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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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Making A Change For Peace

If you have visited our Facebook page recently you know that we have not been shy about announcing that a change was coming to the Raven Foundation. Well, here it is! The change is a snazzy new header for our homepage. From now on our blog site will be called “The Raven ReView” and it comes with a new tagline, “Change your view. Change the world.”

We hope you like the change. Our idea was to give our homepage an easily recognizable identity as a blog site that provides mind-blowing commentary on a wide range of issues. Our mission is to shift people’s perspective on violence, scapegoating and the things that make for peace. Changing our view on who and what the obstacles to peace are is the surest way to give peace a fighting chance (pun intended!).

The Change Game

Changing the header was easy. Changing our view, that has always been a bit trickier. Because when we think about making the world a better place, a safer place, a more peaceful place our minds immediately turn to an ancient formula: seek out and destroy the scoundrels who are the obstacles to change we seek. That has been the strategy of politicians, generals, power brokers and strong men across time and place.

“Change” is a familiar campaign slogan, as we are all painfully aware right now. But when politicians call for change, all they want is to change places with the person currently in power. Nothing actually changes except the name on the door because no matter their political party or status as an insider or outsider, they all subscribe to the ancient formula of destroying the scoundrels who stand in their way.

Too harsh? I’m afraid not. I can offer as evidence a very simple proof. It has to do with the words politicians use to talk about violence – words we too often accept without question. When violence is being used against us, our leaders use words like aggressive, unprovoked, unlawful, barbaric. However, when the violence is being deployed by us against someone else, we all too willingly agree to use words like necessary, just, defensive, lawful, moral duty. What we conceal by this word play is that we are involved in a dangerous game in which good people will continue to see violence – their violence – as good and necessary while continuing in all sincerity to condemn the violence of their enemies.

The Game Changer

Here’s the catch: Everyone, even the rotten scoundrels we love to hate, thinks of themselves and their cause as good! It’s only in the movies where the enemies of good self-identify as bad! You see, violence is not a problem caused by bad people. Quite the contrary. Violence is a problem because people are so completely convinced of their own goodness that they – we – do bad things without qualms, moral ambiguity or remorse.

Which is why our new header wisely proclaims that if you want to change the world, you need to change your view. And we are not talking about a change of scenery out your window! We are talking about changing your view of your violence as good. If we want to start playing a different game, one that makes peace a real possibility here and now, we need to recognize that our perception of ourselves as good people blinds us to the ways in which we have instigated and provoked violence and in the process become the very obstacles to peace we are seeking to overcome.

René Girard, the founder of the theory of violence which guides our work here at Raven, helped us to understand that in this moment in history humanity faces a terrible alternative: either good people will renounce their use of violence or we will be the authors of our own destruction. Bad guys don’t control our destiny; we do.

Image: Stock Vector by Mihai Maxim via 123rf.com. Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.

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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.

 

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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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Zootopia: How To Make the World a Better Place

Zootopia is the story of a large, metropolitan city where everyone lives in peace and harmony. Tolerance and diversity are hallmarks of this great city. Hope abounds in this land of talking animals because it’s a place where, “You can be anything!” Zootopia is peaceful because after thousands of years of evolution, carnivores no longer eat other animals. Everyone lives in peace. The prophet Isaiah’s vision that “The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the goat” seems to be fulfilled in Disney’s latest movie.

But utopias are never what they seem. Conflicts boil underneath the surface of Zootopia. Despite Zootopia’s optimistic message, Zootopians have to deal with very real problems of stereotypes and scapegoating. Identity in Zootopia is formed in a manner all too familiar to us humans. Largely through stereotyping, the animals in Zootopia create identity in opposition to other animals.

For example, the hero of the movie, Judy Hopps, dreams of being a police officer so that she can “make the world a better places.” But Judy has a problem: she’s a cute little bunny – definitely not the stereotypical police material of Zootopia. That job is reserved for larger male animals like lions, elephants, and buffalo. No bunny has ever joined the police force of Zootopia. Judy is different from her male counterparts in almost every way.

But Judy has an even bigger problem. Immediately as she joins the force, she learns that despite looking for weeks, the police have failed to find 13 animals who were kidnapped. The police became frustrated. Their identity as good police officers was in question. The longer the search dragged on, the longer they risked being viewed as failures at their job. Their frustration needed an outlet, so it was channeled onto Judy. Within her first day on the job, she became their scapegoat. They humiliated her and tore her down emotionally, making her question why she ever thought she could be a police officer.

