A good way to assess the passion story of Jesus and what it allegedly reveals about the God of Christ, is the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. Jesus uses the father in this parable to clarify something essential about the God he proclaims. When the son returns, not without opportunistic motives, the father runs towards his son from the moment he sees his son appear on the horizon. The father does not run to his son to punish him, but to forgive him and to welcome him “full of grace”. This “space of grace” gives his son the opportunity to really become aware of the evil he has done. And although grace has no power or control over this potential response (it is not guaranteed that the son will truly regret what he has done), grace is “all-powerful” in the sense that it gives itself independent of its eventual outcomes.

So, in any case, the grace of the father allows the son to no longer be ashamed of himself and to sincerely repent for his mistakes. If he truly accepts the love of his father, he will be able to take responsibility for his wrongdoings without being crushed under guilt. He will imitate the love he experiences by trying to make up for the hurt he has done to others and by trying to do justice. To quote Augustine of Hippo (354-430) (On the Spirit and the Letter Chapter X [16]): “Grace is bestowed on us, not because we have done good works, but that we may be able to do them.” (Original Latin, DE SPIRITU ET LITTERA LIBER UNUS, X: [gratia] quando quidem ideo datur, non quia bona opera fecimus, sed ut ea facere valeamus […]).

Because grace liberates us from the fear of being crushed under the weight of our mistakes, we will more easily take responsibility for them ourselves, instead of letting an easy scapegoat “pay” for what we did. If we accept the grace that does not crush us, it prevents us from crushing others as well. Grace liberates us from our damaging need to be “perfect” and thus lets us discover “the joy of being wrong”. In other words, grace liberates us from our narcissistic self-images and paradoxically prevents us from doing further harm to ourselves and others. As we experience forgiveness for our trespasses, we are enabled to forgive “those who trespass against us” (see the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13).

Analogous to the attitude of the father in the parable of the prodigal son, the suffering of Jesus should not be interpreted as a sign that there is a God who would punish us for our transgressions (but lets his Son take the blows we actually should receive). On the contrary, the suffering of Jesus is a consequence of a love that is radically independent of violence. It is the consequence of a love that does not answer violence with violence. It is the consequence of a forgiving withdrawal from violence, which makes room for the life of others (even “enemies” become “neighbors”).

Just like the father in the parable of the prodigal son running towards his son is not a sign that he wants to punish his son, the suffering of Jesus is not a sign that there is a God who wants to punish us. Just like the father of the parable running towards his son is a sign that he wants his son to become fully alive by bestowing a forgiving love upon him, the suffering of Jesus is a sign of a love that does not desire our death or suffering, but that wants us to be fully alive.

The cross of Jesus reveals that this love is not even affected by death, but that it is “fully alive” in the fact that neither “friend” nor “foe” died in what could have been a civil war. Jesus’ forgiving withdrawal from violence – his radical refusal to kill – saves others from death. Therefore the first followers of Jesus believe that he is “the Christ” who embodies the love that is not affected by death – the love that is thus revealed as “eternal”, as God. The suffering of Jesus is God, revealed as non-violent love, “running towards us” in the forgiving withdrawal from violence. Hence, whenever we participate in this mutual and imitative forgiving withdrawal from violence, God as love “is in our midst”. As this love is eventually not affected by death, it pierces through the narcissistic self-images we usually develop to hide ourselves from the reality of death. Thus the non-violent love that is not affected by death saves ourselves and others from alienating, destructive relationships between ourselves and others (because of that narcissism). It saves us from what is traditionally called “original sin”.

The grace that is revealed in Jesus in a unique way (but which shows itself in other “places” as well) prevents us from sacrificing others to “pay” for our sins. It allows us to truly take responsibility for our mistakes, without fear. It prevents us from hunting for scapegoats really, which is done in traditional religious systems. The following text points both to the “perversion” of Christianity (when it is understood as merely the ultimate consequence of traditional religious systems) and to an “authentic” Christianity (understood from Jesus’ obedience to a love that desires “mercy, not sacrifice”).

The traditional religious and mythical “deified” hero saves others by killing – which eventually results in the self-sacrifice of the hero. Jesus saves others because he refuses to kill – which reveals Jesus as embodying a love that gives itself and “lives” even unto death.

The Basic Religious Story

Aztec human sacrificeHumans commit transgressions of god given laws. The gods get angry. Disasters happen as divine punishment. Humans bring sacrifices which reconcile them with the gods. Peace is restored.

We all know the drill. Myriad variations of this story exist in religions old and new.

Some Christians are convinced, however, that the Christian variation of the basic religious story is quite unique. They believe that the Christian story therefore reveals “the true God” as opposed to “the bleak imitations of the divine in other religions”.

Yes, those Christians say, God is aware of us humans committing transgressions. However, according to their scenario, we should have the humility to recognize that the cost of our transgressions is too big to pay off our debt by merely human means. That’s why God sent us his only begotten Son Jesus, who loved us so much that He obediently sacrificed Himself and thus reconciled us with God, his Father.

Grace in this context is understood as God’s willingness to sacrifice his Son Jesus for our transgressions. This “final” sacrifice allegedly saves us from the desperate attempts to pay off our debts by sacrificing ourselves and our neighbors. Jesus thus is the “Savior” or the “Christ”. Instead of punishing us with disasters, God gave us the means to buy his peace through Christ’s death and resurrection (the so-called proof of the divine nature of the whole process). Well, at least until apocalyptic “end times” that is, and those who still do not repent and accept God’s laws and his Son – the means to buy his peace – are wiped off the face of the earth with Christ’s vengeful return.

The first time I heard this interpretation of the Christian faith, I remember thinking: “If that’s what Christianity is all about, count me out.” Nowadays I would still refuse to call myself a Christian if it implied playing to this so-called “divine” absurdity. However, literary critic and anthropologist René Girard (1923-2015), theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Raymund Schwager SJ (1935-2004), Anthony Bartlett (°1946), Wolfgang Palaver (°1958), James Alison (°1959) and Michael Hardin (°1968), as well as atheist thinkers like Slavoj Zizek (°1949) helped me discover that the Gospel actually paints a radically different picture of God.

Christianity as the Ultimate Religious Story (= The Perversion of Christianity)

If the God of Christ is what some Christians make of Him, then He is the pinnacle of narcissistic sadomasochism. He is narcissistic because He receives all kinds of presents of reconciliation, but lets you know that no present is ever good enough to satisfy Him. Instead, He provides you with the present that you should offer Him, namely the sacrifice of his Son. As far as father-son relationships are concerned in this picture of Christianity, God is the ultimate sadist who is only appeased by the terrible suffering and death of his obedient Son. Finally, from this perspective God is also the ultimate masochist. After all, He desires the experience of pain in his very Being by “becoming flesh” in a crucified Son who is actually “one” with Him. To this masochist, the pain of the crucifixion is proof that He receives his desired gift and that He has total control over the relationship between Himself and humans.

It is not just the narcissism of a so-called God that is established by this interpretation of Christianity. Perhaps this story, above all, protects the narcissistic self-image of humans. The so-called “humility” in confessing the unworthiness and inability of your efforts to make up for wrongdoings is an easy way out of the burden of responsibility. Referring to so-called uncontrollable flaws gets you off the hook from truly making mistakes altogether. If you can’t help it, then you are actually without “real” faults. Narcissists believe that any mistake they make is eventually always the responsibility of something or someone else. They actually fear the freedom of not being perfect. The narcissistic impulse even exonerates the ones who are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. In the end they are perceived as contributing to God’s plan.

In short, according to this interpretation of Christianity, the God of Christ is superior to the so-called “false” gods of other religions because apart from being the most powerful killer, He allegedly also is the most merciful one. Instead of punishing us for our transgressions right away, He sends his Son to die in our place. Moreover, between the resurrection of that Savior – the Christ –, the outpouring of his Spirit and the end of times with the return of Christ, we are told that we can be saved one last time if we recognize our transgressions and accept that Christ died for them. If not, we will be sacrificed anyway during Christ’s Second Coming, which fulfils God’s Last Judgment.

Jesus SupermanIf we are to believe this account, then the God of Christ is a hero of unmatched mythical proportions. He saves others from the deadly disasters He Himself would be responsible for by provisionally killing Himself as the potential presence of wrathful violence in the sacrifice of his Son. In other words, from this perspective the God of Christ is a force of violence that controls itself and others by violent sacrificial means. The peace of Christ is the violent peace of sterile uniformity, established by sacrifice.

Christianity as the End of the Traditional Religious Story (= Authentic Christianity)

The belief that sacrifices can be effective to end deadly catastrophes depends on the belief that sacrifices have something to do with violent sacred forces. The deities of religions old and new are depicted as causing all kinds of violent crises, like natural disasters, pandemics and the outbreak of violence within and between communities. It is believed, time and again, that those violent deities demand sacrifices to be appeased.

“God”, in a traditional religious sense, is perceived as being responsible both for violence of epidemic proportions that potentially destroys human communities and for the vaccine of sacrificial violence that preserves or restores them. When traditional religious people make a sacrifice, they believe that they are not accountable for what they are doing, but that God is the true author of the ritual. Sacrifices are perceived as not belonging to the human world. They are seen as belonging to the world of the sacred, and ritual sacrifice is simply the fulfilment of a sacred commandment. It is the so-called inevitable, fatal process of “making something or someone sacred” (Latin “sacer facere”; hence the Latin noun “sacrificium”). In short, sacrifices are part of the world of the sacred, which is traditionally understood as the world of violence.

