I've written about Girard before, and always glossed over some of his ideas that mean the most to me. Today is Good Friday, and as I ponder the meaning of it for my own faith, I decided to post an old lecture I gave as part of a lecture series Luke organized many years ago.
This is a discussion of Girard's book, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening. The crucified Christ is important to me, but I don't tend to talk about it much with my friends who don't also share the same belief. However, on this special Friday, allow me to exceed the bounds of this blog's form and my readers' expectations, and share with you the ideas of a man who has influenced me greatly.
Girard, René. Je vois Satan tomber comme l’éclair. Paris: Grasset, 1999. [trans]: I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Translated, with a Foreword, by J. G. Williams. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001.
Girard begins the book by examining the last of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17):
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour
- You shall not covet (i.e., desire) the house of your neighbour. You shall not covet the wife of your neighbour, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything that belongs to him.
Notice how this list moves from forbidding particular acts to the forbidding of desires. The final commandment seems, at first glance, to be out of place. How could such a simple and irrelevant command be placed next to prohibitions against murder? And yet there it is, and among such dangerous crimes it cautions us of dismissing it too quickly.
The danger it seeks to avoid is the danger of desiring what our neighbour has. The fact that this prohibition is included, the fact that it had to be included, points to our human tendency to do this naturally. We do desire what our neighbour has; more importantly for Girard, we desire what our neighbour desires.
In this final commandment, Girard thinks you can see the intellectual movement necessitated by a law that would prevent sin: at first it begins with the objects of desire—the neighbour’s house, his wife, his slave, etc. However, at some point the list of objects is overwhelming and the language shifts: “nor anything that belongs to him.” Herein lies the point: we desire not our neighbour’s house as such, but rather we desire it because it is his house. The object is made desirable to us by our neighbour’s desire. Our neighbour’s desire becomes our desire.
What the Bible does here is to alter our understanding of desire, which up until this point had been thought of as objective or subjective; surely we desire what is inherently desirable? Girard argues that according to the Bible this is not the case. Instead the Bible shows us that desire is dependent on a third-party who gives value to the object. So the neighbour becomes the model for our desire, teaching us what we should desire. Our desire is, then, imitation of our neighbour’s desire. This is what Girard calls mimetic desire.
Mimesis, from the Greek, meaning to imitate. You can still hear its echo in our word “Mime.” Mimetic Desire is a kind of unconscious imitation of others. It is important to stress that we are unaware that we do this. The other, what Girard calls the Model, mediates reality (i.e., the world, experiences, specific assumptions about life, etc.) to us, to the subject. As humans we are constituted by the model/other, the self is a set of mimetic relationships operative in the individual, both in the present and from the past.
The Model can (and often will) become a Rival to us when he/she is associated with an object we desire. In such cases the important thing is not as much the object of desire, but the defeat of our model, our rival.
A Crisis occurs when we cannot win, and the model/rival cannot be overcome or obtained. Girard says that in such cases the rival has become a “stumbling block” to us—a term he translates from the Greek skandalon, or just scandal. The word is important for Girard, for it is the same one used in the Gospels to describe an obstacle. For example, when Peter rebukes Jesus for claiming that he needed to die and suffer, Jesus responds by saying: “Get behind me Satan! You are a skandalon to me…” (Matt. 16:23).
Mimetic desire is dangerous because there is no object underneath the desire—the desire is simply imitating another’s desire, which is itself imitation, and so on. The recursive nature of our desire means that it tends to spiral out of control, eventually leading to violence. How is this so?
Returning to the tenth commandment: someone desires his neighbour’s wife, however, his neighbour is (obviously) not going to share her. The husband, in witnessing the neighbour’s desire, desires his wife even more (i.e., he imitates the other’s desire who is imitating his desire). Neither man would admit to himself or anyone else that his desire of the wife is an imitation of the neighbour, for there is nothing more embarrassing to the individual than the idea of imitation. And yet the increased desire of his neighbour shows it to be true. Nevertheless, the desire continues to grow, and the two men become rivals.
The paradox of the mimetic desire at this stage is that the antagonists always become more alike in attempting to differentiate themselves from one another. Consider two people/groups who are fighting, but seem to bear no resemblance to one another. In attempting to differentiate themselves from one another, they become the same, in that they are both imitating this desire for difference.
