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René Girard and Unveiling the Mono-Myth

Girard

René Girard, one of the most influential Catholic philosophers in the world, died last week at the age of 91. Born in Avignon and a member of the illustrious Academie Francaise, Girard nevertheless made his academic reputation in the United States, as a professor at Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, and Stanford University.

There are some thinkers that offer intriguing ideas and proposals, and there is a tiny handful of thinkers that manage to shake your world. Girard was in this second camp. In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power. Drawing inspiration from some of the greatest literary masters of the West—Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Proust among others—Girard opined that desire is both mimetic and triangular. He meant that we rarely desire objects straightforwardly; rather, we desire them because others desire them: as we imitate (mimesis) another’s desire, we establish a triangulation between self, other, and object. If this sounds too rarefied, think of the manner in which practically all of advertising works: I come to want those gym shoes, not because of their intrinsic value, but because the hottest NBA star wants them. Now what mimetic desire leads to, almost inevitably, is conflict. If you want to see this dynamic in the concrete, watch what happens when toddler A imitates the desire of toddler B for the same toy, or when dictator A mimics the desire of dictator B for the same route of access to the sea.

The tension that arises from mimetic desire is dealt with through what Girard called the scapegoating mechanism. A society, large or small, that finds itself in conflict comes together through a common act of blaming an individual or group purportedly responsible for the conflict. So for instance, a group of people in a coffee klatch will speak in an anodyne way for a time, but in relatively short order, they will commence to gossip, and they will find, customarily, a real fellow feeling in the process. What they are accomplishing, on Girard’s reading, is a discharging of the tension of their mimetic rivalry onto a third party. The same dynamic obtains among intellectuals. When I was doing my post-graduate study, I heard the decidedly Girardian remark: “the only thing that two academics can agree upon is how poor the work of a third academic is!” Hitler was one of the shrewdest manipulators of the scapegoating mechanism. He brought the deeply divided German nation of the 1930’s together precisely by assigning the Jews as a scapegoat for the country’s economic, political, and cultural woes. Watch a video of one of the Nuremberg rallies of the mid-thirties to see the Girardian theory on vivid display.

Now precisely because this mechanism produces a kind of peace, however ersatz and unstable, it has been revered by the great mythologies and religions of the world and interpreted as something that God or the gods smile upon. Perhaps the most ingenious aspect of Girard’s theorizing is his identification of this tendency. In the founding myths of most societies, we find some act of primal violence that actually establishes the order of the community, and in the rituals of those societies, we discover a repeated acting out of the original scapegoating. For a literary presentation of this ritualization of society-creating violence, look no further than Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece “The Lottery.”

The main features of this theory were in place when Girard turned for the first time in a serious way to the Christian Scriptures. What he found astonished him and changed his life. He discovered that the Bible knew all about mimetic desire and scapegoating violence but it also contained something altogether new, namely, the de-sacralizing of the process that is revered in all of the myths and religions of the world. The crucifixion of Jesus is a classic instance of the old pattern. It is utterly consistent with the Girardian theory that Caiaphas, the leading religious figure of the time, could say to his colleagues, “Is it not better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to perish?” In any other religious context, this sort of rationalization would be valorized. But in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, this stunning truth is revealed: God is not on the side of the scapegoaters but rather on the side of the scapegoated victim. The true God in fact does not sanction a community created through violence; rather, he sanctions what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, a society grounded in forgiveness, love, and identification with the victim. Once Girard saw this pattern, he found it everywhere in the Gospels and in Christian literature. For a particularly clear example of the unveiling process, take a hard look at the story of the woman caught in adultery.

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

The recovery of Christianity as revelation, as an unmasking of what all the other religions are saying, is René Girard’s permanent and unsettling contribution.
 
 
(Image credit: Social Science Space)

Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Craig Roberts

    The problem with this theory is that it completely changes the original meaning of 'scapegoat'. The original scapegoat was a conscience sacrifice made by the Israelites for the atonement of sin as directed by God in Leviticus.

    The modern definition is nothing but a mutual enemy to bring two parties together. It is subconscious demagoguery aimed at ginning up hostility. It has nothing to do with sin or sacrifice or God for that matter.

    To conflate the two versions of a scapegoat is to be guilty of obscuring Christianity and the Bible, not illuminating them.

    • The problem with this theory is that it completely changes the original meaning of 'scapegoat'. The original scapegoat was a conscience sacrifice made by the Israelites for the atonement of sin as directed by God in Leviticus.

      Yes, and Girard talks about how people offload their sins onto the scapegaot. Where is the "completely changes"?

      The modern definition is nothing but a mutual enemy to bring two parties together.

      This would not be an accurate characterization of Girard's argument. It is an instance of Girard's argument, but frequently an argument must be illustrated through enough instances such that the full argument is unveiled; this you have not done with your "nothing but".

      To conflate the two versions of a scapegoat is to be guilty of obscuring Christianity and the Bible, not illuminating them.

      The conflation is not on Girard's part.

      • Craig Roberts

        You probably know a lot more about Girard's thought process than me. Regardless, I don't see how the modern 'scapegoat' can be equated with the OT version.

        The Nazis were not 'offloading' their sins onto the Jews. The Jews (in the eyes of the Germans) were guilty and had to be punished. God plays no role in this 'scapegoating'. He does not command the Germans. Modern scapegoating requires finding a guilty party to blame. Not projecting your own guilt onto an innocent party.

        In contrast, the old testament Israelites had no illusions that an actual goat could be guilty of anything. They knew that the sins were their own, but that God would project them onto the goat because He commanded it. They weren't blaming the goat for anything. They were doing what God told them to do to get rid of their own sins.

        The OT scapegoat was the way in which God provided forgiveness for sins. What does the modern version have to do with forgiveness?

        Modern scapegoats are all about vengeance.

        • You probably know a lot more about Girard's thought process than me.

          Only somewhat more, if more.

          The Nazis were not 'offloading' their sins onto the Jews. The Jews (in the eyes of the Germans) were guilty and had to be punished.

          If the model fits, it fits. Who cares if the Nazis consciously had the right model of what they were doing? People delude themselves all the time.

          In contrast, the old testament Israelites had no illusions that an actual goat could be guilty of anything. They knew that the sins were their own, but that God would project them onto the goat because He commanded it. They weren't blaming the goat for anything. They were doing what God told them to do to get rid of their own sins.

          Yes, a people-group writing 2500 years ago, perhaps about events up to 3500 years ago, had it more figured out than a group of Enlightened, modern men (probably mostly men). Progress, right? We tell ourselves we don't do the bad thing, but instead of actually not doing the bad thing, we just find ways to rationalize still doing the bad thing.

          Modern scapegoats are all about vengeance.

          I don't think this is accurate. One time when I was at a public restroom in SF, a guy who was decently well-dressed (clean clothes, no tatters, clean-shaven) started mouthing off about how the homeless are making the city a terrible place. It was only a tiny bit shocking to me. It wasn't about vengeance, it was about shifting the blame for all the bad things, onto a scapegoat. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of other examples like this. Now, it might be that the final murderous endeavor turn on vengeance, but I see that more as a manipulation tactic than really 'vengeance' in the raw.

          • Craig Roberts

            Thanks for the explanation. What you are describing is rank superstition. Deluded people doing things that make no sense to rationalize their behavior.

            I don't think Fr. Robert Barron is helping his cause by pointing out the similarities between superstition and religion. In this day and age most people already can't tell the difference.

          • What you are describing is rank superstition.

            You do realize that modernity is chock-full of "rank superstition", right? I could dump a few excerpts from well-known sociologists (who are the experts for judging such things), if you'd like.

            Deluded people doing things that make no sense to rationalize their behavior.

            I might push back a bit on this, via GK Chesterton's Orthodoxy, Chapter II: The Maniac. He notes that the maniac (madman) might be the most logical of people. Furthermore, one of the things science has done is undermine some of what we call 'common sense' (link this to your "no sense"). It's not that I don't in any way agree with your assessment here; instead, I think it's helpful to see the process by which the delusion sets in, as to reverse the process. I think trying to reverse it is better than just dismissing such people, or attempting to force them to instantaneously see things "the right way". Furthermore, I think the sinking into delusion is largely a causal process which can be increasingly well-understood. This idea seems to be in contrast to your "make no sense"—although perhaps you did not intend it to be.

            I don't think Fr. Robert Barron is helping his cause by pointing out the similarities between superstition and religion. In this day and age most people already can't tell the difference.

            If his cause is the truth, then it seems like pointing out such similarities is a good thing. Calvin did this as well; see his Institutes, Book I, Chapter IV The Knowledge of God Stifled or Corrupted, Ignorantly or Maliciously:

            1. SuperstitionBut though experience testifies that a seed of religion is divinely sown in all, scarcely one in a hundred is found who cherishes it in his heart, and not one in whom it grows to maturity so far is it from yielding fruit in its season. Moreover, while some lose themselves in superstitious observances, and others, of set purpose, wickedly revolt from God, the result is that, in regard to the true knowledge of him, all are so degenerate, that in no part of the world can genuine godliness be found. In saying that some fall away into superstition, I mean not to insinuate that their excessive absurdity frees them from guilt; for the blindness under which they labour is almost invariably accompanied with vain pride and stubbornness. Mingled vanity and pride appear in this, that when miserable men do seek after God, instead of ascending higher than themselves as they ought to do, they measure him by their own carnal stupidity, and, neglecting solid inquiry, fly off to indulge their curiosity in vain speculation. Hence, they do not conceive of him in the character in which he is manifested, but imagine him to be whatever their own rashness has devised. This abyss standing open, they cannot move one footstep without rushing headlong to destruction. With such an idea of God, nothing which they may attempt to offer in the way of worship or obedience can have any value in his sight, because it is not him they worship, but, instead of him, the dream and figment of their own heart. This corrupt procedure is admirably described by Paul, when he says, that “thinking to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:22). He had previously said that “they became vain in their imaginations,” but lest any should suppose them blameless, he afterwards adds that they were deservedly blinded, because, not contented with sober inquiry, because, arrogating to themselves more than they have any title to do, they of their own accord court darkness, nay, bewitch themselves with perverse, empty show. Hence it is that their folly, the result not only of vain curiosity, but of licentious desire and overweening confidence in the pursuit of forbidden knowledge, cannot be excused.

            One way to describe the current attitude toward religion among the intellectual elite of the world is that it is too dangerous, that it too easily slips into society-threatening forms. This, I think, is more correct than [the myth of] religious violence. Charismatic people tend to be able to whip people into a frenzy which can be scary—just look at what Donald Trump has managed to do in America! On the other hand, William Wilberforce was also charismatic, IIRC, and he used that energy and power to help end slavery in the UK.

            The OT has an interesting remark: while the other nations don't stray from their gods, the Israelites repeatedly stray from their God. Why? Well, one explanation is that their God wanted infinitely much from them (that is, a true relationship). As pretty much any person of enough years know, relationships that were once excellent can sour and go awry. One can veer off into superstition about one's significant other. There are all sorts of failure modes. Published in 1174, The Art of Courtly Love has that "It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing." Well, what if 'decreasing love' has the pathology of 'veering off into superstition'?

          • Craig Roberts

            Interesting. While I agree with much of what you say, I believe that the light of truth ultimately reveals the falsehoods behind superstitions and false religions. Not some inherent "truth" that makes them legitimate.

          • While I agree with much of what you say, I believe that the light of truth ultimately reveals the falsehoods behind superstitions and false religions.

