COV&R-Bulletin No. 10 (March 1995)
The Ernest Becker Foundation, with the co-sponsorship of the Comparative Religion Program of the University of Washington, presented nine speakers over a 2 1/2 day weekend on the University campus. Over 200 people attended, including Becker Foundation supporters, mental health therapists, practitioners of peace and anti-violence activism, and many from the religious community.
The primary goal of the symposium was to bring together scholars interested in testing the theories of Ernest Becker with those contributing to the advancement of the work of René Girard, and in both approaches to relate them to the human propensity to violence. An additional goal was to infuse into an educated lay Seattle audience enough Becker and Girard to give them a taste of the exciting new understandings being developed therein and a hunger to deepen their insights and activism.
The concepts around the provocative idea of interactions between love and violence proved to be catalytic for probing into assumptions, and for opening up discussions between disciplines. A Martial Arts instructor who is a practicing psychologist and specialist in intervention in crises of violence, opened the gathering with a sword drama in costumed demonstration. An ecologist, the author of The Fates of Nations and The Environment of Crowded Men, dramatically challenged many conventional ways of thinking.
A central tenet of Becker's work is that much of the love of domination comes from our everyday unconscious motivation to devalue, by violence if necessary, those of a different belief system. Remarkable proof of this unconscious motivation was presented by a social psychologist, including new experiments in which the violence inflicted by death-cued subjects was not implicit or theoretical as in earlier work, but was literal, physical, and painful.
The Girardian understanding was fleshed out by five of the speakers, Gil Bailie on "Esprit de Corps: The Love that Violence Engenders;" Cheryl Kirk-Duggan on "The Use of Language to Ignite, Inflame, Control, and Quell Violence;" Susan Nowak on "Silent and Hidden No Longer: A Feminist Perspective on the Treatment of Women and Violence in the Theories of Ernest Becker and Rene Girard;" Eugene Webb on "Desire, Religion, and the Evolution of Consciousness;" and James G. Williams on "Conflict, Violence, and Peacemaking in Dostoevsky." Two talks were given with general, rather than specific, pertinence to Becker and Girard. One considered the present status of a keep-hope-alive ethic in the face of all the modern-day violence, and the other painted the prospects for improvement, in the 21st century, through vastly enhanced communication technology. Designated discussants and panelists came principally from EBF boards and local activists, and general discussion was encouraged, if not always achieved. The program concluded with a workshop given by the instructor with the sword on the verbal de-escalation of violence. Overall, the goals of the conference--to introduce Beckerians and Girardians to each other and to the educated public--were well met. No longer does the association of love and violence seem incongruous.
For copies of the program and tapes and texts of the talks contact Neil Elgee, Pres., Ernest Becker Foundation, 3621 72nd Ave SE, Mercer Island WA 98040.
David W. Odell-Scott (Kent State University), A/t-onement, Exclusion and Orthodoxy: 2 Corinthians 6:11-7:4
For Paul, "to atone" is not an act of purification by which an individual or a community overcomes "defilement" through sacrifice, separation and/or exclusion. Atonement is not becoming or achieving "sanctification." Instead, to atone is to unite, "to be at-one," with one's opposite in Christ (i.e., male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile, God/World, etc.). To aid the elucidation of this theme, I will offer a general reading of 2 Cor 5:16-7:4, with emphasis on the problematic text of 6:14-7:1. Verses 6:14-7:1 are employed to warrant exclusionary practices in Christendom, including the expulsion of "non-believers" who are identified as contaminates and the annulment of marriages between Christians and non-Christians. The text was used to justify not only the expulsion of Jews, but, given the "defilement" discourse and the promise of holy purification, was understood by many as supporting anti-semantic violence (holocaust). Employing my earlier structural analysis of Corinthians (A Post-Patriarchal Christology, Scholars Press, 1991), I argue that vv 6:14-7:1 are a composite text composed by Paul's critics and quoted by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. I contend that the critics' composite argument includes a direct critique of Paul's ministry of reconciliation (vv 14-16), offers a theonomic-patriarchal promise (vv 16-18), and a call for the expulsion of all defiling unbelievers in order that the community may attain sacred perfection (7:1). I argue that Paul includes this critics' text in his letter to demonstrate the power of the ministry of reconciliation (evident in vv 6:11-13, and 7:2-4) to a/t-one opposites in Christ, thus seeking to overcome the deployment of "sacred violence" by those within the Christian community seeking their own advantage.
