I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by René Girard: Detailed Summary

By Justin Murphy,

René Girard (1923-2015) was a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher of social science. His work focused on human desire, violence, and religion. He was born in Avignon, France and studied in Paris before moving to the United States, where he taught at several universities including Stanford. Girard was a believing Christian and his later works, including I See Satan Fall Like Lightning published in 1999, examined Christianity and the Bible through the lens of his theories. In I See Satan Fall Like Lightning specifically, Girard interprets the New Testament as revealing the innocent victim at the heart of the scapegoat mechanism, with Jesus as the ultimate scapegoat whose death unveils and begins to undo the cycle of violence.

Thesis and main arguments

  • Girard argues that the Bible, especially the Gospels, unveils the violent scapegoating mechanisms that underlie archaic religions and human culture. Whereas myths conceal collective murder by justifying the persecution of innocent victims, the Bible reveals the truth of the scapegoat and sides with the victim.
  • He traces the "mimetic cycle" of desire, rivalry, violence and scapegoating that generates human culture. The Gospels expose and undermine this cycle by showing the innocence of the victim (Jesus). This overturns archaic religion and unleashes a new moral concern for victims in history.
  • Girard reads certain Gospel passages, such as Satan's expulsion of Satan and the false accusation against innocent victims, as revealing the scapegoat mechanism. The Cross unmasks the age-old structures of violence and offers a way out through love of enemies and repudiation of vengeance.

Chapter 1: Scandal Must Come

In this chapter, Girard lays the foundation for his argument by introducing the concept of mimetic desire and showing how the Bible, particularly the New Testament, reveals the consequences of this desire.

The 10th Commandment and Mimetic Desire

Girard begins by focusing on the 10th commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's" (Exod. 20:17). He argues that this commandment, unlike the others, forbids a desire rather than an action.

The key insight is that we desire what our neighbor has or desires. Human desire is fundamentally imitative or "mimetic." We borrow our desires from others:

The commandment that prohibits desiring the goods of one's neighbor attempts to resolve the number one problem of every human community: internal violence. (9)

Mimetic desire is not inherently harmful; in fact, it is the basis of all learning and socialization. However, it inevitably leads to rivalry, as the imitator comes into conflict with the model he imitates. This is because the model desires the same object and becomes an obstacle to the imitator's desire.

Mimetic Rivalry and the "Stumbling Block"

The consequences of mimetic rivalry are described in the New Testament through the concept of the "scandal" or "stumbling block" (Greek: skandalon). A skandalon is an obstacle that trips people up, causing them to fall. In mimetic rivalry, the model-turned-obstacle becomes the skandalon:

Those who are scandalized put all the more ardor in injuring themselves against it because they were injured there before. (16)

The more the rivals imitate each other, the more they come to resemble each other, becoming "mimetic doubles." Their reciprocal imitation intensifies the rivalry, leading to an escalation of conflict and violence.

Jesus' injunction to cut off the hand or foot that scandalizes us (Matt. 18:8-9) points to the radical nature of the solution: we must renounce mimetic rivalry altogether. But Jesus also recognizes the near inevitability of mimetic conflict: "Woe to the world for scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come" (Matt. 18:7).

Girard sees this as a profound revelation of the human condition. The Bible reveals the mimetic nature of human desire and the conflicts that arise from it. This lays the groundwork for understanding the scapegoat mechanism and the Bible's unique perspective on it, which Girard develops in the following chapters.

The concept of scandal or skandalon is central to Girard's overall argument. It is the key to understanding how mimetic rivalry escalates into a mimetic crisis, which is resolved through the scapegoating of an innocent victim. The Bible's preoccupation with scandal and its consequences sets it apart from mythology, which fails to recognize the innocence of the victim and the guilt of the community.

By introducing these concepts early on, Girard prepares the reader to see the Bible in a new light - not just as a religious text, but as a revelation of fundamental truths about human nature and the origins of culture. His anthropological reading of scripture is the basis for his unique perspective on the relationship between Christianity, mythology, and violence.

Chapter 2: The Cycle of Mimetic Violence

In this chapter, Girard describes how mimetic rivalries escalate into a full-blown mimetic crisis, and how the scapegoat mechanism functions as human society's way of restoring order. He then shows how this mimetic cycle is represented in several key Biblical narratives.

