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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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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.

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3 Practical Ways To Lead A More Peaceful Life

With so many horrific things going on in the world right now, it is hard not to think that everything is simply hopeless. And so, it is then hard not to look at the overall picture and feel as if there is nothing one can do. With all this violence in the world, how can I make a difference? Well, even though a part of me is pessimistic and thinks like this at times, the core of me believes in peace as a reality. And so, I am here to try to make a small difference by offering a few easy ways we can make our daily lives more peaceful.  And if we all start doing these things, and then encourage others to do likewise, perhaps we can place our little mark of peace on human history. Or, perhaps we can help lead a peaceful revolution of sorts.

Perhaps . . .

  1. Avoid Gossip

I know this sounds basic, but it is really important, probably more so than we actually realize. This is because, when we gossip, we are creating scapegoats, needless victims if you will. Sure, in doing so, we are uniting with the ones we are gossiping with, but we are doing so by creating an enemy “other.” And this isn’t right. It isn’t just. If you are a Christian, I could say to you that it isn’t “Christlike,” as Christ didn’t create scapegoats or enemy “others.”

But it is just so tempting, isn’t it? And we do it ever-so-subtly too, even nearly non-consciously. I caught myself doing it the other day. Mimetic theory helped me recognize the subtle scapegoating I was engaging in. When I recognized it and stopped, I thought just how insidious, yet powerful, my gossiping was. I could feel the other person and myself bonding on behalf of the other. Yet, knowing what I was doing to that “other” was overwhelmingly troubling for me. “I should know better,” I thought. The only thing I could do was repent, to change my mind (metánoia). I implore all of us to do just that.

  1. Be a Model for your Kids

Last year, I wrote an article entitled “We do not hit!” In it, I talked about a mother who hit her child, while telling the boy “we do not hit!” What was her reason for doing this, you ask? He hit his mother in the face. I couldn’t help but cringe when I witnessed this. I remember thinking something like: “What in the [insert four letter word of choice] are you modeling to your kid!?” Perhaps that isn’t the nicest, but still . . . it’s the first thing that popped into my head.

You see, what we model for our children is of utmost importance. From the time they burst into the world, kicking and screaming (and pooping, peeing, and puking too!), they imitate mommy and daddy. That is how they learn (we have psychologists Andrew Meltzoff and Keith Moore to thank for this understanding of the human). And so, when you hit your child, it frankly doesn’t much matter if you tell him to not hit, he will copy you because he wants to be like you. Jean-Michel Oughourlian says how the power of this human truth is “dazzling in its effects.” (Oughourlian, Puppet of Desire, 2)

So please, don’t hit your kids. And please reconsider whether to spank or not, as spanking is but a euphemism for hitting. If you truly want your child not to hit, then model that for him. Model how you want him to deal with conflict, and how you think he should resolve it.

Changing gears a bit, try modeling other positive behaviors as well. Ask things like: “Can I clear your plate for you?” And then do it! Do it for others too! You know what, she just may start imitating this behavior at some point (my five year old daughter consciously just did this for the first time the other day). Trust me, this stuff works and the apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree. Not broadly speaking, anyway.

  1. Be conscious of your models

A big part of how we define ourselves is in who we take on as models. Most instinctively, we look to our mother and father, perhaps a big brother or older cousin. But we also look to celebrities, politicians, professional athletes, et al. That is why the fashion industry, for instance, looks to those types of folks to endorse their products. They know we want to be “just like them.” Do you think Calvin Klein wants my goofy ass modeling their clothes? No, they want Tom Brady. And speaking of Tom Brady, do you want to really know why people hate him? It is because we want to be like him. He is a model for many of us, but we can’t have what he has and so he becomes a rival. I mean, look, he is gorgeous, has 4 Super Bowl rings, is married to a supermodel, and deep down, you are convinced your wife wants to date him (I’m only half kidding). But seriously, who doesn’t want to have what Tom has?

What I am getting at is that we need to be conscious of who we take on as models. Mimetic theory tells us that we will non-consciously imitate them. That is why Jesus is so important. When he asks others to “follow me,” I think he was being a bit more literal than many acknowledge. He offers a way out of the rivalrous situations in which we so often find ourselves when we take on each other as models. But when we refuse to follow his positive mimesis, as it’s called, when we have models who engage in gossiping, engage in scapegoating, and have an “us vs. them”—nay, “us over them”—worldview, then we will find ourselves copying them and then getting into contentious situations, and becoming such negative models for others. In short, we will find ourselves shrouded in violence.

