An Introduction to Mimetic Theory

•March 12, 2011 • 14 Comments





I compiled the following documentary film on the origin of cultures, in three parts, introducing some major topics of mimetic theory and René Girard’s thinking. Transcription of the videos (in English & Dutch) is available below, beneath PART III.

PART I of the film explores the fundamental role of mimesis (imitation) in human development on several levels (biological, psychological, sociological, cultural). René Girard’s originality lies in his  introduction of a connection between this old philosophical concept and human desire. He speaks of a certain mimetic desire and ascribes to it a vital role in our social interaction. It explains our often competitive and envious tendencies. More specifically, Girard considers mimetic desire as the source for a type of conflict that is foundational to the way human culture originates and develops. In his view the primal cultural institutions are religious. Following a sociologist like Émile Durkheim, Girard first considers religion as a means to organize our social fabric, and to manage violence within communities.

The more specific question the first part of this documentary tries to answer is the following: where do sacrifices, as rituals belonging to the first signs of human culture, originally come from? How can they be explained? Click to watch:

PART II starts off with a summary and then further insists on the fundamental role of the so-called scapegoat mechanism in the origin of religious and cultural phenomena.

PART III explores the world of mythology and human storytelling in the light of Girard’s theory on certain types of culture founding conflicts and scapegoat mechanisms. Girard comes to surprising conclusions regarding storytelling in Judeo-Christian Scripture. 






Women & the Spiritual Clash with Terror

•November 25, 2015 • 2 Comments

Even before the terrorist shootings at Charlie Hebdo and later this year at other sites in Paris quality labeled Belgian magazines and newspapers reported on the socially precarious situation in certain areas of Brussels, especially in Molenbeek. I’ve translated parts of an article that appeared in Knack magazine concerning the issue. Next to this article I’ve translated parts of other articles as well (from Knack magazine and De Standaard newspaper). These appeared in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. I will use some findings of these articles to answer a few questions on the nature of the conflict we’re dealing with when we’re talking about “homegrown terrorism”.



Rachid Zegzaoui is a blogger of Moroccan descent living in Sint-Joost-ten-Node [another municipality of Brussels]. Rachid notices how many youngsters turn their back on the society they grew up in. “Second and third generation migrants no longer believe that a life of study, career and pension is fit for them and consider their parents losers. They accuse their parents of being slaves to the West and the infidels. So it is a generational conflict as well, a revolt against their family. Parents are dead worried but no longer understand their offspring. They don’t know what their children are doing on the internet. In many Muslim families there is a complete sense of disunity. Young people reject the society in which they grew up. Religion guides their life, it is the meaning of their existence. But Islam as they understand it is not practiced here in Belgium.” […]

Call of Duty ISISZeguendi Khalil, editor in chief of Le Maroxellois, a magazine aimed at the Moroccan community, joins in. During one month and a half, Khalil listened to sermons with regard to the war in Syria in about twenty Mosques in Brussels. He concludes that imams warn their young audience against Jihad ideology and that imams sharply condemn ISIS terrorism. “However”, he says, “from our inquiry we know that members for Jihad are recruited through the internet nowadays, while this used to happen on the streets or in the near of Mosques.” Imported imams from Morocco or Turkey in Brussels don’t understand the young, Khalil explains. They don’t speak their language, nor know their culture and don’t have any clue whatsoever about Facebook or WhatsApp. “Imams fail. And so young Muslims, looking for meaning, construct their own version of Islam aided by Jihadist websites.”

We need positive role models, according to Khalil. Young Muslims who made it one way or the other should be put forward.

Young Islamologist Jessika Soors works as an official against radicalization in Vilvoorde. […] Although Jihadists justify their departure with the ideal of a holy war, many of them hardly knew anything about Islam and the Quran just before their sudden radicalization. “They’re religiously illiterate in many cases”, Soors says. […] ISIS appeals to vulnerable young people who are looking for a sense of self-worth and an all-encompassing identity.” […]

Young people who are bored here or who feel rejected, become members of ISIS in a quest for adventure. […] ISIS propaganda promises superstardom to those who feel lost in the West – all in the name of Allah.

MORE IN Knack, September 24, 2015, Voor Allah én het avontuur (p. 28-32), by Han Renard.


ANSWER TO THE FIRST QUESTION: NO. It is a clash within civilizations and cultures, not between them. Radicalized young Muslims seem to reject western society (although things like ISIS propaganda films borrow their look from western action movies and video games), but they also turn their back on the culture of their family and the imported imams from Morocco and Turkey. They create a new counter-culture which thrives on the internet. Their religion is mainly a consequence, not a cause of their violent tendencies. And the terror boys grow beards like hipsters (or was it the other way around?).



Ahmed El Khanouss (CDH) is a jurat in Molenbeek, an impoverished municipality of Brussels and home to many migrants. Most of them are of Moroccan descent. […]

Khanouss notices how radicalization of youngsters expresses itself in two ways. “Some of them totally change their attitude. All of a sudden they become very demanding towards the women in their family, particularly with regard to their clothing, and they rebel against their parents. Others show no sign of radicalization until the day they leave. They wear brands and behave themselves like any western kid.” […]

MORE IN Knack, September 24, 2015, Voor Allah én het avontuur (p. 28-32), by Han Renard.


“Porn-watching losers”. That’s how London mayor Boris Johnson described the Jihadists psychological profile. He claims paraphrasing a confidential report from intelligence service MI5. Jihadists don’t know how to approach women and feel rejected. To compensate for their lack of self-esteem they go to war. They could have equally become members of a youth gang. Johnson’s subtle analysis doesn’t get you very far in understanding a phenomenon like extremism, but he does point to another current topic: the fact that a sense of identity goes hand in hand with sexuality. And also the fact that many people feel lost when temptations and romantic feelings are the ultimate measure.

Radicalized young people are not capable of dealing with that kind of freedom. They look for a social framework with clearly established roles for men and women. They long for stable patterns. They loathe LGBT’s and women’s rights because they consider these to be disrupting. They want to go back to a clear definition of the masculine and the feminine. But the West has dismantled such definitions. It’s because of this context that any kind of extremism becomes attractive: it offers a simple solution, a clarity which leaves no room for doubt.

Soumission Michel HouellebecqLoneliness and sexuality are also major themes in Michel Houellebecq’s “Soumission” (Submission), a novel displaying the advantages of a patriarchal society. The author considers the hypothesis that leftist parties in France form a coalition with an Islamic party led by Mohammed Ben Abbes. Ben Abbes thus becomes president of France in 2022. The paradox is that in the final round only rightwing conservative parties remain: Marine Le Pen (FN) is the opponent of Ben Abbes.

Houellebecq’s talent consists in capturing the spirit of the age like some contemporary Balzac or de Maupassant. His novel is about the difficult heritage of a free, libertarian consumerist society brought by May 1968. Islam plays an important part in resisting this new society. It fills an ideological void. France so eagerly destroyed part of its own tradition that neither Catholicism nor the proud Republican morality offer an alternative. Ben Abbes and his moderate Islam thus embody the possibility of a political conservatism, with more stable family relationships, law and order in the outskirts of the city and less unemployment: women stay at home. No more disruptions, no more failing romantic love affairs. Religion even answers the riddles of the universe.

Houellebecq suggests that many men would be prepared to get rid of feminism. Many of them don’t care about a postmodernist ideology that leaves every individual the possibility to define its own (sexual) identity. […]

MORE IN De Standaard, February 2, 2015, Over radicale jongeren en seks (Column Tinneke Beeckman).

male dominated cultures cartoon


ANSWER TO THE SECOND QUESTION: MAYBE. At least it seems part of it. Western society seems liberating for women but it has its own forms of sexism. The question whether or not a certain image of women is oppressive depends on the motivations that guide women to uphold that image. If women conduct themselves in a certain way to gain social recognition or because of a fear of social rejection, they actually don’t accept themselves and they will tend to look down on women who make other choices (forms of auto-aggression lead to forms of hetero-aggression).

More generally, from a patriarchal viewpoint, socially and sexually emancipated women (who make their own choices, in whatever direction – “chaste” or “not so chaste”) are often experienced as a threat. René Girard helps us understand why women are depicted as troublemakers and how they, more specifically (sexually) emancipated women, become scapegoats, unjustly held responsible for all kinds of evil in the world. The sexist reasoning often goes something like this. Emancipated women are no longer dependent on their husbands. This means that they can more easily divorce them. Divorces potentially trouble the mind of children and youngsters, who might lose the security of a “home”. Hence juvenile delinquency could increase as young people get together in gangs to create a sense of self-worth and identity. Thus the stability of society as a whole is threatened by women who refuse to remain faithful to the man they’re married off to. Moreover, sexually independent women can stir rivalry and violence between men, which once again destabilizes the internal cohesion of a community. Indeed, sex (eros) might lead to death (thanatos).

Stoning a Woman for Adultery (Qajar Era)To avoid these potential troubles patriarchal societies have the tendency to suppress the freedom of women. This means women have to pay for the potential rivalry between men and the potential lack of responsibility of other members of the society. Instead of taking responsibility for their rivalrous and even violent desires and instead of taking control of them, patriarchal men blame women for their own behavior. And instead of taking more responsibility as a parent, patriarchal men also blame women if their offspring ends up on the wrong track… Peace and order in society, according to the patriarchal system, can only be obtained by keeping women in check. In other words, women and their freedom are violently sacrificed in order to establish “peace and quiet”.

It is no surprise that emancipated women are targeted as “symbols” of a “decadent western society”. Radicalized young Muslims who grew up with the “great expectations” sold by the West’s consumerist society but who started resenting that very same society once they felt rejected, come to the same conclusions as some old white conservative fundamentalist Christians. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed “the gays and the lesbians and the feminists” for 9/11 (click here for more on this).

Apart from pointing to the West’s hypocritical stance towards the suffering of Muslims in the world, young radicalized Muslims justify their terrorist actions by pointing to the so-called decadence of western society’s tolerance for “the gays and the lesbians and the feminists”. Some fundamentalist Christians claim the West has to blame itself for the terrorist attacks it experiences, as some radicalized Muslims claim the West has to blame itself for the terrorist attacks it experiences. Once again, it is not “the Christian West” against “the Islamic East”, it is NOT A CLASH BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS, but a clash within a globalized consumerist world. Of course an individualist society is good for the economy (instead of selling one car to a family you sell three as a car dealer since Mum, Dad and Son or Daughter are all busy developing their very own “project” in life). But more consumption might lead to more environmental issues. Hell, from the viewpoint of some twisted patriarchal minds, the emancipation of women and other individuals might even cause a catastrophic apocalyptic climate change!

A Depiction of Jesus and the Woman taken in Adultery (Vasily Polenov)As for the Jesus Christ of the Gospels: he is a “destabilizer”. How about that, Pat Robertson? Throughout the Gospels it becomes clear that Jesus criticizes the universal tendency of human communities to structure themselves according to the identification of a common enemy or a common victim (be it an individual or a group). So on the one hand, concerning the group people are part of and that often manifests itself at the expense of a common enemy (for instance an adulteress who is about to be stoned – see John 8:1-11), it is no surprise that Jesus sows discord. It is no coincidence that he claims (Matthew 10:34-36): “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This intention of Jesus, to create conflict where there is a certain order, is actually and paradoxically a plea against violence. Family members who slavishly obey a pater familias, tribe members who harmoniously feel superior to other groups, criminal gangs who blindly pledge allegiance to the mob boss, cult members and fundamentalist believers who are prepared to fight for their leader and their God till death, anxious employees who sell their soul to keep their job in a sick working environment, (youthful) cliques who strengthen their internal cohesion by bullying someone, whole nations who bow to the demands of a populist dictator and execute so-called “traitors” – Jesus doesn’t like it one bit.

Peace I leave with youOpposed to the small and big forms of “peace” based on oppression and violence, of which the Pax Romana in the time of Jesus is an obvious case of course, Jesus challenges people to build peace differently. Family members who belong to a “home” where they can have debates with each other, members of enemy tribes who end age old feuds by questioning their own perception of “the other tribe”, former criminals who start to behave like “moles” to clear their violent Mafia gang, fundamentalists who – realizing what they do to those who supposedly don’t belong to “the chosen ones” – liberate themselves from religious indoctrination, employees who address a reign of terror at their workplace, individuals who criticize the bullying of their own clique, pacifists who dare to dissent with the violent rule of a dictatorship and unveil its enemy images as grotesque caricatures – Jesus likes it. “Love your enemies”, Jesus says. Everyone who no longer condemns the external enemy of his own particular group because of a stirred up feeling of superiority, generates internal discord: “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” It’s only logical.

In short, Jesus argues in favor of non-violent conflict in order to end violent peace. That’s why he can say on the other hand, eventually (John 14:27): “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”



Ernst Kat, a convert, is active as an “Islamic psychologist” who treats lots of radicalized youngsters. […] “Part of the Jihadists have serious mental issues”, he says. “Many of them suffer from paranoia. They distrust others and they heavily engage in conspiracy theories. They feel rejected by society and have developed hypersensitivity. […] Their problems can also cause an enormous depression. They remain motionless, feel banned and are at a dead end. When recruiters approach these psychologically vulnerable young people and offer them an orderly model like Jihad this can be very attractive. It can cause a rapid radicalization. But most of them are not violent towards others. They become auto-aggressive.”

MORE IN Knack, January 14, 2015, Het monster zit vanbinnen (p. 36-37), by Chris Destoop.


Since a couple of years Marion Van San has been conducting a research into families of young people who went to war in Syria, implying that she is closely connected to about ninety such families. […]

Van San defends the idea that “the more young people are integrated, the more they are susceptible to radicalization”. Children and grandchildren of immigrants are born and raised here, and they want to be accepted. “The consequence is that their social expectations are higher than those of others and that they are often more sensitive about (supposed and real) discrimination”, Van San writes.

