Violence, Anarchy, and Scripture: Jacques Ellul and René Girard
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VIOLENCE, ANARCHY, AND SCRIPTURE: JACQUES ELLUL AND RENÉ GIRARD Matthew Patullo Princeton Theological Seminary This essay will examine the personal and social consequences ofsin, Biblically defined, and will contend that Christian faith necessitates a rejection of the secular political order. Exploring and contrasting the thought of René Girard and Jacques Ellul, we will demonstrate that Girard's mimetic theory supplies crucial theoretical underpinnings for Ellul's theology. Ellul, in turn, sequencing the Biblical narrative somewhat differently, provides Girard the more biblically consistent content of the life of faith. The ethical content ofthe life of faith is a continuation ofthe salvation narrative inaugurated in Genesis 1-2, incarnated and perpetuated in Israel and later, the Church, the universalized community of the Abrahamic blessing. The historical content of this faith demonstrates the incompatibility of political power with freedom in Christ. The Church's ill-fated attempts to maintain an authentic practice of faith while legitimizing the secular order are exposed by the Biblical critique of power. While the growth of the global state has made a total withdrawal from the political order inconceivable, it is precisely its utter domination today that makes critical continued defiance by the Body of Christ. Original Sin Girard observes that when the snake first appears in the Genesis account of the Fall, it is already in conflict with God, opposing him as a jealous rival. Eve is enticed by it to covet divinity, to covet what belongs to God—the knowledge of good and evil—and to herself become God's rival (Girard 1 965, 1 82). Her imitation ofthe serpent's covetousness forms "an alliance of two against one" (Girard 2000, 171-185), and God is 26Matthew Patullo expelled from the relationship. The contagion of metaphysical desire, or mimesis, soon claims Adam and what began as a relationship ofobedience without conflict between God and human beings is forever changed. An acquisitive mimesis turns antagonistic and rivalrous (Girard 1978a, 95). When called to account for her disobedience, Eve blames the snake. Adam in turn blames Eve, implying that God is himselfat least partially culpable: "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me ofthe tree, and I ate" (Gen 3:12, emphasis mine). In the Biblical account of human origins then, rivalry with God produces rivalry between people. Girard argues that although conflict must inevitably lead to violence, here "God takes the violence upon himselfand founds humanity by driving Adam and Eve far away from him" (Girard 1978a, 142). God's banishment of the first humans only mirrors the expulsion implied by human collusion with the snake. "Now we know that covetousness is the crux ofthe whole affair," Ellul writes, "since sin always depends on it. 'You shall not covet' (Ex 20: 1 7) is the last of the commandments because it summarizes everything—all the other sins" (Ellul 1985, 101; see also Girard 1999, 7-12). Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve are not required to choose between good and evil. "AU that counted was the relation to God and its expression in action" (Ellul 1976, 51). Here Ellul understands freedom as obedience to God's commandments within the context ofa relationship with God. Independence from God is mere slavery: "Adam seeks to liberate himself from the limits which God has set for him and in so doing he enters into rivalry with other forces and becomes subject to sin" (Ellul 1976, 49). The knowledge that Adam and Eve covet and usurp from God is "the power to decide on one's own what is gooáanawhat is evil" (Ellul 1985,96?, emphasis Ellul's). Consequently, human morality is ofthe order ofthe Fall, and Girard concurs: the ethical always derives from victimary unanimity (Girard 1978a, 236), in this case the rejection of God. For Ellul "covetousness is equivalent to the spirit of power or domination" (Ellul 1985, 101)' and "no society is possible among people 1 "Sin is a break with God and all that this entails. When I say that people are not good, I am not adopting a Christian or a moral standpoint. I am saying that theirtwo great characteristics, no matterwhattheir society or education, are covetousness and the desire...