So be conscious of this. Well, be as conscious as you can. I know much of what makes us human is non-conscious, but we can still try to be as aware as possible of who we are taking on as models. We can ask if who we look up to is perpetually creating an enemy “other” or not. And when we are conscious of the scapegoating mechanism, we can ask how we imitate it, and change our own behavior. We can be positive models for those who, consciously or unconsciously, form identities against others.

So, I hope I offered a couple of ways that we can lead more peaceful lives. Sure, we can’t change the world in one day. We can’t disarm every nuclear bomb right now, nor stop every murder in the streets, but what we can do now is be more peaceful in our day-to-day lives. There is never “enough” peace, not until we are all living in true Peace in the kingdom of God.

Image via Pixabay.

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Donald Trump, Chris Rock, and 21st Century Racism

Will you condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?

That was the question CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump over the weekend. Trump, who has had no problem condemning Muslims and Mexicans throughout his campaign, failed to condemn white supremacists. He responded,

Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay. I don’t know anything that you’re talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.

When pressed, Trump wouldn’t even condemn the KKK. We probably shouldn’t be surprised, given Trumps constant race baiting. Much of white America, including the mainstream media, is up in arms. For example, conservative commentator Joe Scarborough of MSNBC said that this should disqualify Trump from the presidency. Marco Rubio claimed that Trump is a “con artist” who would virtually destroy “the party of Lincoln” if elected.

I get it. Trump is despicable. Politically speaking, it was an easy question to answer. To say it was a softball of a question is an insult to softball. Instead of denying that he knew David Duke or anything about white supremacy, he should have simply said, “Yes. I condemn David Duke and I condemn white supremacy.

So white America is up in arms, pointing our collective finger against Donald Trump, accusing him of being a racist. Rightfully so.

But as someone who has been studying mimetic theory for many years, I know that when a crowd unites against someone, there’s a good chance it is scapegoating him. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I also know that scapegoats can be guilty. In fact, the guiltier the person is, the easier it is to scapegoat him. Trump provides a great example of a guilty scapegoat. Here’s why:

What happens when white America condemns Donald Trump for being racist? We claim that he is the racist, which means that we are not.

René Girard made the psychological observation that, “At the source of hatred of the Other there is hatred of the self.” Trump holds up a mirror to white America. The truth, as offensive as it may be, is that at the source of white America’s collective hatred of Donald Tump for his racism is our own racism. And the more we unite against Trump, the more we hide from the fact that racism infects us, too.

After all, on Sunday we celebrated the Oscars. Hollywood, the beacon of American liberalism, was called out for racism. Chris Rock, in front of a dominantly white audience, made this prophetic statement –

Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist, but it’s not the racism you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you aren’t Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.

Hollywood’s racism is actually more pernicious than Donald Trump’s racism. That’s because Trump’s racism is out in plain view for everyone to condemn. And how easy it is to condemn Trump! But Hollywood’s racism is more concealed. Rock made it clear that Hollywood celebrates an ideal that everyone is welcome to the party, but in reality, only white people are allowed to attend.

To say that Hollywood’s racism is “sorority racist” means that inclusion and exclusion is based on the color of one’s skin. To paraphrase Rock, it’s to say, “We like you, Rhonda, but you just aren’t white.”

Hollywood’s racism is the 21st century racism of white America. It’s “polite” racism. It abhors the word “segregation,” but in reality it comfortably lives in a racially segregated world where the best opportunities for success are given to white people.

Chris Rock told the prophetic truth about racism in America. It’s bigger than Donald Trump. It’s bigger than Hollywood. For white America to condemn Trump’s racism or Hollywood’s racism is to scapegoat them, because it conveniently absolves us from examining the racism that infects each of us.

Photo: (Left) Donald Trump interviewed by Jake Trapper (Screenshot from YouTube) Photo: (Right) Chris Rock at the Oscars (Screenshot from YouTube)

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Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – The Hope of Friendship

In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia death last Saturday, I’d like to put politics aside for a moment and talk about friendship. That’s because if anything good came from his untimely death, it is the fact that we are learning about his friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is a friendship that gives me hope.

But before I tell you about that hope, I’m going to confess to you my resentment. Deep down, I’m scandalized by their friendship. I mean, as a progressive I’m left wondering, How could she do that? How could Ginsburg be friends with him? In fact, she says they weren’t just friends; they were “best buddies.” BFFS with him!

This just isn’t right. I mean, they aren’t supposed to be best buddies. In our politically divisive climate, they are supposed to be worst enemies!

