Thursday, October 26, 2006

Peace and Truth

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus announces that he has come to bring, not peace, but the sword of division. That has often been interpreted at the historical level as a reference to the divisions that were occurring during Jesus’ lifetime and especially in the decades following his death between Jews who became followers of Christ and those who didn’t. As with so many of the New Testament’s historical references, however, there is an even more significant anthropological element: The world’s oldest and most reliable mechanism for creating “peace” – “the peace the world understands” – is the unifying power of a collective animosity focused on a single victim or a small, easily identifiable group of victims. It is the (socially) generative power of this “scapegoating” mechanism that has provided humans with social solidarity on the cheap since the beginning of culture.

By revealing on the Cross the innocence of the victims of our generative animosity, Christ destroys the social unity and the emotional and moral consensus it brings about, without which the division referred to in today’s Gospel reading rise quickly to the surface. Contrary to what we often think, however, the underlying problem is not primarily a moral one; rather it is an anthropological one, namely: how to overcome such division, not on the cheap by joining in a shared animosity, but in truth?

On this I would like to share a few sentences from the posthumously published Banished from Eden, by Raymund Schwager, SJ:
The challenge is to find new and much more difficult ways to create unity without scapegoating. Modern psychology and sociology have long pointed to the problem of projections, yet they have scarcely changed anything. Criticizing collective projections amounts to little or nothing as long as we are unable to achieve the unity among humans beings necessary for human life by other means. Satan, or the scapegoat mechanism with its projections, is thus the ‘ruler of this world’ because he spontaneously brings about this unity, although in a deceptive fashion and at the expense of others. To gain victory over him means to create unity both by owning up to our failings, especially those of which we are not aware (original sin), and by practicing forgiveness ever anew. [163]
Which reminds me of what I think might be the most important passage in René Girard’s Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World:
In reality, no purely intellectual process and no experience of a purely philosophical nature can secure the individual the slightest victory over mimetic desire and its victimage delusions. Intellection can achieve only displacement and substitution, though these may give individuals the sense of having achieved a victory. For there to be even the slightest degree of progress, the victimage delusion must be vanquished on the most intimate level of experience. [399]
As I have often said from the podium: we humans have to be in the mood for truth. We are usually in the mood for lies and half-truths. The Church’s liturgy is there to put us in the mood for truth, and the presence of Christ in the Church’s sacramental life is the essential content of the truth for which we long once we have been put in the mood, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

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