MORE IN De Standaard, February 2, 2015, Radicalisering dreigt vooral bij geïntegreerde jongeren (Politiek, p. 5).


ANSWER TO THE THIRD QUESTION: YES. It is a clash within and between human beings who feel rejected by and reject each other. Instead of discovering a Love that allows them to accept themselves even if they are rejected (or feel rejected) by their social environment, they develop forms of auto- and hetero-aggression to create a sense of “pride” and “social status”. To put things Biblically (and in the words of Bruce Springsteen), “Adam raised a Cain” (click to watch). John Steinbeck magnificently summarizes the universal meaning of the Cain and Abel story in his novel East of Eden.

Adam raised a Cain (Bruce Springsteen)

All of us are like Cain, one way or the other, but young radicalized ISIS terrorists commit the sin of murder and show the lack of neighborly love in the most gruesome way. As the Chinese butler Lee explains in Steinbeck’s novel in his comments on the meaning of the Cain and Abel story, the individual biography of many a young ISIS terrorist and the history of the world would have looked quite different without the feeling of rejection and with the acceptance of Love:

East of Eden John Steinbeck Cover“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now – don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt – and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails. It is all there – the start, the beginning. One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides the secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world – and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt. The human is the only guilty animal. Now wait! Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul – the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”

Fight over “True Islam”

•November 21, 2015 • 2 Comments

Well, here’s my attempt at creating a “Girardian” image. René Girard constantly demonstrates how enemies have the tendency to imitate each other, although rather unwittingly. The more they resemble each other, the more they strive to differentiate themselves from each other, which tragically ends up in an even more undifferentiated monstrous cycle of mutual aversion and violence – a cycle of revenge…


True Islam is Violent Mimetic Defenders and Enemies

Enemies become “mimetic doubles”. Today’s fight over so-called “True Islam” as a religion that supposedly justifies violence is but one example of a mimetic (i.e. imitative) interdependence between “defenders” and “attackers”. I highly recommend René Girard’s Battling to the End in this regard (find an extensive review by clicking here).

A slightly different version of the same image:

True Islam is Violent (by Mimetic Doubles)

One more:

True Islam is Violent Mimetic Fight

The Jihadist Miracle

•November 17, 2015 • 5 Comments

“It’s because of his ADHD. It’s because of her ADD. It’s because of a difficult situation at home. It’s because he is highly intelligent: he is not challenged enough to study more thoroughly. It’s the teachers: they don’t explain things well enough, they’re boring. It’s because of the educators: they take aim at him and don’t give him any chances. It’s because of the break-up with her boyfriend. It’s because she hit puberty and goes through a difficult time. It’s because he is young and wants to experiment: that’s why he is not motivated to do school and that’s why he colours outside the lines sometimes. You have to understand. After all, it’s good that he’s somewhat a ‘rebel’ at school, isn’t it? It shows character and personality…”

culture of victimhood calvinWe’re all victims, right? If not of our hormones, then of a certain affection, or of ‘circumstances’ and other people. Well, first of all, it’s a good thing that people are acknowledged as victims of whatever it is that makes their life difficult or hurtful. If you’re lucky, then mommy and daddy will find their way to the right institutions to help you. If you’re lucky, your parents can pay for psychologists, psychiatrists, tutors, medicines, and leave you in the hands of professional educators (perhaps at a boarding school) or provide you with a secure and satisfying future at the family firm. In short, if you’re lucky you’ll find your way to people who will help you to overcome an all too comfortable self-definition by what haunts or victimizes you.

If you’re not that lucky, you might fall into the hands of people who confirm and magnify your victimhood, allowing you to accuse whatever ‘scapegoat’ (see René Girard) you can find to deny personal freedom and responsibility. And let’s face it: today’s culture often is a victimhood culture, where everybody plays the ‘blame game’ in order to protect a narcissistic self-image. Indeed, a reasoning like the following is quite common: “If I’d work harder, I’d be able to graduate as a doctor – I do possess the intrinsic qualities -, but my ADD and the fact that teachers don’t pay attention to my particular problem, destroy my motivation and cause me to fail.” This kind of narcissism is supported sometimes by parents as well, for they often do not like to acknowledge that, maybe, their kid has other talents.

Calvin and Hobbes

Every teacher or educator knows how difficult it can be to motivate certain students to work for school. Even in the best of circumstances, with every help possible, some students simply justify their negative attitude with every possible excuse. Rather than fully admit that their child acts as a ‘loon’ or a ‘brat’ in some cases, some parents even plead for a very soft treatment of their child’s misbehavior by pointing out that he or she is just ‘being young’ and ‘showing personality’. As if their child really is some kind of rebel hero. That’s why, in some classrooms, the brat can become a model that deserves imitation. Indeed, in some classrooms students feel ashamed, even guilty, of being a hardworking student. They would prefer making a laughing stock out of other hardworking students than admit being hardworking themselves. Self-denial and betraying (the relationship and affiliation with) others: the two sides of the coin that is the love for one’s self-image – a man-made, social ‘idol’, becoming the goal of one’s life.

Add to this cocktail of excuses the conviction that ‘society as a whole’ is ‘against you’, and you get the sort of victimhood mentality in places like Molenbeek, a district of Brussels known as a breeding ground for radical, young Muslims. Would you still study, as an adolescent in today’s distracting society, if you can convince yourself that ‘it doesn’t make any difference’, that you’re discriminated anyway (even if this isn’t true!)?

I often wonder about some of the students I teach: what would happen to those who are allowed to cultivate an attitude of victimhood, or worse, of heroism in not working for school if this was not happening in the best possible circumstances? What if they wouldn’t be ‘corrected’ by psychologists, tutors or educators (paid by the very parents who plead to go easy on their child’s misbehavior)? What if they would end up in unemployment without a graduation certificate, as a young Muslim? I’m sure they would continue the all too human narcissistic inclination to blame ‘others’ for their detrimental situation. And I’m also pretty sure that they could find comfort in the stories and propaganda of ISIS recruiters. After all, this propaganda confirms their idea of being victims, while it also provides them with a counter-culture that makes them heroic martyrs for God. This counter-culture is appealing to non-Muslims as well and attracts converts, as there are many people who no longer feel ‘at ease’ in today’s consumer and performance based society. All in all, considering the circumstances some young people grow up in, it may be a miracle that not more of them become Jihadists. There’s hope.

Young Muslim women stand hand-in-hand in front of the Oslo Synagogue during the "Ring of Peace" vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

In any case, there is no real difference between one loon and the next. It just so happens that one is characterized as an ‘adventurous youth’, making ‘youthful mistakes’ that are eventually rectified, while the other is perceived as someone who should blame himself for blowing his chances on a good education and social future. Only narcissist hypocrites will maintain that there is a difference between ‘my kid’ and ‘that kid’. The dress may be different (secular or religious), but we’re all human after all, experiencing similar challenges and temptations.

As hinted at earlier, the victimhood mentality often not only affects those young Muslims or ‘converts’ who are unemployed and indeed find it difficult to assert themselves in society, but it can also poison the minds of young Muslims or ‘converts’ with a rather prosperous life. Like the hardworking student who starts feeling ashamed of being a hardworking student in front of a ‘brat mentality’, the prosperous young Muslim might start feeling guilty or responsible for his supposedly discriminated friends or ‘Muslim brothers and sisters’. Sometimes this discrimination will be real, but in other cases it will be imagined.

ISIS propaganda will try to magnify the story of ‘oppressed Muslims’ and ‘the oppression of Islam’ in order to justify further terrorist acts and atrocities. So the worst we can do, here in the West, is to start discriminating Muslims in general and limit their freedom to practice their religion as fellow citizens (bound by the same laws and rights in a democratic nation, based on the separation between “church/religion/culture” and “state”). Discriminating Muslims would only add to the propaganda of ISIS and confirm its story that ‘Muslims are generally oppressed victims’. ISIS has already poisoned enough vulnerable minds with their propaganda. Why should we too believe that they are the only ‘true representatives of Islam’? Moreover, if we would make it difficult for Muslims to practice their religion publicly, and make it even harder for Muslims to enter into a social and political dialogue where Islam can be a point of debate as well as inspiration, violent versions of it will continue to flourish on the internet. You don’t take porn away nor perverted forms of sexuality on the internet if you make sex taboo. Also, you don’t create a breeding ground for rape and perverted forms of sexuality/(religion) when you enjoy and even “promote” healthy forms of cultivated sexuality/(religion). On the contrary.

Of course Islam lends itself to an interpretation that confirms people in their ideas of victimhood and heroism. Of course Islam lends itself to an interpretation that allows people to ‘heroically purify’ the world through mass killings. But it’s only one of the many possible ideologies to justify a contagious narcissism and self-denial on the one hand, and the sacrifice of others on the other. As history shows, people who feel victimized or threatened, or who long for a ‘heroic’ life, will always find a utopian, romantic story to justify their actions, whether that story be a secular political totalitarianism, a religious totalitarianism, or an individual totalitarianism like “I’m the rebel hero who challenges the educational system that oppresses me and my fellow students.”

Islam can equally be a source of true spirituality, i.e. a spirituality that is not ‘easily comforting’ and confirming a story of narcissistic victimhood and heroism, but a spirituality that allows people to look at themselves more honestly and truthfully. Ideologies, like friends, become dangerous and bad when they only confirm your self-image. Good friends are the ones who confront you with your drug addiction if you have one, with your anorexia if you’re developing this eating disorder, or with the cheap excuses you use to protect untruthful ideas about yourself. This might hurt at first, but eventually the truth can set you free. It might free you from all sorts of addictions, whether it be material goods, habits or illusions. And this is the condition to lovingly – which is not the same as ‘gently’ or ‘comfortingly’ – approach others as well.

The Greater Jihad - Do it Right

Instead of feeling ashamed of not participating in a so-called ‘heroic’ struggle against the so-called external ‘enemies of Islam’, the inner spiritual struggle – ‘the greater Jihad’ – allows Muslims to debunk romantic ideas of victimhood and to destroy the man-made idols of ‘violent, heroic martyrdom’. And when there is no such God, no such man-made idol or ideology, left to blame (as a justification), violent suicides and murders can be seen for what they are: as purely human actions for which humans carry responsibility. Only then can there be truly liberating tears of a different kind of shame and remorse: the regret one experiences for having sinned against the Love that connects people to themselves as well as others, contrary to the love for one’s socially constructed self-image which alienates people from themselves and others.

The transformation of the human heart… That would be the true miracle…

To The Heart of the Christian Faith

•November 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Possessed by the Demon of Social Shame and Guilt

Bob was called to the principal’s office. Together with other students he took part in a display of troublesome behavior while being presented a movie in the school’s theater. He knew that the principal would punish him severely if the principal would find out that he had damaged some of the seats together with his friends. But Bob was clever in presenting his story. He could convince the principal that he and his classmates suffered from the bad influence of one student in particular: Oedipus. Oedipus, a rich, arrogant and bothersome boy eventually took the biggest chunk of the blame, although he had only yelled a bit together with the others. He certainly hadn’t damaged anything. So in fact he was a scapegoat, as he was wrongfully accused for being the worst perpetrator. But of course Oedipus bore his punishment with pride: he wouldn’t want to be called a detector by his friends. He’d rather be “the hero” who “took it like a man” than be known as a “coward” – that would be too shameful.

Oedipus stabs out his eyesIn short, what happens in this case is that Bob’s protection of his social profile and self-image leads to the scapegoating of Oedipus. And Oedipus, desiring to protect his social prestige as well, is willing to sacrifice himself for the group.

So the supposed “hetero-aggression” of the principal towards Bob leads to Bob’s “auto-aggression”: Bob cannot be honest about himself because he is too afraid of what will happen to him. Furthermore, because he is ashamed in front of his principal, Bob develops a kind of shamelessness towards his friend Oedipus. Backed-up by his friends, Bob is able to harm the reputation of Oedipus even more. Oedipus, in turn, on experiencing this “hetero-aggression” by his friends, is willing to perform a sort of “auto-aggression”. His “self-sacrifice” thus is an imitation of his sacrifice by the group of friends. Oedipus looks at himself through the eyes of the group who betrays him, and instead of standing up for himself he becomes ashamed of himself, eventually betraying himself in favor of a “social idol” that should gain him “respect”.

cool laughing stockThe story continues… Bob and his friends always looked at Oedipus as “the crazy one”, but also “the audacious one” and “the one who was way too cool to study for school”. And Oedipus was more than willing to meet the expectations of his class-mates, acting like the funny guy, doing all sorts of crazy things – in class, on the playground, with his locker, etc. After all, Oedipus truly was “different”, wasn’t he?

Well, that’s what all of them thought until they met Mahatma. Mahatma was an exchange student from India. He came from a poor family, but he studied very hard and had earned a scholarship to come to the States. Mahatma could have easily become the new laughing stock, but he simply was too fascinating, funny and caring to not be taken seriously one way or the other. Everybody ended up listening to what he, who appeared to be indeed very “different” at first glance, had to say.

Mahatma noticed how Bob, Oedipus and their friends all showed the tendency to cultivate the idea that “it is not cool to work hard for school”. Mahatma was quite sure that some of them studied hard, but it was like they were intercepting any possible disappointment and shame about themselves. No one likes to acknowledge that one studied hard when the grades are bad eventually – for it could be interpreted as a lack of intelligence or talent for a particular subject. Moreover, Mahatma noticed, whenever someone did acknowledge that he worked hard he was immediately somewhat excluded as a laughing stock. “Well,” Mahatma said, “I don’t understand why studying hard for school should be anything to be ashamed of. Even if it turns out that you are not performing too well for one particular subject, it still allows you to discover what your true talents are. And if you can be honest about yourself and realize that you are not that different from the hard working ‘nerd’ you’re making fun of, you can be more loving towards others – allowing them to be honest about themselves as well.”

