Raven Foundation: FAQ

Girard believes that early in human evolution, we learned to control internal conflict by projecting our violence outside the community onto a scapegoat. It was so effective that we have continued to use scapegoating to control violence ever since. The successful use of a scapegoat depends on the community’s belief that they have found the cause and cure of their troubles in this “enemy”. Once the enemy is destroyed or expelled, a community does experience a sense of relief and calm is restored. But the calm is temporary since the scapegoat was not really the cause or the cure of the conflict that led to his expulsion. When imitation leads once again to internal conflict which inevitably escalates into violence, human communities will find another scapegoat and repeat the process all over again.

.. Christian apocalyptic literature predicts our failure to do so. Finding ways to form unity and ease conflict without the use of scapegoats is thus the key to establishing a real and lasting peace.

.. for Girard, our desire is always related to another person, book, advertiser, teacher, movie – something to give our desire direction. He says it quite simply: we desire according to the desire of another.

.. Another important cause of conflict is pride. Because we enjoy believing in our independence, even the independence of our desires, we deny that our rival is also our model. He seems to be only a willful enemy determined to block the fulfillment of my desire out of wickedness and so my hatred and envy seem to be completely justified. Rather than acknowledge how much alike we are at the level of desire (the foundation for friendship), we instead nurse resentment that flatters our false sense of superiority.

.. the ancient Hebrews were so suspicious of unanimity minus one, that if someone was accused of a crime and the verdict was unanimous, the accused was set free!

.. The scapegoat has certain traits that isolate him or her at the margins of society. He must have no family, friends or social connections who will argue on his behalf or seek to avenge his death.

.. a scapegoat is a scapegoat by virtue of being innocent of the charge that they are the cause of the community’s problems.

.. Girard hypothesizes that the spontaneous phenomenon of scapegoating occurred over and over in early proto-human groups and was eventually ritualized into ancient sacrificial practices. This use of ritualized scapegoating to control conflict and establish unity is what made culture possible. Often it is believed that ancient religions arose out of mistaken or delusional thinking and were unnecessary add-ons to human evolution. Girard believes the opposite: ancient sacrificial religions were incredibly reasonable and realistic and absolutely essential to human development.

.. Myths are the stories told by the community to justify its use of ritual violence against the victim.

.. The purpose of myth is to conceal the truth of the innocence of the sacrificial victim, because in order for the sacrifice to be effective the community must believe in the guilt of the victim

.. Therefore, myth places blame solely on the victim, siding with the community, or crowd. Myth further justifies itself by demonizing the victim as the sole source of the contagious violence and disorder within the community. Thus for Girard myth is at best only half the story: the community does indeed experience a sense of relief and restoration of peace when the victim is sacrificed. But myth also conceals the deeper truth that the victim was arbitrarily chosen, innocent of the community’s problems, and wrongly executed.

.. Christianity is often critiqued as simply an example of another ancient myth that involves a dying and rising god. For Girard, however, it is Christianity which destroys the power of myth to conceal the innocence of the victim.

.. Yet, according to mimetic theory, the biggest threat to any community does not come from an outside enemy, but from escalating violence due to mimetic rivalry within the community itself.