One among Many Religions?

Light of truth

There are two important questions to be posed on Christianity; is it a religion, if it is, is it a religion among other religions? There are many theologians who think of religionless Christianity. Bonhoeffer‘s concept of religion as it emerges from his letters from prison is that religion is passing away. Can faith ever escape becoming a religion? But precisely in order to make faith possible, Bonhoeffer explains ‘religion’ in its ‘Western form’ as something we can do without and as a relic of the past. Religion is not the sure ground upon which human culture safely rests; it is the place where civilization and its partner, barbarism, are rendered fundamentally questionable. Barbarism culture and religion are interrelated. Religion spells disruption, discord, and the absence of peace. Is it because the West is abandoning faith in favour of a return to paganism? Or is Christianity finally taking a cold hard look at the discrepancy between Jesus and religion? That interrelation between violence and religion has been studied by the French philosopher Rene Girard. According him, Jesus’ death revealed the sacrificial system as a form of organized violence in the service of social tranquillity.

The sacrificial system is like a vaccination, a medicine in which a smaller amount of violence is perpetrated against a single victim in order to prevent a greater amount of evil from engulfing society. Girard’s theory explains religious ritual in terms of this same process of controlled violence. Girard also views the biblical scriptures as revelations of this violence that have had a lasting effect on human consciousness; that is, the revelation has brought with it an understanding of systemic victimage. Girard’s claim that religious rituals are violent means to control more serious violence puts the validity of any ritual on trial. Maybe, ritual does not start immediately after the scapegoating, but when renewed disorder occurs. Sacred force that is believed to be outside the community and is powerful enough to punish as well as to protect it. Therefore a new, appropriate victim to replace the original one has to be found. Bear in mind that the victim is always seen as the god or replaces it, since this victim brings back peace with his or her death. Thus it is seen as sacred. From a sacrificial victim who is divine, to an animal that is hunted, one can see how the two could become equated. The victim is both outsider and insider. Girard wrote,“The function of ritual is to ‘purify’ violence; that is, to ‘trick’ violence into spending itself on victims whose death will provoke no reprisals… The secret of the dual nature of violence still eludes men. Beneficial violence must be carefully distinguished from harmful violence, and the former continually promoted at the at the expense of the latter. Ritual is nothing more than the regular exercise of ‘good’ violence.”

This mechanism assures the community’s spontaneous and unanimous outburst of opposition to the surrogate Victim. It is possible that the survival of all human societies of the past was dependent on this fundamental lack of understanding. Girard concludes Christianity, “as atheistic anthropology correctly points out, is exactly the same schema, with one fundamental difference, systematically ignored by modern anthropology, the attribution of guilt is reversed and the scapegoat victim is explicitly vindicated. This is why Christianity, far from being just one more religion, reveals the lie of all religions (including itself when misunderstood).” We Christians also can be tempted to return to the pagan sacrificial practises. We can punish Nathan for accusing king David or stone Daniel for killing the judges. We can show the world a new way of reconciliation

The story of Joseph illustrates the biblical text’s demonstration of bloodless reconciliation in the place of bloody sacrifice. “The final triumph of Joseph is not an insignificant “happy ending,” but a means of making explicit the problem of violent expulsions.” In the Joseph story, pardon replaces obligatory vengeance—and only this is capable of stopping the vicious cycle of reprisals. For Girard, “The essential truth of the Joseph story lies not in its possible correspondence to facts outside the text, but in its critique of mythic expulsions… It’s the difference between a world where arbitrary violence triumphs without being recognized and a world where this same violence is identified, denounced, and finally forgiven.”

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