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Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Girard

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I love big ideas that explain many things (see Edwin Friedman). René Girard’s big idea is to see a cyclical process of imitation (what he calls mimesis) and violence everywhere.

The cycle is as follows:

  1. Human beings are imitative people: we see what someone else is doing and are interested in doing the same. Deep down, this is because we see what someone else desires and we desire it for ourselves.
  2. This may begin quite innocently; for example, who can fault the desire to be a skilled musician? But it often escalates to a competitive situation: envy. Some situations may be zero–sum (e.g., two men desiring the same woman), while others may not be (there is room in the world for many great musicians). However, even situations that are not zero–sum result in envious competition, because what is really desired is the praise of men.
  3. It only takes two people for envy and scapegoating to happen. But within a society or community, it gains additional power as other people coalesce around the competition. This process is compelling because taking sides allows people to overcome their usual differences and experience unity. Thus, the competition escalates.
  4. The escalation results in violence, which can be ended only with a scapegoat: ideally, one party confesses guilt. In any case, that party is expelled in some sense.
  5. Over time a society buries the memory of its own guilt, and the expelled party becomes lionized as kind of hero or savior, with the narrative that they brought both unity and relief to the violence. (This is how myth begins.)
  6. However, this perverse cycle repeats indefinitely in a culture. Although it is evil, it is difficult to rid a culture of the scapegoating cycle because it is so (temporarily) cathartic.

Girard expertly identifies this pattern at work across a wide variety of situations in myth, scripture, history, and current events. While he may at times seem to be using his hammer to turn everything into a nail, it is amazing how many nails he finds. The scapegoating process is everywhere.

In Girard’s telling, there are a number of Biblical stories such as Job (who we should read first and foremost as a type of Jesus) that expose this process, but without giving way to it. Jesus’s own death is the great true–myth that is able to expose the scapegoating process, and therefore deal a final blow to it. Girard himself was brought to faith by his discovery that the Biblical stories all expose and defeat scapegoating, unlike any other stories.

Part of the reason that the scapegoating process is so powerful is that it is a justification mechanism. If you can demonize your opponent, then you are justified in whatever you have done or will do to him to gain the advantage. But there is also a kind of feedback loop here: the more we magnify the evil of our opponents, the smaller our own sins become. This enables us to feel justified in all our sins, even if they have nothing to do with the cause or opponent we are fighting. Whom do you despise? You are quite likely scapegoating them to feel justified in yourself. Especially if you despise them together with someone else, allowing you to feel a deeper unity in your justified despising.

This process obviously fails to justify us whatsoever. But what is amazing is that Jesus by his death as our scapegoat actually accomplishes our justification! However, in order to appropriate his justification, you must repent of your sins (including admitting to any scapegoating you have engaged in) and you must agree with his innocence. This completely reverses the pagan scapegoating process, where the scapegoat is made to plead guilty. (Cancel culture and watchblogging are evil things even when their broken clocks happen to tell the right time). If you make Jesus your scapegoat by hating him and persecuting his people, then you are not justified. But if you accept Jesus as your gift–scapegoat, then you are justified.

In order for Jesus’s kingdom to grow, we must become like him. This means that we resist and expose the scapegoating process wherever it appears, instead calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus. The church is often called to suffer like Jesus for the sake of the world, but equally like Jesus we refuse to agree with the false charges of our enemies. And while our growth in righteousness and mission requires us to faithfully imitate Jesus in all these ways, we must at the same time be watchful of ourselves, lest we allow our imitation of him to devolve into a pagan competition.

Additional resources and reading

Written by Scott Moonen

March 27, 2020 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Various

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If you don’t yet follow Wrath of Gnon, you should.

This is beautiful: The Sound of the Hagia Sophia.

Here are some fascinating pictures of the locusts in Africa.

North Carolina had a couple of earthquakes in the western part of the state this past weekend, but we felt nothing here.

Christian Leithart thinks about how to panic sensibly.

So do Squirrel Nut Zippers. From “La Grippe”:

There’s an Asian influenza
Infecting us all by the scores
And it’s turning into pneumonia
We must go out once more . . .
So we must go out and dance around

Have a look at Jelle’s Marble Runs and see if you can resist getting completely absorbed.

For fun, the kids and I were working through the alphabet on a theme of food, somehow coming to focus especially on fish. Asher pounced on G with the offering: ghoti. Ha!

My county library has Lewis’s space trilogy available in audiobook form. I’ve just finished listening to it after first reading the books eight years ago. I’m freshly encouraged in the task of Christian living (Lewis is quite the Kuyperian Chestertonian, isn’t he?), and also again amazed at Lewis’s Issacharian insight into our times in That Hideous Strength. I need to revisit these more often.

