3 – Pagan Murder

Home Learning Hub Origins of Violence 3 – Pagan Murder
Rene Girard wrote about some aspects on the behaviour of communities. He looked at the development of sacrificial practices in ancient times and at how much of the rational of ancient communities still exists today.

Primary to this rational is that communities exist on the strength of murder. This means that murder is what holds communities together. Murder gives communities cohesion. It unifies the people and makes them a solid team, able to build together in their vision as a city or nation. This means that murder is the foundation of civilization.

Cain is a simple ancient example of this, the founder of the first city. Others like Lamech followed the same course, as did violent civilizations before and after the Flood.

This is the satanic way of building society. A society like this can never be whole. It will always be oppressive. As Jesus said, “satan cannot drive out satan.” Jesus knew how satan and anthropology merged. His teaching and life was as much directed at transforming this kind of society, as it was about our personal lives.

 

Memetic Desire

Girard spoke of mimetic desire. Mimetic means to mimic, to copy someone else. The ability to copy others is good. It is how we learn many things. As children, we copy speech from our parents. We see what others are doing and we desire to follow them, to learn from them. This desire to learn from and copy others helps build community, because we desire to associate with what others are doing. It brings us together.

But this desire to copy others can also be the cause of friction. If we desire to copy others, we also desire to have what others have. We desire something because others desire it. We mimic their desire. It is because we see someone else with a thing, that the same item has value to us as well.

We want it because it gives prestige to someone else. We want to copy that person, so we want the thing that they want.

 

Memetic Rivalry

If you see a young child playing with a toy in a room, what will happen if another child comes into the room? Even though there are other toys there, the second child will often want the toy the first child is playing with. The second child desires that toy, simply because the first child is playing with it. He is copying the first child. His desire is based on the first child’s desire. This leads to conflict.

Or, if you go into a store and look at a pair of shoes on a shelf, another person may follow after you and look at the same pair of shoes. Sometimes rivalry can happen over this pair of shoes, even though many other good shoes are there. This is mimetic desire. It is desiring what we see others desiring. The fact that someone desires something, gives that thing value.

This is a picture of what happens within wider community. There are several conflicts going on within the community at once. Different people are desiring what other people have. Eventually the wider community is filled with many conflicts and the community tends towards chaos. So mimesis, that which was supposed to bring togetherness to the community, is now bringing disintegration.

Girard’s theory explains what communities do about this threat of disintegration. How do they resolve this chaos? How do they get cohesion to return to the community? Once the community has its cohesion back, then the community can go on to achieve things together. It can become strong and compete with other communities. Maybe it can even become an empire and get riches. But it must have cohesion for this.

 

Scapegoating

How can a community, that has so many areas of friction, come together again? First of all, we see that the problem is satanic. It is friction based upon competitive interests and ego, that breaks down cooperation between people. Satan loves this. It is oppressive and harmful towards people. People cannot help each other discover and achieve God’s purpose for themselves and for the world, because we are at variance with each other. The good purposes for creation are hampered.

But then satan gives a solution to this community’s problem. If he didn’t give us a solution, we might start looking to God. But satan’s solution is more of the same. It is more violence and more killing. It is satan casting out satan.

Let’s explain. What can bring unity to a group? When there is rivalry, conflict and negative energy with a group, what can solve this? There needs to be some way of channelling this negative energy, of dissipating and releasing it, that does the least damage to the community.

The answer is finding a common enemy. This common enemy will allow an avenue for violent energy to be expended. It will also be an opportunity to unite the competing factions in the community.

Where do we get this common enemy from? It starts with one member of the community pointing the finger at someone who is different. This person has some characteristic that distinguishes them from the rest of the group. Then the person can be viewed as a fault and a threat to the community.

Whether the person is a genuine threat or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that this perception unifies the community against a common enemy. The community stops seeing each other as their enemies and starts seeing this selected person as their common problem. All the hatred of the community, which they held against each other, is now focused on this other person. Before the person knows what is happening, he or she is cornered, condemned by the group and killed.

 

Unified Desire

The group now sees that its problems have been solved. They have identified the culprit, the one they said who had caused their problems. And when they killed that person they noticed that peace had returned to their group. Order had returned. They were no longer fighting each other. They think that this proves they were correct, that the person they killed really was the cause of their problems.

What really happened was that their mimetic desire changed. Instead of desiring what other members in their group had, they started desiring to blame the same enemy. When one member pointed at a potential victim to blame, every person then desired to blame that victim. The thing they desired, to kill someone at fault, became the desire of all the community, which they could all fulfil together. The whole community is involved in the death of that person. It is a desire they can all participate in at once, without conflict between themselves.

This is the reason stoning was a useful way of killing the selected victim. The whole group could participate in the event and find fulfillment and unity together in a common desire. Once the victim was killed, those who participated noticed a new friendship among themselves. Their petty jealousies against each other subsided.

