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

“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 colors 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…

In the Gospel of John, the devil is a personification of the scapegoat mechanism (which means that an innocent individual or group is wrongfully accused). Jesus knows that the leaders of the Jewish people, the Pharisees and the chief priests, want him dead and that they try to justify his death with certain lies. They obey “the devil” – indeed the mechanism that justifies the elimination of people based on lies. [Note that Jesus does not believe that God wants him dead. If Jesus paradoxically sacrifices himself eventually, it is a consequence of his obedience to a Love that “desires mercy, not sacrifice”. He does not want to live at the expense of others, not even his “enemies”…]

John 8: 39-44

“If you, Pharisees, were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The Pharisees and chief priests are afraid that the growing popularity of Jesus might become a threat to their power. That’s why they try to present him as a rebel leader who could lead an uprising against the Roman occupier of Judea. A war with the Romans would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture. Therefore the Jewish leaders see no other solution than to get rid of Jesus. It’s their way of justifying his elimination.

John 11: 45-50

Many of the Jews who had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Some voices in Europe and the USA try to present the current Muslim refugees, coming from war zones like Syria and Iraq, as a cover-up, a “Trojan Horse” for Islamist terrorists who aim for world domination. The refugees are seen as a threat to the survival of “western nations” and “western culture”. In other words, they experience similar allegations as Jesus.

Syrian Refugees Trojan Horse for ISIS

In the case of Jesus, the Gospel of John leaves no doubt that these allegations are false. The Evangelist lets Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect, unwittingly declare “the truth” about the arrested Jesus, namely that Jesus is innocent. Jesus does not wish to establish a “kingdom” or “peace” in competition with “the kings of this world” (whose kingdoms are based on sacrifices and the expulsion of certain people – like the “Pax Romana”). In other words, the Gospel of John reveals the plot against Jesus by the Pharisees and the chief priests as a scapegoat mechanism: Jesus is wrongfully accused. He refuses to start a civil war that would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture.

John 18: 33-38

Pilate summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The equivalent question, from this perspective, is whether we have “a basis for a charge” against the Muslim refugees coming from war zones. Are they really part of a plot for Muslim world domination? Are they really a threat to the survival of western culture? Well, this is the truth, and this sacrifice (this Sacrifice) is unjustifiable:

Aylan amidst United Nations

Viktor Orban Hungarian national galleryGermany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper published an op-ed by Orban in which he claimed that he was defending European Christianity against a Muslim influx by stopping thousands of refugees from leaving Hungary. […] “We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim… That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots,” he wrote. (From Muslims threaten Europe’s Christian identity, Hungary’s leader says by Rick Noack, The Washington Post, September 3, 2015).

Dear Mr. Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary,

I know you grew up in a former communist regime and that you were educated as an atheist. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why you display a certain view of Christianity that could be questioned by the very sources of Christianity itself.

There is no such thing as a Christian culture or nation. True, this is a provocative statement that needs some clarification and nuance. It would be better to write that, from a Christian point of view, some cultures are Christianized and others are not. If you want to know what that means, you should take a look at the Gospels, Paul’s letters or, in short, the New Testament as a whole. These writings are about a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who approaches his own Jewish culture in a particular way.

First of all, this Jesus, considered by many as a great spiritual leader, has great respect for the habits, traditions, scriptures and laws of his people. Hence he says (Matthew 5:17):

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

However, by claiming that he wants to fulfill the cultural traditions of his people, Jesus already implies that these traditions are not ends in themselves but that they are directed towards a goal surpassing them. In other words, the cultural traditions are means relative to the goal they should help to accomplish. Jesus is very clear about that goal in a conversation with a lawyer (Matthew 22:35-40):

A lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The priority of neighborly love implies that the existing culture is tested against the extent to which it helps to avoid making victims and to which it allows for authentic human lives. According to Jesus of Nazareth, man should not live according to rules, as if preserving a (cultural or social) system and its rules would be an end in itself, but according to the demands of neighborly love. Rules (in whatever way they are defined) should be means at the service of individual human beings and society as a whole. When Jesus and his disciples are criticized for doing things that are, strictly speaking, forbidden on the rest day – the Sabbath – Jesus answers (Mark 2:27):