Besides, doesn’t Ginsburg know that Scalia stood for everything we Progressives are against? He seemingly compared the morality of homosexual conduct to the morality of polygamy, cruelty to animals, and even murder. He didn’t “want to have to deal with global warming.” He defended torture. He said the Constitution doesn’t protect women’s rights. And he suggested that black people should go to slower colleges.

And here’s Ginsburg, our Progressive hero, crossing the political divide to befriend Scalia. The two vacationed together, spent New Year’s together, and went to the opera together. The gall! Doesn’t she know that we Progressives need to stick together? And one way that we stick together is to unite against a common enemy. Hatred against a scapegoat is the glue that so often unites us.

So I confess to you that I feel some resentment toward Ginsburg. And, after hearing the news of this unlikely friendship, I’m sure that many conservatives are feeling something similar toward Scalia. That’s because group identity is so often formed by uniting against the same enemy. James Alison puts it like this,

Give people a common enemy, and you’ll give them a common identity. Deprive them of an enemy, and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know who they are.

This is the default way of forming human identity. For example, we progressives know who we are because we have the same scapegoats – those conservatives! But the same is true for conservatives. They know who they are because they have the same scapegoats – those liberal progressives!

This may be the default way of forming identity, but it’s not the way we have to form identity. Scalia’s friendship with Ginsburg shows us the alternative. They passionately disagreed on almost everything. But their friendship points us beyond even our most severe disagreements toward something bigger – the love of friendship.

Jesus called his followers to love everyone, including our enemies. It’s a love that’s not based on primarily on positive emotions for another. Rather, it’s based on actively reaching out toward the other. It refuses to join our own group in uniting in hatred against a scapegoat. It’s a love that can disagree with the other, but it also loves the other as the other is. In other words, love doesn’t seek to change the other to conform to our views. It just loves the other and seeks friendship with the other.

But make no mistake, to become friends with our group’s scapegoat is risky business. It takes great courage because in becoming friends with a scapegoat, our group will likely be scandalized. Cross over the hatred that divides “us” from “them,” our group may become resentful as its identity is challenged. It will feel like “the crutch by which they know who they are” is being taken away. And what does a group do when its identity is challenged? It reinforces its identity by uniting against another common enemy, in this case, the one who broke ranks with us by becoming friends with the other. What a traitor!

But friendship that risks crossing the divide of hostility is the hope the Scalia and Ginsburg give us. It’s the hope of Christ who calls us to love all people, just as they are. People are not objects to be converted to our cause; they are humans deserving of love and friendship. If we take that message seriously, we will remove the crutch of scapegoating. We will cross the border of group identity formed in opposition to the other. Instead, we will seek ways to intentionally form friendships with the other. And when we do, we will risk scandalizing our group.

But that’s okay, because we know that love and friendship that crosses over the barriers of scapegoating is exactly what the world needs at this very moment.

Image: Flickr, Leven Ramishvili, Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., April 17, 2014, Creative Commons Copyright, Public Domain Mark 1.

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Lent, My Parents, and the Voices in Your Head

In high school, I had to do the dreaded senior project.

Shivers still run down my spine.

*shiver*

It meant that I had to follow someone in my community for 30 hours and write a paper on my experience. I could have followed a businessman or a banker or a doctor or a lawyer or even a horse trainer.

But I didn’t care about any of those careers. In fact, a career was far from my mind during the spring of 1998. All I wanted to do was play video games with my friends.

For the most part, my parents didn’t care what I picked, just that I picked something. So, one night, my Dad sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do. “I don’t know,” I replied. Then I took a shot in the dark, “Maybe I’ll follow our pastor around.”

That answer satisfied him, but I had the same discussion a few weeks later with both of my parents. “I just don’t know what I want to do,” I lamented. My Dad replied, “What about following our pastor around?”

That’s when all kinds of stuff hit the fan. My Mom looked directly at my Dad and said,

“YOU WILL NOT ENCOURAGE HIM TO GO INTO MINISTRY!”

(She did say it in all caps, btw.)

My Dad explained that I came up with the ide a few weeks earlier, which calmed her down a bit. I never asked her why she hated the idea. I suspect it was because she was very practical and ministry is a demanding job that is no longer held in high esteem. Nor does it pay much. And our church had just gone through a schism where the pastor was blamed for all the church’s problems. It was a textbook case of scapegoating and my Mom didn’t want me to go through that.

