The Satanic Scandal Versus the Scandal of the Cross

In the Bible, both Jesus and Satan are skandalon, or stumbling stones. The scandal or offense, entraps, snares, obstructs, and causes a fall. It is translated as “cause for stumbling,” “cause of sin,” “difficulty,” “hindrance,” “hindrance in the way,” “make fall,” “pitfall,” “stumbling block,” “temptation,” or “temptation to sin.” The Psalms often revolve around those who would kill by laying their snares (Ps. 38:12), setting a hidden trap (Ps. 140:5), and the trap setters imagine they are hidden (“Who can see us?” (Ps. 64:5)), and this is equated with being an evildoer (Ps. 141:9). Intermixed with all this trap setting is the fact of human desire acting to lure one into the trap, thus Saul uses his daughter Michal as a lure for David (1 Sam. 18:21), Joshua warns that the Canaanites, their idols and presumably intermarrying with them, will be a snare (Josh. 23:13), and so too God warns “their gods shall be a snare” and they shall “become adversaries to you” (Judg. 2:3).[1]

Idolatry is equated with a form of prostitution, and the idols play the role of harlots entrapping worshippers in a deadly embrace (e.g., Ez. 16). The obstacle cause of desire, whether idols, gold, golden idols, sex objects, or golden-phallic-idols, consist of giving a divine like status to an obstacle (the obstacle to true divinity). The idol is a scandal, because it simultaneously takes on a divine role and becomes an obstacle to God. The false transcendence gives rise to an exponential desire, which makes the idol “the quintessential scandal, in the Old Testament,” according to René Girard.[2] Entrapment due to desire, whether unleashed by idols or sex objects – which are often equated by the prophets, indicates that human lust plays a deadly role, creating the skandolon.

Idols are a scandal for the Jews but so are Yahweh (e.g., Is. 8:14-15) and Jesus (Matt. 21:42-43). Falling over either sort of scandal causes an exposure, a failure, or a point of shame. The scandal exposed in idolatry concerns the exponential nature of human desire – it is beyond being satisfied and is inherently deceived. That is, there is no end of this pursuit and no gaining what is sought (Ezekiel 23); thus, it is portrayed as deadly in a three-fold sense: it leads to child sacrifice; it imagines death or the grave (what has no life) can give life; it is connected to shame (a living death). Paul equates works of the law, love of money, or simply greed, with idolatrous desire (Col. 3:5-11; Eph. 5:5; Gal. 4:9) and the Christian who would do such things is annulling the scandal of the cross: “Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished” (Gal. 5:11). Every phase of the life and death of Jesus might be equated with a form of scandal: his encounters with the scribes and Pharisees, his teachings and parables, but most significantly the cross is a scandal (I Cor. 1:23). To miss the key role of the skandalon is to miss the significance of Christ.

The competition between the one whose head is crushed and the one whose heel is bruised (Gen. 3:15) involves all of human history and all humanity. That is, the satanic scandal is not nonhuman but, as in the story in Genesis 3, it is the offense of the autonomous human world, presumed as sufficient (the knowledge of good and evil, the idol, the law, etc.). The provenance of this mysterious serpent, linked to satan (perhaps not Satan, but the satan(s)), is of the earth, and the poison he imparts, John sums up as a singular deadly presumption: “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (I John 2:16-17). The term “cosmos,” which depicts a closed world, is John’s word for capturing this world of lust or desire, which prides itself on the presumption of life. This is of the world – it is earthly and human in its origins and end. This pride of life describes the original temptation, but is the ongoing presumption that life is “my” possession, while simultaneously in the “lust of the eyes” and the “lust of the flesh” the object of desire (life, being, substance) is lacking.

The role of the serpent is not mentioned by either John or Paul, and yet both seem to be referring directly to the Genesis account. In Romans (7:7), the law models desire or plays the serpents role, in giving rise to desire. For John, love of the cosmos gives rise to the lust of the eyes. Like the serpent which appears from the earth and disappears into dust, this desire is earth bound in its instigation and pursuit. To assign a metaphysical reality to this serpent may be to miss the nature of the scandal. Lust and desire arise around the illusion that the object of desire, be it the idol, money, or some desirous other, can impart substance (life, wisdom, being). The turn to violence to extract this substance from the blood of Abel, the blood of Joseph, or the blood of Christ, is the end point of this obsessive desire.

The scandalous lie, in Isaiah and which Paul takes up in Romans, depicts the rulers of Jerusalem entering into a pact with Sheol (the place of the dead) or a “covenant with death.” This is to make “falsehood” a refuge and it is to attempt to hide behind a deception (Is. 28:14-15). Paul repeats this accusation when comparing faith and works pitting faith (the true refuge) against the law (a lying refuge): “but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.  Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.” The human race, in the image of Isaiah (repeated by Peter and Paul) have entered a covenant with death, and Christ has annulled the covenant and its effects: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be put to shame” (Rom. 9:31-33; Is. 28:16). The Romans, like the Galatians, are being lured by a false teacher to trust in the law; to locate life in their doing of the law, rather than in Christ.  Paul fuses two passages from Isaiah, to picture the singular stone as both tripping up those who are “missing the law,” bringing them to shame, while those who have faith (trust in this scandalous stone), will not be put to shame.

The cross is a scandal, in light of the presumed self-sufficiency (of the Genesis lie, of the covenant with death, or the doing of the law), as it exposes the scandalous lie denying the reality of death and desire. This spiritual battle is not devoid of flesh and blood, but culminates when the one who is lifted up casts out the prince of this world, and as a result all of humanity is drawn to the crucified (John 12:32). It is the “lifting up” which reveals Jesus’ identity as the “I am” (YHWH): “So Jesus said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He’” (John 8:28). Here is the realization of Isaiah, that through the “lifted up” servant “you may know and believe that I AM” (Isa. 43:10; 52:13). This lifting up is a saving revelation, applied from “In the beginning” of John: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5). The darkness of the cross is the end point of the satanic scandal, as the cross reverses and exposes the scandal. The stone of stumbling has become the corner stone of a new living temple (I Peter 2:4-8).

The interplay is between the scandalous lie and the scandalous truth in regard to death, with the stone of stumbling or the scandal serving as either headstone or cornerstone.


[1] The list is from David McCracken, The Scandal of the Gospels: Jesus, Story, and Offense (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 8.

[2] René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, trans. Stephen Bann and Michael Metteer (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1978), 421.

Mimetic Desire Giving Rise to Sin: René Girard and Exposure of the Scandalous Lie

René Girard was insulted with “Girardian Theory” as a description of his work, as mimesis, which is central to every phase of his work, is a well-known phenomenon, recognized from Plato onward in western philosophy and thought.[1] It is not as though Girard discovers mimesis, but he uncovers the logic of mimetic desire in the model of desire, the obstacle cause of desire (the skandolon), and ultimately the founding murder and sacrificial religion. Girard calls his project “mimetic theory” as the entirety of his thought, whether on the novel, anthropology, religion, or theology, is a prolonged description of the workings and logic of human desire, which is mimetic or an imitation (desire is not our own, but what draws into community). Its mimetic quality gives rise to and explains the range of interpersonal dynamics, from envy, pride, rivalry, violence, scapegoating, sacrificial religion, and in turn is a key point in understanding the Judeo-Christian religion in its exposure of this dynamic.

On a surface level the arc of the theory is easy to summarize but may not be convincing, as its inner logic depends upon recognizing the nature of desire which has each of us in its grip and which we have a vested interest in misrecognizing. That is, we are all implicated in this story, and unless we recognize this by penetrating our own self-deception, it is not only Girard, but his identification of the heart of the New Testament, that may fail to impress.

The problem is two-fold. First, the lie surrounding desire is the notion that desire originates within us. It is “my desire” and this is the most private and intimate thing about me. Isn’t desire an expression of my inmost self, arising spontaneously from what is the very center of personhood? The desiring subject, though kept hidden, is taken to be the true subject. An imitated desire, under this definition, is inauthentic and is unbelievable. Corporately and individually amidst the worst forms of evil, as Jesus pointed out from the cross, we do not know what we are doing. We cannot get a handle on the truth, as there is disability in identifying the scandal (the cause of sin) giving rise to human desire.

Second, though envy, jealousy, inadequacy, shame and pride are a universally recognizable part of human experience, there is also the profound sense, as with desire, that these are peculiar and private. This is so personal and shameful, we are unlikely to admit this truth to ourselves, let alone to other people. The tendency is to obscure the underlying feeling of emptiness, of not being enough, of lacking in being, giving rise to desire. To put it in biblical terms (recently rediscovered in psychology), shame is an unbearable experience which requires it be hidden in pride. This truth is hard to bear and describe but is so recognizably the case, which explains the key role of the modern novel in Girard’s discovery.

Anyone who has tried to write about themselves may understand the temptation to flattery and deception – everything rings hollow and false. There is a reason hagiography was and is the predominant form of biography and autobiography and has been for millennia. Inflation, a façade, is much easier to accomplish, and perhaps less painful, than truth. Truth can be sordid, dark, painful to read, and painful to write, yet the best novels touch upon a truth that is immediately recognizable.

The compressed development of the “I” novel in modern Japan illustrates the point, that a certain masochistic destructiveness takes hold in the “confessional novel,” making it the most dangerous profession in Japan (due to suicide). The truth of the human condition can become overwhelming (especially in the Japanese novel which is often entirely lacking in redemptive elements). Likewise, reading Dostoevsky is not hard, simply “because of all the names,” but because the depth of darkness is hard to endure. Envy, rivalry, lust, murderous intent, and the pride that prevails in the human condition reaches uncomfortable levels of intimacy. The best fiction takes up a realism that dispels romanticism and which reduces most mere history (personal or corporate) to a form of fiction.

According to the histories of the novel, this modern literary art form takes as its point of departure and development entry into human interiority presumed throughout Scripture. As Erich Auerbach and others have pointed out, from Genesis forward, the literature of the Bible is developing a technique of interiority which will only be fully appreciated and deployed in the modern novel. The “violation of consciousness” or the presumption to enter into human interiority is the working premise of Scripture, taken up in the modern art form. What separates second rate literature from literary masterpieces is the capacity to deal truthfully with human interiority. According to Girard, the “romantic lie” is thoroughly exposed by “novelistic truth”[2] and this novelistic truth is afforded through biblical revelation.

The romantic lie is a manifestation of the singular lie that life, substance and being reside within. The serpent of Genesis models a form of desire, in which divine life is graspable and consumable. The mediation of desire in the tree of knowledge, is the obstacle to its realization (divine life). It is an obstacle to the fulfillment of the promised desire, but the failure of the lie is not its exposure, but a doubling down on extracting life from death. The scandal initiated by the serpent identifies the role of Satan. Satan is the “adversary” or the original fabricator of the obstacle to desire through misdirection of the lie.

Christ directly identifies Peter with Satan and the scandal, as Peter is caught up in human desire in his attempt to misdirect Jesus away from the cross: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block (scandal) to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” His specific guilt is imitating the crowd (saving himself, as evidenced in the High Priest’s courtyard), rather than imitating Christ: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt 16:24–25).

Mimesis is not inherently sinful, but the scandalous model becomes an obstacle, unlike the model of Christ. Cain kills able to obtain his place before God. Lamech is a serial murderer, as he would reap divine vengeance and take the place of God. The generation of Noah is consumed by mimetic desire and rivalry until all differences are drowned in sameness. The desire prompted by the lie is exponential. Participation in the divine life is not through extracting life from death (violence, scapegoating, crucifixion) but through taking up the cross. Jesus explanation to those who would kill him is that they are caught up in a murderous lie: “You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). They are carrying out the desires of the devil in their murderous plots.