Mark Horne just published his reflections on Proverbs. It is outstanding; pick one up for yourself and for each of the young people in your life. Mark also reflects on current events and how wisdom takes some work and wrestling. You should follow Mark too.

Lord willing, Peter Leithart is coming to the Triangle in April to teach on worship. I’m looking forward to it; join me!

I’ve been appealing to Occam’s razor lately as a rule for evaluating architectural decisions and their tradeoffs. In particular, architectural decisions must take into account not only ideal considerations, but also a team’s capacity to develop, maintain, and support these decisions. Simplicity has its own rewards regardless of the size of your team, but the smaller the team, the more aggressively you must press for that simplicity. Don’t multiply entities unnecessarily!

My pastor touched on Hebrews 12 and shaking this past Sunday. A preterist reading of this and the wider context adds (but does not subtract) helpful insights. Certainly we are to cherish the hope that one day we will live in a fully realized and glorious city (ch. 11), and that one day all that can be shaken will be removed (ch. 12). But the original audience was also to take great hope in God’s breaking early into time and history, and so are we. We have come already to the mountain–city, Zion–Jerusalem (12:22), and especially in worship we stand together in this place with Jesus and the angels and the communion of the saints. The entire book of Hebrews is an exposition of this reality and an invitation to enter into it.

From this perspective, the great “once more” shaking announced in Hebrews (as well as Matthew, etc.) was the tearing down of the old covenant and its ways, the very persecution and mountain that was bearing down on God’s people and in which the author of Hebrews is trying to encourage them. These old ways ended forever in AD 70; no more sacrifices could be offered by the line of Aaron but only by the line of Melchizedek. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple was both a vindication of Jesus against the old ways, and a deliverance for his church, his body.

Thus, we see both that God works in history, and also that this history is moving to a glorious conclusion. So we can hope for several visitations, several shakings, several days of the Lord: (1) Jesus visits his church weekly on the day of the Lord; (2) Jesus visits tribes and nations at various times in history in judgment and to deliver his people; (3) as proof of his resurrection and enthronement, and vindication of himself and his promises, Jesus visited the world in AD 70 to finish the inauguration of his new creation; (4) we have a glorious hope that after his present reign (and our reign with him) is complete, Jesus will visit the world and deliver it to his father (1 Cor 15, etc.).

AD 70 was thus the promised sign of the son of man’s entering into heaven.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 17, 2020 at 12:58 pm

Pentecost

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Pentecost is the great undoing of Babel, not by reversing it but by subverting it.

There is a way in which the enduring form of Pentecost’s gift of tongues is the speaking and singing of God’s word and worship in every language. James Jordan writes:

The meaning of the Gift of Tongues is this: Formerly, only the Hebrew tongue was a fit vehicle for the Word of God; but now all languages will become fit vehicles for the Word of God. The Spirit will transform all languages and cultures, and over the course of time, they will become increasingly fit vehicles for God’s Word and Kingdom. The . . . Gift of Tongues was a sign to the Jews that this had taken place; indeed, as a judgment on the Jews the gospel was not preached in Hebrew at all. Jews from every nation heard the gospel in their own languages, not in Hebrew or Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic.

Reflecting on this, it strikes me that the Reformation was a new and concentrated Pentecost, a time when both word and worship scintillated into many tongues.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 25, 2020 at 9:36 am

Posted in Miscellany

Living faith

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but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38 ESV)

The opposite of faith is inactivity. Possibly a bustling inactivity, but inactivity.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:11 ESV)

Written by Scott Moonen

January 20, 2020 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Cinematic confessions

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I am fond of dunking on Peter Jackson for demeaning the The Lord of the Rings. (We will not mention The Hobbit.) But I must confess that he portrayed Boromir perfectly, especially in his death. I am more fond of the movie here than the book.

They Shall Not Grow Old was also wonderful. And while it has nothing to do with Jackson, I’m looking forward to seeing 1917.

Growing up, I saw snippets of The Black Hole in a hotel, while we were house hunting prior to a move. I was captivated. Years later I finished the movie with my kids. Ha! Daddy’s judgment is now seriously called into question.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 11, 2020 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Various

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Of the Father’s Love Begotten is a new carol to me; I’m liking it very much. The Wexford Carol is not new to me but it is also wonderful.

Another annual treat: Chesterton’s “Gloria in Profundis.”

Duane Garner recently finished a sermon series on the Song of Songs, and now has launched into Revelation.

