The key text for us to explore in this section will come from Jesus’ inaugural sermon at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth found in the Gospel of Luke (4:16-30).
To be fair, many critical scholars see the hand of the Gospel editor all over this text, noting that many phrases are typical of Luke. Nevertheless, I suspect that there is an authentic story underlying this text inasmuch as Jesus’ first sermon almost gets him killed.
There is also a tremendous congruity with how Jesus interprets the Scripture in this text and his way of understanding both theology and ethics that we find in his teaching, e.g., in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6).
If Rene Girard is correct in his reading of Job (Job: The Victim of His People), what we have in Job is a story about a human scapegoat about to be sacrificed because the community is in a crisis and will seek to bring about its resolution by casting Job as a scapegoat.
What makes the story of Job so profound is the protestation of his innocence. Unlike other victims of mythology, Job refuses to buy into falsely attributed guilt. Victims of myth, like Oedipus (or Aachen in Joshua 7) are always guilty. The way the story is told is that victims get what they deserved and by pressure from the community they too acknowledge that the crime for which they have been accused is true and the punishment deserved.
.. Job is a story that challenges this satanic way of accusation. Job is the opposite of mythological victims. Victims of myth believe they are guilty. They have been told they are guilty for so long and so loud that they accept the false accusation as truth. If you don’t think this is possible then just think of victims of spousal abuse or child abuse. These victims often blame themselves for the breakdown of family relationships in which they had no fault!
.. The satan is the accusatory principle. Every time we point a finger to blame someone else for our woes, we play the part of the satan. There is more to the satanic principle than this (there is also deception and death which we will look at later this week), but it all begins here. Groups, families, nations and organizations which need to blame someone else for their troubles are not Jesus like, they are satanic.
.. I am bemused when people call America a Christian nation, for it is the number one example of a nation that blames others for its problems, whether Native American, slaves and eventually African Americans, women suffragettes, rock and roll, the hippies, gays, immigrants and now people of other faiths. We are not a Christian nation. Our American history is a satanic national history, we have gone from scapegoating one group to another all in the name of The American Dream
.. nowhere, except for possibly I Thessalonians is the satan conceived of in Paul like some supernatural being as we find elaborated upon in apocalyptic Judaism (Enoch or the Dead Sea Scrolls) or in medieval Christianity or modern Hollywood. It is important to see that, for Paul, the satan in Romans and Corinthians is used, in each case, in a judicial framework, “the satan is the enemy in a specific sense, i.e., the accuser at law” (von Rad
.. The problem with the law is not that in itself it is evil, but that it does not stop sin from occurring but in fact brings sin forth (Rom. 7:5-7). That is, the purpose of the Torah may well have had a positive function, to stop sin from occurring but had the opposite effect.
.. If you have raised children you know this all too well. Tell a child not to do something and they will do it! This is not only true for children but also for adults. It is the problem of the prohibition. That which is prohibited is made desirable. This is the dilemma we shall see Paul working out in Romans 7. However there is a much more sinister problem with the law and that is the way it goes from being a “guide” to righteous living (which is the best and proper Jewish interpretation) to being a vehicle of accusation.
.. So if God is angry at the people because of their sin how do you get God to bless you? You go kill anyone you think is offending God
.. The entire letter to the Galatians is built around the problem of what happens when Torah is interpreted through the lens of zeal.
.. A zealous interpretation of Torah brings death and destruction in its wake. This is the second problem Paul has with the law (the first being that it fuels sinful tendencies as we saw in the previous post).
.. For the zealot, the law is an accusatory instrument. It is used satanically in order to justify violence against the perceived violator, the sinner, the heretic, the law-breaker. This is why Paul could say he was the most zealous person he knew.
.. Paul’s beef is not with the Torah as a set of guidelines, but as a means of exclusivity, of marginalization, of torture, and of death. This is why Paul can tell the Corinthians that the Torah was a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:9) or that “the letter kills” (3:6), and not just metaphorically or spiritually but literally. Every Christian justification for war, violence, subjugation, or torture comes from this misreading of Torah. What was meant as life is, because of our misguided interpretation, death itself
.. Jesus’ death was a supreme act of zealous behavior on the part of the Jewish “authorities” and an act of cowardice by the Roman ones. This is what gets exposed in the death of the innocent wandering preacher from Galilee.
.. If, as modern science has been able to demonstrate we are all connected (or to use Girard’s term, we are interdividual), then the gospel is not about the redemption of each of us independently of one another but about all of us together. This is the burden of Paul’s message.
.. As long as we continue to define the human in Platonic or Augustinian terms we will find ourselves mired in endless debates that are dualistic: free-will vs. predestination, soul vs. body, time vs. eternity, divine vs. human, etc. All of the great debates in western theology, many of which simply leave us cold today, are argued from false premises.
.. For a long time, Christian exegetes read everything in I Corinthians as having come from Paul. Now we know that at certain places Paul is quoting from the letter the Corinthians wrote to him. We also do this when we want to accurately reproduce something someone wrote before we respond to them.
.. For too long Paul has been viewed as double minded, saying first this, then that. When he is read this way his letters are really mumbo-jumbo and we can spend centuries arguing back and forth and throwing “well, what about this verse?”