To ignore the mimetic nature of desire is to miss the fundamental impetus to evil. The role of the “model of desire” and the structuring role of the model turned obstacle (the skandolon), give rise to sin. The obstacle cause of desire, is the direct experience of the lie the New Testament calls the skandolon, or in its verb form, skandalizein. The noun gives rise to the verb or is the cause of sinning. Thus, the New American Bible translates Matthew 5:30: “And if your right hand causes you to sin (skandalizei), cut it off.” 

Excision of the scandal is not accomplished through cutting off the hand, but through crushing the head from which it arose. The murderous logic of mimetic desire is undone in Christ’s exposure of its dynamics.


[1] This is the beginning claim of Michael Joseph Darcy,  (2016). René Girard, Sacrifice, and the Eucharist (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/45 This dissertation is one of the finest summaries of Girard’s work I have come across.

[2] As Darcy points out, “The French title of Deceit, Desire, and the Novel is Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque, or literally, ‘romantic lie and novelistic truth.’” Darcy, 2.

Imitation as Salvation

A central motif of Scripture, obscured by Martin Luther’s reaction to works righteousness, is the focus on imitating Christ. As Adam Koontz points out, “Luther’s confrontations with Anabaptists in the 1520s and 1530s caused him to react strongly against their urging a very literal imitation of Christ that excluded the just war tradition of Christian political thinking.”[1] The way I experienced this obscuring of imitation may be typical. It was not that the idea was ever directly dismissed, but in my seminary education the focus was on harmonizing the Gospels; rather than studying the life and teaching of Christ as a model to be imitated, the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain were relegated to the old covenant of works. In turn, “taking up the cross and following Jesus” was displaced by the notion of Jesus final payment for sin; that is, “Jesus died so that I do not have to.” Faith alone may not completely exclude the notion of imitating Christ but it is made secondary, as Luther demonstrated in his preference for the term conformitas Christi to imitatio Christi as a way of deemphasizing the Anabaptist focus.

Though imitation is central in Paul’s theology, Pauline theology (which in the Reformation is taken as the central theology of the New Testament) as interpreted through Luther and Calvin, makes very little (theologically) of the life and teaching of Christ. Focus on Christ as a sacrificial payment displaces the theological significance of the historical Jesus. It is not so much that Paul trumps Jesus, but Luther’s and Calvin’s Paul trumps the Paul focused upon the historical Jesus. “Faith alone,” penal substitution, anti-works, renders imitation of the historical Jesus secondary. For example, Rudolf Bultmann’s Theology of the New Testament is focused on Paul’s theology and within Paul’s theology imitation is all but dismissed.[2] In this understanding, the historical Jesus is more of a problem to be solved than a model to be followed. After all, Paul had no link with the historical Jesus and the Gospels are inconsistent and need to be harmonized in order to recover the historical Jesus.

 At a popular level, something like imitation of Jesus resurfaced in bracelets (WWJD which played off the 19th century novel by Charles Sheldon, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?). But it may have been that this reduced to a religious fad, as it was focused on an ethical decisionism (a questionable sort of ethical foundation), rather than taking the life of Christ as key to theological understanding. So too, the Anabaptist notion of a literal imitation of Christ did not set imitation within a larger theological understanding.[3] Anabaptists could read the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ other ethical teaching quite literally but Anabaptists would fall short, for example, of someone such as Thomas à Kempis whose theology is one in which imitation is the very fabric of salvation (see below).

There are the specific passages that command imitation but much of the vocabulary and theology of the New Testament presumes imitation. Walking as Christ walked, putting on the faith of Christ, taking up the cross, being in Christ, being a disciple of Christ or being part of the family of Christ is premised on imitation. The central significance of imitation is lost if Christ is primarily a payment for sin or a legal remedy obtaining imputed righteousness. But what if imitation of Christ is in fact the primary means of salvation, a salvation not merely of a future estate, but a present tense realization of “putting on Christ” and a putting off of evil? Could it be that imitating Christ is salvation, is atonement, is an ethic, is a theology?

The purpose behind the writing of the New Testament beginning with the Gospels, is that the life of Christ is a model around which his teaching and Christian teaching coheres. The incarnation, the life and death and resurrection of Christ is not primarily a doctrine, a set of propositions, or an institution, but it is a life which in its opening message calls out “follow me.” The reason for recording this life, the reason for prompting a particular ethic, or a particular understanding and doctrine, is to bring about reduplication of the life of Christ in his followers. It is his life that is being shared in the gospel message, so that imitation and participation are the very substance of salvation.

Paul’s Gospel coheres around the understanding that imitation is the mode of salvation. His suffering, his imprisonment, and his manner of life are part and parcel of the gospel he is modeling so as to be imitated: “Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (I Tim. 1:16). Bad models and rivalrous imitation looms in many of Paul’s letters. As I previously described it (here), to the rivalry prone lovers of hierarchy and false power in Corinth, Paul has a singular recommendation and resolution: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). The danger is that they would create a scandal of imitation gone bad: “Give no offense [do not become a scandal] to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1). To be saved, is to imitate Christ.  

Where Paul has been present, he can simply appeal to himself as the model, but as in Ephesians the model is God revealed in Christ: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:1–2). This appeal to imitate God comes after specific descriptions of what imitation will entail: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32). The appeal throughout Ephesians is that being members of one another in Christ entails adapting his form of life: “if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self” (Eph. 4:21-22). Even and especially the most intimate of relationships is to be carried out in imitation of Christ: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).

In what is considered to be one of his earliest letters, Paul explains that the Thessalonians have come to have hope in Christ through imitation and that they are spreading the Gospel as others imitate them: “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (I Thess. 1:6). The imitation of the Lord, and of Paul, and then of the Thessalonians is the way one enters into the “power” of the Holy Spirit and the “conviction” of the gospel (1:5). Imitation is the way the gospel spreads as becoming imitators of Christ and the apostles is the way one receives the gospel – it could hardly be otherwise. Imitation is a sign of election and is the way the Gospel works “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit” (1:5). Imitation takes up the suffering of Christ but also the joy this entails (1:6). Paul describes his imparting of the gospel as a giving of his own life: “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives” (2:8). The life of Christ in the life of Paul is the very means of providing sustenance, just as a “nursing mother” imparts sustenance and her own life to her children (2:7).

The way the gospel is taken up and the way that discipleship continues is through imitation of a model: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you . . . but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example” (2 Thess. 3:7-9). This is what it means to “hold to the traditions” and this is the point of being taught, whether verbally or in writing. It coheres as a model to be imitated, resulting in “good work” (2 Th 2:15–3:1). Tradition and gospel and rule of faith contain a living model, a life that is to be shared through imitation. Apart from imitating the life thus conveyed, there is no gospel, no tradition and no faith.

Each of Paul’s letters is premised on imitation, but perhaps none more so than Philippians. The irony is that in interpreting Philippians, if it is not understood that both Paul and Christ are models to be imitated then the very substance of what Christ has done is obscured. That is the entire movement of Christ is not a one-off payment but is meant to be a manner of life: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Php. 2:5–8).

If we imagine Paul is describing Christ’s movement from his preincarnate state to the incarnation, this is hardly something we can imitate. As James McClendon describes it, “Hence, the dominant feature of 2:5-11 has never been a heavenly-descent myth, for it is not a passage about the pre-incarnate acts of God, but one that juxtaposes Messiah Jesus’ earthly vicissitudes with the vast claim of his Lordship – on earth, but also in heaven and over the nether world.”[4] Jesus’ refusal to grasp equality with God must refer to the temptation in his incarnation, a temptation we experience and resist through imitating Christ. Paul’s premise throughout is to encourage imitation as a means of discipleship: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Php. 3:17). Jesus is the primary model, the pattern which Paul has also modeled.

Christ’s Lordship is established through his suffering and death on the cross and this is the pattern that is to be imitated. His manner of life, his humility, his suffering, and his death, is the archetypical pattern and not simply a one-off payment which cannot be replicated.  The “image of God” which he models and which the first pair and their progeny failed to live up to is not some “designated state but a task set, not an ontic level enjoyed but an ideal to be realized.”[5] The path of servitude and suffering is the model of the divine image Christ modeled and which his disciples imitate.

The conclusion: it is his life that is being shared in the gospel message, so that imitation and participation are the very substance of salvation. Apart from imitating the life thus conveyed, there is no gospel, no tradition and no faith. On this basis, Thomas à Kempis opens his book The Imitation of Christ, urging a focus on the study of the life of Christ as the means to imitate his life and attain to his understanding: “’HE WHO follows Me, walks not in darkness,’ says the Lord. By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort; therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.”[6]



[1] Adam C. Koontz, The Imitation of Paul in the Greco-Roman World (Unpublished Dissertation, Temple University, 2020) 10.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] There was a move toward a Christus Victor reading of the atonement but this did not displace penal substitution among Anabaptists.

[4] James McClendon, Doctrine: Systematic Theology Vol. 2 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994) 267.

[5] McClendon, 268.

[6] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (The Catholic Primer, 2004).

Love, Power and Violence in Hannah Arendt and Paul

Hannah Arendt arrives at a Christian insight that many Christians might find more believable or even recognizable from a political scientist and social theorist. A central teaching of the Bible, that the greatest power is the power of community, of communication, or of love, is easily passed over as a religious pablum which has to be acknowledged but without any real consequence. We all “know” that those who have the most weapons or the most material resources, are the real power brokers in society. Afterall, what is power except power over other people, the power of exploitation, the power of the master over his employees or slaves.

 “Power,” said Voltaire, “consists in making others act as I choose.” According to Max Weber, power is present wherever I have the chance “to assert my own will against the resistance” of others. He defines the power of war as “an act of violence to compel the opponent to do as we wish.” Robert Strausz-Hupe claims bluntly, power signifies “the power of man over man.”  C. Wright Mills equates violence, politics and power: “All politics is a struggle for power; the ultimate kind of power is violence.” Mao Tse-tung maintained, “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Marx noted that power is “the organization of violence.” Bertrand de Jouvenel claims that the power of death or the power to make war is the very essence of the power of the state: “To him who contemplates the unfolding of the ages war presents itself as an activity of States which pertains to their essence.” As he describes it, “a man feels himself more of a man when he is imposing himself and making others the instruments of his will,” and this gives him “incomparable pleasure.” Elsewhere he says, “To command and to be obeyed: without that, there is no Power – with it no other attribute is needed for it to be …. The thing without which it cannot be: that essence is command.” Arendt concludes, that if the essence of power is the effectiveness of command, then there is no greater power than that which grows out of the barrel of a gun, and it would be difficult to say in “which way the order given by a policeman is different from that given by a gunman.”[1]

In short, power is the power of death and the one who controls and can mete out coercion and violent death, in this understanding, is the one with power. War and the capacity to make war is a primary ordering structure such that “war itself is the basic social system, within which other secondary modes of social organization conflict or conspire,” such that “economic systems, political philosophies, and corpora juris serve and extend the war system, not vice versa.” In this understanding, it is not just diplomacy and politics that are war by other means, but peace itself is war by other means.[2]  The peace of the cold war reckons with the reality that deterrence, larger and more powerful weapons of war ensure the peace, such that mutually assured destruction, or the constant threat of total war and annihilation is the only realistic peace.

It is not just the violence of war which ensures peace, but at a personal level there is a similar sort of subjection to the inevitable nature of struggle, chaos, and coercion. Humans seem to be born with an instinct of domination and aggressiveness. According to John Stuart Mill, there are two competing forces in the individual, “the desire to exercise power over others” and the “disinclination to have power exercised over themselves.” As Arendt, points out though, the will to power and the will to submission seem to be interconnected.[3] The security of slavery in Egypt is a very real temptation, certainly present in my experience in Japan, but present to some degree in every society. But perhaps the lengths to which the tyrant will go to maintain rule is the clearest marker of the limits of violence.