At the time, I really thought I would follow our pastor around because I couldn’t think of anything better to do. But maybe there was more to it than that. In part because of my Mom, I did go into ministry. (I tell that story here.)

My Mother died about two years later from cancer. That was the year 2000 – 16 year ago. But my Mom’s voice is still in my head. It routinely creeps into the back of my mind and says new things like, “YOU ARE NOT GOING INTO THE MINISTRY! THAT’S NOT PRACTICAL! BE A DOCTOR! OR A LAWYER! GO INTO BUSINESS. HELL, TRAIN HORSES! ANYTHING BUT MINISTRY!!!!”

Of course, it’s not just my mom’s voice. There are voices all around our culture that claim ministry is foolish. And there are times when I have serious doubts. Does God exist? Dose religion do more harm than good? What about all those contradictions in the Bible? Is spirituality just one big joke? Isn’t truth found in the hard sciences? Am I doing this because I couldn’t think of anything better to do when I was a high school senior? Maybe I should go train some horses …

Here’s the thing – you don’t have to be in ministry to have these kinds of voices in your head. We all have them. Where did they come from? There’s this idea that we humans are isolated, singular individuals. That we are “our own person” and shouldn’t be influenced by others.

But that’s false. We humans are mimetic creatures. That means that we are formed in community and by our social relationships. My friend Tom Truby puts it like this in a recent sermon, “We are a network of relationships; some past, some present, that live inside us, each with their own voice.”

Lent is a time when we follow Jesus into the spiritual wilderness of those voices. The story of Lent claims that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Interesting, the devil isn’t described as a physical entity. There is not description of the devil having red horns, a tail, and a pitch fork. The only description we have of the devil is that it has a voice.

Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’s voice? Because in order to grow spiritually, we all need to come face to face with the negative voices in our heads.

Lent is often viewed a dreary time of penitence. It may be that, but I prefer to think of Lent as a spiritual journey into the wilderness. Lent is important because we would rather avoid that journey. We’d rather avoid dealing with the voices by burring them deep down or locking them up in our mental box.

But when we avoid those voices or try to lock them away, they only grow stronger. Jesus was led into the desert because he needed to learn how to manage the negative voices of doubt in his head.

We all have those voices. They were given to us by our family, friends, co-workers, and the larger culture. Sometimes those voices have our best interest in mind, but sometimes they don’t. And it’s usually the negative voices that I allow to play in my head over and over again.

After struggling with the voices in his head, Jesus was able to cast them out. That may work for you, but I’ve noticed that the more I become against the voices in my head, the more powerful they become. They just grow bigger.

I’ve learned a different way to manage them. For example, I’ve learned to make peace with my Mom’s voice. She wasn’t against me; rather, in her own way, she was looking out for me. Her voice had a positive intent. A life of ministry has serious challenges. You’re always on call, you work on Sundays and often Saturdays, and you are expected to be available at all hours of the day and night. That’s what my Mom was worried about. But those challenges have also given me some of the best experiences of my life.

So, instead of being against my Mother’s voice, I’ve learned to make peace with it by blessing her voice. I tell that voice that it belongs. The voices of doubt and certainty, love and hate, joy and despair, they all have a proper place. They all belong.

Let me suggest that during Lent you explore the voices in your head. Especially the negative voices. Go into that wilderness.* If you can cast out those voices, go for it. But if not, let me suggest an alternative. Ask yourself where they came from. Explore if the negative voices might actually have a positive intent, like my Mom’s voice does. (Here’s a hint – the voice almost always has a positive intent.)

When you go into the wilderness and come face to face with the voices instead of avoiding them, you might just discover that they become smaller and smaller.

*Of course, it might be even more helpful to do this with a pastor or therapist.

hillary

Hillary Clinton’s Emails, Donald Trump, and Moving through Scandal

Former House Majority Leader Tom Delay claims that the Justice Department is preparing to file charges against Hillary Clinton for mishandling of classified information in her emails. Delay said in an interview, “I have friends who are in the FBI and they tell me they’re ready to indict.”

I don’t know the veracity of Delay’s statement. Nothing would surprise me during this political season. His statement could be a complete fabrication made to cause more drama in a presidential election season already filled with enough drama, or an indictment could happen tomorrow.

Clinton’s email scandal isn’t going away any time soon because Republicans will keep bringing it up. Delay guaranteed as much, claiming that if the attorney general doesn’t move forward with an indictment, she will be put on trial. “One way or another, either she’s going to be indicted and that process begins, or we try her in the public eye with her campaign. One way or another, she’s going to have to face these charges.”

