There is an intrinsic link between religion and violence. The primary manifestation of this link is gender violence, which affects 100% of humanity and leads to all other forms of violence. In human history and, specifically, in the history of religion and violence, the one and definitive reversal of sacred violence is Jesus Christ. Experience confirms that violence is not the solution for social issues. In particular, religious institutions have utterly failed to resolve any issue by using violence. And yet, current events clearly indicate that humanity has not learned the futility of using violence for any constructive purpose.
Non-violence is our only hope but, is it a real hope or a false hope? Perhaps it is time to recognize that, between extreme violence and radical non-violence, there are degrees of violence. Explicit recognition of this fact may be helpful to foster a counter-patriarchal mindset of lesser acceptance of violence in human behavior. Closely related to violence non-acceptance is the need to manage violence. The social feasibility of managing violence is proportional to social differentiation, i.e., the structure of social relationships includes levels of authority with a mandate to keep "law and order" without using "excessive violence."
In all human institutions, the stability provided by differentiation compensates for the instability induced by violence. Institutions that reduce differentiation, even if it is for the right reason, risk an increase in institutional disruption, rivalries, and even violence. In this regard, the Christian churches that have reduced gender differentiation by including women in roles of religious authority (and are paying the price of inner tensions between those in favor of change and those in favor of continuity) are worthy of especial admiration. Jesus also paid the price for trying to balance change and continuity.
The balance between change and continuity is a balance between holding on to old differentiations which are no longer good and letting go of such differentiations are they become harmful. Conversely, the balance between change and continuity is also a matter of reinforcing old differentiations that are good and letting go of old undifferentiations as they become harmful. In religious institutions, differentiations are beneficial or harmful in terms of what they do for the glory of God and the good of souls. In social institutions, differentiations are beneficial or harmful in terms of what they do for peace, justice, human solidarity, ecological sustainability, human development. There can be no conflict between religious and social differentiations, since the glory of God is "man" ["anthropos"] fully alive (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, 2nd century CE).
Jesus had to make these difficult choices within the concrete social and religious limits of first century Palestine. His followers today must keep making the same choices, keeping in mind that his perfect non-violence had to be tempered with a healthy dosage of tough love, both in his teachings (e.g., Matthew 7:6) and in his actions (e.g., John 2:13-21). Gratefully, the voice of God keeps resounding in the events of history -- the "signs of the times." Differentiations to hold on to certainly include subsidiarity in governance, respect for ethnic and cultural diversity, respect for marriage and family values, and responsible use of human sexuality as a gift of love and a gift of life. One differentiation to let go of is gender violence and all manner of gender discrimination. Others are the addiction to extravagant consumption and abusing the human habitat.
Recommended reading: Violence and Religion in Pluralistic Societies, Konrad Raiser, Seminars on Orthodoxy and Pluralism, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 2002. For additional references, see .
6. MIMETIC THEORY & SYSTEM DYNAMICS
Mimetic theory is a theological anthropology initially developed by René Girard. It is focused on the link between religion and violence, and attempts to explain human behavior in terms of the mimetic desire, mimetic rivalry, conflict escalation, scapegoating, and scapegoat victimization feedback loop. System dynamics is a theory of systems initially developed by Jay Forrester and his group at MIT (late 1950s). It is focused on the link between system behavior over time and the system's feedback loop structure. Since both mimetic theory and system dynamics are concerned with linking behavior and feedback, it would seem natural to investigate the use of system dynamics to better understand mimetic behavior and, in particular, mimetic violence.
Is it possible to combine mimetic theory and system dynamics to develop a better understanding of the transition from patriarchal violence to human solidarity, ecological sustainability, and sustainable human development? This section is a very preliminary start in attempting to answer this question. Figure 1 is a hypothesis, depicted as a causal loop diagram, of the feedback loops that generate mimetic dynamics at the global level. Figure 2 isolates each one of the loops to analyze their polarity. Feedback loops with positive polarity generate and reinforce growth. Feedback loops with negative polarity are goal seeking and maintain stability.
