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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 5 (Oct. 1993)


Georg Baudler: God and Violence: The Christian Experience of God in Dialogue with Myths and Other Religions. Springfield, Illinois: Templegate Publishers, 1992. Pb. (366 pp.) $19,95.

The book's aim is to initiate an "orienting dialogue between the Christian experience of God and the experiences of the divine that are expressed in myth, fairy tales and religions", and in continuance of this, "to acquire through the Christian interpretation of religions and cultural history, and within a religious dialogue, a new Christian understanding of man and his situation" (p. 18). So, an attempt at a Christian cultural anthropology, in the final analysis an attempt at re-symbolizing the Trinity (p. 115).

GV falls into three parts. In the first part "Introduction", we are supplied with a few epistemological main elements, consecutively elaborated throughout the book, towards what might be called an empirical dialogue. The attention is directed at the main symbols of the religions in Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. In continuance of this, Part Two, "Exposition", now turns to dissimilarities, similarities and contrasts among the hierophanies of the various religions, - in GV the concern is in particular the contrast between Judeo-Christianity and archaic religion, especially from the Near East with occasional views of South America and Asia.

In the material dealt with, certain basic experiences seem so recurrent that they actually make up a pattern through history and culture. To such experiential constants belongs the experience of evil, but according to Baudler also a primary experience of peace and harmony. The main symbols of the hierophany of peace and harmony is fertility- and love-godheads like the Ugaritic Baal and Anat, the Sumerian-Babylonian Tammuz and the Egyptian Osiris. The oldest known spheres of experience turn out to be dominated, however, by experiences of destruction, annihilation and anger, the god of the wilderness whose main symbol is the bull, and man's interpretative association to them.

If we stick to the narratives peculiar to the mythical texts, it will appear that no society can survive in its entirety without yielding to the discretion of such a god of the wilderness, as chaos will be the dominant order in that case. For the same reason a community will attempt by all means to protect itself against this destructive bull-god by a subjecting establishment of contact and communication with this deity, a causal and covenanted relation. The evil circulation of chaos must be discriminated, broken up and fixed. If this discriminating contact through which the god of the wilderness is transfixed into a more stable symbolical formula, is successful, then possibilities are opening up to the establishment of symbols and forms of communications, order and culture with their incidental stable differences. The sacred is such a primary cultural and breathing space, where distinctions can be made between heaven and earth, good and evil, at home and abroad, friend and enemy. The main symbol of this cultural founder, the contactual stand-in, is the bird, often in the shape of a bird of prey, the eagle which flies between divine heaven and man's world on its wings. But the establishment of order remains in the image of violence. Within religious myths we witness the symbolizing of this gradual establishment of differences and culture from opaque turbulence to the fixed dualism of order into a violent separation of the bull-god into an evil part and a good part, such as the struggle between the evil bull in the shape of the serpent-dragon, the Ugaritic Jamm and Mot, and the good bull represented by bird or bull, resulting in the order of fertility. Thus Yahweh the El-god curses the serpent in the Garden of Eden. "Baal, the god of fertility, is often represented in his ichnography as standing on a bull. But this does not mean, as has often been contended, that the bull is the symbol of Baal, a sign of his power and fertility. Rather, this representation shows how Baal, a new version of the old Athtar, has overcome the 'bull-El', and put his foot on the head of the defeated enemy" (p. 52). So far the formal differences of the symbols; what about their contents, the condensation point of the very experiences, the trans- empirical hyphen?

The joint borderline for order and the power of violence, and thus the sphere of the bird, is to be found in the connection between the sacred and the victim, whose stabilizing efficiency is known all over the world. Within the logic of victimization we find a decisive exception from the apparent rule of the divine "outside" the world, - the exception that confirms the rule? Here, so to say, there are two-way directions, outside as well as inside. We are confronted with an inversion of the perspective and move from atmospheric heaven to the world of man - and back again. The atmospheric god-bull appears to originate in the world of man. Thus it must be essential to establish further the origin of the eagle, that is, the truth of the logic of victimization. It is obvious that the sphere of the eagle has a certain human trait, and not only that, various religions characterize it as the spirit of longing and desire, pneuma and ruah, screams, cries, voices, ambivalence, pulsation and lunacy. In continuation of the works of Girard, Baudler localizes this logic in the scapegoat mechanism, everybody's conspiracy against one who is thrown out and killed as a scapegoat, and that through this horror of witnessing violence and death the others unite and stabilize their community upon the victim's grave. In the myths we find birds of prey, which chase away any threat of a symbolical identity, they even tear the gods to pieces. Thus culture is based on a founding murder.

