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Let’s Make America Meh

Donald Trump wants to “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton claims America has never stopped being great. But maybe we should just try to make America meh.

Here’s a question, how do we define American greatness? In politics, American greatness is usually described in comparison with other nations. This comparison is part of human nature. As René Girard states in his masterful book on human social dynamics called Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, to be human is to have a tendency “to compare oneself with others.”

What’s true on the personal level is also true on the national level. Historically, the United States has compared our greatness to other nations – England, France, China, Germany, and Russia, for example. But now we also compare ourselves to terrorist organizations. Our greatness as a nation is being defined by our ability to destroy al-Qaeda and ISIS.

To make America meh would be to stop defining our “greatness” in comparison with other nations. On an individual and national level, comparing ourselves with others leads to relationships of constant and escalating rivalry.

Many of us are addicted to that rivalry. We gain a sense of “greatness” by being against our enemies. But that’s a false sense of greatness. It may give us a temporary high, a sense of meaning in our lives, but we will always need another fix, another enemy to be against.

True greatness isn’t formed in a relationship against our enemies. Rather, true greatness is formed in a relationship with our enemies. Or, as Jesus put it, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

When we are addicted to rivalry with our enemies, loving them might give us a sense of meh. Or, even worse, some may claim that Jesus’ command to love our enemies is naïve. But in an age where weapons of mass destruction can be obtained by almost anyone, it’s naïve to think relationships of escalating rivalry will make us safe.

Girard ends his book The Scapegoat with this apocalyptic warning, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be time enough.”

Love? Forgiveness? They might make us feel pretty meh. But at this point in human history, they are our greatest hope.

Image: Flickr, Donkey Hotey, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump – Caricatures, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

beware of god

Atheism and Religious Violence: Should Religion Be Expelled or Redeemed?

Many atheists argue that religion is a massive problem in our world. Since religion is the cause of major conflicts and violence, we would be much better off if we expelled religion from our midst.

As a Christian, it may surprise you that I think there’s a lot of merit to this atheist critique of religion. And René Girard helps us understand why.

Religion and violence have always been connected. “Violence and the sacred are inseparable,” wrote Girard in his book Violence and the Sacred. They are inseparable because religion solved the most urgent problem the facing primitive societies – their own violence.

Girard’s anthropology states that before religion formed in the ancient world, the greatest danger facing our early ancestors was their own violence against each other. Conflictual violence could not be contained and a war of all against all threatened our ancestors with extinction.

For Girard, the disease was violence. Just like modern medicine, the cure was found in the disease. Violence that threatened the community was channeled onto a single victim, who was violently sacrificed. Where there was once conflict that threatened the community, there was now peace that came from violently uniting against a common enemy. Whom Girard calls the scapegoat.

But the peace was only temporary. Conflicts re-emerged, violence threatened the community, and another scapegoat was sacrificed. The sacrifice was ritualized and religion was born.

I want you to notice the human aspect of religion. You don’t need God to explain religion, in fact, theology often gets in the way of understanding archaic religion. Religion didn’t emerge from the gods. They emerged anthropologically – from human violence. Religion in the form of sacrificial rituals solved the problem of human violence that threatened the community. Without sacrificial religion, says Girard, our ancestors never would have survived.

The scapegoat stands as a substitute for the community. Girard calls this the “surrogate victim.” The sacrifice underlies all of human culture. It seeks to expel a common enemy. Girard states that sacrifice is the “mechanism that assures the community’s spontaneous and unanimous outburst of opposition to the surrogate victim” (Violence and the Sacred, 300).

This is the irony – archaic sacrificial religions seek to expel a scapegoat, someone who is blamed for the violent problems facing the community. Archaic religion seeks to expel the scapegoat. But the modern propensity to expel religion is itself a religious act. Again, Girard,

Human beings are soon moved to make religion itself into a new scapegoat, failing to realize once more that the violence is theirs. To expel religion is, as always, a religious gesture—as much so today when the sacred is loathed and abhorred as in the past when it was worshipped and adored. (Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, 32).

We owe a great debt to archaic religions of sacrifice. They saved our ancestors from extinction, but they did so by doing a terrible thing – killing a scapegoat. The community truly believed that their scapegoat was guilty of causing all the problems that it faced. The people believed the sacrifice was good and necessary to protect the community from evil. In this way, modern atheists and secularists who want to expel religion are run by the same scapegoating principle as archaic religions. They scapegoat religion, not realizing that the real threat is not some evil other, be it a person or a religion. The real threat is our own scapegoating violence.

Indeed, to expel religion is just another violent religious act. The question is, can religion help us transform our sacrificial violence into something that will lead to lasting peace?

Girard distinguishes between archaic religions that sacrifice a scapegoat and the revealed religions of Judaism and Christianity. Instead of sacrificing scapegoats, these religions begin a process of caring for scapegoats. The story in Genesis where Abraham nearly sacrifices his son Isaac is about this move away from sacrificial violence. Instead of sacrificing humans, the ancient Hebrews moved to sacrificing animals. Sure, PETA would have a fit, but it was a radical move away from sacrificial religions.

