This Past Year Must Not Be Repeated in the New Year! [1-1-18]

I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago. Brooded over it. Posting now with raw misgivings, disarming sadness, but some glimmers of hope.

Dear Friends:

In the violent and hateful culture in which we live today, neighbors can seem likeenemies, and except for me andthee our ungovernability has become deadly in states and nations. Animosity, even that evident in my own words, is pervasive. I gag daily at the news, another Trumpian abandonment of civility, a retreat to lies. And some think Jesus is really on their side and their hatreds are founded on scripture, sacred and otherwise. In our fears, one gun is not enough, surely a rapid-fire rifle will be even better at protection and killing those others who are metaphysical enemies, as they dance and sing and imbibe spirits of destruction. We cannot blame Trump for all of this, but he is the Machiavellian maestro who celebrates chaos and ungovernability. He seems to justify our hatreds, whether on the right or the left and justifies our polluted hearts and minds. Yes, yes, he is the demonic one who makes the doing of evil so justifiably attractive and cruel.

I want to be able to say and believe: I know that my redeemer liveth and peace and good will and honesty and forgiveness flow gracefully from his life and his death and resurrection.

Yet throughout the history of the church, it has often felt choked by these words of forgiveness and grace, and could not resist adding the unforgiving caveat that failure to forgive is itself tantamount to forsaking the Redeemer. In my miscellaneous refusals to forgive my enemies and to make friends, I practically refuse to believe sin can be forgiven in the absence of real repentance. To be forgiven one must deserve to be forgiven and just what are the criteria for determining such deserts?

The Christian paradox: Donald Trump is a paradigmatic sinner, a liar, without shame or restraint in his lying and incapacitated to see friendship as anything other than quid pro qou so long as folk do not depend on his qou lasting longer than a sort pause between tweets. And many who call themselves “Christians” are inclined to think he is salvific, while other “Christians” think he is demonic. Please dear reader, do not dare read about the rise of Nazi Germany during the 1930s and its capacity to murder without regret millions of those regarded as sub-human filth and vermin and evil-doers. Der Fuhrer seduced an entire nationality of Protestants into crimes against other Germans and more as persons-of-no-value.

My deep sadness and anger is not a new commentary on world events and wars and destruction. And it is not just about those others who simply do not care, for whom lying and domination are a guiltless way of life and in the absence of which life is simply not worth living. And their happiness is without guilt. But is it not also true that no one really believes that “In as much as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me.” But who is this “me”? The disarming message here includes both the good and the bad we do to others. It should not be surprising that Christians have for centuries ignored that message and forgotten the ‘me’ whose message it was.

Me included and perhaps thee too? Might it be that humans, whenever and wherever, need scapegoats in contrast to whom they can find an identity, purpose, and superiority. [Girard]

Blessed are those who can resist Trump and his political kin without making him and them their scapegoats.

Yet, humans repeatedly find that scapegoats are useful tools of analysis and self-understanding. When you have some leisurely time to judge why life is as it seems to be: goods distributed without regard to deserts. It’s somebody’s fault. Because I do not deserve this; in fact, I deserve better than this. But that guy over there keeps depriving me of my just deserts or he at least would like to take what I have. Some folk must pay—with life or coin—for the mess I find myself in. I am really angry. Aren’t you too. Why is there no real justice?

Wow, when I awoke from dreaming all that, I was thirsty and reached for another shot of strong spirits that held the possibility of inebriated calm and indifference.

But can we just look away when great evil grips the minds of friends and enemies? Is it conceivable that the great scapegoater of our time might become the scapegoat himself.

Happy New Year,


Comments welcomed

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Reader Responses

Clark Gilpin

responded on 01/01/18

Dear Joe,
First of all, my best wishes for the new year.
I think you are quite right to call attention to the work of Rene Girard on the scapegoat and, more generally, violence and the sacred. Girard develops one concept that seems especially pertinent in the current cultural climate. He called it “mimetic rivalry,” by which he meant continuously escalating violence (including violent language), which mirrored the violence of one’s antagonist. Girard’s concept discloses the deeper dangers of the oft-cited climate of “polarization” in contemporary world societies, including in the United States.

It is high time for the magi of our culture to follow the star toward the infant Christ. WCG

Jim Williams

responded on 01/01/18

Joe, your blog is one of the best I’ve read from you. It is similar in some respects to Girard’s pessimism in his last book, Battling to the End. He saw more and more mimetically induced violence leading to an apocalyptic outcome. We can no longer face up to the situation with religious bromides. Girard says at the end of Battling, “Humanity is more than ever the author of its own fall…[W]e have to wake up our sleeping consciences. Seeking to comfort is always to contribute to the worst.” Yet he also emphasizes the lines of Holderin (in the chapter on “Holderlin’s Sorrow”): Near is
                  and difficult to grasp, the God.
                  But where danger threatens
                  that which saves from it also grows!

Donna O'

responded on 01/01/18

What a difficult, thought out greeting for this New Year.
You call me to an exploration of depth and caring. 
Thank you for your wrestling, struggle to send.
  I struggle with how to be open to dialogue.  The “to me” is an interesting question.  ‘
  I am grateful for your calling me into introspection.
May this New Year have many grace filled times.

J Gerald Janzen

responded on 01/01/18

A powerful, unsparing piece of self-examination on this New Year’s Day—a self-examination that places me under the spotlight, as it should.
I wrestle too with this very question: Is it presumptuous, is it Pollyanna-ish, to take with radical seriousness the doctrine of Genesis 1:27—that every last one of us bears God’s image, no matter how drastically we are alienated from that image and therein alienated from outselves? The prodigal ‘came to himself’ and that coming to himself was a coming clean with and reconcilation to the Father’s imago in him (see Gen 5:3). Can we hold both in view—a clear-eyed naming of the evil, and a refusal to let the evil persuade us that it has the last word to say, even about our liar-in-chief?
Your blog comes to me as a call to renew in my heart the chant of Jesse jackson, ‘Keep Hope Alive!’ A stubborn refusql to let hope die in our hearts.

Susan Clark

responded on 01/01/18

With sighs and gnashing of teeth: 
Dear Dr. Jones,
    If hating Someone from the Oval Office keeps one out of heaven, at least I will have plenty of company on the other side.  Anything that makes sense to me, that seems right or ethical, he is against; anything that is abhorrent, he promotes and advocates as progress.  I find myself going from despair to rage to hysterics just listening to the news.  Sometimes it all seems so bizarre, so unreal, but then I remember that few scriptwriters could make up this kind of nonsense; the best match might be Lewis Carroll . . . So we’ve all fallen down the rabbit hole where words mean what Someone Else wants them to mean!  At least he has a name that suits him because “trumped up” means false!  How long, O Lord, how long?