DIAGRAM NOTATION: An arrow with a positive sign from A to B means that, if A increases, then B increases; and, if A decreases, then B decreases. An arrow with a negative sign from A to B means that, if A increases, then B decreases; and, if A decreases, then B increases. There are seven feedback loops: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Loops with zero or an even number of minus signs have positive polarity (generate growth). Loops with an odd number of minus signs have negative polarity (maintain stability).
Figure 1 - Causal Loop Diagram
Figure 1 is inspired by the Ecocosm Paradox, diagram of Willard R. Fey and Ann C. W. Lam. It shows the feedback loops that generate population growth and consumption growth, and the consumption loops on the left are mimetic cycles. See the note under the diagram for details of notation. There are seven loops, denoted as A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Loops A and B are the most critical. As long as loop A is stronger than loop B, mimetic rivalry and violence can be managed and the addiction to consumption continues to grow at the expense of suppressing solidarity and sustainability. If and when social differentiation decreases and loop B becomes stronger than loop A, then violence becomes unmanageable and a switch to solidarity and sustainability priorities becomes inevitable. Loop A stands for gradual change. Loop B stands for cataclysmic change. Unless God grants humanity a sudden and massive conversion from self-interest to solidarity and sustainability, let us pray that loop A is never overtaken by loop B.
This is Figure 1, reduced but showing feedback loops A, B, C, D, E, F, G. In figures 2A to 2G, each of the loops is shaded and loop polarity is based on the sign changes of the outermost links.
Figure 2A: This loop has positive polarity. Human consumption fuels mimetic desire, and differentiated rivalries induce manageable violence and growth in consumption per capita.
Figure 2B: This loop has positive polarity as long as unmanageable rivalries are not strong enough to mitigate the consumerism mindset and reduce growth in consumption per capita.
Figure 2C: This loop has negative polarity as long as environmental degradation does not induce a significant reduction in the hierarchical differentiation of human institutions.
Figure 2D: This loop has negative polarity as long as environmental degradation does not induce a significant reduction in the hierarchical differentiation of human institutions.
Figure 2E: This loop has positive polarity and remains strong as long as consumption sufficiency and quality is high enough to sustain the hierarchical differentiation of human institutions.
Figure 2F: This loop has positive polarity and remains strong as long as human consumption sufficiency and quality is high enough to sustain human health, and fertility is not limited artificially.
Figure 2G: This loop has negative polarity and remains weak as long as consumption sufficiency and quality, and human health, are not impaired by severe environmental degradation.
Figure 2 - Polarity of Feedback Loops A, B, C, D, E, F, G
The polarity analysis for each loop in Figure 2 is briefly explained in the notes under each of the highlighted loops. Since this feedback loop geometry is a very preliminary hypothesis, no further discussion is attempted at this point. Research is underway to assess the Girardian integrity of this initial model. Some of the pending research questions are extremely complex. For instance, how can differentiation mechanisms be adjusted to manage both growth and stability, so that human pain and suffering is mitigated while balancing change and continuity? It is hoped that reader comments will assist in furthering this integration of mimetic theory and system dynamics. Once we have a robust hypothesis, then it might be worthwhile to translate the causal loop diagram into a simulation model for analyses of global scenarios and the outlook for making progress toward the U.N. millennium development goals (MDGs). But, as the Irish say, it's a long way to Tiperary.
Recommended reading: Trends in Sustainable Development, UNESCO, 2006. For additional References, see .
7. PRAYER, STUDY, AND ACTION
Prayer for World Peace
Great God, who has told us "Vengeance is mine,"
save us from ourselves,
save us from vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.
Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.
Give us the strength it takes to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again to make peace
even when peace eludes us.
We ask, O God, for the grace to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people to understand
the fears and hopes of other peoples.
We ask for the love it takes to bequeath to the children
of the world to come more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the love it takes to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, or Palestine and Israel,
as well as for ourselves.
Give us depth of soul, O God, to constrain our might,
to resist the temptation of power,
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace - not war - wherever we go.
For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.