In the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, we find the complete reversal of the sacrificial formula. Instead of someone sacrificing another, we find someone who is willing to be sacrificed by his fellow humans to show them the way of peace. The early Christians identified Jesus as the Suffering Servant. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

The world gives peace by violently sacrificing another, but Jesus gives peace by living a life of nonviolent love. It’s a love that extends even to his enemies. Instead of sacrificing another, Jesus allowed himself to be sacrificed. He became the scapegoat of the crowd. He was sacrificed by the political and religious authorities. He took religious violence upon himself so that he could redeem our religions and show us a better way of being religious.

That better way of being religious is defined in the New Testament by the epistle of James as this, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27).

If Girard is right, then the world is fueled by the archaic religious impulse to sacrifice a scapegoat in the name of peace. That impulse is what unites all cultures, but it doesn’t lead to lasting peace. In fact, in a world with weapons of mass destruction, that impulse could lead to an apocalyptic destruction of our own making.

Religion that is pure is religion that keeps us unstained by the world’s involvement in scapegoating. Instead of scapegoating, God the Father reveals that pure religion leads us to acts of nonviolent love that seek to care for the scapegoats of our world.

For more on religion and sacrifice, see Patheos’s Public Square conversation – The Sacrifice: Religions and the Role of the Scapegoat.

Photo: Flickr, James Quinn, “Beware of God,” Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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Dead to Me – Shark Tank and the Miracle of Resurrection

“You are dead to me.”

Shark Tank is one of my favorite shows. Admittedly, it’s one of my guilty pleasures. The “Sharks” are described as “tough, self-made, multi-millionaire and billionaire tycoons.” They invest their own money in entrepreneurs who pitch their product to the Sharks. ABC states that the Sharks give “people from all walks of life the chance to chase the American dream, and potentially secure business deals that could make them millionaires.”

But, they are called “Sharks” for a reason. The Sharks are ruthless in their critique of entrepreneurs. When they smell blood, they strike, bringing tears to many poor contestants.

The greatest villain on the show is Kevin O’Leary. He compares making money with war – “Here’s how I think of my money: As soldiers. I send them out to war everyday. I want them to take prisoners and come home, so there’s more of them.”

O’Leary is a great villain because I love to hate him. His violent, war-like mentality is captivating. He’s mean and nasty, but I can’t stop watching. One of the most captivating moments of the show is when O’Leary offers a deal to a contestant and the contestant refuses his deal. O’Leary, in a fit of revenge, states, “You are dead to me.”

There’s a scandalous truth about human nature in that phrase. As René Girard has taught us, from the very beginning, humans have had a “shark” like quality to us. As we face conflicts within our communities, our default mechanism is to find reconciliation by uniting against a single victim, whom Girard calls a “scapegoat.” The scapegoat is sacrificed or banished from our community. In other words, the scapegoat is dead to us.

We see this scapegoating mechanism throughout human history. One only needs to take a cursory look at American politics, business, or reality television to see that we have not evolved much beyond the ancient human practice of scapegoating. We are run by the scapegoat mechanism, for as long as someone else is scapegoated, it means we are part of the larger group who is not being scapegoated. The scapegoat takes the place of death, or, as James Alison puts it, the place of shame.

James writes in his book Jesus the Forgiving Victim, “The place of shame into which the group puts someone, a someone of whom everyone can be ashamed, and thus who will be not them. That’s how the sacrificial model to which we are accustomed works.”

Fortunately, Jesus offers us an alternative to this Shark Tank mentality. James calls it “the complete reversal of the sacrificial model.” The crowd, acting like sharks, united against Jesus and killed him. The crowd chanted “Crucify him!” But they could have also mocked Jesus with the phrase, “You are dead to us!”

Jesus reversed the sacrificial model by creating a new way of forming community. Whereas the old way can be summed up by the sacrificial phrase “You are dead to me,” the new way of forming community can be summed up by the cross and resurrection.

The miracle of the cross and resurrection is the transformation of the way we form community. It transforms the way we relate to one another. Whereas the sacrificial formula of scapegoating leads to death, shame, and exclusion, resurrection leads to life, love, and reconciliation.

Jesus went to the place of shame and death, but he didn’t seek revenge. In fact, Jesus reversed the sacrificial formula by forgiving his persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus ushers in a new way of finding reconciliation that is not based on the ancient model of scapegoating. Rather, the new way of reconciling is based on our new model, Jesus, and specifically his new command, “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

But the place of shame and death did not have the last word. The resurrection had the last word. The resurrection reaffirms the transformation at the cross. Whereas the sacrificial formula says, “You are dead to me,” the resurrection is God saying, “You are alive to me.” In the resurrection, Jesus reconciled with those who abandoned and betrayed him by offering them peace. He then invited them to share that peace throughout the world.

The resurrection reveals the utter aliveness of God in the face of our mechanisms of shame and death. We live in a world of Shark Tank. And that world can be captivating. But we also live in a world of Resurrection. Resurrection is all around us. It is far more captivating. We see the miracle of resurrection when people reconcile without the crutch of scapegoating another, but by living into the spirit of forgiveness.