I once saw a shirt for sale in the mall with the slogan: “I am my own role model.” The ridiculousness of this statement is amplified by its duplication on a rack full of identical shirts, all of which will be worn by people whose actions are incapable of revealing what they hope their shirt will declare; for if I was really my own role model, I wouldn’t need to tell you. Contemporary youth culture, as portrayed by marketers, is a classic example of mimetic desire, where everyone is “original,” but strangely everyone’s originality takes the on the same shape.
Returning to the two neighbours…the object of both men’s desire is not really the wife, but the other man’s desire of the wife, and as such there is no end to this rivalry. The neighbour becomes scandalized, and only violence (i.e., the elimination of the neighbour) can end the stand still.
We will be returning to the idea of mimetic desire again, and before you draw a negative conclusion about its effects, let me point-out that Girard does not say imitation is wrong in and of itself.
The problems of mimetic desire should not be taken to mean that it is bad. Rather, Girard argues, it is “intrinsically good.” “The essence of desire is to have no essential goal. In order to truly desire, we must have recourse to people about us; we have to borrow their desires.” (Girard, 15). Mimetic desire helps us to know what to desire. It is what separates us from the animal, whose “desire” is predetermined (e.g., cows will always eat grass).
As an example of the positive effects of mimetic desire, consider how children learn to talk by imitating their parents.
So if mimetic desire is not the problem, what is required is an appropriate model for our imitation.
Girard says that “the tenth commandment signals a revolution and prepares the way for it. This revolution comes to fruition in the New Testament. If Jesus never speaks in terms of prohibitions and always in terms of models and imitation, it is because he draws out the full consequences of the lesson offered by the tenth commandment. It is not due to inflated self-love that he asks us to imitate him; it is to turn us away from mimetic rivalries…What Jesus invites us to imitate is his own desire, the spirit that directs him toward the goal on which his intention is fixed: to resemble God the Father as much as possible…In inviting us to imitate him, he invites us to imitate his own imitation.” (Girard, 13).
Only God is free of egotistical desire; only in Jesus do we have a model who will not, cannot, become our rival.
Another of Girard’s ideas that will be important for us to understand is that of mimetic contagion and the single victim mechanism. In addition to exploring how mimetic desire works at the level of individual relationships, Girard has also shown how mimetic desire operates at the level of the group or community. Much as it has the power to disrupt relations between neighbours at the micro level, mimetic desire at the macro level threatens to destroy whole communities through violence. How is it that we have survived at all if our imitation of one another’s desires can only be resolved through violence?
The answer is the single victim mechanism. Consider first the operation of mimetic desire in the crowd.
Two people begin by desiring a common object, which Girard reminds us is really the desire of the other. As the imitation of the model turns to rivalry, the process escalates. This escalation appears to the participants to be about difference; however, from the outside it is clear that the two antagonists, in trying to differentiate themselves, are becoming more and more the same (i.e., each one seeks to differentiate from the other, thereby becoming more closely aligned with the desire of the other). Initially this process is fixed for each antagonist on the other; however, as this process happens within a community and among many different sets of people, the tendency is for the rivalry of some other warring pair to overtake the current rivalry in terms of its attractiveness. Because the desire of the two is no longer on the original object of desire but on the other’s desire, the way is opened for a third’s desire to become even more desirable. In communities where there are literally many “others,” this becomes not likely but inevitable. As the rivalries give way to greater and fewer rivalries (i.e., more people sharing the same rivalries), a pattern emerges of the many against the few, and finally the many against the one. We would recognize this as the “mob mentality.”
The one, whom the mob centres out and fixes its anger upon, is the scapegoat of Leviticus 16, where the sins of the people are transferred to a he-goat, which is then “cast out” and literally driven into the wilderness. The same phenomenon can be found in one form or another in all cultures, for example the pharmakos in Greece.
The crowd is whipped into a fury as each person imitates the anger of the other in an uncontrollable spiral. Because the desire of the individuals has become united in its imitation within the crowd, mimetic desire becomes contagious—this is mimetic contagion. The crowd, if allowed to continue, would destroy itself; but strangely it doesn’t.
Girard’s work in other books has been to examine mimetic contagion, and he has observed that the crowd’s anger is always changed from “all against all” to “all against one.” Examples of this abound in literature, history, the news, and the Bible. You’ll no doubt recognize this as the witch hunt, the “scapegoating” of a public figure, or the call to “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” Mimetic contagion never destroys the community because it gets channeled to a single victim.
