Discuss Girard’s argument that violence is at the core of every religion and examine the scapegoat theory
Around the world violence and war are being carried out in the name of religion, not just in today’s society but throughout history. René Girard argues that violence is at the core of every religion, and by the ways that the media portray religious conflict could lead many people to agree. This essay will be explaining his argument and examining the key points, in order to understand his view point and show examples of where in history as well as biblically, violence is found to be at the core of religion. I will also be examining what is meant by the scapegoat theory and how this is used is relation to Girard's theory on violence. The essay will evaluate what scapegoats are and why they are picked, and will give examples of when scapegoating is used. To give a standpoint; I am a Catholic and so would argue that to me violence is not at the core of my religion. However I am very open minded to see if what Girard has said could change the way I think, as Girard himself is Christian.
Girard’s main thesis for violence being at the core of every religion is what he calls mimetic. Mimetic was first introduced by Plato over two thousand years ago in his book ‘Republic art’; mimetic is translated from the Greek work ‘imitations’ (Tinsley, 2003, pg.1) In the book Mimesis by Potolsky he says that ‘mimesis can be said to Imitate a dizzying array of originals; nature, truth, beauty, mannerisms, actions, situations, examples, ideas.’(Potolsky, 2006, p.1). Girard’s theory then stands on a view point called acquisitive mimesis; this is where one person copies another and then wants the same thing as the first person. A famous example of this is one child notices a certain toy that had gone unnoticed by both children until that point. But when the first child notices the toy and makes an effort to acquire the toy to play with it, the second child sees this process and mimesis compels this child also to desire the toy. Conflict thereby results as both children desire the same object (Bailie 1995, 116-118).Girard can then argue that this can be a major part in violence called mimetic crisis; this is because by the second person copying the ideas and beliefs of the first person their view can be passed onto other and spread throughout a community, and by one community coping the ideas of their leader conflict can be caused with fellow communities which oppose their view. A major religious conflict that has and is still occurring over desire for what each religion believe is theirs, and is that of the war for ‘Holy Lands’ by different religions wanting the same thing this is then causing mimetic desire and has led to religious violence to get what each believe they should have. Therefore violence could be seen as the core to religion getting back what was promised to the people in Holy Scriptures.
Girard also argues that Myth and mythical stories help to explain why there is violence within religion, ‘Girard argues that myths stand as partial representations and partial obfuscations of mimetic violence, and operate primarily via (specifiable) processes of narrative transformation’ (Flemming, 2004, pg.78). The basis to what Girard is saying here is that violence, sacrifice and rituals are all used within different myths passed down or in holy books. To a following religious group the stories that are passed down are seen as narratives to what they should do in situations, which could be leading them to violence, by reanacting the myth to solve problems. Girard uses the term ‘narrative form’ to describe the situation where followers copy and act upon myth, also known as mimetic desire. It is therefore said that Girard’s view point on myth is euthemeristic, meaning that ‘the gods originated as heroes or conquerors who were admired and later deified’ (Euhemerism Definition). This saying that the victim of the myth may have once...
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