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Christians are convinced that the salvation of the world lies in the imitation of the way Jesus, a Jew, lived his life and approached his own culture. Because of his salvific character, at least in principle, they call him “the Christ”. As a Jew, Jesus reached for the sources in the Jewish tradition that hierarchically structured the relation between neighborly love and the particular culture of his people. To imitate Jesus means that you should look within your own culture or social organization to the sources that allow you to make your cultural or social traditions relative to the goal of neighborly love. Note that Jesus never competes with existing social, political and cultural systems. He does not abolish these systems. The following scene magnificently illustrates this (Matthew 22:15-21):

The Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Jesus in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

According to the Jesus of the Gospels, to serve God means to love one’s neighbor, and this can be done in a myriad of social and cultural ways. Christianity is universalist but this universalism in no way implies a monoculturalism. It is universalist and transcultural because it challenges every culture to question itself from the perspective of neighborly love. On the other hand it is also multicultural because it does not compete with nor merely abolishes existing social and cultural systems but transforms them by (re)orienting them to the goal of neighborly love. Hence, from a Christian point of view, cultures, communities and societies are Christianized or they are not Christianized, meaning that they do or do not question themselves from the perspective of neighborly love. This also implies that so-called Christian communities are called to question themselves from this perspective. A Christianity that imposes itself by merely suppressing or destroying particular cultures and communities betrays itself. We all know that it has done so, many times during its history.

Of course, in order to practice neighborly love like Jesus we should know what he means by it. Once again he is very clear on the issue in question (Matthew 5:43-48):

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Well, how about that? Our neighbors are not just our own people. They are also “other” people, not of our own, “strangers”. Jesus even considers our “enemies” to be our neighbors.

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 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.

Opposed 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 indoctrinations, 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.”

So, dear Mr. Orban, if you want your nation or Europe as a whole to act like a “Christian” nation or continent, you should not build a peace and order based on the exclusion (or even destruction) of a people because of their culture or religion. To quote Jesus once more, “If you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?” Maybe we could challenge each other to discover our own cultural resources that criticize our all too human tendency to build communities and cultures at the expense of victims and sacrifices. To speak to you once more, from “our” shared paradoxical cultural resources (as a Christian “culture” does not really exist because Christianity belongs and does not belong to any one culture), from one Christian to the next (Colossians 3:8-11):

Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.


E. Buys

Modern democracy makes it possible for each individual citizen to hold, express and exercise ‘own’ opinions and ethical principles, ‘own’ religious views and ‘own’ cultural preferences as long as they do not go against the democratically established laws of a particular state. A society of such individuals should, by its very nature, become ‘multicultural’ and ‘multi-religious’. And yet, what often happens is that many people insist on having their very ‘own’ opinion while the specific content of that opinion is the same as nearly everyone else’s. So the paradox is that a mono-culture arises of citizens who all understand themselves in the same way: as being autonomous individuals who make their own choices and pursue their own projects. This is the cultural mantra of the West. The very idea of having ‘own ideas’ is more important than really having them.

down with conformity

In reality, ‘diversity’ is often not defined in terms of specific values or belief systems (be it theist or atheist convictions and opinions), but in terms of economic value. Hence ‘culture’ becomes a matter of ‘taste’ and ‘lifestyle’ more than anything else. The more people believe that they have their own individuality to construct or to express, the more manufacturers and producers can launch something ‘original’ to satisfy the self-concept of potential consumers.

Be like all your friends and express your individualityConformity Homogeneous Originality

cultural conformity cartoon

It should be noted that producers want to make money. They want to launch ‘the next trend’ rather than satisfy the supposedly very specific demands of one very unique individual. In other words, the illusion that we are autonomous individuals (mensonge romantique in the words of René Girard) who constantly have to make own choices keeps us at the marketplace where we are offered competing choices by different producers. [Moreover, we wouldn’t experience the desire to be original if we were.] Commercials make use of powerful models to guide these choices and that’s how, eventually and again paradoxically, new types of conformity are established (as people imitate those powerful models and each other – for more on this, read La Mode(rnity), a previous post).


