paul and adam1

Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast with Paul Nuechterlein: Thankful for Rene Girard and Creating a Better Future



Show Notes

Paul Nuechterlein is the Contributing Theologian for Theology and Peace, he is the creator of the immensely helpful website “Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary,” and Paul has just started a new project called “Discipleship Seminars in Mimetic Theory.”

In this episode, Paul gives thanks for the life of René Girard. Paul credits Girard for changing everything about the way he thinks about life, relationships, faith, and the Bible. Paul explores the mimetic principle of human inter-dividuality and why the concept is so important in our work for justice and peace.

Andrew Marr, a Benedictine monk at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan, made a special guest appearance to discuss economic justice in light of mimetic theory. Andrew has written the wonderful book Tools for Peace: The Spiritual Craft of St. Benedict and Rene Girard. He also blogs at his website “Imaginary Visions of True Peace.”


Life Goes On Under the Helicopters and the Terrible Cost of Avoiding the Dangers of Kabul

Editor’s Note: This article, written by Brian Terrell, was submitted by contributing author Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

When I arrived at the Kabul International Airport on November 4, I was unaware that the same day the New York Times published an article, “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital, as Danger Rises and Troops Recede.” My friends Abdulhai and Ali, 17 years old, young men I have known since my first visit five years ago, greeted me with smiles and hugs and took my bags. Disregarded by soldiers and police armed with automatic weapons, we caught up on old times as we walked past concrete blast walls, sand bag fortifications, check points and razor wire to the public road and hailed a cab.

The sun was just burning through the clouds after an early morning rain and I had never seen Kabul look so bright and clean. Once past the airport, the high way into the city was bustling with rush hour traffic and commerce. I was unaware until I read the New York Times on line a few days later, that this time I was one of only a few US citizens likely to be on that road. “The American Embassy’s not allowed to move by road anymore,” a senior Western official told the Times, which reported further that “after 14 years of war, of training the Afghan Army and the police, it has become too dangerous to drive the mile and a half from the airport to the embassy.”

Helicopters now ferry employees working with the United States and the international military coalition to and from offices in Kabul we are told. The United States Embassy in Kabul is one of the largest in the world and already a largely self-contained community, its personnel are now even more isolated from Afghan people and institutions than before. “No one else,” other than US and coalition facilities, the Times reports, “has a compound with a landing pad.” While proclaiming its mission there “Operation Resolute Support” for Afghanistan, US officials no longer travel on Afghan streets.

We have no helicopters or landing pads, but the security situation in Kabul is also a concern for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a grass roots peace and human rights organization that I work with, and for our friends in the Kabul-based Afghan Peace Volunteers that I came to visit. I am fortunate with my grey beard and darker complexion to more easily pass for a local and so I can move about a bit more freely on the streets than some other internationals who visit here. Even then, my young friends have me wear a turban when we leave the house.

The security in Kabul does not look so grim to everyone, though. According to an October 29 Newsweek report, the German government will soon deport most of the Afghan asylum seekers who have entered that country. German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere insists that Afghans should “stay in their country” and that those refugees coming from Kabul especially have no claim for asylum, because Kabul is “considered to be a safe area.” The streets of Kabul that are too dangerous for US Embassy workers to travel in their convoys of Humvees and armored cars escorted by heavily armed private contractors, are safe for Afghans to live, work and raise their families, in Herr de Maiziere’s estimation. “Afghans made up more than 20 percent of the 560,000-plus people who have arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, according to the UN Refugee Agency, something de Maziere described as ‘unacceptable.’”

Afghans, especially of the educated middle class, de Maiziere says, “should remain and help build the country up.” Quoted in the New York Times, Hasina Safi, the executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network, a group that works on human rights and gender issues, seems to agree: “It will be very difficult if all the educated people leave,” she said. “These are the people we need in this country; otherwise, who will help the ordinary people?” The same sentiment spoken with stunning courage and moral credibility by a human rights worker in Afghanistan, comes off as a disgraceful and craven obfuscation of responsibility when expressed from a government ministry in Berlin, especially when that government has for 14 years participated in the coalition responsible for much of Afghanistan’s plight.

Ali teaching at Street Kids' School

Ali teaching at Street Kids’ School

On the day after my arrival I was privileged to sit in at a meeting of teachers in the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Street Kids’ School when this subject was discussed. These young women and men, high school and university students themselves, teach the basics of a primary education to children who must work in the streets of Kabul to help support their families. The parents do not pay tuition, but with the support of Voices, are instead allotted a sack of rice and jug of cooking oil each month to compensate for the hours their children are studying.

