Friday FaithPost: Scapegoating, Mimetic Theory and Another View of Atonement

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OK, so the title of this post doesn’t roll off of the tongue very well. And you may be asking: Why should I read about atonement? How does it relate to scapegoating? Or even “What is atonement?

From a Christian theological perspective, atonement refers to how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reconciled our sins. The “bumper sticker” version of this is “Jesus saves.” Many, if not nearly all, Christians, when thinking about how Jesus saves, adopt a transactional or legalistic view of this process.

Substitutionary Atonement is a general term for this view. The logic supporting it can be summarized:

+ Human sin, both Original Sin and the myriad individual sin flowing from it, offends God’s sense of justice.

+ This justice demands payment or punishment commensurate with the offense committed against God.

+ Since human sin is so massive, there is no amount punishment or ransom humans can endure or offer which can appease God’s justice.

+ Only God’s son – both human and divine – can take upon himself human sin. When he endures the violence of brutal punishment and sacrificially sheds his blood as a stand-in for humans (a substitute) God’s justice is served. And through this sacrifice, God and humanity are reconciled.

A very popular narrative representation of this view of atonement is in C.S. Lewis’ beloved and allegorical “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Edmond betrays his siblings to the evil character. Even though he is forgiven for this by the Christ-like Aslan, the satanic witch cites the foundational justice of the land which requires traitors to become subject to destruction at her hands.Instead,  Aslan takes the witch’s violence himself, thus saving Edmond. And in doing so, an even “deeper magic” come into effect to restore him to life and energize all to defeat evil.

Another bumper sticker sized statement flows from this view of the mechanics of atonement – “Jesus Died For Your Sins.” Adherents of this perspective often emphasize how much Jesus suffered before and on the cross. A correlation is drawn between the magnitude of sin committed by humanity and the amount of pain Jesus endured as a direct consequence. The not infrequently stated: “Your sins drove a nail in to Jesus” is the harsh conclusion of this belief.

The question at the heart of this view of atonement is: “Did God the Father need (or want) Jesus to die in order to save humanity from sin and death?” Certainly Jesus died a violent death at the hands of the Romans. But, did God want/need this? If the answer is “yes,” then violence and the resulting salvation proclaimed by Christianity is sanctified and glorified. The implications cut right to the heart of Christian ethics. Although Jesus lived a life proclaiming peace, if God the Father needs/wants the blood of his son for appeasement, then violence trumps peace as the core characteristic of God’s nature. And consequently, Christians may be justified in similarly using “righteous” violence.

A growing number of theologians are showing how the exact opposite is true – Jesus died as a result of sin, specifically the foundational human sin of scapegoating.  God didn’t need/desire this violence, but allowed it, in order to turn it inside out through the resurrection of the innocent, scapegoated victim.

Perhaps the most prominent American Catholic theologian, Bishop Robert Barron, has  been speaking more and more about the theology of non-violent atonement. Read or watch below Bishop Barron’s high praise for recently deceased sociologist and theologian Rene Girard who wrote extensively about mimetic theory and scapegoating.

Bishop Barron concludes about Girard:

There are some thinkers that offer intriguing ideas and proposals, and there is a tiny handful of thinkers that manage to shake your world. Girard was in this second camp. In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power.

Girard also informs the excellent work of The Raven Foundation who offer this video mission statement:

I appreciate the dedicated work of the Raven team who frequently post commentary pointing out the many ways scapegoating happens all around us. Two thought-provoking, recent posts to check out are:

“Zootopia” How to Make the World a Better Place

“Spotlight” on Children

A bonus third post, my favorite one, also referencing a movie:

My Daughter, the Star Wars myth and Jesus – How to Defeat Evil

So, why did I spend time with this long post today? First of all, a week from now, on Good Friday, I hope this post and Girard’s powerful way of re-understanding how atonement happens allow you to experience the cross in a deeper, more profound way.  Next, as the violence, especially religiously justified acts, increases in the world, Christians must look at the root of our theology to critique how it may support God-ordained violence. Finally,  a deeper understanding of mimetic dynamics, the subsequent scapegoating and its ancient social power should lead all people of faith to prophetically expose this mechanism in order to defuse its seductive power.