It is remarkable how some people, who are convinced that they have very own individual opinions and views, all of a sudden make reference to something like “our culture, our values, our convictions and our habits” when they are confronted with “strangers”. Some voices in Europe consider the refugees as a threat to their particular state, both economically and culturally. Moreover, it is often the so-called ‘cultural difference’ that is presented as one of the main obstacles to social and economic integration of refugees. Multiculturalism Tolerance CartoonOnce again, as so many times in the history of mankind, it is the perception of a common threat or enemy that structures a common identity – past internal differences that, in light of that common threat, eventually don’t seem very fundamental. See, for instance, how the German Emperor Wilhelm II (1859-1941) begins his speech at the outbreak of the first world war (Source: Kriegs-Rundschau I, p. 43 – Original German text reprinted in Wolfdieter Bihl, ed. Deutsche Quellen zur Geschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges [German Sources on the History of the First World War]. Darmstadt, 1991, p. 49; Translation: Jeffrey Verhey) – Berlin, August 1, 1914:

“I thank all of you for the love and loyalty that you have shown me these past days. These were serious days, like seldom before. Should it now come to a battle, then there will be no more political parties. I, too, was attacked by the one or the other party. That was in peace. I forgive you now from the depths of my heart. I no longer recognize any parties or any confessions; today we are all German brothers and only German brothers. If our neighbors want it no other way, if our neighbors do not grant us peace, then I hope to God that our good German sword will see us through to victory in these difficult battles.”

Let us hope that we Europeans, faced with the refugees coming to Europe, do acknowledge our internal cultural diversity so that we might discover in a new light our shared humanity as living out the possibility that the other may be truly ‘other’.

René Girard is among those scholars who like to point to the similarities between myths from around the globe. In this regard his work follows in the footsteps of people like James Frazer, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade. Girard’s explanation of the source of mythological structures and motives, however, is quite different from the approaches of his colleagues. Girard maintains that the archetypal mythological pattern is eventually rooted in a so-called scapegoat mechanism, following a typical ritualistic pattern that is rooted in the same mechanism (for more on this, click here).

Aztec human sacrificeMyths can be considered as tales which contain the worldview of a culture, transmitting from generation to generation the belief that certain phenomena (from certain things to certain persons and acts) are sacred or belong to the gods. Traditionally, the realm of the gods or the sacred is also the realm of violence. If the sacred order of things is not respected or approached in a proper (i.e. ritualistic) way it brings about violent chaos, diseases, death and destruction in the (human) world. Next to connecting chaotic situations to the realm of the sacred (portraying chaos as “the wrath of god(s)” or “bad karma”), myths also contain messages on how to transform sacred disorder into sacred order. Following René Girard, myths can thus be understood, more specifically, as justifications of certain taboos and of certain types of sacrifice which should help to conserve or renew order in the world.

In short, according to René Girard, mythical thinking consists in connecting violent mayhem, natural disasters and contagious diseases to “god(s)” or “a sacred realm”. As such, violent mayhem etc. are explained as necessary moments of disorder from which a new order is generated. This never ending mythical cycle of “disorder – order – disorder – order – …” at the same time often functions as justification of the sacrifice of certain people whose death should bring about order.

A comparison between some ancient myths and contemporary interpretations of today’s international terrorism makes clear that mythical thinking as Girard understands it is on the rise again, especially in an eschatological sense and also in secular circles that hold on to a naïve version of the myth of human progress. Just take a look at the schematic presentation below presenting the mythical structure, time and again… (for more on the sexist implications of many myths, click here).

A) The Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods

Prometheus Gustave Moreau1) A WORLD ORDER
(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realms
=> Fire belongs to the gods and is considered TABOO

with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Prometheus steals the fire from the gods

3) Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Prometheus is banned to the Caucasus mountains, where he is chained and tortured

again with clear distinctions between different realms

B) The Hebrew myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realmsAdam and Eve driven out of Eden by Gustave Dore (1866)
=> Fruits of the Tree of Knowledge belong to God and are considered TABOO

with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Adam and Eve “eat from the forbidden fruit”
[from a comparison with the Song of Songs: this is a transgression of the taboo on sex]

• Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Adam and Eve are banned from Eden and have to accept a life with suffering and death

again with clear distinctions between different realms

C) The Greek myth of Oedipus

(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realms
=> Killing the “father-king” and taking the “mother-queen” is considered TABOO
[Note: “thanatos” and “eros” motif]

with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Oedipus kills his father, the king, and marries his mother, the queen and allegedly causes a plague in the city of Thebes