The Single Victim Mechanism

The single victim mechanism is Girard's term for the process by which a community in mimetic crisis selects a scapegoat whose expulsion or death restores social order. As mimetic rivalries intensify, the antagonists become more and more alike, "doubles" of each other. The conflict spreads by contagion, blurring all distinctions and threatening to engulf the entire community.

At the height of the crisis, the warring doubles suddenly unite against a single victim who is accused of crimes that symbolize the community's disorder. By uniting against this scapegoat, the community is reconciled and peace is restored. The scapegoat is paradoxically seen as both guilty (the source of the crisis) and sacred (since their death brings salvation).

Girard emphasizes the unconscious, spontaneous nature of this process. The scapegoat is not chosen arbitrarily, but is seen as complicit in the crimes of which he is accused:

The victim of a lynching or a witch-hunt is never chosen at random. There are always reasons for choosing him, but they ultimately have little to do with the victim himself, or with the crimes of which he is accused. The crowd thinks it chooses the guilty party, and it never chooses without believing it has good reasons for doing so. (81)

Yet these "good reasons" are a product of the mimetic crisis itself, which distorts perception and makes the scapegoat appear guilty. The scapegoat mechanism depends on misunderstanding; if the community recognized the arbitrary nature of the victim's selection, the mechanism would not work.

Biblical Examples of the Mimetic Cycle

Girard finds the mimetic cycle represented with exceptional clarity in several Biblical narratives. The first is the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4), which he calls "the first founding murder":

The account of Cain and Abel . . . discloses a mimetic rivalry between brothers. It leads to the first murder and the foundation of the first culture. The two essential steps of hominization, the origination of the human and its entrance into the cultural order, are narrated in a way that rigorously parallels the process described in the preceding chapter. (84)

Cain's murder of Abel follows the pattern of the mimetic cycle: rivalry leading to violence, and the founding of a new cultural order based on the expulsion of the victim. But unlike mythical texts, the Bible clearly portrays Abel as innocent and Cain as guilty. It recognizes collective violence for what it is.

The story of Joseph and his brothers (Gen. 37-50) provides an even more developed example of the mimetic cycle. Joseph is envied and hated by his brothers, who plot to kill him but end up selling him into slavery. Yet the story ends with reconciliation when the brothers, threatened by famine, must seek Joseph's help.

As with Cain and Abel, the Bible portrays Joseph as innocent and his persecutors as guilty. This contrasts with mythical stories like that of Oedipus, where the scapegoat is seen as guilty and the community as justified in expelling him.

Girard also finds the mimetic cycle in the scapegoat ritual of Leviticus 16, the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah, and the Passion of Christ. In each case, an innocent victim is persecuted and killed, but the biblical accounts, unlike myths, recognize the injustice of this process.

This "anti-mythological" insistence on the innocence of the victim and the guilt of the persecutors is essential to Girard's understanding of the uniqueness of Biblical revelation. The Bible reveals the truth of human violence that is concealed in mythology and ancient ritual. This revelation reaches its climax in the Passion narratives, where Christ becomes the ultimate innocent victim whose death reveals the workings of the scapegoat mechanism.

Chapter 3: Satan

In this chapter, Girard explores the figure of Satan in the Gospels and shows how Satan is a personification of mimetic rivalry and the scapegoat mechanism. He argues that the Gospels reveal the "satanic cycle" of mimetic violence that underlies human culture.

Satan as Personification of Mimetic Contagion

Girard sees Satan as a mythical embodiment of the entire process of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating. Satan is associated with a number of key terms and concepts related to mimetic theory:

  • Scandal: Satan is the "skandalon" or stumbling block that trips people up and causes them to fall into mimetic rivalry. Jesus calls Peter "Satan" when Peter tries to dissuade him from his sacrificial mission (Matt. 16:23).
  • Accusation: One of Satan's primary roles is that of the "accuser" who mobilizes the mob against the scapegoat (see Rev. 12:10). He is the instigator of the scapegoat mechanism.
  • Violence and Murder: Jesus refers to Satan as "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44), linking him to the founding murder that Girard sees at the origin of human culture.
  • The Prince of this World: Satan is the ruler of the present order (John 12:31), which is founded on the scapegoat mechanism. His power is based on his ability to instigate mimetic crises and then provide a "miraculous" solution through unanimous violence against the scapegoat.

