Culture at the Crossroads
For Our Sake He Was Crucified Under Pontius Pilate
What Girard discovered in the course of his investigations, though, was that Christianity upends this mimetic structure by telling the story of Christ's death:
In a way, Christianity is the end of archaic religions because it reveals that the victim is innocent. When you understand Christianity correctly in its closeness and distance from archaic religion it is the same structure, the scapegoat phenomenon, that Jesus is victim of.
The Nicene Creed offers the idea that Christ's death was for our sake. What might this mean? For Girard, the answer is that it unmasked the cycle of mimetic violence. Christ, the blameless victim, the one without sin, the "lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," exposes the very nature of the violence, as well as the roots of violence in disordered desire. The pattern looks something like this:
I desire things—I see others who have them and feel jealous—I seek those things—I compete with others to have them—a grand game of musical chairs ensues—the poorest are marginalized—some react violently—all the marginalized are blamed—they are scapegoated—the enfranchised rally around slogans and bumper stickers—the marginalized are demonized—can war be far behind?
Christ's death saves us from the fruits of this dangerous story because it unmasks its deceptions. It is interesting to note that the oldest version of the oldest gospel, Mark's, ends with Jesus' death and a mysterious empty tomb. There is no resurrection narrative. (See footnotes at Mark 16.) This otherwise sparse gospel dedicates a large amount of space to telling the story of Jesus' suffering and death. Mark's Jesus is the innocent victim who reveals God to people, and who becomes a scapegoat whose innocent death makes clear the idiocy of the whole scapegoating phenomenon. His death lays bare the bald hypocrisy of mimetic desire itself. You are guilty of it, and so am I.
Only God can overcome the cycle of violence that engulfs humanity. Christ the God-become-man shows his willingness to embrace the implications of fallen humanity, accepting suffering and death, in order that we might be freed from false desire and the violence that grows from it.
Tim Muldoon holds a Ph.D. in Catholic systematic theology and is an award-winning author and Catholic theologian of the new evangelization.