While the New York Times proclaims that “Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital,” these volunteer teachers are a sign that life goes on, sometimes with startling joy and abundance as I have experienced in recent days, even in this place ravaged by war and want. It was heartbreaking, then, to hear these brilliant, resourceful and creative young people who clearly represent Afghanistan’s best hope for the future, discuss frankly whether they have a future there at all and whether they should join so many other Afghans seeking sanctuary elsewhere.

The reasons that any of these young people might leave are many and impelling. There is great fear of suicide bombings in Kabul, air raids in the provinces where anyone might be targeted as a combatant by a US drone, fear of getting caught between various combatant forces fighting battles that are not theirs. All have suffered greatly in the wars that began here before they were born. The institutions charged with the reconstruction of their country are riddled with corruption, from Washington, DC, to Afghan government ministries and NGOs, billions of dollars gone to graft with little to show on the ground. The prospects even for the brightest and most resourceful to pursue an education and then be able to find work in their chosen professions in Afghanistan are not good.

Most of the volunteers admitted that they had given thought to leaving, but even so they expressed a strong sense of responsibility to stay in their county. Some had come to a firm resolution not to leave, others seemed unsure if future developments would allow them to stay. Like young people everywhere, they would love to travel and see the world, but in the end their deepest wish is to “remain and help build the country up” if only they are able.

The vast majority of Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans and others risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea in flimsy crafts or by land through hostile territory in hopes to find asylum in Europe would stay home if they could. While these asylum seekers should be given the hospitality and shelter that they have a right to, clearly the answer is not the absorption of millions of refugees into Europe and North America. In the longer term, there is no solution except a restructuring of the global political and economic order to allow all people to live and flourish at home or to freely move if that is their choice. In the shorter term, nothing will stem the massive tide of immigrants short of stopping all military intervention in these countries by the United States and its allies and by Russia.

The November 4 New York Times story ends with a cautionary tale, a warning that “even efforts to avoid the dangers in Kabul come at a terrible cost.” Three weeks before, one of the many helicopters that now fill the skies moving embassy personnel around had a tragic accident. “Trying to land, the pilot clipped the tether anchoring the surveillance blimp that scans for infiltrators in central Kabul as it hovers over the Resolute Support base.” Five coalition members died in the crash, including two Americans. The blimp drifted off with more than a million dollars’ worth of surveillance equipment, ultimately crashing into, and presumably destroying, an Afghan house.

The efforts of the US, UK and Germany “to avoid the dangers in Kabul” and other places we have destroyed will inevitably “come at a terrible cost.” It cannot be otherwise. We cannot forever keep ourselves safe from the bloody mess we have made of the world by hopping over it from fortified helipad to fortified helipad in helicopter gunships. Millions of refugees flooding our borders might be the smallest price we will have to pay if we continue to try.

Brian Terrell lives in Maloy, Iowa, and is a co-coordinator with Voices for Creative Nonviolence (, where this article first appeared. 

Images: All images submitted with the original article. Featured image: Helicopter over Kabul.



shock and awe

The Aftermath of Paris

I’m sitting in the aftermath of Paris, feeling emotions tear me apart. One of the emotions is joy. My daughter, who lives there, is safe.

Has “joy” ever felt so troubling?

The aftermath of Paris seems likely to be intensified (“pitiless”) bombing raids in Syria, closed borders, heightened fear-based security and the deletion of “the gray zones of coexistence” across the planet.

Oh, it’s so nice to have an enemy who is truly evil! And the logic of war is so seductive. It simplifies all these complex emotions. Just watch the news.

The news is that terror wins. Indeed, terror is the cornerstone of civilization.

I couldn’t get that notion out of my head. That’s because I couldn’t stop thinking about an act of extraordinary terror that took place just over a dozen years ago, and its relevance to the world’s current state of shock and chaos. Doing so made it impossible to contemplate the raw savagery of the ISIS killings in Paris and Beirut and everywhere else — the “my God!” of it all, as innocent lives are cut short with such indifference — in a simplistic context of us vs. them.

In March of 2003, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq with a bombing campaign called “shock and awe,” consisting of some 1,700 air sorties over the country that killed, according to Iraq Body Count, over 7,400 civilians.

Thinking about that number simply in the context of the 129 confirmed dead and 300-plus injured in Paris, let’s consider, one more time, the words of Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, whose 1996 publication, Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, provided the strategic rationale for the 2003 bombing campaign:

The intent here is to impose a regime of Shock and Awe through delivery of instant, nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction directed at influencing society writ large, meaning its leadership and public, rather than targeting directly against military or strategic objectives. . . .

The employment of this capability against society and its values, called ‘counter-value’ … is massively destructive strikes directly at the public will of the adversary to resist. . . .

