself that God did the erasing for one reason or another but it still pisses me off.  So I'll try for the third time to "reiterate."  It will either be "the third time is the charm" or "three strikes and you're out."

So, again...societies/cultures/religions are often (always?) founded by a violent act spurred on by the collective rage of a group caught up in the frenzy of mimetic rivalry. It is at the point when conflict has escalated to a fever pitch and the survival of the group is in jeopardy that the scapegoating mechanism is triggered. The all against all becomes all against one. The attention of the group focuses on a scapegoat. Usually the scapegoat is killed...sometimes  banished....sent away.  And it works.  Peace reigns, the scapegoat is deified. The founding myths of most cultures hide the violent act but it cannot be completely covered up.  It is however, hidden, glossed over, reworded, downplayed.  It is instinctively hidden because once scapegoating is acknowledged for what it is....once the participants see the truth it no longer works.  They must "know not what they do" in order for scapegoating to bring (a fragile and temporary) peace.

And while the origin of many societies/cultures/religions are based on a founding myth (act of scapegoating) there have been countless....COUNTLESS...."smaller" acts of scapegoating down through the ages and also in our day to day lives.  We all do it to some degree or another. And with today's advanced technology truly making it a  "small,small world" there is mimetic rivalry and scapegoating taking place on a planetary scale. Girard's latest book paints an ominous picture of what will happen to mankind if we don't wake up and see what is right under our noses. 

We are the ones steeped in sacrifice. Every human culture down through the ages has instituted sacrifice...taking it to heinous degrees....even sacrificing their children.  I don't think Girard's theory is the end all, be all explanation to this inclination within us but it is a huge chunk of the puzzle and helps us to see the dirty little secret hidden in mankind's collective closet.  Our inclination to sacrifice another to bring peace to our turmoil, to assuage our appease the angry deity (who, by the way is us.  We are the angry deity) 

And according to Girard, the Bible stands alone as the only sacred writing that holds the mirror up to our blood streaked faces and forces us to see the truth...a truth we would rather not see. A truth we refuse to see.  So scapegoating goes on to this very day....all around us, at home, at work, in our our cities, in our states...around the globe.  I will delve into this day to day, nitty gritty aspect of scapegoating at some point but in this post I want to focus on the bigger picture and how scripture stands alone in its progressive revelation and condemnation of sacrifice.  In a news article written about Girard the following quote caught my eye

"The first culture which rebels against that system is the Jewish culture," Girard said. He explains that the Bible is actually counter-mythical. Over a period of centuries, the books of the Old Testament begin to catch on to mankind's scapegoating mechanism. While they describe and even celebrate violence, they gradually begin to question and fight it as well.  

We can clearly see this back and forth condemnation/celebration of violence and sacrifice in the Old Testament.  Mixed in with the celebration of violence and the commands surrounding sacrifice is the condemnation of those same practices through the voice of several of the prophets as they express God's disgust with the sacrificial system.  This back and forth between the two points of view is what I think Girard means when he talks about "text in travail."  I think the detailed "who, what, when, where, how and why" directives in the Old Testament concerning sacrifice were not God's way of instituting sacrifice, but rather a step in the process toward eliminating sacrifice. 

The many rules and regulations laid out in the OT (Leviticus especially comes to mind) were to limit sacrifice..not initiate it.  It was not as easy to grab a dove or a lamb (or first born child) and drag it to the altar with so many requirements and sacrificial red tape! 

And again...the Bible stands alone in its progressive dogged determination to expose sacrifice and scapegoating for what it really is. While the Bible does not provide its truths in Sparks' Notes bulleted summaries that hit all the talking points, the truth is there.  And this particular truth was spoken through the Psalms and repeated by Jesus himself. 

I will proclaim what has been hidden since the foundation of the world. – Matt. 13:35

That is Jesus rephrasing Psalm 78 a bit

Listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—

Mimetic rivalry and scapegoating are as old as time....hidden since the foundation of the world.

At least that is how I see it.  Some might argue this point, but I think we all pick and choose which Bible verses to believe... by.  You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say and support whatever pet doctrine you might hold near and dear simply by focusing on the verses that fit your particular theology.  This, of course, includes me...

More pn all of this in my next post.....

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Still More - Scapegoating....

At the close of my last post I mentioned that many cultures and religions were started by a "founding murder" and I listed several examples.  If you are interested you can google any of them and get more information...

The articles I have been relying on to help solidify some of the thoughts in the churner from the far and wide, now and then, here and there reading I have been doing about Girard for the past few years talks about a specific example written by Gil Bailie:

Scapegoats then found, preserve, and unify culture. Countless examples can be found in antiquity; a graphic illustration is provided by Bailie’s in his examination of the decline of the Aztec God-king
Quetzacoatl, the feathered serpent whose reign ended soon after the arrival of a stranger (the god
Tezcatlipoca). “Like the Greek God Dionysus, the flamboyant behaviour of this strange and fascinating man plunged the society into social chaos. Eventually he was slain by the very crowd that had found him so intriguing (sounds familiar), a slaying that coincided with such a restoration of religious awe and social harmony that it was obvious to everyone that the one they had slain must have been a god. A cult dedicated to him arose and on its altars regular human sacrifices were offered.