            Me too. Curiously, some think that there is no general push toward reality exposing delusions as such, even if that exposure process takes multiple generations. (One can see how many evil kings Israel had to churn through before the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, which are the full fulfillments of the curses of Deut 28.)

            Not some inherent "truth" that makes them legitimate.

            What, precisely, do you mean by this? One way to take this, which might be a wild extrapolation, is that capital-T Truth is infinitely complex, and either a given 'tradition' is becoming increasingly well-conformed to Truth, or is increasingly detaching itself from Truth. This seems to be a legit way to interpret Mk 4:21–25, but I'm open to alternative interpretations. :-)

          • Craig Roberts

            Simply that if the Gospel is true then chasing after forbidden knowledge (the roots of delusions) is a vain attempt to acquire knowledge that is unfruitful and ultimately harmful. Much like what your quote from Calvin explained.

            So to try to understand the obviously superstitious (like the story, The Lottery) or the motivations of evil (like the Nazi Holocaust) is running the risk of falling prey to the delusion that the most dark recesses of our beings can be tamed by reason. Superstition is evil because it is unreasonable and you can't reason with evil.

          • Ahhh, I have yet to really explore the 'evil' = 'irrationality' line of thought. I'm somewhat aware of Augustine's privation theory of evil, but I haven't explored it other than to read a few recent papers on it. I'm not sure how Augustine's view connects with the "evil as irrationality" view.

            What I'm tempted to say is that attempting to ground truth apart from God is to end up worshiping idols. Owen Barfield's somewhat enigmatic Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry gets at this in a pretty neat way. The thing about idol worship, I think, is that initially, the idols do deliver! The stage described in Ps 115 and Is 44 seems to be the final stage of degradation, not how the idols originally appeared. This is speculation, but I'm trying to make sense of why those idols drew so much worship. People can be irrational, but are they that irrational? Or perhaps more precisely, did the actions that were finally irrational, not slowly grow to be that, through an explainable process? My guess is "yes". I have faith in the rationality of the reality God made.

            Something else to keep in mind is that if no evil is gratuitous, then haring off after superstition does not necessarily produce nothing of value. Maybe such activity produces little bits of knowledge (with accompanying dross) which can be purified and integrated into a whole. Major authors who seem to believe this are Alasdair MacIntyre (especially his Against the Self-Images Of the Age) and Charles Taylor (especially his The Ethics of Authenticity). Of all the people who exemplify discerning what is καλός and what is κακός, they are probably my two top choices—although Roger Olson would also be an excellent candidate. I've simply read less of his scholarly work than Taylor and MacIntyre.

          • Craig Roberts

            Thanks for the info. That's a lot to chew on.

            Evil does not equal irrationality because what is irrational can be innocent. Irrationality is an element of evil though because it is an attempt to do what is clearly (to a rational being) impossible. That is to go against God and not have to pay the consequences.

            The devil, in trying to overthrow God is being resolutely irrational. He should know that it can't be done but the passion of his pride won't let him stop. And so he persists in irrationally fighting a war he can't win because he is so in thrall with his hatred.

            If he was reasonable, he would stop. But because he is evil, he persists. But if we attempt to reason with him he will only pretend to understand until he has the opportunity to destroy us.

            We do not have the power to destroy him. So we must be content to call on God to protect us from him and not give in to the temptation to try to understand and reason with him directly.

            If we wanted to inquire about the devils motives, we would have to ask his Creator.

            These are only theological musings. I don't have direct access to the devil or his Creator.

          • Thanks Luke. I can now put within a larger context your comments regarding my exploration of the concepts 'intellectual dishonesty' and 'self-deception' I am however (may I say 'curious' without falling into a possible 'error' or 'sin'?) most interested in how you would define, (perhaps with the needed examples) not only 'superstition' (which I place as conceptually in contrast with 'understanding' which would involve the 'intellect' as well as the 'image', in so far as I am attempting to coordinate these concepts) as what might be the 'causes' or 'description' of 'dangerous' thought, and the other term used above to describe -what was the word- 'forbidden?' knowledge. Would 'forbidden' refer within Catholicism, particularly, to the index, for example, to the 'prohibition' for lay people, like myself, to seek out knowledge and/or information about other cultures and religions, because in itself such 'curiosity' was 'sinful'? (Warning: I do feel self-knowledgeable with respect to my own historical response to such a dictum.) Thanks.

          • I am however ... most interested in how you would define ... not only 'superstition' (which I place as conceptually in contrast with 'understanding' which would involve the 'intellect' as well as the 'image', in so far as I am attempting to coordinate these concepts) as what might be the 'causes' or 'description' of 'dangerous' thought, and the other term used above to describe -what was the word- 'forbidden?' knowledge. Would 'forbidden' refer within Catholicism, particularly, to the index, for example, to the 'prohibition' for lay people, like myself, to seek out knowledge and/or information about other cultures and religions, because in itself such 'curiosity' was 'sinful'?

            I'm not Catholic, and do not see scriptural warrant for the Index, other than possibly for the immature in faith; the immature are expected to mature, as we can see in Heb 5:11–6:3. I am not up on the technicalities of the terms 'intellection', 'understanding', 'fantasm', etc. However, there does seem to be an important distinction between interpreting reality through false/​limited categories, and always being open to "Behold, I am doing a new thing!" Many times, the Israelites are described as deaf and blind; I suspect this is at least partially caused by a refusal to be open to more of God than some finite amount.

            A mirror danger to being close-minded is to let your thoughts go crazy, in a completely undisciplined fashion. That is called 'lawlessness', and does not lead to God. The discipline of God (Heb 12:1–17) includes discipline in the land of thoughts, as well as actions. They are, after all, connected! 'Superstition' would then be lack of discipline in thought.

            So, we have these two errors:

                 (I) close-mindedness    (II) undisciplined open-mindedness

            These are both refusals to grow in an orderly fashion; one is reminded of God's desire to get grapes but not wild grapes in the beginning of Isaiah 5. Why don't we want to grow on the latticework God has provided us? Why don't we want to be in relationship with God? Why did the Israelites say "no" to any more [direct] communication by God in the middle of Deut 5? Why the various warning passages we see in the Book of Hebrews, which Scot McKnight outlined? Why do we see the pattern in Jeremiah 2, which pivots around the following verse:

            Has a nation changed its gods,    even though they are no gods?But my people have changed their glory    for that which does not profit.(Jeremiah 2:11)

            ? Here is where one would expect to get some sort of discussion of original sin, but without some sort of explicit exegesis, I find it a non-answer. I might go with Edmond La B. Cherbonnier's Hardness of Heart; he identifies hardness of heart with the refusal to have true relationship. True relationship opens one up to risk and means one is not in control. True relationship means I cannot necessarily have what I want, right now. I'm sure there's plenty more to say; Josef Pieper's The Concept of Sin is also excellent.

          • Thank you Luke. I shall definitely follow up on your links, specifically those in the last paragraph. A little 'story'. On the way home from my morning coffee at the cafe, I found a Roget's Thesaurus, with the consequence of researching its origins, it's basis in Leibniz, which led me to many other modes of 'organization', from Boolean mathematics, to all of the specialties that 'men not women' engage in according to perhaps a higher ability, (and much more time and perhaps yes even superior intelligence) over the centuries. I 'accept' my historical, genetic, and other limitations, but did find it interesting, to find, On EN a perhaps only joking reference to the possibility of a 'Second Philosophy', which hopefully I can understand and place within the context of the surveillance of my 'thinking?' as thought experiments, etc. In other words, hopefully, it will allow the 'method?" of proceeding from what may be either conscious/unconscious thought, whether this produces at times what I believe can be 'genuine insight', or alternatively modes of incoherence, which hopefully, I may also at some time, be able to place within a coherent explanation of how or why they occur....in other words, that my attempts at 'creative? thought' can be regarded as part of the 'process' of becoming aware of how the thought is related - yes- to both action and word, with respect to particulars.

            Here is the Roget system of categories: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roget's_Thesaurus

            I have read 'sufficiently?' enough to realize that there have been so many definitions, etc. etc. etc. (as I speculate that reading The Concept of Sin will confirm) that I shall merely attempt to place any 'sense' I might have within a wider and more developed 'rational context'. I indulge myself quite a bit doing it on this site, agreed, but I am aware enough that I have few, perhaps null readers of my attempts at rationality, and so I will just let that be, with thanks of course, to BV for not adjudicating these efforts as 'forbidden knowledge'.

            I follow many people on this site, for different reasons. Your comments particularly, convey a broad general knowledge, and with respect to all of you, I am quite satisfied that I am 'able to understand that which 'I believe' I understand, at least on some 'level'. Thanks so much for responding. I am attempting to make a point not to respond directly to people, but maintain instead a kind of independence, and yet within the context, that as far as my 'project' is concerned, I can still, even within the writing, and rewriting check out possible alternative viewpoints within the ongoing dialogues. Thank you, again Luke. You and your comments are very much appreciated.

          • Luke. Please know that I follow your comments, and am aware of the various 'modes of critique' of same, within various dialogues. . Just read the comment above again, the reference to a 'madman' possibly being applicable to some of the comments found by others to be 'incoherent'. That's OK, by me, - I have no 'fear of madness'. On the 'curiosity' term, perhaps this term could refer to any speculation that diverged from the 'normal flow of time'. (No wonder, with so many interpretations, that my comments are not understandable!) Just to let you know I'm a fan, and as a 'present', 'gift', I found this on Guy Finley this morning, and it was this that sent me here to give it to you and to read your comment again. Thanks, again. http://www.guyfinley.org/free-content/writings/inspirational-quotes/?lyid=92269140&klsid=sid0000_KL

  • Bob

    "Girard opined that desire is both mimetic and triangular. He meant that we rarely desire objects straightforwardly; rather, we desire them because others desire them: as we imitate (mimesis) another’s desire, we establish a triangulation between self, other, and object."

    Of course, monkey see...monkey do...

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    There is something incredible about the Christian revelation, read a certain way. It has a trajectory of reuniting God and the world, not simply humanity but all things on Earth and in Heaven.

    All things find unity in Jesus:

    who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. - Colossians 1

    Where before Jesus, the cycle of sacrifice only pretended at this sort of unity, it still involved an arbitrary division between creator and created. If this arbitrary division is rejected, maybe we are all identical to Jesus in this regard, and all of us, not only people but animals and all things, express in their own way the unity of nature and of the natural principle that explains all things. We all are the image of the invisible God, the force out of which all things were made. Indeed, every person can be thought of as port of a single individual humanity with a singular united human purpose. We are simply a part of God, that is, of Nature, and in realizing that:

    the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one. - John 17:22

    I think that this aspect of the Christian message, however imperfectly expressed by Jesus and however imperfectly transcribed by his disciples, can be understood in light of reason to reveal a deep truth about the unity of the world and God. Jesus, bound as he was by his own time, would not have understood it this way, but I think there is a core truth in Jesus's words. This truth, once naturalized, can be adopted as a true and noble religion, a liberal and liberating human faith.

    • Mike

      "This truth, once naturalized"

      can i ask what you mean by the naturalized part?

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        What Jesus said and believed involved a separation between God and nature. To naturalize, in this sense, is to reject this separation, and see God and nature as one in the same.