Myths sustain the belief in the sacred nature of violence. As such, they are justifications of sacrifice. Myths are stories of so-called “redemptive” violence. In the Gospel the leaders of the Jewish people try to establish a myth concerning their fellow Jew Jesus of Nazareth. The Pharisees and chief priests describe Jesus as an increasingly popular 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 is 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.”

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 peace is based on sacrifices – 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. Indeed, Jesus refuses to start a civil war wherein friends and enemies would get killed (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 Gospel clarifies that the sacrifice of Jesus makes no sense whatsoever, as Jesus has nothing to do with the world of violence. Moreover, since the Gospel recognizes who God truly is in the non-violent love of Jesus, it also reveals that the violent God of traditional religion is actually non-existent. In the latter sense, the Christian faith contains a radical atheism and intrinsically finishes off every religious story. There is neither a God who is responsible for violent chaos to punish us for our transgressions, nor a God who demands sacrifices to restore order. Natural disasters have natural causes. Violence is not a sacred, but a human reality. There is no God as some kind of “Master of Puppets” who is in total control and who can be manipulated with sacrifices to gain control ourselves. As this God is blamed for things He cannot possibly be responsible for – since He does not exist –, He is the ultimate scapegoat.

COVID-19 End TimesThe Gospel reveals that we, humans, tend to be guided by the scapegoat mechanism. Instead of acknowledging our freedom and creative strength as human beings to deal responsibly with disasters, we tend to look for the so-called “masterminds” behind the crisis situations we encounter. Conspiracy theories are the secularized version of traditional religious and mythical thinking. They provide us with a false sense of security and the delusional entitlement to sacrifice so-called “evil” others, who are believed to be responsible for the crisis at hand in the first place. In the case of a pandemic like COVID-19, some keep believing there is a God who punishes us for allowing evildoers in our midst, while others believe powerful people developed a plot that involves deliberately spreading a virus on their path to world dominion.

In the Gospel, the scapegoat mechanism that is used by humans to falsely justify sacrifices, time and again, is personified as Satan or the devil. Jesus reveals that it is this deceitful and lying “devil” who demands sacrificial murders, while God is a God of radically non-violent love who “desires mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). Contrary to the above mentioned depiction of the Christian faith, the Gospel clearly reveals that humans, inspired by the devilish scapegoat mechanism, demand the sacrifice of Jesus, and not God (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.”

Those who desire the sacrifice of Jesus try everything to involve him in the world of violence, in order to still provide their act of violence with some foundation. After all, their myth of self-defense against the man who is supposed to be a violent threat only holds water if Jesus eventually does take part in the game of violence to gain controlling power. As Jesus continuously refuses to answer violence with violence, they grow increasingly desperate. This translates into the growing vehemence of the violence used against Jesus. Despite these efforts to tempt him to use violence, Jesus continues to obey “the will of his Father”, which means that he walks the path of a radically non-violent love. The powers that need the lie of an outside threat to justify their myths of self-defense cannot stand this truth about the scapegoat in their midst. That’s why Jesus is crucified.

To his opponents, the crucified Jesus seems to have lost. “He saved others, he cannot save himself” (Matthew 27:42), they exclaim mockingly. However, when Jesus dies, further attempts to draw him into the world of violence become impossible. Hence, the violent logic that needs, at least, its victim’s involvement in violence to justify itself, utterly fails. What dies on the cross is the foundation of violence. That’s why Jesus proclaims, right before dying: “It is finished” (John 19:30). The universal lie of the scapegoat mechanism behind the ever-recurring myths of redemptive violence is revealed. In that sense, Jesus is: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). René Girard writes – in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2001), 142-143:

Je vois Satan tomber comme l'éclair (1999)“By nailing Christ to the Cross, the powers believed they were doing what they ordinarily did in unleashing the single victim mechanism. They thought they were avoiding the danger of disclosure. They did not suspect that in the end they would be doing just the opposite: they would be contributing to their own annihilation, nailing themselves to the Cross, so to speak. They did not and could not suspect the revelatory power of the Cross. […] The powers are not put on display because they are defeated, but they are defeated because they are put on display.”

Again, what dies on the cross is the foundation of the violent logic. What lives on the cross, on the other hand, is the self-giving love that saves lives by refusing to kill. No Jew, no Roman, neither friend nor foe died. The love revealed in Jesus, which withdraws from rivalry over power altogether, is all-powerful, not in the sense that it has total control over others, but in the sense that it is not even destroyed by death and thus remains completely independent of the world of violence. The death of Jesus is the ultimate withdrawal from violence and the ultimate gift of life-giving grace.

On Easter Sunday, the crucified Jesus is revealed to his followers as the living presence and embodiment of the non-violent God, of non-violent love. Therefore, the Eucharistic commemoration of Jesus’ death is not the repetition of deadly violence to establish peace. It is the sacramental presence of Jesus as Risen Christ and true Messiah, who does not feed on violence to become a so-called savior, but who invites us to imagine ever new ways of sharing in the Spirit of his forgiving withdrawal from violence. The more we thus mutually and mimetically give room to each other’s life and each other’s differences, the more we are inhabited by and reconciled with divine love. The peace of Christ is a peace of creative, non-violent conflict. It is a life of exciting, “electrifying” fruitful tensions.

Christ Dali

On Seven Stories – How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible


In 2017, Anthony W. Bartlett publishes a remarkable book, Seven Stories – How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible (Hopetime Press, Great Britain, 2017). It is the result of a lifelong personal engagement with Biblical texts and their existential, spiritual and cultural implications. The book’s title already suggests its multi-layered character.

Seven Stories (Anthony Bartlett)

First of all, the book presents itself as an instrument for individual and communal spiritual reflection. After an introductory chapter on methodology with key concepts and hermeneutical starting points, the reader is invited to reflect on key Biblical texts by following the development of seven stories throughout the Bible. Each chapter starts off with an overview containing a lesson plan, the main learning objectives, the synopsis of the story as a whole and some key words and concepts. This is followed by three lessons on the actual story, each of them containing the necessary information to understand the Biblical texts that are mentioned. Every lesson also ends with an invitation to further explorations (i.e. lesson questions, questions for personal reflection, a glossary, a list of resources and background reading, and some cultural references).

Secondly, content-wise the book lays bare the often hidden challenge represented by the Biblical texts themselves, which is to understand their two-fold revelation. On the one hand, the Biblical texts reveal how human identity is tarnished and generated by violence, resulting in a wrongful understanding of God as violent. On the other hand, the Bible also reveals that God is actually nonviolent: God is a God of love.

The seven stories thus contain, thirdly, an invitation for a transformational journey: from an awareness about our complicity in the world of violence to our participation in a reality that is not dependent on violence – the reality of the God of Jesus. That’s what the “conversion” experience is all about in a Biblical sense. In his introduction Anthony Bartlett explains the aim of the book as follows (p. 9):

“Today we are on the cusp of an enormous shift, from colluding with inherited tropes of violent divinity, to surrendering completely to the dramatic truth revealed through the whole Bible: nothing less than a nonviolent God bringing to birth a nonviolent humanity. We offer this coursebook as a heartfelt contribution to this worldwide movement.”

Bartlett follows three main interpretive principles that allow him and his readers to understand the Bible the way he does:

  • an academic and scholarly background of historical-critical research
  • the anthropology of French-American thinker René Girard (1923-2015) – explained very well in the first chapter
  • a faith relationship with a God of nonviolence – in the author’s case as part of the Wood Hath Hope Christian Community, among others

These principles counter the temptations of Marcionism on the one hand and of fundamentalism on the other. The God of the Old Testament is consistent with the God of the Sermon on the Mount, but this becomes clear through a collection of Biblical texts that contains both the default human understanding of God as violent and the revelation of God as nonviolent. Again from the introduction (p. 9) – emphasis mine:

“If the Bible is anthropological revelation – showing us the violence of human cultural origins – then the Bible must carry within itself a critique of its own theological forms. If on the one hand the Bible tells about human violence and on the other about God, texts about the latter will always be written and read in tension with texts about the former. It is only over the course of development of the whole Bible that resolution will be possible, but the tension must be always kept in mind. […] The whole labor of the text, from Genesis to Revelation, is a journey of decoding the Bible by the Bible.”

To understand the Biblical texts as texts “in travail”, on the way to a more complete revelation of the human and the divine, allows for a non-fundamentalist approach of the Bible’s authority. Anthony Bartlett explains this very well – once again from the introduction (pp. 12-13), emphasis mine:

“In order to get to that final twist we first must have a continuity of narrative which can bring us to that point. In order for the new to arrive there must first be the familiar and the known. Thus Seven Stories includes cycles on the Land of Israel and the Jerusalem Temple. These institutions and their symbolic value provided the necessary historical and narrative arc within which the plot of the new could emerge. In the Seven Stories understanding, the Land of Israel and the Jerusalem Temple are the stable rock of ordinary human culture in and through which the stresses of the new show themselves, and finally break through into new creation.