Employing Girard's mimetic model and the thesis that violence and religion significantly influence the genesis and maintenance of culture, I contend that Paul's critics in the case above were not "heretics," but the proto-types of orthodox Christendom who were seeking to create and maintain a Christian culture/society through the uses of sacred violence. Thus Paul, as an early critic of the structures of violence that were becoming normative in the primitive churches, may be read as a critic of the genesis of "Christen-dom."
Thee Smith (Emory University), Report on "Violence Conversion: Towards a Theory and Practice of Benign Force"
Introduction: This was a lecture-practicum-response format, with Thee Smith presenting a theory of "violence conversion" from his work-in-progress, followed by a demonstration of that theory with participation of the audience, and concluding with prepared responses by Barbara A.B. Patterson of Emory University and Richard Fenn of Princeton Theological Seminary.
Theory: "Violence Conversion" is a theory-and-practice for enabling the enactors and survivors of systemic violence (most of us) together to recognize and recover from its toxic operation in our lives, and even free ourselves from its formative power in our histories, cultures and institutions. The theory is most compelling when demonstrated in practicums such as workshop facilitations, when practiced in interpersonal and intergroup relations, and when experienced in larger social and historical developments (hence the insistence in this presentation on a practice component). Such a practicum is designed to model what human community can be like under optimal "interdividual" (Girard) conditions, and therein to empower practitioners to foster those conditions in their ordinary affairs. Central to this model is the following feature: subjects are persuaded and enabled to retrieve into full consciousness, and then to relinquish, their self-representation as victims. The simultaneous recognition and then disavowal or one's own sense of victimization effectively defuses the impulse toward acquisitive rivalry or compensatory revenge--the impulse that fuels violent behavior and ordinary complicity in systemic social violence. Typically, subjects experience this simultaneous recognition and disavowal as cathartic and healing, i.e. "converting," and give evidence of being intent and empowered for more benign and transformative behavior in their lives. The fulfillment of that intent and potential depends, of course, on regular practice of an adequate model, whether this one or some other. In theory the proposed practice models a "beloved community" (Royce, King) in which practitioners assist each other in recovering from, anticipating and countering the effects of systemic victimization. Especially treated are the impulses to treat one's victimization with ostensibly curative forms of violence, incipient or proto-violence (cf. Bailie, Wink, "the myth of redemptive violence").
Practice: The presentation of this theory was followed by a practicum in which participants were asked to think of their own lifestories in response to the following questions:
1. When was a time when you successfully resolved a situation of rivalry, scapegoating, persecution or conflict without resorting to violence or threatened violence?
2. When was a time when you failed to do so?
3. When was a time when you yourself were the victim of such treatment?
4. How is item #2 related to item #3?
5. How would you like to replay item #2 without the influence of item #3?
One participant in particular volunteered to share his storied responses to these questions before the group. As facilitator, Thee Smith assisted this participant in retelling his story with particular attention to eliciting the cathartic, healing, and converting features of the model. Following the participant's response to the five questions he was encouraged to make commitments to powerful, nonviolent actions in the future, and other participants responded to him with affirmations of support and esteem.
Responses: Barbara Patterson of Emory University responded from the perspective of her studies in women's spirituality and psychosocial experience. She was especially concerned that the social conditioning of women in cultures of domination (nearly all cultures) deprive them of status as subjects in their own right. From that perspective a model of psychosocial transformation such as the one presented by Thee Smith might need to attend to a prior practice of reconstituting the self, before attempting to "convert" or heal in a way that presupposes a substantive or integral self-identity or representation. Richard Fenn of Princeton was concerned with the dyadic structure of the practice--that is, its reduction of psychosocial dynamics to a facilitator and a subject or to two practitioner-subjects. His critique was insistent that dyads of relationship are the breeding ground for the rivalry and conflict that the model intends to overcome, but that it fails to overcome except in an illusory or manipulative way by means of covertly coercing the subject. An alternative, Fenn insists, is to find third parties as counterforces to every dyadic mimetic relationship, in order to free both parties from their fascination and incipient rivalry with each other. Other participant responses included those of Rebecca Adams, Sandor Goodhart and Walter Wink. Rebecca Adams was intrigued by the convergence of this theory-and-practice with her own work on a practical application of the mimetic model. Sandy Goodhart was concerned with the warrants which entitle and qualify a community to undertake such healing work. Walter Wink reported on his own theory-practice efforts in the community of scholars and shared some wisdom about the viability of creating healing community in the academy. In general there was much excitement about and interest in the possibility of such presentations in future COV&R meetings.