        • Mike

          hmmm...sounds like a heresy in the making as isn't that just pan deism or something like that? i forget what it's called but the belief that nature and God are one and the same is a big heresy i am pretty sure.

          plus if God just is nature then God has alot of explaining to do.

          secondary causality also goes out the window and you end up with occasional ism ala the house of submission.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I think you are correct. Some would call this position pantheism, about which the Catholic Encyclopedia would say:

            Taken in the strictest sense, i.e. as identifying God and the world, Pantheism is simply Atheism.

            Pantheism is incompatible with Catholicism. Since I'm not a Catholic anyway, this is not a serious problem.

            Catholics would consider me an atheist. This also is not a serious problem for me. In fact, this forum could probably use more atheists.

          • Mike

            why not just consider that God really is distinct from nature but did create it?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            It seems superfluous and arbitrary. Why posit two things when one will do? Where's the evidence for the other thing? What's the explanation for the division?

            I'm aware that you will not agree with my position on this, but these are the questions that would need to be answered. I could imagine something like a primitive Jewish-Christian notion of a superbeing that watches out for us from afar, but that would simply be one thing among many within Nature, and Nature would be far more worthy of the title of God than the superbeing, I think.

            Any more fundamental distinction between something part of the world and something not part of the world seems like it would defy a satisfactory explanation, that it lacks evidence, and that it is (I suspect) impossible even to conceive of what this separate entity would be.

          • Mike
          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Thanks for the link! I have this book and have been working through it with a friend. It's excellent scholarship.

          • Mike

            i just finished it...very technical and got lost a few times but yes over all rigorous and interesting.

          • It seems superfluous and arbitrary. Why posit two things when one will do? Where's the evidence for the other thing?

            Why two? For reasons I outline in my answer to the Phil.SE question Could there ever be evidence for an infinite being? One might also consider Caleb Cohoe's There Must Be A First: Why Thomas Aquinas Rejects Infinite, Essentially Ordered, Causal Series. That we are contingent and finite seems sufficiently separating. :-)

            Any more fundamental distinction between something part of the world and something not part of the world seems like it would defy a satisfactory explanation, that it lacks evidence, and that it is (I suspect) impossible even to conceive of what this separate entity would be.

            That's easy: if rationality is not simply the laws of nature in operation, you have two things. If rationality is simply the laws of nature in operation, then I think you're forced to accept "(5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable." Pick your poison. :-)

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Catholics would consider me an atheist. This also is not a serious problem for me. In fact, this forum could probably use more atheists.

            Embrace the dark side.

          • Doug Shaver

            Taken in the strictest sense, i.e. as identifying God and the world, Pantheism is simply Atheism.

            Those poor pantheists can't get a break.

            In an atheist forum where I was active for many years, one of the other regulars was a pantheist. When he first came to the forum, he claimed to be one of us. "I'm an atheist, too," he said. Our response was: "No, you're not."

            Of course we didn't question the existence of his god, but we did insist that he couldn't call it a god and also call himself an atheist. After some discussion back and forth, he came to agree with us.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I would too. I don't think it's atheism at all. But lots of people do. You're right; pantheists can't get a break.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Concerning the other problems you percieve with the view: occasionalism and lack of a theodicy.

            If God and nature are the same, then God does not care for humans in any special way and has no special plan for us. If God's essence and existence are the same and God and nature are identical, then as God cannot be any other way, the natural course of events could not have turned out differently.

          • Mike

            yeah it sounds like atheism in disguise or like a pre-cursor of atheism.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Except that God can be shown by reason to be unchanging while "nature" is in constant change.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            There are three ways to understand this:

            (1) Maybe God changes

            (2) Maybe God refers less to the events within nature than the universal principle, the unchanging world fact by which all things are as they are and not another way.

            (3) Maybe God is Nature understood through the aspect of eternity, part of which is an unchanging 4-dimensional block which we call the observable universe.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            (1) Maybe God changes

            That would require a potency in a being of pure act, a logical contradiction. (Recall that the existence proof of God first establishes that he is purely actual.)

            (2) Maybe God refers to the unchanging world fact by which all things are as they are and not another way.

            This would require some unpacking.

            (3) Maybe God is Nature understood through the aspect of eternity, as an unchanging 4-dimensional block.

            Good ol' Parmenides and the paradoxes of Zeno!

            "A block universe, whether we make it exist by fatalism or theology, is a universe where every moment in time exists at the same time. This is incoherent, as it asserts there is a time in addition to all time."

            i.e., the block universe is presented as if it can be observed from "outside." That would be from outside space and time, a super-natural perspective. Who would this observer be?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            That would require a potency in a being of pure act, a logical contradiction. (Recall that the existence proof of God first establishes that he is purely actual.)

            If potency is instead defined as potential to be other than it is at time t, then necessitarianism would entail that everything is purely actual.

            Who would this observer be?

            Conception is sufficient, so I don't think an observer is required. If one were, the 'observer' could be identified in two ways, one as nature itself and the other as a particle of light.

            Additionally, since there's no preferred way to carve up space-time into space and time, all instants we experience are already arbitrary, being seconds for some and inches for others. In other words, I suspect science has rendered the objection 'all times exist at the same time' obsolete and probably meaningless.

          • Conception is sufficient, so I don't think an observer is required.

            This seems very anti-empiricist. One could say the same of God himself: "conception is sufficient". But surely you do not wish to give the theist (≠ pantheist) such an easy route to establishing his/her position?

          • (3) Maybe God is Nature understood through the aspect of eternity, part of which is an unchanging 4-dimensional block which we call the observable universe.

            In that case, you will likely have to abandon the concept of causation, or so radically change it that a different word or phrase would be better (such as Sean Carroll's "unbreakable patterns"):

                Of those two arguments, the more fundamental is the argument from causation. The thrust of this argument is that causation presupposes a dynamic world, and one, moreover, where the past and the present are real, but the future is not. If this conclusion is to be established, however, one cannot appeal to just any approach to the nature of causation: a quite specific account is required. In particular, the account that I shall employ is, first of all, a realist account, rather than a reductionist one. Secondly, it is a singularist account, according to which causal relations between events do not presuppose the existence of causal laws. Thirdly, it involves the claim that causal laws are connected with probabilities in certain ways. It is crucial, therefore, to offer support for this view of the nature of causation, and this I shall attempt to do in a detailed way. (Time, Tense, and Causation, 3)

            By "dynamic world", Michael Tooley means a growing block universe, which is 100% opposed to "an unchanging 4-dimensional block". So, do you want to accept a much more anemic version of 'causation', one which may not even allow you to say that 'reason' caused you to believe correctly?

        • Peter

          Does that mean God is only 13.8 billion years old?

          The higgs field suggests the universe will end in several tens of billions of years. Will that be the end of God?

          The universe is as it is and no other way. If the universe is God, why is God limited to being this way and no other way?

          The universe is expanding. Why does God need to be bigger? Isn't being God big enough?

          The universe is becoming progressively more complex as it steady converts its hydrogen into heavier elements and molecular compounds. What did God lack in the past to need to be more complex in the future? And how could God have been God if he lacked something in the past?

          And if you assert that God is something else in addition to to universe, something eternal and infinite which incorporates the universe, where is your evidence of anything outside the universe?

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Does that mean God is only 13.8 billion years old?

            It's a very interesting question.

            I don't think this is the case, for at least three reasons.

            First, the universe is almost certainly bigger than the observable universe, and may well be much older.

            Second, God is almost certainly bigger than the universe. The universe would be contained within God. All other universes would be in God as well, the entire multiverse. Any other higher level multiverse would also be in God. Additionally, other aspects of reality in addition to mind and body, if any, would be included in God.

            Third, God would be best thought of as a single entity, from the eternal perspective, conceived as some sort of entity containing within it a timeless four dimensional block -- our observable universe. From this perspective, we would be asking whether God as edges or boundaries. I don't know. I don't think God can have boundaries in the sense of being divided from other things. But God probably is constrained.

            The higgs field suggests the universe will end in several tens of billions of years.

            How? How does this match up with astronomical observations indicating a universe that is accelerating in its expansion?

            Will that be the end of God?

            For reasons identical to those above, I think not, but I don't know for sure.

            You ask a series of other questions that, I suspect, can also be addressed by the above points. Is God growing? Not really. According to some cosmologists, the universe extends infinitely, and expansion describes the evolution of distances between particular regions within the observable universe. At most, if the observable universe spanned the entirety of space and time, we would instead be describing the shape of God. The question then becomes why God has this shape and not another. I don't know, but I suspect both physics and philosophy can work together to try to address questions like this.

            Is God becoming more complex? Rather, different regions of God are more complex than other regions. Why this happens is not well understood by me, and I think not well understood by those who are expert in these sorts of things; they invoke entropy gradients.

            Why do some parts of God lack things that other parts have? If instead the discussion about parts of God is understood in terms of general facts about the world, then it must be the case (if the principle of sufficient reason holds) that there will be a definite reason why the world fact is the way it is, and this world fact will entail why I have a computer in front of me, some coffee beside me, why it is raining outside today. But all these descriptions, from an eternal perspective, are regional, not progressive.

            And if you assert that God is something else in addition to to universe, something eternal and infinite which incorporates the universe, where is your evidence of anything outside the universe?

            There's good evidence for inflation, and therefore that the observable universe is not the entire universe. The size of the entire universe is probably vastly greater than the size of the observable universe, and may well be infinite. Is there something outside the entire universe? In an important sense, I think minds are not part of the physical universe*. If there are other aspects of God besides mind and body, those aspects will also not be part of the physical universe. Is there some sort of realm outside the physical universe? Or, in other words, is some of the physical reality not all within the universe? I don't know. If there are these other realms, they are also part of God.

            Interesting questions.

            *Maybe we should describe the universe as the sum total of matter, energy, space and time and consciousness, and whatever other aspects of reality, causally linked to the big bang. If that's the understanding, then I am far less confident that there is anything but this universe. Maybe then in thinking about only this universe, we are thinking about the shape of God's body and the character of God's thoughts.

          • Peter

            Of course, the universe comprises the observable and unobservable parts. We can deduct that through observations of receding galaxies as the expansion of the universe accelerates. Furthermore, we have growing evidence that consciousness is the result of the progressive evolution of the universe, and so is contained within the universe.

            We have no evidence that anything exists which is outside the universe, which means that a pantheistic God will comprise the universe and nothing more. In that case, God is only 13.8 billion years old. Is the universe infinite? We have no evidence, only that it started its expansion 13.8 billion years ago. Is the universe changing? Yes at every moment, increasing in size and complexity.

            All this is a million miles from the pantheistic God of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza assumed a universe which was eternal, infinite and immutable, just like God, so that he could conflate the two. He considered that consciousness came from another dimension of God which was outside the universe. All these assumptions of Spinoza are now found to be false, or at least are strongly suspected of being so. Nowadays, Spinoza's pantheism is untenable.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            God wouldn't change in time because God isn't in time. Time is in God.

            Personally, I have found no deep problems accepting a Spinozistic pantheism. And it's not just me. Cosmologists like Stephen Hawking (in the final line of his Brief History), philosophers like Shamik Dasgupta and neuroscientists like Christof Koch are at home with this idea of God.

          • Peter

            Our universe, observable and unobservable, is made up of its spacetime. It is the evolution of that spacetime which changes what part of it is observable and what part is not.

            There is no evidence of anything outside the universe, therefore a pantheistic God would be limited to being the universe. Since the universe is made up of spacetime, God would be limited to being that spacetime. As spacetime evolves it changes, and therefore so too would God.