Oedipus stabs out his eyes• Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Oedipus stabs out his eyes and goes into exile

again with clear distinctions between different realms

D) A religious fundamentalist mythical interpretation of 9/11 (“end times”)

(Jerry Falwell & Pat Robertson)

(“ORDO” or “COSMOS”)
with a clear distinction between different realms
=> Types of relationships which differ from the “traditional”, patriarchal family are TABOO

with a challenge (the “call”) to restore the balance in the world
=> Feminists, gays, lesbians and other “liberals” challenge the patriarchal family structure

• Some kind of SACRIFICE (as the pinnacle of a “HERO’S JOURNEY” or “QUEST”)
with a transformation of the identity of the hero figure(s) – into “monster(s)” or “savior(s)”
=> Two days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two evangelicals, shared their “theological” views on the terrorist violence (transcript from the 700 club, a well-known evangelical television program in the States – September 13, 2001). Especially these comments are telling (for more, watch the video below the transcripts):
survivors of 9-11 attacksJERRY FALWELL: The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.
JERRY FALWELL: And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”
PAT ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur…

In other words, 9/11 is interpreted as an unavoidable SACRIFICE, sanctioned by God; it is “the wrath of God” caused by people who keep on transgressing “sacred” laws and taboos. This sacrifice manifests itself in a twofold manner: the autoaggression of the terrorists’ suicide implies the heteroaggression against the victims in the planes and the twin towers.

Conclusion: “Secularists” or “the secularist lifestyle” (as Falwell and Robertson understand this – which corresponds to the Islamic fundamentalists’ notion of “the satanic West”) should be abandoned or banned.

again with clear distinctions between different realms

To conclude this post, I’d like to mention an article by John Gray on the book The Pursuit of the Millenium by Norman Cohn. Gray points to the eschatological myths of religious and secular political ideologies, from Christian Millenarianism (especially in today’s context we might think of Islamic Millenarianism as well) to Nazism and Communism. All these ideologies have justified sacrifices and massacres to bring about a new world order, a “paradise” – hence every utopia turns into dystopia… At the end of his article, Gray also warns for new versions of the eschatological myth in “liberal humanism”:

There is a line of reasoning which accepts that totalitarian ideologies were shaped by apocalyptic and utopian thinking, while insisting that liberal humanism is entirely different. They – the Nazis and communists – may have been deluded and irrational; we – enlightened meliorists – have purged our minds of myth. In fact, the belief in progress in ethics and politics, which animates liberal rationalism, is itself a myth: a view of history as a process of redemption without the Christian belief in a single transforming event, but nonetheless a faith-based narrative of human salvation. It is obvious that human life can sometimes be improved. Equally, however, such gains are normally lost in the course of time. The idea that history is a process of amelioration is an article of faith, not the result of observation or reasoning.

Reading Cohn will not lead secular thinkers to relinquish their cherished myths. The need to believe in them is far more powerful than intellectual curiosity. But, for those who want to understand the origins of the conflicts of the past century and the present time, The Pursuit of the Millennium may be, as it was for me, a life-changing book.

Considering all this, we might want to rethink the concept of “eschatological battle” as a struggle we have to face within ourselves, in the depths of our soul… The true fight is a spiritual one, as we are converted from our human violence (and all our man-made gods, idols and ideologies justifying that violence) to the absolute non-violence of the God of Love, The Merciful One… 

The challenge is to build an order and a “peace” that is not built on the violence of sacrifices, but to build a peace that allows for “non-violent conflicts…” (a “non-totalitarian peace”).

It seems that, in order to understand international politics today (or maybe “as always”?), we need to understand what is happening in the Middle East. Well, at least we’ll get a major part of “the bigger picture” from our attempts to come to terms with the contagion of violence in that region. French American philosopher René Girard and his mimetic theory prove to be very helpful in analyzing the current situation. Let’s start, in this post, with what seemed to be a hopeful sign for the Arab World a few years ago, the Arab Spring.

