COV&R-Bulletin No. 16 (April 1999)
Violenza del mito e christesimo
(The victim and the mob.
Violence in myth and Christianity),
translated and edited by Giuseppe Fornari,
Treviso, Santa Quaranta, 1998,
For several years now René Girard has been promising us a new publication on the Bible. It should above all prove that his mimetic anthropology can be read entirely from within the old Book, and that his theory is not merely projected on the text as one of many possible interpretations. This collection of essays recently edited by Guiseppe Fornari - containing texts all but one of which were previously unpublished - forms a serious initiative in this sense.
Girard finds once more the absolute unicity of the Christian Revelation. Liberal biblical scholars and well-meaning aggiornamento-theologians liked to deny it, concluding that the Bible just reproduces many recognisable and world-wide mythical scenarios. The Protestant exegete Rudolf Bultmann even proposed to smooth away as much as possible the objectionable mythological elements (Entmythologisierung) in order to isolate the kerygma, the true new message in the Gospel. Girard prefers to look for the 'good news' through a particular attitude towards myth. As a unique source, the Bible - as Girard puts it - constantly raises mythological material in order to expose violent illusions which elsewhere remain covered and unnoticed. Human societies everywhere in the world have survived by regularly passing their tensions onto scapegoats; this spontaneous group "therapy" permeates our history and forms the barbaric root of all culture. It can never definitively exorcise human violence, as this violence itself is a fundamental part of the system. Myths store seriously distorted reminiscences from that archaic horror. The message the Holy Bible brings to us is fundamentally concerned with exposing aggression that is as arbitrary as it is irresistible. An episode like the one on the renouncement of Peter thus illustrates how no one can consider himself a priori immune to the illusions and the entrancing force of violent mimesis.
Within the limited scope of the contributions collected here, it was of course impossible to elaborate the confrontation in all directions. Girard shows us how the most important biblical texts make a stand against the scapegoat mechanism over and over again. He also repeats that caritas, absolute non-violence and unselfishness ('do well to those who hate you'), offers a unique chance to prevent escalations. Slightly more emphasized than in his former publications - except perhaps in the sixth chapter of Quand ces choses commenceront.. - we here learn that this caritas itself is founded on positive mimesis, on the imitatio of the Heavenly Father who after all excludes no one, and who 'makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good' (Mt. V:45).
I keep wondering whether the Bible also confirms the founding role of the scapegoat mechanism. Violent polarisation is in every way a widely spread reality, and thus a
threat to be feared. Still, the idea that all human institutions would permanently participate in this violence because they originated from it in some remote past seems doubtful to me on the one hand; on the other hand, and most importantly within this context, it is, to put it mildly, not obviously present in the Bible. The major studies of René Girard treat, more or less in equivalent doses, myths, rituals and taboos. This new book deals nearly exclusively with myths, relatively simple stories that stick closely to basic scenarios. Might the Bible on this point perhaps be smaller (or milder) than René Girard's anthropology?
Prof. P. Pelckmans
University of Antwerp