As the single victim mechanism takes over, the crowd is finally united—all desire one and the same thing, the death of the one. In doing so they provisionally accept the desire of the other, where the other also accepts their desire. So when the single victim is killed or cast out, there is an immediate sense of peace within the community.
Girard notes that this pattern is the hallmark of myth, with an initial sense of disorder in the community, whether the result of some kind of unexplained epidemic, the warring of twins (cf. the role of twins as mimetic doubles), or warring brothers, etc. Whatever the crisis, it typically threatens to destroy the community (Girard, 62-3).
The crisis is resolved through violence, usually by the mob ganging-up on an outsider, who is seen to be the cause of the trouble. However, once the victim is killed and peace restored, the very one who only moments ago seemed evil and the cause of the calamity, seems strangely responsible for the complete restoration.
Girard observes that “the transformation of the evildoer into the divine benefactor is a phenomenon simultaneously marvelous and routine. In most cases the myths don’t even indicate this change. The one who is lynched at the beginning of the myth because he or she came as a destroyer—lo and behold—presides in the end over the reconstruction of this same system or over the construction of a new one. Unanimous violence has transformed the evildoer into a divine benefactor in a manner so extraordinary, yet nevertheless ordinary, that most of the myths do not say anything about this metamorphosis.” (Girard, 65)
Girard’s work shows that the peoples of the world do not invent their gods, but deify their victims. How else could the victim restore order unless he was really a god in disguise? Even if they do not understand why or how it worked, the single victim mechanism did work, and maybe it will work again.
Girard argues that sacrifice comes out of an observation by a community that the process that worked before must have been a “gift” from the god that they killed. Perhaps he wanted them to do this again, and showed them how it could be achieved. Initially the victims were human, then animal, and then sometimes the murder was simply enacted ritually or theatrically (cf. Aristotle’s idea of tragedy and catharsis). However it survived, the single victim mechanism is always codified in religion and ritual.
Girard argues that even though this phenomenon is visible everywhere in the world and throughout history, the key to understanding the workings of the single victim mechanism is the Gospels. For in the Gospels we are able, for the first time, to see that it is really Satan that is responsible for this phenomenon, and more, to see how he accomplishes it.
Girard says that the Church and current readings of the New Testament fail to deal with Satan properly or fully. Satan, like Jesus, seeks to have people imitate him, but not for the same reasons and not in the same way. Satan is easier to follow than Christ, because he counsels us to abandon ourselves to all our inclinations in defiance of morality and its prohibitions.
What does Satan do? He is the seducer who provides for us a model to be imitated. Satan, above all, wants us to imitate him, and in so doing, to not imitate God.
We see him acting as such in the exchange between Peter and Jesus in Mark 8, which ends in Jesus’ rebuke of Peter: “Get thee behind me Satan.” Why? Jesus goes on to say that Peter desires the things of men over the things of God. What does this mean? When Peter initially hears Jesus describe the Passion, he rebukes Jesus and tries to tell him that this is wrong. Peter tries to give Jesus new hope. In short, he offers himself as a model for Jesus. Jesus rightly sees that in accepting Peter as his new model in place of his Father, he would eventually enter a mimetic rivalry that would destroy the kingdom of heaven. He refuses and continues to imitate the Father.
What makes Satan so dangerous is not simply that he distracts us from God. Satan also destroys us. For Girard, the principle text on Satan’s role in the single victim mechanism comes in Mark 3:23-26, where Jesus responds to those who accuse him of expelling Satan by the power of Beelzebub:
“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, it cannot be maintained. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot endure and is finished.”
Girard notes that Jesus does not deny the reality of Satan’s self-expulsion; he asserts it. However, Jesus also says that this power is coming to an end—“I see Satan fall like lightening.” Satan is here revealed by Christ to be at once the power of disorder and order: he casts himself out. However, Satan’s expulsion of Satan, unlike Christ’s, is always temporary. Satan whips up the community to the point of destruction, but just in the moment of destruction offers a way for peace to be restored, before continuing the process again. The peace, however, is always at the cost of a victim.
Girard imagines Satan’s power as working in the following way. Satan is not only the seducer, but also the accuser. He is able to insight and sustain the mimetic rivalry in the community. He allows the rivalries to explode to a mimetic contagion, and then just before the moment of complete destruction, he unites everyone against a single victim, accusing him/her of the crimes of the community. Satan is the accuser when he convinces the crowd of the victim’s guilt.
