Theology and the social sciences

The reliance of theological politics on the church may cause some to suspect that a mentality of retreat is being fostered, which overlooks the importance of the human and social sciences. Dramatic theology, however, aims precisely at the opposite, that is, at an intensive dialogue with these sciences. To this effect, it utilizes primarily the work of René Girard, who shows that modern criticism is in many respects not antibiblical. It grew, after all, out of the biblical sources and also returns to the Bible, if it is performed radically, subjecting the presuppositions of the modern world themselves to critical questioning.

History, art, and the experiences of everyday life indicate that human beings are desiring and passionate creatures. At the same time, they prove to be imitators, from earliest childhood instinctively learning language, customs, and general knowledge from others. Girard thus shows that even the fundamental and deepest desires do not originate spontaneously but are informed by models in a process called mimesis. This instinctive imitation of the striving of others easily leads to two or more desires being directed at the same object, thus generating rivalries, which in turn can intensify, leading to various kinds of tension and conflict. Passions, therefore, are not harmless but always endanger human social existence. Deep striving becomes a force of peace only if it is inspired by a model that is not itself trapped in a current of imitation but aims wholly at an infinite good, in which many can participate so as to become connected to one another, thus preventing the origin of further rivalries (Girard 1965). Against this background, imitation of Christ, who in his whole being was orientated toward "Abba", his God, and who sought to gather human beings in his name, proves to be not just some random possibility but an offer that corresponds most deeply to human nature and that alone can lead to true freedom and full peace.

Yet this offer is issued to a world governed by a different mechanism. The experience of everyday life not only presents human beings as imitating creatures; it also demonstrates that true and lasting peace is extremely difficult to achieve, and that passions are not channeled into beneficial paths by reason alone. Public life is structured by social mechanisms, which create a certain sphere of order. Girard, having demonstrated how passions, being kept in the wake of imitation (mimesis), intensify and even tend toward violence, goes on to reveal the mechanisms that check this dangerous tendency. When mutual rivalries and aggres sions tip over into the aggression of many against one, then the many, at the expense of the one, again experience for a short time a superficial (and deceptive) peace - through the scapegoat mechanism. One has to be sacrificed for the others to enjoy a little respite.

Something similar happened to Jesus. His wish to gather Israel in the name of his heavenly father at first led to an antigathering, to an alliance of Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Herodians, of Jews and Gentiles, against the troublesome prophet from Nazareth. Through him Herod and Pontius Pilate, having previously been enemies, became friends (Luke 23: 12). This did not happen by accident. If Jesus, in the name of his God, intended to bring true peace and true reconciliation among human beings, then what happened to him had to expose the deepest structures of a sinful and antigodly world. These are the structures of the scapegoat mechanism, which shifts on to victims what a human society is unable to come to terms with in order to create, at the expense of these victims, time and again a provisional peace. It is better for one human being to die on behalf of the people than for the whole people to perish, argued the high priest at Jesus' sentencing, and this argument is the usual argument of politics. Its normal strategy consists in uniting one's own followers or one's people through polemics against "enemies". Carl Schmitt even regarded this as the very nature of politics (Schmitt 1996; Palaver 1998).

Girard's theory is controversial. Innsbruckian dramatic theology is convinced, however, that from a biblical perspective its basic theses positively force themselves upon us. If Jesus, intending to bring true peace in the power of God, met with massive collective resistance, then, in this resistance, the powers of this world must reveal themselves. To be sure, it has been objected that one cannot speak of a general rejection of Jesus, since many did actually follow him; therefore, the theory of a collective mechanism did not have any biblical warrant. However, John's Gospel, looking back at Jesus' public ministry, gives a fitting answer to this objection. First, it notes that "though he had done so many signs before them, yet they [the Jews] did not believe in him" (John 12: 37). This is followed by two Old Testament quotes from the prophet Isaiah about the hardening of the people, which demonstrate that the general rejection of Jesus conforms to God's earlier experiences with his people. John's Gospel then adds an important qualification, at the same time providing reasons as to why one has to speak of a general rejection: "Nevertheless even many of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (John 12: 42). Jesus did appeal to many people, arousing some kind of faith. Yet when, after a time of superficial enthusiasm, resistance made itself felt, he was unable to win over the public. On an individual and subjective level, he had been able to reach many in their private attitudes; but the public has its own laws, and these worked against him. John's Gospel even illustrates why this is so: "for they [the leaders] loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12: 43). To seek reputation and honor means being guided by leading models, and these were other human beings rather than God. John's Gospel therefore clearly points to the principle of imitation, thereby explaining why the public follows laws and forces that are different from the good subjective will of individual human beings.

The same point can be illustrated also with respect to Jesus' disciples. They responded to his call to discipleship and gradually gained some insight into his message and who he was. Peter led the way, confessing him to be the Messiah (Mark 8: 29) and swearing unceasing loyalty (Mark 14: 29, 31). Yet in the hour of his confession, Jesus had to repudiate him as Satan because he had in mind not God's will (Mark 8: 33) but that of humans. In the hour of trial, he followed, despite his oath, precisely the will of the people: he betrayed his master (Mark 14: 66-72). Even within the innermost circle of Jesus' followers, the inherent laws and forces of the public were ultimately stronger than the power that emanated from Jesus. This changed only when the spirit of Pentecost seized the disciples from within, empowering them to witness publicly to their crucified and risen master. At this point, a community was beginning to form that was structured differently from the usual societies of this world. Thus, from the experience of Pentecost, the mechanisms of rejection, the mechanisms that control the public in a world characterized by original sin, become entirely transparent. The pentecostal church identifies this principle clearly, looking back on Old Testament experiences as well as the downfall of Jesus and at the same time voicing its own experience: "for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel" (Acts 4: 27). Although at the time of Jesus most of the tribes of Israel no longer existed and only a few Gentiles were involved in his trial, the church talks about a universal alliance. It thereby exposes a basic process, which time and again can be seen in the entire history of revelation as well as in the subsequent history of the church: The public has its own unconscious laws, which create (provisional) structures through collective polarizations at the expense of victims or enemies. Jesus, however, having become a victim of these mechanisms himself, stands on the side of the victims.

As the dawning kingdom of God, in and through Jesus, radically confronted the structures of this world, so true Christian theology needs to confront the structures of the public, drawing up a theological politics. Girard's theory helps us to engage, from out of the center of the Christian message, in a critical debate with all human and social sciences that investigate the human being as a desiring and social creature (Lagarde 1994).

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