All of these roles make Satan the personification of mimetic contagion, the force that spreads rivalry and conflict throughout human communities. Girard writes:

Scandals are the particular moments of a contagious rivalry, the mimetic conflicts that bring about the destruction of the interpersonal and social fabric. Satan is the instigator of scandals, setting the principal moments of the life of Christ in opposition to God the Father. (33)

The Satanic Cycle in the Gospels

Girard argues that the Gospels reveal the "satanic cycle" of mimetic violence that is hidden in mythology. This cycle has three main stages:

  1. Mimetic Rivalry: Satan sows scandals and mimetic rivalries that threaten to tear the community apart. This is the "war of all against all" that Girard sees as the reality behind the Hobbesian "state of nature."
  2. Mimetic Crisis: As rivalries escalate, differences break down and the community falls into a mimetic crisis. All against all becomes all against one as the mob unites against the scapegoat.
  3. The Scapegoat Mechanism: The mob's unanimous violence against the scapegoat brings a miraculous peace. Satan is "divided against himself" (Mark 3:23-26), using violence to cast out violence and restore order.

This is the "satanic cycle" that Jesus describes when he says that Satan "was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). It is the founding mechanism of human culture, the way that communities have always warded off the threat of all-against-all violence.

What the Gospels reveal, for the first time in human history, is the innocence of the scapegoat and the guilt of the community. They expose the lie at the heart of the satanic system. Girard writes:

In the Gospels all the "scandals" gravitate around Jesus. They will all gather against him at the Passion and we will see the Gospels describe a mimetic snowballing, a mimetic contagion in which the authorities play the same role as the crowd. (34)

By revealing the truth of the scapegoat mechanism, the Gospels deprive Satan of his power. They reveal that the peace he offers is a false peace, bought at the price of an innocent victim. This revelation is the beginning of the end for Satan's reign as "the prince of this world."

Girard's analysis of Satan is a key part of his overall argument about the uniqueness of Christianity. By personifying mimetic rivalry and the scapegoat mechanism, the figure of Satan allows the Gospels to expose the hidden violence at the foundation of human culture. This revelation is central to Girard's understanding of Christianity as a religion that unveils and undermines the scapegoat mechanism, offering a new way of dealing with human conflict.

Chapter 4: The Horrible Miracle of Apollonius of Tyana

Girard begins with a striking example of scapegoating from the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a pagan philosopher from the 1st century AD. In this story, Apollonius ends a plague in Ephesus by inciting a mob to stone an innocent beggar, who is then transformed into a monstrous demon.

Parallels to Scapegoating in the Gospels

Girard notes several key parallels between this pagan story and the scapegoating events in the Gospels:

  • The victim is an innocent outsider, poor and marginalized.
  • The victim is accused of causing the city's troubles (in this case, the plague).
  • A charismatic figure (Apollonius) incites the crowd to unanimous violence against the victim.
  • The stoning appeases the crowd's anger and restores peace to the city.

These similarities suggest that the Gospels and pagan stories are dealing with the same basic phenomenon: the scapegoat mechanism by which communities unify themselves through collective violence.

The First Stone and Mimetic Contagion

Girard focuses on the crowd's initial reluctance to stone the beggar and Apollonius' efforts to overcome this hesitation. He contrasts this with Jesus' actions in the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11):

  • Jesus prevents violence by telling the crowd, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her."
  • Apollonius incites violence by insisting that the crowd stone the beggar.

Apollonius' actions reveal the mimetic nature of the scapegoating process. The contagion of violence spreads through imitation, with each person taking their cue from others. Once the first stone is thrown, the violence escalates mimetically until it reaches a unanimous frenzy.

Jesus' words work in the opposite direction, using mimetic contagion to defuse violence. As each person drops their stone, others imitate them until the contagion of mercy spreads through the crowd.

Chapter 5: Mythology

Girard argues that the same scapegoat mechanism exposed in the Gospels is the hidden key to understanding world mythology. Myths are retellings of real scapegoating events, but told from the perspective of the persecutors.

Similarities Between Mythical Stories and Scapegoating

Girard identifies several recurring themes in mythology that point to their origin in collective violence:

  • The hero (Oedipus, Romulus, etc.) is an outsider who arrives in a city beset by a crisis or plague.
  • The hero is accused of crimes that symbolize the community's disorder (parricide, incest, etc.).
  • The hero is expelled or killed by a unanimous mob, which restores order and peace to the community.
  • The hero is often divinized after his death and becomes a founding figure of the city or culture.

