Andre Rabe and his wife Mary-Anne are acclaimed traveling teachers and musicians, having lived and served in some of the most obscure corners of the planet. In 2010, with their kids all grown up, Andre and Mary-Anne packed everything they had in two suitcases and took to the road. I recently talked to Andrew to discuss an encounter that changed his life and ministry, culminating in the publication of Desire Found Me. This is Part 2 of our two-part interview; you can read part one here.
Rene Girard’s work tends to present a stark vision of humanity as following each other in a “race to the bottom” of mimetic rivalry, wanting what each other has and being willing to engage in a “war of all against all” in order to get it. What provides temporary relief from this violent mimetic frenzy, in Girard’s anthropology, is when one individual (or symbolic proxy) is sacrificed on behalf of the whole. How do Girard – and you – see the Hebrew Bible’s revelation of God and beloved community as the beginnings of a break from this cycle of violence?
The myths that grew from our violent past were written by the survivors. As such they have a very limited point of view: the surviving community was always portrayed as innocent and the victims as deserving of their fate.
The Scriptures are unique in that the voice of the victim is heard – a singular point of view that is absent from most myths.
Girard spent many years deconstructing myth, showing at what points the myths concealed the actual events. To his surprise, the biblical stories pause and explicitly reveal the true events that myths conceal.
Can you give me an example of a biblical story containing both cover-up and the genuine story?
I sure can. The origin myths that tell of the founding of the first community/civilization normally involve a death. A founding death is the beginning of every new civilization. Within the myths this death can be described as a volunteer sacrificing himself for the good of the community, or it can be portrayed as a just execution of an undoubtedly guilty party. Obviously the surviving community is always innocent of the murder. The biblical story of Cain and Abel also acknowledges that a death is the beginning of the first civilization – the city of Enoch. However, what’s remarkable is that the death of Abel is exposed for what it is: murder. It is in the process of exposing the myth of redemptive violence that the cycle of violence begins to break.
Whether its the story of Joseph, Job, or the many voices that arise in the Psalms, the established wisdom – that one gets what one deserves, that suffering is always the result of sin – is being challenged by people who suffer yet protest their innocence.
Whereas the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament often challenges the myth of sacred violence by re-reading popular myth, in the person of Jesus we go beyond a literary, theoretical reinterpretation. Jesus actually becomes the victim and suffers our violence so that God can never be used to justify violence again. He reveals a God who would rather suffer our injustice than partake in our violence. As I mention in Desire Found Me:
Jesus surrenders himself into our rage and the Father hands over the Son into our blind cycle of violence, for it is only from within that our confusion can be subverted and our violence can be exposed as belonging to ourselves alone. He willingly becomes the sacrificial victim to save us from sacrifice and the violent god-images birthed by it. He undoes our myths from within. He enters into the very heart of our anxieties – the fear that we are not accepted, that we are not worthy of life – and there he shows us a God who unconditionally accepts and embraces our humanity. And so it is while we are at our worst, while we are enemies, that he reconciles us (Romans 5: 10).
God in Christ, undoing our anxieties from within. That’s powerful.
Ultimately it is the Father’s resurrection of Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, that allows us to hear from our victim again. No perpetrator of violence wants to hear from his/her victims – that’s why we kill them. But the resurrection leaves us no choice. The message, however, is the most radically subversive message: Unlike the blood of all previous victims that cry for vengeance, the blood of Jesus cries for forgiveness. Thereby he gives us the ultimate solution to the never ending cycle of violence: forgiveness. Retributive justice does not end the cycle; restorative justice does.
Are there any areas in which you either differ from Girard/Mimetic theory as it’s presented, or feel you contribute something unique to this discussion?
Any theory that has an enormous scope and huge implications for both our personal lives and society as a whole is bound to attract much criticism. Mimetic theory has certainly attracted many critics my across several disciplines and decades…and the end result has been hugely beneficial. The very fact that it is able to attract such attention from such a wide variety of disciplines is testimony to its power of explanation. And so the criticism has served to refine the theory.
Theology cannot be neatly separated from the other sciences. In fact, the more overlap there is, the greater its relevance for our lives. Mimetic theory allows us to see Jesus in the full scope of human history, instead of biblical history alone. The study of the Bible as literature in the context of other ancient writings and myth has also been hugely enriched. Mimetic theory has encouraged unparalleled cross-science conversation. Psychologists, anthropologists, economists and theologians have found common ground in Mimetic theory. This has sparked research and academic fellowships like no other movement I’ve seen.
Very true. I think of The Colloquium on Violence and Religion, for starters, and Theology and Peace. While the latter focuses on Christianity, I’m always impressed by the racial, cultural, and socio-economic diversity involved addressing issues of intersectional justice, as well as spirituality. The Center for Action and Contemplation invited Christena Cleveland, James Alison, and Mirabai Starr – in addition to Fr. Richard Rohr – to discuss scapegoating and inclusion at Conspire 2016. Scientific research on mimesis is beginning.
I have also read a number of criticisms written by sincere believers who are trying to figure out what this is all about. Unfortunately many think they are able to provide positive criticism before they van have a reasonable grasp of Mimetic theory. If you are looking for an insightful theological criticism of Girard I would suggest Girard and Theology by Michael Kirwan.
My interest is focussed on how people experience God – to create an environment in which people can encounter the One who desires them. As mentioned before, Girard gave more attention to the negative aspects of Mimesis (ie, in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning). There are tremendous possibilities in developing the positive side of Mimesis – exploring what it means to be the image and likeness of God.
I hope that my chapter on Mimetic Atonement shows how ancient insight can be enriched by Mimetic Theory. Simultaneously it shows how Mimetic Theory can be much more than a theory of human origins, having huge implications for the metaphysical experience of God. Practical ministry and theology are the areas that I am most involved in. From my experience it seems that very few who are involved in practical ministry know how to communicate or apply mimetic realism.
A final comment. A number of reviewers of Desire Found Me mentioned that it made Mimetic Theory simple to understand, specifically in its theological implications. I would be very grateful if I can make these profound insights accessible to audiences that would not normally engage with Girard’s work directly. To support this intention, I’ve launched a new online program: Mimesis.Academy.
For the life of the everyday Jesus-follower, how can an understanding of redeemed desire help us overcome our own violent and acquisitive habits?
An awareness of the process is already a big help, but not a final solution. Following Jesus means much more than trying to imitate the historically recorded actions of Jesus. Encountering Jesus is what transforms life. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18) If I may quote from my book again:
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s self-revelation within our history and, as such, atonement is a historic event. But atonement is also more than history, it is the “now” or “wow” moment in which the Spirit of God opens my eyes to see the true God and find myself as God’s reflection.
We do not have to simply be reflections of our communities, our culture, etc. Out of this living encounter with Christ we are called to follow the author and perfecter of our faith who, because of his love for others and trust in his Father, was able to resist mimetic compliance, stand against the crowd and be authentically himself.
We are most authentic when we imitate the God of self-giving love.
This is Part 2 of a two-part interview with Andre Rabe. Again, Part 1 is here. Want more Andre and mimetic beauty? Check out AlwaysLoved.net.