Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Text in Travail - Chapter 7 in Violence Unveiled by Gil Bailie (post 2)

In the end, the Cain and Abel story provides a parable of the sacrificial dilemma with which the Israelites would wrestle for centuries, and with which we are still confronted. Under the cumulative pressure of the biblical revelation, the sacrificial system fails, beginning with its most abominable form, human sacrifice. But attempts to abandon the sacrificial system too abruptly deprive the society in question of its only effective ritual for curing itself of the tensions to which mimetic desire inevitably lead. When the Bible says that Abel’s blood sacrifice was pleasing to God, it means that it was religiously and socially effective.

There is, I feel, a tragic aspect to the story of Cain, similar in many ways to the tragedy which surrounded the life of the biblical Moses. Cain renounced the sacrificial underpinnings of religious and cultural life too casually. His ritual innovation was driven by no discernible moral or religious scruple. Lacking that motivation, his renunciation of sacrifice was accompanied by no heightened sense of moral and religious responsibility. To dispense with sacrificial systems without accepting greater moral and religious responsibility is to follow Cain down a dark road that, in the Bible, led in five generations to Lamech, who declares:

I killed a man for wounding me,
a boy for striking me.
Sevenfold vengeance for Cain,
but seventy-sevenfold for Lamech. [Genesis 4:23-24]

The story of Cain shows what the history of the twentieth century shows, namely, that if we dispense with the sacrificial structures upon which religion and culture have for so long depended without at the same time renouncing the mimetic passions that made these structures necessary in the first place, then sooner or later we will become murderers.

Violence Unveiled

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