One recalls from old photographs,” they wrote, “. . . the comatose and glazed expressions of survivors of the great bombardments of World War I and the attendant horrors and death of trench warfare. These images and expressions of shock transcend race, culture, and history. Indeed, TV coverage of Desert Storm” — referring to the 1991 U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq — “vividly portrayed Iraqi soldiers registering these effects of battlefield Shock and Awe.

We launched our war on Iraq with the intent to commit terror on a scale ISIS could only dream of. The relevance of this is inescapable, not simply because it makes the United States and NATO brothers in terror with ISIS, but also because the war shattered Iraq and caused the death and displacement of millions more people and, ultimately, created the conditions in which ISIS was able to come to power.

What’s haunting to me is the absence of this shockingly relevant recent history from most mainstream coverage of the Paris killings — or more to the point, the absence of almost any sort of trans-war consciousness, you might say, from the discussion of what we ought to do next.

Considering that bombing campaigns, and war itself, are not only the equivalent of terror (“writ large”), but also wildly ineffective and counterproductive, producing, in the long term, pretty much the opposite of what rational, non-war-mongers crave, the failure of politicians and mainstream media types to reach beyond a riled militarism in their reaction to the medieval terror in which ISIS specializes bodes poorly, I fear, for the future of humanity.

My daughter, who last Friday night had been at a rehearsal for an upcoming poetry event, found herself, at 10 p.m., as she was leaving a tavern called Les Caves St.-Sabin, in the middle of the chaos. As she and her friends stepped into the street, someone came running past warning people to get back inside. They only learned, in bits and pieces, the enormity of what was still happening in their city. She spent the night at the tavern, a decorated basement that felt, she said, like a “medieval fallout shelter.” In the morning, the metro was running again and she returned to her apartment. Only then did the horror hit her with full ferocity. She sat and cried, then got up and went to work.

But the tears continue, if only in silence. These are tears writ large. They swell beyond Paris and beyond Europe and the West to the broken, bombed, war-ravaged nations of the Third and Fourth World, the source of the planet’s 60 million refugees. This is the world of ISIS. Instead of continuing to bomb this world, in our fear and anger, we could try to understand it.

“ISIS is the first group since Al Qaeda to offer these young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe.”

So wrote Lydia Wilson, a research fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford University, in a recent piece for The Nation. She and her colleagues, in an attempt to do just that — understand those who have given over their lives to ISIS — recently interviewed ISIS prisoners of war in Iraq and, in the process, found their humanity. Mostly they were young men in their 20s who grew up in the wake of the American occupation of Iraq, that is to say, in the midst of brutal civil war.

“The Americans came,” one of them told her. “They took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”

Violence begets violence, war begets war. Knowing this is the starting place. It’s time to start over.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


Image: Screen Shot from Youtube. “Shock and Awe the initial bombing of Baghdad” by xEngland4Lifex



Nightmare In Paris: Exorcising Our Demons

When I was working with a Jungian analyst, we spent years interpreting my dreams. They were mostly nightmares in which I was pursued by threatening monsters, carrion birds, or mute zombies. I was sure they wanted to destroy me, and because I felt weak, unable to defend myself, I ran. With an enormous amount of reassurance, my analyst finally coaxed me into a new approach: when my demons pursue me, she urged me to stop running, to turn during my nightmare and bravely face the source of my terror. She convinced me that the reason the demons were chasing me was that I kept running away! If I stopped and listened to what they wanted so desperately to tell me, the nightmares would end.

What I discovered is that the monsters and zombies of my dreams represented various parts of my own psyche that desperately needed my conscious attention. When I was able to listen to their fears, tend to their wounds, and dry their tears, my nightmares faded away. Slowly, I was made whole by the very things that had terrified me.

Terrorized by Our Twin

The terror in Paris may be the latest nightmare of the Western world. The world we are conscious of is being pursued by monsters which, much like my personal demons, may represent parts of ourselves we have banished and exiled. I believe that we are engaged in what the late René Girard called a battle of enemy twins. As much as we want to believe in our complete and utter difference from one another, we are adversaries who believe alike in our chosenness, in our divine favor. And that identity is more crucial than any variation in our cultures, religious or secular. What we share in common is certainly more crucial than the differing reasons we give for justifying violence, reasons which amount to nothing at all at the graveside of a husband, a wife, a child.

What we run away from in fear is the truth of our uncomfortable sameness, which is our shared worship of an identical yet false god. The worship we share is of an idol who conveniently takes our side, who endorses our violence and condemns the violence of our enemy. Political leaders across the warring divide rally their people with the same rhetoric: we are engaged in a battle of good against evil; for the sake of peace we must prevail. The high priests of our secular and religious structures preach that god is on our side and blesses our sacrifice.

