Friday, July 10, 2015
Satan & Probability
- I've read something interesting: religion isn't about belief but action. It isn't about how the world is but about what we should do. Religion prevents violence rather than causes it.
- What do you think?
- The ideas come from a professor named Girard. He claims that in pre-Christian times we human beings envied each other and wanted what each other wanted because if others wanted it, it must be good. We killed each other to get those things. We kept killing each other all the time to get the things the now dead people liked until we became the dead ourselves and our things belonged to other soon dead people. And then one day we figured out if we found one person, not one of us, who all of us could kill together, we could get killing out of our system. We'd finally have something in common, and for a while we could relax from envy. And when the excitement wore off, we could go on imitating the killing of a scapegoat in ritual, and so continue not to kill each other indefinitely.
- We human beings are a sorry bunch then. Anyway, I don't get it. Why do we want to have anything in common, even killing? Weren't we supposed to want things exactly because they weren't in common, because they were someone else's?
- We lose ourselves in violence. Girard says that with Christianity something new happened. Previously "Satan casts out Satan". Violence expels violence. Now the sacrificial victim, by voluntarily letting himself be sacrificed, makes clear what is going on, the whole system of violence comes to a close, and henceforth we human beings can transcend our envy and violence by loving in imitation of such willing sacrifice. Not resisting the sacrifice ends the urge to violence. Repeated reenactment of this in ritual reminds us of what we should do.
- Christianity leads to peaceful action, whereas pagan sacrifice leads to continued suggestion of violence.
- Yes. That's what he says.
- Isn't violence, voluntarily accepted, still violence? Won't enacting the ritual suggest further violence?
- In the story the violence is transcended.
- You said religion was to be about action, not beliefs.
- Good. What is the action involved here?
- And what is ritual?
- An enactment of a story of death and rebirth, reassurance found in the predictable actions of the ritual, previous weakness felt entering the ritual forgotten.
- Performing rituals requires security. Time, place, leaders have to be obtained. When the conditions ritual requires are threatened, transcendent Christian voluntary self sacrifice may be the belief, but that isn't the action in response we see. It can't work that way. Ritual begins with a presumption of weakness. The violence in the story enacted suggests the use of violence to protect ritual.
- Ritual in protection of ritual.
- Yes. Dupuy, a present day follower of Girard, claims that the ecological, technological and atomic war catastrophes coming our way are coming because we've left Christianity and gone back to paganism, scapegoat sacrifices, envy and violence.
- Just disregard these idiots. Christianity, supposed to teach peaceful action, is no different from its pagan forebearers in working to perpetuate violence. Or different only in that their ritual violence is justified as in defense of their ritual of transcendence. Can we just move on to something else?
- In a minute. The follower is interesting in one respect. He analyzes catastrophe as a sudden coming to an end of the law governed conditions that we can identify, replaced by other rapidly changing law governed conditions. Out of the known unhealthy conditions of the city causing deaths and disease, suddenly epidemic breaks out. Out of the petty squabbles of countries over territory, suddenly war breaks out. There may be mathematics that describe how this sudden change grows out of prior conditions of slower change, but we don't know the mathematics. We see global warming, but we don't know if it will get to the catastrophic point where the human species is threatened.
- If we don't know why are we afraid? We don't know how the two patterns connect with each other, or if they do.
- That's the right question.
- We can't predict when slow ominous threatening change becomes rapid catastrophic change. But we might be able to see what kinds of behavior in the past have led to catastrophe.
- Identify the kind of behavior that tolerates unhealthy conditions in a city, identify the kind of politics that leads countries to war. Discern the pattern of behavior that leads to sudden catastrophic change.
- Can we do it?
- Maybe. The blind, defensive violence of ritual is a good candidate for the behavior type that leads to catastrophe. The ritual may pretend to be a story of transcendence. Christian transcendence, or market transcendence in which everyday trading may require the death of human generosity, require that we sacrifice ourselves to the market for the good of all. But any enacted story of violence is going to suggest violence. Violence brings on violence.
- And can lead to a catastrophic change of pattern.
- Violence, enacted in ritual or real, is not going to lead to love. Violence and love don't connect. They are opposites, opposites that expel the possibility of their rival.
- What leads us to love then?
- We've just said.
- I must have missed it.
- Seeing the catastrophe ahead. Identifying the pattern associated with catastrophe by its ritual and violence. Choosing against going further with that pattern allows us to return to love.*
- Love isn't the product of violence. We begin with love and return to it.
* On the probabilities of ritual leading to catastrophe: United States And Totalitarianism, and Why Nations Fail