Saturday, March 19, 2011

History as Apocalypse

Randy encouraged me to post an occasion excerpt from the manuscript on which I am now working. I cannot let him do all the work on the weblog after all. So here are a few sentences from the piece I have been tweaking today.
We could say that history – in a generic and straightforward sense – began when our most remote ancestors stumbled upon what RenĂ© Girard has termed the surrogate victim mechanism, the late Paleolithic “discovery” which, over the course of time, our most ancient ancestors slowly learned to ritualize, thereby securing the cultural beachhead which could sustain the fragile order that the scapegoating violence first achieved. Another way of putting this is to say that history began with the discovery of the sacrificial procedures for warding off the apocalypse, the latter defined as violence for which there is no adequate arresting or quarantining mechanism. Subsequent ritual re-enactments of this procedure functioned to continually ward off or postpone the apocalypse thus understood. History in the rich biblical sense, on the other hand, begins -- on Mount Moria -- with the attenuation of these same cultural mechanisms for postponing the apocalypse. In this sense, the beginning of history in the biblical sense is the beginning of the apocalypse in the sense of uncontrollable violence.
"When sacrifice disappears," writes Girard, "all that remains is mimetic rivalry, and it escalates to extremes." Well, that's not all that remains. For the same Gospel that undermines the "sacrificial protections" that ward off and postpone the apocalypse brings about a conversion of the heart and a restoration of relationships distorted by sin. This is the leaven that works inconspicuously to fashion a new order of things, a culture of love based, not on sentimentality, but on truth.

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