            Having said all that, I respect your right to be a pantheist, but I would at least expect an admission that it is more a matter of faith than of reason.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Evolution of spacetime over what? Time?

            There is no evidence of anything outside the universe, therefore a pantheistic God would be limited to being the universe.

            Why would a pantheistic God be limited by the available evidence?

            Having said all that, I respect your right to be a pantheist, but I would at least expect an admission that it is more a matter of faith than of reason.

            We all have unfulfilled expectations in life ;)

            I think pantheism is reasonable, and also think it's possible to have reasonable faith, for most definitions of 'faith'.

        • Scripturally, there was a "dividing wall of hostility" between God and the world. The biblical solution is not unification (and thus obliteration of individuals), but restored relationship. I realize you may not be interested, but I just wanted to juxtapose what you say, with what scripture says.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      I think one of the neglected conversations in Atheist/Christian dialogue is the correct properties of a God. Christians have an idea of God, but if I was to believe in God (I don't) I would come up with a God different from the God that Christians talk about.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        I think that would be a very good topic. I might write an article on that subject: What are the properties of God?

        • Ignatius Reilly

          If he is personal, I do not think he is personal in the way that religion often perceives. I don't think he answers prayers, and I would assume that he places a great deal of value in us figuring things out for ourselves in the muck and the mire.

          I don't think he is they type of God who establishes religions. Religions are man made metaphors for him and human experience.

      • Christians have an idea of God, but if I was to believe in God (I don't) I would come up with a God different from the God that Christians talk about.

        This threatens to presuppose univocity of being, which is probably required for pantheism and panentheism, but eschewed by orthodox Christianity; for an intro, see Brad S. Gregory's 2008 No Room for God? Furthermore, you might like to know that the ontological argument itself can only occur under univocal metaphysics:

        2. Univocation and the Ontological ArgumentWhy was Anselm's ontological proof neglected in many quarters during the Middle Ages, and why was it so widely acclaimed in the seventeenth century?[10] If successful, it proves God's existence by demonstrating that an adequate notion of God excludes, of necessity, non-existence. Yet many medieval theologians denied that we possess a notion of God adequate to sustain the ontological argument without watering it down. God, according to Thomas, is indeed a notum per se ipsum, but only to himself, not to us.[11] Descartes, More, Leibniz, and Wolff revived the argument because they believed in our capacity to form an adequate and precise, if incomplete, idea of God. Inasmuch as our ideas are clear and distinct, they are, we are told, the same as God's. Descartes chose the term "idea" over others because "it was the term commonly used by philosophers for the form of perception of the divine mind."[12] (Theology and the Scientific Imagination, 25–26)

        This isn't to say that trying to understand God is bad; on the contrary, this is indicated by Is 55:6–9 (notice how the second two verses are often quoted out-of-context). Indeed, the Christian is told: "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." (Eph 5:17) What is important is that we don't make idols of God, constructing ideas in our head of God which are not subject to revision by God. Likewise, it sucks when another person fixes an idea of you and doesn't let you correct it.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          Ontological arguments fail regardless of one's stance on the univocity of being. Regardless, though, let's see if we can answer some of these questions:

          Does God answer prayers?

          • It depends on whether "answering prayer" is merely the playing out of another naturalistic force (like gravity but way more complicated), or whether "answering prayer" is another person agreeing with you. Much of the time, when an atheist asks me to talk about "answering prayer", [s]he means the first kind, where you aren't actually interacting with a person, but instead a force. Here's how I explored the issue over at Cross Examined with Bob Seidensticker:

            BS: Another way to see it: my car delivers in that it always starts when I turn the key, ever since I got it, 13 years ago. One exception was a dead battery. So let’s call that 99.99% perfect. Prayer, by contrast, doesn’t work that way.

            LB: You mean prayer isn't magic technology? Man, I've been doing it so wrongly all these years. I thought God was a vending machine: put worship in, get giftie out. See, this is why I talk to atheists on the internet; they tell me these things!

            BS: You read the Good Book honestly, my brother. Good for you. Too many Christians give me the, “OK, now I realize it looks like it says that, but obviously it doesn’t mean that.” I’m sure that kind of Doublethink frustrates you as much as it does me.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Will a petitional prayer change the likelihood of God answering the petition?
            Does God intervene as a force?

          • When I ask my wife to do something, does that change the likelihood of her doing it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Your question is simply too general.

            No, I don't think God intervenes "as a force". He's a person, not a force, not a law of nature. Persons, in my ontology, are fundamentally different from forces, or at least fundamentally more than forces. Forces can generally be harnessed and controlled and pressed toward various ends—and that's completely acceptable to do. We generally hold that it is utterly wrong to do the same to people. One can make requests of them, but one must not enslave them. Sadly, that distinction seems to be eroding, both in English-language reference to people as 'that' and 'which' instead of 'who' and 'whom', and in a disintegration of the metaphysics required to make the following distinction:

                What is the key to the social content of emotivism? It is the fact that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations. (After Virtue, 23)

            People are not tools to be used as we wish, and neither is God. What is needed is an ontology of cooperative causation, which can actually render the following true instead of a [really bad] approximation:

            Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Mt 18:19–20)

            That must be agreement based on shared teleology, not agreement based on manipulation (whether consciously detectable or not). I end with two bits from Josef Pieper's Abuse of Language ~~ Abuse of Power:

                Word and language, in essence, do not constitute a specialized area; they are not a particular discipline or field. No, word and language form the medium that sustains the common existence of the human spirit as such. The reality of the word in eminent ways makes existential interaction happen. And so, if the word becomes corrupted, human existence itself will not remain unaffected and untainted. (15)

            Whoever speaks to another person—not simply, we presume, in spontaneous conversation but using well-considered words, and whoever in so doing is explicitly not committed to the truth—whoever, in other words, is in this guided by something other than the truth—such a person, from that moment on, no longer considers the other as partner, as equal. In fact, he no longer respects the other as a human person. (21)

            Pieper lived in Germany during WWII and IIRC, was put on an "enemy of the people" list.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Perhaps it would be easiest if you told me how you think God interacts with petitional prayer?

          • How does one person interact with another when a request is made? It's a huge question!

    • Kevin Aldrich

      That's a nice thought, but if Jesus is dead forever and St. John is dead forever and you and I will be dead forever, it kinda takes the fun out of it.

      • David Nickol

        As I always point out, Judaism in the Old Testament was about this life and this life only, not about an afterlife with eternal reward and punishment. That didn't stop Moses or David or Solomon or Abraham from believing in, obeying, and worshiping God. They didn't say, "What's the point? We won't live for all eternity."

        I think that by the view many Christians here preach to atheists, the Old Testament figures had no reason to behave morally, because they were not risking their "eternal souls."

        • As I always point out, Judaism in the Old Testament was about this life and this life only, not about an afterlife with eternal reward and punishment.

          How do you mesh this with N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God? It seems that this may only be true of older Judaism, and even there it may be iffy (that is, extant texts may underdetermine the matter).

          • David Nickol

            I have the N.T. Wright book you refer to (and several others) in my personal library, but I have not read it. It's 740 pages long. How am I supposed to answer your question without reading it?

            Is it your implication that the Old Testament is indeed concerned with eternal reward and punishment in an afterlife? If so, why don't you make the case that I am in error about the the absence from the Old Testament of eternal reward and punishment? Then I could answer you instead of taking on N.T. Wright.

          • How am I supposed to answer your question without reading it?

            Merely by noting that your fact-claim may easily be false, as you have not read one of the most important books on the matter. You did not in any way qualify your claim that "Judaism in the Old Testament was about this life and this life only"; it's not clear that you are actually justified in the unqualified version of this statement.

            Is it your implication that the Old Testament is indeed concerned with eternal reward and punishment in an afterlife?

            Nope; I would put forth a position closer to what Orthodox Jew Yoram Hazony describes:

                In addition to this broad unity of themes, one can also discern a pattern in what is not included in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the most part, the works of the Orations and Writings continue the History’s lack of interest in issues of afterlife, eternal salvation, and, more generally, the revelation of God’s secrets. That is, the biblical works are in general distinctly uninterested in speculation concerning some “other” world, or some “other” life, retaining a tight focus almost throughout on trying to attain knowledge and wisdom about the ways of the present world.[57] (The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, 64)

            I have emphasized "For the most part" on purpose; Hazony does not say "Not at all". Now, if one focuses on early Judaism, one has:

                It bears emphasizing that in speaking of his teaching as capturing that which holds the key to “life and the good,” Moses makes no reference whatsoever to an afterlife, or to an eternal soul, or to some realm or world other than this one. He speaks only of those things that constitute good and evil for men in this world. That is, his teaching is explicitly presented as a teaching concerning that which brings about “life and the good,” and that which brings about “death and evil,” in our own lives. No wonder, then, that the nations, upon examining the Mosaic law, are supposed, of their own abilities, to be able to judge the law correctly. This derives directly from the fact that the subject of the Mosaic teaching is that which brings life and the good in this world – precisely that concerning which human reason should, if it is working right, be able to make some progress. (The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, 62)

            This is partly why I said "It seems that this may only be true of older Judaism [...]".

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        There's Einstein's way to think about it. "Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion." (Letter to the family of his lifelong friend Michele Besso, after learning of his death; March 1955)

        And there's Eliezer Yudkowsky's. He thinks the best way to confront death is to beat it with science.

        I think the truth is somewhere in between. Maybe Spinoza's right, that something of the mind survives the death of the body, even if it is only the adequate ideas carried on in the minds of others. At the same time, maybe we can stretch the life of the body a thousand or ten thousand years, to the point where we will be ready for the end.

        Is this satisfying? No, not really. But if it's the way the world is, it's unavoidable.

    • Phil

      Paul--I think you are so close!!

      Where before Jesus, the cycle of sacrifice only pretended at this sort
      of unity, it still involved an arbitrary division between creator and
      created. If this arbitrary division is rejected, maybe we are all
      identical to Jesus in this regard, and all of us, not only people but
      animals and all things, express in their own way the unity of nature and
      of the natural principle that explains all things. We all are the image
      of the invisible God, the force out of which all things were made.
      Indeed, every person can be thought of as port of a single individual
      humanity with a singular united human purpose. We are simply a part of
      God, that is, of Nature

      This is the crazy thing about the claim of the incarnation--God and humanity has become united! This means that we can become "deified" by our openness to God. But note, we don't become God, rather we participate in the existence of God; we become united to him (perfect unity is heaven). Look to the saints--Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, St. Faustina, Max Kolbe, St. John Paul II, etc. They talk about this growing union with God.

      So the more open we are to God acting in and through us, the more we are transformed into the image of Jesus, who was perfectly open to God: the perfect unity of man and God!

      You are also exactly correct that everything apart from God shows forth some image of God because it came forth from God as part of creation. But of all physical creation, it is only the human person (that we know of right now) which has free will and immaterial intellectual powers, which means the human person is in the image and likeness of God in a wholly unique way.

    • I think that this aspect of the Christian message, however imperfectly expressed by Jesus [...]

      How might Jesus have more perfectly expressed this message? (I would say be the message, but that presumes a unity of word and reality which you may reject.)