The Stalinist regime demonstrated that total domination based on terror cannot afford support, as the supporters and friends of totalitarianism threaten through the most subtle form of power; namely support and friendship. In the end it was the friends and supporters of Stalin who he saw as posing the greatest threat. “The climax of terror is reached when the police state begins to devour its own children, when yesterday’s executioner becomes today’s victim. And this is also the moment when power disappears entirely.”[4] Thus Arendt reaches her conclusion:

To sum up: politically speaking, it is insufficient to say that power and violence are not the same. Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance. This implies that it is not correct to think of the opposite of violence as nonviolence; to speak of nonviolent power is actually redundant. Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it.[5] 

Nonviolence or the capacity for peace as means and end, is the very definition of power. The power of community, the power of communion, the power of consensus, the power of love, the power of democracy, all stand over and against the notion that violence is power. Violence contains no possibility of communion, other than the communion of the scapegoat, or the contradictory notion that the common enemy is the means of cohesion. Rene Girard’s depiction of the lie surrounding the scapegoat, or Peter Berger’s depiction of the social construction of reality, illustrates Arendt’s and the biblical point, that the deception surrounding death is the universal lie.  The fear of death, or the imagined capacity to manipulate and control death is the singular lie exposed by Christ.

Paul names this lie directly, and counters it with the truth of community: “Therefore, shedding the lie, let each one of you speak the truth to his neighbor, because we are one another’s corporal members” (Eph. 4:25, DBH). Dispelling the lie with the truth gets at the prime reality that we are “corporal members” of one another. This is the missing fact in the notion of equating power and violence. True power builds on the reality of mutual interdependence. Violence may gain a certain control but at the cost of this prime reality. The lie here is singular and seemingly universal in its import so that all of the darkness and deception may be tied to this singular deception. Paul ties it to the hostility or enmity unleashed by the Jewish law as expressed, first in Jewish and Gentile hostility, but then in a “futility” of mind which he equates with a hardened heart and darkened understanding (Eph. 4:17-19).

 As a result of the Gospel, “we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:14–15). The cure points to the heart of the problem: “speaking the truth in love” displaces the lie (the deceitful scheming and the trickery of men) which serves dis-communion, hostility, and enmity. Paul continually links deception and alienation while also linking truth and love: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25). Being members of another is a truth, that by definition should result in the putting away of violent falsehood.

Another way of getting at this same truth is in Girard’s and Paul’s deployment of mimesis. Girard inadvertently displaces the primacy of mutual membership in one another (mimetic desire), and pictures it first of all as built upon a necessary violence and rivalry. If one person imitates another person’s desire, then their desire for the same thing results in rivalry and violence. Girard comes to his theory of the scapegoat beginning with violence, rivalry and sacrifice, and it is only later that he realizes in Christ there is a positive mimesis, and even in the development of his theory he explains mimesis in the context of rivalry and violence. Much like political theorists or social scientists who begin with the presumption of an original chaos and violence, here too the presumption on an individual level is that rivalry and violence are originary. But what if we were to reverse engineer what Girard is doing and put mimesis front and center not simply as a negative force, but as the shaping force in our lives.

Paul has his own theory of imitation and community which locates reality, not in violent rivalry but in the necessity of relationship and love. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2). To the rivalry prone lovers of hierarchy and false power in Corinth, Paul has a singular recommendation and resolution: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). The passage in full reads: “Give no offense [do not become a scandal] to Jews or to Greeks or to the Church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Cor. 10:31-11:1). Paul understands the scandal and violence of mimetic rivalry, but this mechanism is undone in his recommendation: “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage.” Domination and coercion are set aside and with it the violence producing rivalry that is damnation itself. To be saved, is to imitate and commune in love.  

Paul warns against a “whoring acquisitiveness” (5:3) and likens the acquisitive man to an idolater (5:5), as one who has been deceived by “empty words” (5:5) and who lives in darkness (5:8). These things that are “hidden” are exposed by the light of Christ and now life reigns in place of death (5:14).

The conclusion of the chapter is a displacement of the mystery of sins alienating violence through a mutual submission to one another in one body: “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (5:31-32). This communion and participation in a singular body is the power of peace that counters the lie of violence as power.


[1] Hannah Arendt, On Violence (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1969) 35-37.

[2] Arendt, 9.

[3] Arendt, 39-40.

[4] Arendt, 55.

[5] Arendt, 56.

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World: The Defeat of Evil as the Revealing of the Mystery

Paul describes Christ as revealing the mystery which has remained closed to every previous generation of humankind (Eph. 3:5). Matthew pictures Christ as fulfilling the words of the prophet: ”I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world” (Matt. 13:35). René Girard explains that this mystery hidden since the foundation of the world is the mystery of scapegoating, that which organized primitive culture and religion and which controlled violence. The violence unleashed on the innocent victim served to channel violence to a singular sacrifice (rather than unleashing violence of all against all) and it made of the scapegoat the sacred deliverer, delivering the sacrificers from whatever plague or sickness they imagined threatened. And as Girard explains, the scapegoat really did deliver from uncontrolled violence, and allowed the crops to be planted and the society to survive, rather than succumbing to all-out violence.

The efficacy of the scapegoat, however, depended on its true function being a compounded mystery. In the first instance, the innocence of the scapegoat is not a possibility that poses itself in the original murder, but then the murder itself is obscured as the myth of the scapegoat as a sacred deliverer hides the murder. Those who kill the scapegoat do not know what they are doing, first in the blind rage in which they kill the scapegoat and then in the myth which hides the murder. The killers are blind (they are doing it but obscuring the fact) to the murder and then to the sacralization of the innocent victim. The end of the story, in Girard’s telling, is that the innocent victim Jesus, speaks for the oppressed scapegoat and reveals the scapegoating mechanism as that which stands behind all sacrificial religion, and he makes impossible the mystery, that up to his exposing it, stood at the center of religion and society.

Girard’s theory, for many, provides a complete theory of the atonement and an omnicompetent explanation of the work of Christ. Whether Girard saw it that way may be beside the point, but it is no critique of his theory to suggest that what he describes is a pattern that repeats itself in a variety forms, not limited to sacrificial violence but characteristic of the lie that stands behind all violence. That is, the mystery of which Paul speaks and which Jesus exposes, is a mystifying lie, an obscuring of origins, a false dialectic, which stands behind sacrificial religion but which also stands behind all human violence at an individual and corporate level. The equation of violence and power is the original form of the lie, that expresses itself in the scapegoating mechanism (among other forms of the lie). Violence not only reifies and deifies the scapegoat, but this is always the work of violence. The larger principle is not simply that the violence directed against an innocent scapegoat sacralizes and reifies the scapegoat, but all violence “mystically” reifies.

In fact, Girard begins his theory with a reexamination of Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex, which illustrates the point that the violence of the superego directed against the ego (death drive) reifies the split between the ego and superego, creating the registers of the Subject. The superego, in the voice of the father or the oppressive force of the law, is directed against the ego and the tripartite (ego, superego, id) dynamic is “born” (which is the wrong word, as this is a living death in Freud’s estimate). But what is to be noted is that the oppressive violence of the id, channeled through the superego, taking the ego as its victim, gives rise to the very notion of a self. Even if one rejects this Freudian picture of the dynamic of self, it illustrates the point, of how a lying violence gives birth to a fictional “reality.” Karl Marx’s picture of the functioning of capital, Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s picture of the dialectic of life and death or something and nothing, and Peter Berger’s explanation of religion, all illustrate the same point.

As Berger explains, the phenomenon of religion depends upon a mystifying lie:

Whatever may be the “ultimate” merits of religious explanations of the universe at large, their empirical tendency has been to falsify man’s consciousness of that part of the universe shaped by his own activity, namely, the socio-cultural world. This falsification can also be described as mystification. The socio-cultural world, which is an edifice of human meanings, is overlaid with mysteries posited as non-human in their origins.[1]

In Berger’s depiction, the dialectic process of society consists of three steps – externalization, objectivation, and internalization.

Externalization is the ongoing outpouring of human being into the world, both in the physical and the mental activity of men. Objectivation is the attainment by the products of this activity (again both physical and mental) of a reality that confronts its original producers as a facticity external to and other than themselves. Internalization is the reappropriation by men of this same reality, transforming it once again from structures of the objective world into structures of the subjective consciousness.[2]

Berger concludes, “It is through externalization that society is a human product. It is through objectivation that society becomes a reality sui generis. It is through internalization that man is a product of society.”[3] The notion that religion or society is a sui generis or self-constituting construct blocks all questions of genealogy and simply poses the social world as reality itself.

Berger explains he is appropriating Marx and Hegel, who illustrate this three-step process in regard to capital and the human psyche. As he notes, “The terms ‘externalization’ and ‘objectivation’ are derived from Hegel (Entaeusserung and Versachlichung), are (sic) understood here essentially as they were applied to collective phenomena by Marx.”[4] Capital is externalized in paper and coins, objectivized as intrinsically valuable, and internalized as a prime marker of value. Hegel, Marx, and Freud are each building upon a constricted Judeo-Christian understanding. So, for example, Isaiah’s picture of the idolater (Is. 44:15-18), carving the idol with one half of a piece of wood (externalization), turning and cooking his lunch with the other half (allowing for the obscuring objectivation), and then turning back and bowing to the carved piece (internalization) as a god captures the same movement.

Religion is accounted for in this process as the obscuring or mystification of the process – the disconnect between externalization and objectivation. “The sacred or numinous begin as perceptions ‘externalized,’ projected upon the skies (thus sky-gods are recognized) and upon persons and natural objects (hence shamans and sacred groves and springs). The externalized sacred objects thereby acquire status as factors in social life (so magic, incantation, and worship arise).”[5] The religionist, like the idolater, does not recognize he is the one shaping the idol and reifying or absolutizing what is essentially a projection (a product of the imagination).

The religionist does on a corporate level what Freud describes is happening on an individual level. The Oedipal-self obscures the fact that it is the engineer arranging the oppressive self-relation as the religionist obscures or falsifies the fact that religion is a projection (a necessary sacred canopy) of the socio-cultural world. The child externalizes its own image as seen in the mirror, then it objectivizes or reifies the image as perceived through the projection of the superego, then the internal life is made up of this dialectic between ego and superego.

As indicated, Berger, Marx, and Freud, are building upon the dialectic first worked out by Hegel. An easy entry into Hegel is provided by Slavoj Žižek’s understanding of Hegel as building upon the cogito of René Descartes. Descartes’ isolation of himself in the “heated room” and reduction of the real world to a category of doubt and his reconstruction of that world, up to and including God, is pictured by Hegel, according to Žižek as following the course of every Subject:

when Hegel determines madness as withdrawal from the actual world, the closing of the soul into itself, its ‘contraction’. … Was this withdrawal into itself not accomplished by Descartes in his universal doubt and reduction of the cogito … which … involves a passage through the moment of radical madness? … That is to say, the withdrawal into self, the cutting off of the links to the Umwelt, is followed by the construction of a symbolic universe that the subject projects onto reality as a kind of substitute – formation destined to recompense us for the loss of the immediate, presymbolic real.[6]

The passage into subjectivity involves the “ontological necessity of madness”… the mad gesture of radical withdrawal from reality that opens up the space for its symbolic (re)constitution.”[7] There is a sacrifice of one world and subjection to an oppressive symbolic order (the law has a totalizing effect). To maintain that the product of thought is objectively true, or to fuse thought and being, involves a form of madness that is at once so universal so as to be nearly inaccessible or a complete mystery.