.. You may just find that the Holy Spirit is of little help here (for that is not the work of the Spirit, if it had been we wouldn’t have misread Paul for almost 2,000 years). No, we need modern scholarship
.. For Paul sin was not so much the acts we commit as a principle within us. When Paul comes to reflect on the origin of sin, he does it by reflecting on the inter-relationship between law (or the commandment) and sin.
.. Rather than trace the fall of Adam to the breaking of a covenant (which is not mentioned in the text) or to pride (which is not mentioned in the text), or to sex, which occurs after the problem in the garden, we can see the ‘fall’ as the human descent into violence, sacrifice and culture.
.. the devil is an anthropological category not a theological one. The devil is about us humans, our violence, our projection, our victimizing, our idolatry. It is not about some supra temporal being, that God created. No, we humans created the satan, the moment the male imitated in paradise. The satan dwells within us, creates our communities, rules our ideologies.
.. sin is an anthropological principle. It has to do with the way we humans have learned to deal with the problem of intra-species violence. It is the origin of the process of using scapegoats, of deflecting our violence onto a victim. It is thus, the origin of religion, and religious zeal. All of this comes together in Paul’s thinking about the origins of evil: sin, death (real death, real killing), zeal, law, the satanic.
.. he does this without reference to the satan, especially the ‘personal devil’ of the Henochic myth. That is, both Paul and the writer of the Fourth Gospel anthropologize the satan; the satanic is a human phenomenon.
.. in the Passion Narrative of Luke 23. Most of us would tend to think that Caiaphas, the religious authorities and Pilate ‘made the choice’ to execute Jesus. If there is any text in which deception and murder occurs it is here in the trial and execution of Jesus. Yet, Jesus says from the cross that “they don’t know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:32, admittedly a textual variant). Girard observes that this is the first literary allusion to the non-conscious
.. Not once, in any Passion Narrative is the concept of a personal satan invoked
.. James explores this connection between desire, sin and death in his epistle: “No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. 14 Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them.
.. Notice here that James does not invoke a personal devil or some version of the Enoch myth. Rather evil arises purely from within the human.
.. Those who insist on a personal devil need to make several critical changes in their thinking:
- first in their anthropology, their definition of person,
- second, in the way they had previously related evil to conscious choice,
- third, to an understanding of evil grounded in mimetic desire and
- fourth to see the connection between the deception of evil and its flowering in violence, death and scapegoating.
Until they do, they will not ever be able to explain evil; they will simply be stuck on the merry go round of theodicy, trying to justify a god who would make a devil in the first place.
.. For me, the main problem of Christianity does not lay in theology first; it is primarily our anthropology that has created all of our conundrums. Because we have the problem wrong (the human condition), we have misread the solution (our view of God and God’s redemptive work). One of the merits of the work of Rene Girard has been to help us get our anthropology back on track with a theory of how we came to be in the situation we are in where we structure our relationships on sacred violence
.. Gibson points out that the word that is sometimes translated “to tempt” has less to do with Jesus’ struggle with greed, avarice, lust etc, and more to do with the central focus of his mission: how to reveal that God is nonviolent.
.. being probed and proved, often through hardship and adversity, in order to determine the extent of one’s worthiness to be entrusted with, or the degree of one’s loyalty or devotion to, a given commission and its constraints
.. The great test for Jesus had to do with the possibility that he might succumb to the use of violence as a justifiable means to accomplish his Abba’s will.
.. Jesus is tested, this time by his main man, Peter, to renounce his idyllic hippie, tree-hugging vision and get with the revolutionary program. Jesus calls Peter a “scandalon” which is the worst relation one could possibly be in relation to Jesus. Peter would have Jesus take up the mantle of the Davidic Warrior Messiah, act like Phineas with zeal for God’s holy will and start a holy war like the Maccabees
.. Rene Girard’s insights in I See Satan Falling Like Lightning where the ‘satan’ is a metonym for the violent structuring of the victimage mechanism.
.. in Mark’s time and in the thought world in which Mark and his audience took part, Satan’s identity and the activities characteristic of him were both closely circumscribed and widely known. He was regarded primarily as the Accuser, or more specifically, the Evil Adversary, and this in two ways.
- First, as one who stood in opposition to God, seeking to frustrate God’s work by leading his elect astray and destroying the relationship between God and men.
- Second, as one whose primary activity was the proving of the faith and steadfastness, not of men in general, but of the pious.”
.. imagine if all Christians everywhere took the side of the poor, the downtrodden, the alienated. Then we might just see the deceptions of the satan crumble before our very eyes and the reign of God brought to earth.
.. we are the satan. Our social hatred can become internalized in our victims and they may resort to extreme behaviors: cutting, addiction, suicide. They may even manifest the horrors of the human collective unconscious as evidenced in many areas of the world where the “demonic” speaks in strange voices or tongues or exhibits unusual behavior. The closer a culture is to archaic religion, the more such manifestations can appear; the more “civilized” a culture is, the more “civilized evil will appear (this is what Hannah Arendt refers to as “the banality of evil”)
.. Our killing of God in Christ, from God’s perspective, is no crime, nor sin, but is instead God’s free choice to be the act that brings life by bringing forgiveness, by exposing the sham of our religious mechanism to take life, by nailing all accusatory instruments to the cross.