Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Rene Girard would insist that Christianity is unique in that it is an answer to myth.
Rene Girard insists that Christianity is special in that it says in the case of the Jesus figure, the scapegoat is innocent. Where most myth says that the scapegoat is guilty, or at least declared guilty by the community, there is an insistence that Jesus was not guilty.
He may have turned tables. He may have disturbed the peace. But it was the mob, and the imperious Roman presence that found him guilty. God and Truth (whatever they may be) found this man innocent.
From Girard, we can say a community comes together and shares an identity because of the guilt (and wrath) of a sacrificed hero-king-tyrant-founder. The Jesus figure brings a community together because of his innocence.
Peacemaking Among Higher Order Primates*
There is a story that comes out of North America about a Peacemaker. The Peacemaker united nations, not with a weapon and not with sacrifice, in the most aggressive and ambitious sense. Instead, he brought people together with a broken weapon and with words. He proposed a union, a shared identity, what might be seen as a marriage of communities instead of the wrath of a founder or the violence of a community.
The Peacemaker also found help very early on from a woman named Jigonsaseh. Jigonsaseh shared food with almost any warrior and traveller as though they were family. She was mother and daughter to many. Jigonsaseh was living the life of peace, and adopted the message of peace, sharing in the identity that came from peacemaking.
Jordan Peterson has revived the idea of logos in the public conversation - truthful speech, plain courageous speech, shared words instead of violent actions. These things are handmaidens of love, according to Peterson and others. This would suggest that logos serves love, and that love is a better foundation for shared identity and shared community than just words or weapons. But what about sacrifice?
Love can be sharper, and even more painful than both words and weapons and sacrifices combined. But it is also the best thing we got, an ideal we can hope for.
Jesus gave himself up to the authorities, bearing his burden and responsibility, as though understanding suffering was a part of being. There is a valuable lesson in that.
When the Peacemaker worked toward the union of different communities, he travelled and talked and listened. He understood the symbol of a broken arrow, or a buried weapon, was stronger in meaning than a weapon used in violence. And when it came time to sort out who was in charge, he gave the most violent and competitive and troubled leader, Tadodaho, the highest position in the new confederacy.
From the beginning, the Peacemaker understood it was exactly the tyrants he must speak to, as though the tyrants were as much a part of the family as any daughter, any son, any woman. Peace and integration mean sharing identity, even with the one we most want to cast out. Instead of sacrificing the tyrant as an other or a scapegoat, peacemakers understand the tyrant is a part of us, a part of the family.
There is something transcendent about sharing a path to enlightenment, even if it means sharing that identity and path with enemies. The path must be shared, or else it does not reach for peace.
When the tyrant Tadodaho was given the highest position in the confederacy, according to popular accounts, Jigonsaseh challenged him, asked him if he could strike her down. Would a show of force like hitting her prove the honour he was given? Luckily, that was enough to wake up Tadodaho, giving him a "moment of clarity."
Tadodaho could not hurt her like some innocent victim. And the confederacy could not cast out the troubled tyrant.
Primate is a word with many definitions. It can be used, for example, as a title for authority or a title for honour. The Catholic Pope is considered the Primate of Italy. Historically, this title has not been used for women or daughters all that much. Jigonsaseh deserved a title of honour for the work she did with the peacemaker. Could she have been one of the first Primates of this North American Confederacy, if Europeans came with some idea that the union of marriage was more honourable than the sacrifice of a scapegoat?
The undiscovered country is not a constructed utopia where we re-shape what it means to be human, to insist on making humanity in the image of our own ambitions and resentments. The undiscovered country is not a community's resolution after some wrathful sacrifice. We’ve been there. We’ve done all that. Specialism and nostalgia can turn into their own kinds of sin. Specialism makes us turn away blind to the new scapegoats we create. Nostalgia makes us deaf to the quiet, still voices offering new wisdom.
Instead, the undiscovered country is a community that starts with the symbolic union of marriage - sharing an identity together with words and actions that demonstrate a commitment of identity and peace. Like Jigonsaseh and the Peacemaker and Tadodaho, something new might be found in the symbolic breaking of weapons rather than the use of weapons on our victims.
Our very natures, our very histories, may contend against it, putting a line between us and them. And yet the sharing of food, like the breaking of bread together, and the making of wine on the shores of a new world... these are the things that provide us with new hopes, new beginnings.
Rene Girard may have come ashore with some insight about Christianity from within Christianity. His work points to wisdom. But from outside of Christianity and across the sea, we can find other stories of wisdom... perhaps a story that speaks to Girard's notion of mimetic desire but finds a solution to the scapegoat pattern that Jesus never found.
* An Article Title from Jordan Peterson