Arab Spring Deposed Elite Puppet

In 2011 several Arab countries experienced political turmoil that, because of its revolutionary character, would later be described as “the Arab Spring”. The world could observe two patterns in this tumultuous period. On the one hand, in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, long term presidents were willing to give up their position, sometimes under pressure from the military. The free elections that followed were mostly won by Islamic political parties. The revolutions in Libya and Syria, on the other hand, turned violent because Muammar Gadaffi and Bashar al-Assad both refused to give up their presidency. NATO was willing and able to intervene in Libya and end Gadaffi’s leadership but could not undertake a similar action in Syria.

Arab Spring Egypt Rise of ExtremismDespite NATO intervention, Libya doesn’t seem to be much better off than earlier, under Gadaffi’s dictatorship. The West allowed the same mistake to be made in Libya as the US made in 2003, in Iraq. Military, police and intelligence services were disbanded because of their association with the former regime. It would destabilize Libya as it did Iraq, leaving the nation to rivaling tribal militias. Moreover, it made Libya one of the most important exporters of weapons in the region. The political chaos in Libya had a direct influence on the Egyptian situation, and this in turn contaminated the Arab world as a whole. Many thousands of islamists and jihadists escaped the Egyptian prison during the revolution of 2011, regrouping themselves in the Egyptian Sinai Desert, and buying weapons from the Libyans (among others).

Arab Spring Egypt Morsi Manipulated by MilitaryMeanwhile, the newly found political power of the Muslim Brotherhood (a movement with parties in different Arab countries) in Egypt came to an end. Egyptian army officials and generals seized power after the Muslim Brotherhood was held responsible for several terrorist attacks (although many of those attacks were claimed by Ansar Bait al-Maqdis, an organization linked to al-Qaeda). President Morsi, himself a Muslim Brother who briefly took the place of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, was replaced by former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and membership of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared illegal – as it is in Syria. Anthropologist Mark Anspach predicted how the Arab Spring is, ultimately, indeed directed by the military in Egypt (read his very interesting article The Arab Rulers’ New Clothes by clicking here).

Arab Spring SicknessThe question in all this is “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Consecutive Egyptian leaders more or less allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to organize itself, using it as a buffer against more extreme islamists and as a means to blackmail the West. If the West would not support the undemocratic, dictatorial regimes the only lurking alternative would be an extremist political Islam. That’s why the Arab Spring was also in general, in many respects, a movement carried out by religious forces against dictatorial regimes that were perceived as corrupted puppets from a decadent secularized West. It’s not what we, westerners, normally understand as democratization.

Arab Spring US PolicyThe dilemma between economically manipulable and manipulating dictatorships on the one hand, and political Islam on the other, is faced by the West again and again, to this day, in the Arab world. Bashar al-Assad knows this politically tricky situation for the West too. He wanted to use the threat of the so-called Islamic State (IS) to seek new alliances with the West and its Arab allies. Apparently he secretly allowed the jihadists to somewhat organize themselves so he could position himself as potential “savior”. False messiahs are the ones who create the disease they allegedly want to save the world from, but in order to be able to keep on playing “the doctor” they keep the world sick. However, it doesn’t really seem to work for Bashar al-Assad. His enemies didn’t become his friends, but surely it was worth the try from his perspective…

Arab Spring Egypt Revolution CycleAnyway, the age-old enmity between dictators and so-called representatives of suppressed religious (and/or ethnic) groups provides each party with a reason of existence. As if life is not worth living if one doesn’t have an enemy… Moreover, both parties seem to remain blind to the fact that they resemble each other more and more as they tend to imitate each other’s violence and cruelty. René Girard speaks of mimetic doubles as rivals mimic each other in their (mutually imitated and thus reinforced) desire to obtain the same position. It’s no wonder that al-Qaeda and IS rival each other, indeed because (and not “although”) they are so much alike.

Of course, as René Girard righfully points out, enmity between rivaling parties can easily end if they find a common enemy that reunites them. It seems “the West” and what it stands for – its consumerist, so-called “decadent” culture – is well on its way to provide the competing extremists with that “Big Enemy”. Moreover, our consumerist culture alienates many of our own children too. Some of them become depressed, commit suicide because the consumerist way of life leads to feelings of “emptiness” and “unfulfillment” – the market demands that its consumers are never satisfied, that their desires are continuously (mimetically) awakened (read Thou Shalt Covet What Thy Neighbor Covets by Martin Lindstrom). Others find a new sense of identity and fulfillment in extreme political and/or religious groups. After the smoke clears, however, the satanic monster of violence coming from some of those groups is all that’s left, as humanity itself disappears in the process.