How about that? Mahatma is doing nothing else than imitating the Christ of the Gospels. Jesus of Nazareth, the one who is called the Christ, reminds people of who they really are: not at all that different from the people they look down on. That’s why he says, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Jesus wants to replace the love for our untruthful self-image and the adherence to our “reputation” with the love for ourselves and others. We can be like the hard working student who feels ashamed of himself, even guilty of studying hard, and indeed develop the tendency to publicly and hypocritically loath or exclude other hard working students. On the other hand, if we no longer feel ashamed of ourselves, we can start feeling ashamed of the hurt we brought to others because we were too preoccupied with our social profile. That is what happens to Peter: after denying Jesus when the latter is imprisoned, Peter eventually feels ashamed because of the hurt he brought to his friend.

To get back to the story of Bob, Oedipus and Mahatma… Mahatma made something similar happen to his new friends from the States. He made Bob and the others see that they were not at all that different from Oedipus, and that they were all “addicted” to the same negative attitude towards “studying hard for school”. It was an attitude which possessed them like a demon. Mahatma was able to make them look at themselves through the eyes of the ones who were always mocked for being “nerds”. Confronted with the “cool nerd” that Mahatma was, those nerds turned out to be not that “uncool”, “boring” or “hypocritical” after all. Besides, from the point of view of the nerds Bob and his friends were the often uncool and boring hypocrites!

Jesus and Demoniac (Peter Howson)All of this dawned on Bob, Oedipus and their friends. Mahatma was THE nerd who enabled them to be honest about themselves. He could have easily condemned them for what they did to other nerds and other excluded people, but instead he forgave them before they even fully realized how they had hurt themselves and others because of their addiction to a “social idol”. What Mahatma did to them was confronting and liberating at the same time. The truth about how they had lived their lives hurt at first, but set them free as well. It made them independent of the shame others would try to transfer on them, and at the same time allowed them to take sides with and love the oppressed and vulnerable.

So Bob, Oedipus and the others became Mahatmas in their own way, imitating the love he gave them, and trying to reconcile people with each other. Their contagious work of creating a realm of forgiveness allowed people to acknowledge what they had done to others. It allowed people to no longer be ashamed of themselves in favor of a “social idol”. On the contrary, it allowed people to be ashamed and remorseful without being crushed under guilt, and to newly love the ones they had hurt. And finally, it allowed people to free themselves from the traumas they had suffered themselves. As more people experienced the forgiving love that enabled them to accept themselves, those people no longer felt the need to defend a certain self-image and became more capable (though not totally) of living lives without excluding or judging others.

Salvation by a Contamination with Divine Grace:

“Father, Son, Holy Spirit”

We are truly “godlike”

As hinted at earlier, the “Spirit” that “contaminated” the group of Bob and his friends, and that was created by the self-confident “Son” of India Mahatma (who is indeed carried by a “Fatherly” or “Motherly” Love that allows him to love himself in spite of possible social exclusion), was also the Spirit that contaminated the followers of Jesus. It was the “forgiving nerd” Mahatma – a forgiving “other” – that allowed Bob and his friends to “come to themselves” and “change”: acknowledging their “addictions”, they could free themselves and discover their own talents, paradoxically becoming like the “forgiving nerd” themselves in loving and reconciling people.

The New Testament writers believe that what Mahatma did for his new classmates, Jesus did for the whole of humanity. Jesus is the one who calls for the end of the sacrifice of every possible “Oedipus” by running the risk of being sacrificed himself. He is the ultimate “Other”, the “Mahatma par excellence” who, forgiving, enables us to be honest about ourselves. This makes possible the reconciliation and salvation of humanity as a whole, as there would be no need for a final “One Big Human Oedipus” (one big common enemy or sacrificed victim) to accomplish this. Resurrected, The Forgiving Crucified Jesus who does not simply avenge all the other “excluded” or “sacrificed” allows his disciples and all the rest of us to “do justice” to the ones we hurt, and to imitate him by forgiving those who hurt us – creating the possibility that they might do justice to us as well.

the weak can never forgive (Mahatma Gandhi)Jesus kills every “social idol”, meaning that he is guided by a Love which “desires mercy, not sacrifice.” He allows us to see ourselves through the loving eyes of “the One who cannot be reduced to our man-made world.” As Mahatma allows Bob and his friends to look at themselves through the eyes of a “loving nerd” who does not “crush them under guilt” (that would lead to the temptation to brush off the blame on a scapegoat again), Jesus allows us to look at ourselves through the eyes of a “Loving God” who “believes in us.” Like Mahatma allowed Bob and his friends to discover they were somewhat “nerds” themselves, Jesus allows us to discover we are truly “godlike”. The forgiveness of Jesus paradoxically “re-creates” and “changes” us by bringing us to our”selves”.

Of course, in this broken world we never fully realize our self-acceptance and the acceptance of others – the experience of God as Love (i.e. the experience of God at a human level) –, but we can follow the example of Christ the best we can (as far as it is possible for each of us): forgiving each other time and again, “seventy times seven”. For indeed, realistically speaking, none of us is perfect. So contrary to the famous line of one popular movie from 1970 (Love Story), “love means having to say you’re sorry…” It means being forgiven, “as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

The Prodigal Son (Rembrandt c1669)

An Atheist Illusion

•November 12, 2015 • Leave a Comment

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

(Luke 18: 9-14).

The Pharisee in this parable of Jesus clearly claims the moral high ground. According to English dictionaries, “to claim the moral high ground” means “to say that you are morally better than someone else.”

There are several possible answers to the question why this Pharisee feels the need to expose his superior morality to a “God” while comparing himself to the morality of other people – of “sinners”, in particular of a tax collector. Maybe he is just an uncertain person who needs the comforting affirmation of an “imaginary friend” to feel good. Maybe he is a supreme narcissist who boosts his Ego (a collection of imaginary ideas of oneself) by convincing himself that he is favored by a “Supreme Being”. Maybe he is both – narcissistic feelings of superiority do tend to be a compensation for feelings of inferiority.

Pharisee and Tax Collector

There is yet another, more complex possibility, and it is provided by the German philosopher and atheist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Maybe the Pharisee compares himself to the tax collector in order to nurture the good yet imaginary ideas of himself because he is secretly jealous. Nietzsche claimed that the so-called weaker, dominated people in a society – the “slaves” as he calls them – have the tendency to compare themselves to the so-called stronger, dominant people – the “masters”. From this comparison the slaves develop the desire to achieve the same position and status as the masters, yet they fail. In order to cope with this failure, some of the slaves tell themselves that there is a God who is on their side, as opposed to the more common yet also more archaic religious idea that the opposite is true, namely that good health, strength, wealth, prosperity and a high social status are the signs of being favored by a “divine or sacred order of things” (see, for instance, the notion of “karma”). Convinced that an ultimate, “one true God” favors them over the masters and their “false gods”, the slaves start to resent what they initially desired until finally, they even develop a kind of paternalistic pity toward the masters. Hence the slaves praise themselves for not being like the masters who should be ashamed of their life, and they feel sorry for the masters. The victory of the slaves over the masters is complete, according to Nietzsche, when the masters start feeling ashamed and guilty about themselves. Thus the so-called “compassion” the slaves feel for “sinful” others has nothing to do with genuine care for these people, but everything with the love for an untruthful image of themselves. In other words, if achieving some kind of “prestige”, “image” or “status” is your ultimate goal in life, then you are not only unable to accept and love yourself, but you are also not able to truly love others.

Nietzsche was convinced that the resentment of the slaves forms the basis for the Judeo-Christian tradition. He was also convinced that this tradition is absolutely unique among the world-religions in that it provides these slaves with a powerful weapon to comfort and structure themselves and the rest of the world according to false hopes and fears. Therefore he despised the Judeo-Christian religion and he wanted to bring an end to the way it had – in his views – “poisoned” the mentality of the Western world.

Nietzsche especially resented – yes, he was no stranger to resentment himself, ironically – the figure of Jesus Christ. He believed that this so-called “prime representative of the God of the slaves” was the ultimate catalyst of the resentment of the slaves, turning it into perverse forms of pity, loathing, shame and guilt. However, when we read the above fragment of Luke, we get quite the opposite picture. It is clear that the Pharisee believes there is a God who favors him over the tax collector. A tax collector, mind you, usually is rather wealthy. The Pharisee, furthermore, praises himself for not being like the tax collector who should be ashamed of his life. Clearly the love of his self-image leads him to look down on other people. Because he does not really love himself (but an untruthful, narcissistic image of himself) the Pharisee is less capable of loving others. It is precisely the Pharisee’s narcissistic self-concept and his illusory ideas and expectations of a certain “God” that is criticized by Jesus, much in the same vein as Nietzsche criticizes those ideas! Well, who would have thought: Jesus as a kind of Nietzsche avant la lettre, who crushes the idols of narcissistic religious self-concepts.

The reason why Jesus wants people to be more realistic about themselves is because he wants to open the possibilities of love between people. And that’s different from Nietzsche’s ultimate concerns. Jesus wants to prevent people from offending, excluding or even sacrificing each other. Indeed, it is because of all too heroic, romantic or utopian ideas that we tend to create “hell”, not only for others, also for ourselves. In that sense Jesus is right to proclaim that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled” – it is the way of the world. The narcissist eventually destroys himself, utopias become dystopias. For instance, the student who takes pride in not working hard for school because he thinks it is “cool” reduces his chances of a really cool life. Of course this type of student is sometimes able to make hard working students feel ashamed of themselves, but in the long run “those who humble themselves” by not taking part in the competition of being the coolest “will be exalted”. Being honest about yourself, realizing that you are not that unique or special, prevents you from feeling ashamed of yourself, as it also prevents you from “pointing fingers” and loathing others. The hard working student who made himself believe by his surroundings that hard work is not cool, will often hide his real character by mocking, offending and excluding others who did come out of the closet as diligent students. In order to prevent this kind of exclusion, Jesus reminds us of who we really are: not at all that different from the people we look down on. That’s why he says, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Jesus wants to replace the love for our untruthful self-image and the adherence to our “reputation” with the love for ourselves and others. We can be like the hard working student who feels ashamed of himself, even guilty of studying hard, and indeed develop the tendency to publicly and hypocritically loath or exclude other hard working students. On the other hand, if we no longer feel ashamed of ourselves, we can start feeling ashamed of the hurt we brought to others because we were too preoccupied with our social profile. That is what happens to Peter: after denying Jesus when the latter is imprisoned, feeling ashamed of who he is because he fears being excluded or sacrificed himself, Peter eventually feels ashamed because of the hurt he brought to his friend.

That’s why a true conversion to Christianity is never easily “comforting”. It is, first of all, a conversion to “who we truly are”, and that truth is sometimes hard to swallow. So, no: belief in Christ is not equal to a comforting support of naïve, unrealistic, romantic or even utopian ideas of ourselves and the world. Nevertheless, at the same time, this conversion to ourselves in the realm of Christ’s love is also liberating since we are not destroyed for being “not perfect”. On the contrary, we are forgiven. To be able to acknowledge who we truly are in this realm of grace and mercy, enables us to refrain from “casting stones” to others who are more “like us” than we would previously acknowledge. It prevents us from approaching others for the sake of untruthful ideas of ourselves. For instance, the alcoholic who finds the realm of grace where he can acknowledge that he indeed is an alcoholic among other people with similar problems (be it at an AA-meeting or somewhere else), makes the first but very important step on a journey that might reconnect him with the people he hurt because of his addiction. The experience of this kind of grace, forgiveness and remorse, which enables people to love themselves and others anew, is totally contrary to the perversion of forgiveness: the “cleansing” of one’s sins in order to feel “perfect” again (which is the restoration of a narcissistic, untruthful Ego that eventually leads to hurting others).

Whether we call ourselves Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or atheists, we all suffer from the same temptations. That’s because, believe it or not, we are all humans and we are more alike and less “unique” than we sometimes imagine.

Hence, Christ’s criticism of the pious believer is also applicable to the zealous atheist – contrary to the latter’s illusion that the figure of Christ has nothing to say to him; contrary to the latter’s illusion that he is “totally unlike the theist”. So yes, it comes as no surprise that some atheists claim the moral high ground. The well-known Penn Jillette, for instance:

“It’s about time we grabbed the moral high ground. I can make the argument – and I have – that the only ones with true morality are us, the atheists. We are doing good because it is good and we are doing right because it is right and not for reward or punishment. We have love for each other, we have community, we have charity…”

I can make the argument that the only ones with true morality are us the atheists (Penn Jillette quote)

It is clear that this atheist feels the need to expose his superior morality to an “Audience” while comparing himself to the morality of other people – of “theists”. From this conviction of moral superiority follows an aversion towards religious people, as they are perceived as being corrupted by their faith. This is perhaps best expressed by the late Christopher Hitchens, another well-known atheist:

“We keep on being told that religion, whatever its imperfections, at least instills morality. On every side, there is conclusive evidence that the contrary is the case and that faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish, and perhaps above all, more stupid.”

Faith causes people to be more mean, more selfish and more stupid (Christopher Hitchens)

Paraphrased in terms of the above mentioned parable of Jesus in Luke 18: 9-14, all of this looks like:

The atheist stood by himself and proclaimed on YouTube: ‘Man [since an atheist does not address God], I’m so happy that I am not like those believers, who are more mean, more selfish and more stupid than I am…’

This type of narcissism might seem rather harmless, but it does contain the seeds of a utopian desire to save us from so-called “corrupted” elements in order to establish a more perfect world. Christopher Hitchens again:

“If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”

a quite different world (Christopher Hitchens quote)

Sam Harris, yet another leading voice of the so-called “new atheism”, goes one step further in expressing his hope for the future:

“Some beliefs are so dangerous that it may be ethical to kill people for believing them.”

ethical to kill people (Sam Harris quote)

And so, once again, we are in the territory where, with the best of intentions, utopian dreams of “a better world without belief in God” might turn into ugly dystopias. It always starts with an idea… Of course, it is unlikely that it might come to this since there are respectful, non-paternalistic dialogues going on between many atheists and believers.