Note that there are similarities there between Tezcatlipoca and Jesus....

The article goes on to tell more about the myth of people followed him like a pied piper to the river  where they converged on a bridge....which collapsed under their weight

Like a bacchalian pied piper... Tezcatlipoca led his revellers out to the river. So great was the throng that the bridge collapsed under the weight and many people fell and were turned to stone.”

This is supposedly a mythical cover up for mob violence....

As Bailie notes, people who fall from a collapsing bridge don’t turn to stone. They are drowned or
crushed. “In many primitive societies, the most typical form of spontaneous violence involves the throwing of stones. Stones fly and people fall dead. When the mythological mind recollects the frenzy of a full-blown violent crisis, it muses (filters, enchants). Evidence of mob violence doesn’t always disappear, for if the myth is to serve as the ‘sound-track’ for future sacrificial re-enactments, these hints of violence cannot be altogether erased.”

After a number of incidents like the collapse of the bridge, the myth tells us that Tezcatlipoca spoke
to the community, now little more than a frantic mob, and tells them that to avoid future disasters
such as these, they should stone him to death (and they did). It was his presence he explains that caused such death and confusion. “Except in myth, people don’t ask to be stoned to death. In retrospect, the stoning of Tezcatlipoca would have been understood as having the god’s own warrant, for it is only in retrospect that the sudden peace that accompanied his murder had to be accounted for, and gods don’t die at the hands of mortals unless they want to.”(very prophetic)

Very prophetic, indeed.  In an article written by Mark Heim he asks the question:

Is Christ’s death unique? It is not, since it is crucial to the saving "work" of the cross to recognize that Jesus’ death is precisely the same as that of so many other victims. And yet by virtue of this identification it is unique because it is the one of all these deaths that have been happening from the foundation of the world that irreversibly shows us the sin in which we are every-where enmeshed and in which God has acted on the side of the victims.

So according to Heim, the circumstances of the crucifixion have to demonstrate all the major points of the scapegoating process so that we can easily identify God, through Jesus, can finally repudiate this kind of sacrifice. In that way, the crucifixion is not unique.  In my next post, I will write more about the crucifixion and how Jesus mirrors other scapegoated victims down through the ages.  As Heim points out, it is imperitve that we make the connection...beyond any that God can condemn the whole sordid process...... 

More tomorrow.....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

More on Scapegoating....

I have been rereading many articles I have saved on my computer and in my bookmarks/favorites to help me write this series. 

I want to highlight (and urge you to read in their entirety) The Theory of Rene Girard and its Theological Implications - Part I

and Part II  both written by Rob Moore.

These writings provide an excellent explanation about mimetic rivalry and scapegoating.  My special thanks to Mr. Moore for providing so much food for thought through his research, his quotes and his own insights. 

They can be found at a site called self described as

a site for those who seek to remain in that space between the outer and inner life, between being active and contemplative, and to find, in the words of Thomas Merton, how "we can become what we already are".

Now some of my muddled thoughts....

Scapegoating has been going on since the dawn of time, in all cultures, all over the world.  It is hidden in the founding myths that describe the origin of cultures, societies and religions.  In a nutshell (even though I am very good at this nutshell stuff) A group of people living together fall into mimetic rivalry...which escalates to the apocalyptic "all against all" situation.  When mimetic rivalry reaches this fever pitch it becomes metaphysical and the participants usually don't even remember what the original rivalry was about.  Think of long standing feuds...between countries, between sports teams, between families.  Sort of the Hatfield's and McCoy's thing. 

Even animals have a form of mimetic rivalry referred to as animal mimicry which is also acquisitive and follows a pattern very similar to the human variety, however, animals have a built in "braking mechanism" that prevents the "group destroying violence." In animals, the rivalry usually stays at the level of competing for the coveted object and does not become metaphysical the way it does in humans (as I mentioned in the example above where the object that was the original cause of the rivalry has long since been forgotten)  In the animal kingdom, the weaker animal usually submits to the stronger animal and the conflict ends there....not contaminating the relationships of the rest of the group (pack).

So, in humans, when violence has reached the point where the survival of the group is threatened, the all against all becomes all against one. The angry mob focuses their murderous rivalry on a who is different or weak....someone they can blame for the escalation of violence and calamity and all the problems they are facing (including their sense of guilt and shame.)  Then they vent their collective displaced anger on the innocent (or not nearly as guilty as presumed) victim. 

Or as James Fredericks in the Cross and the Begging Bowl words it:

“By organizing retributive violence into a united front against an enemy common to all the rivals, either an external enemy or a member of the community symbolically designated as an enemy, violence itself is transformed into a socially constructive force.”

Or as Girard says:

All the rancors scattered at random among the divergent individuals, all the differing antagonisms, now converge on an isolated and unique figure, the surrogate victim.”