The upshot of all this is a very clear understanding of the authority of the text. To claim authority for scripture does not depend on an abstract notion of inerrancy, so that somehow every single statement in its literal and grammatical form has the weight of a courtroom statement by or about God. To assert this is to create nothing more than a weapon of authority where the authority is more important than the story, than the transformation wrought by the stories. No, the authority of scripture is much more consistent with a God of creative love, and of loving creation. Its authority lies within the transformative process itself, within its slow, gentle but unfailing agency to bring creation to perfection in peace and love. Is this not a much more credible notion of authority, represented in the slow patient progression of Biblical texts and their final realization in the person of Jesus? Rather than a rock falling from the sky the Bible is a seed sprouting from the earth. Whatever is consistent with this generative process has authority. Everything else is the rock of human culture against which the seed is slowly but irresistibly straining.


The Bible is always in discussion with itself and the informed student will see and feel this at every point. Genesis is in discussion with Exodus-through-Kings, Job with Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes with Proverbs, Jonah with Nahum, Ruth with Nehemiah, Song of Songs with Genesis, and Daniel with almost all of the above. For a Christian the point where the discussion is resolved is with Jesus. And so the persona and teaching of Jesus always constitute the third lesson in each cycle, folding into his story the transformative changes detected in his scriptural tradition. He is also mentioned freely in the course of the Old Testament lessons, because he is indeed the final interpretive lens, the final twist that makes sense of everything.”


A concrete example from the book shows how rich and enriching the above described approach truly is. The first of the seven stories bears the title Oppression to Justice and deals with the Hebrews as Hapiru – a class of dispossessed people from different ethnic backgrounds –, their Exodus experience and the interpretation of that experience by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. The end of the second lesson, on the Exodus experience, combines all the different layers present in Bartlett’s book. It is but one of many superb examples of how historical-critical research, combined with Girard’s anthropology and an overall interdisciplinary approach open up well-known Biblical texts as if for the first time, allowing for personal and communal spiritual growth in unexpected ways (pp. 59-60) – emphasis mine:

“The Law’s justice includes reciprocal violence. For example, Ex. 21.29-30 (if an ox kills someone then the ox and owner must be killed). This acts as a deterrent to breaking the law – a fear of retributive violence. It also attempts to be commensurate, not excessive. Nevertheless, it remains the effect of generative violence.

This reciprocity is at work in the death of the first born, the ultimate violent act of God to free the Hebrews. How can we reconcile the story with a nonviolent God? The answer lies in how the Exodus Hebrews produced an interpretation of real events. The Bible reveals as much about us as it does about God. If we explain the narrative of the ten plagues as a cultural lens by which those who told the story saw God then it becomes simply a layer of text which points beyond itself. The ten plagues can be explained from a factual point of view: natural events which are then constructed as divine violence.

For example, the Ten Plagues theory of Dr John Marr (epidemiologist) and Curtis Malloy (medical researcher) understands the plagues as a series of closely linked natural events.

At .

The basic point is there is a plausible natural explanation for disasters which then, in the tradition, are read as a direct effect of divine action. But it is the root change in human perspective that counts and which is the work of revelation – God is on the side of the oppressed and is creating a new people based in this relationship.

From a Girardian-anthropological point of view, the Egyptians could also see the plagues as caused by a cursed people who actually had to be expelled (cf. Ex. 11.1). Egyptian historians from the 3rd century BCE in fact report this viewpoint – the Exodus Hebrews were diseased and expelled. (See The Bible, Violence and the Sacred, by James G. Williams.)

The Hebrews fleeing Egypt perceive that God is on their side in terms of generative violence, while the Egyptians see the same events based on the same generative violence, but in terms of a cursed group. Both parties interpret the events according to the default human frame of meaning. Nevertheless, in the overall Biblical narrative something amazing is happening: a God of human transformation is being revealed. From the anthropological perspective the Exodus picture of divine violence is an interpretation of natural events, but the underlying truth is God’s intervention on behalf of a group of oppressed people, laying the foundation of a transformative divine and human journey. This is the true work of the Biblical God, changing our human perspective progressively and continually, including our perception of God as violent. In the following cycle we will see how the book of Genesis prefaces the book of Exodus with a profound critique of human violence. So, a deeper change of meaning (semiotic shift) is already set up in the Bible text before we even get to read Exodus! In our next lesson we will see how Jesus reinterprets the Law, reading its radical intent, and teaches us the full revelation of a God of nonviolence.”

Readers who are by now eager to know what more liberating spiritual treasures await them can purchase Seven Stories on Amazon. I cannot recommend it enough.


Anthony Bartlett is but one of those scholars whose theological reflections are deeply inspired by the work of the late René Girard. Not only is Girard’s work very interesting for people who embrace a vastly interdisciplinary approach to social sciences and cultural studies, but it also enables an understanding of theology and Biblical studies as anthropological resources – as resources that give a clear picture of what it means to be human (pointing out humanity’s limitations, pitfalls and possibilities).

Apart from Anthony Bartlett, I would like to take the opportunity to mention a few others (out of many scholars) who adopt a similar approach to theology and Biblical studies, and who are part of a broader movement of contemporary theology that is inspired by the work of René Girard: the late Jesuit Raymund Schwager (1935-2004), Paul Nuechterlein (editor of the highly informative and inspiring Girardian Lectionary), the people from The Raven Foundation and, last but not least, James Alison.

A couple of years ago, in 2013, James Alison in cooperation with The Raven Foundation and Imitatio produced Jesus the Forgiving Victim series (a series of videos, books and a website). In the second book of the series, God, not one of the gods (Doers Publishing, Glenview, 2013), Alison highlights a transformative reading of Joshua 7, in the same vein as Bartlett reads Biblical texts.

Joshua 7 is basically the story of the people of Israel behaving as a lynch mob, blaming a certain Achan for loosing a battle against the Amorites. The story of the stoning of Achan is told from the perspective of people who believe that God demands such a stoning. James Alison shows what a transformative reading of this story looks like by using the Emmaus story in Luke as a reference – thus, in the words of Anthony Bartlett, “the Bible decodes the Bible” (pp. 109-117); emphasis mine:

In the Joshua passage the voice of the victimized one [can] not be heard. But in the Emmaus story we [find] ourselves in the presence of one who is telling the account of a lynching from the perspective of the person who was lynched. This was a voice that had not been heard before, as indeed it is not heard in the Achan story. It is as though at last, Achan’s version of events is beginning to pour out through the cracks between the stones which had covered him over. What I want to suggest is that when it says of Jesus on the road to Emmaus ‘… He opened up to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’ what we are getting is the crucified victim telling the story from Achan’s point of view. The story of how a gang of people needed to find an enemy within and set it up so that one was found, and this was what happened to him. The dead man talking would be Achan giving Achan’s account of his lynching. And indeed you can imagine many other similar stories where someone who is hated without cause can begin to tell their version of events.

What I wanted to bring out is that the two stories, the Achan story and the Emmaus story, are structurally identical stories, but told from opposite perspectives. There is the top-down version, the version told by the successful organizers of group togetherness, the persecutors’ account, and then there is the bottom-up version of the same story, told by the victim from under the stones, on the cross, or in the pit. All the elements of both accounts are the same: rivalry leading to a collapse of morale and structure, leaders trying to find a way to recreate morale, managing to do so by setting up a way of getting everyone together against someone else, and when this finally works, and the ‘someone else’ is got rid of, unanimity, peace, is restored, order is born again, and everyone is telling the same story.

The only trouble is that the moment that the victim’s story can be heard, it reveals that the other story is untrue. It is a lie. Its perpetrators need to believe it for it to work. They need to believe that they’ve really got the bad guy, and indeed in their account the bad guy even agrees with them. These are two entirely different perspectives on exactly the same story. The perspective of the survivors and those who have benefitted from the lynching, which is a lie, and the perspective which is never normally heard, and starts to emerge into our world thanks to the crucified and risen Lord, the perspective which tells the truth and which reveals the official perspective to be a lie. The survivors needed to believe the lie because they thought it would bring them together. But in fact it won’t. In fact they’ll soon be at each other’s throats about something else, and will need to go through this all over again and get someone else in the neck.

I hope you now see why I [refer] to the Emmaus story as not just a story but a paradigm, or model, of interpretation. The structure of how the New Testament operates is that it brings alive the same old story, but told from underneath, and it is this that is the fulfilment of Scripture.


I want to suggest to you why the Hebrew Scriptures, even a passage like [Joshua 7], are an enormous advance on the world of mythology. I’m going to do so by describing what I call two equal and opposite mistakes regarding the reading of Scripture. One I’m going to label the Marcionite error, in honour of an early Christian interpreter of the Scriptures called Marcion. In a nutshell, Marcion, faced with texts like the one we’ve just seen from the Hebrew Scriptures, said something to the effect of “These are awful stories – it cannot be the same god as the God of Jesus that is at work in them. It’s got to be another god altogether. ” So he proposed ditching the Hebrew Scriptures, as something to do with another god, and in fact he found himself pruning much of the New Testament as well, and ended up making a sort of compendium of the Gospels based on Luke, which he found to be nicer than the rest, making other things fit into it. Church authority, on the other hand, said ‘No! The Scriptures are one, and we receive both Testaments as making sense of each other.’ So Marcion’s view was rejected. Nevertheless, typically, in the modern world, it is Catholics who are tempted to his mistake.