We see these themes in the ancient myths of pagan gods and the foundations of civilizations. There is commonly some crisis, followed by a murder and then the rise of a new great nation. The people are unified around a common victim to blame for their chaos and troubles. The reason to blame the victim may be partially true, or false. There may be claims about some evil the victim has done, like murder, or incest, or some other crime.

The victim is then tried unjustly, found guilty and put to death. In Greek tradition, the mob approached the victim together, slowly, until the victim was pressed off a cliff. This way, no one person was guilty for the victim’s death, in case any family member of the victim wanted to revenge the killing. But normally a victim was chosen who was weak, who had no one to revenge them. A large group could participate in the killing of the “guilty person,” and this participation would bring unity to the community.

 

Deified Victim

After the killing, the people noticed their rivalries stopped. The fighting in their city group ended.

The people were unified and friendly. The common purpose of killing the “guilty person” had brought them together. They then believed that this was a great miracle. Eventually divine status was assigned to the “guilty person” whom they killed. They believed the victim had done a great miracle for the people, in bringing them together, and eventually making them a great empire. So eventually that victim became a god in their mythology.

Greek mythology is like other pagan stories in the ancient world, about how the gods came to be worshipped. They commonly started out this way, through the sacrifice and killing of an outsider, someone weaker, who later became venerated as a god in the new rising city/ empire.

This sheds light on why the gods have human like characteristics. The gods often do terrible things, like murder, or indulge in destructive sexual behaviours. Mankind makes gods in their own image.

Whatever sin the victim was blamed for, when the community first accused and killed them, was carried into their divinity after the community was healed. When they started to worship the victim whom they had killed, they included the victim’s earlier “sins” into their divine image.

This is how ancient gods came into being. They were the victims of community murder. When the community was healed, in time they wanted to commemorate the killing, as a way of bonding the community. By this time the victim had become a god, and they would make sacrifices to the god, reminding themselves of the original miracle, in how they had been unified into becoming a great nation. And these sacrifices continued to remind the community of how their future disputes would be settled: by murder.

 

Hiding the Murder

The mechanism works in this way: To alleviate the violence happening within a society, that violence is diverted to another object, person or group of persons. If the society can get enough mimetic desire working to turn the people in unity against another person or group, then the process will succeed. Those who lead the process will have their position over the society strengthened.

One of the clearest examples of this occurred in Germany, when after World War I, the nation was in great trouble. Hitler was able to unify the nation by appealing to its fears of Communism and the fear of the Jews. This scapegoating very quickly gave rise to such a strong Germany, that it nearly defeated the rest of the world.

The key to this process is hiding the murder, or hiding the guilt of the murder. If the society can really believe in the guilt of the scapegoat, then its murder isn’t seen as murder, but as justice.

Scapegoating only works when the society believes in the guilt of the scapegoat, or in its own propaganda. This is why any person who casts doubt on the propaganda is maligned so quickly.

Scapegoating only works when its real motivation is hidden.

This is how violence takes the ascendancy in our cultures. We participate in violence because we hide it as violence. We call it justice, but we are really participating in satan’s cycle of destruction, which reigns over our nations and world. It leads us from one conflict to the next. It calls us to an escalation of violence in which we all hide our violence in the guilt of the other person or people.

 

Pagan Examples

Greek myths of creation show gods fighting and committing murderous acts, like eating their children, and overthrowing their parents. Other myths speak of victims thrown into water and becoming god like mermaids. Girard believed that all such stories depict human violence, with the accused victims later divinised.

In reality, and this is what is hidden, all the violence committed is human violence, not actually violence by the so-called gods. The myths are propagandised stories, invented to hide the violence of the murderers and victors, who went on to create the new world order.

We read the bible according to the time in which it was written. What was it saying to the people of its time, considering the background, the religious world of their day? The message of creation in the scripture, was written when the Hebrew people knew the creation myths of the pagan nations. The pagan myths in early Hebrew days, were just like the Greek myths: violent acts carried out by their founders, masked in the identities of their invented gods.

In contrast, the biblical account of creation contains no violence. The creation story in the bible isn’t just history. It was telling the Hebrew people, in the day in which all pagan creation stories were violent acts, that God was calling his people to a non-scapegoating way of peace with our enemies.

That is, to cast out satan without violence.

Creation is bringing cosmos (order) out of chaos. The creation stories of the pagans were really about the violent origins of their civilizations. But the biblical account shows that the rivalry of memetic desire isn’t defeated by murder. The chaos of our communities doesn’t come to order through violence, but by healing care, which reconciles. God brought order to the chaos without a single act of violence. The biblical text then could not have arisen out of our pagan societies.

The very ancient Egyptian creation myths that date before Moses, also depict sexual gods eating offspring and enforcing violent order out of the waters. These myths appear to depict human life between creation and the Flood, which has been deified. They seem to be more about the foundations of Egyptian civilization than creation ex-nihilo. Sumerian creation myths are simular.