Some quotes from Eugen Rosenstock–Huessy’s 1954 Comparative Religion class, lecture 16:

Once you have disturbed a holy experience, you have destroyed it. . . . If you and another person go to a grave, and you make a silly remark on the way to the grave, as most people do who go to a funeral, and you are ashamed of your tears, you destroy also the faith and the love of this other person. She has to listen to this silly remark which you make there. . . .

There’s more destruction, gentlemen, done by the people with good intentions and rational philosophy than by anybody else in the world. You do the mischief with your wrong philosophy. Not the “weak” people who cry and laugh and so on. They may be silly, certainly, . . . stupidity is in itself not a merit, gentlemen. But the people who think by their cleverness to be superior, they are much more dangerous. Much more. And the country—the world—America is dying from their silliness.

Did I tell you my story about Scipio? . . . As you know, the Roman Empire has still has quite a ring, even in your ears, as the empire that lasted longer than anything else. The empire only ceased to exist in 1805, and it began in this year 146 before Christ, when Scipio conquered Carthage and Corinth, the last Greek province and the African coast. At that time, the Roman Empire was established as the governess and mistress of the Mediterranean world. Well, to make a very long story short, the gist of the matter was that Scipio wept on the day of the surrender of Carthage. And when he was asked by his best friend and tutor and professor of philosophy why he did weep, . . . he said, “Because when the queen of Carthage perpetrated her unconditional surrender to me, I foresaw the day on which Rome would fall, too.” . . . If you weep, gentlemen, in such a situation, you will prolong the existence of your empire for untold centuries. The Roman Empire has lasted so long, because Scipio wept. And the United States of America will not last, will not last 600 years. It’s impossible, because of the behavior of the Americans in the year of the Lord 1945. They did not weep. They just had a rational philosophy. . . We have carried out our policy. That’s not good enough, gentlemen. . . . Gentlemen, these were people out of which the United States drew all their human reserves for 300 years. Therefore, Europe cannot be treated according to plan. That’s a different story. That’s your family. Maybe the wicked part of the family, but still your own family. . . .

Gentlemen, . . . the condition of the life everlasting is your and my not thinking that we make it. As soon as you think that we make our lives, that we make our policies, that we win our wars, this life will not last long, because you exaggerate the place of plan. . . .

and lecture 17:

And I always feel that many men in this country are so ridiculously intimidated by the girl, and they are so grateful that this girl condescends to marry them, that they sacrifice too much. You sacrifice the better man in you [together with the child–playboy]. This you must never do, because the man in you is the only power that can make this girl happy. She can never rest, when she gets you without your real inner growth, without the stage in which you have reached a decision. Do I make myself clear? And wherever I look, I see this, gentlemen, and it’s so many tragedies in this country—all live between 20 and 30 and after this, no life whatsoever left. This country, which has abolished tragedy, is full of tragedy. It is terrible, and tragedy that can never be healed. Because once a woman has stepped in this sense on your sanctuary and says, “That’s all over now. We get married and that’s all just the past,” she has declined to allow you to grow. And once this is capped, once this is cut, this growing point is seared and cauterized for the rest of your life, you may be the breadwinner of your family, and you may be a little rooster, but that’s all. . . .

Playboy religion is always pluralistic, because they are all short-lived pleasures. They are all shorter than the real life. You can have 10 amours. You can have 20 dates. But you can have only one wife. And you can have 20 drunken parties, you see. But you can have only one wedding, or one great occasion in which your candidacy for office is celebrated or not. But that’s all much more limited. One. But all the pleasures you can multiply. That’s why playboy religion is always multifarious. You can go on from one party to the next, swimming and canoeing and tennis-playing and football, and on it goes. And these pleasures are innumerable. . . .

Gentlemen, that’s why it is necessary to have the Bible. The one book—the Bible is the book of books, as you know. There had to be one book which is only once, in order to make clear to you that you are all apt to get stuck with the best-sellers. That’s the playboy religion, that you go on from one book to the next, and to the next, in endless succession. As long as you play with these books, it’s all right. But it’s the great saving of your orientation that you must know there is one book that is not read for pleasure, and therefore it’s only one. . . . Anybody who wants to abolish religion says that the Bible is literature. Literature is playboy religion, Muses, liberal arts, plural, many, you see. Literature means that one book can take the place of another book. And the Bible means that no book can take the place of this book. There is only one Bible, or there is no Bible. But if there’s no Bible, don’t read it. That is, you can never treat the Bible as literature. You can decide not to read the Bible, because it’s just old stuff and superstition. Nobody can force you to take to the Bible. But never mistake it to be what it is not. The Bible is not one book out of many.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 9, 2019 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Miscellany

Hear Ye

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My friend Michael and I exchanged our recent listening. Here’s what I’m listening to these days:

Written by Scott Moonen

October 29, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Books, Miscellany, Music