Discovering the God Who Pursues Us

There is, thanks be to God, another narrative inspired by the One whom we have expelled with as much vehemence as any zombie of our nightmares. It is a story of the God who longs to be heard, who pursues us with such energy that we can sometimes feel we are being pursued by monsters! But many across the warring divide have stopped running. They have turned to listen to what this divinity of love and peace wants us to hear. You know many of the Christians who preach, teach and witness to what they have heard: Brian Mclaren, James Alison, Ben Corey, Kathy Kelly, Michael Hardin, Richard Rohr, Karen Armstrong, Pope Francis, and René Girard. But because the West does such a poor job of listening to Muslim and Jewish voices for peace, you may not have heard of their names: Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Safi Kaskas, Sheima Sumer, Shaiwat Satha-Anand, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Anat Hoffman, Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, and Rabbi Arik Ascherman.

As we learn from this amazing diversity of witnesses to listen to the God who pursues us we discover, to our deepest horror, that we are no different than our enemies. That the accusation of murderer, of inhuman torturer, of someone who has monstrous disregard for human life – those accusations land with surprising accuracy on our heads. Who would not run from such a nightmare?

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Moses, the God of Jesus and Muhammad, begs us to see ourselves in the violence we condemn and fear in others. This God is pleading for us to stop running from him. Nightmares can end. We can sleep the sleep of the innocent, but not before confessing our guilt. “Rest in peace” is not something that is gained only in death, but is the very real promise of new life here and now. Let us join together to worship God who is relentless in love and mercy for us and for our enemies. We are all God’s children, the enemy twins whose return he awaits with open arms.

Image: Paris at Sunset by Moyan Bren. Available on Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Girardian Wisdom For Turning Veteran’s Day Back Into Armistice Day

Yesterday was Armistice Day, but most of the nation celebrated it as Veteran’s Day. It was also the 1-week anniversary of the death of René Girard. I spent the day thinking about how appropriate it is to remember Girard on a day that we think about matters of peace and violence and ritualized patriotism. It is also appropriate to remember Girard on a day that we traditionally ignore our scapegoats and victims (as we do every day, but egregiously so on a day that we honor the valor of our own soldiers).

How do we recognize a day commemorating the end of World War I in an era when wars no longer end?

Many no longer do. Many no longer recognize the day as a day to honor peace, reconciliation, and laying aside of arms. Instead, we honor soldiers and veterans, thanking them for their service. And even most committed pacifists hesitate to say anything to question the mood of patriotism and honor that permeates the air. I personally fantasize about the day when conscientious objectors and civil servants who cross the line for peace will be recognized as veterans are in school assemblies, but I don’t yet dare advocate for such things at PTA meetings.

We are caught up in the mimetic phenomenon of triumphal militarism that has engulfed our nation. We have been at war for 14 years and counting, with no end in sight. Yet we are largely removed from our wars, removed from the land and bodies blown apart, the weeping and wailing, the orphaned, the parents clutching the maimed or dead bodies of their children. We watch refugee crises from afar with an ocean to buffer us, allowing us to watch long enough for pangs of humanity to remind us that we are good people, sensitive to suffering, before we turn away again. In this context of war that never ends but never touches most of us (at least, not in ways we usually perceive) we celebrate soldiers without feeling the palpable yearning for peace that might compel us to join the voices around the world shouting “Enough!” We celebrate the soldiers without understanding their missions or the effects they have on the world. To question war would be to question our soldiers and the myth of righteous violence that, theoretically, makes us safe, gives us freedom, and defeats evil.

The irony of Veteran’s Day, however, beyond the way it came to overshadow Armistice Day, is that in glorifying our veterans we largely overlook the fact that our culture of militarism lies about the horrors of war and sacrifices soldiers and veterans on the altar of this lie. While flags wave and hearts beat to the sound of patriotic drums, it is easy to let rhetoric about “honor” and “duty” mask the true causes of war — greed, lust for power, ego – to which soldiers and countless civilians are sacrificed. We may know that war is hell, but our identity as good and noble depends on honoring it as justified and necessary, even compassionate. It is a force for liberation and justice, we convince ourselves. Thus many soldiers enlist with the noblest of intentions: to serve, to protect, to honor the country they love and bring freedom to less-fortunate countries. And then they go to fight “terrorists” with no uniforms, who look just like the people they are trying to liberate, and the dehumanization of the “enemy” becomes the dehumanization of the whole population.

