Rene Girard is beyond question one of the seminal Christian thinkers of our time. Few, if any, have more imaginatively engaged the dominant ideas of modernity and post-modernity by exploring the biblical telling of the human story. He is one of those writers who, once discovered, leaves an indelible mark on one’s mind and soul. Read “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning,” and be prepared to be changed.
How can this be? All mythical and biblical dramas, including the Passion, represent the same type of collective violence against a single victim. Myths see this victim as guilty: Oedipus has really killed his father and married his mother. The Bible and Gospels see these same victims as innocent, unjustly murdered by deluded lynchers and persecutors. Jesus is the unjustifiably sacrificed Lamb of God.
All such victims are what we now familiarly call “scapegoats,” innocent targets of a senseless collective transference that is mimetic and mechanical. Myths go along with this charade, but the Bible and the Gospels do not. Far from surrendering to some “morality of the slaves,” as Nietzsche claimed, the biblical tradition punctures a universal delusion and reveals a truth never revealed before, the innocence not only of Jesus but of all similar victims.
As soon as we detect the concealed scapegoating behind mythology, all recurrent features of mythical heroes make sense: their frequent physical blemishes and their foreign identities—Oedipus limps; he comes from Corinth—and also the other features that are known to polarize angry mobs against their possessors. All these features must be as real as the “crimes” of these same victims are imaginary. Being unanimous against their scapegoats. archaic mobs are appeased and reconciled by their death. This reconciliation explains why these scapegoats art divinized as both culprits and Saviors, as the simultaneously good and bad divinities of the archaic sacred.
The concealed scapegoat hypothesis illuminates not only mythology but blood sacrifices, which deliberately re-enact the original scape-goating and are done as a precaution against a possible relapse into violence. The various pieces of archaic religion fall into place like the pieces of a puzzle, a great many puzzles.
What I propose illuminates the divergences as well as the convergences between the biblical and the mythical, not merely the innocence of the victims versus their guilt. But the fact that. in mythology, no one ever questions this guilt. In the Gospels, the revealing account of scapei-goating emanates not from the unanimous crowd but from a dissenting few. Initially, Jesus’ disciples almost surrender to the mimetic power of the many, bur on the third day, thanks to the resurrection, they secede from the deluded mob and proclaim the innocence of their Lord. In mythology no dissenting voice is ever heard.
Many neglected themes in the Gospels come back to life, such as the “powers and principalities” and also Satan. We can understand why the prince of thane>, is. among other things, the misleading accuser of innocent victims. We can also answer the famous question How can Satan expel Satan? The prince of this world is both the violence that he must expel in order to perpetuate his kingdom and the mechanism that does the expelling, which is no more than one particular modality of mob violence.
Jesus is not divinized by the false unanimity that puts only a temporary end to collective violence. He is an unsuccessful scapegoat whose heroic willingness to die for the truth will ultimately make the entire cycle of satanic violence visible to all people and therefore inoperative. The ‘kingdom of Satan” will give way to the “kingdom of God.”
Thanks to Jesus’ death, the Spirit of aid. alias the Paraclete (a word that signifies “the lawyer for the defense”), wins a foothold in the kingdom of Satan. He reveals the innocence of Jesus to the disciples first and then to all of us. The defense of victims is both a moral imperative and the source of our increasing power to demystify scapegoating.
The Passion accounts reveal a phenomenon that unbeknownst to us generates all human cultures and still warps our human vision in favor of all sorts of exclusions and scapegoating. If this analysis is true, the explanatory power of Jesus’ death is much greater than we realize, and Paul’s exalted idea of the Cross as the source of all knowledge is anthropologically sound.
The opposition between the scapegoat concealed in mythology and unconcealed in Judaism and Christianity illuminates not only archaic religions, not only many neglected features of the Gospels, but above all the relationship between the two, the unique truth of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Since all this knowledge comes from the Gospels, the present book can define itself as a defense of our Judaic and Christian tradition, as an apology of Christianity rooted in what amounts to a Gospel-inspired breakthrough in the field of social science, not of theology.
Since this book vindicates the intellectual power of the Bible and Gospels, it can only increase our confidence in our religious tradition, which is an essential component of religious faith. This consequence is only indirect, however. At no point do I attempt to demonstrate the undemonstrable, the scientific truth of our religious faith.