In the later part of The One by Whom Scandal Comes, Rene Girard answers interview questions and seeks to respond to criticism and clarify his views.
He reads the whole Bible in the light of the gospels and the story of the murder of Christ. Some readers, he says, did not understand his theory because of a chronological problem. He had developed his theory of mimetic violence as an anthropological theory. But then he saw that the theory was already embedded in the Bible.
Anthropologically, mimetic violence proceeds on a time-line from the evolution of humans to the revealing of covetousness or mimetic desire to murder and war. All of what he calls the archaic cultures arose to deal with and control rivalry of this kind. They used forms of ritualized violence to protect order. In this chronology Jesus comes late.
But Girard reads the Bible in a different order. He begins with the gospels. They reveal that the death of Jesus was the death of an innocent victim. Thus they reveal the history that went before them, that there is a mechanism in human life that over and over leads to murder.
So, he explains, some of his readers have been disoriented because he moves back and forth between these two chronological perspectives.
Another question, besides this one about why some find his previous work hard to understand, is what he believes about Satan. He has used the idea of Satan a lot and made the statement of Jesus, “I saw Satan fall like lightning” (Luke 10:18) the title of a book.
Satan is the principle behind the dynamic of mimetic violence. The statement in John 8:44 that Satan was a murderer from the beginning is key for Girard. Furthermore Girard uses the statement that “Satan casts out Satan” from Matthew 22:26 and Luke 11;:18 to talk about how this dynamic worked. Satan used ritualized violence of lynchings and banishment to control violence and keep some order in the world. But the vision of Jesus when he saw Satan fall like lightning means this is no longer the case. It does not mean Satan was done away with. Rather, now Satan no longer has power to produce order, only disorder. He has fallen to earth and so is closer to us and more dangerous.
When directly asked if he thinks Satan is a real entity, he replies that he agrees with the view of some medieval theologians that Satan does not have “being”. He uses the idea that Satan is a parasite and is a principle of disorder that, nevertheless, has to feed off of order.
I think the use of Satan by Girard has as its purpose the revival of the theories of the atonement found in some of the church fathers that Satan was tricked, paid off or defeated in the Christ-event. These theories had the advantage of avoiding the idea that God was paid off.
Still, to Americans who have watched Dana Carvey as the church lady on SNL ascribe everything to “Satan”, this may be a hard sell.
That’s all I have for today.