One cannot dehumanize another without losing a part of one’s own humanity. But this applies not only to soldiers but to all of us who cheer on a culture of war that masks the most horrific and wide-spread destruction behind a veneer of valor. Many veterans and the families who love them have seen past this veneer in a way that the rest of us, myself included, have not. Many veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are putting their broken selves back together with pain and suffering. We “honor” them without acknowledging the full depth of their suffering, because our culture refuses to acknowledge the full horrors of war.

And the veterans we glorify number among the unseen victims of our wars. According to statistics, at least 18 veterans commit suicide every day.

As many as that number is, it is a tiny fraction of those whose lives are destroyed by war.

We don’t think of our veterans as scapegoats, though. We glorify them; we don’t demonize them. Yet in failing to tell the truth about war, we do to soldiers what we do to scapegoats – we destroy them. In sending them out to fight our scapegoats, in redeploying them over and over to kill an enemy that can never die because it is not a person but an idea (“terrorism”), in shielding ourselves from the horrors that they have to see and experience, we are guilty of their blood. As we are guilty of the blood of all the people we send our soldiers to kill.

Yet in an era in which drones in the sky are increasingly replacing boots on the ground, it might be argued that we are honoring the lives of our soldiers by keeping more of them out of harm’s way. Although we have special operations forces deployed in 135 countries, warfare is increasingly becoming depersonalized. Yet drone pilots, like soldiers on the ground, feel in their souls the consequences of taking life, and many commit suicide. While those of us far from any battlefield, whether actual or virtual, may go about our days ignoring the victims of our empire building, the soldiers who pull the triggers and press the buttons must either shut down a part of their humanity or bear the pain of killing. While we can ignore the egregious lie that any military-aged male is automatically an enemy if he happens to be killed, while we can ignore evidence that the vast majority of those killed in strikes are not the intended targets, soldiers must either internalize such a gross dehumanization or face the horrible truth. We do no one any favors by ignoring that truth and thus perpetuating the deaths of innocents and the erosion of all of our souls.

The ritualized patriotism that washes our culture in an irresistible flood of self-righteousness, convincing so many of us of our “exceptionalism,” drowns conscience and cries of pain. Those who have studied Girard should not fail to see echoes of his prophetic warnings about the depth of human violence and our capacity to hide it from ourselves. Girard also warns us about our blindness to our victims. When wars are kept out of site and largely out of mind, except to glorify those who do the actual work of killing that a majority of our tax dollars pay for, we are blind not only to the victims we create abroad, but also to the victimization of our soldiers here at home. Girardian wisdom reveals to us the terrible violence our war culture does to everyone. And it warns us that the wars we create are destined to continue indefinitely until they destroy us all, unless we repent and turn ourselves completely around.

We must turn Veteran’s Day back into Armistice Day, and celebrate a permanent armistice, a cessation of war once and for all. To do so, we must face and tell the truth about war. To kill is not to serve and protect; it is to create enemies and destroy one’s soul. We should continue to honor the courage and discipline of soldiers who put their lives on the line, but we must convert the mission from conquest and violence to reconciliation and peacemaking, and we must lift the burden of the few by stepping up and taking our part. Beating swords into plowshares, transforming weapons into tools of cultivation, means transforming our whole culture with mercy and compassion. This crucial work starts in each of our hearts, and it must start now. As Girard says, “Either we are going to love each other, or we are going to die.”

Image: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares, a sculpture by Evgeniy Vuchetich, available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Yellow Ribbons And Endless War

“By God,” Bush said in triumph, “we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

This was Bush 41, a quarter of a century ago, celebrating the terrific poll numbers his kwik-win war on Iraq was generating. Remember yellow ribbons? I think he had a point. “Vietnam syndrome” — the public aversion to war — still has a shadow presence in America, but it no longer matters.

Our official policy is endless bombing, endless war. No matter how much suffering it causes — over a million dead, maybe as many as two million, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — and no matter how poorly it serves any rational objectives, our official response to geopolitical trouble of every sort is to bomb it into compliance with our alleged interests. The cancerous “success” of this policy may be the dominant historical event of the last three decades. Endless war is impervious to debate; it’s impervious to democracy.

Greg Grandin, writing recently at Tom Dispatch about Henry Kissinger’s extraordinary contribution over four decades to Washington’s war-no-matter-what consensus, pinpoints a moment at the onset of Gulf War I that gave me deep pause. In that moment, war had lost its controversy, its raw demand for public sacrifice. Suddenly war was little more than . . . entertainment, as cozily unifying to the American public as professional sports. War and television, you might say, had signed their post-modern peace treaty.