  • Ignatius Reilly

    There are a lot of objections that could be made to Girard's theories, and a good conversation could no doubt be had. What I found really troubling about his piece though was the following:

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

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

    Barron is asserting without any justification is that in some way Christianity is unique among the other religions, because it uniquely places God on the side of the scapegoatees. Whether or not this is true is highly debatable, I'm inclined to think it is not, and it is also an insult to the many other world religions. I don't have a problem with Catholics thinking that their religion is somehow special (otherwise, why be Catholic), but it seems such grand statements as the one Barron makes should be reserved for articles in which he has more time to develop his premise. To my mind, it would probably take a couple of books to defend it.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Whether or not this is true is highly debatable, I'm inclined to think
      it is not

      It would be more effective to present a counterexample.

      , and it is also an insult to the many other world religions.

      Considering what today's cupcakes can find "insulting" this is not a powerful objection. But it is surely interesting that this sort of accusation is brought only against Christians. No one accuses Buddhists of insulting Hinduism, and they certainly don't accuse Islam of anything. It's almost as if they expect Christians to empathize with the insultee and hence find the accusation worrisome. A devotee of some other tradition might well answer, "Yeah? So what?"

      • David Nickol

        Of course, in some sense, any assertion by a particular religion to be based on the real truth may be taken as an "insult" to all other religions who have incompatible doctrines. But I would have to say that when I read works by, say, Buddhists or about Buddhism, I do not get the impression that Buddhism looks down its nose at those who are not Buddhists. One does get this sense from many Christian works, many of them Catholic. This was particularly true of pre-Vatican-II Catholicism.

        I doubt that my own upbringing and education in the 1950s and early 1960s was atypical. We were taught that we were in a very real sense, the true "chosen people," and to associate in any significant way with "non-Catholics" was risky and unwise. I remember it was a strange and daring adventure to attend a neighbor's wedding in a Protestant church!" (If I remember correctly, my sister obtained permission from out pastor to set foot in a "non-Catholic" house of worship.) My capsule summary of Judeo-Christian history was, "The Jews missed the boat and the Protestants jumped ship."

        • Rob Abney

          I think you jumped ship also but you landed in a life raft and you are still tethered to the ship!

      • Ignatius Reilly

        It would be more effective to present a counterexample.

        Effective yes, but not all false claims are easily counter-exampled. I also did not claim that Barron's claims are actually false, though I am inclined to think they are false. I am also inclined to think that Girard overstates the explanatory powers of his theories. Regardless, it is not my burden of proof to show why Barron's assertions are false.

        I tend to think Barron is wrong, because I do not believe one can always distill religion X or mythology Y to fundamental characteristics. Over time, it seems to me that mythologies and religions change, and often in important and significant ways. I think we like to look for fundamental characteristics, so we can have nice encyclopedic type articles and teach them to high school students in mythology class. Religion seems to be much more complex then that.

        So, I am not at all convinced that it is even possible to isolate the fundamental characteristics of a religion, so therefore I deny that we can even compare them. In this article, Bishop Barron has given me no reason to suppose that we can compare or that he has isolated the fundamental characteristics of the world's religions.

        Let's take Christianity. If I was to summarize the Christian belief system down to its most essential, I would say that Christan believe that: at some time in the past humans broke their relationship with God, which could only be repaired by God. So God, sacrificed himself to restore our relationship with God. This is the general Christian narrative. This also seems to fit in the Barron's narrative. However, there is also a narrative within Christianity that blames the Jews for the death of Jesus. This sort of scapegoating does not fit in with Barron's narrative. Religions, cultures, and mythologies are complex, and it seems very
        possible that Barron and Girard are unconsciously selectively taking
        facts which fit their narrative or theory.

        I've barely touched Christian narratives and I haven't mentioned any of the other world religions and this is my fourth paragraph on the subject. This is why I said that something like this either deserves its own article or a book. Not every idea can be explained in the confines of a short blog.

        Considering what today's cupcakes can find "insulting" this is not a powerful objection.

        Not it is not a powerful objection. I do wonder how responsible the older generation is for all these micro-aggressions and safe spaces. These ideas didn't arise in a vacuum.

        One of the disadvantage of having polite rules of dialogue to follow is there are times when the right adjective or noun is not chosen. This is one of those cases. Let me try again. I didn't really take offense at Barron's stereotyping of the other world religions, but rather I thought it made his claims highly uninformative. It doesn't seem to me like Barron is sufficiently informed on world religions to make the broad claim that he made. This isn't a bad thing, but it is preferable not to hypothesize with insufficient knowledge/data.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          If you are inclined to think something doubtful, it must be because you have encountered examples for which a claim did not hold.

          it seems to me that mythologies and religions change, and often in important and significant ways

          Again, some examples would do nicely, even if only for illustrative purposes. In what ways did the worship and mythos of Athena change, for example? We can't simply mean that the liturgical practices changed, since those are seldom central. If one offers one pinch of incense to the dead emperors or two pinches matters little.

          This is the general Christian narrative. ... However, there is also a narrative within
          Christianity that blames the Jews for the death of Jesus.

          There is a narrative that the Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted on commission from Pope Julius II by Michelangelo with the intention of depicting the ancient covenant between God and his people. However, there is also a narrative within painting that accredits the painting to a set of paintbrushes and palette of colors. So there is no difficulty supposing more than one narrative.

          However, it is doubtful that you could find any of the Church Fathers replacing the first narrative with your second one, even if Pilate and the Jewish leadership were instrumental in the historical events that instantiated the first narrative. To quote the Council of Trent:

          "Reasons Why Christ Suffered"
          "Furthermore men of all ranks and conditions were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. Gentiles and Jews were the advisers, the authors, the ministers of his passion: Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, all the rest deserted him. ... In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for, as our sins consigned Christ the Lord to the death of the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the Son of God, as far as in them lies, and make a mockery of him. This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the ancient Jews, since according to the testimony of the same Apostle: if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know him, yet denying him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on him.”

          Unlike some other traditions, such as the worship of Athena, the traditional churches have a "calibration department" for centering the teachings of the faith. For the Orthodox Church, these are the Holy Traditions and the ecumenical councils; for the Catholic Church, the same but with a greater emphasis on the Bible as a privileged part of the Traditions and on papal rulings. In any case, their beliefs are not the sum or average of the beliefs of self-professed members.

          • If you are inclined to think something doubtful, it must be because you have encountered examples for which a claim did not hold.

            Here, I disagree with you and agree with Ignatius:

            IR: It doesn't seem to me like Barron is sufficiently informed on world religions to make the broad claim that he made. This isn't a bad thing, but it is preferable not to hypothesize with insufficient knowledge/​data.

            The Bible despises arrogance and pride. A glorious instance of this is Job 40:6–14. I am told that one of philosopher of science Nancy Cartwright's projects these days is to focus on the 'extrapolation problem': how can one extrapolate from what one does know, to what one does not know? It seems to me that Barron may have wildly extrapolated. Then again, he may not. More information is required, and until more information is available, I say his words ought to be treated as speculative.

            For the Orthodox Church, these are the Holy Traditions and the ecumenical councils; for the Catholic Church, the same but with a greater emphasis on the Bible as a privileged part of the Traditions and on papal rulings.

            Hmmm, this is not the idea I got from Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church. There, he gave indication that the Orthodox Church values scripture more highly than tradition, while the Roman Catholic Church places tradition and scripture on approximately equal level. Where did you get your version?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Where did you get your version?

            From an official Orthodox Church website; but it was sufficiently long ago that I don'r remember which. I do recollect that the site pointed out that the Orthodox do not have a Bible as such. Rather, they have a Book of the Gospels, a Lectionary, a Psalter, and so on, but never saw a need to bind them into a single book.

          • According to Orthodox Church in America § Bible:

            For the Orthodox, the Bible is the book of the Church, written by and for those who believe in God and constitute His People. The Four Gospels are the center of the Bible, just as Christ is the center of the Church. For this reason the Four Gospels are always enthroned on the altar in the Orthodox Church building.[...]The Bible is central in the life of the Church and gives both form and content to the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship, just as to its theology and spiritual life. Nothing in the Orthodox Church can be opposed to what is revealed in the Bible. Everything in the Church must be biblical.

    • Paul F

      I really don't understand why saying that Christianity identifies with the scapegoat would be insulting to other religions. This is a limited forum and we can't write books on here so we are forced to condense opinions. It helps the discussion to take opinions as such and if you disagree to condense your own opinion or provide some counter examples.

      From what I know, Islam does not at all identify with the victim but rather glorifies power of any kind. Judaism came up with the idea of the scapegoat, so I think you would say Christianity stole the idea from Judaism; though I think Christanity has the scapegoat par excellence. I know Budhism and Hinduism value beauty and self-mastery, but I don't know that they identify with the scapegoat so much as they deny the reality of the conflict.

      Do you know of another world religion that takes the notion of the scapegoat as the way to peace?

      • David Nickol

        Judaism came up with the idea of the scapegoat, so I think you would say Christianity stole the idea from Judaism; though I think Christanity has the scapegoat par excellence.

        Far be it from me to interpret Girard with any degree of confidence, but I don't think the point is that Christianity has the "scapegoat par excellence."

        From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

        Under Girard’s interpretation, Jesus saved us by becoming a victim and overturning once and for all the scapegoat mechanism. Thanks to Jesus’ salvific mission, human beings now have the capacity to understand what scapegoats really are, and have the golden opportunity to achieve enduring social peace.

        Scapegoating for Girard seems to be a very unfortunate and flawed foundation upon which civilization was built, and Christianity seems to be an exposé of scapegoating—something that should bring an end to it altogether if only we learn the correct lesson from the death of Jesus.

        Again, relying on the IEP, a major problem with Girard would seem to be the following:

        Girard’s vision of Christianity also brings forth a new interpretation of the doctrine of atonement, that is, that Christ died for our sins. Anselm’s traditional account (God’s honor was offended by the sins of mankind, His honor was reestablished with the death of His own son), or other traditional interpretations (mankind was kidnapped by the Devil, God offered Christ as a ransom; Jesus died so God could show humanity what He is capable of doing if we do not repent, and so forth) are deemed inadequate by Girard.

        If this is an accurate summary of Girard's thought, he seems to be tossing aside (or at least declaring inadequate) the teachings of the Catholic Church as to why Jesus died—why it was God's plan for him to die. Perhaps someone can do more justice to Catholic teaching than I am here, but the death of Jesus is seen as the offering of a "perfect sacrifice" to God the Father—a sacrifice that is repeated in every mass. This was a sacrifice that God required. It is not just that Jesus was an innocent victim who was unjustly executed. As I understand Catholic thought, Jesus fulfilled the need for a sacrifice to God the Father that would make "satisfaction" for the sins of mankind. The crucifixion of a perfectly innocent victim wasn't a mistake and an extraordinarily unfortunate injustice. It was what God's justice allegedly required. In order to make things right again, God required the sacrifice of a perfect innocent.

        • Paul F

          I think you have a very good understanding of both Girard and Catholic teaching. I, however, do not see the two as incompatible. The idea of the scapegoat is that something else suffers and dies in place of the guilty. Jesus, as the scapegoat par excellence, doesn't merely wipe out sins. He invites the guilty to become innocent again and to become the scapegoat. Christianity is not an invitation to have the price paid by others and be Scott free, but rather an invitation to participate in paying the price.

          This is something that many Christians have misunderstood over the years. Eg. The modern "prosperity gospel" misses this entirely. Or in the movie "O Brother" when Delbert got baptized and thought all his transgressions were forgiven, Everett explained that the state of Mississippi might not be so forgiving.