As David Bentley Hart describes the Hegelian system:

the system in its entirety, depending on the angle from which it is viewed, is susceptible of every possible characterization or interpretation: disembodied abstraction or radical empiricism, mystification or disenchantment, absolute idealism or dialectical materialism, Mandarin detachment or bourgeois conformity, historical essentialism or essential historicism, a “totalizing metaphysics” or the ultimate “deconstruction of metaphysics,” and so on and so on.[8]

There is a seeming impossibility of getting beyond the all encompassing system described by Hegel, but this, I believe is precisely Paul’s depiction of what is accomplished in Christ. That is, the obscuring of origins through an originary violence or an originary hostility is precisely the dialectic Paul pictures as exposed by Christ.

Paul, in Ephesians, has in mind the peculiar dialectic of Jew and Gentile which creates a dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14), but which organizes the Jewish world (2:15: “which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances”). The enmity of the law which creates the fabric of this fictional construct is not a reality (created by God) but a human system built upon human enmity and violence (2:15 – Christ abolishes the enmity in his flesh, which is not from God but is cured by God in Christ). For a Jew, Gentiles are nothing at all and Jewishness is over and against the nothingness (of the Gentile) as an absolute something. The organizing hostility for Jews and Gentiles alike, something on the order of the sacrificial violence described by Girard, is undone in Christ: “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). This is the archetypical mystery revealed as Judaism depended upon this division, and Christ is reconstituting humanity, showing the divine purpose in creation: “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Eph. 2:15–16). Jewishness depended upon division and enmity and it was from this hostility, marked by the dividing wall in the temple that the religion, rightly or wrongly, was conceived. But Judaism is a case in point of the obscurity of every culture and religion founded upon a dialectic (inside/outside, near/far, citizen/alien, something/nothing).

In Paul’s depiction, there is a cosmic order of darkness dispelled in this revealing of the mystery. God’s will, God’s eternal purposes for the cosmos, have been revealed in Christ: “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things” (Eph. 3:8). The purposes of creation, once obscured behind the mystery of enmity and division are now revealed in a unifying vision in which all things are being incorporated into God: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4–6).

The mystery revealed in Christ is the exposure of the lie, which pictures reality as a violent dualism (e.g., divine/human, creator/creature, nothing/something, life/death, Jew/Gentile, ego/superego, immanent Trinity/economic Trinity, heaven/earth, transcendent/immanent). The mystery revealed is an exposure of the mystification of evil, dependent upon alienation, dialectic, and dualism. The picture of God’s purposes worked out in Christ brings together absolute difference into a unified whole:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. Eph. 4:7-10


[1] Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Anchor; Reprint edition, 1990), 90.

[2] Berger, 3-4.

[3] Berger, 4.

[4] Berger, 21.

[5] Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1966) 4-25. As summarized by James McClendon, Witness: Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000) 28.

[6]Slavoj Zizek, F.W.J. von Schelling, The Abyss of Freedom/Ages of the World (University of Michigan Press, 1997), 8-9.

[7] Ibid.

[8] David Bentley Hart, You Are Gods (p. 70). University of Notre Dame Press. Kindle Edition.

The Peace of Jesus’ Body Versus the Violent Semantics of the Flesh

The semantic load that can be attached to the biological body is undergoing a continual extension, in that there is seemingly no end to the arrangement of gender identity. In a Lacanian psychoanalytic frame, the complete identity with the symbolic order though, is not really a multiplicity of types but is a singular type which he would dub “masculine.” “Masculine” does not refer to gender but to an orientation to the symbolic order. One might identify with these structures as they presently exist in the society or attempt to “bend the rules” but of course the rules are bent so as to conform to them. That is, the letter is prime reality and the biological body is divided or separate from this reality. The masculine (as opposed to the feminine, in a Lacanian frame) does not question the symbolic order as prime reality.

As Paul describes this type, “the law dominates the man for whatever time he lives” (Romans 7:1 DBH translation). Paul will identify this type, according to his own experience, as ignorant of their own actions and having an incapacity to discern evil. There is a fusion between sin and the law so that Paul, at the time he was doing it, could not discern the sort of evil in which he is engaged. As he describes, in a parallel passage in Galatians, his zeal for the law and his advancement in Judaism were marked by his persecution of the church and his desire to destroy it (Ga 1:13-14). For Paul, the law was not a marker of sin and evil but was fused with sin such that he could not perceive his own evil due to his zeal for the law. As he advanced in law-keeping and in Judaism he simultaneously advanced in his participation in evil. It did not occur to Paul the Pharisee that there was a reality which exceeded the measure of the law. Clearly, Paul is not imagining that in this understanding he has rightly perceived the law; quite the opposite, as he dubs this orientation as “having confidence in the flesh.” The problem is, the flesh marked by the law, has become a principle unto itself.

In the masculine the symbolic order reigns supreme and the biological body is written over and made to conform to this semantic load. This is not really the problem of any particular group of people, but in Paul’s terms this is the universal problem. There is (in Eph. 2) the divided body which may refer to the individual (divided into mind and flesh in Eph. 2) or the division of gender, race, or social status. The divided body might be classed, as it is in Ephesians, as either circumcised or uncircumcised or elsewhere he will talk of male and female identity, but the point is that this division makes of the flesh a sign system, or a blank slate for inscribing the symbolic order of the law. Circumcised or uncircumcised is clearly the imposition of a sign system (the law), on the biological body. We know that male and female can also bear this same sort of cultural inscription in which the biological is overwritten with a meaning that is not inherently part of gender. To be female in Japan, for example, may bear a very different meaning than it bears in Korea or the United States. Female can be assigned the meanings of passivity, nurturing, or servitude, all of which bear meaning in a particular culture in conjunction with what it means to be male. So too, the idea with circumcision and uncircumcision is that it is a binary that is not simply a description of physical marks, but is a religious and ethnic division inscribed in the flesh (Jew/Gentile). Paul refers to it as a mind and flesh issue (2:3 – the very opposition which gives rise to the peculiarities of human desire).

Paul then calls this the “enmity of the flesh,” but of course inasmuch as Christ is going to destroy this enmity in his own flesh, the problem is not the flesh per se but the semantic load invested in the flesh. Paul describes this semantics of the flesh in connection to conforming to the world; a conformity in which death reigns, and which is controlled by the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). He also speaks of a lust of the flesh, which he seems to connect to a spirit mind duality (Eph. 2:1-3). There is an antagonism, a sacrificial economy, that in both Walter Wink’s and Rene Girard’s description, predominates in human culture and religion. We can read Christianity as either fitting into and as a support of this sacrificial economy (divine satisfaction or penal substitution, or the oppression of women, or the “domination system”) or we can read it as disrupting this economy and order.

This principle or power (as Paul also refers to the same force) may be what Wink calls the domination system or the system of redemptive violence. As Slavoj Žižek describes it, redemptive violence is inscribed deep within the human psyche. The original sacrificial relation is established within the Subject (with passage through the mirror stage) between the imaginary (the ego or “I”) and the symbolic (the superego) which establishes the alienated distance from the real of the body. The passage is from being a body to establishing a symbolic distance from the body (and having a body): “The body exists in the order of having – I am not my body, I have it” (Organs without Bodies, 121). Self-consciousness arises simultaneously with the realization and refusal of the body and its mortal contingencies (sexuality/castration) so that the Subject arises over and against the real of the body. The symbolic or the soul “has to be paid for by the death, murder even, of its empirical bearer” (The Žižek Reader, vii). Žižek, following Paul, describes the process as giving rise to two bodies. That body which one might think can be reduced to the biological dimension is refused: the “subject turns away from her biological body in disgust, unable to accept that she ‘is’ her body” (Organs without Bodies, 93). Since “the body refuses to obey the soul and starts to speak on its own, in the symptoms in which the subject’s soul cannot recognize itself” she rejects the body (Organs without Bodies, 93). But this body that is rejected cannot be equated with the biological body as the body has already been overlaid with the symbolic “forcefully distorting its normal functioning” (Organs without Bodies, 93). So, there is the biological body and this second body: “The body that is the proper object of psychoanalysis, the body as the inconsistent composite of erogenous zones, the body as the surface of the inscription of the traces of traumas and excessive enjoyments, the body through which the unconscious speaks” (Organs without Bodies, 93). It is this second body, and not the physical or biological body per se, which the Subject struggles against and which makes up unconscious experience constituting desire. The biological body with its biological interests (wellbeing, survival, reproduction) is not at the center of the human Subject but the true “interior” is this second body.

When “we penetrate the subject’s innermost sanctum, the very core of its Unconscious, what we find there is the pure surface of a fantasmatic screen” (Organs without Bodies, 93). Žižek describes the rise of this screen of the fundamental fantasy as an attempt to “outpass myself into death” (Tarrying with the Negative, 76). One hastens to assume death in the form of the letter or symbolic (“potentially my epitaph”) in order to avoid it (Tarrying with the Negative, 76). The dead are immortal in that they are no longer subject to dying, so identity through the dead letter achieves an enduring (immortal) identity.

As we see further on (in chapter 2 of Ephesians) Christ is going to resolve the various antagonisms of the flesh in his flesh, or as chapter 1 concludes through his body. The unity of the body is achieved in the incarnation (it is precisely our tendency toward a disincarnate dualism that is overcome). Paul describes a present tense resolution through Christ’s resurrection and ascension and the Christian participation in the same (Eph 2:5–6). Death is marked by the division within the body, but Christ overcomes this division, as can those “in Christ” – in and through the body of Christ.

Though he does not use the word flesh in his description of “works,” Paul is clearly talking of the flesh. Circumcised or uncircumcised, or keeping the works of the law, is a matter of maintaining the signs in the flesh of Jewish ethnicity, the most important of which is circumcision. Where we are caught up in the law, in the symbol system, of being Jew or Gentile, or taking on the identities of the flesh that depend upon division, love is incapacitated (precisely the “work” for which we were made and toward which Paul is aiming).

Giorgio Agamben and Žižek both provide a picture from Romans 7, which explains how law can potentially create an obstacle to love. In Paul’s illustration (in 7:1-3), Paul describes a masculine orientation to the law with the husband of the woman representing the law. The woman that has a husband is bound by law to the husband. The woman’s relationship to her husband is the prototypical social obligation, marriage being the foundation of the family and of society, but it is also the prototypical love relationship. The problem occurs when these two are pitted against one another; when “social life appears to me as dominated by an externally imposed Law in which I am unable to recognize myself … precisely insofar as I continue to cling to the immediacy of love that feels threatened by the rule of Law” (The Puppet and the Dwarf, 117). The law can only be said to “bind” when desire is in some way curtailed by the law. Love, understood as synonymous to this sort of desire, an element deep within the self which only refers to the self, can only experience the regulation of law as an imposition on the true nature of the self. The woman whose husband is alive, but who has fallen in love with another man, experiences the law as that which opposes her love. In fact, her love (her enjoyment or jouissance – evil desire) is here synonymous with sin (The Monstrosity of Christ, 273). Her notion that she is loved by her consort is, in turn, to imagine that deep within her is “some precious treasure that can only be loved, and cannot be submitted to the rule of Law” (The Puppet and the Dwarf, 117).