However, as is the case in some “pious” religious circles, also a kind of narcissism in some atheist quarters creates the impression that one should not feel ashamed or the least embarrassed if other people are offended or hurt by one’s words. Apparently, there is a kind of self-righteousness that seems to give people “the right” and “entitlement” to be indifferent towards the feelings of others. It dates to biblical times and beyond, and we can’t get rid of it, it seems… Stephen Fry, for instance, as yet another atheist:

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that’ – as if it gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I’m offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?”

offended by that (Stephen Fry quote)

Well, yeah, of course zealous atheists like Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens have the legal right to call believers generally “more mean, more selfish and more stupid” because of their faith than atheists. Well, yeah, of course some of the people who consider themselves to be pious believers have the legal right to call atheists immoral sinners who will burn in hell… I guess this type of “mimetic doubling” (René Girard) is a sign of tolerance, respect and love in a beautiful, unbroken human world?

P.S. I would like to thank all my students for the moments they allow me to reflect more deeply with them, whenever they ask truly challenging questions or when they simply create an attentive atmosphere. With regard to this article, I would especially like to thank Marnix, Ralph, Johannes, Amber (all 6WEWIB2) and Stien (5ECMT2). You guys probably don’t always realize it, but sometimes one sentence makes all the difference.

De Hoer in Dimitri Verhulst?

•November 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

‘Bent u zover, heer?’ fluisterde ze hem toe, volhardend in haar rol. Hij ging over haar heen liggen, kwam in haar, en begon kort en ritmisch te stoten, steeds vuriger en feller. En toen ze met evenveel hartstocht reageerde, zakte haar sluier af en werd haar gezicht volledig zichtbaar. Zal hij me nu herkennen? vroeg Tamar zich af. Zal hij zich terugtrekken of – zoals Tamar het zich voorstelde in een vermetel soort dagdroom – zal hij doorgaan, zelfs al had hij haar herkend? Ja, zou hij misschien met nog grotere hartstocht doorgaan, juist omdát hij haar had herkend? (Kirsch, p. 151).

The Harlot by the Side of the Road (Jonathan Kirsch) coverJaren geleden kocht ik het boek De Ongehoorde Bijbel (Servire, Utrecht, 1997) van Jonathan Kirsch. De titel in het Engels luidt The Harlot by the Side of the Road – Forbidden Tales of the Bible (Ballantine Books, New York, 1997) en verwijst naar het verhaal over Tamar en Juda (Genesis 38). Het bovenstaande tekstfragment komt uit een hervertelling van dit verhaal door Kirsch. Het is maar een van de eigenaardige, weinig gekende en eerder schokkende verhalen uit het Oude Testament die de auteur voor het voetlicht brengt. Interessant is dat de hervertelde verhalen niet alleen telkens naast de vertaalde Bijbeltekst worden geplaatst, maar ook worden gevolgd door historische en culturele achtergrondinformatie.

De incest van Lot en zijn dochters, de verkrachting van Dina, de seksuele gemeenschap tussen Tamar en haar schoonvader Juda, Jefta die zijn dochter offert aan God voor een militaire overwinning van Israël op de Ammonieten, en allerlei andere Bijbelverhalen over geweld, volkerenmoorden en seksuele uitspattingen – het passeert allemaal de revue in het boek van Kirsch. De commentaren die deze verhalen telkens in een historische context plaatsen, maken de verhalen vaak nog vreemder dan ze al zijn, maar openen tegelijk verrassende perspectieven. Het is alsof je als buitenlander uitleg krijgt bij de toespelingen van een stand-up comedian op de politieke situatie van zijn land, zodat je kan meelachen met zijn publiek. Of dat je, meer in het algemeen, vertrouwd geraakt met een cultureel en taal-specifiek idioom, zodat je naast vreugde om wat je leest ook verwondering, verbijstering, woede of verdriet kan voelen.

Kirsch verwijst meermaals naar de manier waarop de joden sinds het prille ontstaan van de Hebreeuwse Bijbel (het Oude Testament) met deze teksten zijn omgesprongen, en dat maakt van die Bijbel een boeiende literaire inspiratiebron. De joodse wijzen – de rabbi’s – uit de Oudheid zijn de eerste beoefenaars van de zogenaamde midrasj: “een meditatie over of beschouwing van de Schrift waarin de boodschap wordt aangepast aan de hedendaagse behoeften” (Geza Vermes). Daarbij putten zij rijkelijk uit de Haggadah (joodse sagen en legenden) en presenteren zij hun uitleg of exegese als een hervertelling die tal van nieuwe betekenissen en associaties oproept. Verzamelingen van zulke exegeses zijn bekend geworden als de Talmoed en de Midrasj.

Het joodse gebruik om verhalen uit te leggen door ze opnieuw te vertellen is natuurlijk ook aanwezig bij andere volkeren. Mensen houden nu eenmaal van verhalen. Het is eveneens aanwezig bij de jood Jezus van Nazaret – niet toevallig soms “rabbi” genoemd – en de schrijvers van het Nieuwe Testament. Jezus’ parabels en uitspraken, alsook de verhalen over hem, staan dan ook bol van vaak nadrukkelijke, soms ook subtiele verwijzingen naar verhalen en teksten uit de Hebreeuwse Bijbel. Deze traditie van intertekstuele verwijzingen heeft zich ook doorgezet in de literaire en bredere artistieke geschiedenis, van de Oudheid, over de middeleeuwen tot nu. Eigenlijk wordt het Nieuwe Testament pas begrijpelijk vanuit de intertekstualiteit: als een interpretatie van de Hebreeuwse Bijbel vanuit bepaalde ervaringen met Jezus van Nazaret.

Het verhaal over Tamar en Juda, uit de titel van Kirsch’ boek, kan als voorbeeld dienen om een en ander te verduidelijken.

Op weg met hoeren en broers

Tamar is de weduwe van Er, de oudste zoon van Juda. Na de dood van haar man wordt zij, volgens het toenmalige gebruik, aan haar schoonbroer Onan toevertrouwd. Als ook hij haar niet zwanger maakt en sterft, wacht haar een twijfelachtig lot. Juda beschouwt Tamar als een onheilsbrenger en doet er alles aan om zijn derde zoon Sela van haar weg te houden. Daardoor dreigt Tamar een kinderloze weduwe te blijven en in een levensgevaarlijke marginaliteit terecht te komen. Jonathan Kirsch verduidelijkt (p. 176-177):

Volgens de Bijbelse wetten, ging het bezit van een man rechtstreeks over op zijn kinderen (Deut 21, 16-17) of zijn andere bloedverwanten (Num 27, 8-11). Een kinderloze weduwe als Tamar had dus geen acceptabele, vaste plaats in de gemeenschap waarin ze leefde; ze kon zich niet zonder grote risico’s wagen aan seksuele gemeenschap, kinderen krijgen of grootbrengen of zelf de kost verdienen; ze was aan handen en voeten gebonden.

Als een vrouw als Tamar het waagde toch met iemand gemeenschap te hebben, werd ze gezien als zo’n groot gevaar voor de maatschappelijke en zedelijke orde van de samenleving uit die tijd dat ze letterlijk moest worden ‘uitgewist’. Een ongetrouwde vrouw die met een man naar bed ging, moest volgens de strenge Bijbelse wetten ter dood worden gebracht (Deut 22, 21), net als de echtgenote die het waagde om vreemd te gaan (Lev 20, 10). Het is veelbetekenend dat de steniging van een ongehuwde vrouw die zich schuldig had gemaakt aan verboden seks, geacht werd te worden uitgevoerd ‘bij het huis van haar vader’; alsof dit bedoeld was om te onderstrepen dat een vrouw zonder acceptabele mannelijke beschermer – haar vader, echtgenoot of volwassen zoon – eenvoudigweg veel te gevaarlijk was om in leven te laten.

Bovendien is Tamar een Kanaänitische vrouw, alleen door haar vroegere huwelijk met Er verbonden aan het volk van Israël. Vreemdelinge, weduwe en kinderloze vrouw: de uitzichtloze, “vervloekte” situatie van Tamar schijnt compleet. Op basis van deze kenmerken alleen al wordt ze door het patriarchale Israël van haar tijd feitelijk verstoten en is ze ten dode opgeschreven. Israël is niet anders dan andere menselijke gemeenschappen die de neiging hebben om hun voortbestaan te verzekeren ten koste van slachtoffers. Tot Tamar een list verzint. Ze vermomt zich als een hoer en slaagt erin om op die manier haar schoonvader Juda te verleiden tot seksuele gemeenschap met haar. De zwangerschap die daarop volgt zal twee zonen voortbrengen: de tweeling Peres en Zerach. Juda kan uiteindelijk niets anders doen dan deze kinderen te erkennen als zijn nageslacht.

Het klinkt misschien eigenaardig, maar door zich als een hoer te vermommen en haar schoonvader te verleiden tot seksuele gemeenschap, zet Tamar de mannenwereld waarin ze vertoeft een hak. Jonathan Kirsch besluit (p. 177-178):

Tamars seksuele hinderlaag voor Juda op de weg naar Timna was de daad van een dappere, vindingrijke vrouw, die weigerde zich neer te leggen bij het lot dat het patriarchaat van het Bijbelse Israël een kinderloze weduwe voorschreef. Ze was niet zomaar een verleidster die door de hoer te spelen haar schoonvader listig ertoe bracht kinderen bij haar te verwekken. Ze was veeleer een vrouw die voor haar rechten opkwam, op de enige manier die voor een vrouw in haar tijdsgewricht en samenleving open stond.

Het verhaal van Tamar is één voorbeeld van “de eigenzinnige vrouw”. In de Hebreeuwse Bijbel is dit een nadrukkelijk aanwezig thema. Het Nieuwe Testament zal er uitgebreid op terugkomen en het ook in verband brengen met een ander thema uit de Hebreeuwse Bijbel, namelijk de rivaliteit tussen broers (al dan niet om het eerstgeboorterecht). Er zij hierbij gedacht aan Kaïn en Abel, Ismaël en Isaak, Esau en Jakob en Jozef en zijn broers. In het verhaal over Tamar is dit thema ook aanwezig. Bij de geboorte van haar zonen is het Zerach die Peres, die net iets eerder geboren zal worden, te slim af is (Gen 38, 28-30):

Perez and ZerahTijdens het baren stak een van de beide kinderen een handje naar buiten; de vroedvrouw greep dit, bond er een rode draad omheen en zei: ‘Deze is het eerst gekomen.’ Maar het kind trok zijn hand terug, en toen kwam zijn broer tevoorschijn. Toen sprak zij: ‘Jij hebt voor een flinke bres gezorgd.’ Daarom noemde men hem Peres. Daarna kwam zijn broer met de scharlaken draad om zijn hand. Hem noemde men Zerach.

De rabbijnse tradities met hun hervertellende uitleg brengen Tamar en haar zonen in verband met een andere, opmerkelijke Kanaänitische: de hoer Rachab. In het Bijbelse boek Jozua speelt deze vrouw een sleutelrol bij de verovering van de stad Jericho en het land Kanaän door de Israëlieten. Zij verbergt immers twee Israëlitische verkenners voor een patrouille die door de koning van Jericho was uitgestuurd. Uit dankbaarheid beloven de verkenners Rachab dat ze haar leven en dat van haar familie zullen sparen. Het enige wat ze daarvoor moet doen is het rode koord, waarmee ze de verkenners van de stadsmuren liet zakken, aan haar raam hangen. Op die manier zullen de Israëlieten haar huis herkennen en weten dat daar een van hun bondgenoten woont. De rabbijnse geleerden beschouwen de niet nader genoemde verkenners vaak als Peres en Zerach. En van het rode koord weten ze te vertellen dat het de rode draad is die om de pols van Zerach was gebonden bij zijn geboorte!

In het Nieuwe Testament, meer bepaald in het evangelie volgens Matteüs, komen Tamar en Rachab samen met twee andere vrouwen – Ruth en Batseba – terecht in de stamboomlijst van Jezus. Het zijn de enige vier vrouwen die in deze lijst vermeld worden en dat is opmerkelijk. Ze hebben met elkaar hun vaak sterke karakters en niet onbesproken seksuele levenswandel gemeen. Hen als de verre moeders van de zogenaamde Christus portretteren is op zijn minst gewaagd. Helemaal provocerend wordt Matteüs als hij Jezus het volgende laat zeggen tegen de hogepriesters en de oudsten van het Joodse volk, nadat hij – en dat is ook niet onbelangrijk in het licht van het voorgaande – een parabel over twee broers heeft verteld (Mt 21, 31):

‘Ik verzeker u, tollenaars en hoeren gaan u voor naar het koninkrijk van God.’

De stamboomlijst met “hoeren” is dus met andere woorden geen toeval. De evangelist Matteüs wil zijn lezers blijkbaar al bij de aanvang van zijn werk duidelijk maken dat de God waarin hij gelooft – die zich te kennen zou geven in Jezus van Nazaret – iets te maken heeft met het perspectief van mensen die doorgaans “in de marge” van de samenleving vertoeven. De stamboomlijst van Jezus is dan ook als het ware een “code”, een “interpretatiesleutel” die de lezer meekrijgt om zowel het evangelie zelf als de Hebreeuwse Bijbel met een bepaalde bril te lezen. Gooi je de stamboomlijst overboord, dan gooi je essentiële informatie overboord om tot een goed begrip van het Matteüsevangelie en de Bijbel in zijn geheel te komen.