Image: Kevin O’Leary on Shark Tank (Screenshot from YouTube: ABC Television Network)

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Would You Stand With Mary? Musings on the Death Penalty

Editor’s Note:  This article, submitted by guest author Andrew Robinson, first appeared on his blog Musings of a Peaceful Warrior.

The mother stands with tears streaming down her face. The sobs have stopped now. She is no longer wailing, for she knows her son’s fate is sealed. Still, however, she cannot stop the tears from flowing freely from her eyes. She no longer has any hope of holding the hand which once fit completely inside of hers. She no longer has hope of kissing the lips that once pulled sustenance from her breast. She understands that her son’s life is about to be taken. Will you stand with her?

She is convinced that her son is innocent, despite the majority opinion that he deserves to die. Will you stand with her? She has resigned herself to the fact that she will never be able to prepare her son his favorite meal again, but she cannot resign herself to the belief that her son is worthy of the penalty he is about to pay. Will you stand with her? Will you stand with Mary as her son asks that His Father forgive us? Would you have stood with her?

I am sure most of us would say that we would have stood with Mary. We would say that because we have the advantage of hindsight on our side. We know, in the twenty-first century, that Jesus was innocent. We also know that there have been many people wrongfully executed in our nation. Perhaps you read that last sentence and thought to yourself, “Many is a relative word.” I would agree with you. My question would be, how many innocent lives is too many to pay to keep our vengeance alive? One? Five? Twenty? More?

The example above that I gave came out of a meeting I had recently with Jason Redick, who is the North Texas outreach coordinator for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. In my meeting with him he showed me many different perspectives on the evils of capital punishment which I had never considered before. None, however, were more powerful to me than the question, “would you have stood with Mary.”

Let us set the scene. Picture yourself as a 1st century Jewish man or woman. Perhaps you had heard stories of this man named Jesus. Let us imagine you had never met Him. You possibly would have heard some stories from some people that He has great power and has been able to heal people of various illnesses. However, your local Rabbi and priest tell no such stories. When His name is mentioned in their presence they refer to him as a troublemaker, a drunkard, a glutton, a sinner and worst of all, a blasphemer. You are not quite sure what to make of this man but whatever He is doing does not directly impact you so you do not give it much thought.

Then you are visiting the temple during Passover. This is the most holy time on your calendar. For an American, think the combination of Easter, Christmas and the 4th of July altogether. As you approach the temple to make your sacrifice you hear a commotion. Your first thought is that those filthy Romans are picking a fight with your people. “Not now!” you think to yourself, as all the emotions of your oppression and your desire to be free, as well as your desire to just worship your God on this most holy of holidays, come rushing forth. You begin jogging and eventually break into a sprint to the temple. There, in the middle of the temple is this Jesus you have heard about. You don’t know how you know it is Him, but you know. He has a whip in His hands and He is driving the sacrificial animals out. He has turned over the tables and is blocking the whole process from happening. In this moment, you realize your Rabbi was right about Him. You are shocked that a fellow Jew could do something so cruel and disrespectful. You walk away from the temple disheartened.

The next day you hear that Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night. How do you feel? Perhaps you heard that Pilate had him sentenced to death. Does He deserve it? You caught wind of the time and place of the execution. Will you attend? Many of your neighbors are going to watch this man who led such an amazing movement carry his cross up to Golgotha. Will you go with them?

Now let us imagine you are there. You see Jesus hanging on the cross. Out of the corner of your eye you notice His mother. She is one of a very small group of people weeping. How do you feel about her? Should she have spanked her son more? Should she have taught Him more respect? Do you notice the absence of a father and believe that is why Jesus acted so rashly? Do you cast judgement on her parenting? Do you feel bad for her but believe that her son should have made better decisions?

Maybe you feel great compassion for her. Is it enough to go put an arm around her? You see, this is how the scapegoating mechanism works. We get swept up in the crowd and even if we feel compassion for the victim, we are extremely unlikely to go stand with the victim, or the family of the victim.

Scapegoating is a mechanism in René Girard’s mimetic theory which allows a community to temporarily come together around a false sense of peace and security after executing the scapegoat. In America, we have overwhelmingly made the poor, as well as racial minorities, our scapegoats.

People believe that the death penalty makes them safer. It does not. There is absolutely zero correlation between death penalty states and safer states here in the U.S. Statistically the facts are overwhelmingly against the death penalty doing anything that advocates for the practice claim it does. It is far more expensive to execute someone than even to give them life in prison. Execution generally takes ten years or more so it actually delays finality for the families of victims. No one benefits from these state sponsored revenge killings…except our psyches.

If we buy into this scapegoating mechanism, if we buy into the rhetoric that every person on death row is a monster, then we can find some temporary peace when our government sacrifices yet another victim to the American god of peace of mind. The only logical reason I can see for the continued implication of the death penalty in America is that it makes us FEEL safer. There is no statistical evidence to back up those feelings, but that does not matter much. What matters is that we as a community feel safe. But here is a problem. There are many different communities within our nation. The problem with our scapegoating mechanism is that it makes the wealthy and the white feel safe, but not so much the poor or the racial minority.