Back in 1969, shortly after Richard Nixon was inaugurated (on a platform that included ending the war in Vietnam), Kissinger and Nixon launched — in deep, dark secrecy — their bombing campaign against Cambodia. This campaign was a war crime of the highest order, devastating and utterly destabilizing Cambodia and creating the preconditions for genocide, as it allowed the Khmer Rouge to come to power.

Fast-forward a few decades. Kissinger was no longer in government, but as a high-profile pundit, he was still a major player in American politics, and he pushed the war button at every opportunity. So when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Kissinger was an early proponent of a military response. Eventually, of course, George H.W. Bush launched Operation Desert Storm.

And Kissinger, wrote Grandin:

was once again a man of the moment. But how expectations had shifted since 1970! When President Bush launched his bombers on January 17, 1991, it was in the full glare of the public eye, recorded for all to see. There was no veil of secrecy and no secret furnaces, burned documents, or counterfeited flight reports. After a four-month-long on-air debate among politicians and pundits, ‘smart bombs’ lit up the sky over Baghdad and Kuwait City as the TV cameras rolled.

I remember that all too well. I remember the sudden enormous void I felt open up as I watched what might have been the onset of World War III hit the airwaves, knowing that most of the country supported this reckless atrocity.

Grandin goes on:

Featured were new night-vision equipment, real-time satellite communications, and former U.S. commanders ready to narrate the war in the style of football announcers right down to instant replays. ‘In sports-page language,’ said CBS News anchor Dan Rather on the first night of the attack, ‘this . . . it’s not a sport. It’s war. But so far, it’s a blowout.’ . . .

It would be a techno-display of such apparent omnipotence that President Bush got the kind of mass approval Kissinger and Nixon never dreamed possible. With instant replay came instant gratification, confirmation that the president had the public’s backing. On January 18, only a day into the assault, CBS announced that a new poll ‘indicates extremely strong support for Mr. Bush’s Gulf offensive.’

There were yellow ribbons around every light pole as Bush proclaimed that “Vietnam syndrome” was dead. All it took was a permanent shift of responsibility away from the public at large — via elimination of the draft — combined with an ultra-sophisticated public relations effort that successfully turned our former ally, Saddam Hussein, into The Face of Evil. The slaughter of 100,000 Iraqis during the month-and-a-half-long Desert Storm was, apparently, a small price to pay for the good we had accomplished, and seemed not to mar the post-invasion celebrations.

And a different kind of syndrome — Gulf War Syndrome, a.k.a., Gulf War Illness — the name for the serious health consequences suffered by American soldiers due to an array of war-related toxic exposures, including ultra-fine depleted uranium dust, was well off in the future at that point, with bureaucratic denial and media indifference destined to minimize its impact on public awareness and forestall a re-emergence of large-scale public anti-militarism.

A decade later, another Bush in office, the Towers go down. George W. proclaims that America will take on Evil itself. And even though his successor, Barack Obama, is swept into office on the global hope for peace, war remains the default setting. Fourteen years in, war does, indeed, look endless. Obama recently announced, for instance, that he won’t be the one to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. War is now, as I say, impervious to democracy, despite the incredible harm — the millions killed directly and indirectly because of the war on terror, 60 million refugees worldwide, numerous countries in chaos — it continues to cause.

Maybe, as scattered individuals, we long for peace, but for now, the interests of war are safely fortified from this longing. As we stand against these interests anyway, let’s declare, as a starting place, our belief that war is never the path to peace.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


Image: by Ghim Boseong. Available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Rene Girard

Tears For Girard

René Girard, the great scholar of scapegoating, passed away on November 4, 2015. He was born in Avignon, France, in 1923, but my thoughts keep drifting to Rome, 1907, sixteen years before Girard was born. Because that was the year that Dr. Maria Montessori made a remarkable discovery that seems, in hindsight, to anticipate Girard’s work by fifty years. What Girard discovered was the scapegoating mechanism; what the good doctor discovered was a scapegoat who quite literally could not speak for itself.

Montessori and Girard each sparked a worldwide “awakening of conscience” (her words) with broad implications for human flourishing. Yet each exhibited a modesty that belied their remarkable insights. Montessori, like Girard, called her discovery “a simple observation and accessible to all”. If you doubt their conclusions, each urged that we need only “go and observe” for ourselves.