Girard comes back to this point again and again: the crowd, whether in myth or the Bible, really does believe the victim to be guilty.
The crowd does not know what it is doing, for the very thing they are doing is Satan, just as Peter is Satan when he tries to tempt Christ. We hear Jesus pray from the cross for forgiveness for the ones around him, for they know not what they are doing.
Girard observes the working of Satan and the single victim mechanism everywhere in history, in all of the world’s myths and also in the biblical stories. It is due to his insistence on comparing the Bible with myth that some Christians have dismissed his work. However, Girard recognizes among the many similarities between the myths and the Bible differences that accord the Bible its uniqueness.
Where anthropologists originally tried to show that the Gospels and myths were so similar as to be the same, Girard says that they were only on the right track, but never found what they were looking for. Instead, he says that what is common to both is the mimetic cycle, what he calls the “Satanic cycle.” What kept them from finding the truth, and allowed Girard to locate it, was the starting point: the Gospels are transparent in their portrayal the this cycle, while the myths conceal it, are unaware of it. By reading myth through the light of the Gospels, the truth is revealed. The opposite does not happen.
This revelation about the “Satanic cycle” begins in the Old Testament, although it is never fully revealed until the New Testament. In the Old Testament we see only the first of the two parts of the mimetic cycle presented, that is, the resurrection that reveals the innocence of the victim is missing. In Hebrew monotheism, unlike myth, the God is never victimized, nor do the victims become divinized. As such, the Hebrew God is not the product of the scapegoat mechanism that so visibly produces the gods of primitive polytheism (Girard, 107).
As an example of the difference between the Bible and myth, Girard compares the story of Joseph with the myth of Oedipus.
- Family crisis leads to Joseph being expelled from his family by being sold into slavery. (mimetic crisis, where the brothers band together against a single victim)
- Joseph barely escapes death by being sold into slavery—his father thinks him dead, however.
- Joseph is accused of rape by Potipher’s wife—Potipher has become as his own father too him. This recalls the accusation of incest raised against Oedipus. However, Joseph is innocent of the crime.
A great famine strikes the land. Joseph is not responsible for it, and in fact, helps navigate Egypt through it.
Family crisis based on oracle that leads parents to expel son when still a child. (mimetic crisis, where the parents band together against a single victim)
- Oedipus barely escapes death, but his parents think him dead.
- Some time later, Oedipus kills his father (unknowlingly) and then later answers the Sphynx’s riddle and wins the right to become king of Thebes, and therefore marry his mother (unknowingly). Oediups is guilty of the crimes the oracle spoke earlier.
- A plague comes over Thebes. Oedipus is responsible for the plague, which Apollo has brought upon the city as a punishment for Oediups’ crimes. He is powerless to stop the plague, short of leaving Thebes.
The Hebrew Bible refuses to side with the crowd, which would claim the victim guilty of his apparent sin. Rather, he is innocent of the crimes brought against him. However, the myths work in the opposite way: “The myths always condemn all victims, who are isolated and overwhelmed. They are the work of agitated crowds that are incapable of identifying and criticizing their own tendency to expel and murder those who cannot defend themselves, scapegoats that they always take for guilty of the same stereotypical crimes: parricide, incest, bestial fornication, and other horrible misdeeds whose perpetual and improbable recurrence point up their absurdity.” (Girard, 110).
Nowhere but in the Bible do we encounter the truth that the crowd is wrong, that the violence is unjustified, and that the victim is innocent. We see this everywhere in the Bible, from the Psalms, with the lament of victims before God, to Job, who is accused by his friends of guilt he knows is not his own.
The story of Joseph goes on to foreshadow what is to come in the New Testament, namely, the end of the mimetic cycle. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to beg for food, but leave the youngest, Benjamin, behind with his father. The brothers do not recognize Joseph, but he recognizes them and grants their request, adding that if they come again, they must bring Benjamin. Years go by, and the famine continues to destroy the land. Once again the brothers are forced to go to Egypt, and this time they take Benjamin. Joseph receives them again, and grants their request for food. However, he has a servant plant one of his cups in a bag carried by Benjamin. The brothers leave and Joseph complains that someone has stolen his precious cup. The brothers’ bags are searched, and the cup found. Joseph says that Benjamin must be arrested, and that the other brothers are free to return to their father. Joseph has created the same situation once again for his brothers to repeat: the youngest and weakest is to be sacrificed. Nine of the ten brothers agree to this. However, Judah offers himself in Benjamin’s place. Joseph forgives all the brothers based on the act of Judah. Girard argues that this act of forgiveness is the only possible way to break the mimetic cycle. It is what Christ will do once and for all. (Giard, 106-111).
