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Colloquium On Violence & Religion



COV&R-Bulletin No. 6 (March 1994)

Abstracts of the COV&R Conference in Washington November 19-20, 1993

Darrell J. Fasching (Tampa, Florida/USA), The Ethical Challenge of Auschwitz and Hiroshima: Apocalypse or Utopia?

When the first atomic bomb exploded at the New Mexico test sight called "Trinity" on July 16th 1945, one reporter thought of the words from Genesis, "Let there be light." But J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who orchestrated the Manhattan Project, recalled the words of Vishnu in the Bhagavad Gita: "Behold I am become death, the shatterer of worlds." Auschwitz and Hiroshima are the formative religious events of the 20th Century. Like the formative religious events of past history they fill us with fascination and dread. But unlike the experiences of the holy which have shaped previous epochs - such as the Exodus, the Resurrection of Jesus and the Enlightenment of the Buddha - Auschwitz and Hiroshima are demonic inversions of the holy. After Auschwitz and Hiroshima, a cloud and a pillar of fire no longer bring to mind the saving power revealed in the Exodus but the smokestacks of Auschwitz and the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Auschwitz and Hiroshima reveal the demonic and apocalyptic outcome of the sacralization of technology. Technology has replaced nature as that total environment of powers which we have come to believe govern our destiny and so elicit from us a sacral awe. Wherever the sacred manifests itself it creates a dualism that divides the world into sacred and profane populations. It creates the need to purify the world of all who are profane in order to protect the sacred space of its "Lebensraum". When the society that is sacralized is a technological one its inner logic drives it toward an apocalyptic cleansing of the world using the most efficient forms of technology and impersonal bureaucratic techniques. The very structure of bureaucracy sacralizes violence. For bureaucracy separates ends and means so that the ends are chosen by "higher authorities" and carried out through the means employed by experts lower down in the hierarchy. Such experts are expected to engage in a "religious" surrender of will in unquestioning obedience to higher authority. This surrender relieves technical bureaucratic experts of the feeling that they are personally responsible for their actions.

After Auschwitz and Hiroshima there must be no unquestioning obedience to any sacred authority, not even God, for as Irving Greenberg suggests, such obedience leads to SS type loyalties. Unfortunately unquestioning faith and obedience to higher authority, requiring a total death of self or total surrender of will, is characteristic of virtually all religious traditions throughout the world. In my work I have shown how Luther's ethic, the ethic of the Bhagavad Gita and the Buddhist Samurai ethic of Japan have all used the ethic of unquestioning obedience to sacralize violence toward the stranger. The most dramatic alternative to such spiritualities is exemplified in the Jewish narrative tradition of Chutzpah, where the experience of the holy calls into question every sacral world view and dares to question all authority, even God, in the name of justice and human dignity, especially on behalf of the stranger (e.g., Abraham arguing with God over Sodom and Gomorrah). For unlike that sacral world which treats the stranger as profane, the narrative tradition of the holy welcomes the strangers as the very embodiment of God or transcendence. An ethic of the holy demythologizes all sacral dualism and short-circuits confrontations by creating bonds of hospitality between strangers.

Martha J. Reineke (University of Northern Iowa), Commentary on essays by Shea, Kirk-Duggan, Schweiker, Hamerton-Kelly, and Bater in Curing Violence.

Responding to Kirk-Duggan and Shea, I suggest that we cannot attribute their differences with Girard nor their failure to read Girard as appreciatively as have Schweiker and Hamerton-Kelly to distinctions in "male" and "female" theorizing. Rather, I distinguish a topological analysis of violence common to Girard, Schweiker, and Hamerton-Kelly from Shea's and Kirk-Duggan's utopian hermeneutics. Employing Robert Gall's typology, I suggest that topological analysis emphasizes tragedy. Concealment, loss, and withdrawal of being accompany any revelation and themes of errancy, forgetfulness, and oblivion are common. Human life turns on misrecognition: a strangeness of humans to themselves and an inescapable difference. By contrast, utopian hermeneutics is fluid and celebratory, inclusive and integrative. Invoking humor and other strategies of displacement, it exposes the arbitrariness of a law it critiques, aims at a different reality, and promises transforming openness. I assert that Girard's failure to thematize gender in the course of pursing topological analysis is a shortcoming in his thought. But when Shea and Kirk-Duggan conflate that argument with one that indicts him for employing topological analysis rather than utopian hermeneutics, they fall short of a fully nuanced exploration of Girard's work. Drawing on the essays by Schweiker, Hamerton-Kelly, and Bater, I outline the merits of topological analysis to the subject of violence and suggest that, if a topological reading of Girard which thematizes gender is undertaken, feminists may achieve a greater appreciation for his work and for other topological analyses of violence.

Charles Mabee (Ecumenical Theological Center/Oakland University, Detroit), Paul and the Suffering Servant Tradition

My basic proposal is that the servant songs of II Isaiah represent both the fundamental theological orientation of the Bible, and the most fruitful entry point for a mimetic analysis. These servant songs show that to be a servant of Yahweh implies suffering. This suffering comes as a result of empathy with the other, for the other is always in the throes of myth-making. This process of myth-making is the key to understanding human violence and oppression. It is the cause of the suffering of Yahweh himself with whom the suffering servant identifies. From a theological perspective, we may say that the true Yahwistic prophet is the authentic intermediary between God and humanity, rather than the king.

I have begun the process of interpreting Paul in terms of the servant of II Isaiah. What I mean to propose is that Paul consciously had the servant songs before him and utilized them as the key to the self-definition of his ministry. In this process, Paul was not acting without tremendous historical precedent. In fact, I believe that this process of identification with servanthood within the Yahwistic tradition eventually became its central means of legitimation. It is, in fact, the central hallmark of this religious tradition and the fundamental means by which it launched its dynamic of demythification of gods, heroes, and scapegoats. Finally, all or essentially all of the great figures of the Bible eventually come down to us tempered by the view of servanthood most explicitly set forth in II Isaiah.

James G. Williams (Syracuse University), Notes on Second Isaiah and the Mimetic Theory

The interest of those practicing a mimetic hermeneutics naturally focuses on the Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Given the importance of this figure, it becomes an even greater challenge to relate a reading of the rest of the II Isaiah to a mimetic understanding of the Servant. I have three sets of observations, each ending with a question. (1) Numerous passages in Isaiah 40-55 indicate the God beyond differences, beyond all fashioning and fashion, beyond human desire. The true God is hidden (Isa 45:15). How is this transcendent hidden God related to the Servant? (2) There is an "exodus" theme in II Isaiah which is obviously related to the exodus narratives, but which is much deeper and more comprehensive. The "going out" of Israel, which means being "led out," is a prime textual example of "the exception in the process of emerging." How is this going/being-led out related to the Servant? (3) Israel has not been required to offer sacrifices (43:23). Can one establish the inauthenticity of sacrificial offerings according to II Isaiah, and if so how is the statement, lo heevadtika, "I have not made you serve [me] with offerings" of 43:23 related to the eved, servant, of 52:13- 53:12?