Though Montessori preceded Girard, her work could easily be described as a practical application of his. She became keenly aware that children were not only misunderstood by adults; they were victims of adult oppression. No matter that adults defended their parenting and educational methods as demonstrations of love; the Dottoressa could see the suffering such love, blind to the particular needs of childhood, caused. Listen to her describe her aims with ears tuned by Girard:

This is the cause. Not great institutions, not someone endeavoring to spread an idea, only a faint child’s voice, echoing plaintively in every corner of the earth. (The 1913 Rome Lectures, 3)

Like Girard, her work caused adults to undergo profound personal transformations. With a growing sense of guilt, parents and teachers learned that they had been insensitive to the most fragile, dependent and trusting of God’s creatures. She begged that we look with new eyes at common childhood behavior: Why do children move slowly, delight in repetition, prize process over product, privilege meandering over efficiency, and delight in the mundane? This is not evidence of disobedience, disrespect or petulance as adults so often assume. This is evidence of children behaving normally. When we blame or punish them for failing to behave like miniature adults, we have become their oppressors without knowing it.

NSRW_Maria_Montessori (1)

Maria Montessori

What Montessori saw so clearly is that children were highly susceptible to being scapegoated because they are weak and defenseless, without adequate language to express themselves. Fits of anger, tantrums, crying and outright disobedience were explained by Montessori as a nonverbal communication of pain and suffering. What happens when you begin to see childhood tantrums as a victim’s cry for help? Montessori describes the impact during her first teacher training class in 1909:

In this course, for the first time, I expounded the facts related to what is called my method. It happened that during these lectures that many of those present wept so that it seemed a sad course. So I said, “What is so melancholic in what I am telling you?” They answered, “We feel the birth of our conscience within us.” Many wept for the faults of which they were until then unaware.

What Montessori awakened in these first student-teachers was the realization that they had been scapegoating children without knowing it. What caused them to weep was that until their encounter with the Dottoressa, they honestly believed that they loved children. Their aim had been to do what was best, and yet they had done terrible harm. Many who study Girard’s work, myself included, find ourselves implicated in his description of the scapegoater. To have a scapegoat, he warned us, is to not to know you have one. What he awakened in so many people around the world is the terrible realization that we were not so good, peaceful or harmless as we believed. We have wept like those students of Montessori, as our souls were stretched and our conscience born.

As we mourn Girard’s passing, we find ourselves grateful as never before for those tears. He enabled us to see ourselves as obstacles to peace, an awareness both devastating and oddly hopeful. For it puts the key to peace within reach and in our power. Our scapegoats await our tears, often with tears of their own. Let us not make them wait too long.

Images: Screenshot from Youtube. Insights With Rene Girard by HooverInstitution.

Maria Montessori by The New Student’s Reference Work via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.


Spiritually Rudderless

Another deep cry, followed by a shrug. The world is at war, at war, at war. But it only hurts them, the helpless ones, the anonymous poor, who absorb the bombs and bullets, who bury their children, who flee their broken countries.

Sixty million people have been displaced by the current wars, the highest number of uprooted since World War II. But who cares?

“In the face of blatant inhumanity, the world has responded with disturbing paralysis.”

The words are those of Ban Ki-Moon, executive-secretary of the United Nations, who, along with Paul Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, issued a joint cry of anguish last week: Things are worse than they’ve been in a long time. Not only are wars tearing apart Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan and other countries, but the conflicts seem to be increasingly lacking in moral constraint.

“Every day,” said Maurer, “we hear of civilians being killed and wounded in violation of the basic rules of international humanitarian law, and with total impunity. Instability is spreading. Suffering is growing. No country can remain untouched.”

These words may be factually accurate, but you can’t really call them a “warning.” A warning can only be addressed to someone with the power to change course, make different decisions, sidestep the looming disaster.

“. . . the world has responded with disturbing paralysis.” What else has “the world” ever done?

The momentum of human annihilation cannot be interrupted.

Oh, I hope such a statement is inaccurate, but in this moment, all I can see is that we’re trapped in the geopolitics and economics . . . of Armageddon. The world’s national leaders are inadequate stewards of humanity and the needs of Planet Earth. Politically, the world is sliced into nation-states, which fiercely prowl their perimeters, guarding their own interests from both external and internal threats. This behavior is called war, and war, in point of fact, has no rules, humanitarian or otherwise. Peace has rules. War has only a goal: victory.

Stir in economic interests — the force called money — and the pot really starts to boil. The interests of money transcend national borders. Its agents and stewards, the global corporatocracy, serve only the interests of economic growth, which has even fewer moral constraints than nationalism. Unchecked economic growth is tantamount to the consumption of the planet, not just physically (using up its resources, ravaging the environment), but culturally and spiritually as well.

Once upon a time, the planet was festooned with local cultures: sociocultural systems on a human scale. People had a participatory relationship with the world in which they lived. Under such conditions, perhaps the words of Ban Ki-Moon and Paul Maurer could constitute a real warning. People could take heed and rein in manifestations of blatant inhumanity. They could assume a sense of behavioral responsibility that reached seven generations into the future.

This is not the world we live in now.

