Archbishop Rowan Williams: We live in a culture of blame – but there is another way

In recent years, a number of Christian writers, inspired by French critic and philosopher René Girard, have stressed with new urgency how the Bible shows the way in which groups and societies work out their fears and frustrations by finding scapegoats.

Because we compete for the same goods and comforts, we need to sustain our competition with our rivals and maintain distance from them. But to stop this getting completely out of hand, we unite with our rivals to identify the cause of the scarcity that makes us compete against each other, with some outside presence we can all agree to hate.

Just as the BBC drama suggested, Jesus’s context was one where Judaeans and Romans equally lived in fear of each other, dreading an explosion of violence that would be destructive for everyone. Their leaders sweated over compromises and strategies to avoid this. In such a context, Jesus offered a perfect excuse for them to join in a liberating act of bloodletting which eliminated a single common enemy. The spiral of fear was halted briefly.

Frequently in this mechanism, the victim has little or nothing to do with the initial conflict itself. But in the case of Jesus, the victim is not only wholly innocent; he is the embodiment of a grace or mercy that could in principle change the whole frame of reference that traps people in rivalry and mutual terror.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Archbishop of Canterbury

5 comments on “Archbishop Rowan Williams: We live in a culture of blame – but there is another way

  1. driver8 says:

    FWIW the Girardian theological analysis is probably the most sophisticated theological case to be made for inclusion of non celibate same sex couples. From my point of view, it is seriously in error concerning the logics of sacrifice and at its crudest is almost Marcionite.

  2. Martin Reynolds says:

    “[b]almost [/b]Marcionite”
    Well that’s OK then …..

  3. Larry Morse says:

    “The spiral of fear was halted briefly.” It was? That’s not what what my history tells me. What could possibly make him say such a patent falsity? Larry

  4. Don R says:

    If I understand the Archbishop correctly, he rightly chastises “many of our contemporaries” for having a merely instrumental view of Christianity:
    [blockquote]that ‘it does a lot of good work’ and represents something about continuity with our past.[/blockquote]
    But then he goes on to argue that it gets us out of the cycle of mimetic violence, which is essentially to posit just a different instrumental view of it. Maybe it makes the “good work” more explicit, but it still identifies its value as being instrumental.

    BTW, driver8, the only way I see Girard’s notion of [i]mimesis[/i] relating to questions of same-sex relationships would require mischaracterizing orthodox views on morality, imputing a scapegoating motive. Do you see something different?

  5. John Wilkins says:

    What is interesting to me is the comments made in the Guardian. They were a pretty good example of ways we scapegoat.

    What is interesting is that the cross reveals mimesis. We don’t get it always, because it is also human nature to try to conceal violence: because violence works in the short term. But over time, it seems that the cross becomes like the beacon, the lighthouse, by which we can find solid ground.

    The Marcion accusation is interesting, but given that Marcion would have probalby scapegoated Jews himself, I wonder how strong such an argument could be made. Is it gnostic? I don’t think so, as it is a description of physical, incarnate behavior that is not an intellectual belief. If anything, we tend to find ways to intellectualize our justifications for scapegoating.

    What it does do, however, is prioritize rivalry and envy as fundamental problems for scripture. This destabilizes those who think that it is genitalia or scripture itself. Scripture is the Word, not because God had a huge pen, but because it rendered human, and plain for all to see, our propensity to scapegoat.

    There are others who make the argument better than I do (Professor Heim, for example, who wrote a theology of atonement).

    Girard is not the only theology out there, however. But it is good, biblical, useful and present in our liturgy. After reading Girard, I thought, “so that is what happens during the mass!”