Tunisia remains a small beacon of hope amidst all these storms. The Muslim Brothers there were prepared to accept political concessions, the army did not intervene in the political process, and Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki was able to position himself as a “father of the people” instead of as a leader of one political or tribal party. The Tunisian example demands imitation more than ever, as we are confronted with the new face of horrific violence, the terror of ISIS. In many ways the war against ISIS shows how the West is fighting itself, the Arab world is fighting itself, and humanity as a whole, in this globalized world, is fighting itself.

Walead Farwana wrote a compelling article, The History of the Islamic State, on the ISIS movement. It is possible to shed some Girardian light on his writings by using the types of the scapegoat mechanism identified in previous posts.

Gustave Caillebotte_Paris Street Rainy Day 1877Last year, after meeting my friends from The Raven Foundation in Chicago, I had the opportunity to visit the exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at The Art Institute of Chicago.

As the exhibition points out, the modern fashion industry was born in Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century. Since then, fashion – la mode – has become one of the main forces in today’s so-called individualistic and free market-driven western society. The fashion industry thus reveals one of the main paradoxes if not contradictions in modern man’s self-concept. Although nowadays we consider ourselves to be emancipated and autonomous individuals we nevertheless remain highly susceptible to herd behavior. René Girard might help us to understand this situation more broadly. [Read also the second part of a previous post by clicking here].

René Girard’s mimetic theory explains that, beyond physical needs, human desire is structured according to mimetic (i.e. imitative) interactions. People model each other’s ambitions and aspirations. As is well-known, the convergence of desires on the same object (e.g. two or more children wanting the same toy) or on the same goal (e.g. two or more people wanting the same job promotion, status or power) often leads to rivalry and sometimes even violence. Not surprisingly, the escalation of this mimetic rivalry (i.e. rivalry based on mimetic/imitative desires) within groups threatens the stability and even survival of communities.

History shows that human communities developed several traditions to prevent the potential destructive outcome of mimetic desire and mimetic rivalry. The French Ancien Régime, still deeply rooted in the feudal system of the Middle Ages, was incredibly hierarchical both socially and politically. There were three different Estates in society, the First being the Church, the Second the Nobility and the Third the so-called Common People. The common people had to accept their unprivileged position in society. They were told that they would evoke the wrath of God if they would question the privileged position of the Church and the Nobility. At the same time, the common people were told that a reward awaited them in “an afterlife” if they “behaved well” and accepted their fate. In other words, the Third Estate could not aspire to the position of the other Estates. In still other words, mimetic desire was suppressed by a religiously established system of taboos and rituals. People had to understand and accept that there were differences in society from birth.

Ancien Regime

Throughout the ages, Christian reformers criticize the Church whenever she lends herself to sustain a society where differences between people are based on oppression. From Saint Benedict to Saint Francis to Saint Ignatius to the “Prince of the Humanists” Desiderius Erasmus – all of them call for a return to the God of Christ, the God of the Gospels, to question the authority of the God who justifies certain types of violence and oppression. It is no coincidence then that several historians (Marcel Gauchet being one of them) understand the Enlightenment and the dismemberment of a principally hierarchical society on the basis of traditional religious means as a consequence of the Judeo-Christian influence on the western world. To quote Marcel Gauchet, Christianity is the “religion of the end of religion”.


Abraham Lincoln emancipation of slavesEventually, because Christianity gradually destroyed the authority of the God(s) of traditional religion, the hierarchical nature of society was no longer accepted. The French revolutionists cried égalité! and the idea of a principally egalitarian society was born – all human beings (should) have equal rights. This meant that mimetic desire became less suppressed, and this led to the emancipation of different groups in western society. First, factory workers started to compare themselves to the wealthy factory owners. Why shouldn’t the workers enjoy the same rights as their employers? In other words, the workers started to desire what their employers possessed and this mimetic desire could no longer be suppressed. Second came the emancipation of women. They started to desire the rights owned by their male counterparts. Third came the full revolt of blacks (heir to black slaves) in the US. Then came the emancipation of gay people who compared themselves to heterosexuals and desired and demanded equal rights… Finally, together with the aforementioned emancipatory movements, the emancipation of children and youngsters (and the phenomenon of a so-called youth culture) poses new challenges to our personal and social self-understanding. There’s a strange interaction going on, with a rivalry between young and old to become each other’s model or example. [Read more on the consequences for young people by clicking here].