These themes reflect the stereotypical pattern of the scapegoat mechanism: a mimetic crisis that is resolved through unanimous violence against a surrogate victim.

False vs. True Transcendence

The key difference between myths and the Bible is their attitude toward the scapegoating process. Myths reflect the perspective of the persecuting crowd, which believes in the guilt of the victim:

The myths are based on a unanimous persecution. Judaism and Christianity destroy this unanimity in order to defend the victims unjustly condemned and to condemn the executioners unjustly legitimated. (112)

Myths sacralize the scapegoat mechanism, attributing the mimetic crisis to the guilt of the victim and the restored order to the sacredness of the reconciled community. This is a "false transcendence" based on the deception of unrecognized scapegoating.

The Bible, by contrast, reveals the innocence of the victim (Joseph, Job, Jesus) and the guilt of the persecuting crowd. It desacralizes the scapegoat mechanism and reveals the "true transcendence" of the God who stands on the side of innocent victims.

Chapter 6: Sacrifice

Girard argues that ritual sacrifice, like mythology, has its origins in real acts of scapegoating violence. Rituals are controlled reenactments of the original scapegoating event, meant to reproduce its effects in miniature.

Origins and Meaning of Ritual Sacrifice

Girard speculates that sacrificial rituals began as imitations of the original acts of spontaneous collective murder against scapegoats. By ritually repeating the murder, the community sought to ward off the mimetic crises that had threatened to destroy it in the past:

Ritual sacrifice is nothing more than an imitation of spontaneous collective violence... This violence brings about a reconciliation, at least temporarily, and the more intense the crisis was, the more durable its resolution is. (80)

Over time, the original murder was forgotten and only the ritual remained. But the ritual maintained the essential features of the original event: the transference of communal violence onto a surrogate victim.

Sacrifice and the Single Victim Mechanism

Girard sees evidence for the scapegoating origin of sacrifice in the similarities between sacrificial victims and scapegoats:

  • Sacrificial victims are often outsiders or marginal members of the community.
  • They are chosen for arbitrary reasons or "sacrificial signs" that mark them as vulnerable.
  • They are subject to a ritual transference of the community's sins and disorders.
  • Their death is seen as necessary for the preservation or restoration of communal order.

All these features point back to the original scapegoating event at the foundation of the community. Sacrifice is a ritualized repetition of the single victim mechanism, which channels communal violence away from the community itself and onto a "sacrificeable" surrogate.

Chapter 7: The Founding Murder

Girard argues that collective murder against scapegoats is the foundation of all human culture. The "founding murder" is the original scapegoating event that brings a community into being by ending a mimetic crisis.

Collective Murder at the Origins of Culture

Drawing on anthropological evidence and psychoanalytic theory, Girard speculates that early human communities were beset by intense mimetic rivalries that threatened their survival. The scapegoat mechanism arose as a way of channeling these rivalries away from communal self-destruction:

The single victim mechanism was [early humans'] way out, their only way to put the self-destructive mimetic impulse in the service of a (temporarily) constructive social structure. (84)

The murder of the scapegoat brought an end to the crisis and a new sense of social unity. The victim, who had been seen as the cause of the disorder, was now seen as a sacred figure who had restored peace. The founding murder became the basis for the community's myths, rituals, and prohibitions.

Biblical Parallels to the Founding Murder

Girard finds evidence for the founding murder in several key biblical stories:

  • Cain and Abel: The first "founding murder" and the prototype of all myths. Cain's murder of Abel is a mimetic rivalry between brothers that establishes a new cultural order based on violence.
  • Joseph and his brothers: A classic scapegoating story in which an innocent victim (Joseph) is expelled by a group (his brothers) during a crisis (famine).
  • The stoning of the adulterous woman: An aborted founding murder in which Jesus prevents the scapegoating of an outsider accused of sexual crimes.
  • The Crucifixion: The ultimate founding murder in which Jesus becomes the innocent scapegoat whose death founds a new "kingdom" based on love and forgiveness.

The Bible's revelation of the founding murder is the key to its unique perspective on human culture. Unlike myths, which conceal the foundational violence, the Bible reveals it and sides with the innocent victims against their persecutors.

Throughout Part Two, Girard develops his thesis that mythology, ritual sacrifice, and the founding murder all have their origins in the scapegoat mechanism. By unmasking this mechanism, Girard aims to demonstrate the Bible's unique anthropological insight and its revelatory power in contrast to the deceptions of pagan religion.