Writing about the crushing impact of global economic development/exploitation on local cultural integrity, Helena Norberg-Hodge, founder and director of the organization Local Futures and co-director of the documentary, The Economics of Happiness, talked about the changes she has witnessed in a region of northern India called Ladakh.

“In part, the Ladakhis’ confidence and sense of having enough emanated from a deep sense of community: people knew they could depend on one another,” she wrote at Common Dreams. “But in 1975 . . . the Indian government decided to open up the region to the process of development, and life began to change rapidly. Within a few years the Ladakhis were exposed to television, Western movies, advertising, and a seasonal flood of foreign tourists. Subsidized food and consumer goods — from Michael Jackson CDs and plastic toys to Rambo videos and pornography — poured in on the new roads that development brought.”

The local economy and the local culture got swallowed, over the course of several decades, by what she called “the consumer monoculture.” The resulting changes were more than just superficial. People, you might say, started to become spiritually rudderless.

She described what this can look like: “For more than 600 years,” she wrote, “Buddhists and Muslims lived side by side in Ladakh with no recorded instance of group conflict. They helped one another at harvest time, attended one another’s religious festivals, and sometimes intermarried. But over a period of about 15 years, tensions between Buddhists and Muslims escalated rapidly, and by 1989 they were bombing each other’s homes.”

And so we begin to get at the deeper forces at work in today’s world. Consumer monoculture centralizes the power to act. We can consume the news — read about war, read about climate change — but where then in our distress, if indeed this is what is aroused, do we turn? What do we do? Perhaps we blame “them.” At both the macro and the micro levels, humanity turns to violence. This is the all-purpose solution of the powerless.

And the world convulses at what may be the dawn of World War III. Sixty million people have been displaced by the current wars. We reach into our souls, looking for the force that is larger than war.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


Image: Copyright Kheng Guan Toh via


In Memory of René Girard: The Truth about Life and Death

Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. But those of us who have been highly influenced by René know better. For us, it is not an overstatement to state that René’s explanation of mimetic theory is the most important discovery of human nature in the last 2,000 years. That is, since the Gospels.

This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”

Many progressive Christians who do not know René’s work will bristle at that statement. Indeed, without reading René’s books, it could sound like a form of penal subsitutionary atonement theory that claims Jesus allows humanity to live by saving us from the violent wrath of God.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth that René revealed throughout his career is that wrath doesn’t belong to God. It belongs solely to humans. In anthropological terms, what was revealed by the death of Jesus was the human scapegoat mechanism. Once you read René’s works, you realize how obvious it is that the violence at the cross had nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the human propensity to scapegoat.

Still, at this point, we should warn ourselves not to scapegoat penal substitutionary atonement theory. After all, if René taught us anything it’s that human have been projecting our own violence onto God since the foundation of the world. We justify our violence and hatred against our scapegoats in the name of God or peace or justice or whatever we deem to be a important to our well-being.

René taught us that to truly live is to stop scapegoating our enemies, and to stop justifying it in the name of God. Once at a conference, René was asked what would happen if mimetic theory became wildly successful. He answered, “There would be no more scapegoating.”

To end scapegoating and to truly live we need to follow Jesus by turning away from violence and turning toward our neighbors, including those we call our enemies, in the spirit of love and nonviolence.

René not only taught us that truth, he lived into it. I met him once at a conference for young Girardian scholars. I was struck by the fact that René wasn’t interested in teaching us, or making sure we had his theory “right.” What he wanted more than anything was to talk with us. He wanted to learn about our lives and what interested us. He had a special humility about him – instead of taking glory for himself, he gave glory to others. For example, I remember sitting across the table from him. He smiled as he looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve watched your Mimetic Theory 101 videos. They’re good.” That’s the way he was. He affirmed all of us and encouraged us to follow the truth, no matter where it led.

René always gave the last word to the Gospels. It’s where he found the truth about life and death. It’s only fitting that I end with this quote that sums up René’s theory about God, violence, and love,

The following is the basic text, in my opinion, that shows us a God who is alien to all violence and who wishes in consequence to see humanity abandon violence:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45, Things Hidden, 183)

May our brother René Girard rest in peace and rise in the glorious love of God.

Image: Screenshot from YouTube.

a and s ravencast

Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 2 with Suzanne Ross on Mimetic Theory and Maria Montessori

Show Notes

In this episode, Suzanne Ross discusses her latest project on Maria Montessori. You can keep up with Suzanne by liking her Facebook page The Maria Montessori Project.

We talk about the intersections of mimetic theory and Montessori.

Mimetic theory and Montessori’s teaching methods provide ways of transforming cultures of violence into cultures of peace.