The reverse of this, which is the mistake to which Protestants are more tempted in the modern world, is a fundamentalistic reading of Scripture. The fundamentalist position would be to say that, far from it being the case that there are two different gods in the different Testaments, there is in fact one God, and this God is the same at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. So where the Old Testament says ‘God’ or ‘the Lord’ it means exactly the same as the God of Jesus Christ. Well, if you think like this, then when you are faced with a text like our Joshua text, you are going to have to come up with a complicated account of how God did in fact organize the sacrifice of Achan, but only so as to show in advance by what means he planned to undo the whole sacrificial system later, through the sacrifice of his Son. You can imagine the sort of rigorous mental gymnastics by which people seek to justify the word ‘God’ in the Joshua text, where it manifestly refers to the organizer of a lottery. How do you disentangle the sort of God who does that from doing nasty things to his Son in the crucifixion? You can see why a certain reading of Jesus’ death as being demanded by his Father, with the Father punishing the Son for the sins of others, is so popular. It fits in exactly with the need to say ‘It’s the same God.’

What is difficult for both parties to understand is quite how the New Testament works as interpretative key opening up the Hebrew Scriptures. What the New Testament does is allow us to see how, slowly and inexorably, the one true God, who was always making Godself known in and through the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures, was always coming into the world. And in the degree to which God comes into the world, in the degree to which the revelation of Godself as simultaneously God and Victim comes into clearer and clearer focus, so what is being done by us in the human world of victimizing gets clearer and clearer, harder not to see as obvious, before our eyes. It is the growing clarity from the self-revealing victim coming into the world that leads to the stories surrounding victimary happenings getting nastier and nastier, since they are ever less successful in ‘covering up’ and ‘making things nice’.

The Joshua text we’ve looked at is a particularly good example of this just because it seems so nasty. It would be easy for us to say ‘But this text is the exact opposite of the New Testament. Marcion could scarcely have asked for a better example of what he’s talking about.’ And that, as I see it, is the mistake. If the Emmaus living interpretative principle I have suggested to you is true, than what you would expect is that as it gets closer and closer to becoming clear that it is the victim who is telling the true story, what you can also expect is that it will become clearer and clearer in the texts what is really going on in the movement towards the lynching. Therefore the texts will look nastier.

You can imagine earlier texts, and we have plenty of such texts in mythic literature, in which it is gods who organize things, gather people together, and produce expulsions or sacrifices, and the people take no responsibility at all. Whereas in the text we listened to, from Joshua, the word ‘God’ is very easily switched on or off, but what remains absolutely clear whether it’s on or off is the anthropological dimension of what’s going on. Everything is set out in anthropological terms, without responsibility being displaced onto the gods. You can tell exactly what’s going on here. The text is teetering on the brink of giving itself away. So when we read it, our Gospel-inspired skepticism takes us over the brink. Our skepticism which is provided for us by the gift of faith. If you believe that Jesus, the crucified victim, is God, you stop believing in the gods, you stop believing in weird forces revealing who is ‘really’ to blame, and you get closer and closer to seeing things as they really, humanly, are.

What I’m bringing out here is an understanding of progressive revelation. How it is that as the truth emerges more and more richly in our midst we cannot expect the textual effects of that emergence to get nicer and nicer. You would expect them to get nastier and nastier, but clearer and clearer. And finally you see exactly the same story being told from exactly the inverse perspective, so that there are no longer even the remains of any mythical bits at work. It requires no great imagination to think either ‘The Old Testament is bad and the New Testament is good’ or ‘All word values are the same in both Testaments.’ It requires rather more subtlety to imagine a process in which, as the self-manifestation of the innocent victim becomes clearer and clearer, so the understanding of how humans typically are inclined to behave becomes darker and darker, but more and more realistic.

Compare this with, say, the story of Oedipus, which is essentially the same story as the one we saw in Joshua. There is a plague and social problems in Thebes, and a conveniently slightly deformed outsider, who has provoked jealousy by marrying a prominent heiress, is forced to agree that he was really responsible for certain things that he almost certainly didn’t do, and even if he had done them, they wouldn’t have caused a plague. He is accused of killing his father and sleeping with his mother, while not knowing that this was what he was doing. He succumbs to confessing to this. And then he is expelled, sent off to exile so that the city can return to peace. Now this story is much nicer than the Hebrew story. The townsfolk were not responsible for a violent expulsion, they were victims of a horrible plague, and were confirmed in their horrible suspicions regarding their interloper, and the guilty one got his just reward. The Greek version remains mired in self-delusion. However, the Hebrew version of the same dynamic is radically more truthful, because it is on the point of giving away what was really going on.

Even the editor of the text in the Book of Joshua clearly has doubts about this story – the little hints of skepticism about what’s going on are one of the wonders of the Hebrew Scriptures. The editor starts by saying ‘But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things.’ So, it starts with a plural and then moves to a singular: ‘For Achan, son of Cami…’ and so on. And then you have the oddity of God’s behaviour. Although he might be expected to know everything, he appears to need a lottery to help find out ‘who did it’. And in fact, God tells Joshua that it is the people of Israel, in the plural, who have disobeyed him, before giving the instructions for the lottery that will find a singular victim. As you can imagine, an ancient rabbinical storyteller telling this story in a liturgical context, using this text as his Expositor’s Notes – which is very probably how such texts were handled in the ancient world – would have a good deal of fun wondering aloud about these things with his audience.”

There is much more to discover from authors like Anthony Bartlett and James Alison. I hope readers already enjoyed the above mentioned challenging and inspirational ideas.

Happy discovery!

P.S. The RavenCast did a series on Seven Stories that can be watched on YouTube. Here is one of the episodes – Adam Ericksen and Lindsey Paris-Lopez are joined by Linda and Tony Bartlett:



Peter was the new kid in town. Still he felt rather confident at his new school since he knew at least one of his schoolmates beforehand, a guy named Jesus. What Peter didn’t realize, however, was the fact that Jesus was heavily bullied by Peter’s new classmates, although Jesus was in another class. When he became aware of the situation, Peter made a “wise” decision to battle his FEAR of becoming an outcast. To gain the approval of his new classmates, he disassociated himself from Jesus. He pretended not to know Jesus that well. By playing along with the crowd Peter protected his good reputation and HONOR (see below Matthew 26:69-74). It was also a good way to ensure his position within the group; playing along gave Peter control and POWER over what could have been a precarious situation. After a few weeks Peter felt pretty comfortable going to school. Being among his new friends gave him lots of PLEASURE as he enjoyed the WEALTH of their luxurious parties. The fact that his friends did not accept him but only the image he forced himself into did not seem to bother Peter too much. After all, wasn’t that kind of over-dramatically characterized “selling your soul” self-denial in reality but a small price to pay in order to gain this world of honor, power, pleasure and wealth (see below Mark 8:35-36)? Why respect yourself if the rewards of not respecting yourself felt so good?

To make a long story short, Peter’s new life went pretty well until he ran into Jesus one day. Jesus was severely beaten up by some of Peter’s classmates. From that day onwards, Peter made a decision that would have sounded “foolish” to his friends and to his former self (see below 1 Corinthians 1:20b-25). In the face of the victim of the world he had been a part of, Peter decided to abandon a life that was defined by the pursuit of honor, power, pleasure and wealth (see Matthew 5, 1-11). His whole identity was transformed by the love for the enemy of the group he belonged to (see below 1 John 4:16). The fear of being “dead” to his classmates and of “social punishment” changed into a fear of being the cause of the “murder” of others (see below 1 John 4:17b-18). Peter also no longer considered honor and pleasure as ends in themselves, but as possible consequences of a life in love. If taking sides with the marginalized other made Peter DISHONORABLE in the eyes of some of his classmates, then so be it. Peter chose non-violent conflict in his own “house” over the violent peace and unity at the expense of excluded others (see below Matthew 10:34-36). He did not want that kind of sacrificial peace. He desired a different kind of peace, not based on “sacrifice” (see below John 14:27).

If willing the good of someone who had every reason to hate him made Peter feel UNPLEASURABLE, then so be it. The LOVE that was discovered by Peter and that became the basis of his life did not depend on whatever outcome. He would still love others even if, for instance, their farewell or their suffering or death would make him sad and wouldn’t bring him any pleasure at all. Independent of whatever outcome, the love Peter lived by can be called all-powerful in a paradoxical sense. Even if his classmates and their world would hate him (see below 1 John 3:13-14), Peter wouldn’t avoid being vulnerable and eventually POWERLESS from the perspective of that world (see below John 15:19). He would not seek power to dominate others but as a means to serve them (see below Luke 22:24-27), at most. Equally, Peter would not seek wealth as end in itself but as a means to serve others, at most. His spirit would be POOR in worries with regard to his possessions.

If Peter felt worried and guilty at all it was no longer because he didn’t live up to the expectations of the world of his classmates, but because love informed him that he had hurt others. Peter no longer respected social rules and laws because they would gain him recognition, but only insofar as they would be helpful in the service of love (see below Mark 2:23-28; see also Mark 12:29-31 and Paul on “spirit of the law vs letter of the law”); neither would he transgress rules because it would grant him a new social status among “the cool dudes” (see below Matthew 5:17). Love detached Peter from the addictive desire for approval. He tried to no longer imitate a man-made social environment based on exclusion but tried to imitate the flexible ways of love (blowing like the wind, free from all the man-made attachments – see below John 3:8). Love became his “Creator”. In taking sides with Jesus and the marginalized victim of whatever group, Peter lost a “masqueraded” life that was defined by the attachment to honor, power, pleasure and wealth, and he eventually saved his self-respect (see below Mark 8:35-36).

