I am not selfish?’ to me who never … when I have been deepest asleep and dreaming, … never dreamed of attributing to you any form of such a fault? Promise not to say so again—now promise. Think how it must sound to my ears, when really and truly I have sometimes felt jealous of myself … of my own infirmities, … and thought that you cared for me only because your chivalry touched them with a silver sound—and that, without them, you would pass by on the other side:—why twenty times I have thought that and been vexed—ungrateful vexation!
The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846.
It’s not always easy to follow Elizabeth Barrett when she’s writing to Robert. So much is understood between the two of them, but we cannot read between the lines. Nevertheless I am struck by how she had felt that he only cared for her because of her infirmities. After accidents and illness she was treated and acted like an invalid, and Robert was forced to marry her privately before taking her to Italy. It’s difficult at times to believe that we are loved, pure and simple; but we were loved into being by our creator and those who have loved us in this world.
For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies. This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him. But the message was more enduring. However, early catechesis missed out on the dynamic power of life fully lived even to death. Missing the significance of life resulted in death being seen as the primary constituent for redemption. This led to the notion of redemptive violence: salvation coming through the cross, by the one made perfect through suffering even to the last drop of blood in obedience.
My desires are in imitation of the desires of others. My “I” depends entirely on those who surround me. If I recognise my dependence on other for my desiring, I will be at peace with this other. But as soon as I insist my desire is original I am in conflict with the other. Someone appears wearing a new fashion; someone I like and admire: I’d like to be like. I buy the same item – others comment on my doing this in imitation I reply yes I like what he’s wearing. However, by far the majority of us would resent the implication – insisting my desire has nothing to do with him. The world of advertising seeks to seduce us by showing someone/thing attractive – if you buy X you can be like Y!
We all desire through the eyes of another. The promising protégé soon experiences alienation from the teacher when the latter fears his standing is being eclipsed by this brighter student – and wonders what has happened – what have I done wrong to merit this reaction? Friends have become rivals.
In an attempt to patch things up we seek for a common scapegoat – this would never have happened if he’d never come here – get rid of him and all will be well again. Having achieved this, we experience a kind of peace – but not real peace. It is peace based on deceit, and the covered-up rivalry will emerge eventually, leading to an eventual exclusion of somebody else, to restore such peace.
In this scenario we have to establish 3 things to maintain peace: 1. forbid all sorts of behaviour that would disturb the peace and lead to conflict; 2. repeat where possible the original exclusion or expulsion, which led to our peace, which consists of ritual actions ending in the immolation of a victim – originally human, later animal; 3. and tell the story of how we were visited by the gods and founded a people – so giving birth to myth.
So, social exclusion is a violent form of protection against violence, made possible by murder – disguised through being ritualised. This universally accepted way is a blind justification of what we are actually doing – cultivating a belief in the guilt of the innocent victim. Cultivating such blindness is the only way to resolve conflict and to avoid social self-destruction [it is good that one person die…].
There is only one way this can be challenged. When someone with an entirely different perception, one not dependent on such a lie, comes to the group and points it out. The Jewish story is a long, slow discovery of the innocence of the victim. Look to the foundation of human culture – Cain and Abel – so too with Romulus and Remus – the two brothers who fight about who is the founder of Rome. They organise a competition to see who has received the blessing of the gods. Remus sees some birds, Romulus sees some more impressive birds. In the fight that ensues Romulus kills Remus and becomes the founder of Rome. Remus was accused of impiety towards the gods and for that reason Romulus was right to kill him.
So too with Cain and Abel [Genesis] – the same thing happens – Cain kills Abel; but there is a difference of interpretation: God says to Cain – where is your brother? A – His blood cries out to me! This declares that the murder is no more than that; a sordid crime, and God is on the side of the victim.
Jesus is inclusive in his relationships, especially at table. Tax collectors and sinners feel at home with him – not a male with soft edges, but one who is radically different – relational rather than rational. But there’s more – a dimension that has eluded scholars for centuries. His is a presence that transcends space and time. The stereotypical dualism of male and female is transcended in favour of an integration that relativises both the male and female as seen in basic biology.
