Good Friday

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Rene Girard:

Beginning with the story of Cain and Abel, the Bible proclaims the innocence of mythical victims and the guilt of their victimizers. Living after the widespread promulgation of the gospel, we find this natural and never pause to think that in classical myths the opposite is true: the persecutors always seem to have a valid cause to persecute their victims. The Dionysiac myths regard even the most horrible lynchings as legitimate. Pentheus in the Bacchae is legitimately slain by his mother and sisters, for his contempt of the god Dionysus is a fault serious enough to warrant his death. Oedipus, too, deserves his fate. According to the myth, he has truly killed his father and married his mother, and is thus truly responsible for the plague that ravages Thebes. To cast him out is not merely a permissible action, but a religious duty ...

This interpretation is reinforced by the optimistic endings of myths. The conjunction of the guilty victim and the reconciled community is too frequent to be fortuitous. The only possible explanation is the distorted representation of unanimous victimization. The violent process is not effective unless it fools all witnesses, and the proof that it does, in the case of myths, is the harmonious and cathartic conclusion, rooted in a perfectly unanimous murder.

...

Instead of blaming victimization on the victims, the Gospels blame it on the victimizers. What the myths systematically hide, the Bible reveals ... The false or insignificant causes of mythical violence are effectively dismissed in the simple and sweeping statement, They hated me without a cause (John 15:25), in which Jesus quotes and virtually summarizes Psalm 35--one of the "scapegoat psalms" that literally turns the mob's mythical justifications inside out. Instead of the mob speaking to justify violence with causes that it perceives as legitimate, the victim speaks to denounce the causes as nonexistent ...

The true Resurrection is based not on the mythical lie of the guilty victim who deserves to die, but on the rectification of that lie, which comes from the true God and which reopens channels of communication mankind itself had closed through self-imprisonment in its own violent cultures. Divine grace alone can explain why, after the Resurrection, the disciples could become a dissenting minority in an ocean of victimization--could understand then what they had misunderstood earlier: the innocence not of Jesus alone but of all victims of all Passion-like murders since the foundation of the world.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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