I don’t want to scapegoat Republicans for bringing up the scandal. Democrats have called for similar indictments of their Republican counterparts. Many have insisted that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and former CIA directors be charged with crimes against humanity. Hillary may have her email problems, but the Bush/Cheney administration is plagued by torture reports.

Whether it’s emails or war crimes, both sides are scandalized by the other. What we often fail to see, however, is that scandals have a paradoxical nature to them. We may despise or condemn those who we think cause scandals, like committing war crimes or being sloppy with allegedly classified information, but deep inside we are also attracted to them.

René Girard has a helpful way of explaining the term scandal. In his book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Girard states that the more a scandal “repels us, the more it attracts us.”

In other words, the more we hate our political rivals, the more we are attracted to them. What attracts us to them? They have the things that we want – success, power, and prestige. The very things we want is what they have, and because they have the things that we want, they seek to prevent us from taking those things away from them.

Republicans are both repelled and attracted to Hillary Clinton because she has the successful political career that they want. Scandal is driven by this form of rivalry and resentment. Underneath the obsession with Clinton’s email is a resentful feeling of superiority – that where she failed, we could have succeeded. As Jeremiah Alberg points out, “… what drives scandal is the secret thought, ‘I could have done it better.’”

And so we find ourselves trying to outdo our rivals, competing for the same prize. We tend to deny that we have anything in common with our enemies, but underneath our denial, our mutual desire for power and prestige makes us the same. But we aren’t just the same in our desires, we also become the same in our actions.

That Democrats and Republicans seek to indict one another is a good example of becoming similar in our actions, but the scandal that is Donald Trump is another good example. Trump has scandalized not just the United States, but many throughout the world. In response to Trump’s suggestion that we ban all Muslims from the United States, Great Britain responded with perfect imitation as politicians suggested that they should place a ban on Trump. They were repelled by Trump, something they openly admitted, but as loud as they denounced his policy suggestions, they could not see that, in fact, they were mirroring the very thing they condemned. In fact, they were so attracted to Trump that they perfectly imitated him in the desire to banish people from their country.

There’s an ancient proverb that says, “Like a dog returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly.” That’s a good description of scandals. It’s inevitable that we will return to scandals like a dog returns to its vomit. Of course, we don’t just return to political scandals, but we return to scandals with family members, co-workers, neighbors, and friends. When we become scandalized, we drive a wedge between ourselves and others by refusing to admit how alike we are. Scandals may be inevitable, but the good news is that we can learn to manage them in three healthy ways:

First, when scandals come your way, don’t deny them. Don’t deny that you are repelled and attracted to the one who is causing scandal. Try not to blame them. Instead, ask yourself why you are repelled and attracted to this person. What is it about them that you want to have or to be? What do you admire about him or her?

Second, remind yourself that it’s okay to be repelled and attracted by your scandalous rival. Don’t beat yourself up for falling into a scandal. It’s okay. In fact, it’s human.

Third, find the good in your rival. Find ways to verbally affirm the good things that they are doing and seek to work together to accomplish those good things. Working with them builds a trustful rapport and the possibility for working together on the good things that you want to accomplish, too. Even more important, since we are more like our rival than we generally like to admit, finding the good in them means that we will also find the good in ourselves.

Jesus said that, “It is impossible that scandals should not come.” So, expect scandals to come. Instead of denying them or getting stuck in them, by following these three steps we can move through them. As we move through scandals, we find ourselves less scandalized, more forgiving of ourselves and others, and better able to work with others for a better future.

*Photo: Flicker, Marc Nozell, Hillary Clinton in Hampton, NH, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

Jareth

“You Have No Power Over Me”: When David Bowie Was Satan (A Tribute Of Sorts)

Introduction

Oh you’ve turned my world, you precious thing…

These haunting words reverberated through my mind upon learning, two weeks ago, of David Bowie’s death. A great number of people feel his loss in the world of music, but I didn’t know him best as a musician. I knew him as Jareth, the compelling, charismatic Goblin King from the 80s cult classic, Labyrinth.

I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as the loss of my favorite childhood villain began to sink in. And then I wondered if it might be possible to write a mimetic analysis of Labyrinth in honor of David Bowie. Admittedly, when the thought occurred, I had not yet pondered any sort of in-depth analysis. I was simply looking forward to my “research” (that is, watching the movie and singing and dancing along to all of the songs.)