Would you be willing to break from popular opinion to stand with Mary? Jesus exposed the scapegoating mechanism on the cross. Jesus put it out in plain view for us all to see. Jesus beckons us to stand with His mother. Jesus calls us to leave the mob. Jesus shows us the way out of negative mimesis and into a life of faith, love and justice.

Will you break the cycle of mimetic violence?

Will you stand with the oppressed?

Will you stand with Mary?

Author’s Note: Thank you to Jason Redick for insight on the death penalty I had not had before and to Michael Hardin for helping with the mimetic theory side of this. I am so grateful for these friends and I recommend following them on social media if you are not already. You can see more of Michael’s work at http://www.preachingpeace.org and you can learn more about the organization Jason works with at http://www.tcadp.org

Editor’s Note: Please say a prayer or save a space in your heart for Kenneth Earl Fults, scheduled to be executed in Georgia today, April 12, 2016.

12968602_10154125007529187_684506685_nAndrew Robinson  is a writer, student and activist in Dallas, Texas. He is the husband of a beautiful Irish woman named Karen and the father of two amazing little boys. He is passionate about fighting for social justice in this world as well as learning and teaching theology that will go hand in hand with the fight for social justice.

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.

Image: “Station of the cross, Saint Symhorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. XIXth century. Detail of the 13th station : Mary Magdalene weeping.” by Pethrus. Available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

 

batman v superman 1

Theology and Sacrifice in Batman v. Superman [Spoilers]

The critics have almost universally condemned Batman v. Superman. Personally, I think they’re right. Like many, I fell into plot holes about every 15 minutes and had a difficult time finding my way out. But for all the problems with the story line, Batman v. Superman asks some really good questions about theology, evil, and sacrifice.

There is an ancient sacrificial formula. According to René Girard, it goes back all the way to the founding of the first human cultures. Most concisely, the formula looks like this: whenever a community experiences a crisis of violence, it undoubtedly will survive by blaming a single person for its problems. Girard calls this person the scapegoat. The group finds unity by channeling its own violence against their scapegoat, who is accused of being evil, even a demon or a monster. The scapegoat is violently murdered and peace descends upon the group, but the peace is only temporary because the real problem of violence has never been solved.

When a crisis once again threatens the group, the process of sacrificial violence against an “evil” scapegoat repeats itself. As Girard states in a recently published conversation edited by Michael HardinReading the Bible with René Girard: Conversations with Stephen E. Berry, “Sacrifice is repeating the event that has saved the community from its own violence, which is killing a victim.”*  Soon, mythological stories and a theology emerges that claims that whenever the community experiences a crisis, the gods demand a violent sacrifice so that peace will return.

Indeed, this sacrificial formula is ancient, and yet it remains the dominant formula of our modern world. Its logic claims that sacrificial violence against an evil enemy is the surest way to peace. We see this logic in our politics, economics, religions, newscasts, and in the cinema. One of the most obvious examples of it is portrayed by Superman in the latest blockbuster film, Batman v. Superman.

Superman, Jesus, and Sacrifice

Superman is referred to as “God” throughout the movie. He seems to fit common assumption of the divine role quite nicely – Superman is all-powerful and miraculously seeks to save people from harm and death.

Many have suggested that Superman is a Christ-like figure. Superman and Jesus are similar in that they both seek to save humans from evil. The similarity becomes even stronger as they both save the world from evil through an act of sacrifice. But there is also a fundamental difference between the two. Superman saves the world through the ancient formula of sacrificial violence, whereas Jesus flips the ancient sacrificial formula and saves the world through an act of sacrificial nonviolence.

Superman and Evil

Near the end of the movie, Lex Luthor unleashes “Doomsday,” a monster that is a nearly perfect representation of evil. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman unite to destroy Doomsday, but the more they attack the evil monster, the more it feeds the beast with energy. With every violent blow, Doomsday grows stronger.

And that’s why Doomsday is a good example of evil. Paradoxically, the most reliable way to ensure the growth of evil is attempting to defeat it with violence. But violence only gives evil more energy. Tragically, we are witnessing this truth about evil in our current War on Terror. We attacked Saddam Hussein as part of the War on Terror. When Saddam was overthrown, al-Qaeda moved in to fill the power void. Once we weakened al-Qaeda, ISIS became our biggest threat. There is a clear pattern emerging. U.S. violence against terrorists is only planting the seeds for more terrorists. Apparently, we’re on the verge of defeating ISIS, which only begs the question – What terrorist group will emerge next?

In the end, Doomsday isn’t a perfect example of evil. Superman soon realizes that he and the monster share Kryptonian DNA, which means they are both vulnerable to Kryptonite. Superman sacrifices himself by seizing a Kryptonite spear and impaling the weapon through Doomsday, killing the monster. Unfortunately for Superman, holding the Kryptonite weakens him just enough for Doomsday to impale him with a spike, leaving them both dead.