This sets the stage for Part Three, in which Girard will argue that the Crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate unmasking of the scapegoat mechanism and the key to understanding Christian revelation. By revealing the innocence of the victim and the guilt of the persecutors, the Cross breaks the cycle of mythic violence and offers a new model of human reconciliation.

Chapter 8: Powers and Principalities

Girard begins by examining the New Testament concept of the "powers and principalities" that rule the present age. He argues that these "powers" are the spiritual forces behind the scapegoat mechanism and the structures of power it generates.

The Sovereignties Founded on the Single Victim Mechanism

Girard sees a direct link between the scapegoat mechanism and the rise of political sovereignty. The founding murder that ends a mimetic crisis becomes the basis for a new social order, with the victim as its sacred center:

The powers are never strangers to Satan... because the founding murder that has given birth to them is the same one that is frequently reenacted in ritual sacrifice and represented in mythology as similar to the Passion. (98)

Earthly kingdoms and empires are founded on the false transcendence of the sacral victim. Their power derives from their ability to re-channel mimetic violence and unify the community against scapegoats.

The Ambivalent Nature of the "Powers"

Yet the "powers" are not simply evil. They play a necessary role in restraining violence and maintaining social order. The New Testament recognizes their legitimacy, even as it relativizes their ultimacy:

St. Paul says that the powers exist because they have a role to play as authorized by God... He recommends that Christians respect them and even honor them as long as they require nothing contrary to Christian faith. (98)

The powers are part of the present order that is passing away. They are "sovereignties" in the sense that they exercise real power, but their days are numbered as the kingdom of God breaks into the world.

Chapter 9: The Uniqueness of the Bible

Girard argues that the Bible is unique among world texts in its consistent defense of the victim and its unmasking of the scapegoat mechanism. This is evident in both the Old and New Testaments.

The Bible's Reversal of Mythical Persecution

Girard contrasts the biblical story of Joseph with the myth of Oedipus to illustrate the Bible's unique perspective. Both stories involve a mimetic crisis that is resolved through the expulsion of the hero. But the key difference is in how they portray the guilt or innocence of the victim:

The myth and the biblical story are in basic opposition over the decisive question that collective violence poses: Is it warranted? Is it legitimate? In the myth the expulsions of the hero are justified each time. In the biblical account they never are. Collective violence is unjustifiable. (109)

The Bible consistently takes the side of the victim against the persecuting crowd. It demystifies the scapegoat mechanism and reveals the truth of collective violence.

The Stories of Joseph and Abel

The story of Joseph is a prime example of the Bible's "anti-mythical" perspective. Unlike Oedipus, who is portrayed as guilty of parricide and incest, Joseph is innocent of any wrongdoing. His brothers persecute him out of mimetic jealousy, but he forgives them and becomes their savior.

The story of Cain and Abel is an even more primal example. It reveals the founding murder at the origin of human culture and names it for what it is: an act of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating violence.

Throughout the Old Testament, Girard finds a consistent critique of the scapegoat mechanism and a defense of innocent victims, from the songs of the Suffering Servant to the cries of the persecuted in the Psalms.

Chapter 10: The Uniqueness of the Gospels

The Gospels take the biblical critique of violence to its ultimate conclusion. They not only defend the innocence of the victim, but reveal how the victim becomes the vehicle of divine reconciliation.

How the Gospels Reveal the Truth of Mythology

Girard argues that the Gospels contain the same "mythic" elements as pagan stories of dying and rising gods. The difference is that the Gospels tell the story from the perspective of the victim, revealing what mythology conceals:

The Gospels contain the same three-part sequence as myths: crisis, collective violence, and epiphany of the divinity. And yet no one has ever read the Gospels as myth... The Passion is presented as one more example of the single victim mechanism. (124)

The Gospels reveal the truth of the scapegoat mechanism that myths conceal. They show the victim as innocent and the crowd as guilty. This revelation is the key to their unique power.

The Divinity of the Victim in the Gospels vs. Myths

The Gospels also reveal a new form of the sacred, one based not on the divinization of the persecutors but on the divinity of the victim. Jesus is the innocent scapegoat who becomes the vehicle of divine forgiveness and reconciliation:

In myths, the divinity of the victim is a function of the unanimous violence. In the Gospels, the divinity of Christ is primary; it is the source of the unanimous hostility, which it deliberately provokes in order to make it subside. (125)

The Cross reveals a God who identifies with victims, not persecutors. It subverts the mythic sacred and establishes a new form of transcendence based on love and forgiveness.