Er zijn natuurlijk nog andere interpretatiesleutels aanwezig in zowel de Hebreeuwse Bijbel als het Nieuwe Testament, maar alle wijzen ze in een gelijkaardige richting. In het evangelie volgens Lucas staat bijvoorbeeld het welbekende verhaal over “de Emmaüsgangers”: leerlingen van Jezus die, teleurgesteld en gedesoriënteerd door de kruisiging en dood van hun geliefde meester, wegtrekken van Jeruzalem naar het dorp Emmaüs. Onderweg komen ze een vreemdeling tegen. Deze man is eigenlijk Jezus – die Lucas voorstelt als verrezen –, maar ze herkennen hem niet. Ze geraken aan de praat en eten met hem. Uiteindelijk herkennen ze hem, nadat hij hun de Hebreeuwse Bijbel vanuit een bepaald perspectief heeft uitgelegd, namelijk (Luc 24, 27):

Jezus legde hun uit wat in heel de Schrift op Hemzelf betrekking had, te beginnen bij Mozes en alle Profeten.

Als je de Hebreeuwse Bijbel uitlegt vanuit het perspectief van iemand die verstoten en gekruisigd is, én vanuit de overtuiging dat God zich in deze gekruisigde openbaart, levert je lectuur opmerkelijke resultaten op. Neem bijvoorbeeld het wreedaardige relaas in het zevende hoofdstuk van het al eerder vermelde boek Jozua. Daarin draagt “de Heer” Jozua op om een zekere Achan en al zijn bezittingen te vernietigen nadat Israël een militaire nederlaag heeft geleden. Achan zou goederen in zijn bezit hebben die hem niet toebehoren, en dat zou onheil brengen. Dit is het einde van het verhaal (Jozua 7, 25-26):

Jozua sprak: ‘Omdat je ons in het ongeluk hebt gestort, stort de heer jou vandaag in het ongeluk!’ En heel Israël stenigde hen; zij verbrandden hen en wierpen stenen naar hen. Daarna richtten zij boven hen een grote steenhoop op, die er vandaag nog ligt. Toen bedaarde de hevige toorn van de heer. Daarom heet die plaats nu nog het Achordal.

Joshua 7 25 Brick BibleJoshua 7 25b Brick BibleJoshua 7 25c Brick Bible

Als je dit verhaal leest vanuit het perspectief van wat op “een verstotene” of “een gekruisigde” (Jezus) betrekking heeft van wie je gelooft dat God aan zijn zijde staat, dan moet je wel tot het besluit komen dat Achan, de gestenigde en verbrande, in dit verhaal de persoon is met wie Jezus kan worden geïdentificeerd. En dan kom je ook tot het besluit dat die God allesbehalve de steniging van Achan goedkeurt. Vandaar dat Jezus ook zal zeggen dat hij, in de lijn van bepaalde profeten en psalmen uit de Hebreeuwse Bijbel, gelooft in een God die “barmhartigheid wil, en geen offer” (Mt 9, 13). Vandaar ook dat Jezus als interpretatiesleutel en zelfs leefsleutel meegeeft:

‘U zult de Heer uw God liefhebben met heel uw hart en met heel uw ziel en met heel uw verstand. Dat is het grootste en eerste gebod. Het tweede is daaraan gelijk: U zult uw naaste liefhebben als uzelf. Aan deze twee geboden hangen heel de Wet en de Profeten.’

John Steinbeck And now that you don't have to be perfect you can be goodDeze naastenliefde is misschien wel ethisch, maar allesbehalve moralistisch. Het zijn immers de moraalridders die, vaak met de beste bedoelingen, doorheen de geschiedenis van de mensheid uiteindelijk de grootste wreedheden begaan. Zowel de Hebreeuwse Bijbel als het Nieuwe Testament vormen een kritiek op al te utopische en al te romantische denkbeelden. Wanneer Petrus zijn vriend Jezus verzekert dat hij hem nooit in de steek zal laten, zet Jezus hem met zijn voetjes op de grond – geparafraseerd: “Als puntje bij paaltje komt, als ik gevangen ben en ter dood veroordeeld zal worden, ga je mij in de steek laten; je bent niet de held die je denkt te zijn.” Zulke boodschappen zijn niet altijd aangenaam om te horen. De waarheid kwetst. Petrus is geen superman. En ook de zogenaamd grote figuren uit de Hebreeuwse Bijbel zijn allesbehalve onberispelijk.

De teksten in de Bijbel bevatten in de eerste plaats dan ook een antropologie: ze tonen de mens zoals hij is. In het verlengde daarvan tonen ze vaak ook een God die niet meer blijkt dan een bekrachtiging van kleinmenselijke verzuchtingen. Maar het is precies door dit soort context zonder voorbehoud te schetsen dat ook de kritiek erop zich kan manifesteren of openbaren. In die grote bibliotheek die de Bijbel is, met allerlei verschillende soorten boeken en teksten (die elk een eigen aanpak vergen), breekt gaandeweg een fundamentele kritiek door op de al te grote vooruitgangsdromen en morele superioriteitsgevoelens die mensen kunnen hebben. En dit vanuit het perspectief van de slachtoffers daarvan.

Wat overblijft is een Bijbelse spiritualiteit: je kan regels manipuleren om anderen te onderdrukken, of je kan regels manipuleren om op te komen voor je eigen waardigheid als mogelijkheidsvoorwaarde om op te komen voor de waardigheid van anderen (zie Jezus’ uitspraken: “De sabbat is er voor de mens en niet de mens voor de sabbat” en “Bemin je naaste als jezelf”). Zowel Juda als Tamar zijn corrupte en sluwe kinderen van hun tijd en cultuur, maar het is precies in die corruptie en historische beperktheid dat zich, in het geval van Tamar, iets van een emancipatorische humaniteit manifesteert.

Op weg met Verhulst en Steinbeck, literaire broers

Bloedboek Dimitri Verhulst CoverZoals zijn verhalen en personages is de Bijbel in zijn geheel te rijk, te genuanceerd en te paradoxaal om “helemaal slecht” of “helemaal goed” te zijn. Ik ben dan ook razend benieuwd hoe Dimitri Verhulst, wiens werk ik telkens met graagte lees, de eerste vijf boeken van de Bijbel heeft herverteld in zijn nieuwe roman Bloedboek. Jammer wel dat hij blijkbaar niets doet met de stamboomlijsten in de Pentateuch. Die zouden immers boeiende interpretatieve impulsen kunnen geven, zoals Matteüs dat doet met de stamboomlijst van Jezus in zijn evangelie (zie hoger).

Verhulst bevindt zich met dit project alvast in een kransje van grote literatoren die iets gelijkaardigs hebben gedaan. De lijvigste roman van de Amerikaanse Nobelprijswinnaar John Steinbeck, East of Eden, is bijvoorbeeld een hervertelling van het verhaal over Kaïn en Abel (Gen 4, 1-16). Geen vijf boeken dus, maar één verhaal dat vanuit een inherente rijkdom aan allerlei mogelijke motieven en consequenties wordt “herdacht” voor de periode tussen de Amerikaanse Burgeroorlog en de Eerste Wereldoorlog. Eén van de personages uit de roman (een Chinese butler genaamd “Lee”) vat het universele thema van het Bijbelverhaal en de roman zelf samen, in een antwoord op de vraag op welke manier het verhaal van Kaïn en Abel over ieder mens gaat (John Steinbeck, East of Eden, Penguin Books, p. 271):

East of Eden John Steinbeck Cover“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now – don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt – and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails. It is all there – the start, the beginning. One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides the secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world – and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt. The human is the only guilty animal. Now wait! Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul – the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”

Dimitri VerhulstMeer dan ooit heeft onze wereld nood aan zulke erudiete, literaire benaderingen van Bijbelteksten om aan de valkuilen van fundamentalisme en levensbeschouwelijk extremisme (van zowel gelovige als atheïstische zijde) te kunnen ontsnappen. De Angelsaksische wereld kent liedschrijvers als Bruce Springsteen (met een katholieke achtergrond) en Leonard Cohen (met joodse wortels), om er maar twee te noemen. En wij hebben iemand als Dimitri Verhulst. Ik kan haast niet wachten om te lezen wat hij heeft gedaan met deze universele verhalen over broedermoorden, corrumperende machtsspelletjes, bloedige oorlogen en… moedige vrouwen uit wie een nieuw soort leven aanbreekt. Misschien heeft hij wel de hoer ontdekt die ons “voorgaat naar het koninkrijk van God.” Niet over haar schrijven zou alleszins zonde zijn.

Erik Buys


Meer hierover op de Thomas-site (KU Leuven); klik hier.

In Memoriam: RIP René Girard (1923-2015)

•November 8, 2015 • 3 Comments

From the Dominican Republic to Australia, from the United States of America to countries all over Europe, from Brazil to India and South Korea, from the left to the right in political quarters, from the world of science and the humanities, from believers and atheists alike, from media big (e.g. The New York Times) and small (e.g. Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant): René Girard received numerous accolades at his passing. To cite just a few examples, in honor of this “Darwin of the human sciences”:

René Girard portraitRené Girard was one of the leading thinkers of our era – a provocative sage who bypassed prevailing orthodoxies and “isms” to offer a bold, sweeping vision of human nature, human history and human destiny.

The renowned Stanford French professor, one of the 40 immortels of the prestigious Académie Française, died at his Stanford home on Nov. 4 at the age of 91, after long illness.

Fellow immortel and Stanford Professor Michel Serres once dubbed him “the new Darwin of the human sciences.” The author who began as a literary theorist was fascinated by everything. History, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, religion, psychology and theology all figured in his oeuvre.

International leaders read him, the French media quoted him. Girard influenced such writers as Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and Czech writer Milan Kundera – yet he never had the fashionable (and often fleeting) cachet enjoyed by his peers among the structuralists, poststructuralists, deconstructionists and other camps. His concerns were not trendy, but they were always timeless.


Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

READ MORE: Patheos, November 4, 2015

Dans un communiqué, le président de la République, François Hollande, a salué la mémoire du philosophe et académicien français René Girard: «C’est un intellectuel exigeant et passionné, exégète à la curiosité sans limite, théoricien brillant et à l’esprit fondateur, enseignant et chercheur atypique aimant aller à contre-courant, René Girard était un homme libre et un humaniste dont l’œuvre marquera l’histoire de pensée», affirme le chef de l’Etat.

READ MORE: Le Figaro, November 5, 2015

Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque (René Girard)Fondateur de la « théorie mimétique », ce franc-tireur de la scène intellectuelle avait bâti une œuvre originale, qui conjugue réflexion savante et prédication chrétienne. Ses livres, commentés aux quatre coins du monde, forment les étapes d’une vaste enquête sur le désir humain et sur la violence sacrificielle où toute société, selon Girard, trouve son origine inavouable.

READ MORE: Le Monde, November 5, 2015

Dès demain, vendredi 6 novembre, France Culture bouleverse ses programmes et rend hommage dans Les Matins au philosophe et académicien français, René Girard, « éminent théoricien surnommé « le nouveau Darwin des sciences humaines ».

Entretiens inédits, rediffusions d’interviews à partir du vendredi 6 novembre et tout au long de la semaine prochaine.

Réécoutez La Grande Table du 5 novembre : hommage à René Girard

Dossier spécial sur :« Mort de l’anthropologue et philosophe René Girard »

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: France Culture, November 5, 2015

Quand, à 18 ans, Jean-Marc Bastière entre dans une librairie et tombe sur un livre de René Girard “des choses cachées  depuis la fondation du monde”, après quelques pages,  c’est comme si la foudre lui était tombé dessus. “Une révélation sur la nature humaine” nous dit-il, “une révélation sur l’humanité parce que je trouvais que ce qu’il disait, était limpide”. Chez Jean-Claude Guillebaud, ami de longue date de l’académicien, c’est un retour dans la religion qui l’a marqué: “je lui dois d’être revenu à la foi chrétienne. Je faisais partie de la génération des soixante-huitards , plus ou moins sécularisé comme beaucoup de jeunes de mon âge”. Progressivement en lisant ces livres, Jean-Claude Guillebaud prend conscience de la pertinence du message évangélique et “redevient chrétien”. D’ailleurs Jean-Marc Bastière retient la même chose, un accomplissement de la pensée, qu’il a pu approfondir et qui, aujourd’hui, est arrivé à maturité.

A écouter : René Girard dans notre émission Face aux chrétiens.


In de Verenigde Staten is de Franse antropoloog en literatuurwetenschapper René Girard overleden. De Frans-Amerikaanse intellectueel wordt gezien als een van de grootste denkers van de voorbije 100 jaar. Hij schreef over de menselijke begeerte en was de ontdekker van het zondebokmechanisme als het verborgen fundament van religie en maatschappij. Cultuur, godsdienst en geweld staan centraal in zijn werk.

READ MORE: VRT Nieuws,, November 5, 2015

René Girard geldt als een van de belangrijkste denkers over de menselijke cultuur en godsdienstgeschiedenis van zijn generatie. Zijn reputatie vestigde hij met zijn even bejubelde als omstreden studie God en geweld. Elke cultuur gaat uiteindelijk terug op een gewelddaad, zo betoogde hij, en wordt juist cultuur doordat ze dat geweld weet te beteugelen. Het was een klap in het gezicht van ieder die meende dat de (moderne) beschaving juist tegenover het geweld en de religie staat, in plaats van eruit te zijn ontstaan.

READ MORE: NRC Handelsblad, November 5, 2015

La obra de Girard parte del campo de la historia, pero se mueve siempre de forma transversal entre la antropología, la filosofía y la literatura. Parte de una noción central: la de “mímesis” o imitación, que él toma directamente de Platón y Aristóteles para reconducirla en la elaboración de una concepción del hombre que encuentra refrendada tanto en la literatura como en la historia (la pasada y la presente). 

READ MORE: El País, November, 5, 2015

Nascido no dia de Natal de 1923, em Avignon, René Girard escreveu bastante sobre a diversidade e unidade das religiões.