Why did the police act this way? Not because they were evil, but because in the world of Zootopia, animals act in very human ways. When internal frustration threatens our group identity and cohesion, our frustration finds an outlet in the form of a scapegoat, who is marked by stereotypical differences. Judy didn’t fit the “norm” of the police department, so she was a convenient scapegoat for the larger group. The anthropologist René Girard claims in his book The Scapegoat that, “The further one is from normal social status of whatever kind, the greater the risk of persecution. This is easy to see in relation to those at the bottom of the social ladder.”

Judy’s problems are a microcosm of the bigger issues facing Zootopia. Ninety percent of Zootopians are herbivores, leaving carnivores with just ten percent of the population. Judy is at the bottom of the social ladder in the police department, so she became their scapegoat. In a similar way, when it comes to the total population, carnivores are at the bottom of the social ladder, so they are easy targets for becoming cultural scapegoats.

The villain of Zootopia is a high ranking politician who manipulates the conflicts already present among herbivore Zootopians by channeling their fears against the innocent carnivores. The villain explicitly describes the essence of scapegoating by stating that her people need to “unite against a common enemy.”

Zootopia exposes the process of scapegoating, but more importantly, it reveals the solution to scapegoating. The solution begins with awareness that it’s not only evil, nasty villains who scapegoat; good people scapegoat, too.

At one point, Judy Hopps, the great hero of Zootopia, unintentionally gets caught up in the fearful scapegoating fervor that permeates the city. She gives a speech that emboldens those fears by supporting the idea that carnivores have become a threat to Zootopia’s peace, security, and way of life.

Judy shows that good people, even our greatest heroes, can easily participate in scapegoating. Whenever good people try to make the world a better place by blaming, marginalizing, or excluding another group of people, we are caught up in the evil act of scapegoating.

After her speech, Judy looked into the face of one of her potential scapegoats, and in that face she saw the pain that her speech caused to this innocent animal. What makes Judy a true hero is that she became aware that she had become a scapegoater.

That’s when Judy began the spiritual practice of repentance. She discovered that in trying to make the world a better place, she got lured into an act of scapegoating. Judy felt a sense of shame and guilt, but she didn’t get stuck there. True repentance comes from changing the way we relate to others. True repentance moves us away from scapegoating others towards acts of reconciliation and love.

Near the end of Zootopia, Judy implies that love overcame the evil of scapegoating. Love moved Judy beyond stereotypes and scapegoating to accepting others just as they are.

Zootopia has been criticized as a movie that promotes stereotyping, but I don’t think that criticism is fair. Zootopia doesn’t promote stereotyping or scapegoating; rather, shows the ways in which even good people can stereotype and scapegoat others.

And in doing so, it reveals the way that love can make the world a better place.

Image: Screenshot from YouTube: Zootopia Official US Sloth Trailer, Walt Disney Animation Studios

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Trump: The GOP’s Monstrous Double

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

Marco Rubio took on a new persona for the February 25, 2016 Republican presidential debate hosted by CNN.  He transformed himself from a sound-bite constrained candidate to an attack dog.  In an online article the day after the debate, CNN’s reporter Eric Bradner wrote that Rubio owned the stage and “mercilessly prodded, slammed and taunted Trump, talking over him in a sustained way.”  Rubio was not the only transformed candidate, because Ted Cruz also went on a sustained attack on Trump’s lack of conservative credentials.  Trump, meanwhile, continued to be Trump, making fun of Rubio’s perspiration and calling Cruz a liar.  Plainly, the campaign has devolved into a chaotic trading of personal insults and accusations that appear to have little to do with presidency of the U.S.

The mainstream media is fueling this politics of personal destruction and asking questions that do not relate to the functions needed in our next president. Repeating Rubio’s accusations through several news cycles, as well as Trump’s responses, the media wonders — Is Rubio running scared? Is the Republican conservative establishment trying to block Trump’s triumphant march to the GOP presidential nomination?  Has the GOP woken up too late to stop Trump? Only time will answer the media’s questions, but the more critical question is why are the key candidates acquiescing to Trump’s strategy of chaos, personal insults and tirades against each other, and is this what the GOP really wants as a U.S. President?

I suggest that the phenomenon we are witnessing is mimetic and imitative rivalry.  According to cultural theorist René Girard, the more the rivalry intensifies, the more the rivals begin to look like each other.  The imitation runs both ways and, in the same week, Trump promised to be nicer and use less foul language in imitation of rivals.  So, we are witnessing the emergence of doubles.  Girard tells us this is an ironic process because as rivals strenuously protest their differences, their likenesses becomes more apparent and the rivalry becomes uglier and more violent.