Redemptive Violence – Women shed blood to give life; men tend to shed blood in order to take life. Ancient cultures saw blood as containing the life force – a force often misused and abused for an angry god. Thus emerged the notion of sacrifice. Shedding blood as an act of appeasement can be traced back to shedding animal blood so that humans could survive. It is said that humans have always hunted for food and killed animals to get it. But research going back 40,000 years has uncovered evidence that the initial gathering of food was from plant life, and animals were killed only when such was unavailable.
Slaying animals does not seem to have been practised during early agricultural times [around 8,000 BC]. Although more food was gleaned from the land, the desire for meat was also present; and during this time the shedding of blood acquired religious significance. Governance was by fiercely aggressive males, who validated what they did through belief in a sky god, who rapidly became like themselves – domineering and demanding; and so pacifying strategies came into play. Animals were the primary victims along with first fruits of the seasons. On rare occasions humans were sacrificed. In this way the notion of the scapegoat came to the fore.
René Girard traces the notion of scapegoating to mimetic [imitating] desire leading to rivalry and violence; it was extensively used to counter threats of aggression. Girard and others see the death of Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice that renders the scapegoat redundant forever. The notion of blood sacrifice is a child of the patriarchal system of around 10,000 years ago. Bloodletting and sacrifice evolved under an anthropocentric world view that man is the measure of all things. In the human, blood seems to be life’s energy, and so must be the life-blood of everything in creation, including God.
Blood sacrifice was seen as restoring the balance, setting things right with the offended one. The notion of victory crept into language for the vindictive God and his earthly representatives. The Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who is pleased at the slaying of enemies, and whose glory is enhanced by victory through the sword. This is a far cry from the earlier Goddess whose bloodletting was at the service of life-creating.
These two become confused in Jesus. New life was the key-word for Kingdom living, but this tended to be lost with the understanding of salvation through death on the cross – hence understandings like obedience through suffering. For Jesus, non-violence is at the heart of his message, in which we are called to love – even our enemies.
This was so threatening to the Roman and Jewish authorities that they eliminated Jesus, hoping his way would die with him.
I had not planned that this post should appear on Armistice Day, but it is worth pondering why violence and war happen, today of all days. WT
It was Thursday before anything at all exciting happened, although it was clear that Mrs Fox was not quite her usual self, mumbling under her breath, writing lists, washing the dogs’ bedding, buying more treats and wet food packs, and gathering clothes into suitcases. Thursday was a whirlwind of last minute laundry, sandwich making, and packing up the car. Since their things were put in the boot it was clear that they were going somewhere. But where?
On Friday morning they made an early start from Cornwall, retracing their journey back towards Kent. Margate at last? No. But when they woke from a fitful dream they were at a familiar place: Will Turnstone’s House in Canterbury. This was good enough till T got home, though the Builder’s Dog was in residence and barely tolerating these interlopers on ‘his’ territory.
The Builder’s Dog was going home the next day, but neither he nor Ajax and Alfie knew that. BD was not much bigger than a Chihuahua, being a Yorkshire Terrier, though without the Tykish belligerence that usually goes with the breed. He was just stubborn that possession was nine points of the law, and he was here first.
On previous visits to Turnstone Towers, first Alfie and then Ajax had misread the duckweed covered pond and plunged in, Alfie walking out on what seemed to be an extension of the lawn, and Ajax jumping after a frog.
Now they felt they could pull BD down a peg or two. Ajax went around the back of the pond and began digging. ‘Come over here’, he signalled. Alfie ran around, positioning himself so that the easiest way to reach the hole was across the pond. ‘Wow! BD! Look at this!’
BD is one of those dogs that knows when he’s being laughed at. It happens with humans, and is one of the downsides of canine life. He’d never been laughed at by dogs before, and he did not like it.