          The scapegoat is a part of salvation history. It began as an incomplete idea that God introduced to people who wouldn't understand it. It is God's way of introducing stiff-necked and self righteous people to the idea of taking responsibility for their own actions.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is God's way of introducing stiff-necked and self righteous people to the idea of taking responsibility for their own actions.

            I've done something wrong, and I am informed that an innocent person was punished in my place. How does that instill in me any sense of my own responsibility?

          • Paul F

            Doug you and I have different understandings of sin. I understand it as the choice to not be with God. God doesn't exact punishment for sins, He just allows the choice.

            When the angels fell, they left God's presence for eternity. When humans fell, they left God's presence, but they are not in eternity, they are in time. So they had time to think about what they had done.

            Humans came up with the idea of punishment and paying for sins. Throughout the Old Testament you see a people trying to make amends for their wrongdoing. You also see a God slowly explaining to them that sacrifice is not really what He wants; rather He wants their hearts. I.e. He wants them back in His presence. God sees in their sacrifices a desire to return to Him. So He goes along with it for their sake. When the time was right, He sent His own son to teach them that the only true sacrifice is self-sacrifice, to "die to the flesh" so that they can live "in spirit."

            So having an innocent punished for your crime does not force you to take responsibility for it. The hope is that it will break your heart of stone to see the love that innocent person has for you. And having seen it, you will also be willing to place yourself on the cross as well. For there is "no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends."

          • Doug Shaver

            Doug you and I have different understandings of sin.

            Sin is a theological concept. There is nothing for me to understand except what Christians say about it, and what Christians say about it is all over the place.

            I understand it as the choice to not be with God.

            And lots of other Christians understand it very differently.

            So having an innocent punished for your crime does not force you to take responsibility for it.

            I said nothing about anybody being forced to do anything.

          • Sin is a theological concept. There is nothing for me to understand except what Christians say about it, and what Christians say about it is all over the place.

            You've given this reasoning before and I don't really understand it. If you take the average trajectory of a ship traveling from the Pacific to the Atlantic, it goes roughly through the middle of South America. Why is this? Because some ships travel around Cape Horn and others travel through the Panama Canal. The 'average value', in this case, is 100% useless. It's downright fictitious. So I hope you aren't trying to use any sort of 'average understanding of sin'!

            Furthermore, there is plenty of pluralism in other fields—including physics! Brain Green Adams responded by requesting a comparison to philosophy, theology, and art; I explained that the reason is due to an extremely contentious methodological choice to refuse to theorize about the ontology of human being. Refuse to theorize articulately and you will get an explosion of pluralism. For example, this promotes rabid pluralism: WP: Secularism § Secular society's "1. Refuses to commit itself as a whole to any one view of the nature of the universe and the role of man in it."

            So, I think it's fair to ask you to work with particular views on sin, instead of merely hand-waving about the diversity which does exist.

          • Doug Shaver

            So I hope you aren't trying to use any sort of 'average understanding of sin'!

            I'm not. I'm saying that those who talk about sin can't agree on what they're talking about.

            I think it's fair to ask you to work with particular views on sin

            Like yours? OK. You say sin is the choice not to be with God. Very well. I have made no such choice. Therefore, I have not sinned.

          • I'm not. I'm saying that those who talk about sin can't agree on what they're talking about.

            Neither can physicists when it comes to an interpretation of QM, nor can psychologists when talking about a paradigm for doing psychology research. Neither can economists, about whether people are rational actors. So, it seems like you're simply pointing out something blindingly obvious. I'm wondering why.

            Like yours? OK. You say sin is the choice not to be with God. Very well. I have made no such choice. Therefore, I have not sinned.

            No, with @paulefj:disqus's, since he was the one you were talking to. My guess is that sin for him is not just a choice, but a broken relationship. I will bet that he allows for concepts advanced by Eric Schwitzgebel in his 2008 The Unreliability of Naive Introspection, some of which Aquinas advanced centuries before. Furthermore, the fact that I'm not a lawyer is due to the lack of any choice to become a lawyer. That is another kind of choice. So my guess is that you'll have to address Paul's position a bit carefully than you have, here.

          • Doug Shaver

            he was the one you were talking to.

            I apologize for my inattention.

            So my guess is that you'll have to address Paul's position a bit carefully than you have, here.

            If he tells me he meant something other than what he said, I'll do that.

            I'm saying that those who talk about sin can't agree on what they're talking about.

            Neither can physicists when it comes to an interpretation of QM, nor can psychologists when talking about a paradigm for doing psychology research.

            I'm not picking one of those interpretations or paradigms and saying it's the right one.

          • I don't think an apology is necessary. I just don't see why you'd cite pluralism as any sort of concern. Pluralism is everywhere, and Paul F pointed out that you two appear to be working off of different conceptions of sin. That's a very standard thing to happen in debates on the internet, isn't it? It doesn't matter whether it's 'sin', 'atheist', 'Christian', or what have you. We are infected with pluralism.

          • Doug Shaver

            I just don't see why you'd cite pluralism as any sort of concern.

            It depends on what one is concerned about. I'm not claiming that it can't be real just because nobody can agree on what it is. Nor am I claiming that if 10 Christians tell me 10 different things about what it is, none of them could be right. But if one of them tells me he is the one with the right answer, I'll want to know why I should take his word for it.

          • Were you told The Right Answer, or what someone thought was the best answer of which [s]he was aware?

          • Doug Shaver

            Were you told The Right Answer

            From my perspective as a non-Christian, there doesn't seem to be one.

          • Ok, but did anyone do this:

            DS: But if one of them tells me he is the one with the right answer, I'll want to know why I should take his word for it.

            ? All I see is this:

            PF: Doug you and I have different understandings of sin. I understand it as the choice to not be with God. God doesn't exact punishment for sins, He just allows the choice.

            That doesn't seem like The Right Answer-land.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ok, but did anyone do this:

            DS: But if one of them tells me he is the one with the right answer, I'll want to know why I should take his word for it.

            They don't all do it in so many words, but many do say that any Christians who give other answers are giving wrong answers. That is logically equivalent to their claiming to be the only ones with the right answers.

            Whatever Paul might think about answers other than his own has no relevance to my response to him. He told me what he thinks is the meaning of sin. On the basis of that meaning, as he stated it, I have not sinned.

          • You say "many do say"—did Paul F?

          • Doug Shaver

            but many do say that any Christians who give other answers are giving wrong answers.

            You say "many do say"—did Paul F?

            No, not that I recall.

          • In that case, I don't understand the purpose of pointing out what you pointed out. The phenomenon you described exists all over science; it isn't restricted to theology. If you want an empirical accounting for something like Augustine's conception of sin, see Alistair McFadyen's Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin (extensive review). But it seems like Paul F isn't engaged in the bad behavior you describe. Instead, it seems like you shut down the conversation with him via what you said. :-(

          • Doug Shaver

            But it seems like Paul F isn't engaged in the bad behavior you describe.

            I did not accuse him of any bad behavior.

          • Suffice it to say that I have no idea why you said what you did, to Paul F. It seemed to function as a conversation-stopper.

          • Doug Shaver

            It seemed to function as a conversation-stopper.

            Stopping conversation was not my intention, but I have noticed that Christians often do either stop talking or change the subject whenever they're reminded that lots of other Christians disagree with them (as well as one another) about whatever point they're trying to make.

          • Interesting; I have not observed this. Then again, I've seen plenty of pluralism in the sciences—all the sciences. So, pluralism simpliciter indicates very little. Actually, perhaps I have seen atheists drop out of a conversation when pluralism was presented. I'll have to pay more attention in the future.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, pluralism simpliciter indicates very little.

            I'd say that depends on what the divergent opinions are about and on the context in which the subject arises.

          • Agreed, but where is the line of demarcation? For example, if one requires a way to empirically differentiate pluralism, now, in order for the pluralism to be acceptable, then one will be condemning much of the pluralism visible at WP: Interpretations of quantum mechanics (possible exception: psi-epistemic vs. psi-ontic). Furthermore, there are ways to empirically differentiate conceptions of sin, as I pointed out. And so, there are multiple things just plain wrong about the following:

            DS: Sin is a theological concept. There is nothing for me to understand except what Christians say about it, and what Christians say about it is all over the place.

            1. The idea that sin is just a theological concept is erroneous, unless the very same phrasing can be made in a different realm: "F = ma is a physical concept. There is nothing for me to understand except what physicists say about it..." I doubt you would find this acceptable.

            2. Given the context, your "all over the place" is surely meant to indicate that one's conception of sin is unconstrained by reality. In a way this may be true (but also true of interpretations of QM); philosophy which examines this is Underdetermination of Scientific Theory.

          • Doug Shaver

            So, pluralism simpliciter indicates very little.

            I'd say that depends on what the divergent opinions are about and on the context in which the subject arises.

            Agreed, but where is the line of demarcation?

            Demarcation between what and what?

          • Problematic vs. unproblematic pluralism.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't regard it as ever problematic. It can be a useful test of the progress made by the advocates of a concept. Quantum theory was first proposed only a little over a century ago, so the scientific community still disagrees about how to understand it, but not as much as it used to. As progress continues, I would expect some continued diminishing of that disagreement.

          • What if there is no diminishing pluralism—what if on the contrary, it increases?

          • Contrast putting someone in debtor's prison vs. allowing bankruptcy law to 'forgive' the person's debts. Does this in and of itself instill a sense of responsibility? Perhaps not. Is it nonetheless sometimes required for a person to get back on his/her own two feet? I think so!

          • Doug Shaver

            Contrast putting someone in debtor's prison vs. allowing bankruptcy law to 'forgive' the person's debts.

            In neither of those cases is an innocent person being punished for the debtor's failure to pay what he owes. And I've been through a bankruptcy. It has unpleasant consequences, so one is not entirely unpunished. The debt may be forgiven, but the failure to pay it is not entirely forgiven.

            Does this in and of itself instill a sense of responsibility? Perhaps not.

            Whenever the law imposes a penalty for wrongdoing, the intention among others is to instill a sense of responsibility in the wrongdoer. Everyone agrees this doesn't always happen, but everyone also can see it how it could happen and thus knows why it happens when it happens. My question to you was how a wrongdoer could get a sense of responsibility by seeing an innocent person punished for his misdeeds.

          • In neither of those cases is an innocent person being punished for the debtor's failure to pay what he owes.

            If you don't force someone to pay for his/her debt, someone is going to end up paying for it. The cost might be amortized to all of society, actuaries may have figured it out, but there is not a free lunch going on, there.

            And I've been through a bankruptcy. It has unpleasant consequences, so one is not entirely unpunished. The debt may be forgiven, but the failure to pay it is not entirely forgiven.

            Sorry to hear that. I'm not sure the fact that the suffering was only attenuated (but hugely attenuated) particularly matters for the purposes of this discussion? After all, a Christian generally doesn't suffer zero for his/her sins, either.

            My question to you was how a wrongdoer could get a sense of responsibility by seeing an innocent person punished for his misdeeds.

            I don't think an innocent person choosing to extend grace and mercy (at his/her own cost) is necessarily the mechanism by which a person gains a sense of responsibility. Indeed, going back to my debtor's prison analogy, freedom from debt may be a prerequisite to gaining a sense of responsibility. I don't know of any Christian theology which has Jesus' death instilling in us a sense of responsibility. I don't really know where you got that idea.

          • Doug Shaver

            I don't really know where you got that idea.

            From Paul F. He said:

            The scapegoat is a part of salvation history. It began as an incomplete idea that God introduced to people who wouldn't understand it. It is God's way of introducing stiff-necked and self righteous people to the idea of taking responsibility for their own actions.