The GOP presidential primaries have turned ugly and chaotic. In the days after that debate, Cruz, Rubio and Trump have relentlessly hurled insults at the other and, in the process, have participated in the denigration and demeaning of the U.S.’s political process.  In a nation haunted by daily violence, I suggest that the last thing we need is to watch our carefully constructed political system, designed to promote democracy, implode upon itself.

The way a system rids itself of impending destructive violence is to heap responsibility for the chaos and disorder upon a scapegoat.  The last few days show that the establishment prefers a candidate willing to implement, without question, the Republican conservative agenda.

The problem is that Trump is not the illness; he is the symptom of a wider, deeper sickness within the political right and much of our larger political process.  The fact is the political right has been shouting, stomping, obstructing the “other” for decades.  The “other” is anyone that threatens to take away their power, privilege, money and prestige.  The GOP establishment wants a president who will defend their control of the wealth and resources of our country.

The true rivalry in this contest is not between Trump and the other presidential candidates; it is between Trump and the right wing Republican establishment. This became clear when Mitt Romney fiercely attacked Trump on the morning of the next presidential debate held a week later on March 3, 2016.  Romney told the crowd that Trump was not a genuine business success because he inherited his wealth.  Romney seems to have forgotten that he not only inherited his wealth, he inherited his access to power and political office.  His father, George Romney, was the president of the American Motor Corporation, the Governor of Michigan and the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Richard Nixon.  Trump and Romney inherited their privileged positions in life, expanded their inherited fortunes and grew up with the kind of access to power the vast majority of us can only dream about.  Romney did not attack Trump’s policies because they mirror the heart of the GOP’s policy wishes; a desire for a bigger wall at our southern border and an intent to implement a national security policy based upon religion or ethnicity — Muslim or Syrian, for example — rather deterring the real threat of home grown terrorists and mass murderers.   Romney, Trump, Rubio and Cruz embrace economic, trade and labor policies that ensure the rich get richer and that ignore the U.S.’s deeply entrenched problems of poverty, income inequality, racial division and injustice.

The GOP believes Trump to be “monstrous” despite being the twin of the establishment because Trump drops the facade of political correctness, he openly trades on fear and anger, he is not beholden to anyone and he doesn’t play by any rules but his own.  The establishment’s response to Trump is much like the response of a young girl when she encountered her new baby sister coming home from the hospital with a dear friend — the daughter cried, “I wanted a sister, but not that sister.”  The GOP wanted a white, male, rich, privileged, antagonistic candidate like Cruz, but not the white, male, rich, privileged, antagonistic candidate who is winning –Trump.

The question is, how much violence will this destructive rivalry do to our political process?  Will the GOP accept the results of the primaries or take control of the nomination process to get their candidate?  My best estimation is that the establishment will continue to scapegoat Trump all the way to the Republican convention.  The ideological right will hold Trump responsible for the decline of civility in politics and will brand Trump as the true threat to our democratic process.   The Republicans will then congratulate themselves for not being like Trump and select one of Trump’s more palatable doubles as their presidential candidate.

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.

trump and rock final

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)

Beyoncé at the Super Bowl (Image: Screenshot from YouTube)

How Beyoncé Slayed the Super Bowl and Fox News

…we are more than conquerors …

-St. Paul, Romans 8:37

Beyoncé slays. And she is more than a conqueror.

But before I tell you how Beyoncé slayed the Super Bowl and Fox News, I’m going to tell you about the ancient sacrificial rituals and their victims. (Trust me, this fits.)

Sacrificial Rituals in the Ancient World

In the ancient world, whenever there was social chaos, social order was created through a ritual of sacrificial violence. These sacrificial rituals channeled conflicts that threatened the life of the community onto an individual who was blamed for the chaos that threatened the group.

The community survived this social crisis by uniting against a common enemy. The 20th century anthropologist René Girard called this common enemy the “scapegoat.” After the scapegoat was sacrificed, a sense of peace and reconciliation fell upon the community. But it was only temporary. When conflicts re-emerged within the community, the ritual of sacrificial violence would repeat … over and over again.

The scapegoat had something that marked him as “different.” Sometimes the sacrificial victim had a limp or was blind or was captured from another tribe. The specific mark of the sacrificial victim didn’t really matter; what mattered was that the victim play the proper role of the scapegoat.

The scapegoat’s proper role was to remain quiet as the larger community channeled their collective conflicts onto him during the ritual. It was crucial that the sacrificial victim remain silent, or that their cries were drowned out by the pounding of a drum, chants, and prayers. That’s because the last thing that the sacrificers wanted was to hear the voice of their scapegoat. If they heard their victim’s voice, it would pierce their conscience and they would risk becoming aware of their own ritual violence and the innocence of their scapegoat.

