Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The Victim Mechanism

Reading Rene Girard, or the Girardian theology of James Alison, is a converting experience. Girard sees the many against the (innocent) victim as the beginning of everything we take for granted as peculiarly human. Culture, religion, language, community, even the formation of the self and self-consciousness. At the beginning of the emergence of the (recognizably) human the violence amongst us from competition was resolved by pointing the finger in blame at an individual. They are the cause of the conflict (this is the lie of the lynchers); expelling or killing that individual will bring peace. And so it did, and still does. Humankind hid from the truth of our persecution of the innocent victim, but the mechanism did bring peace, at least of a sort. We still hide from the lie. All human culture, every individual's sense of self, is predated by our relationship to the innocent victim. There is no way around this primordial murder and its justifying lie. Religion does not escape. Religion arose, according to Girard, as a direct result of the peace brought through the death of the victim. The god(s) owned/accepted the victim, and sometimes the victim would take on royal and divine epithets.

This means that the victim mechanism, with its lie, is embedded in our societies, philosophies, politics, religions, etc. We are born into the lie because the lie is at the beginning of our culture. We are born into the lie because it is the cause of our caregivers self-consciousness. There is no 'self' that can step aside from the victim mechanism and correct the distortion. Original Sin takes on a new meaning in the light of Girard. There is no possibility of a Pelagian self-salvation by trying harder to separate ourselves from the lie within us. The lie is foundational to who we are. Salvation can only come from outside us, from the victim.

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