            I asked him how that could work, and you responded with your analogy of debtor's prison.

          • Having your [past] debt be repaid can be a necessary but not sufficient condition for learning responsibility.

          • Doug Shaver

            That doesn't answer the question I put to Paul.

          • Then you're quoting the wrong bit; this is what you want:

            PF: Christianity is not an invitation to have the price paid by others and be Scott free, but rather an invitation to participate in paying the price.

            Feel free to consult the likes of Col 1:24, Rom 8:16–17, 2 Cor 4:7–12, and 1 Pe 3:17, as well as Jesus' bits about "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me".

          • Doug Shaver

            Then you're quoting the wrong bit;

            My question concerned the statement I was quoting.

            this is what you want:

            You seem to be trying to change the subject. I want an answer to the question that I asked, not the answer to some other question such as "What does Christianity invite me to do?"

          • I think the source of the confusion might be that Christianity does not require you to merely be responsible for your own actions. Instead, it asks you to be responsible for others, and others to be responsible for you. In response to Cain's "Am I my brother's keeper?", the Christian answers "Yes!" As my debt is forgiven, I am to forgive others' debts. This forgiveness is not free to the one giving it! I am to copy what Christ did for me, not try harder to obey the law the next time.

        • If this is an accurate summary of Girard's thought, he seems to be tossing aside (or at least declaring inadequate) the teachings of the Catholic Church as to why Jesus died—why it was God's plan for him to die. Perhaps someone can do more justice to Catholic teaching than I am here, but the death of Jesus is seen as the offering of a "perfect sacrifice" to God the Father—a sacrifice that is repeated in every mass. This was a sacrifice that God required. It is not just that Jesus was an innocent victim who was unjustly executed. As I understand Catholic thought, Jesus fulfilled the need for a sacrifice to God the Father that would make "satisfaction" for the sins of mankind. The crucifixion of a perfectly innocent victim wasn't a mistake and an extraordinarily unfortunate injustice. It was what God's justice allegedly required. In order to make things right again, God required the sacrifice of a perfect innocent.

          I don't actually see a contradiction, here. God visited man's sins on Jesus. Girard has the mob visiting their sins on the scapegoat. The world was designed such that sin has consequences; think of some sort of conservation law that operates in the 'justice' domain. The conservation law must be satisfied. Either sins are propitiated by sinners, or by a substitute. There's no third option, for that would violate justice and open the door to gratuitous evil.

          All this talk of "inadequate", "just that", "mistake", "unfortunate", seems to obscure things and be 100% unnecessary. Given a system of scapegoating, God had two equally just options:

               (A) smite them
               (B) take responsibility himself

          Justice without mercy is (A), while justice with mercy via sacrifice-based grace is (B). The solution to the evil is precisely form-fitted to the evil itself. There is no 'happenstance' here.

      • I read this after making a comment above as a response to D. Nicol. Thanks for the clarification with 'the reality of the conflict' suggestion. It make me wonder about the concept maya (phenomena as an alternative to noumena in Western developments), and that our understanding of these ideas might, through becoming more precise about the details, perhaps even their psychological underpinning, allow for more coherence to be found between all of these 'theories' of human thought, word and action (or body).
        What I 'really appreciated' in studying at the Mahayana center was indeed the emphasis on self-mastery, as you say. It just made me ask, -does one need the idea of human agency (a God) in order to develop a mastery within a perceived (real) world. Indeed, I left Buddhism because I wanted just that - to get back to the real, conflicted, real world, (a study of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard rather than the impossibility for me to 'be' a Bodhisattva!!!,or 'savior' perhaps) I am still searching for a way to balance the two perspectives. (without becoming a scapegoat!!!! - may I say grin grin!! (edit: - just read a comment below - Oh! yeah! I get the idea of the value in being the scapegoat!!) which because it is perhaps a Western phenomena, may have more to do with the intellect, than with 'beauty', or judgment in Kant, or order, or may I say, even the Holy Ghost as contrasted with the 'logos'....although both are 'essential with trinitarian thought'??).....Thanks. (P.S. It is again, the 'triangularity', 'triune' geometry offered as explanation, which despite criticism of this intellectualization, does at least provde a 'workable' schemata. Just opining away!! I still prefer 'poetry' to 'logic', as is obvious!!

      • Pardon. I'll 'never get it right'. Just going through my library - and yes I did find a couple of books on 'Eros', among the post-moderns, but not the one by yes, a female philosopher on desire.
        Desire - very difficult concept for me, and one which can be confused with the will. Indeed, it is only now that in a way I feel I would have the 'courage' to take on the post-moderns - whether there is a conscious or blind progression - a development, a continuation, or disconnect from the religious basis within Judaism- Derrida, and Christianity, many philosophers here. But I really am getting 'too old' for any of this.

        But yes, for me there was another confusion, in use of words, from one context to another, and my own 'karma' coming into the picture with reference to the concept of 'scapegoating'. I was pulled in again, by my Catholic roots, and again found it difficult to ferret out what my 'own' ideas, etc. were at the time....So another 'confession' or I would hope - 'clarification' - but what ever the interpretation. Anyway....

        So we are offered here another 'theory'. Are there not possibilities within the four elemental distinctions, and of course 12 has proved an interesting schemata as well. What to do? May I just say, can't we get over the need to 'blame the victim'.....to put it in modern terms. Wouldn't that allow for 'more agency'..... But I know too often, that the victim can even be determined to be the cause or to be insane. Perhaps the Christian philosophers could benefit from reading and actually attempting to understand these post-moderns, moderns, etc. etc. and of course, maybe too it could work the other way. It really is 'possible' may I suggest, that none of us are 'really' talking to one another...John Locke first suggested this, within my experience. There is just 'too much out there', we are beyond the possibilities of the Renaissance 'man'!!!! And sometimes I really do feel that these 'arguments' are 'getting nowhere'. But... Thanks. .

      • Ignatius Reilly

        See my reply to YOS above

    • Barron is asserting without any justification is that in some way Christianity is unique among the other religions, because it uniquely places God on the side of the scapegoatees. Whether or not this is true is highly debatable, I'm inclined to think it is not, [...]

      How would you argue that "it is not"? In the OT alone, we have:

           (1) creation without violence (Gen 1)
           (2) God caring about the little guy (Deut 9:1–3)
           (3) God not rewarding based on works righteousness (Deut 9:4–12)
           (4) God restricting kings (Deut 17:14–20)
           (5) God restricting conquering (Num 34:1–15)

      This seems to push toward true uniqueness in an important, relevant way. Do you disagree?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        There are different things at play here:
        1) In Christianity God is sometimes on the side of scapegoats
        2) In Christianity God is always on the side of scapegoats
        3) Christianity is unique with regard to (1)

        I don't have a problem with (1). I have problems with (2) and (3).

        • Sorry, you've used the same list 'numbering' type, given your list with only a closed parentheses, and referenced items via open and closed parentheses. It's unclear whether you are referencing 1) and 2) or 3) at all. I suggest using A)–C) for your list.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Reletter mine as A),B), and C).
            I'm saying that I don't have a problem with A), but I do not think B) and C) are true

          • So... some versions of 'Christianity' have been perverted, just like Social Darwinism was sometimes described as 'science'. Does your B) apply to all Christanities?

            Do you know of any other religions are described by A), in about the same intensity that you think 'Christianity' is described by A)? I'm trying to figure out whether you are more justified in declaring B) false or merely in declaring B) unknown. Those are very different statements!

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I don't think one should divide Christianity into Christianities. I think there are movements within Christianity. Some good and some bad. There are also different theological presumptions in Christianity.

            I think it is very difficult to assess which religion most intensely is described by A. I am advocating skepticism on this point.

            I think B) is false, because there are movements within Christianity that have scapegoated the Jews. I still owe YOS a response with regard to this

          • I don't think one should divide Christianity into Christianities.

            Whelp, I do and so did Jesus, although it is important to balance Mt 7:15–23 against Mt 13:24–30. One great way to divide Christianity is based on how various self-labeled adherents view power; how do they, for example, interpret and apply Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20? Those who think that it is ok to "lord it over each other" simply aren't following Jesus—plain and simple. To fail to separate out these people from those who really are following this very basic aspect of Jesus' teaching and person is to refuse to discern. It's analogous to the refusal to do proper science.

            I think there are movements within Christianity. Some good and some bad. There are also different theological presumptions in Christianity.

            Quite true. Part of the pluralism is almost certainly due to the following:

                There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move. We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. No wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like being told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, 10)

            Note that this is a criticism of scientists, who are supposed to be the persons who most rigorously connect theory to reality. And yet, they're flatly refusing to do exactly that, when it comes to human nature, to 'ontology of human being'! No wonder there is so much pluralism! For more on the roots of pluralism, I suggest Louis Dupré's Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture and Brad S. Gregory's The Unintended Reformation. I can excerpt from both of these, per usual when I mention books without excerpting.

            I think it is very difficult to assess which religion most intensely is described by A. I am advocating skepticism on this point.

            But you really aren't, you advanced a positive, alternative view:

            IR: Whether or not this is true is highly debatable, I'm inclined to think it is not, and it is also an insult to the many other world religions.

            That isn't pure skepticism, that's arguing that Barron's claim is likely false, based on your admittedly not-scholarly-researched opinion.

            I think B) is false, because there are movements within Christianity that have scapegoated the Jews. I still owe YOS a response with regard to this

            Yeah, this is why I asked "Does your B) apply to all Christanities?" Only your refusal to disaggregate allows you to utter the general statement "I think B) is false", and have it be meaningful instead of relatively meaningless (because trying to make generalizations about extremely diverse groups is frequently futile if not distracting).

            If there's arsenic in the water, let's actually distinguish the As from the H2O, instead of just treating the whole thing as poison. Now, sometimes it is proper to not distinguish, but I don't think it's a good general principle, especially for philosophical and theological discussions such as this one.

          • Rob Abney

            I appreciate you pointing out Gregory's book, I found it unexpectedly at the local library.

  • David Nickol

    Of course, it would be foolish to reject Girard's life's work based on the OP. But having read the above and the article on Girard on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I do not find myself interested to know significantly more, let alone gobsmacked by what purports to be a kind of theory of everything about human culture and its origins.

    I think the positing of some kind of "original sin" to explain the imperfections of the world and get God off the hook for the human condition highly questionable. Anything that relies on original sin as a key concept, which Girard's philosophy apparently does, had better provide more convincing evidence than I have seen so far.

    • If it is possible that there is a 'positive' interpretation of the pain and suffering involved in, story of Adam and Eve, and particularly produced by the concept of 'original sin' - perhaps even as originating with Augustus, it is exclusive to Christianity. Could it be that it demands that humanity take on a responsibility, if I may use that word, for 'what happens in the world'. Of the stories I have read, from the origin of the Buddhist Samsara wheel of suffering, to perhaps the story of 'Pandora's Box', it seems to be unique in placing it's focus on what is (although a kind of 'negative' interpretation) still a responsibility or human agency, and thus choice, rather than alternatively, a karmic justice that is set 'fatalistically perhaps' rather than within a possible rational determinism, because within karma there is a rule of cause and effect as primary, whereas within the 'God' tradition, there is an 'assumed?' agency. . (Unless you become enlightened!!! so there is such truth in that too!!!) .

