I continue to be grateful to Mike at Speakeasy for sending me super-cool books to review, like this one.
This week I read a book that gave me a new appreciation and respect for the Bible. The further in I got, the more amazed I became. “Wow,” I kept thinking. “The Bible really is an incredible book.”
You guys know me. I’m a Christian, but over the past few years, I’ve become fairly cynical and suspicious of the larger Bible. A book that gives me a new appreciation for the Bible has gotta be a pretty impressive book. When I told my wife, she was rather surprised.
But at the same time, this book also gave me a new appreciation for how ridiculous inerrancy is as a doctrine. I used to think it was wrong. Now I see it as incoherent. I have said before that judging the Bible on inerrancy is like judging a car on its ability to fly, but now I think it’s worse. Doing theology by reading the Bible as an inerrant text is like painting with a calculator: the calculator is an incredible tool, but you’re using it wrong, and damaging it in the process.
André Rabe spends the first 2 chapters and 36 pages of Desire Found Me explaining mimetic theory – the idea that human existence is largely reflective, which I’ll try to summarize later – then re-explores the entirety of scripture in light of that theory. And it is an eye-opener.
Mimetic Theory, as I understand it from Rabe’s explanation, is about how we as humans imitate each other in order to learn how to be human. We do what we do because other people do it, and we desire what we desire most often (if not always) because other people desire it.
So Rabe launches into Genesis, pointing out mimetic desire in the Eden story. It’s fascinating and compelling and you’ll have to read it for yourself.
By chapter four, Rabe argues that the first of the man-centered portion of the Ten Commandments are all about coveteousness, or desire for that which is desirable to your neighbor.
At the heart of conflict and harmful behavior is a craving, a desire for what belongs to another. Such unfulfilled desire can lead to deceitful dealings (“bear false witness.”) In early communities where laws were not yet in force, the next step would be to simply take what you want (“Thou shalt not steal“) But remember, at the heart of this conflict is a deep sense of insufficiency; what we are really grasping for is being. We don’t simply want what our neighbor has, we want to replace the model and so we take what is most dear: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” If this cycle of escalating conflict is not stopped, the final crime is to kill. (pp. 64-65)
Elsewhere he quotes from James, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” (James 4:1-2, NRSV, my translation choice, not his).
He argues that competition springs from these desires, and from competition springs violence. It becomes everybody against everybody, and the community is fast en route to self-destruction.
Then all of a sudden, the community lands upon a means of self-preservation: all of the violence becomes directed at one single target: a member of the community who is slightly different.
As the community externalizes their own evil and projects it onto the scapegoat the victim is demonized symbolizing everything that is wrong in the community. Usually the accusations include the kind of crimes that disrupt the natural order such as incest and bestiality. Different offenses, multiple conflicts, melt into on that contains the emotion and frustration of them all. A communal catharsis takes place. The community is unanimous in their verdict. The reason for our conflict, the source of our frustration has been found. Blind rage is not subject to reason, but reason has often been employed by rage to justify its actions. The sacrificial scapegoat is undoubtedly guilty – the community, undoubtedly innocent.
A communal murder happens.
The chaos ceases.
Order is restored. (pp. 66-67)
Everyone agrees that what happened to the scapegoat was terrible. Everyone agrees that the badness in the community was terrible. How do we solve this? Easy. We make rules to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. We make rules that say nobody is allowed to do the things the scapegoat was accused of doing.
In our blind suspicion we soon identify the causes of the victim’s fate: the actions, words and objects that defiled the victim and caused purity to demand revenge… the associated objects and actions that result in the corpse soon become “taboos” as well… What gives an object sacred status is determined by its presence in the events that lead up to the final violence. (p. 70)
By page 82, the theory is done, and the application begins. By the second chapter of part 2, he’s talking about myths like Enuma Elish – a myth that has some parallels – and striking differences – with the first few chapters of Genesis.
One of my favorite features of the book is the way André Rabe fleshes out what Steve Chalke talks about in his Restoring Confidence in the Bible video – the Bible as a library of people expressing their understanding of God, even as it grows and changes.
Rabe points out ancient Jewish polytheism hiding in the Bible as it moves toward monotheism, and where monotheistic scribes edited out polytheism from earlier texts. Rabe walks us through the theology of child sacrifice, which he argues is part of the law (Exodus 22:29) and is later condemned as not being what God really wants by two of the prophets, each in a different way (Jeremiah 19:5 and Ezekiel 20:25-26). Like I said, it’s a really fascinating book that gave me a new respect for the Bible as a book containing divine self-revelation – a respect that would not survive inerrancy.
