Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest contributor Matt Distefano.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39 NASB)
My assumption growing up in an Evangelical Protestant church was that the persecution I would eventually face for following Jesus would come from outside the church. It wasn’t until I left Protestantism that I realized, as my relationship with Jesus grew closer, the further my Protestant brothers and sisters distanced themselves from me. The more I lined myself up with the non-violence of Jesus, the more sideways the glances became. And the more sideways the glances became, the more I wanted to engage with those same people in the way Jesus engaged with His culture; peacefully and lovingly. For months, years even, I couldn’t figure out why stepping out of the comfort zone of conservatism and into the realm of Jesus-based pacifism caused such a backlash. It wasn’t until I discovered Mimetic Theory that I began to realize the non-conscious phenomenon that was taking place.
The great French anthropologist, Rene Girard, developed a theory to explain the root of all human violence. He theorized that all human desire is mimetic and that eventually, that mimesis would lead to conflict and rivalry. He writes, “if the appropriative gesture of an individual named A is rooted in imitation of an individual named B, it means that A and B must reach together for one and the same object. They become rivals for that object.”  We see this play out with children, always desiring the same toys their peers have. Because we cannot have the same things as our neighbor, if you will, inevitably we will become violent rivals with them. From this violence, more violence ensues. To stem this, society will turn to a third party to place all the ills, all the sins, and all of the finger-pointing onto a scapegoat. This odd process brings society back to peace for some time, albeit, generally for a very brief time. Theologian Michael Hardin writes, “Back in human ‘pre-history’, mimetic conflict reached a boiling point, and it became necessary to find an outlet for all of the hostility generated by rivalrous mimetic desire. The threatened community displaced its mimetic hostility onto a random innocent victim. This is the ‘originary’ event. (Girard’s term) The random victim becomes the focal point of the community’s aggression and creates the first truly united activity of the community, all against one. Seen in this way, the basis for human social cohesion is violence.”  “So what?” you might ask. What does this have to do with leaving the Protestant church?
Beneath the level of consciousness, human beings are mimicking each other constantly. Furthermore, if we follow a deity, we are choosing to follow the behavior and nature of the deity we have placed our trust in. If God is retributive and violent, isn’t it logical that His adherents would follow suit? Jordan Blevins writes, “For too long we have professed belief in a violent God. A God who sent Jesus Christ to a violent death on a cross, as a sacrifice demanded for our sin. Is it any surprise that the world, then, is embroiled in the violence in which we find it? If God responds to our sin by demanding the violent sacrifice of Jesus, why would we expect ourselves to respond any differently?”  When you look at the current state of Evangelicalism in America, is it any wonder that the church as a whole is at the forefront of the war on drugs, the war on terror, and the torture of suspected terrorists? If we believe that God is retributive and violent, we will behave like Him. Fortunately, there is another way: a peaceful and non-retributive approach.
The life, death, and resurrection of Christ exposes this violence and scapegoating for what it really is. For the first time, God reveals His true nature in Jesus, putting to rest the notion that God’s nature is retributive; that His only way to deal with the problem of sin is the blood of the innocent scapegoat. God, through Jesus, enters our world of violence and shows us, once and for all, who is guilty and who is innocent. In effect, all of mankind is guilty; but because of Jesus, we have a model for how to reconcile this.
The reality then is this: Jesus died not to save mankind from His vengeful “Abba”, but to truly save all of mankind from our sins. We are all called into a relationship with the peaceful Yahweh that loves all of humanity; enough so to offer up His only Son as a way to save us from ourselves. Girard concludes, “The Gospel revelation is the definitive formulation of a truth already partially disclosed in the Old Testament. But in order to come to completion, it requires the good news that God himself accepts the role of the victim of the crowd so that he can save all. The God who becomes the victim is not another mythic god but the one God, infinitely good, of the Old Testament.”  When we realize that Jesus reveals who God is, we can finally imitate the One who shows us out of the cycle of violence. Scripture must be viewed through the lens of the Gospel, not visa-versa. When we can do this, we can see God’s nature through Christ and that it is God’s peace that finally sets us free. This is the good news Jesus spoke of.
 Girard, Rene. The Girard Reader. James Williams, ed. Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1996. Pg. 9.  Hardin, Michael. The Scapegoat. [Article] Retrieved from http://www.preachingpeace.org/teaching-resources/articles/23-articles-ebooks/introductory-articles/56-the-scapegoat.html.
 Blevins, Jordan. A Relational God of Peace. Pg. 2. [Article] Retrieved from http://www.preachingpeace.org/images/Relational_God_of_Peace_-_Book_of_Peace_Conference.pdf.
 Girard, Rene. I See Satan Fall Like Lightening. Orbis Books. Maryknoll, New York: 2001. Pg. 130.
Matt Distefano is an aspiring author and lover of humanity who spent years working with minors in the juvenile justice and foster systems. Currently, he is writing his first book, as well as a collection of essays. He lives in Northern California with his lovely wife and amazing daughter, and his life goal is to bring the true message of the peace of Jesus to a hurting world.