Yet even before my research began, as I started to contemplate the story and the characters, I had to wonder if filmmaker Jim Henson was a closet Girardian himself! Labyrinth is ripe for mimetic analysis, beginning with a scapegoating sacrifice and culminating in a reorientation of desire. Between these extremes is the labyrinth itself – an arduous, winding physical and spiritual journey during which circumstances, priorities, and values are subconsciously reevaluated and new meaning is discovered.

And it has only been through the lens of mimetic theory that I have come to fully understand and appreciate the magnitude of David Bowie’s character. He is not merely a magnetic, enigmatic and striking villain; he is Satan himself! True, mimetic theory does not accede to a personal view of “the satan.” But if the principal of accusation, deceit, and twisted desire had a face, it would be Jareth’s. It feels a little odd to “honor” someone by naming him as the embodiment of all evil. David Bowie, after all, was not the devil… but he played one wickedly well.

Sacrifice and the World of the Satan

Labyrinth begins with a sacrifice. Our heroine, Sarah, is in the midst of a personal crisis, augmented, no doubt, by teenage hormones, but genuine. After the opening scene foreshadowing her epic showdown with the Goblin King, we can imply from visual clues that her mother has died. Perhaps this has kept her in a semi-fantasy state of mind. Her room is filled with stuffed animals, the books on her desk are classic children’s fantasies, and she seems to prefer to escape to a world of make-believe.

Were she merely role-playing, there may not be much cause for concern, but Sarah soon proves herself not merely childlike, but, to a degree, childish. Upon discovering that one of her stuffed animals has been used to comfort her little brother, Toby, she storms into the infant’s room screaming, “I hate you! I hate you!” Clearly, the child is innocent. But Sarah scapegoats the poor baby for far more than being caught with her toy. This child is a sign that her father, grieved though he may be from the loss of Sarah’s mother, is moving forward in his life. He has remarried, and the new baby has cemented a familial bond that Sarah resists. She resents her stepmother, resents her half-brother, and seems to wish to revert to an earlier time when she was an only child, before her mother’s death. She longs for love, perhaps unable to see the love she already possesses. Little of this is consciously acknowledged, however, and on first viewing, Sarah seems only concerned about her loss of freedom as she must babysit a child while her parents go out. Hyperbolically, Sarah fancies herself a modern Cinderella and cries out for rescue. Though she exaggerates, there is real pain behind her melodramatic façade. All the same, she clearly scapegoats her brother Toby, and in the end, sacrifices him, if accidentally, to the Goblin King by wishing him away. “I wish the goblins would come and take you away,” she says to her screaming brother. “Right now.”

An instant later, Toby is gone, and the Goblin King arrives in a flash of evil glory. When Sarah begs for her brother back, he patronizes her, then bribes her with her “dreams,” before whisking her away to his underground world where his castle beyond the Goblin City lies at the end of a vast, foreboding labyrinth. Sarah has 13 hours in which to solve the labyrinth before her baby brother becomes a goblin forever.

Simultaneously condescending and tempting, manipulative, deceitful, and magnetically attractive, Jareth indeed embodies a very particular form of evil: the satanic principal. He feeds off of scapegoating sacrifice, as seen by his desire for Toby. Yet his wickedness is disguised by a false benevolence. He is Sarah’s dream and her nightmare, offering to liberate her a life she cannot tolerate by relieving her of her responsibility for her brother, yet capturing her in a lie. Because the lines between fantasy and reality are so blurred in Labyrinth, it is hard to say definitively when he began to manipulate Sarah, whether or not their worlds collided before he stole Toby. But I imagine him whispering through the pages of her storybook (the story she acts out in the beginning and must live out in the end), compelling her to believe that he loves her and wants to rescue her from the bane of her existence, whom he helps her identify as Toby. If only Toby were taken away, he urges, all her problems would be solved.

That is, of course, exactly the way scapegoating works. People come to believe that their problems will be solved if they could only get rid of someone. The satanic principal is the principal of accusation and blame, the lie that a person or a community can only experience peace, success, fortune or joy at the expense of someone else. It has manifested in all kinds of violence, from expulsion to murder to oppression to war. The human propensity to project blame onto another and deflect one’s own responsibility is so deeply embedded within our psyche that there is no need for a “personal” satan. In fact, to accuse someone of being the embodiment of Satan is to employ the satanic principal one’s self.

