Humanity See, Humanity Do: a book review

In Desire Found Me André Rabe explores René Girard’s theory of Memetic Realism and Christ’s mimetic atonement (with its single scapegoat mechanism). Girard is a Catholic anthropologist. His theory has the advantage of taking seriously human falleness and our need for a redeemer. Unfortunately Girard is a subtle thinker and his works are not particularly accessible. Rabe, for his part,  is a strange choice popularizer for the great french thinker. For most of his career, he was an IT guy, designing e-commerce sites and administration systems. Like Girard himself, you would not expect someone with his CV to be this theologically astute, but Desire Found Me is a great summary of Girard. Rabe incorporates Girard’s insights into his overall theological vision.

In part one, Rabe chases the development of human mimesis in relation to the fall. Mimesis means something like ‘imitation’ or ‘reflection.’ The creation of humankind is described in Genesis 1-2. In it, we were created in God’s image–created to perfectly reflect God to the cosmos. When human beings chased after the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, there entered into their heart a desire for something other than God and their mimentic desire became twisted. They began to reflect forbidden desire. This led to serious consequences, a sense of lack, ‘fruitless chases; and projections of  ‘fGod’ which were false (55). Building on Girard (for example, in I see Satan Fall Like Lightening), Rabe sees this twisted desires as the condition named in the expanded form of the last of the ten commandments: covetousness (64-5),  This twisted desire leads to mimetic rivalry, culture making to justify violence, and ultimately the need for a ‘single-scapegoat’-mechanism embedded in human culture (fore shadowing Christ and his cross).

Part two is the most complicated section of this book. Here Rabe endeavors to illustrate how the Bible is conversant with mythology, how it developed within the context of the Ancient Near East myths and how its vision and understanding has become distinct and unique among world faiths. Also in this section, Rabe demythologizes Satan, making him not a being of personal evil but the resulting spirit of societies and structures based on twisted desire. This paves the way for the coming of JesusIn part three, Rabe unfolds his understanding of the gospel and the cross. Following Girard he sees Jesus as subverting the whole system of mimetic violence, defeating ‘satan’ by exposing the structures as evil and making visible the love of God.  He also reviews other popular atonement models to illustrate how Mimetic theory complements or critiques each model (hint, Penal substitution is rejected for the way it caricatures the Father, while moral exemplar theories and Christus Victor are synthesized along mimetic lines).

There is something to Rabe’s (and more so, Girard’s) analysis. I can see why this theory is popular. It examines sin with acute psychological insight and seems to describe reality. Nevertheless I am wary of this approach to the atonement as a totalizing vision of what Christ does on the cross. I also do not share Rabe’s interest in source criticism and the development of the biblical text. It is not that I don’t think there are sources and development, it is that statements about what should be attributed to ‘Elohist’ or Yawehist source (or how YHWH became the high God El) are beside the point. I prefer a synchronic reading of the text and eschew the modernist arrogance that thinks that claims that we can ‘now understand what is really happening in scripture’ because of more scientific methods. I also see the reality of powers as human structures (as Rabe and Girard do) but also as a personal, spiritual evil, even if I can’t always sort out which is which. But yes to what Rabe is saying in a broad thematic sense, even if I disagree sharply on the details.

If you are unfamiliar with Girard, Rabe’s Desire Found Me is a great place to start. Not only does he synthesize and explain a number of Girard’s (and other theologians works), he has a helpful ‘Recommended Reading’ section at the end, arranged topically by chapter. I give this book 3.5 stars

Notice of material connection: I received this book for free via the Speakeasy blog review program. I was asked to write an honest review.

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