Summarizing Rene Girard’s thought

Rene Girard says (all in my words according to my memory and impressions and with a few of my own elaborations worked in) that mankind’s biggest problem is mimetic desire, meaning that our desires are set or created by imitating (mimicking) the desires of others. When we follow those desires, competition and tension develops in rivalous relationships. This is the scandal of the human condition.

A community filled with such rivalry — filled with people all seeking the same thing — will develop a certain competitive tension that needs release. Human cultures in past history found that by declaring a common enemy in such tensions, and by ostracizing or killing that enemy, peace was restored. These killings became ritualized in many cultures, and are depicted in ancient myths. Sometimes the sacrificed one was later considered sacred when the community felt the new wave of peace come over them. They were sure the person who died had been a god or a god-send, come to bring them peace. But really, it was always a somewhat arbitrarily chosen ordinary victim.

Girard has many many examples from mythology and literature that seem to illustrate his point. The scriptural ones begin with Adam and Eve having their desire to be like God — knowing good and evil — initiated, inflamed, or activated by the serpent’s pitch for it. Their acting on that desire is the scandal of humankind. We, until we see the pattern, repeat the scandal.

The next biblical example is the story of Cain and Abel. Both want the same thing — God’s approval of their sacrifice — and the tension of the mimetic rivalry about which God says “Sin is lurking at the door, it’s desire is for you, you must master it” (Gen 4:7) leads Cain to kill Abel, who becomes the first such sacrifice of another’s life to relieve the pressure of desiring the same thing.

Girard also talks about the Scape-Goat ritual of the Old Testament, where the tension of sin or mimetic rivalry is placed on sacrificial animals. There are many examples from myth, legend, and history of times when societies were in tension and only murder, lynching or sacrifice broke the hold of the tension.

He says one of the things Jesus did was be the only person who lived on this earth who did not allow the desires of others to shape his. Hence his “Get behind me Satan” to Peter and his repeated statement that he was about Father’s business, no one else’s. He willingly and knowingly walked right into the scapegoat pattern as a scapegoat to show the fallacy of it, the emptiness, and has disarmed the pattern for those who see what he exposed. He was the only true “innocent victim” so that we could see, among other things, that we should avoid mimetic rivalry and the resulting tension and need for the violence of sacrifice.

(I feel like this is a lame statement of Girard’s words about Christ, but I’ll let them stand for now because I don’t know how to say it better)

Since Jesus, a new attitude towards victims has begun to pervade all culture.


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