      Since our 'enlightenment' (quite a different meaning here), there are perhaps two contrasting stories, which suggest a more modern interpretation of these precedents: the idea of the noble savage in Rousseau, as against the "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"description given by Hobbes. Again, I don't like to argue any case, just hopefully suggesting some possibilities or alternatives which may provide means//facts in order for some to possibly come to their own independent conclusion. Yes, hopefully, just a little more 'fact?' within the repertoire of 'opinion'??!! Thanks.

    • Anything that relies on original sin as a key concept, which Girard's philosophy apparently does, had better provide more convincing evidence than I have seen so far.

      In that case, I suggest Alistair McFadyen's Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin, which uses original sin (keying off Augustine, over and against Pelagius) as an empirical lens to try and better understand relational pathology than can be done with [e.g.] moralism. McFadyen looks at how a person's willing is formed—whether in a less perverted environment, or a more perverted environment. To presume that one's own willing is perfect is to set oneself up to re-crucify Jesus. And yet, if the standard for right and wrong is not set by society (with all its imperfect distributions of power, ignoring of certain viewpoints, etc.), how is it set? And so, either what is right and wrong is always relativized to the current society, or there is an external, causally accessible standard. Under the 'relativized' option, there is no original sin and there is no way to question society as a whole, no position from which it can be effectively questioned. This seems like a very logical consequence of Fitch's Paradox of Knowability (axiom version): if there is no being who knows more than we do, then what is knowable is restricted to what is already known—unless we give up on "the ability to know and know that knowing-means-truth". (Such giving up would seem to end us up at "(5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable.", which seems undesirable.)

  • David Nickol

    For a particularly clear example of the unveiling process, take a hard look at the story of the woman caught in adultery.

    There is a problem here, and it is that the woman caught in adultery was not just guilty, but guilty of violating one of the Ten Commandments. And according to Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22—the very words of God himself—the penalty was death. Jesus does not declare the woman an innocent "scapegoat." He says, "Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

    Everyone loves the story of the woman caught in adultery, and I do, too. But there are problems. First, did the Jews under Roman rule have legal authority to stone a woman caught in adultery? It would seem not, and certainly not without some kind of legal proceedings. So was the woman really in danger of being stoned on the spot? Unless some legal authority had actually passed sentence on this woman, stoning her would have been equivalent to a lynching. Why would we be surprised if Jesus didn't give his approval to a lynching? And if a sentence had been passed in some proceeding we are not told of, why was she brought before Jesus?

    This is one those stories in which the objective of the scribes and the Pharisees is to trap Jesus into saying something that can be used against him.

    "Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him.

    It is unclear to me what exactly the trap is—that is, what the "wrong" answer was that they were hoping Jesus would give. But Jesus very cleverly avoids an answer about the Mosaic Law. Does Jesus intend from that moment on that only those who had never sinned could administer justice? That certainly is difficult to imagine. It is certainly difficult to imagine that Jesus was taking a stand against punishment for adultery, or that he was prohibiting capital punishment. Jesus generally does not relax Old Testament law but makes it more stringent. (For example, it is not enough to avoid adultery itself. It must not even be committed in the heart.)

    Now, certainly the woman caught in adultery is being used by the scribes and Pharisees, but it is difficult for me to see her as some kind of scapegoat. Again, she is not innocent. And although Jesus shows compassion for her in this particular situation—when she is in the hands of a mob—it would be difficult to say that she is a scapegoat and that God is on the side of adulterers over against those who would punish them.

    If someone checks Raymond E. Brown's Anchor Bible volume The Gospel According to John I-XII, some of the above may sound familiar, but I am giving my own opinions, not those of Brown.

    • I really had intended to merely read, and learn what I can from the comments here, and also on EN. But I, as a woman, must speak up here.
      Many women can be unjustly accused, and surely you know of the saying - blame the victim. However, to begin, with respect to his final words to the woman, perhaps it can be thought of with respect to his saying: Who is without sin, cast the first stone. The woman, like us all?, was not the exception. But I shall now make the case, (or argument) that she was 'unjustly accused'.
      The precedent perhaps goes back to Daniel, and the woman Susanne. I shall merely suggest you read this story, with the presumption, that her 'accusers', possibly could also have been her 'intended violators. Perhaps, even because she possibly avoided or refused their purpose, an accusation against her would limit any possibility that she could tell the truth, as she would be forced instead to defend herself. Daniel, as her 'counsel' or 'defender' demonstrates the 'deception' in their tale..

      Within the New Testament, Jesus, is once again the 'fulfillment' of the actions of the precedent in the Old. By diverting any attention or possibility of 'further argument', by writing in the sand, somehow!!?? they are forced in self-reflection upon realizing that they will not be able to make their case before Jesus, leave the 'argument'.. Rather than Daniel finding the argument, or evidence for conviction, those in the NT, submit somehow to a new law, in an examination of their own state of mind? This is not put very well, with respect to the perspective of EN, but I do think it 'could' represent both a secular and 'spiritual' interpretation.
      You may or may not agree or disagree. Thank you.

  • Well, perhaps a summary might be appropriate. What I call my 'thought experiments' are not expected to be understood by anyone. And I doubt the church would consider them to be any form of contemplative prayer. I have had to 'go back' and rewrite some of them, in order to find or attempt to find the 'logical' relationships between different levels of interpretation within them. And of course, in my library is a book on logic, that I now feel I'm ready for- another phenomenological logic by Husserl. So perhaps my efforts in 'self-reflection' have indeed been a 'work in progress'. Just an explanation, if anyone considers that necessary.

    So hopefully, I can contribute something to this post. Looking through the library again, I still could not find the book based on the works of Jacques LaCan having to do with desire and eros, and the mimetic. In any case, there are many theories attempting to explain or even 'universalize' many kinds of experience, besides those that are identified with 'religion'.. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lacanianism I did find one book on 'Forgiveness - A Philosophical Exploration, by Charles L. Griswold.which some might consider relevant. This could provide a perspective on the 'atonement' tradition which could, I believe, be considered as fundamentally related to the thesis of this OP. We are concerned, for instance, in the interpretation of 'atonement' fundamentally, perhaps, with the idea and 'reality' of 'debt. My understanding is that this can distinguish between the redemptive aspect and the salvation aspect. I am now considering, with the help of a similar interpretation regarding the Eucharist I found in another comment, that the offering of flesh and blood, matter and mind?, is towards a 'development may I say' of the 'spiritual', or development of each, in order, .....although I shall not attempt to define that here.. His presentation is better.

    Has the debt been fully paid, has our path been made clear by the redemptive 'methodology' offered, i.e. that our flesh and blood can indeed be sacrificed (in many ways, on many levels) towards the possibility of personal 'salvation'. However, by analogy, when we consider only the flesh and blood debt in terms of not only the personal, but of national and global debt, this might give us something to think about with respect to our ability to 'cancel' debt, to 'forgive' debt rather than demand payment, repayment. Could we even consider the possibility of a relation between money? and - what? spirituality," when we consider who, and under what circumstances debt could ever indeed be 'forgiven'. Hopefully, irony sometimes can be 'educative'....There is merely, I suggest, -ironically again- some sense in which the scriptural belief that 'only God can forgive' can still perhaps be given a 'credible' interpretation!!!!

    Of most importance and relevance perhaps is the book Mimetic Reflections, A Study in Hermeneutics, Theology, and Ethics. by William Schweiker. The Contents: 1. A Shattered Universe 2. Understandi8ng as Mimesis of World 3. Narrative as Mimesis of Time 4. Self as Mimesis of Life 5. The Analogies of Mimetic Practice. 9. Mimetic Reflections: Toward a Theology and Ethics.

    My own reflection on my situation in this world however, is that I would not like my thought to be based on 'mere' mimesis, but perhaps I am underestimating the problematic, and the possibility that yes, we all can consider ourselves to be 'copy cats' except it is important to emphasize that the interpretation given in this post is not a 'singularity'.. Indeed, I would speculate that 'outgrowing' the 'need' for religion, could be interpreted as a viable development within consciousness of an individual 'agency' including a conscious adoption of personal responsibility, that hopefully could transcend various existent forms of 'abstract' imitation, and yet the 'reality of mimetics' would retain the basis of our 'representational capacities' which are essential both as the basis of art, and language, as well as the images we associate with the capacity we call 'imagination', both productive and reproductive...But this is a complicated and difficult endeavor as it entails the need to retain both the communal and if I may use the word: 'the "divine"?.....Your interpretation, or rejection of this word is needed here.....please!!!Perhaps you could provide a better word, (Buddhist enlightenment comes to mind, and of course 'The enlightenment' -well it hasn't worked for me, as is obvious from my intellectual 'incapacitates', in possibly relating all of those 'observations' to the an ongoing 'rational?' foundation (perhaps even scientific? foundation) of thought within 'abstractions'.. Thank you.

    After-thought. How I would like to take back a few things I have said, above, and within all the comments over the years that I have posted.(Edit: Addendum: As with reference to the term 'divine' I never cease to learn from Wiki! especially as this is much easier for me than the reading of books in my-- 'old/er age'!!: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_%28Christian%29#Western_views_on_hesychasm Yes, we grow, and the interpretation we give to the world, ie. our ideas change, develop, and hopefully are transformed 'for the better'.

    Yes, the word 'mimetic' as with thought generally, can have so many different interpretations, according to a different person's substance, or history, or experience, the connotation even being unique with respect to different times. We must remember that in 'reality' there are indeed many 'kinds' of mimesis, many kinds of 'imitation of the divine'!!!!!.and many attemp[s 'to divine'....whether one is successful or not in 'finding water within a well'....Yes 'thought runs deep'... The specific example I was thinking about: the 'trinity' is countered by the post-moderns interest in a 'fourfold', very analogous to the early Greek 'elements' as well as the Chinese elements, and even the choice of twelve for apostles, tribes, has a cosmological basis of 'religion,as does the Soul, the Nous and One-the transcendence, not surprisingly.?????? Just to demonstrate that there are different structural basis that provide the schemata not only within the various world's 'religions', but within different contexts generally.. My study however, at this time, with respect to this issue, is 'I believe' over and done. The search will continue, however, for a more developed 'mimetic'.. Ah! if only one could hear the sound of silence!!!!

  • Doug Shaver

    He meant that we rarely desire objects straightforwardly; rather, we desire them because others desire them:

    That obviously does happen. It's what fads are all about. But I have seen no good reason to think that it is what happens most of the time.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      When I was a little kid, I didn't need anyone's example to really like cookies.

    • Craig Roberts

      Good point. We do in fact desire objects straightforwardly most of the time. It is 'rare' that our motivation comes from copying somebody else.

  • Craig Roberts

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

    The ultimate unmasking (revelation) of Christianity would naturally be it's truth, which would prove the falsehood of all other religions, not their hidden "truth".

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The Church is happy to recognize truth wherever it can be found.

      • Craig Roberts

        Right. That's why it's so popular these days.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          The Church isn't popular these days.

          • Craig Roberts

            Exactly. Perhaps it would be more popular if it contained the truth instead of being just another searcher looking everywhere for it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Church does claim to contain the truth. The Church is not a searcher looking for it but a recognizer of it when she sees it elsewhere.

          • David Nickol

            The Church does claim to contain the truth.

            Could you define "the Church" here? Often over on the Commonweal blog, when someone criticizes "the Church," Father Komonchak asks them to define what they mean. I think it is a fair question, too, when someone extols "the Church."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I mean the Roman Catholic Church as defined by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.