In Žižek’s logic of the exception (masculine sexuation), her “love” is a symptom of the prohibition and the prohibition has its force only in the exception. The exception, in Žižek’s view, could be seen as creating the rule. As in Kafka’s short story The Trial, Josef K. discovers that the elaborate system of the law which bars him from entering a certain door is actually built by himself for himself (Reader, 45). The law is a construct erected by and for those who stand outside of it. If the woman in Paul’s illustration were to love her husband and not consort with other men, and if this were the universal case, the law would “disintegrate.” The law functions in this sense like a psychoanalytic symptom: “A symptom … is an element that … must remain an exception, that is, the point of suspension of the universal principle: if the universal principle were to apply also to this point, the universal system itself would disintegrate” (The Universal Exception, 171). The woman, as the one who is subject to the law, represents an orientation of inherent transgression: “The subject is actually ‘in’ (caught in the web of) power only and precisely in so far as he does not fully identify with it but maintains a kind of distance towards it” (The Fragile Absolute, 148). The dynamic of sin is an identity caught up in a web which tightens its grip the more it is resisted. In Žižek’s description of the couplet law/sin, the law is a transcendent “foreign” force that serves to oppress what is perceived as the love relationship (The Monstrosity of Christ, 271). The law becomes an obstacle to be overcome in order for love to be possible.

Žižek’s point is that this sort of love is not agape love but rather a form of love or enjoyment (jouissance) in which the obstacle constitutes the (lost) love. The woman’s living husband is a necessary part of this sort of consorting, as he is the obstacle that makes the sexual relationship with the “other.” This construct is synonymous with sin: “‘Sin’ is the very intimate resistant core on account of which the subject experiences its relationship to the Law as one of subjection, it is that on account of which the Law has to appear to the subject as a foreign power crushing the subject” (The Monstrosity of Christ, 271). The Subject is attached to a “pathological agalma deep within itself” and it is attachment to this supposed exception or remainder that gives the law the specter of an oppressive foreign force (The Monstrosity of Christ, 271). There is a resistant core, a holdout or remainder on the part of the Subject: “The notion that there is deep inside it some precious treasure which can only be loved and cannot be submitted to the rule of Law” (The Monstrosity of Christ, 271). The deception or illusion that sin works is to construe the law as a closure of identity which by its very nature – its absoluteness – excludes love. Sin mediates the law as a power over and against love.

It is from the seeming failure of interpellation or the failure of universality to account for the exception that the totalizing symbolic takes hold. From one perspective it can be said “that the subject never fully recognizes itself in the interpolative call … and this resistance to interpellation (to the symbolic identity provided by interpellation) is the subject” (The Indivisible Remainder, 165). The woman consorting with her lover only understands herself over and against the law, while she may imagine her relationship to her lover in some way pre-exists her relationship to the law. “Is not this hysterical distance towards interpellation … the very form of ideological misrecognition? Is not this apparent failure of interpellation … the ultimate proof of its success … that is to say, of the fact that the ‘effect-of-subject’ really took place” (The Indivisible Remainder, 166)? Ideological interpellation, from the Subject’s perspective, might appear to be relieved or in some way mitigated if the Subject simply maintains a cynical distance towards the interpolating power. The woman in Paul’s illustration might say to herself, “I know the law says not to consort, but the law does not account for my true self.” “Hegel’s Beautiful Soul maintains a cynical, passive distance towards power, but this is precisely the power of interpellation doing its work” (Reader, 229–30).

We are made for good works, and this is love, a love that is not available through a misorientation to law. Paul assures us these works are not of the ethnic kind and not works that are foundational: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (2:10) – this is the foundation.

The Gentiles and Jews have a flesh problem (Eph. 2:11-13): near and far, inside and outside, excluded and included, citizens or aliens. Christ has undone the gauge of distance, and of inclusion and exclusion. He has suspended (καταργέω) the effect of the misorientation to the law.  If body (sῶma) is the Subject with the qualifiers of death and sin (“the body of sin and death” according to Paul) describing the orientation to the law, to crucify the body of sin so that it is suspended or brought to nothing (καταργέω) describes the profound reorientation brought about by participation in the body of Christ.

Christ has suspended this problem of the flesh:

“For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing (καταργήσας) in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph. 2:14-15).

We can specify what Christ has done and how he has done it. In Wink’s terms, Christ has abolished notions of redemptive violence and he has defeated the domination system. There is an undoing of the violence of the law which has been coopted by sin and domination. This law plays out in nearly every realm of psychological and social life.

Relief is brought from the domination system of the family:

I believe Jesus was so consistently disparaging because the family in dominator societies is so deeply embedded in patriarchy, and serves as the citadel of male supremacy, the chief inculcator of gender roles, and a major inhibitor of change. It is in families where most women and children are battered and abused, and where the majority of women are murdered. In a great many cultures, men are endowed with the inalienable right to beat, rape, and verbally abuse their wives. The patriarchal family is thus the foundation on which the larger units of patriarchal dominance are based.[1]

There is an undoing of Jewish purity laws and the markers of inside and outside:

Table fellowship with sinners was a central feature of Jesus’ ministry. These sinners, notes New Testament scholar Marcus Borg, had been placed, or had placed themselves, outside the holiness code of Israel as it was being interpreted by certain circles in first-century Palestine. To include such outcasts in the realm of God was to reject the views of those who valued separation from the uncleanness of the world. Jesus’ table fellowship with social outcasts was a living parable of the dawning age of forgiveness.[2]

The gender divide is defeated, as male and female are no longer a mode of securing identity:

Respectable Jewish men were not to speak to women in public; Jesus freely conversed with women. A woman was to touch no man but her spouse; Jesus was touched by women, and touched them. Once, a prostitute burst into an all-male banquet, knelt at Jesus’ outstretched feet, and began to kiss them, washing them with tears of remorse and relief, wiping them with her hair and anointing them with oil. Despite the shocked disapproval of the other men, Jesus accepted her gift and its meaning and took her side, even though she had technically rendered him unclean and had scandalized the guests (Luke 7: 36– 50).[3]

Jesus’ system, the ontology or ground of his work, is one of peace and nonviolence:

Jesus rejects violence. When his disciples request permission to call down fire from heaven on inhospitable Samaritans, Jesus rebukes them (Luke 9: 51– 56). Instead of praising the disciple who, in an attempt to save Jesus from arrest, cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus reacts: “No more of this!” (Luke 22: 51)— an injunction the church took literally for the next three centuries. According to Matthew, Jesus says, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26: 52).[4]

In place of a system of division, hierarchy, and domination, a system of equity prevails, beginning with a different economy:  

The gospel of Jesus is founded on economic equity, because economic inequities are the basis of domination. Ranking, status, and classism are largely built on power provided by accumulated wealth. Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few. Since the powerful are not likely to abdicate their wealth, the poor must find ways to overcome the Domination Epoch from within.[5]

In short there is an ending of the domination system:

The words and deeds of Jesus reveal that he is not a minor reformer but an egalitarian prophet who repudiated the very premises of the Domination System: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles. In his beatitudes, his healings, and his table fellowship with outcasts and sinners, Jesus declared God’s special concern for the oppressed.[6]

The real world defeat of the violence of the flesh inscribed with the law is accomplished in the suspension of this violent “ontology” and economy in the unifying peace of the body of Christ – this is the work for which the body was made.


[1] Walter Wink, The Powers That Be (p. 76). Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.

[2] Wink, 73-74).

[3] Wink, 69-70.

[4] Wink, 68

[5] Wink, 66.

[6] Wink, 65.

Maximus the Confessor: Knowing Christ as Breaking the Bonds of Human Knowledge

The parameters of human thought are captured in the statement, “Identity through difference reduces to sameness.” It is a plural parameter in that the first half of the statement captures the form of thought that is focused on difference. Greek dualism,[1] the Kantian distinction between noumena and phenomena, or the biblical portrayal of human knowledge as falling into the dialectical pairs of good and evil, illustrate some of the possible infinite pairs expressing a necessary difference. Language is structured on binaries and human entry into language depends upon the child entering into the capacity for differentiation, which is to say that identity through difference may describe philosophical or sociological possibilities all of which depend upon a more basic psychology.

Paul gives us the psychological form of the dialectic in Romans 7, in which the I is pitted against itself (I do what I do not want to do). He provides the religious form of the dialectic in his depiction of the Jewish reification of law and Jewishness (opposed to Gentiles). He depicts a sexual/psychological form of the dualism in the male/female duality, and he pictures a sociological dualism in the slave/free duality.

The second form of the parameter, the reduction to sameness, is often equated with eastern forms of monism or pantheism, which may also be a psychology, religion, and sociology. But to characterize the two forms of thought as eastern and western may be to miss that that identity through difference implies sameness. Hegel’s dialectic between death and life (or something and nothing), taken up by Heidegger, is indistinguishable from the Zen Buddhist thought of Nishida Kitaro (something Heidegger and Nishida recognized in one another). Just as with a “good” dependent on its opposite “evil” (as in the knowledge of good and evil), so too life dependent on death, or “something” dependent upon “nothing,” implicitly privileges evil, death and nothingness. Hegel, more than Heidegger, seems to recognize the inherent violence and evil (the necessity of the “slaughter bench of history”) grounding his dialectic, which the fascists (Heidegger and Nishida) served blindly. Though Sigmund Freud privileges the western notion of the ego and denigrates the drive to sameness, equating it with eastern religion (dubbing it the Nirvana Principle), in his later thought (emphasized by Jacques Lacan) he recognizes both phases of identity as part of the universal human sickness. The reality is that, though some may emphasize difference or sameness, the two are interdependent and always found together.

René Girard depicts sameness in terms of the undifferentiated violence which gripped the generation of Noah, constituting the flood. Universal destruction is a violent melding into the One. The resistance to sameness in the differentiation of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the Jewish Law, and the continual slide into idolatry, intermarriage, sexual and religious indifference, is the predominant story of the Bible. Differentiation turned into “absolute difference” (reification of the Law and Judaism) is the failure of thought attached perhaps to second Temple Judaism, pharisaic religion, or the religion practiced by Paul (the Pharisee) and his contemporaries. The absolute distinctions of Judaism in its depiction of God as holy and unapproachable, is the final preparation for the recognition of the revelation of the Messiah.

The New Testament depiction of the God/man ushers in a new order of knowing, psychology, sociology, and ultimately peace, founded upon knowing Christ rather than identity according to difference and sameness. It may be that Maximus the Confessor (580-662 A.D.) works out most completely how it is that Christ surpasses difference and sameness. Maximus comes at the end of a centuries long debate in which the heretical tendency was to either overemphasize the deity or the humanity  of Christ. The Council of Chalcedon makes a bald statement about the “hypostatic” union of deity and humanity in Christ:

of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood . . . recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.

The effort is to maintain the difference of two natures combined in one person, avoiding both difference of persons (there is a single unified person) yet maintaining difference of natures (yet “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation). What Maximus recognizes is this formula cannot be maintained on any other basis than that of Christ Jesus himself. Knowing Christ entails a new metaphysical understanding and an alternative epistemological order (knowing Christ is its own order of logic and its own order of being). To fit Christ to a Greek or any human frame of understanding will be to inevitably fall into identity through difference (an unapproachable transcendence) or sameness (immanence without transcendence). This is not simply a theoretical or philosophical danger, as Maximus recognizes that knowing Christ is a transformative knowing (involving deification or becoming united with Christ). How we know is determined, in this case, by who we know. Failing to know rightly, Maximus the Monk and ascetic recognizes, is to fail to know the love of God rightly. To enter into Trinitarian love is not a possibility available through human knowing, and human misunderstanding is not simply a failure to know rightly but this form of knowing is an obstacle to love.[2]

As Maximus explains in Ambigua (hereafter Amb.) 10 (explaining a statement of Gregory the Theologian that seems solely concentrated on reason and contemplation), true philosophy is always combined with true practice. He says “practice is absolutely conjoined with reason” as “right thinking” alone restrains “irrational impulses.” He describes the mode of human reason as clouded or veiled as it is misdirected from its telos of knowing God and is confined to “surface appearances” and is caught up “solely into what can be perceived by the senses, and so discovers angry passions, desires, and unseemly pleasures” (Amb. 10.7). He makes a distinction between knowing “polemically and agonistically” as opposed to a true rationality (Amb. 10.5). One can know through identity and difference (agonistically, polemically, dialectically), or one can know according to Christ.