René Girard viva nos Estados Unidos desde 1947. Ensinou em várias universidades, como Duke, Johns Hopkins e, sobretudo, Stanford, onde dirigiu durante muito tempo o departamento de língua, literatura e civilização francesa.

Terminou a sua carreira académica em Stanford em 1995.

READ MORE: RTP, November 5, 2015

O acadêmico francês René Girard, eminente teórico conhecido como “o novo Darwin das ciências humanas”, morreu nesta quarta-feira (4), aos 91 anos, nos Estados Unidos, anunciou a universidade de Stanford, onde lecionou durante muitos anos.

READ MORE: Globo, November 5, 2015

Zum Tod des Kulturanthropologen René Girard – Wolfgang Palaver im Gespräch

LISTEN TO: ARD Mediathek, Deutschlandfunk, November 5, 2015

Vielfach ausgezeichnet, war Girard nach seiner Aufnahme in die Académie Française „unsterblich“. Seine Bücher werden bleiben – als Deutungsschema und Zündstoff im Zwillingskonflikt der Religionen, zwischen denen er keine Gleichheit ausmachen konnte.

La violence et le sacré (1972)READ MORE: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Dank Figuren wie ihm hatten die Gegenstimmen zur “French Theory” das letzte Wort. Es waren Stimmen, die sich als die des “Realen” verstanden, gegen jene der Generationsgenossen Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, Derrida, welche die Mythen, Religionen, literarischen Texte, philosophischen Systeme vor allem für struktural zerlegbare Produkte der Fantasie hielten. Der Philosoph, Anthropologe und Religionsforscher René Girard weigerte sich jedoch, den Trieb, den Mythos oder das Kunstwerk einfach als Strukturelement eines immanenten Bedeutungssystems aufzufassen. Er suchte die gesellschaftliche und psychologische Wirklichkeit dahinter.

READ MORE: Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Der 1923 in Avignon geborene Girard war zu seinen Lebzeiten ein singulärer kulturgeschichtlicher Denker. Aus seinem umfangreichen Werk sticht vor allem seine “Mimetische Theorie” und der “Sündenbockmechanismus” hervor.

Girard erklärt damit den Zusammenhang zwischen menschlichem Zusammenleben, der Entstehung von Gewalt und ihrer Eindämmung durch Religion, Tabus und Verbote. René Girard analysiert die menschliche Kultur und Geschichte aus der Perspektive der Gewaltentstehung und ihrer Opfer.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: Österreichischer Rundfunk, November 5, 2015

Denn so subtil seine Beschreibung sozialer Phänomene ausfiel, so obsessiv versuchte er, sie für seine Zwecke, die Apologie der Religion, zu instrumentalisieren. Deshalb wirken seine Befunde manchmal überraschend und überzeugend, manchmal aber auch erzwungen.

Girards ganzes Werk ist eine Polemik gegen den Wunschtraum von der «rationalistischen Unschuld» der Moderne. Dass dieser Wunschtraum heutzutage tatsächlich ausgeträumt ist, ist nicht wirklich Girards Verdienst, aber Grund genug, sein Werk als Wegzehrung auf die Reise der Menschheit nach dem Ende der Unschuld mitzunehmen.

READ MORE: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 5, 2015

Academicianul francez Rene Girard, un eminent teoretician supranumit “noul Darwin al stiintelor umaniste”, a incetat din viata miercuri, la varsta de 91 de ani, in Statele Unite, a anuntat universitatea Stanford unde acesta a predat pentru o lunga perioada de timp, transmite AFP.

“Renumitul profesor francez de la Stanford, unul dintre cei 40 de nemuritori ai prestigioase Academii Franceze, a decedat in casa sa de la Stanford miercuri, dupa o indelungata boala”, a declarat universitatea californiana intr-un comunicat de presa.

Rene Girard si-a inceput cariera ca teoretician literar, fascinat de toate stiintele sociale: istorie, antropologie, sociologie, filosofie, religie, psihologie si teologie.

READ MORE:, November 5, 2015

Rođen 1923. u Avignonu , kršćanin Girard mnogo je pisao o raznolikosti, ali i univerzalnosti religija, a svoju je misao crpio iz vjerskih tekstova i velikih književnih klasika.

READ MORE: SEEbiz, November 5, 2015

Girard’s extensive oeuvre has generated a wide range of responses across many disciplines, not least within Christian theology.

In 2005, on his election to L’Académie française, Girard was acclaimed by Michel Serres as the “Charles Darwin of the human sciences.” The post-modern intelligentsia – deeply wedded to the dogma of culture’s irreducible plurality – remains sceptical, also despising any attempted rehabilitation for the Queen of the Sciences.

Girard, with a dash of Gallic insouciance, referred to his critics’ small intellectual ambitions as “the comprehensive unionization of failure” – and of course his theory gives a good account of such academic rivalry, as well as the individualist’s refusal of personal conversion that acceptance of his theory demands.

Unsatisfied with uncovering the origin of culture and explicating the emergence of secular modernity, however, Girard came eventually to predict the apocalyptic acceleration of history towards a tragic denouement.

As for Rene Girard himself, he was an observant Catholic layman for 55 years and he knew that God’s Kingdom was not of this world. He looked forward to union with God, and there in faith and hope we leave him, where all the victims of history are vindicated and every tear is wiped away.

READ MORE: ABC, Australia, November 5, 2015

René Girard visited the UK on three occasions and was grateful to the Jesuits in Britain for the welcome he received here. His first visit was to Oxford, where stayed at Campion Hall and where he delivered the D’Arcy Lecture to 200 people in the university. This was followed by two visits to Heythrop, the second of which was to receive an honorary doctorate, as he was on his way to Paris to be received into the Académie française as one of their 40 immortels.

At times he was like an evangelical about his insights, but he was also capable of being playful, even offhand: ‘People are against my theory, because it is at the same time an avant-garde and a Christian theory … Theories are expendable. They should be criticized. When people tell me my work is too systematic, I say, I make it as systematic as possible for you to be able to prove it wrong.’

READ MORE: Jesuits in Britain, November 5, 2015

The following tribute is adapted in part from the forthcoming book Raising the Ante: God’s Gamble by Gil Bailie, a long-time friend and student of René Girard.

READ MORE: Catholic World Report, November 5, 2015

A társadalomtudományok új Darwinjaként méltatták, amikor a múlt század ’70-es éveiben kifejtette civilizációelméletét.

Életének 92. évében elhunyt René Girard francia tudós, aki a mimetikus vágyelmélet, a bűnbakképzés és a bibliamagyarázat terén megfogalmazott elméleteivel újfajta antropológiát alapozott meg. Kora egyik legjelentősebb gondolkodójaként, a társadalomtudományok új Darwinjaként emlegették. A Francia Akadémia tagja hosszan tartó betegség után szerdán hunyt el az Egyesült Államokban, halálhírét a Stanford Egyetem közölte. A francia gondolkodó hosszú ideig tanított a neves intézményben.

„Látám a sátánt, mint a villámlást lehullani az égből.” E könyvében a kereszténység kritikai apológiáját nem teológiai alapokon, hanem racionális bizonyítások útján írja meg. Valójában a zsidó-keresztény vallási tradíció rendkívül eredeti antropológiáját tárja az olvasó elé, magáévá téve Simone Weil egyik gondolatát, miszerint az Evangéliumok mindenekelőtt egy „emberelméletet”, egy antropológiát tartalmaznak, és csak ez után tekintendők „Istenelméletnek”, teológiának.

READ MORE:, November 5, 2015

Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du mondeUn pensiero potentemente originale, quello dell’antropologo accademico di Francia che ha inventato — nel senso etimologico di “scoprire” — teorie illuminanti come il desiderio mimetico e il rito del capro espiatorio, perché non nato da schemi speculativi astratti, ma dall’osservazione dei meccanismi interiori che muovono quell’animale strutturalmente sociale che è l’uomo. L’essere umano di ogni epoca, non nel migliore dei mondi possibili ma nel mondo reale, dove si soffre e si muore per mano dei propri simili, vittime a loro volta — spesso inconsapevoli — di un automatismo interiore che li trasforma in carnefici certi di essere nel giusto e di obbedire a un dovere morale. Un pensiero letteralmente vicino all’origine, quello del «Darwin dell’antropologia», come lo chiamano in Francia, e quindi capace di illuminare anche i recessi più oscuri di quel mistero che chiamiamo genericamente coscienza, una chiave di lettura semplice e geniale allo stesso tempo scaturita più dalla lettura attenta dei capolavori di Proust, Dostoevskij, Dante e Cervantes che dalle pagine dei manuali di filosofia.

Un pensiero tanto celebrato quanto contestato, quello dell’antropologo francese che ha continuato a lavorare e a scrivere anche dopo aver superato i novant’anni, capace di anticipare successive scoperte scientifiche.

READ MORE: L’Osservatore Romano, November 5, 2015

L’antropologo, 91 anni, è morto ieri a a Stanford, negli Stati Uniti. Fondatore della “teoria mimetica”, da anticonformista della scena intellettuale aveva costruito un lavoro originale, che unisce riflessione accademica e predicazione cristiana. I suoi libri, commentati in tutto il mondo, sono tappe di una importante indagine sul desiderio umano e sulla violenza sacrificale da cui qualsiasi società, secondo Girard, trova la sua origine vergognosa. In Italia i suoi libri sono pubblicati da Adelphi.

READ MORE: Rai News, November 5, 2015

Pour finir, je voudrais dire un mot des implications pour le lecteur d’une telle théorie. Devenir «girardien», ce n’est pas appartenir à une secte ; ce n’est pas tenir pour vrai tout ce que Girard a écrit; c’est d’abord se laisser aller à une «conversion» qui n’est pas d’ordre religieux, mais qui est un bouleversement du regard sur soi, une critique personnelle de son propre désir.

Pour comprendre à quel point la théorie de Girard est vraie, il faut avoir cheminé à rebours de son désir, non pas pour atteindre un illusoire «moi» authentique, mais au contraire pour aboutir à l’inexistence de ce moi, toujours déjà agi par des «désirs selon l’autre». La théorie mimétique est un dévoilement progressif dont le lecteur n’est jamais absent de ce qui se dévoile à lui. Elle menace l’existence du sujet que je croyais être. Elle s’attaque à ce que je croyais le plus original chez moi.

Il n’est pas un lecteur de Girard, même le plus convaincu, qui ne se soit dit à la lecture de Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque : «Il a raison, tout ça est vrai. Heureusement que pour ma part j’y échappe en partie.» Il serait suicidaire de ne se lire soi-même qu’avec les lunettes girardiennes ; on a besoin de croire un minimum aux raisons que notre désir se donne ; ces raisons constituent toujours une résistance en nous à la théorie mimétique, plus ou moins grande selon les individus. Il ne s’agit pas de s’en défendre, mais de le savoir. La lecture de Girard nous impose donc un double processus de révélation : on se rend compte d’abord que notre propre désir obéit aux lois décelées par Girard ; et dans un second temps, on se rend compte qu’on a feint l’adhésion totale à ses thèses, et qu’il reste en nous un moi «néo-romantique» qui ne se croit pas concerné par ces lois. Ainsi, la découverte de Girard doit nous interdire, in fine, le surplomb de celui qui aurait compris, contre tous ceux qui seraient encore des croyants naïfs en l’autonomie de leur désir.

READ MORE:, November 5, 2015

René Girard 1979

Largement traduite, souvent admirée hors de son pays, comme aux Etats-Unis ou en Italie, l’oeuvre de René Girard reste assez mal connue du grand public en France. «Pour un intellectuel qui a longtemps été considéré comme un auteur à contre-courant et atypique, l’élection à l’Académie est une forme de reconnaissance», déclarait-il au quotidien La Croix le 15 décembre 2005, jour de sa réception à l’Académie française.

«Je peux dire sans exagération que, pendant un demi-siècle, la seule institution française qui m’ait persuadé que je n’étais pas oublié en France, dans mon propre pays, en tant que chercheur et en tant que penseur, c’est l’Académie française.»

READ MORE & WATCH: Le Parisien, November 5, 2015

Je me souviendrai toute ma vie de ce jour où mon ami François et moi, nous nous sommes annoncés chez lui dans le VIIème. Il avait la gentillesse de nous recevoir alors qu’il était au milieu de sa famille. Il nous parlait. O temps suspends ton vol. Le monde familier qui l’entourait n’existait plus pour lui. Cette longue conversation qui n’était pas la première, m’a beaucoup fait réfléchir sur le mal. François, passionné de Thomas d’Aquin, trouvait Girard pessimiste. Quant à moi, j’ai décidé ce jour-là de remonter, avec Girard, de saint Thomas à saint Augustin.

Girard est-il pessimiste? Il le serait, il serait gnostique si l’on découvrait dans son oeuvre un refus quelconque de la chair et de la condition charnelle de l’homme. C’est tout le contraire. Le désir charnel n’intéresse pas Girard comme il intéresse Freud, parce que Girard le méridional sait très bien ce que Freud ne sait pas : le désir n’est pas une production physique de l’animal humain mais une construction psychique.

“For me he completely undid the secular Enlightenment’s undoing of Christianity.”  (Sean O’Conaill).

READ MORE: acireland, November 5, 2015

René Girard Scapegoat cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Comprendere «nello stesso momento, perché i credenti dapprima, e sul loro esempio i non credenti poi, sono sempre passati vicino al segreto, peraltro così semplice, di ogni mitologia»: è stata questa l’ambizione e l’esito della ricerca del francese René Girard, che si è spento a Stanford, negli Stati Uniti. Una ricerca che era impossibile (lo dimostra l’intervista autobiografica del 1994 con Michel Treguer) incasellare nei riquadri angusti delle discipline accademiche.