“It’s not accurate to say that the Bible reestablishes a truth that the myths betrayed. If we did, we would give the impression that this truth was already accessible, at human disposal before the Bible discovered it. No, not at all. Before the Bible there were only myths. No one and no tradition before the Bible were capable of calling into question the guilt of victims whom their communities unanimously condemned.” (Girard, 118).
Many people before Girard have claimed that the Gospels read like myth (cf. Tom Harpur’s book The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light where he argues that Christianity comes right out of ancient myth, specifically Egyptian myths). However, unlike other comparisons of the Gospels and myth, Girard’s notices important differences among the similarities—differences that are only visible when you see the similarities.
First, the central figure is innocent. Second, the community unites against him, including his closest followers and the authors of the accounts. Third, the resurrected victim appears not to the whole community, but only to those who believe in his innocence. Christ has revealed the workings of the single victim mechanism, and as such, it no longer has the power it did before.
In the Passion accounts, we see the single victim mechanism at work. Initially the crowd was with Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. However, very quickly it turns against him. Not only the Jews and Romans rise up against Christ, but also his own disciples are overcome with the power of the mimetic contagion.
Girard takes Peter as the best example of this. Jesus fortells his betrayal, pointing out that even Peter, whose love for Jesus is openly expressed and never in question, is a slave to mimetic desire. When Peter is thrust into the hostile crowd, he denies his lord three times so as to become one of the crowd. So too do we all.
Further, we see the “healing” effects on the community after Jesus’ death is finished—both for the crowd and even, we are told, for Pilate and Herod, who become friends (Luke 23:12).
As I said earlier, the single victim mechanism is always invisible to the ones involved. So too in the death of Christ, where we hear Jesus pray from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Girard argues that we should always take Jesus at his word: he is not using a rhetorical formula or sentimental exaggeration; rather, he means what he says, namely, that his persecutors are caught in mimetic contagion of which they are unaware. (Girard, 126).
Also, unlike the myths, Jesus death is unique because his divinity is not the product of the crowd:
“There is no prior demonization behind the divinity of Christ. Christians don’t ascribe any guilt to Jesus. Thus his divinity cannot rest on the same process as mythic deifications. Moreover, contrary to what happens in the myths, it is not the unanimous mob of persecutors who see Jesus as the Son of God and God himself; it is a rebellious minority, a small group of dissidents that separates from the collective violence of the crowd and destroys its unanimity. This minority group is the community of the first witnesses to the Resurrection, that is, the apostles and those who gather around them. This dissident minority has no equivalent in the myths. Around the mythic deities we never see the community divide into two unequal groups, of which only the smaller one would proclaim the divinity of the god. The structure of the Christian revelation is unique.” (Girard, 123).
What truly separates the Gospels from the myths is not Christ’s death (which is so similar), but his resurrection and the revelation to the disciples:
“Only the Resurrection, because it enlightens the disciples, reveals completely the things hidden since the foundation of the world, which are the same thing as the secret of Satan, never disclosed since the origin of human culture: the founding murder and the origin of human culture.” (Girard, 125)
The Cross is victorious, yes but, says Girard, maybe not in the way we have always thought. The cross triumphs not by beating violence and Satan at their own game, but by allowing them to do what they always do, to do it better than it has ever been done before, but, to then put this process on display for everyone to see. The cross reveals, or in Girard’s phrase, re-presents mimetic violence, and in so doing, reveals its existence and inner workings: the origin of violent mimetic desire is revealed. “The powers are not put on display because they are defeated, but they are defeated because they are put on display.” (Girard, 143).
“Christ does not achieve the victory through violence. He obtains it through a renunciation of violence so complete that violence can rage to its heart’s content without realizing that by so doing, it reveals what it must conceal, without suspecting that its fury will turn back against it this time because it will be recorded and represented with exactness in the Passion narratives.” (Girard, 140).