In short, Peter’s story ends with his refusal to take part in the sacrifice of others and therefore he runs the risk of being sacrificed or crucified himself, although he of course hopes that the world is able to show “mercy, not sacrifice” (see below Matthew 9:13). Peter refuses to “crucify himself” to participate in the masquerade of the attachment to approval and therefore he runs the risk of “being crucified”. Peter is willing to run that risk because of his obedience to the demands of love, which is an obedience that allows him to accept the truth about himself as a former persecutor and which sets him free from the destructive “powers and principalities” often governing this world. Because of love, Peter is no longer dead to himself and others (see below 1 John 3:13-14).


Peter’s story is reminiscent of Mary’s story. Mary was the victim of a rape that made her pregnant and she was forced by her family to marry her “boyfriend(-rapist)” Saul. She was often beaten by her husband who could make her feel guilty about the beatings, as if she “deserved” them. In reality, Mary was a scapegoat. She was blamed for things she wasn’t guilty of. Sadly enough it took years for Mary to realize how badly she had been manipulated.

For years Mary lived in FEAR. She forced herself to be someone who would receive the approval of her husband, not his beatings. That’s where her HONOR lay, or so she thought. In trying to gain POWER over her husband’s behavior, however, she lost herself more and more. She was really hunting an illusion in her attempts to turn her family life into a comfortable environment of PLEASURE like the one of her best friend. Moreover, she worried about losing the WEALTH of her husband too. She thought that she would not be able to make a living of her own. It was only when her husband started beating her son too that she regained her self-respect: the love for this victim of the situation she had been part of, opened her eyes for the truth that she had hunted one illusion after the other, and liberated her from the addictive attachment to honor, power, pleasure and wealth.

Both the above stories of Peter and Mary show what the Christian tradition is essentially about. Christianity thus:

  • subverts any system (religious or secular) that originates from man’s attachment to honor, power, pleasure and/or wealth (attachments that are based on fear of death), even if that system calls itself “Christian”. Explanations on the origin of religion that rely on man’s attachment to honor, power, pleasure and/or wealth thus do not explain the origin of Christianity as such (but of perverted versions of Christianity). Explanations like the one proposed by Yuval Noah Harari’s (in Sapiens) should be evaluated from this perspective.
  • believes that love is a divine reality, which is not a sentiment or a feeling, but an active willing of the good of the other as other. This divine reality thus is not all-powerful in the sense that it controls everything, but in the sense that it is independent of any calculations about possible outcomes. Love gives itself, regardless of the question whether it is accepted or not. That’s why “grace” is what it is. God as “Creator” should be thought of as a loving dynamic that seeks to hold everything together, although not as an all-controlling entity (see Matthew 27:39-44).
  • shows the futility of many of the things we consider “meaningful” and thus opens up our eyes for a more comprehensive look on reality.
  • does not easily comfort because it challenges us to abandon our “comfort zone”.
  • is not “irrational”. On the contrary, it has a very sharp and clear view on the reality of human life and its absurdities, opening up a logic that could save human life from its absurdities.
  • testifies to a spirituality of “a love for reality because of reality itself, without ulterior motives” that can be found within other traditions as well.
  • is non-dualistic, as it does not seek the destruction of a so-called “evil world” but its transformation and fulfilment through love.
  • is not about “seeking the approval of God”, but is about the paradox of obeying the liberating demands of a love that needs no approval.

SUMMARY (click here for pdf):


To finish, some excerpts from the Bible on which all of the above is based:

Matthew 26, especially 26:69-74: Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”

Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), especially the Beatitudes (click here for more).

1 Corinthians 1:20b-25: Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 John 4:16: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

1 John 4:17b-18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Matthew 10:34-36: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'”

John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Matthew 9:13: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 8:35-36: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

John 15:19: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

1 John 3:13-14: Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

Luke 22:24-27: A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Mark 2:23-28: One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

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.”

John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

P.S.: THANKS TO James Alison, Robert Barron, René Girard, Emmanuel Levinas and many others for the inspiring insights into the reality of Christian life.


Petrus was net verhuisd. Toch voelde hij zich vrij zelfzeker op zijn nieuwe school omdat hij ten minste een van zijn medescholieren al kende: een jongen genaamd Jezus. Petrus realiseerde zich echter niet dat Jezus hevig gepest werd door sommige van zijn nieuwe klasgenoten, hoewel Jezus tot een andere klas behoorde. Toen Petrus eenmaal begreep hoe de vork in de steel zat, nam hij een “wijze” beslissing om zijn ANGST voor sociale uitsluiting te bezweren: om de waardering van zijn nieuwe klasgenoten te verkrijgen, nam hij afstand van Jezus. Petrus deed alsof hij Jezus helemaal niet zo goed kende. Het bezorgde Petrus de EER van een goede reputatie in de wereld van zijn klasgenoten (klik voor Matteüs 26, 69-74a). Door het spel van de groep mee te spelen en zich niet met Jezus bezig te houden, kreeg Petrus controle en MACHT over de nieuwe situatie waarin hij zich bevond. Gaandeweg verwierf hij zekerheid over zijn positie binnen de groep. Na enkele weken voelde Petrus zich helemaal comfortabel op zijn nieuwe school. Hij ervoer veel GENOT in aanwezigheid van zijn nieuwe vrienden en hij verdronk in de WEELDE van hun rijkeluisfeestjes. Het feit dat zijn vrienden niet hem aanvaardden maar alleen het imago waaraan hij trachtte te voldoen, deerde hem niet al te erg. Zelfverloochening leek helemaal geen dramatische “verkoop van je ziel” als je in ruil daarvoor een wereld van eer, macht, genot en weelde won (klik voor Marcus 8, 35-36). Waarom zou je jezelf respecteren als de beloningen voor een gebrek aan zelfrespect zo goed voelden?

Om een lang verhaal kort te maken: Petrus genoot met volle teugen van zijn leven totdat hij op een dag Jezus opnieuw tegen het lijf liep. Die was in elkaar geslagen door enkele van Petrus’ klasgenoten. Vanaf die dag nam Petrus een beslissing die “dwaas” zou hebben geklonken in de oren van zijn vrienden en van zijn vroegere zelf (klik voor 1 Kor 1, 20b-29). Geconfronteerd met het slachtoffer van de wereld waarvan hij deel had uitgemaakt, besloot Petrus zijn leven niet langer te laten definiëren door het streven naar eer, macht, genot en weelde (klik voor Mt 5, 1-11). Zijn hele identiteit werd getransformeerd door de liefde voor de vijand van de groep waartoe hij behoorde (klik voor 1 Joh 4, 16b). De angst voor “sociale afstraffing” en om “dood” te zijn voor zijn klasgenoten veranderde in een vrees voor de “moord” op anderen (klik voor 1 Joh 4, 17b-18). Petrus beschouwde eer en genot niet langer als doelen op zich, maar als mogelijke gevolgen van een leven in liefde. Als partij kiezen voor de gemarginaliseerde ander hem ONEERVOL maakte in de ogen van sommige van zijn klasgenoten, dan was dat maar zo. Hij was bereid om daarover te discussiëren. Petrus verkoos niet-gewelddadig conflict in zijn eigen “huis” boven de gewelddadige vrede en eenheid die parasiteerde op een gemeenschappelijke externe vijand (klik voor Matteüs 10, 34-36). Hij wou geen vrede die gebaseerd was op uitsluiting. Hij verlangde een ander soort vrede die niet op offers was gebaseerd (klik voor Johannes 14, 27).

Het goede willen voor iemand die meer dan genoeg redenen heeft om je te haten, levert GEEN GENOT op. Het voelt op zijn zachtst gezegd onwennig aan, maar dat hield Petrus niet tegen. De LIEFDE die hij had ontdekt en die de basis werd voor zijn leven, was niet afhankelijk van enig mogelijk resultaat. Petrus zou anderen liefhebben, zelfs als bijvoorbeeld hun afscheid, hun lijden of hun dood hem verdriet zou doen. Onafhankelijk van gelijk welk resultaat kan de liefde die Petrus draagt op een paradoxale manier almachtig worden genoemd. Ook als zijn klasgenoten en hun wereld hem zouden haten (klik voor 1 Joh 3, 13-14), zou Petrus niet ophouden om zich kwetsbaar en zelfs MACHTELOOS op te stellen vanuit het perspectief van die wereld (klik voor Johannes 15, 19). Als hij al een machtspositie zou aanvaarden, dan zou hij dat niet langer doen om anderen te domineren maar dan zou hij die macht gebruiken als een middel om anderen te dienen (klik voor Lucas 22, 24-27). Op dezelfde manier zou Petrus ook niet langer weelde nastreven als een doel op zich, maar opnieuw als een middel om anderen te dienen. In ieder geval zou zijn geest ARM aan zorgen zijn inzake zijn bezittingen.

Als Petrus zich al zorgen maakte en zich schuldig voelde, dan was het niet langer omdat hij misschien niet aan de verwachtingen van de wereld van zijn klasgenoten beantwoordde, maar omdat de liefde hem had geopenbaard hoe hij anderen had gekwetst. Petrus was niet voor of tegen de sociale regels en wetten die heersten (klik voor Matteüs 5, 17), maar terwijl hij vroeger voor of tegen regels was om ergens aanzien te verwerven, stelde hij zich nu de vraag op welke manier de regels het best de doelen van een liefdevolle gerechtigheid dienden (klik voor Marcus 2, 23-28). Met andere woorden, de geest van de wet werd voor Petrus belangrijker dan de letter van de wet (zie Paulus alsook Marcus 12, 29-31). De liefde bevrijdde Petrus van het verslavend verlangen naar erkenning. Liefde werd zijn “Schepper”: de identiteit van Petrus hing niet langer af van een door mensen gecreëerde sociale omgeving, maar van een liefde die, als een frisse wind wars van de bekommernissen om eer, macht, genot en weelde, relaties aanknoopte met al wie en wat zogezegd “geen betekenis” had (klik voor Johannes 3, 8). Door partij te kiezen voor Jezus en het gemarginaliseerde slachtoffer van om het even welke groep, verloor Petrus een onwaarachtig leven in functie van eer, macht, genot en weelde, en redde hij uiteindelijk zijn zelfrespect (klik voor Marcus 8, 35-36).