And, you know, since Superman destroyed Doomsday but didn’t destroy evil, there will be a sequel. And I will watch. Hopefully the next movie won’t have as many plot holes…

Jesus and Evil

Indeed, Superman and Jesus have the same goal of saving the world from evil. They also sacrifice themselves in order to defeat evil. We want a Superman-like-Christ who will keep us safe from evil, by any means necessary, including violence.

But we don’t have a Superman-like-Christ. We have a Jesus-like-Christ. Superman believes if he just has the right weapon – a spear made of kryptonite – then he can finally destroy evil. But Jesus didn’t believe that. He knew that no matter the weapon, violence only feeds the evil beast.

Jesus came face to face with evil when he went to the cross. It was his “Doomsday” moment. And like Superman, it was a sacrificial act that led to his death, but there’s an important difference. Jesus didn’t feed evil by using violence against it; rather, he starved evil by a radical act of forgiveness. From the cross he prayed that God would not avenge his persecutors. Instead, he prayed for their forgiveness, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Conclusion

It’s interesting to note that Batman v. Superman was released in theaters on March 25, which happened to be Good Friday. Many think this was just a coincidence. That may be true, but what an odd coincidence to release the story of a god who dies to save the world from evil with an act of sacrificial violence on the day that Christians commemorate the death of Jesus, who saved the world from evil by sacrificing himself in an act of nonviolent love.

Batman v. Superman tells a contemporary mythical version of the ancient sacrificial formula. The heroic god-like figure saves the world by violently killing an evil enemy. This story has been told since the beginning of human culture. Unfortunately, it’s not working. Evil continues to threaten our world. With the advent of nuclear weapons and chemical warfare, violence threatens our world like never before.

But Jesus tells a different story. In a world where violence only feeds evil, Jesus offers the only alternative of nonviolence. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Forgive those who persecute you.

This year, Good Friday put two stories before us. One was based on the ancient sacrificial formula of violence, the other was Jesus’s alternative sacrificial formula of nonviolent love. Which story will we choose?

Photo: Screenshot from YouTube.

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*Michael Hardin, ed, Reading the Bible with Rene Girard: Conversations with Stephen E. Berry (Lancaster, PA: JDL Press, 2015), page 40. 

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

jesus resurrection

The Resurrection is No Myth, But It Is Dangerous

The resurrection is often packaged around cute little bunnies and plastic Easter eggs full of candy.

But resurrection isn’t soft and cuddly. Resurrection is dangerous. It is risky. It is not safe.

Resurrection is dangerous because it transforms how we relate to our fellow human beings, specifically to our enemies. And it transforms our understanding of the divine.

Throughout human history we have been caught up in cycles of violence – and we thought the gods were caught up in the same cycles of violence.

For example, the resurrection of Jesus is often compared to myths of resurrected gods throughout the ancient world. One such myth is about an Egyptian god named Horus and his father Osirus. Horus is portrayed as a good god that fought against the forces of evil, namely, an evil god named Set, who killed Horus’s father, a god named Osirus. Fortunately, Horus and his mother were able to resurrect Osirus. But the question remained, what should they to do about Set?

The resurrected Osirus asked Horus a question, “What is the most glorious deed a man can perform?”

Horus answered, “To take revenge upon one who has injured his father or mother.”*

And that’s what Horus did. Once he defeated Set in violent battle, Horus was acclaimed to be “lord of all the earth” and “once again established order and justice.”

There is a certain amount of truth within this myth. Throughout history, humans have thought that the only way to contain evil and violence is with our own violence. Horus wanted to destroy Set in order to establish peace, order, and justice. But the myth is honest about another motivation – no matter how good and just our violence seems to be, it always carries with it a motivation for revenge.

Ultimately, violence cannot be contained. It always escalates into cycles of increasing revenge. We see this cycle in ancient myths, but we also see it in the modern world. Just like the violence between Horus and Set, the United States believe that the way to deal with evil is to violently defeat our enemies. How does the United States respond to ISIS? We seek revenge by killing them.

In other words, Horus is our divine model.

The resurrection of Jesus tells a radically different story than the myth of Horus. Jesus was resurrected not to seek revenge against his enemies. No, the resurrection of Jesus is not a violent myth. The resurrection of Jesus is the Good News that God isn’t out for revenge. Rather, Jesus was resurrected to reveal God’s radical offer of peace and forgiveness.

After his death, the disciples were consumed with fear and locked themselves in a room. The resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared to them. While there, Jesus repeated the phrase, “Peace be with you” three times.

Why did Jesus have to repeat that phrase? Because if this was a myth like other resurrection myths, the disciples would have thought that the resurrected Jesus would seek revenge. The disciples had a lot to fear; after all, they just betrayed, denied, and abandoned Jesus to his death.

But the resurrection of Jesus was no myth. It was Gospel. It was the Good News that God doesn’t hold our sins against us, but forgives us, offers us peace, and invites us to extend that peace to others.

