Monday, June 02, 2008

Who's Your Daddy

Jesus' inquisitors in the 8th chapter of John's Gospel want to check on his pedigree, his ancestry.

"Where is your father?" they ask him (v. 19)

"You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also," he replies.

They say a little later, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone..." (v. 33, as their Roman overlords probably listened in)

Jesus says to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. but now you are trying to kill me ... Abraham did not do this. You are doing the works of your father ... You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning ... he is a liar and the father of lies" (vv. 39b-44a, my emphases).
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Jesus is juxtaposing his Father with that "father" of the Pharisees whom they mis-recognize as Abraham. Jesus first corrects them about Abraham, saying that if he were their father, they would do the works of Abraham; namely, faithfully loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength, and neighbor as oneself. Then he pulls back the veil that thinly masks the violence they actually carry out like the pagans. THIS, he says, is the true "father" of their actions. They use laws as "trip-wires" to catch new victims to throw into the sacrificial mechanism started by the "murderer from the beginning ... a liar and the father of lies."

As we noted in the series of posts on Paganism, Then and Now, mimetic theory, the cultural anthropology of René Girard, posits precisely what Jesus puts in these few words of comparing the "murderer from the beginning ... and the father of lies" of conventional human culture vs. the Father God whom Jesus came to reveal to a sinful, violent, and bloodthirsty humanity. (To get caught up in gender political correctness here would be to do great disservice to the canonical Scriptures and cannot but sidetrack the importance of these matters. "Father" it will be and shall remain.)

Gil Bailie in his extraordinary explication of Girard's opus - Violence Unveiled - notes that the pre-Socratic philosopher Herclitus saw that
War [polemos] is the father and king of all things; he has shown some to be gods and some mortals, he has made some slaves and others free ... Everything originates in strife ... Strife is justice; and all things both come to pass and perish through strife. (My emphasis)
Mimetic theory also posits that each mere human culture always tries to guarantee that (a) it is utterly unique in its ability to bring about peace and prosperity; and (b) its cultic deity "sanctions" its violence against the usurping "other" who are (clearly) less than human ("sons of pigs, apes," etc.). Each human culture promises an "Exit" out of the labyrinth of violence and evil - finally! - only for individuals to discover that the exit-sign is just another entrance into the maze of human folly and bloodshed (I borrow "labyrinth", Bailie's apt metaphor for the primitive Sacred).

Girard posits here the difference between what he calls an "internal mediator" and an "external mediator." The former is one of the myriad savior figures who have led the human race astray during our sad, mortal history "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The latter, on the other hand, would be a truly divine figure who comes from outside our human cultural house of mirrors and, thus, is capable of informing us of a completely different and superior way of living, moving, and having our being. One, as Girard says, who comes "to turn this long page of human history once and for all."

And so we see the need for choosing with extreme care and caution who to follow, whose "father" to believe, what organizing principle to set at the center of one's being. One that will just lead us back into the labyrinth of the "same ol' same ol'?" Or, a true "external Mediator" worthy of our heart, our life, our eternal well-being?

Who you gonna trust? may well be the most important question you ever answer.

2 comments:

Aramis said...

"labyrinth", Bailie's apt metaphor for the primitive Sacred - this is really good, can you tell where he describes this metaphor of the labyrinth?

Athos said...

In tape 6 of "The Truth of Poetry & the Poetry of Truth - Reflections on Virgil's Aeneid."