Het verhaal van Petrus eindigt, kortom, met een Petrus die weigert om nog langer te participeren aan een wereld die is gebaseerd op offers. De liefde heeft Petrus de waarheid omtrent zichzelf doen ontdekken: hij is een vervolger geweest, iemand die zijn medemens kwaad doet. Gehoorzamend aan die liefde wordt hij, paradoxaal genoeg, vrij van de “duistere machten en krachten” die vaak deze wereld beheersen. Omdat hij niet langer in de ban is van de duistere gehechtheid aan eer, macht, genot en weelde, is hij ook niet langer dood voor zichzelf en anderen (klik voor 1 Joh 3, 13-14).

Wie het opneemt voor wie wordt gepest, loopt evenwel het gevaar om zelf ook te worden gepest. Petrus weigert de “afgodendienst van het sociale succes” en weigert aldus iedere vorm van “zelfkruisiging”, maar loopt daardoor ook het gevaar dat hij zal “gekruisigd worden”. Natuurlijk hoopt hij dat de wereld in staat is om te kiezen voor “barmhartigheid en geen offers” (klik voor Matteüs 9, 13), alleen weet hij niet op voorhand of de wereld die keuze zal maken. Wie niet buigt voor het bedrieglijke, vernietigende verlangen naar totale controle (“de almachtige god die alle touwtjes in handen heeft”), maar wel leeft vanuit een God die liefde is, kan anderen redden maar zichzelf niet (klik voor Matteüs 27, 39-44). Als je het opneemt voor wie wordt gepest, leg je je lot immers in handen van anderen die zich al dan niet tot “de liefde” zullen bekeren. Voor hetzelfde geld word je ook gepest. Als er dan toch nog sprake is van “almacht” in deze context, dan ligt ze in het feit dat je zelfrespect niet afhangt van het respect dat je al dan niet van anderen ontvangt als je vanuit de goddelijke liefde leeft. De narcist is afhankelijk van de erkenning die hij van andere mensen krijgt voor een onwaarachtig zelfbeeld. De mens die zich door de liefde gedragen weet, kan de realiteit van en omtrent zichzelf en anderen op een completere manier beleven.


Het verhaal van Petrus doet denken aan het verhaal van Maria. Maria was het slachtoffer van een verkrachting waardoor ze zwanger werd. Haar familie had haar gedwongen om met haar “vriend(-verkrachter)” Saul te huwen. Ze werd vaak geslagen door haar echtgenoot. Hij slaagde er bovendien in om haar een schuldgevoel te geven over dat geweld, alsof ze de slagen “verdiende”. In werkelijkheid was Maria een zondebok: ze werd beschuldigd van zaken waarvoor ze niet verantwoordelijk was. Jammer genoeg duurde het jaren vooraleer Maria zich realiseerde hoezeer ze door Saul en haar familie was gemanipuleerd.

Jarenlang leefde Maria in ANGST. Ze dwong zichzelf om iemand te zijn die waardering zou krijgen van haar echtgenoot, en geen slagen. Daarin lag haar EER, dacht ze. Terwijl ze MACHT probeerde te verwerven over het gedrag van haar man verloor ze zichzelf echter meer en meer. Ze jaagde werkelijk een illusie na in haar pogingen om GENOT in haar gezinsleven te vinden. Daarbovenop maakte ze zich zorgen over het verlies van WEELDE als haar echtgenoot haar zou verlaten. Ze vreesde dat ze de eindjes niet aan elkaar zou kunnen knopen als ze er alleen zou voor staan. Alleen toen Saul ook hun zoon Stephanus in elkaar begon te slaan, herwon ze haar zelfrespect: de liefde voor het slachtoffer van de situatie waarvan ze deel uitmaakte, opende haar ogen voor de waarheid dat ze de ene na de andere illusie had nagejaagd, en bevrijdde haar van de verslavende gehechtheid aan eer, macht, genot en weelde.

Zowel Petrus als Maria keerden zich af van een leven in functie van een imago dat waardering moest opleveren. Petrus verheerlijkte zichzelf niet langer, waardoor hij respect kreeg voor zichzelf en niet langer op anderen als Jezus neerkeek. Maria verheerlijkte haar echtgenoot niet langer, waardoor ze zich bevrijdde van een minderwaardigheidscomplex en meer respect kreeg voor zichzelf. Bij beiden leidde het herwonnen zelfrespect tot meer respect voor (onderdrukte) anderen. Anderen werden niet langer benaderd als middelen die het onrealistisch zelfbeeld van Petrus en Maria moesten bevestigen, maar als doelen op zich.

Zowel het verhaal van Petrus als van Maria openbaart de bekering tot een levenswijze waarop de christelijke traditie in essentie doelt.


(klik hier voor pdf van het overzicht, en klik hier voor pdf inzake zaligsprekingen en voor post over zaligsprekingen en religieuze geloftes)



Shane Koyczan is a spiritual man. A man of poetry and gentle madness. A man of stories, a man of truth. A man of beauty. His poem To This Day would be a great way to end a first part of a journey with mimetic theory in high school, especially regarding what I’ve written so far on the film American Beauty. It could follow these posts:

  1. Mimetic Theory in High School (click to read)
  2. Types of the Scapegoat Mechanism (click to read)
  3. Scapegoating in American Beauty (click to read)
  4. Philosophy in American Beauty (click to read)
  5. Real Life Cases of Ressentiment (click to read)

quote A weed is but an unloved flower Ella Wheeler WilcoxTo This Day and Shane’s TED-talk contain many themes I’ve written about before, for instance in a post entitled Atheism: a lack of unbelief?:

A person’s worth cannot be determined solely by human perception and judgment. Man is not simply the child of a “social other”, i.e. the product of a man-made social environment in which he gains or loses a sense of (self-) worth. He’s also, following the thoughts of people like James Alison and Emmanuel Levinas, a child of “the other Other”, and we should postpone any final judgment on other people and ourselves.

It also reminded me of this famous quote: “Every finite spirit believes either in a God or in an idol” (Max Scheler, 1874-1928). I wrote about this in several posts before, for instance in a post entitled That is (not) the question, about rap star Diam’s conversion to Islam – it talks about how we have the tendency to sacrifice ourselves and others to the demands of a so-called admirable (self-)image that seeks confirmation and recognition:

quote Shane Koyczan Be the weedDiam’s discovered how she tried to live up to the expectations of her fans, and how this enslaved her. She was kneeling to an image of herself as the admirable idol her fans wanted her to be. Kneeling to Allah, on the other hand, apparently meant that Diam’s no longer bowed to the demands of the music and entertainment industry. It was a turning point in her life. It enabled her to free herself, and to criticize the priorities in her life. From now on, she would seek and explore another source of motivations for her life.

Finally, Shane Koyczan’s story is reminiscent of Peter Howson’s story in a post entitled Desert Moments with Peter Howson:

“I used to be very badly bullied at school and when I was a bouncer in a nightclub for quite a few years I changed in a false sense then, and became a bully myself.” In other words: Howson became the imitator of his persecutors… He followed the mimetic principle of vengeance.

CLICK TO WATCH the video To This Day (click here to read the lyrics in pdf):

I’d like to give some quotes from his TED-talk as well, because they illustrate some key insights from René Girard’s mimetic theory and they reminded me of those previous posts:

quote do not be conformed by this world RomansWe were expected to define ourselves at such an early age, and if we didn’t do it, others did it for us. Geek. Fatty. Slut. Fag. And at the same time we were being told what we were, we were being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always thought that was an unfair question. It presupposes that we can’t be what we already are.

See, they asked me what I wanted to be, then told me what not to be. And I wasn’t the only one. We were being told that we somehow must become what we are not, sacrificing what we are to inherit the masquerade of what we will be. I was being told to accept the identity that others will give me.

quote be this guyOne of the first lines of poetry I can remember writing was in response to a world that demanded I hate myself. From age 15 to 18, I hated myself for becoming the thing that I loathed: a bully. When I was 19, I wrote, “I will love myself despite the ease with which I lean toward the opposite.

CLICK TO WATCH Shane’s TED-talk:

A while ago I had a conversation with two atheist colleagues of mine at the school where I’m teaching religion. I asked them the following question:

“Do you believe that things become valuable only if people accord them some value, and, on the other hand, that they no longer possess any value once people stop according them value?”

My colleagues answered: “Yes, we do…”

I went further: “So, if no one grants an individual any respect at all, including the individual himself, that individual actually doesn’t have any value? He’s worth nothing because no human being acknowledges him?”

They said: “Yes, of course…”

I’m sorry, but I cannot believe this. I cannot believe that the weight of what’s valuable and what’s not in the universe rests on our tiny, petty little shoulders. It’s too heavy a burden to be carried by mere mortals, who appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. I don’t believe that someone is worth nothing if he’s considered worthless by the human community, including himself. In short, I don’t believe, unlike the old Greek philosopher Protagoras, that “man is the measure of all things” in these matters.