Most of us don’t believe in Jesus. We believe in the gods of myth. We believe in Horus. We believe in violence. Whether our next president is Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton, if our enemies hit us, we will hit them back. And we will fool ourselves into believing that we will hit back so hard that our enemies will never even think about hitting us again. And the cycle of violence will continue. And Horus will be our god.

Unless we decide to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But faith in the resurrection is dangerous because the resurrection is God’s alternative to the myths of violence. When you believe the resurrection of Jesus, you can no longer fight violence with violence in the name of God. Rather, you “fight” violence with forgiveness. You don’t engage evil with more evil, but with love. Resurrection is dangerous because our enemies may respond to our offer of peace with violence. That’s the risk of faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

But that risk is also our greatest hope for a more peaceful world.

*Told in World Mythology, second edition, edited by Donna Rosenberg, pages 165-168

Image: Flickr, “Resurrection 60,” by Waiting for the Word, Creative Commons License, some changes made

'The_Arrest_of_Christ',_oil_on_panel_painting_by_the_Master_of_the_Evora_Altarpiece,_c._1500,_Museu_de_Évora,_Portugal (1)

Jesus, Peter and the Sword

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by guest author Ellen Corcella.

The horrific and inhumane terrorist attacks in Belgium should weigh heavy on our hearts and souls during Holy Week as we mourn the death of too many more innocents.  The looming question is how will Western Europe and the U.S. respond to this latest round of violence.  There is already a competition among leaders and politicians to see who can talk the toughest against terrorists.  This is because we prefer to meet violence with greater violence.  Violence is contagious.  Rather than condemning it, we promote violence as the only courageous, rational and responsible way to defeat violence and attain peace.

During Holy Week, Christians re-enact Jesus’ arrest, torture and crucifixion by the Roman Empire. We should make no mistake about it. As Richard A. Horsey recounts in his book, In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance, the Romans were adept at using violence and terror to spread Pax Romana throughout its Empire.  The Empire raped the women, murdered the men and destroyed entire villages to subdue the populations of Palestine, Galilee and Jerusalem.  The challenge of this Holy Week, for me and for those of us who try to follow Jesus, is to grasp the true meaning of Easter, that Jesus wholly and utterly rejected violence.

Jesus met the terrorist culture of the Roman Empire with non-violent resistance and generous grace.  This is the most evident when Jesus, after his last Passover meal, retreated to a quiet garden to pray as night fell.  We know Jesus felt particularly vulnerable that night as several times he asked his small group of disciples to stay awake and pray with him.  The ruling authorities took advantage of Jesus’ vulnerability and sent a mob armed with torches, swords and clubs, to seize and arrest Jesus.  The mob’s display of force was designed to intimidate their target into blanket submission or death.

Peter, like we are today, was well schooled in the ways of the world.  Peter immediately and instinctively knew that the mob’s violence must be met with violence.  So, in defense of Jesus, Peter drew his own sword and sliced off the ear of the servant of the High Priest.  The significance of what happened next lies as much in what Jesus did not do as it lies in what Jesus did.  Jesus did not cheer Peter.  Jesus did not lead a charge into the warring mob.  Jesus did not bolster Peter’s violence by urging the other disciples to take their weapons and attack.

Instead, Jesus rebuked Peter and instructed him to put his sword back into its sheath (Matt. 26:52).   Jesus then told his disciples there would be “no more of this” (Luke 22:51) violence. If Jesus had not rejected the disciples’ imitative violence, the disciples and Jesus would have been clubbed and beaten to death by the crowd, who would see no other choice but to respond to Peter’s violence with deadly violence.

Then Jesus did something incredible.  Jesus reached out his hand, touched the wound of the High Priest’s servant and healed his ear. In that gesture, Jesus taught us not only to reject violence, but also to show grace to those who would violently attack us.

I often wonder what might have happened in Syria if  — early in the conflict — the U.S. and other nations dropped food supplies to the Syrian people.  Five years ago, before ISIS and before the splintering of opposition groups, the Syrian people simply wanted their own Arab Spring, their own freedom from a violent despot.  I have never really said this aloud because I know the response – instant laughter followed by strong assertions of my naiveté and unrealistic idealism.  However, like Jesus’ non-violent rejection of the Roman Empire, a humane act of peaceful resistance would have sent a dual message – we reject violence as a form of terror and we wish to extend a healing hand to a wounded people.  Sadly, instead of care packages, we sent bombs and drones.  ISIS emerged to radicalize demoralized individuals who now carry out deadly suicide missions.  And, so the cycle of violence continues.

Holy Week offers us a time for serious reflection, meditation and prayer about whether we can earnestly and truly follow Jesus when we would rather act like Peter.

Image: “The Arrest of Christ” by the Master of the Evora Alterpiece. Public Domain.

Ellen-CorcellaEllen Corcella has a M.T.S., M.Div. from Christian Theological Seminary, a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center; her Master’s Thesis explored mimetic theory.

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.

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Jesus Was Killed For National Security Reasons: Good Friday, Fear, and Muslim Surveillance

Why was Jesus killed?