 

 

 

Tuesday FaithPost – Powerful Stations of the Cross by Busted Halo

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Is it Friday already? No, sadly it is not yet. I’m sharing a FaithPost a couple of days early as I want to offer this wonderful resource now, so that you could possibly use it before or during Holy Week.

The good Paulist Fathers who create the awesome, newly redesigned, young-adult site Busted Halo, have put together a quite powerful set of videos following the Stations of the Cross. Each video uses just text and music to tell the story and interpret the meaning of each of the fourteen traditional moments in Christ’s Passion. Here’s the fourth station, which I find particularly moving and insightful:

There’s a lot I like about these videos. But two aspects are particularly meaningful. First, the overarching theme of this version of the Way of the Cross is the Kingdom of God. This central vision of Jesus’ ministry is at the heart of the gospel and thus something which we must emphasize time and again to those to whom we minister.

I also find the simple music accompanying the words on the screen provocative, compelling and deeply moving. The piano melody used with the stations in which Jesus Meets His Mother, Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus and Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem is one I find haunting and well-matched to the emotions of these encounters.

I’m using these videos in our chapel as a prayer service with all five of my classes today. It has worked better with my one sophomore class than my two freshmen ones. I think the greater maturity and developing wisdom in the older students is the main difference.

I’ve created this presentation to use with the videos. It should be pretty self-explanatory – show the slide introducing a station, play the video and then prayerfully read the supporting slide while giving the viewers/participants a few moments to reflect.

A couple of things you may wonder about the presentation: The photos of the crosses were ones that I took while visiting Christ in the Desert Monastery in northern New Mexico a few years ago.  And the colors of the background of the slides is meant to represent the transition and transformation of this time in Lent, to Holy Week and then to Easter.

I hope you find this Busted Halo Stations of the Cross as meaningful and useful as I do. The video below will link you to the playlist of  all the fourteen stations.

May you have a blessed Fifth Tuesday of Lent and a good rest of the week.

Lectionary Gospel – Laetare (Fourth) Sunday of Lent – March 6, 2016

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Google Slides

Since this Sunday’s gospel is the familiar Parable of the Prodigal (or Lost) Son and because it’s Laetare Sunday,  I thought I’d do something different with the illuminated gospel this week.

You’ll notice two translations/versions of the story. Slides two and three are the liturgical NARB version while four and five are from The Message Bible. I tried to include art which seemed to best fit with each version.

And, as a special bonus, here’s an excellent, exegetical sermon and two songs about this parable:

Bishop Baron’s Weekly Homily: “The Prodigal Son Returns”

“Apple Pie” by Flannel Graph

“Now You’re Back” by Justin Roberts

Disclaimer – Since I don’t seek to profit from these files, I don’t cite the source for each of the images found through a Google Search

Friday FaithPost (Part 1): Two Great Faith-Building Sites

SSJE Video

It’s an unusual Friday for me as I’m not teaching my classes. We have a number of priests visiting and students are invited to see them in the chapel to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To facilitate this, Religion teachers are asked to not have class assignments and/or activities which students would miss by participating in the sacrament. So, we’re having a “study hall” in all five of my classes. After three of these, 31% of my students have received Reconciliation.

Rather than get ahead on my grading/planning or simply wasting time web surfing, I’m choosing the middle way of posting here on the blog. I’ve got a few ideas for posts banging around in my head and I’ll use this time to share.

For the first post today, I’d like to share more about two favorite sites which I mentioned in the “lenten resources” post  a few weeks ago.