Chapter 11: The Triumph of the Cross

Girard concludes his argument by showing how the Cross is the ultimate revelation of the scapegoat mechanism and the key to its defeat. It is the "victory" of God over the powers of violence and deception.

The Cross as Revelation of the Single Victim Mechanism

The Crucifixion is a classic scapegoating event, with an innocent victim expelled by a unanimous mob. But because the Gospels tell the story from the victim's perspective, they reveal what is concealed in myth and ritual:

The Gospels reveal everything that human beings need to understand their moral responsibility with regard to the whole spectrum of violence in human history... The Gospels disclose the persecutory unconscious not only in the accounts of the Passion but in several explicit definitions. (126)

The Cross unveils the hidden violence at the foundation of human culture. It reveals the "things hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matt. 13:35), which is the scapegoat mechanism itself.

The Defeat of Satan through the Cross

By revealing the truth of scapegoating, the Cross deprives Satan of his primary weapon. Satan's power depends on his ability to incite mimetic violence and then conceal it through myth and ritual. But the Cross exposes this deception once and for all:

By nailing Christ to the Cross, the powers believed they were doing what they ordinarily did in unleashing the single victim mechanism... But in reality, they were doing exactly the opposite... They were contributing to their own annihilation, nailing themselves to the Cross. (142)

The Cross is not a defeat for God but a defeat for Satan. It is the "victory" of truth over deception, of love over violence. By submitting to the Cross, Christ unveils and disarms the principalities and powers, triumphing over them in his very weakness (Col. 2:15).

Chapters 12-14: The Modern World

In the final chapters, Girard explores the consequences of the Christian revelation for the modern world. He argues that modernity is shaped by the progressive unveiling of the scapegoat mechanism, even as it remains haunted by archaic violence.

Chapter 12: The Meaning of "Scapegoat" in the Modern World

Girard traces the modern usage of the term "scapegoat" and shows how it reflects an increasing awareness of the scapegoat mechanism. From the ancient Jewish ritual of the scapegoat to the medieval persecution of Jews, lepers, and witches, the term has come to refer to the arbitrary choice of victims to bear the blame for social ills.

This growing awareness of scapegoating is a direct result of the Christian revelation. Even in secular form, it reflects the Bible's defense of innocent victims and its demystification of sacred violence.

Chapter 13: The Modern Concern for Victims

Girard argues that the modern world is characterized by an unprecedented concern for victims and a desire to defend the innocent against unjust persecution. This concern is evident in everything from the abolition of slavery to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

There is just one rubric that gathers together everything I am summarizing in no particular order and without concern for completeness: the concern for victims. (167)

The modern concern for victims is a direct result of the Christian revelation, even when it takes secular form. It reflects the moral imperative of the Bible to take the side of the oppressed and persecuted.

Yet this concern is also deeply ambivalent. It can lead to new forms of scapegoating, as groups compete for the status of "victim" and demonize their opponents. It can also lead to a relativization of all values, a "victimological" worldview that sees only oppression and injustice.

Chapter 14: Nietzsche's Anti-Christian Heritage

Girard concludes by examining the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche as the great "anti-Christian" thinker who sought to overturn the biblical concern for victims. Nietzsche recognized the unique role of Christianity in siding with the weak against the strong, but he saw this as a form of "slave morality" that needed to be overcome.

Nietzsche's critique of Christianity has had a profound influence on modern thought, from existentialism to postmodernism. But Girard argues that Nietzsche failed to recognize the true nature of the biblical revelation:

Nietzsche, to discredit the Jewish-Christian revelation, tries to show that its commitment to the side of victims stems from a paltry, miserable resentment... What [the Bible] does is to rectify the illusion of myths; it exposes the lie of the "satanic accusation." (173)

The modern world remains caught between the Christian revelation and its Nietzschean inversion. It is drawn to the concern for victims, but it also seeks to overcome it through a return to pagan values of strength and power.

Girard's thought offers a way beyond this impasse. By revealing the anthropological truth of Christianity, he shows how the biblical concern for victims is not a form of weakness but the key to human liberation. The Cross unveils the violence at the heart of human culture and offers a new path of reconciliation through forgiveness and love.

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