(From the Missouri State University Department of History website)

The surrogate victim can be an outsider (from a different clan/race/geographic location).  Or someone from within the community that is different (deformed/mentally ill/poor) or one that is especially valued and often the object of rivalry ( in the poor unlucky victims tossed in the flames to the volcano god, or animals vital to the survival of the in spotless lambs and red heifers.)


(From the Missouri State University Department of History website)

So avert the destruction of the "all against all," the "all" diffuses their anger and frustration on "one" who becomes the victim of the all.  Since the violence against the one is usually unanimously agreed upon by the all, it is a form of sanctioned violence.  And it works!! 

As if by magic, their rage dissipates....and there is cohesion in the crowd. 

It is at this point, after the fact, the angry crowd suddenly realizes there is comradery and goodwill...replacing the anger and division that was present before the sacrifice.  They are awed and conclude that the victim must surely have been supernatural, a god of sorts, if his sacrifice and death could bring calm where before there was so much chaos. So they immortalize the victim, turn him into a god and hide the violence with a myth.  There are countless examples of this down through the ages.

After originally discovering mimetic rivalry in  great and enduring literature...the classics... Girard went on to study the creation stories of ancient societies and religions. In their myths, he found evidence of the scapegoat mechanism as the birth of the society/religion/culture, however, the founding murder and violence is often disguised and glossed over and hidden.

As Gil Bailie has written:

Myth then remembers discretely and selectively; the violence inflicted upon the scapegoat remains hidden.

Examples of these founding myths abound....and Girard discusses some of these examples in his book "I See Satan Fall Like Lightening." We did a book study several years ago on the Beautiful Heresy message board on this book.  Some of his examples include:

  • Sumerian mythology – cultural institutions emerge from a single  victim (Ea, Tiamat, Kungu)
  • India – the dismemberment of Purusha by the mob offering sacrifices (and if I remember correctly from reading the book...the distribution of her body parts) produced the caste system
  • Similar myths in Egypt, China and the Germanic people

And there are many others.  One in particular is discussed in the article I mentioned in the beginning of this post.  More on that tomorrow......

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Girard and the Bible

Once upon a time....a long, long time ago...before I got sick...and before we headed off on vacation, I started a series of posts about Girard's theory of mimesis, our inborn propensity to mimic the desires of others, the resulting mimetic rivalry that eventually leads to scapegoating and the Bible's progressive revelation of the whole sordid mess...

The purpose of this series of posts is not to point out that because of mimesis we're pretty much screwed (although Girard does think that left unchecked there is that possibility) but rather to focus on the solution found within the pages of scripture. I came across an article...who knows when, that I had saved on my computer. It is called

Prayer Unbinding Desire, The Meditation Teaching and Practice of John Main by Stuart Sandberg

For Girard the Bible provides a unique source for revealing the victimage systems that are ordinarily hidden in religion and culture. He discusses Abraham not sacrificing Isaac, the story of Joseph and his brothers, Solomon’s wisdom in determining the mother of the baby, the Psalms in which the victim finds a voice, the Suffering Servant in Second Isaiah, Job and most clearly in what the Gospels and the New Testament reveal: the reversal of the ordinary justification of violence against the victim. While the God of sacrificial religion, who imitates human violence in vengeance and punishment, also appears in the Bible, Girard describes it as a “text in travail.”

One of the definitions of travail is the "effort and pain of childbirth." I'm not sure exactly what Girard means by text in travail...but it occurs to me that the progressive revelation of the scriptures is a lot like childbirth. Scripture seems to be in the throes of a birthing process from Genesis to Revelation.

The revelation that God is not on the side of the crowd that crucifies Jesus but is the one who is crucified only comes to consciousness in the Bible as in human history with the same difficulty that it comes to consciousness in us.

The article also states that:

Based on his study of literature, anthropology, and the Bible, Girard exposes a universal structure in which a subject imitates the desire of a model or mediator and becomes a rival with him for the desired object. The more models of desire become shifting rivals, obstacles and objects of desire themselves, they create the attraction and repulsion that has come to be known as a double bind. Awareness of this mechanism is not enough to stop it, or to raise one’s level of consciousness, but it might lead to asking what will.

And what will stop this mechanism?

Near the end of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Girard recommends Jesus and the Gospels as an alternative model for “the prisoners of violent imitation”.

In the Gospels, 87 times Jesus bids us, "Follow me" and Paul urges us to imitate him as he imitates Christ Jesus. The idea being that we will imitate someone, it is inborn in us, but if we imitate Jesus we find no "push back" from rivalry, no competition. There is no resentment or hostility in Jesus so he does not generate rivalry in those who imitate him. It is what Girard refers to as “good mimesis.”

Obviously, there is more to it than "imitating" Jesus. It is putting on the mind of Christ....putting on the new man. Scripture says that we HAVE the mind of Christ and that our old man WAS crucified. The old man who grows corrupt with deceitful lusts (aka in the Greek.... desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust) is dead.

I will close this post with a snippet from The Girard Reader

"Mimetic desire is also the desire for God.”

More to follow....