My Born Again Experience, Part 4
The idea that our relationship with God is incumbent upon our knowledge of Biblical texts has become so hard-wired into the minds of so many Christians today that, observably, the Bible itself now occupies the same position in their thinking as God himself.
This position is held in such an absolute manner that they quote verses and call them, “The Words of God,” in the same way notes written for the Fifth Symphony is, “the music of Beethoven”. And, what we have, more often than not, when Biblical texts are literally adhered to in a fundamental sense, in an attempt to “get it right” is in effect the same phenomena we’d have if an orchestra sat down to play Beethoven’s Fifth, and even though they faithfully hit every “G-sharp” and “C-minor,” the music to “Hotel California” from the Eagles issued forth from their instruments.
In essay #4, “Who’s afraid of the big, bad, book? Part 2,” James Alison exposes why it is that such phenomena manifests itself when fundamentalist thought is applied to Biblical texts. He does so by highlighting the fact that the canon of Scripture has four distinct editorial traditions present in the Hebrew texts, those being: 1)the Elohist, 2)the Yawhist, 3)the Priestly, and 4)the Deuterocanonical. Ephesians 5:1 reads, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children of God.” And yes, we have at Exodus 20:1-3, 5(b): 1)And so God spoke all these words, saying, 2)“I am the Lord you God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3)You shall have no other Gods before me… 5-b)for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.”
And we also have Isaiah 45: 18-19: 18)For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God) who formed the earth and made it (he established it he did not create a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!) “I AM THE LORD AND THERE IS NO OTHER. 19)I did not speak in secret, in the land of darkness; I did not way to the offspring of Jacob ‘seek me in chaos’, I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right.” (emphasis added)
The question becomes, which God am I to imitate, the one who acknowledges the existence of other Gods, of whom he is jealous; or the God who says that there is no other? One God has rivals, the other does not.
As a Christian, for a long time I imitated the one in Exodus; but as a follower of Jesus, I gave up my rivals and imitate the one in Isaiah.
I mentioned before how this great work revealed to me that it’s one thing to simply get philosophical about having Jesus as my True North, and it’s something else to actually follow a map of the sacred landscape by that realization. Those who want to delve into Alison’s scholarly work can do so in his text. But my transition stemmed from an analysis of my life, not ancient texts.
Upon hearing my thoughts impacted by Jesus becoming my True North, my circumstances were tested shortly thereafter by a group of Christians with whom I was part of a weekly Bible study.
Up to this point the only interpretive method used was fundamentalism; we wanted to get to the bottom of what the Bible says and to confirm our behavior to what we discover to the best of our ability, and the limits of our imperfections. Through it all, the rhetoric that would often emerge was best suited for the social attitudes prevailing in the 1950s, in some parts of the U.S. rural South. due to the ethnic make-up of the group, the only word missing was the “n” word.
But during our period right after discussing the need for us to pray for one another’s strength to resist “sin”, one of the group members, whom I considered a particularly close friend, came forth and confided in certain members that he had lived the “gay lifestyle” in the past and that he’d recently been “struggling” with the same sex urges and attractions. He asked that we pray that God take his gay away. His initials were J.A.
In no time at all, J.A.’s confidence was broken and everyone in the group knew about his secret. And the consensus had become it was improper to ask God to violate someone’s freedom of choice, so it was incumbent on J.A. to change his mind. Plus, homosexuality fell into a category apart from “sin”, which is called “abomination”.
Now, prior to this, J.A. had been a participant in some of those shameful conversations, bashing gays, members of other religions, etc. And now he’d become an object of disdain because he refused to embrace the terminology of him having a “reprobate mind” by which he was “choosing” to entertain abominable thoughts, and deny that he was simply having what was for him “natural” urges.
As the chapter and verse were quoted to bully J.A. into thought conformity, he was threatened with ex-communication from the group. Point blank, I felt dirty. I saw my friend standing there alone, confused and conflicted, being told by the group to live a lie, even after all this time in which he’d been ashamed of his truth. And it became obvious that what was taking place had nothing to do with Godly piety, or religious sincerity. But simply an opportunity to express their bigotry under the guise of Christian doctrine. J.A. had gone from their brother, to their victim. And in that moment, I had absolute clarity; and I knew why Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple.
So it became time for me to make a decision. Having come to understand the dynamics of the victim designating process intellectually and philosophically; I was faced with it viscerally. I felt something in the moment I’d never felt before. Something I knew was real. So I stood with J.A. against the crowd’s non-sense.
It doesn’t take a particular special inner quality to be part of the crowd. But it does take something to stand against one. Jesus had that quality, and in that moment that quality was reproduced in me as I stood along J.A. against his persecutors. The reproduction of Jesus’ vision is what it means to have eyes to see; to be able to move in accordance with that vision is to be born again.
I knew the truth and was set free, and it reproduced freedom in J.A. in that moment because, while he may or may not have went on with an internal conflict, he drew courage from the presence of an ally. In this case, one with the mental, emotional, and personality traits to push back against the crowd, by the grace of Jesus.
As long as the topic of mimetic theory remained in an academic setting it was on par with talking about chocolate. But taking it out of an academic setting and adjusting my life navigation system by it is on par with eating chocolate. When it comes to our orientation to Jesus – (most of J.A.’s persecutors invoked his name) – the crowd frenzy is to experience the Exodus God who is one among many others and has rivalistic jealousy, and it needs the “others” for the production of victims. To transcend the identity crisis that is a vital element of the rival system’s functionality, is to catch the vision of God as described in Isaiah who is not in rivalry with an other, and produces not victim because there is no scandal.
Time went on and J.A. grew from the experience. I leader that there’s a difference between putting forth effort to be a Biblically obedient man, and allowing the life of Jesus to help me become a better man; perhaps a good one. It has been a few years since the incident with J.A. and the Bible study group. Since then, I’ve also learned that, for many, the fundamentalist idea of obedience is easier to embrace; it requires no reflective thought. For others it may produce a feeling of safety, and as an argument exists that there is safety in numbers.
You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. – Let him who has eyes to see, SEE.
By this truth, my life continues to be transformed by the life, death and post-resurrection accounts of the historical person named Jesus. I hope my story, my born again experience, continues to resonate with you, and you find inspiration to take in the challenges presented in James Alison’s collection of essays, as I have. Share your own story. Until next time, and always, be in peace.
Dr. Chezeray M. Moore discovered mimetic theory through studying James Alison’s “Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice.” The truths expounded by Girard so profoundly effected Moore’s life that he declares Girard his guru. While Dr. Moore can only be reached by post, he would greatly welcome your correspondence. His address is Dr. Chezeray M. Moore, #B-54755, P.O. Box 1700, Galesburg, IL 61402.
Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice with James Alison is a product of the Raven Foundation with financial support from Imitatio. The essays are published by DOERS Publishing, LLC and are available in print, as e-books, and a video course at most booksellers.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.” Articles published do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff at the Raven Foundation, but are selected primarily because of the way they enhance the conversation around mimetic theory.