This is the reason why violence continues to play an important part of social cohesion. So long as the guilt of our scapegoating practices is never plain, then the process will continue to be used in bringing peace to our rivalrous relationships. So long as we are blind to it.
Since the divinised scapegoat remained guilty, it carried its former “sins” over into its god status.
This is why the pagan gods had sinful characteristics. They were incesteral, murders, eaters of their children, ambitious, jealous and self-glorious. These were likely false charges against earlier scapegoats, but the charges stuck and the subsequent gods were said to have these same features.
This shows the entirely human origins of these gods.
In this way, the guilt of the society for killing the scapegoat was covered. Since the charges of sin against the scapegoat stuck, even when the scapegoat became a god, the false accusations of the community against the scapegoat were never revealed. Their murderous cultures were never faced for what they were. This allowed their violence against other weak people to continue as though it was righteous. The community as a whole was “righteous.” It was the scapegoats, and also the gods, who were sinful.
Having these “sinful gods” was perfect for the community. The leaders could blame the gods for the evil things that happened to their communities. The gods could also bless extreme violence, the sexual activities and the ambitious careers of the oppressors. The gods were truly made in the image of fallen man.
Scholars of ancient myths have noticed what the myths have in common. The victim receives divine status after it is realised that the victim’s death brought a sense of reconciliation to the community.
Scholars have suggested that the gospel is just one more of these myths, the same as the others.
Jesus was just another victim of the society, and after his death, his disciples sensed his sacrifice brought them restoration with God and with each other. They then believed Jesus must have been God.
Girard claimed the scholars had missed the obvious point of the gospel. He said that the gospel exposed the false claim of all society, that the victim is innocent, and that it is the society that is at fault for its violence and greed. Girard therefore believed that the gospel has done what no myth has done. It has demythologised all myths. It is has removed our blindness and showed the myths to be human fabrications. It has revealed the true nature of sacrifice, not as noble, but as human violence.
After Girard studied the mimetic desire in famous literature, in historical records of persecutions and in ancient myths, he then turned to the scriptures. It was in the scriptures that he saw the difference. The scriptures revealed the innocence of the victim. Joseph was “murdered” by his brothers, and again by Potiphar’s wife, but he was innocent. It was the gang and the covetous that were guilty. Girard saw that the scriptures were honest, they revealed what was really happening, they were on the side of the innocent.
Girard saw in the scriptures a plan of God. God was setting out to deconstruct human violence, by showing it for what it is. The scriptures were God’s way of revealing the oppression of the weak and bringing to light the violence and self-centredness of paganism. Girard saw that God’s plan was to renew our hearts and cultures by the gospel, to take the violence out of our lives and nations. But to do this, God had to have a perfect scapegoat.
It was in the gospel that Girard saw what God was doing. He saw God coming in the flesh brought a perfect innocent into our paganism. Someone who would not contest the mimetic desires of our communities. Someone that would stand out and be different, and would thereby shed a light of correction on our rivalry and greed.
And because this person would be so different, he would finally become our scapegoat. He would receive the violence of the community directed upon himself. This was the mistake of satan. In focusing the violence of paganism upon Christ, it could now be exposed. Satan’s hand, his way of managing and ruling over humanity, would now come out into the open.
Because Christ was wholly innocent, his victimisation was openly revealed as scapegoating. It was the scapegoating of the ruling powers and of the religious authorities, those groups in charge of justice, and therefore who have the most power to harm. This is not peripheral, but it goes to centre of our cultures. It speaks to our courts, and systems of justice, our churches and everything we hold to be sacred.
The cross of Christ exposes our guilt where it is most important for us to see it: in our corridors of power. Not someone else’s power, but the power in our own lives, our conscience, where we judge others. This is where the courts and the religious systems centre in our lives. How do we respond to the weak, to the one our group judges, to the one who has wronged us, to the one who needs restoration?
So for Girard, he saw in the gospel the undoing of pagan mythology. It alone exposes the false use of power and the need of the innocent. It alone calls us to renew power and to use it to serve those in need, rather ran cast them out as cursed. It alone brings us into condescension, calls us away from our mimetic greed, and calls us to live instead for others. It has replaced the myth of paganism, which is a myth of the self at the centre, and now puts the neighbour, the stranger at the centre.
When Girard saw this about the scripture and about the gospel, he became a believer. He grew up in a Catholic church, but he wasn’t then a believer. It was his studies in paganism, and then his studies in the gospel, that brought him to a genuine faith in Jesus Christ. This is a good way to come to faith.
It isn’t coming to faith in a god who will fight for you, but in the true God, who calls us to lay aside fighting and to serve.
The scriptures clearly show the innocence of Christ. It shows the sham trial, the fact that none of his disciples held any sin against him, even the Roman governor could find no guilt in him. The resurrection showed his innocence, God overturning the verdict of the human courts.
A New Rule
And the peace and reconciliation Christ brought after his death and resurrection wasn’t to the powers that killed him. It wasn’t the powers of the community that called him blessed and who divinised Christ. Unlike all previous scapegoats, this one had exposed those powers. They would not divinise him. Doing that would destroy their power over the people.
It was the weak, the sinner, the women, the foreigner, all those whom the powers hated, the ones they were against in mimetic rivalry, who saw the resurrection. And this is what makes it so distinct from the pagan myths. Christ rises from the dead, not to affirm the old powers, but to overthrow them. He rises to begin a new power, a new creation, one where “the gods” have no violence, no human lust, no greed or oppression, no self-centredness, but only care for others.
Unlike the myths, that affirms the status quo, the gospel of Christ has come to challenge it. It is not of this world. It doesn’t affirm this world. It can’t be human. It overthrows all that is human, in the fallen sense, all that is pagan. It couldn’t have come from us.
Anthropology & the Gospel
The gospel of Christ stands out as real history. The way Christ was taken and killed matches exactly with human behaviour. It matches exactly with our anthropological studies of culture. The way the rulers took and made scapegoats throughout our history, was exactly the same way they dealt with Christ.
We would therefore expect the gospel to fit in with the myths in this way. The myths describe real human history. They show how humanity behave. If the gospel of Christ didn’t match this, then you would expect it to be a false record. But it does match our history, the history of human religious power. The gospel comes into our pagan history. It comes into our mythology and at its centre it exposes and renews it.
The scriptural record and the anthropological record of human behaviour merge and concur. They are not separate realities. The gospel isn’t some strange gnostic thing that suddenly appears from heaven and snatches us all away to the clouds. The gospel comes into our anthropology, our human mythology, our systems of sacrifice, our violence, our hatred, and from there it gives birth to a new reality, a new anthropology, a second Adam.
Divorcing the gospel from our history and our mythology robs it of its power. It leaves our eyes closed to our social need. It leaves us unrenewed, still carrying out our scapegoating violence on a world in need. Seeing the gospel in the context of our history, of who we are, reveals the gospel’s call to us. It calls us to lay aside satan’s kingdom, of satan casting out satan, and to launch out into a new kingdom that gathers and heals the stranger.
In the gospel, we see the innocence of the one we condemn. This leads us into a new life of restoring one another, of restorative, rather than retributive, justice.