Yet in this fantasy, Jareth, the Goblin King, is the demand for sacrifice come to life, the embodiment of Satan. He clearly feeds off of receiving those who have been thrown away, cast out by society, as Sarah has cast out Toby. He stops at nothing to ensure that Sarah does not reach her brother. This includes attempts at physical harm as well as psychological manipulation. He strives to reorient her desires toward himself and away from her sisterly love (which, hidden under a mess of trauma, angst, and deception, surfaces like a nearly-drowned victim gasping for air as soon as the fantasy to rid herself of Toby becomes a reality). The twisting of desire away from harmonious connection with others toward self-fulfillment at another’s expense is yet another manifestation of the satanic principal, which builds identity over and against another. Jareth seeks to deceive Sarah into loving him at the expense of her brother. But real love calls instead for mercy, not sacrifice.

Love Robs the Devil of Its Power

In spite of all of his manipulation, in spite of attempts to impede Sarah with obstacles, disorient her and undo all of her progress, or trap her in a false paradise of her dreams, Jareth cannot hinder Sarah, who is propelled forward by love. It is not only the love of her brother that motivates her. Along her journey, Sarah encounters three creatures who are clearly outcasts. Hoggle is a dwarf with no friends who ostensibly works for Jareth, though only out of fear, not loyalty. Ludo is a beast – intimidating on the surface but with a heart of gold – being tortured in captivity when Sarah takes the risk of rescuing him. And Sir Didymus is a talking raccoon who lives on the shores of the Bog of Eternal Stench, clearly beyond the margins of any “decent” society. Sarah befriends them all. In a world of outcasts under the power of the devil, Sarah manages to find and give love. No wonder she “turned [Jareth’s] world.”

One must wonder if Jareth finds the befriending of outcasts as intolerable as the thought of rescuing, or unsacrificing, Toby. If Jareth’s power lies in deceiving others into believing in the need for sacrifice, dividing creatures against each other, or building a kingdom out of controlling the rejected, then it seems that this is the case. In particular, Sarah’s friendship with Hoggle infuriates Jareth. In his threatening, manipulative fashion, Jareth seeks to breed self-contempt in Hoggle to keep him from believing he could ever be valued by anyone. “You don’t think a young girl could ever like a repulsive little scab like you, do you?” he asks. One of the devil’s tricks is convincing the victim of his or her own guilt or insignificance. For a long time, such manipulation has worked to intimidate Hoggle, but Sarah’s friendship empowers him. Hoggle’s character arc is in many ways the most compelling of the entire movie, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. For now it is simply worth reflecting on how his relationship with Jareth brings to light the ways in which blame and accusation can deceive people into the lie of self-worthlessness, making it that much easier to harm others or acquiesce to harm of one’s self. Jareth makes Hoggle feel worthless and compels selfishness. Yet Sarah helps Hoggle find his sense of worth, and thus enables his selflessness.

In the end, Sarah’s friendships become a part of her. Though she must face Jareth “alone,” as interdividuals we are never alone. Sarah takes the love of her friends to her final confrontation with Jareth. In this stunning scene of magnificent mimetic proportions, we not only see Sarah stronger for having embraced the love of others, but we also see Jareth admit to being formed by Sarah’s desires as well. In a succinct monologue, Jareth details how he has lived up to the compelling and formidable villain of Sarah’s fantasies. “I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me,” he concludes. “Isn’t that generous?” His speech is a manipulative blend of truth and deception; truth, for indeed, mimetic theory illumines to us how our formation of identity over and against others creates enemies. Sarah had fantasized herself as a hero in contrast to the villain that Jareth lived into. Yet Jareth is also deceitful, for he evades responsibility for his actions by, again, accusing Sarah of being the reason for his anguish and ignoring the hell he has put her through. Yet Sarah has come through hell stronger, and rather than let herself be intimidated or angered, rather than speak in her own defense, she remains focused on her mission to rescue her brother.

If there is any doubt that Jareth is Satan, it should be laid to rest in his final scene, which is reminiscent to Christ’s temptation in the desert. In his last attempt to win Sarah over, Jareth once again offers her everything she once desired:

I ask for so little. Just let me rule you. And you can have anything that you want. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.

His request is so reasonable. Just live within the confines of the world he has created, a world of sacrifice and outcasts, and he can be generous. Keep the focus on your own desires, Jareth implies, and he can fulfill them… at the expense of everyone else.  “Do as I say and I will be your slave” is a perfect encapsulation of the satanic temptation. When we wield the power of accusation and deceit, when we run the world on sacrifice, expulsion and murder, we may acquire our desires, but we do not rule our desires. In such a world, desire rules over us. Even when the satan works for us, we are slaves to it.

