The Scapegoat & the Uniquess of Christianity: Rene Girard

Rene Girard is a brilliant French scholar and defender of the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian heritage. He is held in high regard by the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and the people at “First Things“, and taught French Language, Literature, and Culture at Stanford for many years.
Because of its timing late in his career, his book “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning” probably best summarizes his thought and combines all the brilllant ideas. On the back cover of the book, Neuhaus describes his own reaction to being introduced to the writings of Rene Girard in these words:

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.

Author of many groundbreaking books, Girard also published an article called “Are the Gospels Mythical?” in “First Things” in 1996, and was the inspiration for a very recent article in Prospect Magazine by Richard Scruton called “The Sacred and the Human.”
The rest of this post consists of excerpts from the Introduction of his book “I See Satan Fall Like Lightning,” published in French in 1999 and in English in 2001.
Thanks much,
Steve St. Clair
Rene Girard
I See Satan Fall like Lightning
To most of us, it goes without saying that the similarities between mythology and the Gospels play into the hands of religious relativists. That is why Christians have always denied or minimized their importance, with disastrous results. I argue that these similarities should be boldly explored. Far from threatening Christian uniqueness, they provide the sole basis upon which it can be made obvious, unquestionable.

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.



Filed under Western Civilization

2 responses to “The Scapegoat & the Uniquess of Christianity: Rene Girard

  1. Simon

    Thanks for this interesting post. I, a former atheist, became a Christian after reading Girard! His work is very powerful from an apologetic point of view. Recently there has been a lot of convergent support for his idea of mimetic desire from empirical researchers. This is what Dr. Scott Garrels recently wrote: ‘The parallels between Girard’s insights and the only recent conclusions made by empirical researchers concerning imitation […] are extraordinary. What makes Girard’s insights so remarkable is that he not only discovered and developed the primordial role of psychological mimesis during a time when imitation was quite out of fashion, but he did so through investigation in literature, cultural anthropology and history,’

  2. Girard certainly put his finger on something others have overlooked. But I differ about viewing Jesus as a victim.He died in my book as a combatant. The shepherd does not lie prostrate before the wolf saying please eat me and let my sheep go. He dies in mortal combat with the wolf.The wolf Jesus defeated at the cross was temptation.His greatest temptation was to call down 20,000 angels and destroy Satan and his cohorts and to set up his kingdom.No victim this Jesus, but the greatest conqueror of all times who conquered the greatest temptation. PeaceRobert RobergGainesville FL

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