What does this structural necessity of the scapegoat mechanism then consist of? GV does not give such a more profound interpretation of the experiences made in connection with the process of scapegoating, but it moves within a symbolically immanent interpretation, where order and (the culture of) violence are given a priori. Only the fact that violence dominates culture, the sacrificial murder, not so much how order itself arises, the possibility of experienced harmony, - the sacred violence of order. Violence and the mechanism of scapegoating are explained in the transcendental -philosophical way as something acquired and intended, something more or less transparent, derived/produced! Man "has to learn to kill as a 'cultural' act. ... Killing is the characteristic of the strong man" (p. 81).

In GV the mutual relationship between origin and culture is perceived in the form of a positional "double- being". Origin and culture are understood as two separate units of being, divided by a natural gap. "Thus, the 'founding murder' was not the origin of religion. Rather, it was the expression of religion ... . Man was surely human before he began to indulge in this usurping behaviour" (p. 86); "Language existed before the Fall" (p. 217); the point is "the primary fascination of life and harmony ... before any perversion" (p. 91) and "ontological" sacrificial types, crops sacrifice versus the sacrifice of animals (p. 93), etc. Thus we get not one, but in principle two beginnings: the order of Paradise and the cultural space of violence, natural order and the social history of violence. Baudler's explanation sticks to mere description without any actual explanation except that natural guidance towards this must take place within the fascination of the killing power, whose instructional a priori is hunting (p. 80ff). The fall of man is acquired/intended. Why? Baudler's only reply is something like "Man sins when he chooses not to be human" (p. 64). So the "fall of man" is made teachable!

A project like this one easily ends up in a conflict with the mimetic theory as stated by Girard. The mimetic theory is generative and concerns an absence of differences out of which the differences are generated. This explanation does not require two original external instances of derivation for its power, on the contrary it points out that violence and experienced order are both the obverse and the reverse of the same coin. In his two- phase model, Baudler reads the mimetic theory thematically - the mechanism of scapegoating is amputated into one theme among others, and he thus cleaves the medial unity of the mimetic theory into two parts; he tends only to reflect on the effects of the scapegoat, the symbolical parallel race, not the interdividual power of mimetic desire. In GV analyses of mimetic desire, the taboo, and the function of ritual, are absent.

In continuance of the above, the third part, "Development", concerns an anthropology of the Trinity where the trans-empirical "space" of experiences is interpreted in the light of the Christian truth of the Trinitarian God. In consonance with R. Girard, Baudler finds in the Judeo-Christian religion the weightiest exception from those symbolically immanent interpretations of the world characterized by violence. "Mythical language and the symbolism of the Trinity have a common logical structure, a common 'grammar'... . On the other hand, a common grammar does not imply similar content" (p. 115). Common to the revelations of non- Scripture is that it does show that the sacred and the sacrificial phenomenon are intimately connected with violence, but it does not offer an interpretation of its possible anthropological origin. By way of a contrast, this dimension is given utterance in the Judeo-Christian religion, mainly in the New Testament, through which the anthropological equivalents of the atmospherical experiences begin to appear on the stage. The Jewish hierophany is not of an atmospherical nature, but is based on an irreversible event, mainly connected with the Exodus from Egypt, revealing the God as "I-am-here", Yahweh. God is seen here as primarily maternally protective. The eagle has been replaced by the dove as an indication of life. "I-am-here" sounds like a caring answer with a human face, paternal and maternal, to human cry of despair in a world of danger and violence. Within the Jewish interpretation, this conception of God is in constant conflict with the bull-aspect of Yahveh. Yahweh is still characterized by a certain atmospherical bull-abstraction in relation to the invocator, the concrete reality of the victim. We here remember Abraham's test of faith, Jacob's nocturnal strife, or Job's protests.

In Christianity, the perspective of the victim is the central one. Thus the serious concern is a revealing distancing from the sacral violence and all its ways - the question of sin. The Christian revelation forces the world to "see" the scapegoat as it occupies the position of the victim. The primary sacrifice turns out to be a human being, and the situation of the human sacrifice is comparable to that of the child. It is helpless, totally in the hands of the powers that be. The Gospels "are narrative recollections of the events which disclosed God as Abba. 'The Son' is that event. It happened once ... . Thus Jesus the Crucified is none other than the image of a child in a world that is shaped by cycles of violence. In Him, man can contemplate a dynamic process which, to the Christian, encompasses and contains innumerable possible hierophanies: the helpless being, the one who is handed over, who cries for his mother, for his father. And the father, aroused by the breath of life expressed in the cry, moves to save the child. In this sense, Jesus is the symbol of God for the Christian" (pp. 118, 43). The God of Incarnation thus allows Himself to be characterized by means of the symbolism in the words "child" (son/daughter), "wind and breath" (pneuma, ruah) and "Abba" ("mother").

In the light of the patience, meekness, love, confidence, of agape, the very introduction of the interdividual and conflictual mimeticism would profile a Christian cultural anthropology! "If we want our religious and cultural dialogue to remain on the level of experience, we have to move within a symbolic discourse" (p. 20), as it says in GV, and thus the body of experience is quickly evaded.

Jørgen Jørgensen