Sarah can no longer be held in the thrall of the satan. The world he controls, the “love” he offers and demands, is false. She knows that now, because she has come to know and be capable of true love, self-giving love, through embracing and being embraced by outcasts (as she herself had been, not only in the Labyrinth, but in her (mis)understanding of her “real” life) and through her recognition of her brother’s innocence and vulnerability. Jareth may offer everything she once desired, but her desires have been reoriented by love. Thus she can truthfully proclaim to him: “You have no power over me!”

Conclusion

Sarah “turned Jareth’s world,” as surely as Christ turned the world under the control of the satanic principal. She brought out the love that was there all along, and discovered it within herself. Whether the labyrinth and the underground world were “real” or inside her mind (but why on earth should that mean it is not real?), Sarah found love within it that she could carry with her for the rest of her life. Even in the depths of hell, the outer margins where we cast the victims we see as monsters, there is love. Sarah demonized her little brother and cast him out, to a hellish world where he was destined to become a monster, but recognizing his innocence and discovering a courageous love within herself, she not only pulled him from the brink, but brought others out of their misery and loneliness along the way, redeeming herself in the service of others.

And what of Jareth, the Goblin King, the satan? I hope if David Bowie looks down upon this tribute from Heaven, he takes no offense at being called out as Satan. I hope he is amused and honored. After all, if you’re going to play the Big Bad, you might as well play the Biggest Bad!

Yet I also believe that even Jareth can be redeemed, by the same love that Sarah discovered and magnified. It may take an eternity, but Love redeems all. Labyrinth, the Gospel in Muppet Form, tells that quintessential truth, in a way we can all dance to.

Rest in Peace, David Bowie, you devil you.

 

Image: Screenshot from Youtube: Labyrinth Jennifer Connelly David Bowie End Scene by Anni53

paddington 2

The 2015 Raven Award for Excellence in Arts and Entertainment Goes to Paddington

It is a great pleasure to announce that the winner of the 2015 Raven Award for Excellence in Arts and Entertainment is Paul King for his work as writer and director of the 2015 live action feature length movie, Paddington. The movie chronicles the adventures of a Peruvian bear with a fondness for all things British and is based on Michael Bond’s universally beloved books. Raising issues of immigration, fear, and the longing to belong this animated film is not romantic or idealistic about the problems faced by both the immigrant and the community which must choose to welcome or reject him. Rather it offers an insightful reflection on the risks and rewards of welcoming a stranger onto our shores and into our homes. Suzanne Ross’ review of the movie is available here.

Paddington-rev

The Raven award honors an artist for an insightful representation of some aspect of mimetic theory. Paul King’s story of the Brown family’s transformative relationship with an alien in their midst creatively dramatizes the paradoxes of violence and peace that result from the scapegoat mechanism. As demonstrated by the founder of mimetic theory, René Girard, the violent exclusion of scapegoats is the foundation and sustaining principle of human community. And as developed by the theologian James Alison, this mimetic insight reveals the process by which peace emerges as a scapegoat is transformed from dangerous other to beloved member of the community. This is the very journey that the Brown family takes with Paddington and we hear a line of dialogue near the end of the movie that sums up this reversal perfectly: “This family needed that wee bear every bit as much as he needed us.” That very neediness or vulnerability turns out to be the essential ingredient for the transformation to occur. Paul King’s insightful portrayal of this vulnerable, trusting bear offers an antidote to the fear and anxiety that currently dominates immigration debates.

Suzanne Ross’ interview with Mr. King appears below.

More about Paul King and Paddington

Paul King began his career in the theatre, where he conceived and directed a number of comedy shows, collaborating with Richard Ayoade, David Mitchell, Robert Webb, and Noel Fielding, among others. In 2001 he won the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival, which led to various television commissions including the wildly successful cult series The Mighty Boosh, for which Paul was BAFTA nominated and went on to direct for three seasons. In 2009 Paul wrote and directed his first feature film, the brilliantly inventive imaginary road trip Bunny and the Bull. This was followed by the Little Britain BBC Christmas Special Come Fly With Me (the first of a series), which Paul directed in 2010. A lifelong fan of Michael Bond’s Paddington books, Paul is both writer and director of the film adaptation of Paddington Bear.

Paddington was nominated in two categories by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2015, Best British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won Best Film in the 2015 Children’s BAFTA awards. Paddington also received the Empire award for Best Comedy in 2015. And according to the film’s executive producer, Rosie Alison, it was a big box office success around the world.

2015 Raven Award Press Release