I don’t recall how exactly I discovered the Creighton Collaborative Ministries site . I found it five years ago or so and I’ve been pleased at how it’s expanded over time. The design isn’t flashy:

Creighton s Online Ministries Home Page

But the resources are fantastic and free (donations are accepted.) One of my favorite aspects is the calendar of Daily Reflections on each day’s liturgical readings:

Creighton U Daily Reflections

The reflections, composed by faculty and staff of the Jesuit Creighton University , are thought-provoking and an important aid for my prayer life. Another aspect of the site that I’ve enjoyed deeply (as long ago as when I had to burn these files to CD rather than just stream them) is the ever-increasing set of topnotch audio retreats:

Creighton Audio Retreats

Far and away, my favorite retreat leader is Fr. Larry Gillick, S.J.

I’ve listened to Fr. Larry many times and although I’ll most likely never meet him, I count him among my most important faith teachers.

I’m finding other faith teachers at the web home of the Anglican Society of St. John the Evangelist. Although they are a different branch of the Catholic tree than Roman Catholicism, I find their mission, wisdom, and vision very much compatible with RC religious orders. They are extremely skilled at using the internet for faith development – especially during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent.

Last Advent, they invited people to Tweet photos each day, on an Advent related theme, to @adventword:

SSJE Advent Word

The Tweeted images and related 140 character thoughts were clever, often funny, and inspiring. Currently, during Lent, they are offering the #growrule program with workbooks for adults and children, places to share self-reflections, and daily videos, with compelling questions to increase self-awareness:

SSJE GrowRule

I’ve been showing some of these videos to my students along with a daily Lenten Journal to guide them in reflection. Here’s the journal for reflection on this constructive offering by Br. Curtis:

It’s not too late to join this program with the brothers as “My Relationship with Creation” begins next week.

And before I post this, I need to give a shout out to my favorite, young-adult focused site: Busted Halo.

Blessings and Happy Lenting!

 

 

Resources for Lent 2016

Creighton Online - Lent

It’s hard to believe that Lent is upon us so quickly this year. Next year, Ash Wednesday will be nearly three weeks later – March 1, 2017! How will you Fast, Pray & Give this year.

Here’s a few resources I’m looking at this year:

USCCB – “Lent 2016: 40 Days of Mercy

Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl – I especially like their weekly, meatless recipes from around the world. Hopefully they will again have videos of Fr. Leo demonstrating each one.

Loyola Press Lenten Resources especially their Online Lenten Retreats & Prayers

Creighton University On-Line Ministries: Praying Lent – I highly recommend this audio retreat presented by the wise Fr. Larry Gillick, S.J.

Other Jesuit Lenten resources can be found at Thinking Faith and the audio-focused Pray As You Go – both from the U.K.

Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Lenten Resources  (includes a link to sign up for his daily Lenten reflection emails.)

As of today (Monday), Busted Halo hasn’t posted their popular Lent calendar yet. They have a few Lenten themed articles as well as this excellent Ash Wednesday in Two Minutes video:

Last year for both Lent and Advent I found the resources offered by the Society of St. John the Evangelist to be faith and thought provoking.  This year’s theme, which encompasses daily videos, emails and a workbook is entitled: Growing a Rule of Life. It begins with this introductory video by one of the wise brothers:

And it even has a component for use with youth.

In light of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking celebration of God’s Creation, “Laudato Si” how about connecting your Lenten fasting to activities which care for creation. A number of faith organizations offer Lenten calendars with suggestions for each day:

Sisters of St. Joseph Carbon Fast

Michigan Interfaith Power & Light

Carbon Fast – Anglican Communion

St. Francis Cabrini Community

More extensive “carbon fast” programs, including daily emails and message boards, are offered by MACUCC and EcoChurch Southwest (U.K.)

Shifting gears to focus on apps, Give Us This Day is offering a free trial of their app featuring the day’s morning & evening prayers as well as the daily mass.

Finally, props to a great blog site – Catholic Apptitude and their listing of apps and related resources for Lent.