Sir Thomas Browne on judging people

A person’s worth cannot be determined solely by human perception and judgment. Man is not simply the child of a “social other”, i.e. the product of a man-made social environment in which he gains or loses a sense of (self-) worth. He’s also, following the thoughts of people like James Alison and Emmanuel Levinas, a child of “the other Other”, and we should postpone any final judgment on other people and ourselves.

Theologically speaking, this kind of “eschatological reservation” is quite liberating, not just for ourselves, but also for our neighbors. The lurking alternative seems human totalitarianism, meaning the aspiration of man – on an individual or collective level – to have total control in determining what and who is valuable, and what and who is worthless. I’d say we better accept the limitedness of our existence, and leave the perfection of the world to “the Infinite One”, you know, “God”.

Unlike my atheist colleagues, I don’t believe we should try to occupy His kind of place. This unbelief makes me a believer, I believe… And indeed: “Every finite spirit believes either in a God or in an idol” (Max Scheler, 1874-1928). Right on, Max!

don't judge

Once there was this girl, having the time of her life in a happy relationship. Until her boyfriend cheated on her. After that, she couldn’t go on with him. So they broke up.

A year later, she met this other guy. Love at first sight. They started dating. A few months down the road of this new romantic affair, a little fear started creeping into her mind: “What if I’ll be cheated on, again?” The fear grew bigger, as did her desire to safeguard her relationship. So she started controlling her new boyfriend, pressing him to inform her about his whereabouts. He didn’t do anything wrong, but he nevertheless had to suffer from her anxieties. Until he couldn’t stand it any longer, and her worst fear came true: he broke up with her. Tragic. Ironic. All she had done to avoid the destruction of the relationship brought about the relationship’s downfall. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it… (Matthew 16:25a).

What happened? Well, the girl was hurt, and she had been sad and angry because of it. Instead of letting go of her sadness and frustration, she started focusing on these emotions again while being in a new relationship. And she started hurting a guy who hadn’t done anything to cause her pain, insinuating he was not trustworthy and accusing him of being a liar and a cheater. In other words, she imitated the blows inflicted on her persona by inflicting similar blows on someone else. It was her way of taking revenge. Her new boyfriend turned out to be her scapegoat: someone who had to answer for her anger, although he was innocent. There is indeed, as René Girard and so many other Christian thinkers rightly point out, a nearly inextricable connection between the mimetic principle of vengeance and the scapegoating impulse.

In order to break the vicious cycle of hurt inflicting hurt – the cycle of original sin -, Christ invites us to take part in an act of creation. This is a creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), meaning that our actions are no longer defined by the lesser and greater evil we endured in the past. To return to the situation of the girl: Christ invites her to “turn the other cheek” as she begins a new relationship. To turn the other cheek indeed means that you refuse to let your relationships and yourself be defined by the hurtful mechanisms that eventually destroy relationships. Christ invites the girl to trust being vulnerable again. He invites her to keep faith over fear – for “fear leads to anger, to hate, to suffering” as some famous wise man summarized Christ’s advice…

Forgiveness is at the heart of creation, destabilizing the balance of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” – for, as some other wise man allegedly said: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”. Coming from outside the cycle of bad deeds or “bad karma“, the grace of forgiveness opens up the possibility of a new kind of imitation or mimesis. Instead of imitating each other in trying to assert ourselves over against one another – as theologian James Alison would say –, “turning the other cheek” is an invitation to begin an imitation of recognizing and accepting each other’s vulnerability. Recognizing that “no one is without sin”, in order to end “casting the first stone”. It’s an invitation to shy away from self-assertion over against one another – which would be called a movement of kenosis (“self-emptying”) in theological terms. The imitatio Christi would thus lead to the recovery of human beings, for “being human” means “being in relationships”, and the act of grace Christ invites us to take part in is precisely aimed at restoring those relationships. Therefore: Whoever loses his life for me will find it… (Matthew 16:25b).

So Matthew 5:38-39 is not an invitation to be masochistic. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a radical refusal to surrender to the evil that we experience from time to time. It’s an invitation to obey the creative call of Love (click here to read more) – which is, paradoxically, truly liberating:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…”

We celebrate Pentecost. It’s a celebration of community. Of Spirit. The ‘Holy Spirit’. When we look at the history of humanity, we’re all too often confronted with a history of violence, bloodshed, sacrifice, disease, disaster and despair. Yet it’s there, in the midst of all the ‘mud’ and the ‘dirt’, that the transformational Spirit of Love is at work.

The website with Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary (see the ‘Links’ section for more) comments on Acts 2:1-21, one of the principal texts from the New Testament on the coming of the Holy Spirit. The text in Acts is used during year A of the roman-catholic liturgical calender (as is the year 2011; click for more: Pentecost 2012 belongs to liturgical year BPentecost 2013 belongs to liturgical year CPentecost 2014 belongs to liturgical year A – and so on…), and tries to express what happens when people are gathered by the Spirit of Love. Here’s what the Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary has to say, guided by the work of James Alison:

If we were to raise the question ‘Why is the Church necessary for salvation?’, the Pentecost text and Alison’s treatment of it could provide a good start on an answer. In the interpretation of original sin guided by mimetic theory, personal fallenness is related to living in a fallen state of human community. The mimetic rivalry that grips each person’s life feeds off of the scapegoating mechanisms that grip human community, and vice versa. Thus, for a person to experience salvation there must also be a re-socialization that transforms the powers of the scapegoating mechanisms into the power of life received through self-sacrifice. As part of Alison’s brilliant laying out of original sin in light of mimetic theory, he devotes Chapter 6 [of The Joy of Being Wrong] to what he calls ‘ecclesial hypostasis,’ a living under the power of community formed around the forgiving victim, Jesus Christ, as opposed to living under the power of the ‘an-ecclesial hypostasis,’ or life under the Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism, as Robert Hamerton-Kelly calls it.

Alison makes use of the Pentecost story, as remedy to the Tower of Babel story, as a gathering of what has been scattered. In this vein, he also cites Luke 11:23: ‘He who does not gather with me scatters.’ (Note: Gil Bailie in his taped lectures on Luke uses the gathering-scattering motif a great deal in his interpretation of Luke’s gospel, especially over the last several tapes in the series.) Alison concludes:

In the account of Babel … God is still a continuation of the ‘envious’ God of Genesis 3:22. In Jesus’ phrase, however, the essential evangelical work of anthropological de-mythification has been carried out: it is God who founds, and men who scatter. Thus the representation of Pentecost as the undoing of Babel is not only a fulfilment of the prophecies that God would gather his scattered people together. It is a decisive recasting in anthropological terms of human foundational order: The real foundation is God’s foundation of the new people of Israel in Christ. It was not that God had scattered the people of Babel, but their foundational order, one grasped at avidly so as to avoid being scattered (Gen 11:4) was in fact cast in the mode of human scattering. All human societal foundations are futile exercises in the production of a fragile order. The only real foundation is the one given in Christ’s gathering. Behind the New Testament reworking of biblical images there is a quite specific understanding of the universal futility of human social order that is being overcome by the revelation of the true foundation. (p. 167)

I couldn’t resist to share some thoughts with you by an avid reader of James Alison’s work, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. In the following video he comments on the feast of Pentecost. Click to watch:

For more meditation I thought of music by John Dunstable (c.1380-1453), on the poem Veni Sancte Spiritus, in a performance by The Hilliard Ensemble. The poem with translation and some more background information can be read below. It shows how rich the Christian tradition really is. As human beings we belong to a place, a time, history, traditions … We belong to the ‘mud’ as well as to the unexpected beauty that comes out of it, a beauty which is our ‘future’. It’s from this future we belong to, our ‘vocation’ which is there to be loved, that our will receives direction. That’s why Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) says “Dilige et quod vis fac” – “Love and then what you will, do” (In epistulam Ioannis ad Parthos; Tractatus VII,8). We are relational beings, and therefore our freedom lies in the maintenance of loving relationships. So much is already given to us before we are able to give ourselves. The beautiful music of John Dunstable is but one of those gifts.

Click to watch and to listen:

From the Thesaurus Precum Latinarum:

Veni, Sancte Spiritus, known as the Golden Sequence, is the sequence for the Mass for Pentecost. It is commonly regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of sacred Latin poetry ever written. Its beauty and depth have been praised by many. The hymn has been attributed to three different authors, King Robert II the Pious of France (970-1031), Pope Innocent III (1161-1216), and Stephen Langton (d 1228), Archbishop of Canterbury, of which the last is most likely the author.

