Scapegoating and Violence: Understanding René Girard

Rev. Katherine B. Ray Protestant Perspectives 1481 Comments

I have a confession: I have harbored an instinctive aversion to René Girard since the first time I read his seminal work Violence and the Sacred.  I resist sweeping theories that attempt to account for the entire nature and destiny of humankind.  It seems like an arrogant enterprise.  So when right-wing, millennial commentator Tomi Lahren tells Daily Show host Trevor Noah that Black Lives Matter is the new KKK, I took it like a kick to the stomach.   The first reason is because it seems unconscionable to compare a protest group to a network of individuals that systematically terrorized, raped, tortured, and murdered African Americans for over a century.  The second reason is because it forced me to concede, and not for the first time, that Girard got a few things right.  Viewed through his theory of scapegoating, Lahren’s theory, while still outrageous, also makes complete sense.  Furthermore, Girard’s theory of Christ offers insight into how I, outraged as I am, might respond both to Lahren and the reactionary culture that birthed her.      Two key concepts are essential to Girard’s thought: mimesis and scapegoating.  Even if philosophy is not your cup of tea, once you grasp these two concepts, you are well on your way to having a functioning Girardian lens.  Let’s begin with mimesis:

The Criminal Christ: Finding Jesus Amidst A War on Drugs 

Rev. Katherine B. Ray Protestant Perspectives

“Theology and Peace” is an informal association of pastors, theologians, and lay people that seeks to advance the intellectual work of philosopher Rene Girard as the basis for transforming North American Christianity. On May 24-26, this group held its 9th annual conference in Northbrook, Illinois on the topic “People and Policing: Compassion for OUR Violence.” CNDP Project Coordinator Rev. Kathryn Ray offers the following reflection. “My son was about two years old.  I had taken him to the park to play… Two little boys, one blond-haired, the other red-headed, ran down to the car where my son was playing. Seeing them coming, my son immediately jumped out… The little red-headed boy… saw my son looking on… With all the venom that a seven- or eight-year-old boy could muster, he pointed his finger at my son and said, ‘You better stop looking at us, before I put you in jail where you belong. … At two years old my son was already viewed as a criminal.” (pp. 86-7) In her book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas shares this story to illustrate the depth to which the criminalization of African-American men and boys has permeated the American psyche. In 2012, a neighborhood watch captain singled out Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, as “suspicious” character, pursued him, and killed him.  In acquitting his killer, the jury determined this characterization to be justified.  Trayvon Martin had not committed a crime. But like Kelly Brown Douglas’s son, he had been criminalized- he had been named “criminal” by another. The label led to his murder.

The Drug War from an Islamic Perspective

Rev. Katherine B. Ray Mandatory Minimums, Muslim Perspectives, Racial Inequality

Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid is president of Sound Vision, an Islamic not-for-profit organization. “It will lead to the escalation of the social and armed conflict, fail to solve the drug trafficking problem, endanger the peace process, attack indigenous populations’ culture and lifestyles, seriously hamper the Amazon eco-system, worsen the humanitarian and human rights crisis, promote forced displacement, and further worsen the social and political crisis,” wrote a coalition of 73 Colombian non-governmental organizations to the United States 15 years ago. With such dire warnings and dangerous rhetoric, what “it” could they be referring to? None other than the so-called American “War on Drugs.”  These far-reaching social implications mirror those of the War on Terror, another example of military rhetoric that some United States officials use to describe social policy agendas.

The New Jim Crow

Revisiting the New Jim Crow

Rev. Katherine B. Ray Decriminalization, Mandatory Minimums, Opinion, Racial Inequality

By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Have you ever known something to be true, and then felt that you were discovering it again for the first time? Grief can be like this: you think you have come to terms with a loss, and then realize you have not. This happened to me last week as I reread Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. What struck me was not just the absurdity and cruelty of our drug laws. It was the degree to which we have created an entire criminal justice system that conspires against those who are black, brown, and poor. All parts work in relentless sequence against whoever has been drawn in.