True rationality will no longer play the contradictory game of imagining absolute difference as conceivable (the very ground of conception), and thus reducing it to sameness. Christ unifies what is absolutely transcendent and immanent, not in a new combination of these categories, but as their very definition.  As Jordan Wood puts it in regard to Maximus, “Divine and human natures are not only incommensurably different while perichoretically unified, but ineffably identical in Christ. . .. God is not merely transcendent, nor merely immanent, but is mysteriously the identity of both, and this renders him all the more transcendent.”[3]

Apart from Christ, transcendence is really a non-category, the equivalent of death or nothingness. That is, transcendence rendered as a mere negation, is no transcendence at all. God as an apophatic mystery is the equivalent of Heideggerian nothingness or Hegelian death. In both instances, the negation is the true power behind any positive being. By the same token, an apophatic God may serve as a reified nothingness – an absolute difference providing the background of all that is something. Though Maximus refers to the categories of transcendent and immanent or apophatic and cataphatic, these are not the basis of knowing nor do they constitute a metaphysical reality, as in Christ these categories are brought together such that Christ surpasses transcendence and immanence and apophatic and cataphatic. As Maximus writes,

As much as He became comprehensible through the fact of His birth, by so much more do we now know Him to be incomprehensible precisely because of that birth. “For He remains hidden even after His manifestation,” says the teacher, “or, to speak more divinely, He remains hidden in His manifestation. For the mystery remains concealed by Jesus, and can be drawn out by no word or mind, for even when spoken of, it remains ineffable, and when conceived, unknown. (Amb. 5.5)

Christ as the ground of true knowledge and true reason is not a ground that can be reduced or known on some other basis. This knowledge is ineffable, not in the sense that nothing or absence serves as the ground of knowing, but all knowing and all positive being gives itself in Christ as its own ground and is not apprehended on some other foundation. This is a positive transcendence – a new order of transcendence.

Beyond this, what could be a more compelling demonstration of the Divinity’s transcendence of being? For it discloses its concealment by means of a manifestation, its ineffability through speech, and its transcendent unknowability through the mind, and, to say what is greatest of all, it shows itself to be beyond being by entering essentially into being. (Amb. 5.5)

An immanent demonstration of transcendence or a manifestation of concealment or an articulation and knowability which reveals an inarticulate unknowability, is the only basis upon which transcendence is made known. It is only as Christ is beyond being that he can enter into being. What we learn in Christ is that a full transcendence is the basis for immanence. As Wood puts it, “He is not merely beyond knowability and unknowability (speech and silence, affirmation and negation, etc.). This very transcendence is what allows him to be both at once, and his being both at once is therefore the premiere index of this newly appreciable transcendence.”[4]

This seeming paradox is of the same order as the paradox that knowing does not serve as its own ground or that language arises from a deep grammar that is not itself subject to explanation. Christ is the foundation, the bedrock at which the spade is turned. Christ preserves absolute difference within the singular person he is (this is Maximus’ is), as the immanent manifestation of this absolute. This is a new order of transcendence and a new order of reason, bringing together what otherwise is radically separate, and bringing it together “without difference, without separation, and without distinction.”

As Maximus describes it in regard to Mary and Jesus’ virgin birth, the seemingly impossible is made possible and the paradoxical is rendered as part of a new order of understanding:

Thus, “though He was beyond being, He came into being,” fashioning within nature a new origin of creation and a different mode of birth, for He was conceived having become the seed of His own flesh, and He was born having become the seal of the virginity of the one who bore Him, showing that in her case mutually contradictory things can truly come together. For she herself is both virgin and mother, innovating nature by a coincidence of opposites, since virginity and childbearing are opposites, and no one would have been able to imagine their natural combination. Therefore the Virgin is truly “Theotokos,” for in a manner beyond nature, as if by seed, she conceived and gave birth to “the Word who is beyond being,” since the mother of one who was sown and conceived is properly she who gave Him birth. (Amb. 5.13)

Only one beyond being could so fashion being, providing the seed for his own flesh, preserving the virginity of His own Mother, and making her who is subject to His being, give birth to the one beyond being. “For ‘in a manner beyond’ us, the ‘Word beyond being truly assumed our being,’ and joined together the transcendent negation with the affirmation of our nature” thus His is a power “that is beyond infinity, recognized through the generation of opposites” (Amb. 5.14).

As Maximus notes, it is not as if human identity has its existence apart from the possibility of this reality found in Christ, as human “essence itself, which plainly is not a self-subsisting hypostasis, for it has no existence in and of itself, but instead receives its being in the person of God the Word, who truly assumed it” (Amb. 5.11). The identity of Christ as the God/man is not subsequent to human identity but is the very ground and source of human identity. It is only “in a manner beyond man,” that “He truly became man” and it is only due to His transcendence over nature that he came to be “according to nature, united and unimpaired” but this fact about who he is, the logic of the incarnation, is the logic of creation and of human identity. As Maximus succinctly puts it, “As God, He was the motivating principle of His own humanity, and as man He was the revelatory principle of His own divinity” (Amb. 5.18). Just as he is the ground of his humanity, he is the ground of all humanity, and this is made known in who he is. In all “that He did He confirmed the presence of the one through the other, since He is truly both” (God and man) (Amb. 5.17) and this difference is the ground of all human identity and the ground of true knowledge. “The conjunction of these was beyond what is possible, but He for whom nothing is impossible became their true union, and was the hypostasis in neither of them exclusively, in no way acting through one of the natures in separation from the other, but in all that He did He confirmed the presence of the one through the other, since He is truly both” (Amb. 5.17). Christ is the possibility and potentiality of what it means to be human. This possibility cannot be otherwise known or approached. The incarnate Christ is the very ground of human possibility, the purpose and ground of creation, and the understanding of this reality, like the reality itself, is only known though him.

Maximus is well aware that the temptation is to relinquish the absoluteness of divine transcendence or to make this absolute negation itself part of the typical dialectic constituting human knowledge: “it is not, as some would have it, “by the negation of two extremes that we arrive at an affirmation” of something in the middle, for there is no kind of intermediate nature in Christ that could be the positive remainder after the negation of two extremes” (Amb. 5.20). There is no dialectic between transcendence and immanence on the order of the Hegelian dialectic or the dialectic of the knowledge of good and evil. What is absolute remains absolute in the revelation and reality of Jesus Christ.


[1] Dualism is, of course, the wrong word, but it is a perceived dualism that functions through the contradictory notion of absolute difference (an inherent contradiction). There are no conceivable absolute differences as, if they are conceivable, they are not absolute. Absolute differences can in no way be brought together in human thought. It is also an obvious overgeneralization to simply portray Greek thought as working on this false dualism, as it too contains both forms of thought (e.g., Plato’s deployment of the chora).

[2] See Andrew Louth, Maximus the Confessor, (London: Routledge, 1996) 25-26.

[3] Jordan Daniel Wood, “Both Mere Man and Naked God: The Incarnational Logic of Apophasis in St. Maximus the Confessor”; in Maximus the Confessor as a European Philosopher (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2017) 111.

[4] Wood, 117.

Introducing the Course on Sin and Salvation

A nonviolent atonement is an entry point that takes into account all of theology. The work of Christ understood as peaceable (throughout) is not a sub-point to the doctrine of God (God is nonviolent and establishing peace), to hermeneutics (peace is integral to the method), to cosmology (the universe is not a dualism but contains the harmony of the Creator), to hamartiology (sin is violence), or to ecclesiology (the church is to be a culture of peace); rather all of these (and the entire theological catalog) are determined together and to separate them is already to have made a decision about each (an incorporation of violence). How each is treated is determined by the whole and vice versa. One might argue that a violent theory of atonement will result in its own sort of coherence, making God the perpetrator of violence, dependent on a violent hermeneutic (incorporating a violent image of God into the image of Christ’s Father), and dependent on a violent cosmology (a cosmic dualism), and constituting a violent ecclesiology (the Church must make its concessions to violence in a variety of forms), but the person and teaching of Christ sticks out as the exception (though, ironically, there are a variety of ways of glossing over Jesus). But where Christ is made central (the hermeneutic key) – not only in reading the Bible but in apprehending God, understanding creation, recognizing the purposes of the church, etc., then peace is the coherent frame in which doctrine holds together.

The peculiar problem with this understanding is entry into the difference of this Christocentric understanding (depicted by Karl Barth – but which is true to the patristic understanding). How do we get there from somewhere else?

So, for example, how do we read the Bible? Do we make this decision apart from our understanding of who Christ is or is this too determined in conjunction with our understanding of the peace of Christ? Is the Bible a book of eternal trues or is it a by-product of the age that produced it (the fundamentalist and liberal choice, respectively) or can we see revelation unfolding such that the work of Christ functions as the hermeneutic key, bringing coherence where there would otherwise be contradiction? What one does with the contrast between the violence of the Old Testament and the peace of Christ is not only determinate of the view of God, of the Bible, of the meaning of Christianity, but ultimately it is an insight into how self and world are apprehended. What one does with the former picture (the God first glimpsed in revelation) in light of the revelation of the latter (the fulness of Christ), is the very question which the revelation of Christ raises. Hermeneutics must be centered on the peace of Christ or there is no coherent doctrine of revelation or of God.

Or, to take another example, how do we understand the history of the church? Does church history bear an authority that floats free of the specific work of Christ? Two things are clear from the teaching of the early Church prior to Constantine: 1. Christians were forbidden to participate in violence or in those professions connected to violence. 2. Violence is such a pervasive and deeply rooted problem that it often went unnamed and unrecognized even among those advocating its abolition. For example, Tertullian forbids any form of participation in violence for Christians, declaring: “But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?” A Christian, must not bear the sword in any circumstance as the Lord, “in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.” [1]  Yet, Tertullian could also revel in the potential delights of watching his enemies suffer: “What sight shall wake my wonder, what my laughter, my joy, my exaltation?—as I see all those kings, those great kings, unwelcomed in heaven, along with Jove, along with those who told of their ascent, groaning in the depths of darkness!”[2]  Tertullian completely rejected violence, in so far as he understood it but he was simply blind to the violence he projected onto God and which he still harbored in himself. If Christ institutes peace in place of violence, the presumption is that the atonement is aimed at defeating violence throughout. But the extent of violence is not a fully worked out understanding in the early church so that only an unfolding Christocentrism (a gradually realized atonement) holds together the contradictions of history. 

This problem is compounded with the conversion of Constantine (under whom violence is still equated with sin, but is now allowed) and the developments of Augustinianism (dualism, original sin, etc., which make violence inevitable) which feed into Anselm’s rational theology (the ground of a violent atonement), culminating in Lutheranism and Calvinism (giving rise to penal substitution and endorsement of state violence). It becomes nearly impossible to begin with a positive theology of atonement without deconstructing this error. To state the situation most darkly, a mistranslation (of Ro 5:12) gives rise to sin as a mystery – and this nonsensical notion gives rise to an equally mysterious and nonsensical notion of salvation (divine satisfaction and penal substitution) and an entire system which, in each of its parts, has nothing to do with New Testament Christianity. Total depravity of the entire race gives rise to unconditional election – divine fiat that cannot be penetrated with any insight. This cannot include all (limited atonement) and all of this is built on a flattening out and rendering irrelevant of human will and action (irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints). Where Christ is removed from the center it is questionable if what survives can be called Christianity.