There is no more important question to ask on this Good Friday. Christians have come up with many answers throughout the last 2,000 years. Some of those answers claim that Jesus was killed by the Father to assuage His wrath or reclaim His honor in the face of human sin.

But that’s the wrong answer. Jesus wasn’t killed to appease God. Jesus was killed because he was a threat to national security.

That’s the answer that the Gospels give. The great religious and political leader of the day, the high priest Caiaphas, explained why Jesus had to die. During a debate among other leaders, Caiaphas said,

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.

Caiaphas was right about one thing – Jesus was a national security threat. That’s why the political and religious elite killed him.

But let’s be clear – Jesus was not a threat to Israel’s national security because he was a violent revolutionary. No, Jesus was a threat because he challenged the whole political system of violence and death. Jesus preached a different way of life that he called the Kingdom of God. It wasn’t based on fear, death, or violence. Rather, it was based on faith, hope, and nonviolent love.

Caiaphas was a keen politician. Politics has always been based on the expediency of keeping people safe for national security. That’s their primary job. But in order to keep us safe, there has to be a threat, some enemy that has to be exiled or killed in order for us to be safe – lest the whole nation be destroyed!

Caiaphas wasn’t particularly evil. He was simply doing what humans have always done. He was channeling national fears and anxieties against a scapegoat. Two thousand years ago it was Jesus, but we continue the practice of political scapegoating today. Currently in the United States, we have presidential candidates who are channeling our cultural fears and anxieties against Muslims. In the wake of the Jihadist terror attacks in Brussels, leading candidates are suggesting that police need to patrol “Muslim neighborhoods,” because, you know, all Muslims are a threat to our national security…

Did you know that during the 15 years since 9/11, Jihadists have attacked the United States nine times, killing 45 people? My Muslims friends agree that those terrorist attacks are tragedies that never should have happened. But do those statistics reveal that Jihadists, let alone peaceful, law abiding Muslims citizens, are such a massive threat to our safety and security that police need to spend extra time and resources patrolling Muslim neighborhoods?

In comparison, “There are nearly 12,000 gun murders a year in the US.” American gun violence is a far bigger threat to us than Jihadists. But there’s an even bigger threat to our safety and security than guns. More than 30,000 people killed every year by car accidents.

If something killed 30,000 Americans a year, would we call it a national security threat? Of course we would! We would demand that police spend more time and resources patrolling neighborhoods, making sure people were safe from such a threat.

So, are Jihadist the great threat we are making them out to be? If so, the Obama Administration is doing a damn good job keeping us safe! But personally, I don’t think they are. After all, you have far more reason to fear the car coming down the street than any Jihadist, let alone peaceful Muslims.

Of course, it would be irrational for you to fear every car that came down the street. And it is just as irrational for you to fear your Muslim neighbor.

What do Caiaphas and our political leaders have in common? They attempt to channel our fears against a common enemy in the name of national security. But ultimately, they distract us from bigger problems. Our biggest problem is the cycle of scapegoating. Caiaphas blamed Jesus. Our politicians are blaming Muslims. And Christians should know better than to fall for the fearful suspicion directed against Muslims. Good Friday teaches us that when we live by fear, even fearing for our national security, we end up channeling our fear, anxiety, and violence against a scapegoat. In other words, we participate in the violent logic that killed Jesus.

On Good Friday, Jesus reveals that we don’t have to live by the politics of fear. In fact, he frees us from fear, even the fear of death. Faith in Jesus means that we no longer have to kill or exclude others for the sake of national security. Rather, faith means trusting in Jesus, the one who calls us to love and forgive our neighbors, including those we call our enemies.

Photo: Flick: Patrick Keller, Crucifixion INRI – St. Peter’s Cemetery, St. Charles, MO, Creative Commons Licence, some changes made

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In Remembrance Of Me

I am this broken and bleeding world.

I am Brussels, blown apart, the strewn limbs, the piercing wail of a mother for her baby.

I am Yemen, at the marketplace, charred bodies of children face-down in the dust.

I am Syria, families cramming into boats as guns and missiles chase them from the shore.

I am Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, pockmarked by bomb blasts, orphaned children hiding away from clear blue skies.

I am the growling of empty bellies drowned by the sound of gold pouring into the bottomless coffers of the war machines as they devour their sustenance and spit out death in return.

I am generation upon generation of silenced and vanished victim buried in the ground and trampled.

I am slain from the foundation of the world.

 

Absorbing the fear and hate of thousands of years,

I clothed myself in flesh and vulnerability

And came back to my plundered home.

 

I walked among those whose pain I had shouldered from the beginning of time,

The cast off and thrown away.

I took the leper into my arms.

In my eyes the used and exploited found their humanity reflected back to them.

I opened the eyes of the blind.

I fed the starving with bread and wisdom.

I took the children on my knee.

As I walked, I scattered the Love in which I was born before time began.

 

A sick and aching world takes time to heal.

And in that time, fear moves fast.

The Powers that build their empires by exploiting divisions –

Only to reign in the sprawling chaos by uniting the deceived people against someone –

Have named me the enemy.

 

So now I come to you, my friends,

As we gather around this table.