What is striking in all these cases is that standing up for one’s own identity is based on a comparison with the identity of others. In standing up for themselves people imitate others.

shoe foot skeleton fashion victimNow, let’s interpret the phenomenon of fashion again from these observations. At the birth of modernity the traditional guidelines which structure the behavior of the individual members of society begin to erode. Individuals more and more find themselves in a vacuum concerning the way they could or should behave and lead their lives. However, instead of developing a life from a so-called very own autonomy and freedom (as people often believe they do – Girard calls this the romantic lie), people look at what others are doing to give their life (their desires and ambitions) direction. Hence a phenomenon like fashion. The fashion industry really rests on the assumption of individuals that they are free to create their own identity and thus is able to enslave those very same individuals to a never-ending cycle of mimetic desire. The price for a so-called free identity is an identity constantly on the brink of being sacrificed again to the latest trend. It’s what drives our economy on the one hand, and might destroy our natural environment on the other… It’s what drives our consumerism yet might destroy our soul (as we attach ourselves to what’s perishable)… I guess G.K. Chesterton is right, in a profound sense, “For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.”

fashion slavesIn short, the liberation of mimetic desire in western society has some good as well as bad consequences. Anyways, perhaps we should keep our desires “to have more (but never enough)” in check in order to prevent the next financial, ecological, social and personal crisis?

Chesterton quote on worshipidol worship social mediaChesterton quote on believing in anything

MAY 20th, 1910 – The royal and political heads of Europe are (still peacefully) gathered for the funeral of Edward VII, king of Great Britain and Ireland, of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, and Emperor of India. Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, is also present at the funeral of his uncle. Once again, Wilhelm is confronted with the grandeur of his British relatives.

George V and members of WAFFIt is no secret that Wilhelm II was extremely jealous of his British uncle first and then of his cousin, king George V, because of the many colonies they owned (picture on the left, king George and members of the WAFF). This kind of envy can only exist towards people one feels closely related to. It’s easier to keep on admiring those who do not belong to our own social environment than those who are close to us. The great William Shakespeare constantly shows the paradoxical nature of human relationships, where contagious conflicts precisely arise between people who often admire each other first. Already in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare sets the stage for an escalation of a conflict between families “both alike in dignity” – a conflict that only comes to an end when Romeo and Juliet sacrifice themselves:

“Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.”

So it’s not the difference or inequality as such that potentially creates enmity but our tendency to imitate those we somehow identify with. It’s – as René Girard would have it – a mimetic (i.e. imitative) law of human conflict, which Plato already refers to in his dialogue Lysis (215d) when Socrates says:

“By a universal and infallible law the nearer any two things resemble each other, the fuller do they become of envy, strife and hatred…”

These universal truths are repeated throughout history, time and again, as in a never ending circle. If we would ever experience a global war because of a lack of natural resources, then the origins of such a war would lie in the mimetic nature of human desire. We are not simply happy with the things we physically need. We want what others have, we imitate the desires of our fellow men, even if we don’t necessarily need what they have. That’s why our ecological footprint is too big. And that’s why we could create scarcities of natural resources. We’re not just happy with the satisfaction of our hunger. We want the grape instead of the cucumber if our neighbor is eating grapes, and this tendency is already present in our ape cousins (for more on this click here to see one of Frans de Waal’s experiments).

Both the origins of World War I and World War II have to do with people wanting grapes although they already had cucumber. The death of millions of Europe’s children eventually ended the first orgy of violence, but – to quote Shakespeare on this – “the parents’ strife” only momentarily came to a halt. World War II indeed meant that “from ancient grudge came new mutiny”, violence spreading itself like a contagious disease…

SPRING 1914 – Germany is one of the wealthiest and most dynamic countries in the world, having the highest material prosperity in the world. In 40 years time the population has increased by 65 % to 68 million inhabitants. Germany is also an industrial giant. Essen has the biggest steel and weapon factory in the world with 81,000 people working there. Daimler-Benz, Siemens, AEG, BASF and Bayer are leading companies.

Hamburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II. im Tierpark HagenbeckDuring that time Kaiser Wilhelm II had the biggest land army in the world and he invested some of his private money to buy and develop cannons.  Growing up he had seen the richness of the British Empire and he tried to emulate this for his own country. Therefore he supported Germany’s naval expansion and eventually did obtain an empire in Africa and the western Pacific, although not as large as he wanted (on the right, Wilhelm II visiting the African Colonies). The so-called Great Naval Race of the early 1900’s was an extension of his need to do better than his relatives by trying to build more battleships than the British Royal Navy had.

JUNE 28th, 1914 – Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated by nationalists in Sarajevo. Kaiser Wilhelm II encourages the Austrians to adopt an uncompromising line against Serbia, effectively promising them German support in the event of war.

alliance_ententeThis move of Wilhelm II caused a chain reaction he did not foresee. Russia and her allies France and Britain entered the war against Germany and Austria. At first, Wilhelm did try to scale back the mobilization of Germany’s armed forces, but he was overruled by the grandiose war aims of certain generals and politicians. Germany went into war, not because of a lack of resources or poverty, but because of an excess of (mimetically enhanced) pride. The rest of Europe and the world would follow. The war and its aftermath would mean the end of German royalty.

NOVEMBER 11th, 1918 – Armistice is signed between an exhausted Germany and the Allies in the French Forêt de Compiègne. The event takes place in the railway car of French commander-in-chief Marshal Foch. The Germans feel humiliated.

Armistice (the Germans surrender at the end of World War I)

JUNE 22nd, 1940 – Adolf Hitler meticulously imitates what Marshal Ferdinand Foch had done 22 years earlier. Hitler orders to get Foch’s railway car out of Compiègne’s museum and forces the French to surrender in the same way and on the same spot as the Germans in 1918. This vengeance – a mimetic mechanism – announces a second wave of global war, terror and horrific sacrifice, ending in 1945.


Commemorating the wars and their victims, we can only hope for a European Union that deserves its Nobel Peace Prize.

European Union Nobel Peace Prize

Incensum, a vocal ensemble I am part of, was very honored and grateful to sing at a memorial service for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013), organized by the Embassy of South Africa in Belgium, on 12 December 2013. The service was held at the Cathedral of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula in Brussels. For more information and some tributes:

Saint Michaels Cathedral Brussels interior choirCLICK HERE TO READ THE PROGRAM (PDF)

CLICK HERE TO WATCH A REPORT ON THE EVENT (hear us sing at the end)

Click here to read a welcome by Ambassador Mxolisi Nkosi (PDF)

Click here to read a tribute by Mr P. Ustubs of the EEAS (PDF)

Click here to read a tribute by Sec. General Dirk Achten (PDF)

It is clear from testimonies all over the world that Mandela is an inspiring example of forgiveness. The man himself made a spiritual journey from the prison of bitterness to the liberation of pardon. His life took part in a dynamic of Love that is also characteristic of Christ’s life. To imitate these examples is not merely to copy them but to challenge ourselves to continue the creativity of Love in our own circumstances. It is trying to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39 – click here to read more) without losing our self-respect. A mimesis (i.e. imitation) of Nelson Mandela can become an example of what René Girard would call “good mimesis”. It seems that African culture itself has its own resources for this type of imitation. African American writer Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960):

Zora Neale HurstonThe Negro, the world over, is famous as a mimic. But this in no way damages his standing as an original. Mimicry is an art in itself [and] he does it as the mocking-bird does it, for the love of it, and not because he wishes to be like the one imitated.

In other words, to imitate Nelson Mandela or the Christ figure is the exact opposite of an idolization of those figures. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) warned for this (read more by clicking here):

Christ comes to the world as the example, constantly enjoining: Imitate me. We humans prefer to adore him instead.

Joachim Duyndam, Socrates Professor of Philosophy and also a member of the Dutch Girard Society, discusses “good mimesis” and how we learn from inspiring examples in this interview fragment. He also mentions Mandela – CLICK TO WATCH:

Of course, the road that Nelson Mandela traveled is perhaps best described by Madiba himself. These quotes, also from the Gospel, should be self-explanatory:Mandela Quote No one is born hating another personBe Imitators of GodMandela Quote As I walked out the door

Ephesians quote Be kind and compassionate