Da questa ricerca iniziata con Dostoevskij arriva l’opera che ne fa un filosofo e un antropologo della religione: La violenza e il sacro del 1972 (Adelphi, 1980) elabora una teoria della genesi della religione. Nella mitologia e nella sua elaborazione filosofica e letteraria Girard ritrova l’atto iniziale di occultamento che «inganna la violenza»: il «sacro» che assorbe la violenza destinata fatalmente a nascere e la riversa su una entità non vendicabile e insieme in apparente continuità con coloro al posto dei quali viene sacrificato. Così il capro espiatorio placa e fonda la società in questa ombra religiosa che è «il sentimento che la collettività ispira ai suoi membri, ma proiettato fuori dalle coscienze che lo provano, e oggettivato».

READ MORE: Corriere della Sera, November 6, 2015

Jean-Pierre Elkabbach et Europe 1 ont souhaité rendre hommage à l’académicien et philosophe René Girard disparu à l’âge de 91 ans.

WATCH & LISTEN TO: Europe 1, Crif, November 6, 2015

Difficilement «classable» dans une pensée ou l’autre, René Girard a toujours affiché sa foi chrétienne malgré les critiques d’une partie de la communauté scientifique. Il s’est ainsi beaucoup penché sur l’origine et le devenir des religions, jusqu’à leurs formes extrémistes d’aujourd’hui.

Ce sont d’ailleurs ses recherches sur la Bible qui l’ont conduit à la foi chrétienne, comme l’explique à Anne-Sophie Saint-Martin le théologien jésuite Dominique Peccoud.

READ MORE & LISTEN TO: Radio Vatican, November 6, 2015

In his 1950s poem “Vespers,” W. H. Auden recalls a meeting of representatives of two different political standpoints. They come together:

to remind the other (do both, at bottom, desire truth?) of that half
of their secret which he would most like to forget,
forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim
(but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget
the innocence),
on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is
one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy
are alike founded:
For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be
innocent) no secular wall can safely stand

Nobody familiar with René Girard’s mimetic theory can read this poem and not think somehow that Auden “got it.” Girard himself never discussed this poem, but argued convincingly that so many of the greatest literary giants—Proust, Dostoevsky, Freud, Shakespeare, Sophocles, the evangelists, the Psalmist—got it, or very nearly got it. Girard’s doggedness led him on a wild intellectual journey from the great novelists to Greek tragedy, from biblical texts to the writings of Freud and Nietzsche. He devoted his final book to the thought of a Prussian military historian, Carl Clausewitz.

Even in taking full measure of Girard’s impact on the human and social sciences, it seems silly to label Girard a “genius.” Besides being a Romantic descriptive that Girard would have certainly abhorred, such a moniker ignores the fact that Girard’s great insight was not his at all. His primary talent was to notice how others captured the mimetic quality of human desire, and the consequences of this peculiarly human way of desiring.

There is an Ignatian quality to mimetic theory. Mimetic forces operated loudly in the life of St. Ignatius, and his “Exercises” and contemplative practices seem geared to helping us gain awareness of the undercurrents that otherwise manhandle us. This explains to some extent why the first theologian to discover Girard was a Jesuit—Raymund Schwager—and why Henri de Lubac, perhaps the greatest Jesuit theologian of the past century, read Girard and assured him that nothing in his thought could not be reconciled with orthodox Christianity.

READ MORE: America Magazine, November 6, 2015

Girard is a thinker who combined an utter lack of self-importance with the boldest intellectual risk-taking. A Stanford colleague, Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, declares that Girard is:

“a great, towering figure – no ostentatiousness. … Despite the intellectual structures built around him, he’s a solitaire. His work has a steel-like quality– strong, contoured, clear. It’s like a rock. It will be there and it will last.”

READ MORE: Thinking Faith, November 6, 2015

Typiquement, le girardien sans christianisme, cet oxymoron  qui prolifère aujourd’hui, s’efforce de découvrir la violence, les boucs émissaires et le ressentiment partout, sauf là où cela ferait vraiment une différence, la seule différence qui tienne, c’est-à-dire en lui-même. C’est ainsi que les bien-pensants passent leur temps à dénoncer le racisme dégoutant du bas-peuple de France sans paraître voir le racisme de classe dont ils font preuve à cette occasion.  Ce girardisme sans christianisme est le pire des contresens d’un monde qui pourtant n’en est pas avare: le monde post-moderne est plein de concepts girardiens devenus fous.

READ MORE:, November 6, 2015

Achever Clausewitz (2007)«Existen graves malentendidos en lo que concierne a mi trabajo. A menudo se ve en mí un reaccionario o, al contrario, del lado de los cristianos, una especie de herético utopista.» (René Girard).

Podrá estarse de acuerdo o no con muchas de las propuestas de Girard, podrá surgir cierto empalago entre sus lectores (me incluyo entre ellos), mas lo que no puede negarse es su capacidad de provocar pensamiento, de atravesar diferentes campos del saber y comportarse, tras su pista como, un cazador furtivo que penetra en campos inesperados y que en principio parecen acotados para otros acercamientos. Llegados a este punto no queda más que desear al pensador desaparecido, verdadero agitador del campo del pensamiento … que la terre vous soit légère.

READ MORE: Kaosenlared, November 6, 2015

Quelle est la nature du désir humain? Quelle est l’origine de la violence? Comment naissent les religions? Qu’est-ce qu’une culture? Ce ne sont là que quelque unes des questions fondamentales auxquelles les travaux de l’anthropologue français René Girard, décédé le 04 novembre à l’âge de 91 ans, permettent de répondre.

Considéré à juste titre comme l’un des penseurs majeurs de la seconde partie du XXième siècle, il était parfois surnommé depuis le début du troisième millénaire « le Darwin des sciences humaines ». Une reconnaissance tardive pour celui qui publia son premier ouvrage en 1961 – Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, devenu un classique – mais qui donne une idée de l’ampleur de l’apport girardien au savoir universel.

Comme le naturaliste anglais, René Girard est un penseur des origines. Sa découverte de la nature mimétique du désir et des mécanismes de désignation et de meurtres de boucs émissaires qui en découlent, partage avec la notion darwinienne d’évolution une simplicité explicative à l’efficacité redoutable, pour ne pas dire incontestable.

Mais il y a une différence entre les deux penseurs. Alors que les découvertes de Charles Darwin l’amenèrent à perdre la foi, c’est en comparant des mythes du monde entier avec la Bible que René Girard renoua avec une foi qu’il avait passablement oubliée.

READ MORE: Atlantico, November 7, 2015

De mens heeft, zoals we weten, de geheimzinnige neiging om te gaan lijken op zijn tegenstander. De religieus geïnspireerde oorlogsretoriek van George Bush was op den duur niet meer van die van Osama bin Laden te onderscheiden. Vijanden bestuderen elkaar zo diepgaand, dat ze elkaar gaan nabootsen. De filosoof en religiewetenschapper die daar veel over heeft geschreven, René Girard, overleed deze week op 91-jarige leeftijd. Zijn werk heeft het denken over begeerte, geweld en rivaliteit veranderd.

Een variant op deze nabootsing tussen vijanden doet zich voor bij betogers tegen vluchtelingenopvang. Zo beducht zijn de betogers voor verkrachting, geweld en maatschappelijke ontwrichting door vluchtelingen, dat zij andersdenkenden verkrachting toewensen, geweld toepassen en maatschappelijke ontwrichting veroorzaken.

READ MORE: Column Tommy Wieringa, Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant, November 7, 2015

“Die Rivalität spielt eine so gewaltige Rolle, daß man den Versuch, die Nachahmung auszutreiben, vergeblich unternimmt.”

Der Verfasser dieser so rabiat richtigen Sätze ist am vergangen Mittwoch in Stanford knapp 92jährig verstorben. René Girard, der Bibeltreueste aller französischen Denker, erreichte ein biblisches Alter.

READ MORE: artmagazine, November 7, 2015

The publishing world says that the title to be called a “bestselling book” rather than an advertisement gives stronger motivation for Korean readers to purchase the book. When best-selling products sell more, we call it the theory of social evidence in social psychology.

“Following what others do” is particularly evident in Korea. Imitating others’ preference and desire, however, is one of the features of modern society. That’s why TV commercials prod consumers’ desire to buy products by showing a rice cooker that Kim Soo-hyeon uses and beer that Jun Ji-hyun drinks. René Girard (1923-2015), French philosopher who died in the U.S. on Wednesday, formulated the structure of human being’s desire into the theory of “triangular desire.”

In many cases, the coercion by parents who push their kids to become a doctor or a lawyer regardless of their aptitude derives from “mimetic desire.” The triangular desire can be dreadful in that people are not aware of the fact that they live their lives mimicking others. Girard says that the mankind competes each other to mimic other’s desire and creates collective stress such as jealousy and animosity that is relieved in a wrong manner by using socially marginalized people as scapegoats. Peeping into the desire of others through social network service has become a daily routine. Now, we need to practice not to be swayed by the desire that “seems to be mine, but is not mine, still looks like mine” just like a line of a popular song.

출판시장에선 잊을만하면 사재기 베스트셀러 순위 조작 논란이 불거진다. 편법을 써서라도 베스트셀러 순위에 오르면 판매실적이 올라간다는 믿음 때문이다. 출판계에 따르면 국내 독자의 구매 욕구를 자극하는 건 광고보다 베스트셀러 타이틀이다. 가장 많이 팔린 상품이 더 많이 팔리는 현상을 사회심리학에서는 사회적 증거의 법칙이라고 부른다.

한국사회에서 유독 남들 따라하기와 쏠림현상이 심하기는 하지만 타인의 취향과 욕망을 모방하는 것은 현대 사회의 특징이다. TV 광고에서 김수현이 쓰는 밥솥과 전지현이 마시는 맥주를 보여주며 대중의 소비 욕망을 자극하는 것도 그 때문이다. 이 같은 인간 욕망의 구조를 욕망의 삼각형 이론으로 체계화한 프랑스 사상가가 4일 미국서 별세한 르네 지라르(19232015)였다.

문학평론가에서 출발한 지라르는 철학 역사학 인류학 종교학 등을 두루 통섭하는 업적을 남겨 인문학의 새로운 다윈으로 평가받는다. 미국에서 반세기 넘게 살았음에도 2005년 불멸의 40인으로 불리며 국민의 존경을 받는 프랑스 아카데미 프랑세즈의 정회원이 됐다. 그는 소설 분석을 통해 우리가 원하는 것이 실은 남의 욕망을 베낀 것에 지나지 않는다는 결론을 내렸다. 예컨대 보바리 부인에서 상류사회를 동경하는 엠마의 욕망은 자연발생적인 것이 아니다. 단지, 사춘기 때 읽은 삼류 소설 주인공의 욕망을 본뜬 것이다.

부모가 자녀 적성에 관계없이 의시나 변호사가 되라고 강요하는 것도 모방욕망에서 비롯된 경우가 많다. 욕망의 삼각형이 무서운 이유는 자신이 남의 욕망을 모방하며 살고 있다는 사실 자체를 자각하지 못하는 것이다. 지라르에 따르면 인류는 경쟁적으로 남의 욕망을 모방하다 쌓여가는 질투 적개심 같은 집단적 스트레스를 사회의 소외된 사람을 엉뚱한 희생양으로 삼아 해소한다. 소셜네트워크서비스(SNS)를 통해 남의 욕망을 엿보는 게 일상이 돼버렸다. 유행가 가사에 나오듯 내 것인 듯 내 것 아닌 내 것 같은 욕망에 휘둘리지 않는 연습이 필요한 시대다.

READ MORE: The Dong-A Ilbo, November 7, 2015

In 2001, my spiritual mentor Bob Holum gave me a book that completely changed everything for me: Rene Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of This World. I learned the sad news that Girard died this past week, so I wanted to reflect on how his ideas helped Jesus’ cross and the Christian gospel make a lot more sense to me.

READ MORE: Patheos, November 7, 2015

Many Christians have not yet caught up with his scholarship on these themes, disclosing not so much new ideas but original themes often hidden. The life, teaching and death of Jesus are shown to continue the work of unraveling human violence and scapegoating and to reveal the divine as the source of creative love unfolding through history and culture. His work is not an easy read but many other scholars, authors and teachers are making his work accessible. Thank you René!

READ MORE: Modern Church, November 7, 2015

For Girard, one summary view might have it, at the very beginning it is not religion that leads to violence, but violence which leads to—which indeed creates a need for—religion, as a way of channeling and constraining the use of force.

But once the process starts, religion can of course fuel violence, as Girard could see. You don’t have to be one of his devotees to observe that scapegoating as a form of team-building has taken many different forms, from the Salem witch-trials to the anti-communist hysteria of 1950s America to ritual denunciations of erstwhile comrades by the Soviet Politburo. But there is something particularly vicious and destructive about a religiously inspired lynch mob whose blood is up, and has somehow been convinced that its own salvation (and internal cohesion) lies in annihilating the heretic or the infidel.

At the very minimum, Girard’s work is a help in understanding how religions (Christianity in particular, but perhaps also Buddhism) can be pacifist in content but often violent and bullying in historical practice. Think of the mobs that rampaged through Jewish quarters in European cities during the Middle Ages, especially in Holy Week. At a time when Christians were supposed to be identifying with a victim of scapegoating, they perpetrated that very thing.

READ MORE: The Economist, November 7, 2015

Mercredi 4 novembre, René Girard a rejoint le ciel de la vérité romanesque en compagnie des grands romanciers qui lui ont donné à penser sa théorie du désir mimétique. L’occasion de revenir sur les essais et les concepts qui ont jalonné sa carrière intellectuelle iconoclaste.

Avec son premier essai paru en 1961, Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, Girard approfondit les grands textes de Don Quichotte à L’Éternel mari, au point d’élaborer une clef de lecture qui dépasse le strict cadre de la littérature. Grâce à une analyse comparée des classiques, il remarque que Dostoïevski, Flaubert, Stendhal ou Proust, surmontent tous un passage romantique pour embrasser une vérité romanesque. L’épreuve romanesque d’un Julien Sorel, celle d’une Emma Bovary, rappellent combien nous ne sommes jamais seuls avec nos désirs les plus intimes.