Perhaps the primary tragedy of this misreading is that it renders Christianity irrelevant to real world problems and the reality of the solution Christ provides. But in another sense, this simply returns us to square one – humans have been deceived and religion plays a primary role in that deception. Christ is the resolution to a problem we do not understand apart from his exposure of the problem (again, Christocentrism as opposed to beginning with Augustine’s original sin and all that follows), as stupidity, ignorance, false sophistication, having believed a lie, is part of the problem he exposes (I Cor. 1:20). The answer comes prior to the diagnosis because the disease is one of deception.

Strangely, the theological explanation is, as Anselm and Calvin recognized, in regard to the law, but they make the law explanation of sin and reduce the work of Christ to satisfying a law. Salvation is reduced to payment of a debt or penalty (rather than defeat and deliverance from evil). The biblical picture is that sin involves a misorientation to the law, grounding itself in the very lie that Anselm and Calvin promote. That is, the lie is that the law is the arbiter of life (there is life in the law) and death. This is not only the depiction of sin but gets at the root of evil (the outworking of the law of sin and death) defeated in Christ’s suspension of the law. He does indeed suspend the punishment of the law, but this law and punishment are not from God but is at the root of human evil in its destructive power.

Once the ground clearing is complete, it is obvious the biblical conception of sin and the sinful Subject is built upon a very specific deception, detailed in Genesis, renamed the covenant with death in Isaiah, described as a poisonous lie, a throat shaped sarcophagus, and a bloody path of violence in the Psalms. Paul’s summation of the sin problem calls upon the fulness of this Old Testament depiction, both to describe the problem and Christ’s defeat of the problem. Being baptized into the death of Christ directly confronts the sin condition because sin is entangled with the primordial deception regarding death which amounts to an active taking up of death (Ro 5:12 rightly understood). Death as a lifestyle speaks not only of outward violence but of an inward destructiveness (a psychology of death), and salvation from this orientation to death (death-in-life) is through life in the midst of death.

With a long nod to René Girard, who explains how violent sacrifice/death is projected onto the gods as the genesis of all things, the myth/lie of sacred violence can be dispelled through Christ (even in its Christian form). With the exposure of the lie a series of modern idols (nationalism, capitalism, racism) are exposed as part of the same reifying lie. To put it in the context of Genesis, there are endless means and material for creating a false covering (leaves, sacrificial religion, nationalism, capital, race, etc.) all of which involve a turn to death and violence. Christ does not participate or succumb to sacred violence, but exposes and defeats it. 

Enroll in the course, Sin and Salvation: An in-depth study of sin and salvation with a focus on the meaning of the atonement (2022/1/31–2022/3/25).


[1] Tertullian (145-220 AD) in On Idolatry

[2] Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30. Translation by Carlin Barton in Barton and Boyarin, Imagine No Religion, 68. From https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/sites/ca.grebel/files/uploads/files/cgr_35-3_otto.pdf

Quilting Points Versus Being Clothed in Christ

Maybe it is, as Adam Philips has noted, that the most important fact about us is that we are born helpless, totally dependent upon others.[1] As Freud noted, the child’s experience of hunger, separation, and excitation is overwhelming and the drive to gain control marks all of human life.[2] We begin as helpless, overwhelmed by the chaos of uncontrollable emotions and desires, and we would hold together by attaching ourselves to defenses against this condition. Identity (individual and corporate) serves this purpose, and it is out of the web of associations (means of cohering), large and small that we attempt to ward off fear. Total vulnerability gives rise to pursuit of total invulnerability or total mastery. Being subject gives rise to the drive to subject. What the world offers is various means of quilting together the fabric of our lives so as to resist the continual threat of unravelling.

Jacques Lacan captures this process in his notion of the quilting point, which attempts to explain how the historical and social reality one inhabits become subjectivized. Contained within his explanation there is a picture of a two-fold process explaining how the social world becomes comprehensible and how I become comprehensible to myself, having an identity or unity as one experiencing the world. It is not as if the social world offers meaning that coheres differently than the individual, but both come to bear the semblance of coherence through the same process.

As Slavoj Žižek explains it, the quilting point sutures the field of the signifier (the sign, language, etc.) and the signified (what the word indicates), but in the Lacanian frame, these are not really two realms apart, as “the signifier falls into the signified.” That is the word or name seems to suture together a realm of disparate things by being included or counted as a thing itself. Žižek captures this in a series of jokes: “Socialism is the synthesis of the highest achievements of all previous historical epochs: from tribal society, it took barbarism, from Antiquity, it took slavery, from feudalism, it took relations of domination, from capitalism, it took exploitation, and from socialism, it took the name.” That is the name, in the old Polish anti-communist joke, stitches together things that should not be held together and do so only in sharing the name. So too with the anti-Semitic image of the Jew: “From the rich bankers, it took financial speculation, from capitalists, it took exploitation, from lawyers, it took legal trickery, from corrupt journalists, it took media manipulation, from the poor, it took indifference towards hygiene, from sexual libertines it took promiscuity, and from the Jews it took the name.”[3] The point of the joke is precisely the quilting point – these things do not really hold together but are contradictory and disparate and are given the appearance of holding together through the name.

Maybe it can be stated even more sharply in that the contradiction inherent to the quilting point is not simply conveniently covered over but is necessary (the force) to the internal (il)logic of the system. From out of the chaos arises unity, not because there is any actual coherence but because the world threatens and this very threat or violence must be tamed. The entry into a coherent or unified understanding, the ability to name and control the chaos, depends upon the continual threat of the chaos. That is, the unity that we would impose on the world is a desperate fiction in which our own survival is at stake. Whether it is the child gazing in the mirror and arriving at the imagined I by means of which it will hold all of the appetites, desires, and urges at bay, or the Nazi who needs the Jew to give a focal point to threat and control by which his world holds together.  

The Germans, for example, after the defeat of WW I arrived at the singular explanation which would give new life to the nation: “following their ‘undeserved’ military defeat, the German people were disoriented, thrown into a situation of economic crisis, political inefficiency, and moral degeneration— and the Nazis offered a single agent which accounted for it all: the Jew, the Jewish plot.”[4] So too the world of the white racist is given coherence through the black other, the post 9/11 American nationalist requires the Muslim other, but so too every identity depends primarily on a quilting point. Nothing new is added by the name, but now this nothing (the meaningless signifier) unites disparate features and properties into a singular thing – the name. So ultimately the signifier is the signified. The sign is reified so that it functions as an actually existing object, when in reality it is a forced fictional unity. But beginning with the child’s earliest reflexive identity, isn’t this always the role assigned to language?

As in René Girard’s scapegoating theory, the scapegoat is perceived to contain both the disruptive element to the culture or tribe, but then upon being sacrificed, the group coheres around the sacralized scapegoat/victim who has warded off danger (the very danger he bore) and brought about unity. The scapegoat functions as a master signifier, simultaneously containing and holding at bay a perceived chaos. In post Christian society, in which the scapegoat mechanism is no longer effective, the chosen trauma and chosen glory, in the description of Vamik Volkan, does not fold into a singular person or group but the same process is at work.

In a real or perceived past event, in which a group suffered loss or experienced helplessness and humiliation at the hands of a neighboring group, this trauma may become the “trauma of choice” – the shared traumatic event marking a people and linking them together. In Lacanian terms, the chosen trauma is a quilting point, inseparable from group identity, and leaders may call upon the trauma, reactivating it during times of conflict or crisis. For example, “Czechs commemorate the battle of Bila Hora in 1620 which led to their subjugation under the Hapsburg Empire for nearly 300 years. Scots keep alive the story of the battle of Culloden in 1746 and the failure of Bonnie Prince Charlie to restore a Stuart to the throne. The Lakota Indians of the United States recall the anniversary of their decimation at Wounded Knee in 1890, and Crimean Tatars define themselves by the collective suffering of their deportation from Crimea in 1944.”[5]

The idea behind calling upon the trauma in times of conflict is to legitimate inflicting suffering on those (or their stand ins) who have caused the trauma. “Remember the Alamo” became the rallying cry for slaughter of Mexicans. On the other hand, September 11th is justification for the slaughter of a people that had nothing to do with the event. The Jewish Holocaust is justification for Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. The Serbs’ chosen trauma, the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, was the rallying cry connected to the atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The bombing of a military installation at Pearl Harbor, would result in the firebombing of Tokyo and the complete devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Likewise, the Nazi slaughter of civilians would result in the allies also targeting civilian populations. Through the twisted illogic of trauma as a node of identity, there is an intrinsic clinging to the perceived “necessity” of making the other suffer. In Girardian terms, a country takes on the look of its enemy in a large-scale mimesis.

By the same token, large groups have ritualistic recollections of shared success or triumph which function as chosen glories. According to Volkan, “Past victories in battle and great accomplishments of a technical or artistic nature frequently appear as chosen glories; virtually every large group (i.e., ethnic) has tales of grandeur associated with its creation.”[6] As with chosen trauma, chosen glory may be recent or ancient, real or mythological, but it also serves to bind groups together. Though chosen trauma and chosen glory cannot neatly fold into a singular scapegoat, nonetheless it is clear the two are tied together. The humiliation of Pearl Harbor and German aggression is integral to the notion of the “good war” and the “greatest generation”; “taxation without representation” is tied to the Boston Tea Party and George Washington triumphantly crossing the Delaware; the destruction of the Twin Towers and the killing of Osama bin Laden, are inextricably tied together. The chosen trauma gives substance and justification to the chosen glory.

This is not to suggest that character and personality are simply a by-product of this process, but the quilting point (a master signifier) or a shared trauma and shared glory provide the material (the quilt, or in Volkan’s terminology, the tent) from out of which we cover or clothe ourselves. We find ourselves as parts of large groups in which the nation, tribe, and extended family are determinate. Individually, we may think of career or artistic or athletic ability as unique to our identity, but what holds us together on a larger scale is incorporation into a shared core identity. While one might lose their job, their spouse, their talent or athletic ability, when one loses this core identity there is complete decomposition into what Volkan calls “psychological death.” The result may be schizophrenia, total anxiety and terror, or escape into a new core identity. One must be clothed with an identity, as to be unclothed is intolerable.

Genesis depicts this unclothed trauma, this shame, as an experience of death. The first couple deploy language (the knowledge of good and evil) as something like a quilting point (a new master signifier), deploying signs as if they could provide identity (God-likeness). So far as we know this is the condition of their offspring. Not that they bear some Augustinian Original Sin, but they pass on to their offspring the clothing problem and the language problem, as is evidenced in the psychopathic killers of the generation of Noah and the Babelites. This attempt to quilt a new cover gives rise, not only to their own experience of death, but to a series of murders and eventually to a chaos of signifiers.

The only resolution to this clothing problem and language problem, in Scripture, is the depiction of being clothed in the Word of Christ. In one of the final scenes of the Bible, the Messiah or rider on the white horse, comes with a new form of clothing.  “He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God (Re 19:13). The language problem, the clothing problem, and the inherent violence involved are addressed by the Word who provides each of his followers new clothing: “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (Re 19:14).

Could it be that the story of redemption is this: the recognition of the failed quilting point, the chosen traumas and chosen glories out of which we would fabricate a violent identity, and that in the recognition we are simultaneously provided an alternative Word and identity so as to clothe ourselves in the garments of peace?  


[1] Joan Acocella, “This Is Your Life: A psychoanalytic writer urges us to just deal with it.” The New Yorker (February 17, 2013), https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/02/25/this-is-your-life-2

[2] See Simone Drichel, “Reframing Vulnerability: ‘so obviously the problem…’?” in SubStance, Volume 42, Number 3, 2013 (Issue 132), pp. 3-27. https://www.otago.ac.nz/english-linguistics/otago596051.pdf

[3] Zizek, Slavoj. Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 13288-13300). Norton. Kindle Edition.

[4] Žižek, 13307-13311.