Rabe ends with the cross. What does it mean? What was it for? He argues that it was not Jesus substituted for us for the sake of the wrath of God, but rather substituted for us for the sake of our own wrath.
If Jesus demonstrated anything, it is that God is deeply involved and affected by our fallen world. Sin is not something he is offended by, from a distance…. In Mimetic Atonement, therefore, the distance is never created or maintained by God, but rather it is a distance created and maintained by our own deception. (p. 307).
It was in the act of blind rage that the single victim mechanism was born. The brutality of murdering one of our own became the sacrificial system with which violence was controlled. The religions born from these sacrificial rituals, the myths that grew from them, the societies we built upon sacred violence, and the vengeful god-images we nourished through this event, made [Jesus’ death on the cross] the only relevant event by which to subvert this human wisdom. It had to be the cross that was the undoing of systemic violence… (pp. 317-318).
As I read through this book, I began to see the world in a new way. I saw scapegoating everywhere – in places that André Rabe did not even begin to touch upon.
In politics, the president, no matter who he is, is constantly scapegoated by members of the opposing party for everything that is going wrong in America. Republicans are scapegoating Obama as surely as Democrats scapegoated Bush and are now scapegoating the Koch brothers. Are the Koch Brothers greedy bastards who fund corrupt politicians to recreate America as a land more amenable to their greed? I would not argue it – but what of the politicians who accept that dirty money? What of the voters who mindlessly vote for those corrupt politicians?
In immigration, we find everywhere people who detest Mexicans for stealing jobs. They’re different from us. If we could just get rid of them, everything would be okay. Jobs would resurface. The economy would boom. But would it? Would it really?
Muslims are often scapegoated as well, and so are gays and lesbians. Everything wrong with America is offloaded onto gays, and some pastors have advocated locking them in a sizeable enclosure so they can’t infect the rest of America.
Even in my family there was always a scapegoat. My dad refused to see that the problems he was having were, in many ways, a result of his own overbearing nature and actions. He blamed me because my mother stopped agreeing with him on everything and finally stood up for her kids against his verbal abuse. I was the reason for the disruptions in Bible study and faced an overwhelming portion of the disciplinary actions for it.
But then I moved out. A new scapegoat had to be located, and my sister, who lived most of her life as daddy’s perfect angel, suddenly found herself nominated for Scapegoat In Chief. Her inability to do wrong quickly transformed into an inability to do anything right: she suddenly couldn’t please my dad no matter what she did. My dad, naturally, blamed my uncle for this.
Then my sister moved out. She was a bad influence on my middle sister, who became the new scapegoat. When she, my mom, and my third sister left, only my three brothers remained. They had long avoided the wrath of father because he had always had another scapegoat. But all was still not well. My uncle maintained his position of lead scapegoat for the other problems, but my second brother, as the oldest, grew against his wishes from goodie-boy to scapegoat in chief. My third brother moved out before my second, saving him the dubious honor, and we all took bets on how long my last brother would last as Scapegoat in Chief before he left. (It was less than a year).
Of course, I am not guiltless in all of this. At one point, I scapegoated my uncle for a broken relationship, blaming his influence for almost the entire thing. I’m still recovering from that viewpoint and find it awkward to be around him.
My dad, of course has also borne some of my scapegoating. I recognize myself in the quote from page 70, avoiding the actions, words, and objects I associate with the harm that I feel he has caused. Was he abusive? Of course. Is that abuse responsible for everything bad that I associate with him? Probably not (though it’s probably responsible for things I have not yet discerned as well).
And that is the mark of a good book, for me: it gives you new ways of reading your story, new ways of understanding why other people behave they do, and, most importantly, new ways of seeing your own behavior.
André Rabe isn’t like most Christian authors.
Many Christian authors are, I think, bogged down with tearing down what they have long believed. “You used to believe this. Here’s why that’s wrong, and here’s what’s right.” I offer myself as a prime example. André Rabe doesn’t have time or space for this. Desire Found Me is jam-packed with new mind-blowing paradigms. Rabe just launches right in, retelling the Christian story, starting in Genesis, in a way I’ve never heard it before.
Many Christian authors start chapters with stories. It’s basically how writing concept books is done. André Rabe does not do this. He launches right in on every chapter with concepts, thoughts, and ideas. This is not a weakness. Desire Found Me is almost 350 pages long, and he has no time or space for fluff. The main content is fascinating enough.
I used a highlighter. Maybe my Kindle is addicting me to that yellow ink, but I don’t usually highlight books. Most pages in my copy of Desire Found Me have at least a line or two of yellow ink.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.