Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Gospel in a Cellphone Video

Sound Judgment

The surreptitious cell phone video of Saddam's death -- more the sound portion of it -- has raised the opinions of government leaders and a host of journalists regarding the solemnity befitting such an enactment of duly sanctioned capital punishment.

Those acquainted with René Girard's mimetic theory know that it includes the theory of human culture coming about from founding violence of the many against the one. "Unanimity minus one," in Girard's apt turn of phrase. In the wake of this founding murder is hypothesized the origins of religion; namely, ritual that reenacts the original murder through blood sacrifice. Many see the remnants of such rituals in the continuing executions of human beings to this day.

It is important to differentiate between the founding violence which while unscripted is carried out by mob action that includes an initial accompanying sense of great righteousness on the part of the mob and the ritualized violence that follows in its wake. Girard postulates that this sense of righteous indignation and accomplishment after the murder is carried out is undergoing a mammoth deconstruction due to the cross of Jesus Christ. This "one, perfect sacrifice" has undone the mob's ability to feel self righteous, and now wherever the Gospel has been at work, such violence will have an accompanying "moral hangover." (Caveat: F. Nietzsche saw this effect of the Gospel and supported a return to such ritualized violence anyway. His ubermensch would "gut it up" and get the job done.)

Since Our Lord, the "lamb slain" [Rev. 5,12], has revealed "what was hidden since the foundation of the world" [Mtt 13, 35], no matter who the culprit executed, the violence of the sacrificial ritual is compromised and radically diminished in its ability to reconvene the community as it once did. Girard and others go to great lengths to show that the more that the Gospel infiltrates into the hearts and minds of people, the more this sacrificial "mechanism" ceases to have its once beneficiary effects. In fact,

If the community uses the execution of a criminal to feel good about itself, regardless of certifiable, heinous crimes that he committed, the victim is structurally innocent.

It should be noted that Girard is explicit in his gratitude to Sacred Scripture for explicating these truths about violence. The Pontifical Household preacher, Father Raneiro Cantalamessa, has cited Girard's insights more than once.

For still the best introduction to Girard's mimetic theory read Violence Unveiled, by Gil Bailie.

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