[5] Vamık D. Volkan “Transgenerational Transmissions and ‘Chosen Trauma’: An Element of Large-Group Identity” (Opening Address XIII International Congress International Association of Group Psychotherapy August, 1998),

[6] Volkan, Psychopolitical Concepts, Paper presented at the European Association of Transcultural Analysis Workshop, Budapest- May 25-28, 2006. https://www.academia.edu/24667252/PSYCHOPOLITICAL_CONCEPTS

The Origin of Language and the Nature of Salvation

The theory of Noam Chomsky and of René Girard set forth a different focus on the origin of human language, with Chomsky focused on the necessary preexistence of a “language module” (a black box containing the capacity for language) and Girard focused on mimetic rivalry, and through the scapegoat the rise of a symbolic and sacred order. For Girard the capacity for language would be driven through the need or circumstance in which symbolization resolves or suspends generalized violence, while for Chomsky the leap to language and symbolization requires an already existing innate capacity. For Girard, the societal need would give rise to the capacity, which should be traceable through its unfolding grammatical impact, but (as discovered in the wake of Chomsky) syntactic complexity is equal across all known languages and there is no residual sign within language of an evolving capacity or complexity. There are no “primitive” languages, which supports (though not decisively) Chomsky’s picture of an already existing capacity necessary to language. This may be a long way around to posing the question of whether, with Girard, we can trace the origins of language to its implication in violence, or whether as with Chomsky, there is no determined origin for language, violent or otherwise? Are humans always negotiating the problem of violence as part of what it means to speak, or is violence subsequent to and not a necessary part of human language?

 In theological terms, are humans stuck in a violent metaphysics because their language fosters this singular orientation? Are we so steeped in a meaning derived from violence, whether conscious or unconscious, that there is no conceptual ground from which to make out or discern an alternative? Or can Girard be supplemented with Chomsky so that, as in the biblical depiction, humans begin with an uncorrupted capacity for language which is corrupted by what is done with this capacity.

 In Anthony Bartlett’s depiction, Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry and the discovery of the scapegoating mechanism, are a necessary step in evolutionary development,[1] which would seem to be on the order of Hegel’s depiction of the necessity of the fall for cognition or the Calvinist notion that sin and evil are a necessary step in salvation. The nearest equivalent is Lacanian psychoanalysis which attaches human personhood to a primordial but necessary lie. Is Girard’s depiction of human deception, in mimetic rivalry and the scapegoat mechanism, a necessary step in human evolution or a misstep in human de-evolution? It is a question that Bartlett makes worthwhile, but even his own cumulative evidence points to a more nuanced Chomsky-like biblical depiction. In fact, his book can be read as giving clearer support to this slightly different premise.

 Either way, revelation would necessarily entail a radical departure and breaking in, and to the degree that theology has girded itself with a Greek philosophical understanding it has a hidden and necessary violence at its origins. This is the charge Bartlett levels at the Thomistic understanding of God (along with Anselm or any theology which would employ Greek philosophical thought). As first cause of everything (being), according to Bartlett, “God here reinforces a hierarchical order of origin, authority, and, necessarily, violence.”[2] Only the unadulterated Word intervenes so as to foster transformation beyond scapegoating and violence, and it is only the cross which brings about this semiotic transformation (an alternative meaning with an alternative center).  In Bartlett’s description, the concept of god carries the metaphysical baggage of violence (with all this entails in terms of religion and human institutions), while the God of revelation infiltrates and challenges this conception.

Bartlett lines up the linguistic turn in 20th century thought to make the case that semiotics, or the study of signs, reveals a dependence on negation, otherness, absence, or nothingness, which is inherent to the sign system. The theory of Ferdinand de Saussure, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, and John Deely, converge on the notion that “being,” which cannot be posited apart from its apprehension in language, already contains the antagonistic otherness of the sign. There is no being apart from its sign, and the sign contains or sets forth meaning in its separateness from the biological world. Both being and the sign refer to an extended, infinite, otherness. “The world itself is the ‘other,’ rendered present in a sign, yet strange, infinite, congenitally open itself, by virtue of the mysterious, ‘nihilating’ event of the sacred.”[3] In Girard’s terms, the original murder is hidden in the sign as that which is negated and this compelling emptiness or otherness requires another sign, so that the signifying chain covers over the original absence (murder), as in Derrida’s “deferral” of meaning (to define one word requires a multiplicity of words – ad infinitum), or Heidegger’s and Hegel’s nothingness (the other over and against which all else, something, derives its meaning). The conclusion: to imagine God on the basis of the sign of being is to project violent mimetic desire and sacrifice onto God.  

The question is whether Bartlett’s notion of the origin of language actually fits his Girardian reading of the Old Testament, or does it fit better with Chomsky’s model combined with Girard and a more traditional reading of Genesis. Is there room in violently determined language for the understanding that the Old Testament already fosters, in part and in shadows, the understanding culminating in Christ (e.g., in the story of Joseph and his brothers, in the depiction of Solomon’s wisdom)? Bartlett pictures the creation account in Genesis as containing an original peace which stands in contrast to other creation myths and he quotes from the prophetic tradition depicting the revelation of God as completely over and against human understanding. As he puts it, “How could the experience of violent mimetic crisis leading to sacrifice give any authentic sense of the God who said, ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isa 55:9).”[4] The question is, how can God’s voice break through to his human prophetic vessels? If, in the words of Giambattista Vico, the world of human beings, including their deployment of signs, is made by human beings, then what room for the voice of God in human language.

A differently nuanced understanding, which would accommodate both Girard and Chomsky, is to picture the human predicament, not as endemic to the origins of language, but concerning, rather, the orientation to language. The biblical picture poses the possibility of an original image or an original language untainted by violence (an image we can see in every child). The original connection to nature and to God, however one might read Genesis, points to something other than a total incapacity or a total lack of access to reality. This fits what we find in both people and the Bible. Humans are inherently capable, no matter their race, religion, or place of origin, of developing deep and abiding insights about reality, though they are still given over to violence and the world of unreality indicated by Girard. The biblical nuance is of a capacity that is obscured by assigning to language (the knowledge of good and evil) an inherent capacity for the divine (for being like God and escaping death) that displaces God. But what the biblical picture (aligned with both Chomsky and Girard) allows for and points toward is human agency (self-deception) at work in the deception and displacement.  

Bartlett’s theory, like the notion of total depravity, considers human understanding tainted at its source. In turn, what God has brought about is not simply a reorientation to or within language but a whole new mode of code making. “If there is a God and this God cares for the world, then it is by changing the actual root dynamic of our codes that God intends to save us.”[5] If he means by this that the orientation to law and language, and not language and law per se, are the root problem from which we are saved, this is a deep insight that accords with the New Testament. But if he means that language per se is the problem, one wonders if this fits his own semiotic picture of meaning as something which arises between signs (within language) as part of the dynamic of language.

As both Saussure and Claude Lévi-Strauss conclude, it is not the signs or the terms themselves, but the relationship between terms which bear meaning. This moveable or transposable middle (between terms) allows for meaning in the opening to the possibility of a lie. Both possibilities arise as there is no necessity, biological or ontological, in the arbitrary sounds or signs that make up language. There is an arbitrariness to language and human culture which is “inevitably” codified into laws, which make the arbitrary “essential” to the culture and to what it means to be human. The big lie is to imagine this arbitrary and ever dynamic sign system can be frozen into law and made to serve as an unchanging stairway to heaven. The biblical depiction of a stone tower reaching to the heavens captures the notion of language set in stone as the avenue to God and life. It is not a problem that people speak, make laws, and build towers, it is that they imagine their arbitrary and limited understanding is of eternal, life-giving significance.

 Lévi-Strauss applied Saussure’s insight to kinship relations, to indicate that what was important was not any specific relationship but pairs of relationships or oppositional pairs which control other pairs in endless correlations and inversions. For example, a familiar relationship between father and son was paralleled by a rigid taboo between brother and sister; or this could be inverted among a different people with a close relationship between brother and sister and a rigid one between father and son. As Lévi-Strauss explains, “A kinship system does not consist in the objective ties of descent or consanguinity between individuals. It exists only in human consciousness; it is an arbitrary system of representations, not the spontaneous development of a real situation.”[6] Yet, by definition the arbitrary kinship system of a particular culture is protected by sacred immovable boundaries definitive of a people and equated with what it means to be human.

 In biblical terms, the problem is not a particular law or set of laws, but the problem arises when these laws are equated with sacred boundaries marking off life and death or “we the people” from the surrounding non-people. These laws, by their very nature, were subject to being inverted and subverted among other people or tribes. This arbitrariness and human origin of law is a continuous refrain among a segment of the prophets. The laws regarding sacrifice, marriage (polygamy, divorce), food laws, or the code surrounding the Temple and its priests, are pronounced non-essential in this minority report. “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.  But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me” (Ho 6:6-7). The covenant concerns a loyalty and knowledge which cannot be codified, and the failure to keep covenant involves mistaking the arbitrary for the essential and losing what is essential.

Bartlett develops this semiotic nature of language, or the relation between terms, as key to his understanding of the work of Christ. In a meditation on John, the book of signs, he demonstrates that Christ reconstitutes the human sign system by emptying it of violence. This culminates in his intervention into the sign or taboo of consuming human flesh and blood. “The primitive semiotic boundaries against eating human flesh and drinking blood could only be undone by a revolution in human and theological meaning, when a particular flesh and blood became an event of absolute nonviolence and peace.”[7] The shift from a sacrificial system which would feed God (human flesh, animal flesh, etc.) to one in which God is the food, marks the ultimate intervention into human prohibitions. The point is to overturn a fixed, law-bound meaning attached to violence and to open a semiotic register free from violence. “’Eating and drinking Jesus’ are signs then of an entirely new semiosis and anthropology, and it is only by meditating continually on the total collapse of the old human way that they are saved from being simply an outrage.”[8] As Bartlett points out, this was quickly returned to the sacrificial form of sacred by Anselm and a major portion of the Western church, so that the gospel is veiled. (This veiling seems to fit with a truth that was not an impossibility, which Paul describes as veiled by the law, but which is permanently unveiled by Christ (2 Cor 3:14).)

In conclusion, Bartlett explains the work of God is to bring about a semiotic shift, “Because human meaning is constructed originally out of violence, its inversion and subversion in the nonviolence of the cross constructs at once a new fundamental relation and, therewith, a completely new possible universe.”[9] This conclusion does not make allowance for human agency as portrayed in the OT (indicated in the arbitrariness demonstrated in language and culture) and it assigns a necessary role to violence in the development of meaning and language. I would question whether Bartlett requires this origin story for the key part of his argument. One could concur with the latter half of his statement (which includes most of the argument of his book), that it is the inversion and subversion, a necessary possibility within language, which Christ enacts in his incarnation. Perhaps this is not “a completely new possible universe” but the completion of creation realigned with its foreordained purpose found in the original Logos.

To state it plainly, Girard’s theory still holds in my understanding, but not omni-competently (an explanation of everything) so that it may describe universal historical developments which are not tied to syntactic or semiotic evolution (an explanation for language) but to a universal human failure overturned by Christ.


[1] Anthony Bartlett, Theology Beyond Metaphysics: Transformative Semiotics of René Girard (Cascade Books, 2020). I have to thank Tim, again, for the gift of this fine book. Bartlett unifies and makes accessible the turn to semiotics as itself a significant theological indicator. So, this initial critique is in no way a dismissal of the book or even the theory Bartlett is setting forth, but I think the theory needs slight revision.

[2] Ibid. 91

[3] Ibid. 97.

[4] Ibid. 98

[5] Ibid. 129

[6] Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, 50. Quoted in Bartlett, 35.

[7] Ibid. 171

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. 162