This text is taken from the Roman Missal, translation by John Austin (1613-1669):

VENI, Sancte Spiritus,
et emitte caelitus
lucis tuae radium.
COME, Holy Ghost,
send down those beams,
which sweetly flow in silent streams
from Thy bright throne above.
Veni, pater pauperum,
veni, dator munerum
veni, lumen cordium.
O come, Thou Father of the poor;
O come, Thou source of all our store,
come, fill our hearts with love.
Consolator optime,
dulcis hospes animae,
dulce refrigerium.
O Thou, of comforters the best,
O Thou, the soul’s delightful guest,
the pilgrim’s sweet relief.
In labore requies,
in aestu temperies
in fletu solatium.
Rest art Thou in our toil, most sweet
refreshment in the noonday heat;
and solace in our grief.
O lux beatissima,
reple cordis intima
tuorum fidelium.
O blessed Light of life Thou art;
fill with Thy light the inmost heart
of those who hope in Thee.
Sine tuo numine,
nihil est in homine,
nihil est innoxium.
Without Thy Godhead nothing can,
have any price or worth in man,
nothing can harmless be.
Lava quod est sordidum,
riga quod est aridum,
sana quod est saucium.
Lord, wash our sinful stains away,
refresh from heaven our barren clay,
our wounds and bruises heal.
Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum,
rege quod est devium.
To Thy sweet yoke our stiff necks bow,
warm with Thy fire our hearts of snow,
our wandering feet recall.
Da tuis fidelibus,
in te confidentibus,
sacrum septenarium.
Grant to Thy faithful, dearest Lord,
whose only hope is Thy sure word,
the sevenfold gifts of grace.
Da virtutis meritum,
da salutis exitum,
da perenne gaudium,
Amen, Alleluia.
Grant us in life Thy grace that we,
in peace may die and ever be,
in joy before Thy face.
Amen. Alleluia.

Klik om het artikel te lezen:


Al te vaak berichten de media over verregaand en ontoelaatbaar pestgedrag in onze samenleving. Ik vind het dan ook belangrijk dat zeker het pedagogische veld blijvend aandacht schenkt aan dit fenomeen en het ook aanklaagt. Voor het maandblad van onze school (Sint-Jozefscollege, Aalst) schreef ik onlangs een artikel over pesten waarin ik tracht te achterhalen welke visie op mens, samenleving en – soms ook – god ten grondslag ligt aan deze eeuwenoude, schijnbaar onuitroeibare menselijke kwaal. Tegelijk stel ik een aantal vragen bij dit mens- en maatschappijbeeld, en ik laat mij daarbij inspireren door de joods-christelijke traditie, meer bepaald door de bijbelse geschriften. Deze traditie, dit ‘christelijk verhaal’, klaagt onder andere de vanzelfsprekendheid aan waarmee het lijden van mensen wordt gerechtvaardigd als ‘een noodzakelijk iets’, en daagt mensen uit om zich niet zomaar neer te leggen bij hun ‘lot’ of hun (maatschappelijke) ‘rol’.

Aan daders van kwaad vraagt het christelijk verhaal om vrij te worden en om de verantwoordelijkheid op te nemen voor hun eigen daden. Ze zouden zich voor hun misdrijven niet volledig moeten verschuilen achter goedkope excuses als ‘ik ben nu eenmaal zo, ik kan er ook niets aan doen…’. Daarnaast worden ook de slachtoffers van kwaad door het christelijk verhaal geappelleerd op hun vermogen tot vrijheid, om zich niet langer te laten definiëren door het kwaad dat hen overkomt.

Kortom, het christelijk verhaal wijst de mens op zijn mogelijkheid om te groeien en om zijn lot in eigen handen te nemen. Dat uit zich ondermeer in een gevoeligheid voor het lijden van slachtoffers en in een aanklacht tegen allerlei ‘rechtvaardigingen’ van dat lijden – zowel tegen louter religieuze als tegen maatschappelijke of ‘wetenschappelijke’ rechtvaardigingen.

Om het met de woorden van René Girard te zeggen, de grondlegger van de zogenaamde ‘mimetische theorie’: het christelijk verhaal keert zich tegen het ‘zondebokmechanisme’ waarin slachtoffers de schuld krijgen van het lijden dat hen overkomt. De ontmaskering van het zondebokmechanisme is één van de belangrijkste uitingen van een Liefde die mensen drijft voorbij min of meer spontane (en even vergankelijke) gevoelens van empathie (met vrienden en ‘bondgenoten’) en afkeer (tegenover zogenaamde ‘vijanden’).

Uiteindelijk geloof ik dat ‘het Laatste Oordeel’, de finale lotsbestemming van ieder mens, bij die Liefde ligt. Een Liefde die slachtoffers, eens gepercipieerd als ‘(zonde)bokken’, rehabiliteert als witte ‘lammeren’ die eindelijk het verhaal van hun ‘eigenlijke’ leven kunnen schrijven…

Klik op de titel om het artikel te lezen:

Over oordelen en laatste oordelen bij de dood van een moegetergde jongen

De afgelopen dagen ben ik bezig geweest met de herformulering en herordening van een aantal ideeën uit mijn boek Vrouwen, Jezus en rock-‘n-roll – Met René Girard naar een dialoog tussen het christelijk verhaal en de populaire cultuur. Ik wou mij, in de aanloop naar Pasen, opnieuw bezinnen over het zogenaamde ‘verrijzenisgebeuren’. Uiteindelijk heb ik volgend artikel gebrouwen – wie geïnteresseerd is, kan het hier lezen:


Ik heb geen voetnoten toegevoegd, maar geoefende lezers zullen echo’s vinden van filosofen als Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) en Max Scheler (1874-1928) – beiden voor wat betreft hun inzichten over het ‘ressentiment’ –, en van taalfilosofen als Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) – zijn ‘meaning is use’ – en Ian Ramsey (1915-1972) – meer bepaald zijn bevindingen over wat hij ‘disclosures’ noemt. Daarnaast is natuurlijk het denken van René Girard aanwezig, en vooral ook dat van James Alison – die de mimetische theorie, in navolging van iemand als de Zwitserse Jezuïet Raymund Schwager (1935-2004), in de theologische tradities van het christelijk verhaal heeft geïntegreerd.

Naar aanleiding van de zeer recente gebeurtenissen in verband met seksueel misbruik in de kerk, heb ik op het einde, ook als gelovige, vanuit een confrontatie met het leed van de slachtoffers en omdat ik, zoals velen, verontwaardigd en beschaamd ben door wat hen blijft overkomen, een ‘machteloze oproep’ willen doen naar de daders. Noch onze liefde voor de slachtoffers, noch onze morele verontwaardiging kan, blijkbaar, een dader van seksueel misbruik tot meer medemenselijkheid en liefde ‘dwingen’:

Het leven van Jezus wijst tegelijk op de machteloosheid en de macht van de Barmhartigheid – de Agapè. Deze Liefde is ten eerste machteloos. De mens die er uit probeert te leven heeft geen garanties dat de kwetsbare houding waarmee hij zich opstelt, zal geïmiteerd worden door zijn medemensen. Als je de geldingsdrang van een ander niet beantwoordt met geldingsdrang, als je ‘het geslagen worden op de wang’ niet met ‘slaan’ beantwoordt maar ‘de andere wang aanbiedt’, geef je inderdaad aan je belager de kans om jou niet nog eens te kwetsen, maar tegelijk loop je het risico dat je geen tedere barmhartigheid ondervindt en opnieuw gekwetst of ‘gekruisigd’ wordt – dat je een zoveelste ‘kaakslag’ krijgt te verduren. Ondanks alles blijft de Liefde waarvan Jezus getuigenis aflegt, wachten op de ‘bekering van de zondaar (in ieder van ons!). Jezus veroordeelt in zijn optreden radicaal de zonde (‘de daad’), maar geeft tegelijk zijn geloof in (de goedheid van) mensen niet op.

Hieruit blijkt ten tweede, en paradoxaal genoeg misschien, toch ook de macht van de Agapè. De Barmhartigheid is niet afhankelijk van de houding van een ‘misdadiger’ of ‘vervolger’. Zelfs als een dader geen berouw toont voor zijn misdrijven, kan een slachtoffer zijn zelfrespect bewaren. De houding van een dader hoeft niet per se de houding van het slachtoffer te bepalen. Slachtoffers kunnen vrij worden in een hernieuwde Liefde voor het ‘leven’ die voor koppige, hardleerse of zelfs ‘zieke’ en ‘verdorde’ daders verborgen blijft. In ieder geval ontsnapt de steun en de Liefde die de naasten van het slachtoffer aan het slachtoffer willen bieden totaal aan de greep van de dader. Hopelijk laten slachtoffers zich uiteindelijk door deze Liefde dragen, en krijgen zij die ‘slaan’, ‘vervolgen’ en ‘verkrachten’, niet het laatste, heerszuchtige woord over het leven van hun slachtoffers. Dat is de hoopvolle realiteit waarnaar de nieuwtestamentische Paasboodschap, ondanks alles, tracht te verwijzen.

In een wereld waarin daders van seksuele misdrijven in de kerk zich, op een jaloerse wijze, onheus behandeld voelen omdat daders ‘uit andere sectoren’ niet ‘even streng’ zouden worden aangepakt, klinken de woorden die de vaderfiguur uit Jezus’ ‘parabel van de verloren zoon’ spreekt tot zijn verongelijkte oudste zoon op een nieuwe wijze. Ze klinken namelijk als een blijvende oproep naar de daders om oog te hebben voor de genade die ze onverdiend al mochten genieten van de samenleving. En bovenal klinken ze als een oproep om het slachtoffer van hun misdrijven te erkennen. In navolging van het oudtestamentische verhaal waarop Jezus met zijn parabel alludeert – het verhaal over Kaïn die uit begeerte naar een bepaalde vorm van erkenning zijn broer Abel vermoordt –, kunnen we mét de Bijbelse God de ‘Kaïns’ van het seksueel misbruik toeroepen:

“Hoor, het bloed van uw broer roept uit de grond naar Mij!” (Gen.4,10b).