Girard tells us that this was how ancient sacrificial rituals functioned, but we see the same ritual of sacrificial violence at work in in the modern world. Sadly, we humans have not evolved much beyond our sacrificial ancestors. We continue to silence the voice of our scapegoats. Indeed, white America has been silencing the voices of black people for 400 years through rituals of physical, political, and economic violence.

How Beyoncé Slayed the Modern Sacrificial Ritual

But make no mistake, Beyoncé is no victim. She is a conqueror because her voice will not be silenced. Yet, her black skin bears the mark of the American sacrificial system of racism. Unfortunately, that system is alive and well. In fact, it’s trying to silence her voice.

On Sunday, Beyoncé took to the main stage of American pop culture, the Super Bowl, and delivered a politically charged message to the United States. Beyoncé and her back up dancers claimed black power by dressing like Black Panthers from the 1960s. She performed her new song, Formation, which tells her story of being black in America.

The white power structures were offended, so they fought back. Fox News interviewed Rudy Giuliani about the half time show. The interview is a text book case in America’s 400 year history of ritually silencing black voices. The segment shows four white people critiquing Beyoncé’s performance and the black lives matter movement. They lectured Beyoncé on her performance. One commentator said, “In the end we find out that Beyoncé dressed up in a tribute to the Black Panthers, (the dancers) went to a Malcom X formation, and the song, the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a syllable, were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks!”

One way that white people continue the ritual of silencing black voices is to make them into the violent enemy seeking power. It’s a ritual as old as America itself. And it’s the kind of fear mongering that Fox News was fomenting by referring to the Black Panthers and Malcom X. The assumption is that black people are the violent ones, but it is black people who suffer from violence at a disproportionate rate.

I believe in nonviolence, but frankly, it’s hard for me to listen to white people as they criticize black people for advocating violence. In the face of 400 years of physical, emotional, social, and economic violence, I think a violent response would be understandable.

But that’s not what Beyoncé is advocating, nor is it what the Black Lives Matter movement is about. Formation is Beyoncé’s call for a political revolution, but it’s not a revolution based on violence. It’s a revolution based on the power of the spoken word.

In Formation, Beyoncé says that she “slays,” but her homage to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the video tells me she isn’t slaying through physical violence. She is a conqueror, but in the spirit of St. Paul, she is more than a conqueror. That’s because she isn’t advocating physical violence. It’s a lie to claim that she is. Rather, she slays through something much more powerful – the spoken word.

And so I shake my head, asking myself, how dare Fox News criticize Beyoncé for “basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks” when we know that “unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire”?

Here’s the truth about Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance – the power of her words have pierced the conscience of white America. She is a conqueror because her voice will not be silenced. She refuses to play the proper role that much of white America expects her to play. She slays by speaking the truth about violence against not only black people, but against all people at the margins of American culture. As the New South Negress puts it, Formation “is a recognition of one another at the blackness margins – woman, queer, genderqueer, trans, poor, disables, undocumented, immigrant…”

So, to answer my question above, how does a commentator on Fox News and his fellow co-hosts dare attempt to silence the voice of Beyoncé? They dare it because their collective conscience has been pierced. They have heard Beyoncé’s voice. And in her voice they hear the voice of all those on the margins who suffer from systemic violence against the marginalized.

One way white people manage the voice of the marginalized that pierces our conscience is to lecture them and accuse them of being the violent ones. That’s what Fox News did.

But another way is to listen to those voices. Listen to the ways that we white folks participate in systemic racism that empowers not only police brutality, but economic oppression, enabling “the typical white family [to have] about 16 times as much wealth as the typical black family – and [enables] white households headed up by a high school dropout to have, on average, twice the wealth of black and Latino households headed by a college graduate.”

Beyoncé is slaying our conscience. Like the Word of God is compared to a sword that cuts through our ancient rituals of scapegoating so that we hear the voice of the oppressed, Beyoncé is slaying through the racism that infect the United States. She pierced the white conscience and is making many of us uncomfortable. Good for her. Let’s stop trying to drown out her voice by lecturing black people. Instead, let’s listen to their voices.

Do you feel Beyoncé’s words piercing your conscience? She has pierced mine. And that’s a good thing. Pay attention to that piercing and listen to more black voices crying out for a revolution of the American system of racism.

Photo: Beyoncé at the Super Bowl (Image: Screenshot from YouTube channel On Line Trending)

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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.