Scandale pour les structuralistes de l’époque qui ne lui pardonneront pas une lecture thématique ouverte à la psychanalyse, l’essai accouche d’une théorie décisive pour les sciences humaines. Un tiers est toujours là, qu’il soit rival ou modèle souverain, à l’origine de toutes nos actions. Avec son mythe individualiste qui nous veut maîtres de nos propres désirs, la littérature romantique participe à cacher cette vérité dérangeante. Pourtant, si Madame Bovary trompe son médiocre mari et noie son ennui dans des romans à l’eau de rose, elle imite, fascinée, ses lectures qui l’invitent à l’évasion sentimentale. Tous les grands romanciers ont conscience de ces modèles qui hantent leurs personnages en situation de crise, souvent dans le sang et les larmes.

READ MORE: Philitt, November 7, 2015

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, November 8, 2015:

Cord Riechelmann René Girard

Acaba de fallecer (4.XI.2015) en Estados Unidos, donde vivía y enseñaba desde hace unos decenios, el mayor de los antropólogos y quizá de los pensadores cristianos de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.
R. Girard ha repensado y ha querido superar la visión del hombre que ofrecen Marx y Freud, con una teoría abarcadora (universal) que permite integrar (interpretar y recrear) los temas radicales de la conciencia individual y social, con la mímesis, la lucha mutua y violencia.

Su investigación crítica (hipotética en algunos puntos) resulta necesaria para entender algunos de los temas más significativos de nuestra cultura, como son la violencia y el victimismo o, mejor dicho, la existencia de las víctimas, primero asesinadas y después manipuladas por los mismos asesinos.

Todos los políticos que yo conozco hablan de la importancia de las víctimas, quizá sin saber que ese lenguaje se lo deben a Girard, aunque no hayan entendido lo que él quiere decir…, aunque no aceptarían muchas de sus propuestas.

A los ojos de Girard, la crítica de Nietzche en contra de la religión resulta más aguda que la de Marx, pues él ha puesto de relieve unos mecanismos de proyección reactiva de los oprimidos que tienden a satanizar a los triunfadores, haciendo de la religión un principio de venganza. Pero tampoco Nietzsche ha llegado hasta el fondo del problema, pues su filosofía sigue presa en los esquemas o mecanismos del chivo expiatorio.

READ MORE: Salamanca RTV, November 8, 2015

Larga vida a las obras magistrales de René Girard.

READ MORE: Milenio, November 8, 2015

A veces digo que Girard me salvó la vida. Yo andaba por esa época obsesionadísimo con las aristas fascinantes y suicidas del hombre del subsuelo de Dostoievski: Raskolnikov y su forma demente de ver el mundo, trastornado por una rabia insondable. Si no llego a leer esa primavera su análisis crítico y clarividente de las pulsiones subsuelíticas, difícilmente habría llegado a la treintena. Todavía hay gente que hoy me considera un exaltado, pero lo de ahora no es nada comparado con esa época.

READ MORE: El Mundo, November 9, 2015

Sous les couronnes, on tend à passer sous silence qu’on l’a fortement critiqué, car il dérangeait les philosophes marxistes et qu’il portait un éclairage différent sur l’anthropologie structuraliste. De plus, son analyse du phénomène religieux était considérée comme superflue à une époque où l’on prétendait que “Dieu était mort”. 

Les intellectuels français, plutôt que de débattre, ont préféré exclure. C’est ainsi qu’un des penseurs les plus reconnus mondialement est décédé à Los Angeles.

READ MORE: Les Echos, November 10, 2015

‘जमाव कधीच निरपराध नसतो. सामूहिक हिंसाचार हा खोटारडेपणाच्या आड दडलेला असतो’, हे विधान फ्रेंच विचारवंत आणि मानव्यसंशोधक रेने गिरार्ड यांनी येशूच्या सुळी जाण्यासंदर्भात केले होते खरे, पण ते कोणत्याही देशातील/ काळातील सामूहिक हिंसाचाराला लागू पडावे. गिरार्ड यांचे निधन गेल्या आठवडय़ात, वयाच्या ९२ व्या वर्षी झाले आणि जगाने तत्त्वचिंतक- अभ्यासक गमावला. युद्ध, हिंसाचार आणि ‘संस्कृती’ यांच्या संबंधांचा अभ्यास करताना वाङ्मय, तत्त्वज्ञान, मानसशास्त्र, इतिहास यांचा आंतरशाखीय विचार करून त्यांनी ‘बळीचा सिद्धान्त’ मांडला होता. या अनुषंगाने, ‘आपल्या इच्छा आपल्या नसतात’ (मानवी अनुकरणाचा सिद्धान्त) आणि अनुकरण करता येत नाही म्हणून- किंवा दुसऱ्याकडे आहे ते आपल्याकडे नाही म्हणून संघर्ष/ हिंसाचार, कारणाचे सुलभीकरण करून निरपराधांना नाडण्याची प्रवृत्ती.. अशी सत्ये त्यांनी साधार मांडली. चार्ल्स डार्विनचा नैसर्गिक निवडीचा सिद्धान्त हा मानवी संस्कृतीत टिकून राहिलेल्या बहुविधतेलाही लागू आहे असे सांगणारे गिरार्ड ‘मानव्यविद्यांमधील डार्विन’ म्हणून ओळखले जात.

READ MORE: Loksatta, November 10, 2015

Girard’s first book, Deceit, Desire and the Novel (1961 in French; 1965 in English), used Cervantes, Stendhal, Proust and Dostoevsky as case studies to develop his theory of mimesis. The Guardian recently compared the book to “putting on a pair of glasses and seeing the world come into focus. At its heart is an idea so simple, and yet so fundamental, that it seems incredible that no one had articulated it before.

READ MORE: The Wire, November 10, 2015

Too few people know about René Girard, who passed away on Nov. 4 at 91. He was undoubtedly one of the most important men of the 20th century.

In the end, his country recognized him, giving him perhaps its highest honor for intellectuals of the humanities, a seat at the Académie Française.

Girard’s work, summed up under the heading “mimetic theory,” is like a flash of lightning on a dark summer night, suddenly illuminating everything in a strange new light. Girard’s thought has had an influence in fields as diverse as literary criticism, history, anthropology, philosophy, theology, psychology, economics, and even Silicon Valley entrepreneurship.

READ MORE: The Week, November 10, 2015

En Colombia vivimos un tanto crispados por la polarización entre posiciones extremas, que siempre tienden a descalificar al adversario. Así, el principal reto para la construcción de la paz es el cambio cultural. Algunos proponen aplicar técnicas de diverso orden, para aprender a gestionar los conflictos sin recurrir a la violencia; otros, incrementar el estado liberal de derecho y fortalecer el mercado, restringiendo el poder de la religión, considerada como causa del fanatismo que nos impide vivir en paz.

Con Girard, podríamos aprender cómo salirnos de los enredos que nos conducen a la violencia, tanto la cotidiana como la que enfrenta a diversos grupos y afecta dramáticamente a la sociedad. Y también podríamos aprender a ganar una distancia crítica frente a las posiciones que consideran que la paz significa más mercado y más Estado de derecho. Y lo haríamos al reconocer que estos son también sistemas constituidos sobre exclusiones y centrados en elementos incuestionables, que ocupan el lugar de lo sagrado primitivo; dicho brevemente, son sistemas religiosos.

Así, gracias a Girard podríamos volver a apreciar el valor de ese viejo libro, la Biblia, que nos expone los mecanismos religiosos, o sea, de violencia, que constituyen a las sociedades, al tiempo que nos invita a tomar distancia y a reflexionar en silencio.

READ MORE: El Tiempo, November 10, 2015

Mr. Thiel, of PayPal, said that he was a student at Stanford when he first encountered Professor Girard’s work, and that it later inspired him to quit an unfulfilling law career in New York and go to Silicon Valley.

He gave Facebook its first $100,000 investment, he said, because he saw Professor Girard’s theories being validated in the concept of social media.

“Facebook first spread by word of mouth, and it’s about word of mouth, so it’s doubly mimetic,” he said. “Social media proved to be more important than it looked, because it’s about our natures.”

The investment made Mr. Thiel a billionaire.

A nonpracticing Roman Catholic, Professor Girard underwent a religious awakening after a cancer scare in 1959, while working on the conclusion of his first book.

“I was thrown for a loop, because I was proud of being a skeptic,” he later said. “It was very hard for me to imagine myself going to church, praying and so on. I was all puffed up, full of what the old catechisms used to call ‘human respect.’ ”

The Christian influence on his work was most apparent in “Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World,” written in 1978 and published in English in 1987. In that book he said Christianity was the only religion that had examined scapegoating and sacrifice from the victim’s point of view.

His final work, published in 2007, posited that the mimetic competition among nations would lead to an apocalyptic confrontation unless nations could learn to renounce retaliation.

That forthright religious stance may have cost him status in university circles, said Robert Pogue Harrison, a professor of literature at Stanford. “No doubt it was an obstacle,” he said. “He believed in Christian truth, which isn’t going to find ready acceptance in contemporary academia.”

Much recognition came to Professor Girard late in life. He was elected to the Académie Française in 2005 and received a lifetime achievement award from the Modern Language Association in 2009. In 2013 he received the Order of Isabella the Catholic from the king of Spain for his work in philosophy and anthropology.

READ MORE: The New York Times, November 10, 2015

Exclusif: un entretien inédit avec René Girard (1923-2015) réalisé en 2008 à l’université de Stanford.

READ MORE: Contrepoints, November 11, 2015

Han blev inte en tänkare på modet, men René Girards analyser av litteraturen lämnade ovärderliga bidrag till förståelsen av människan, skriver Anders Olsson.

Men med hjälp av de nycklar han haft till hands har han gett oss ovärderliga bidrag till förståelsen av människans fatala – eller underbara – bundenhet vid sin nästa. Med stort mod och stor envishet har han fått oss att se dolda mekanismer som formar och bryter ner kulturer och samhällen, men som vi har ytterst klena resurser att bemöta. Av sådant skapas uppenbarligen inga trender. Behovet ligger djupare, i den vilja till insikt som mödosamt och föga gloriöst söker upp det vi inte vill veta av.

READ MORE: Sydsvenskan, November 11, 2015

There are some thinkers that offer intriguing ideas and proposals, and there is a tiny handful of thinkers that manage to shake your world. Girard was in this second camp. In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power.

In the second half of the twentieth century, academics tended to characterize Christianity – if they took it seriously at all – as one more iteration of the mythic story that can be found in practically every culture. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Wars, the “mono-myth,” to use Joseph Campbell’s formula, is told over and again. What Girard saw was that this tired theorizing has it precisely wrong. In point of fact, Christianity is the revelation (the unveiling) of what the myths want to veil; it is the deconstruction of the mono-myth, not a reiteration of it-which is exactly why so many within academe want to domesticate and de-fang it.

The recovery of Christianity as revelation, as an unmasking of what all the other religions are saying, is René Girard’s permanent and unsettling contribution.

READ MORE: The Boston Pilot, November 11, 2015

Looking at patterns across historical cultures, Girard had noticed a the prevalence of “scapegoating” or ceremonially placing communal indiscretions onto one person. This is so prevalent today that our ears are likely deaf and eyes blind to it when it happens. A celebrity who kisses the nanny and divorces their spouse is, in some sense, hated all the more not because of what they did but because their behavior embodies “everything wrong with the world,” even our own longing for adventure. Girard’s unique perspective, focused through years of studying literature, mythology, and religious texts, saw scapegoating behavior as imitative or “mimetic.” That is, once the needs of survival are met, humans begin to develop wants that are shaped communally, in emulation of one another. This always leads to competition – indeed, competitive desire is the primary assumption of Western economics.

READ MORE: Huffington Post, November 11, 2015


Obituary by Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer in Journal do Brasil

Radio Feature by Joe Gelonesi on ABC, Australia (with references on the passing of Rene Girard)

Interview with James Alison (Video) in America Media

Hommage for René Girard (Audio) by Raphaël Enthoven in franceculture

Article by Rodrigo Negrete in Nexos (Mexico)

Obituary by Antoine Lagadec in Revue des deux Mondes (France)

Obituary by Thomas Assheuer in Die Zeit (Germany)

Obituary by Józef Niewiadomski in Die Furche (Austria)

Obituary by Nelson Tepedino in Prodavinci (Venezuela)

Article by Roberto Ago in Artribune (Italy)

Obituary by Joseph Bottum in The Weekly Standard (USA)

Obituary by Suzanne Ross in Patheos

Obituary by Social Science Space

Obituary by Antoine Nouis and Jean-Luc Mouton in Réforme (France) – including a long interview with René Girard from 2008

Article by Michael Kriwan in Thinking Faith (UK)

Hommage René Girard (Video), École Normale Supérieure

Obituary SanatAtak (Turkey)

Obituary by Pierre-Yves Gomez in The Conversation (UK)

Obituary by Joanna Tokarska-Bakir in (Poland)

Obituary by Pier Giacomo Ghirardini in Tempi (Italy)

Article by Stéphane Ratti in Revue des deux Mondes (France)

Obituary by Alfio Squillaci in gliStatiGenerali (Italy)

Obituary by Roberto Calasso in Re Pubblica (Italy)

Article by Jean-Baptiste NOE in La Synthèse (France)

Article by The Raven Foundation: Many Voices in Celebration – a Tribute to René Girard

Article by Cynthia Haven, remembering today’s funeral (November 14, 2015) of René Girard and paying tribute to the victims of yesterday’s (November 13, 2015) terrorist attacks in Paris

READ ALSO: Killing Idols – Commemorating René Girard’s Spirituality

To conclude, this video interview by Daniel Lance:


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