How does the cross triumph over sin and death? For Girard, the answer is that for the first time in history we are able to see that the victim we thought was guilty is innocent, and more, that the violence committed against Jesus is the same violence that is always committed against any victim.
“To understand this is to understand why Paul sees the Cross as the source of all knowledge about the world and human beings as well as about God. When Paul asserts that he wants to know nothing besides Christ crucified, he is not engaging in ‘anti-intellectualism.’ He is not announcing his contempt for knowledge. Paul believes quite literally that there is no knowledge superior to knowing the crucified Christ.” (Girard, 142).
Girard believes that the truth and simplicity of the message of the cross was so impossible to see before Christ’s resurrection that even Satan did not understand it before it was too late. Paul writes to the Corinthians: ‘If the princes of this world had known [the wisdom of God] they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory’ (1 Cor. 2:8). Since the ‘princes of this world’ were not in communion with God, they did not understand that the victim mechanism they unleashed against Jesus would result in truthful accounts. If they had been able to read the future, not only would they not have encouraged the Crucifixion, but they would have opposed it with all their might.” (Girard, 148).
It is here that Girard’s ideas have caused the greatest controversy in the Church. In another book he has called this Christ’s “nonsacrificial sacrifice.” By this he means that Christ’s death works not by satisfying God’s justice, as has been taught, but by unmasking and destroying the power of Satan, and thereby freeing all those who would follow after Christ and imitate Him.
“Medieval and modern theories of redemption all look in the direction of God for the cause of the Crucifixion: God’s honor, God’s justice, even God’s anger must be satisfied. These theories don’t succeed because they don’t seriously look in the direction where the answer must lie: sinful humanity, human relations, mimetic contagion, which is the same thing as Satan. They speak much of original sin, but they fail to make the idea concrete. That is why they give an impression of being arbitrary and unjust to human beings, even if they are theologically sound.” (Girard, 150).
Girard believes that Jesus not only reveals the workings of the Satanic Cycle, but also offers the antidote: imitation of himself, who is imitating God. To be a Christian is, like Paul, to recognize and repent the persecution of Christ. It is to reject Satan as a model for our imitation, and instead to accept Christ.
Christ’s model to us is always non-violent, but also contagious. Take the example of the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus. Girard argues that Christ disarms the episode by drawing attention to the problem of the “first stone,” (i.e., “Let whoever is without sin among you cast the first stone.”) which he says is the hardest to throw, for there is no model. Jesus refuses to become the model of violence, as the crowd wishes.
Instead, he becomes a new model, one that refuses to condemn the woman. And so each man walks away from the woman. By drawing attention to the problem of the first stone, Jesus magnifies and exposes the way in which Satan works.
As we have seen, in order for the process to work at all, it must be hidden. Jesus unveils it. Jesus does not do battle with Satan—he disarms him from the start, never letting the mimetic contagion begin.
If Girard is right and the cross revealed once and for all the workings of Satan and mimetic desire, why are we still experiencing it? What was the result of the cross?
Girard argues that our society is the most preoccupied with victims of any that ever was. Even if it is insincere, the phenomenon has no precedent. No historical period, no society we know, has ever spoken of victims as we do. (Girard, 161) Yet if this is true, why has this knowledge of the victim not brought an end to all victims?
As was stated earlier, mimetic desire was not done away with at the cross; rather, a new model was introduced, and the old one dragged into daylight. Yet the choice of which one to follow is what defines us as humans.
Girard points out that the knowledge of the single victim mechanism, the knowledge of the workings of the scapegoat, are not enough to save us. “…more frequently we turn our knowledge into a weapon, a means not only of perpetuating old conflicts but of raising them to a new level of cunning…Instead of criticizing ourselves, we use our knowledge in bad faith, turning it against others. Indeed we practice a hunt for scapegoats to the second degree, a hunt for the hunters of scapegoats. Our society’s obligatory compassion authorizes new forms of cruelty.” (Girard, 158).
He goes on to show how Paul recognized this, and warned against it in his letter to the Romans: “You have no excuse, O man…when you judge another, for in judging you judge yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same thing” (Romans 2:1). Whether we condemn our neighbour, or condemn our neighbour for condemning our neighbour, the problem is the same.
“The concern for victims has become a paradoxical competition of mimetic rivalries, of opponents continually trying to outbid one another. The victims most interesting to us are always those who allow us to condemn our neighbours. And our neighbours do the same.” (Girard, 164).