And you quarrel about who among you is the greatest.

Don’t you see, it is this me-against-you attitude

That has brought me here, to the brink of my destruction?

For one evening, let us put aside the bitter bickering

And enjoy one last feast, one final fellowship.

 

If you want to be great, cast off the shackles of self-doubt that choke out your love for each other,

If you want glory, make it manifest in acts of service.

I come among you, I come below you, washing your feet,

To show you love you’ve never known.

You will never know how blessed and beloved you are,

Until you let the love within you pour out to others.

 

From the beginning of time, I have seen brother set against brother,

Nation set against nation,

Selfishness erupt in violence, converging upon victim after victim

All sprung from the same seed of desire for greatness against someone else.

If you want to be great, be for others,

Even as I am for you.

 

I am this broken and bleeding world.

This bread is my broken body.

This cup is my spilled blood.

As it has been done to victims from the beginning of time,

So it is done to me.

I give my broken self to you.

 

Take in my life.

Let me nourish you with my love

Until the spirit of compassion bursts the old wineskins of your brittle hearts…

Until you become a new creation.

 

Let the body of my work become the work of your body.

Embrace the outcasts,

Reconcile enemies,

Feed my sheep.

 

Unite in me, with me in you.

I give my broken self to you –

Only in coming together can the fullness of my life be manifest again.

Let this bread bind you together,

Let this wine wash away your divisions.

 

I am broken for a broken world

A world that needs your love

To be made whole again.

Take me into you and become my body.

Eat this bread.

Drink this wine.

Do this in re-membrance of me.

 

Image: “Last Supper”; Public Domain via Pixabay.

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The Political Subversion of Palm Sunday

Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.

Politics refers to “the affairs of the city” and “influencing other people on a civic or individual level.”

Throughout his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus was political. He influenced people to live into the politics of the Kingdom of Heaven. For Jesus, Heaven is not essentially some place off in the distance where you go after you die. No, Heaven is a way of life to be lived right here, right now. We see this clearly in the prayer he taught his disciples:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a colt on Palm Sunday, he was performing a political act of of subversion.

Let’s contrast the politics of Jesus with the politics of Rome. Rome spread its Gospel, its “good news,” in a very deliberate way. As Fr. John Dear points out,

We’re so used to that word “Gospel,” that it’s lost its original meaning. But in those days, when the Roman empire went off and conquered another land in the name of their god Caesar, and killed all the men, raped all the women, and destroyed all the homes, the soldiers would come back parading through the land announcing “the Gospel according to Caesar,” the Good News of the latest victory of Caesar, that another land has been conquered for their god Caesar, and that Caesar’s enemies have been killed.

Now, I don’t want to pick on ancient Rome because ancient Roman politics was essentially like the politics of every other nation. Ancient Roman politics was about influencing others through power, coercion, and violence.

In spreading its Gospel, Rome was spreading the Pax Romana. Rome genuinely believed that it was spreading peace and its method for spreading peace was violence. They praised their gods that they were able to kill the enemies of Roman Peace.

That’s the politics of Rome.

But that’s not the politics of Jesus.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus revealed an alternative way of being political. A political ruler’s entry into a city was of great importance in the ancient world. Roman rulers would enter a city on a powerful war horse to show their domination. Jesus rode on a colt – a young horse that had never seen war.

As Jesus rode the young horse, a large crowd spread their cloaks on the ground and waved their palm branches as they shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” The Jewish Annotated New Testament states that the cloaks and branches were meant “to connect Jesus to the kingship of Israel.” The term “Son of David” was also a clear messianic reference that hoped for a new political ruler, but just what kind of king was Jesus?

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was revealing that the reign of God is in stark contrast to the reign of Rome and every other political system that seeks triumphant victory by influencing people through violence and coercion.

The Gospel of Jesus subverts the politics of violence because the Gospels is the politics of humility, service, forgiveness, and a nonviolent love that embraces all people, but especially those we call our enemies.

Tragically, we tend to live by the politics of Rome, not the politics of Jesus. Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, American or Russian, whenever we seek to influence others through coercion and violence, we are following the politics of Rome.

Fortunately, Jesus revealed the alternative. He called it “The Kingdom of God.” It’s a political way of life based not on triumphant violence, but rather humble service. The politics of Jesus makes sure everyone has daily bread, it seeks to forgive debts and sins, it avoids the temptation to commit evil against our neighbors, and it calls us into a life of forgiveness.

But this is risky. We know that the politics of Jesus led him to Good Friday, where he suffered and died. And yet he stayed true to the Kingdom of God, speaking words of forgiveness even as he was murdered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The Kingdom of God is not just a call to a personal ethic; it’s a political ethic. Indeed, the politics of Jesus seeks to influence our personal lives, but it also seeks to influence our political lives. Wherever personal or political systems use violence, power, and coercion to be triumphant and victorious, Jesus beckons us to follow him into a different kind of politics – into the Kingdom of God that lives and dies by love, service, and forgiveness.

Image: Painting by Hippolyte Flandrin, 1842. Public Domain.

A version of this article appeared in 2014.