And so may we be merciful
and patient, and gracious, and trusting
with these others whom you also love.
This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen!
Joan Chittister, OSB,
Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania
The best kind of study is daily reading of the Bible. If you don't have a Bible, get one and start reading it, especially the gospels. Nothing can replace having your own Bible, but you may want to check the following online services:
Search the Bible by word or passage
Girardian Reflections on the Bible
The next time you experience violence,
answer violence with non-violence
or, at least,
answer violence with lesser violence.
8. REFERENCES AND NOTES
NOTE TO READERS: Click on the reference [##] to go back to the text.
Additional references for section 1:
, Norbert Wiener, Da Capo Press, 1954, 199 pages.
Mimetic Paradox and the Event of Human Origin, Eric Gans, Anthropoetics I, no. 2, December 1995.
René Girard’s Contribution to the Church of the 21st Century, Gil Bailie, Communio: International Catholic Review, Vol. XXVI, No. 1, Spring 1999.
A Brief Introduction to Generative Anthropology, Eric Gans, Anthropoetics Website, January 28, 2006.
GA and Mimetic Theory I: Violence, Eric Gans, Chronicles of Love and Resentment, No. 329: Saturday, February 18, 2006
GA and Mimetic Theory II: The Scapegoat, Eric Gans, Chronicles of Love and Resentment, No. 332: Saturday, March 18, 2006.
Additional references for section 2:
So You Want To Be an Ayatollah: How Shiite clerics earn the name., Brendan I. Koerner, Slate, 6 April 2004.
Comparing Abrahamic Religions, Alliance for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding, 2004.
How Biblical is the Christian Right?, Margaret M. Mitchell, Martin Marty Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion, University of Chicago, May 2006.
The Ten Commandments as a Basis for Meaningful Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue, Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, 2006.
Additional references for section 3:
Revelation, the Religions, and Violence, Leo D. Lefebure, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2000, 244 pages.
Pluralism Project Resources by Tradition, The Pluralism Project, Harvard University, 2006.
Additional references for section 4:
The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Allan G. Johnson, Temple University Press, 1997, 294 pages.
A Declaration of Women's Rights in Islamic Societies, Council for Secular Humanism, 2004.
Powerful Women: Sign of the Times?, Elliott Wave International, 21 April 2006.
'You're not my mother any more,' shouted Samaira. Then her family killed her, Riazat Butt, The Guardian, 15 July 2006.
Gender equality: Easy to theorize, difficult to apply, Indraswari, School of Social and Political Science, Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung, The Jakarta Post, 10 August 2006.
Tutor says sex assaults are sacred ritual, CNN, 3 August 2006.
Asia's Missing Women, Isabelle Attané, Le Monde diplomatique, August 2006. Excerpt: "Gender discrimination now affects the demographic balance of some Asian countries, especially China and India, where there are disproportionate numbers of men to women. In some regions the birth ratio is already extreme and is likely to worsen."
Institute for Feminism and Religion. From the website: "The Institute for Feminism and Religion aims to explore a prophetic approach to feminism and religion, inclusive of many traditions and emerging consciousness in Ireland. We do this by providing opportunities for women to reclaim religion by engaging theoretically and experientially with the issues or feminist theology, ethics, spirituality and ritual."
Gender Violence Continues to Claim Its Victims, Adrián Reyes, IPS News, 14 August 2006. Excerpt: "No longer able to bear the physical and emotional violence she endured for years at the hands of her husband, Amelia finally committed suicide - just one more victim of gender violence in Mexico, which cost the lives of more than 6,000 girls and women between 1999 and 2005, according to official statistics."
Feminist Epistemologies of Ignorance, Hypatia - A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Volume 21, Number 3, Fall 2006 (forthcoming).
Additional references for section 5:
The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society
Commentary on the Gospel of John, William Barclay, Volume 1 (Chapters 1 to 7), St. Andrew Press, Scotland, 1955, pp. 105-114.
Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay, Volume 1 (Chapters 1 to 10), St. Andrew Press, Scotland, 1956, pp. 265-269.
God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion