A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Endless mimetic spiritual desire - Or, How to never become a person of faith

I have a few more posts on the church and Christianity that I would like to share, and hopefully discuss with others....I hope that my intense negativity is not viewed too threateningly. In other words, I often fear that my negative posts are construed as primarily my opportunity to vent personal anger/bitterness/angst. While I do not deny that my exit from institutionalized Christianity has created no small internal turmoil, if I felt that vengeance was my primary motivation, then I would shut up and post about something else; however, I do think that in the previous post and in the ones to come, there are some important theoretical, spiritual, and existential issues to discuss.

It is almost a given that the era of institutional Christianity is over. The important discussion point is to ask what is next. (For example, my next post will discuss the end of the "emergent church" and some possible implications.)

Previously, I discussed the issue of apathy: where does apathy come from? Perhaps it comes (in part) from excess--being saturated. Are we apathetic in the churches because we are saturated with "Jesus" and "Christian" stuff? My main point was to suggest that we have lost the "the knowledge of God" because of saturation with the knowledge of God. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about destroying things that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. My thought is that it is "knowledge of God," itself that is eroding our knowledge of God.

I was recently listening to an interview with Rene Girard. Girard is the father of theories of "mimetic desire." Simply put, he suggests that our desires are never (or in most cases) for the object itself, rather, we want what we want because others want it. Our desires for things are primarily based on wanting what others desire, such that we rarely pursue the thing itself--even if we decieve ourselves into thinking that such is the case. Fashion is an obvious example: we wear things that appeal to us because we see others desiring those clothes.

Remember some of the crazy outfits Brad Pitt wore in Fight Club??? They were ridiculous by fashion standards at the time, but as soon as the movie hit the big time, clothing sellers found a demand, and one label even produced a separate "Fight Club" clothing line.

Girard's theory is fascinating and also complex. (For more, there is a good Wikipedia article on Girard, and our friend John Doyle (aka, Ktismatics) also previously posted on Girard, with some interesting commentary by myself and others.)

Without delving into the complexities, however, I'm sure you can see the link to our contemporary American advertising and marketing matrix, which Girard himself mentions in the interview: we desire the stuff that others desire. So, advertising focuses not on selling us a "thing"--that's stupid--they sell us a desire to be like the people who use the product.

About halfway through the interview, Girard begins to discuss Coca-cola. They sell the soft drink, says Girard, by showing the kinds of people who drink Coke: beautiful people on beaches who can't wear very much clothing because they have such perfect figures.

But Girard goes further, and he makes an interesting point. He says there is a "sacramental" aspect to Coca-cola: we drink the product to participate in the transformation. Sound familiar? Lord's supper, Eucharist, partake of the body of Christ, baptism, come out of the water and into new life? The sacrament of participating in the product sold to us by advertisers ushers us into a transformation.

John's (Ktismatics') above-mentioned post quotes Girard on this topic, essentially: we desire the being of others. Why? For one thing, it is because our being isn't good enough. We need to latch onto something else. But, I think, it is more than that. There is also a slothful element, as well: we don't want to engage in the process of becoming, of establishing our own being and working it out as a life process.

Our mass-media corporate culture is always there to sell us more desires....there's always something more to want, because the cool kids are always wearing new clothes.

Let's take this into the realm of our American Christian life. The multi-billion dollar Christian corporate machines operate on the same basis as other advertisers: stir up mimetic desire. Don't you want to have a fuller Christian life, like these best-selling authors, who also attach handy workbooks and just released this new DVD? Don't you want to have the worship experiences of these contemporary Christian music artists? Don't you want the security of knowing the right Christian doctrine, like these "biblical" Christian teachers?

It's a business of creating continual desire; it's no different than any other corporation: there's always something new to desire. We can continually put off the faith-process of becoming by purchasing the latest Christian product.

How about the local church? Surely the scene is better here, is it not? I say no. I think the local church does the same thing: there's always a new sermon each Sunday, always a new musical worship experience, always a new "ministry" or "program." It's still mimetic desire. We live our spirituality through others. Once again, the process of personal becoming that is at the heart of faith is eternally delayed by our almost voyeuristic need to watch others perform their faith on stage. It's show biz.....Mimetic desire.

So, our churches become sacraments to be a part of the institution, part of the crowd--to participate in the spiritual desires of others. What church most certainly is not is a participation in the life of Christ. Endlessly running after the spiritual desires of others results in never becoming a person of faith.

My point here, is not to condemn Christian corporations or the church or to suggest that any corporate Christian purchase is immoral or wrong--that's too easy. The point is to develop a self-awareness of what it means to participate in a process of endless, mimetic desire and to discuss the consequences. Hence, I think it is obvious that this is not a uniquely "Christian" discussion. We are discussing the 21st century "self" in an age where media uses mimetic desire to shape and form the self.

45 comments:

Melody said...

[Girard] suggests that our desires are never (or in most cases) for the object itself, rather, we want what we want because others want it.

I don't understand the ideas you have (or pick-up rather, since they're not your own original ideas) about desire.

I don't want things because other people want them. There are a great many things other people want that I have absolutely no desire for. Surely that is true of everybody.

I can't think of any of my friends who want my sketchbooks or pencils or the latest version of photoshop or even a Nikon D40...yet I want them a-lot.

I do not want beer or cigarettes or coke, but I see them all aggressively marketed with sexy people and any number of other people want them.

Then again, maybe it's a guy thing. I once had a young man tell me that he didn't want to date me because not enough other people did! That would certainly be in keeping with Mr.Girard's ideas.

And marketing...yes, it shows the type of person who supposedly uses the product and so if you identify (or hope to identify) with the type portrayed (sexy, smart, witty, what-have-you) you identify with the product and you want to buy it.

But that's because of who you already think you are or should be. Sometimes it backfires. An excellent example is the Mac vs. PC commercials which have actually caused many to identify with the loserly PC!

I'm not commenting on the rest of your post because I'm really not sure what I think about it.

Kevin Winters said...

It is true that we do not want things, but a style of being that surrounds those things (or is thought to surround those things). Something is meaningful only as it is situated within a context of concern (yay Heidegger). This also interacts with Melody's point: there are many things that many of us do not desire. But for those things that we do desire, there is an ambiance of meaning that surrounds them that is the primary source of our desire.

One interesting work that I've enjoyed from the Buddhist perspective is Chogyam Trungpa's Spiritual Materialism: that, for many of us, spirituality is about accumulating things, either prestige, propositions, religious trappings, etc. We think, per the point of this post, that having those things will automatically bring with it the spiritual life that we desire. So we accumulate and accumulate and accumulate, always having but never being, because the latter is what is difficult. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, "To be Christian [or Buddhist] is the hardest thing in the world." It requires true passion, true movement by us.

Interesting post, Jon. Thanks for alerting me to it!

daniel hutchinson said...

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" so goes the maxim. (1 Cor. 8:1).

Jon, I agree with your point about abundant cultural knowledge of God often translating into less personal knowledge of God (or none), and one could go further and lok at the whole information society, "people running to and fro and an increase in knowledge" (Daniel 12:4), and consider how this changes our relationship to God, ourself and others.

Does knowledge itself mitigate against the presence of God in our lives?

A desire that's not conscious of itself, but only conscious of desiring.

This blog, Theosproject, is explicitly about the knowledge of God, in all its dimensions - knowing God, knowing about God, knowing about knowing about God etc.

My desire to be here, borne of my desire for God. Am I corrupting my desire for God by subjecting it to this kind of scrutiny?

There is an intersection here that first drew me to this blog, between knowledge of knowledge, and knowledge of God, and knowledge of knowledge of God. Or if you like between contemporary thought such as critical theory, between lived Christianity, and between theology.

Having hung around a bit, being not very knowledgeable in theology, but a practising Christian, and a bit interested in critical theory and other post-modern branches of knowledge, I've been on a journey more into the direct, practical Christianity and away from infatuation with knowledge as such.

In an important way, this blog has been useful in my own spiritual journey. It has helped to break down a duality whereby I could be a Christian, but have an intellectual flirtation with other forms of knowledge. Seeing insights from knowledge applied to the Church and God, as Jon often attempts (and again in this post), has the e(a)ffect of turning me off to knowledge, in favour of more direct communinion with God.

Its like two big things meet each other in this blog, "knowledge" and "God" and for me, one is always left standing.

So its been a process of purification and getting rid of the superfluous whilst commenting here, a real learning experience.

I know that Jon is on a different journey at the moment, and maybe its odd that while he is leaving the Church, I'm joining the Church and his posts are urging me on.

Knowing more about desire is not threatening, because knowledge fades, but desire remains. And as God draws me with desire for him, the importance of knowledge evaporates like water before the fire.

One thing I know, that I need God.

As a man thinks, so he is. (Proverbs 23:7)

The people who know their God shall be strong and do great exploits... (Daniel 11:32)

daniel hutchinson said...

In the above comment I am not saying that Jon and I differ other than he is moving away from Church, institutional Christianity, "mimetic desire" whereas I am moving towards all of the above.

I realize it may have come across like I'm trying to be more spiritual or whatever, on the contrary I respect what Jon is saying, only that I disagree and am in a sense on the opposite spectrum.

It is remarkable that this blog should have such centrifugal force and allow me to comment and be engaged; only I sense I may be about to be spun off!

Still, I maintain that this is an "online fellowship", a place of "b(e)lo(n)ging", a meeting place.

I'll see how long I can hold on for.

"mimetic desire"... as in "imitate me as I imitate Christ"?

Give me more of the same!

daniel hutchinson said...

I hope everyone realises I don't mean dress like Paul or adopt his style (or the pastor's...) but even this is ok if it means humbling oneself and being open to change.

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all forever...

I mean it... but I copied it...

There is a failing and a triumph in religion. In the end, its all about God though. All the style in the world counts for nothing.

So Jon, fundamentally, I'm ambivalent: I'm not with you, but I'm with you. That's what keeps me coming back here.

Youd blog is like an antidote, an anti-institutional poison that keeps the religious poison from doing its deadly work.

ktismatics said...

The ambiguity and latent hostility of these two commenters toward Erdman and his blog suggests that Girard is onto something. If it matters, Girard is Roman Catholic and he believes that Christianity is the only religion that can break the cycle of imitation, competition, rivalry, and violence in which humanity seems perennially trapped.

Girard also talks about the importance of the scapegoat in most traditional religions' attempts to break the cycle. Maybe Erdman can become the scapegoat on his own blog. Kind of an imitation-of-Christ thing, no? Or maybe now the commenters can shift their hostility from Erdman to me and I can become the Christ figure. You'll miss me when I'm gone etc. -- actually this is kind of Daniel's gesture in moving away from Theos Project, and maybe Erdman's too by leaving the organized church.

ktismatics said...

There's an ambiguity or paradox in the "imitation of Christ" idea. Eve ate the fruit in part because it would make her more like God. It worked too (Gen. 3:22), but God didn't seem to appreciate the gesture. Christ is the suffering servant, but he's also the resurrected God-man, the Lord. Which Jesus is the Christian to imitate? In the 4th century Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, "God became man so that man might become God." This is more the Eastern Orthodox style of becoming Christlike.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I'd like to first respond to Melody and flesh out Girard's thoughts a bit.

Melody: I don't want things because other people want them. There are a great many things other people want that I have absolutely no desire for. Surely that is true of everybody.

First, it is true that there are a great many things other people want that we have no desire for. I can see people scarfing down shrimp, but I don't really like shrimp, and if I've just puked it up a few hours before, then the site of people desiring shrimp will actually make me queezy!

But just because it doesn't work this way ALL the time, doesn't mean that desire is not something that does not "rub off" on us, so to speak.....I'll return to your examples.

Melody: I can't think of any of my friends who want my sketchbooks or pencils or the latest version of photoshop or even a Nikon D40...yet I want them a-lot.

But why did you have the desire for a Nikon D40? Or the sketchbooks, pencils, and the latest version of photoshop? That is the real question.

The Romantic view (as I understand it) is that desire is something innate: there is some pull between me and the object, directly. Girard makes an emphatic point that there is a third element, something more difficult to put your finger on.

Surely there is sense in which you, Melody, as a creative and artistic person, feel drawn to products that allow you to express your creativity, but can you really say that the desire of others to own artistic stuff hasn't ever influenced your desire? And how about this: Can you say that you've never seen an artist at work and desired to be like them? To create like they create? Or seen an artistic creation and had a desire to create something equally as moving? Equally as beautiful?

I think Girard would suggest that your desire for a Nikon D40 and other artistic utilities is a part of your desire to be an artist, and that your artistic desire was not something that just appeared in a vacuum, that along the way you have seen other artists and have desired things that they desire.

Personally, I would not want to deny that you may have some "innate" artistic impulses and desires, but would you deny any sense of imitation or influence in your journey as an artist?

The artist seems to me to be the most difficult, in terms of pinning down the mimetic desire. The reason is that many artists like to fancy themselves "original" and "unique," at least to some degree. But is this desire something they imitated? A mimetic desire to be original/unique?

Okay, the marketing side....this is really interesting to me....

Melody: I do not want beer or cigarettes or coke, but I see them all aggressively marketed with sexy people and any number of other people want them.

Okay. But a lot of people do. You know as well as anyone, that capitalism is based on mimetic desire: the value for something is increased as the demand increases. And it follows, then, logically: if there are many people buying Coke, then it must be a valuable product. It's not such a logical thing, as you know! In fact, the logic is kind of screwed up when you think about it....but the point is that there is something within us that advertisers are appealing to, and that thing is what Girard calls "mimetic desire," desiring the desire of others.

Girard talks about the stock market as being a kind-of "pure" example of mimetic desire: by definition, a stock's value increases when greater numbers of people want it.

Now, you (and others) may see yourself as operating outside of mimetic desire, and maybe to some degree this is true. You may take pride in not getting caught up in the frenzy of mimetic desire: wanting stuff just because others want it. In fact, I'm guessing with you it is the opposite: if too many people like it, if the product is too popular, you may get suspicious. This was certainly Kierkegaard's approach: the crowd is untruth!

This is a line of thought worth exploring. In Fight Club, the hero's buck the corporate culture--they are counter cultural. Is this mimetic desire in reverse? They boys in Fight Club resented that they were expected to operate according to the mimetic desire of advertising culture. Did they merely despise their own desires? They realized that their desire to be a part of "the crowd"--their mimetic desires--was destroying themselves inwardly ("our great war is a spiritual war....our great depression is our lives"). But they still had the mimetic desire to begin with. They just decided to fight against it.

So, I'm wondering if the exception proves the rule of mimetic desire.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

Blogs to me are such a unique opportunity to facilitate freedom of thought and provoke discussion amongst those who disagree. So, I always appreciate differences of opinion.

Whereas Girard emphasizes the negative aspects of mimetic desire, others have picked up on his idea and spun it in a positive direction. In the interview I linked to (if memory serves me correctly), Girard talks about thinkers who are exploring "creative" mimetic desire. Girard's concern was for how mimetic desire results in violence in society and how society has responded to their violent mimetic tendencies (e.g., by creating laws).

If you are interested in a more positive evaluation of mimetic desire, you might look into Rebecca Adams. There is an interesting .pdf paper online: Loving Mimesis. In it she says:

Girard offers no real account of good mimetic desire of a type human beings could possibly have or even imitate with God as mediator. Thus it is easy to slip into the simple equation of mimetic desire with violence and something “bad.” This is why many people, to defend human ethics, have expelled the concept of mimetic desire altogether and even the Girardian hypothesis itself.

When his critics do this, Girard objects to being misunderstood. He attempts to defend the concept by claiming that mimetic desire “itself” is “good.” Clearly, as Girard points out, merely designating mimetic desire “bad” is inadequate: Jesus himself says mimetic desire is “good,” and our intuitions seem to confirm the possibility of constructive imitation.
p. 12

Speaking of "good" v. "bad" mimesis: Simply calling mimetic desire either of these, as we have seen, however, logically makes no sense. Throughout his work Girard theoretically understands mimetic desire as a power which fundamentally transcends the good/bad dichotomy (even though he himself lapses sometimes into equating mimetic desire with violence). However, whenever he talks about the solution to the problem of violence as coming solely from a realm of nonviolent divine love which is wholly Other, he is forced onto one side of the dichotomy or the other, neither of which is satisfactory. In his own recent remarks about mimetic desire as fundamentally “good,” the concept of mimetic desire has been just as mystified /expelled as in the thought of those who “misunderstand” him, but this time it has been divinized by Girard instead of demonized by his detractors. Girard, ironically, ends up repeating an opposition of a kind he explicitly repudiates in Nietzsche (only with the values reversed) between good desire (the “will to power”) and a bad one (“ressentiment” or reactive “love,” with which Nietzsche associated Christianity and thus dismissed it as the religion of slaves).

These objections, along with Girard’s own inability adequately to correct them, point toward the lack of a genuine creative sacred in Girard’s work as well as toward theological conceptions of both sin and salvation which continue to fall into a mythical, scapegoating structure.
p. 13-14

This article also explores Ktismatic's mention of the imitation of Christ. This is an important aspect of the discussion.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics,

I think you are insightful to place this discussion within the contemporary religious context. For Girard, the conflict of mimetic desire (battling over the same object of desire) becomes a mimetic crisis. When this occurs, then two sides are no longer even battling over the same object, the object becomes superfluous. The conflict has a life of its own. So, the two sides look for a scapegoat: a third party to take the blame. This scapegoat (after it is sacrificed) holds an intriguing position in the eyes of those involved in the crisis because the scapegoat is both responsible for the conflict and the magical source of the resolution to the conflict.

So, yes, I see that occurring quite frequently on the current religious scene. And perhaps such a thing even occurs on this blog. Intriguing....

Perhaps the "emerging church" needed to be sacrificed as a scapegoat, in order to bring together conflicting evangelicals from modern and postmodern sides in the war for the soul of Christianity.

tamie said...

What I find particularly interesting about your original post, Jon, is the fact that mimetic desire & etc. allows us to perpetually escape genuine spiritual becoming. Our culture of rapid consumerism allows us to flee--whether it's through sloth, apathy, constant striving, etc.--turning inward, doing the hard work of becoming certain kinds of people, the hard work of sitting still, etc. etc.

Okay, so we've got consumerism, but other cultures had other ways of avoidance and escape. The possibility of almost endless consumption may be new, but the ego's desire for control/escape/avoidance/etc. isn't new at all.

Jonathan Erdman said...

A quote from The Surplus of Desire, a Ktismatics post from 2007:

The problem is that the object of desire never fulfills its promise: it never bestows plenitude on whoever controls it. When you obtain it you experience a sudden thrill: I’m becoming whole at last. But once the moment of acquisition passes, the self recedes back into its former incomplete status. Somehow the promise has slipped away; the object seems to have lost its ability to fulfill desire. Exposed again as incomplete, the person starts looking around again. Desire has slipped off the acquired object and transported itself elsewhere, landing on some other object that is now the focus of mimetic desire. Now the effort to fulfill desire shifts to this new object. Every time desire lands on something new, surplus market value accrues to that object. And the demand for personal fulfillment, rather than being satisfied by acquiring the object, merely increases through the frustration and failure. An ever-increasing intensification of desire ensues, rippling across the marketplace, increasing the overall value of commodities distributed across the marketplace.

Jason Hesiak said...

i just want to piggyback a bit on the Doylomania and on that article that the Erdmanian quoted on "positive" mimetic desire. i want to clarify. from my studies of girard...however limited...it doesn't seem like the "problem" is with mimetic desire itself. i think its important, as the Doylomania noted, that Girard is Catholic. as a Catholic, for Girard, Christ exposes the true object of our desire by, if your Catholic, or even just Christian, BECOMING said "object". and i haven't read that part from him (the part about Christ becoming the object of our desire, and of our imitation), but knowing that he's Catholic, it seems implied in what i have read.

Melody said...

Just because it doesn't work this way ALL the time, doesn't mean that desire is not something that does not "rub off" on us, so to speak

Certainly, seeing someone we love or respect desire something piques our interest at the very least. What is it? Why do they want it?

If we find their reasons compelling we're likely to adopt the desire as our own.

That doesn't seem the same as wanting something simply because it is wanted by someone else.

I'm certainly not going to deny that my desire to create is heavily influenced by my mother & grandmother, who are both artists.

And I'd be a pretty poor artist without other artistic influences. Indeed, I make a point of exposing my self to many other artists of varying types. It keeps the artist from becoming one dimensional.

But I don't want to create because other people want to. I became interested in creating because other people wanted to. I found it satisfying apart from their desire.

Many artists like to fancy themselves "original" and "unique," at least to some degree.

Yes, to accuse an artist of mimicking someone else's work is a serious insult. But, if one were to say that the work was influenced by another artist that would not be an offense at all. We expect to be influenced. We hope to be. Shoddy work otherwise. Cavemen, were original. Not a lot to see there.

You know as well as anyone, that capitalism is based on mimetic desire: the value for something is increased as the demand increases.

But why do people "demand" the thing? People must actually enjoy the taste of Coke. Surely, they don't just keep downing it because other people do!

The demand for Photoshop is because it is a good tool that many people have use for.
It is a tool I have use for, therefore I also desire it.

You may take pride in not getting caught up in the frenzy of mimetic desire: wanting stuff just because others want it.

Until your post I had no idea such a theory about desire existed, so my thoughts on it are more, "I'm sorry, what?" than, "That's not me!"

I do find the idea absurd for anyone over the age of 10, though I am aware that the phenomena lasts well into high school and given the extended adolescence of our culture...well I'm not saying it doesn't happen...I just find it a bit absurd.

In fact, I'm guessing with you it is the opposite: if too many people like it, if the product is too popular, you may get suspicious.

I don't think I do. When I was younger that was probably true, but that's sort of...I was never going to be like everyone else...so I desired to be different. It's a convenient sort of value system.

I've not seen Fight Club, but from how you describe it, it makes me think of an acquaintance who always dressed odd just to be different than those "silly" people who are trend driven. I didn't feel comfortable pointing out that he was just as trend driven as they were.

daniel hutchinson said...

Jon, thanks for that. Yes, I perceived a positive spin on mimetic desire in your original post too. What you added was very interesting.

Kt, I never said I'm leaving! I was just expressing my ambivalence. Even if the blog is a place to belong, it needn't be a place to "fit in". If anything, I was stating that I feel I may be "spun out" - feeling like a scapegoat myself sometimes!

Deleuze and Guattari have some thoughts on the scapegoat theme in A Thousand Plateaus, as I recall.

"It is we who must follow the most deterritorialized line, the line of the scapegoat, but we will change its sign, we will turn it into the positive line of our subjectivity, our Passion, our proceeding or grievance. We will be our own scapegoat. We will be the lamb: 'The God who, like a lion, was given blood sacrifice must be shoved into the background, and the sacrificed god must occupy the foreground.... God became the animal that was slain, instead of the animal that does the slaying.'”

(A Thousand Plateaus, p122, with quotation from D.H. Lawrence Apocalypse)

daniel hutchinson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
daniel hutchinson said...

More from a commentary on chapter 5 of A Thousand Plateaus from the psychoanalytic review Human Nature. (www.human-nature.com)



"The scapegoat is the person in the group that is used as a container for the negative and destructive feelings, actions and behaviour of others. Often the scapegoat is simultaneously a ‘whistle blower’, in that they are the person who exposes just such negative and destructive tendencies within the group and thereby declare themselves in opposition or out of step with the rest of the group. Laing’s work exposed the common occurrence of scapegoating in families where a female child is denied the opportunity to develop a self, and in this event, defend themselves against the intrusive phantasies, assumptions and projections of others by erecting the intrapsychic shield of psychosis. This work has been criticised for suggesting that dysfunctional families cause schizophrenia, however this work also provides important insights into the psychological effects of shared, or social phantasy systems when they entail the absolute denial of a group member’s individual experience of the group, and deny an individual the right to their autonomy, or sense of self within the group. Should the scapegoat refuse to accept their designated role and turn on the group, then they can in effect destroy the foundations of that group entirely. For the foundations of a group in need of a scapegoat are based on mutual deception between all other members.

Deleuze and Guattari (1987) pay comparable attention to the phenomenon of the scapegoat, who they argue responds to a despotic, paranoid signifying regime by setting to work on their own account. They do this by adopting a line of flight from the group which is then, however, assigned a negative value by that group, subject as they are to a despotic and paranoid signifying regime. Deleuze and Guattari write about groups being possessed by dominant delusions which shift and adapt according to prevailing historical, political and social conditions. The scapegoat is assigned a negative line of flight from the group for daring to disrupt the dominant delusion."

It seems to me that Jon, in "whistle-blowing" the institutional church and American culture (which he also links insightfully), has played this role. And the blog is also shaped by these dynamics. I do feel that he is negative towards the church, and my reaction is negativity towards the Jon and blog...

However, there is then negativity directed towards me (and others) for disrupting a dominant group here (led by Jon and Ktismatics) who are very cosy in their position of animosity towards the church.

But, although Jon has left the church, I have no intention of leaving the blog.

daniel hutchinson said...

Going back to D.H. Lawrence's poem, reading Revelation chapter 5 we see the lion and the lamb seated on the throne. Jesus is both.

Imitating Christ is therefore applicable in his humility and his glory.

Jason Hesiak said...

Cavemen, were original. Not a lot to see there.

Funny. Miro said that art has gone steadily downhill since the caveman. I trust Miro.

Melody said...

Oh Jason, we all know by now that no matter what my opinions on art are you always, indeed I believe you must, disagree.

Jason Hesiak said...

melody i don't have any issues with you personally. i just took exception to your attitude toward primitive "art", is all. i mean...you said "not a lot to look at." do you even realize WHAT you're looking at? do you realize that "what you're looking at" is probably part of a hunting ritual (depending on which piece of primitive "caveman" art you're looking at)? and if that is the case, then you're actually "looking at" quite a lot.

Melody said...

Of course it’s not personal, you just have a compulsiion to dissagree with me, that’s all. It’s like very specialized turrets. I’m amused, not offended.

Of course I know what I’m looking at, I didn’t sleep through four semesters of art history for nothing! My point was more about the value of building off the artistic “discoveries” of others than about the absolute bore that is primitive art.


It’s been a while, you remember that I don’t fully mean above half of that, right?

jhesiak said...

first of all...no i didn't know you meant only half of what you said. which half? the part about it being personal or not, or the part about not remembering part of your art history class or about not much to look at or whatever you were referring to about whatever it was that was a while ago?

and of it was specialized turrets, which btw is a funny image, then i would disagree with you on anything no matter what. which is clearly not the case. and i even don't bother to voice my disagreement with you on some things on this blog that i do actually disagree with you on. like your ranting above about the absurdity of girard's theory. i refrained from aruging with you on that, but i'm more with girard. its just that in my mind you like overstepped a line with the off hand comment about caveman art, as if the offhandedness itself said that we were all supposed to agree with you. so then i had a problem not only with the attitude toward caveman art, but with the apparent assumption that we are all supposed to agree with that sentiment.

i guess you could say that my tolerance level for disagreement with girard is higher than my tolerance level for the assumption of modern "advancement" and also especially higher than for the assumption that everyone agrees with that modern assumption.

Melody said...

which half?

Half of all of it. I'm joking. Jason.

So, for example:

Yes I know it's not personal, no I don't think you're actually compelled to disagree with me on all artistic matters, it just happens a lot and I happen to think it's funny. So you can also assume that, yes, I am actually amused.

I did take four semesters of art history, I didn't sleep through them. Well, not all of them.

I do believe we build off the work of the artists that have come before us and that it makes us better, I don't actually think primitive art is an absolute bore. Just a tiny bit of one. And about that I am both serious and not.

See how that works? Or doesn't.

No? That's ok, it's the internet. Terrible place to joke around. People shouldn't do it.

its just that in my mind you like overstepped a line with the off hand comment about caveman art, as if the offhandedness itself said that we were all supposed to agree with you.

Jason, Jason, Jason! This is Jon's blog. People don't agree with me here, there are specific by-laws prohibiting that!

Joking. But not. But joking.

jhesiak said...

i have no idea what you were joking about or not joking about, but i giggled.

i'm not sure if that's because this is the internet, as you noted, or if that's your way to voice your opinion witout saying much. but this is the internet so i won't be able to know, nor do i expect to know. and frankly, if that was the case, then oh well that's fine so-be-it God is still God.

jhesiak said...

btw this little mini aminable internet scuffle reminds me...

i called paul tillich an arrogant bastard a while back, like a blog or two back...like flippantly. that was dumb. i meant to aknowledge my dumbness there. sorry to paul tillich, and sorry for subjecting you guys to that harshness.

jhesiak said...

oh and erdmanian...you mentioned your intense negativity...and hoping that it wasn't percieved as your venting of personal frustrations. i hadn't interpreted it that way so much as simply wondered where the talk was of the love of Jesus...
:)

daniel hutchinson said...

Jon, in your post:

So, our churches become sacraments to be a part of the institution, part of the crowd--to participate in the spiritual desires of others. What church most certainly is not is a participation in the life of Christ. Endlessly running after the spiritual desires of others results in never becoming a person of faith.

I disagree with this conclusion. Participating in the "spiritual desire of others" is indeed participation in the life of Christ, in my view.

The Church is the Glory of God, like the wife is the glory of the husband. This is implemented in history and in personal lives through the church, where God uses the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and confound the strong.

This may sound like more empty doctrine, but in my life it is solid truth, reflected in how God has changed me. I would not give up church for anything (which is not to say that I don't struggle with issues).

Still, so long as Jon keeps this blog going he is in church anyway, that's the irony of it all.


Ultimately, one can be church all by oneself when in a certain isolated environment, provided the connection to the head that is Christ.

As Jason said, God is still God. I choose to embrace all the expressions of His people on earth, and to love the Church. It has a profound spiritual effect of repentance and humility.

ktismatics said...

"I disagree with this conclusion. Participating in the "spiritual desire of others" is indeed participation in the life of Christ, in my view."

I woke up this morning thinking about this response, Daniel, and I agree. Your remark points out a conflict that I have a hard time resolving: how do I distinguish between imitative desire and authentic desire? It's certainly possible to want something or someone because others do too. It's also possible to want to be a certain sort of person because that's what others want from me. If every human desire took this sort of twisted shape, then people really would be lost, always looking through a mirror dimly at their relationships with others, in need of radical transformation. And maybe that's true.

As I read Paul, the conflict between the flesh and the spirit is the conflict between mimetic desire and true desire. Also as I read Paul, this conflict persists even in the church, even in the lives of individual Christians. I don't think that when Paul talks about "the "flesh" he's referring to natural human appetites. The flesh is this perpetual confusion about what I really want and what others want from me.

Wanting what someone else wants can be good if it doesn't degenerate into competition and jealousy. Wanting the other person can be good if it doesn't degenerate into obsession and manipulation. Wanting to be wanted is a good thing if it doesn't degenerate into conformity and fear of rejection.

My resistance to the church is different from Erdman's. I don't think God exists, and I don't think becoming a Christian causes any sort of inner transformation of being that immunizes Christians from problems that beset non-Christians. I believe we're all in this together, trying to move away from mimetic desire and toward true desire -- what you call "participating in the spiritual desire of others."

ktismatics said...

Oh, and Daniel, today is Thanksgiving and tomorrow too is a holiday, so there might not be much action on Theos Project from the American commenters for the next few days. Also Erdman seems to have disappeared again...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: I disagree with this conclusion. Participating in the "spiritual desire of others" is indeed participation in the life of Christ, in my view.

Sure. Let's all agree that such "creative" or "positive" mimetic desire is possible. But your comment, Daniel, misses my suggestion: that we can participate in the spiritual desires of others and miss participating in the life of Christ.

I guess I just have a bit of a disagreement with believers who use the saying "where two or more are gathered, I am there" as some absolute truth. I think it's dangerous, actually. First of all, the above saying of Jesus was made in the very specific context of resolving grievances and disagreements amongst brothers and sisters in Christ. It was not said as a reference to worship gatherings. So, to use it for the context of worship is taking the verse out of context (which, of course, is not wrong in and of itself).

The second danger is pride and arrogance. We assume that because we are gathered together, that God is required to show up. So, our preachers (here in America) all praise the virtues of coming to church, and yet the vast majority of the congregants are apathetic and lifeless, going through the motions. Church--as we all know--is the perfect place to hide our souls. Trust me, I did it for years. Eventually, something just snapped and I couldn't do it anymore.

To me, it is possible for hundreds and thousands of believers to be together, but I think it is naive to think that God will necessarily be at work. Why else would Paul talk about the state of our hearts when taking communion? Just because we go through the motions, this does not mean that we are entitled to receive power. One of the American sacrament is going to church. It's the Roman Catholic version of receiving communion: we think that just by being there we are entitled to receive something...or that God is there and at work....or the other sacraments: reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, et al.

I don't mean to say that you don't have a point here, Daniel, so, let's bring in Ktismatics:

Ktismatic: Your remark points out a conflict that I have a hard time resolving: how do I distinguish between imitative desire and authentic desire? It's certainly possible to want something or someone because others do too. It's also possible to want to be a certain sort of person because that's what others want from me. If every human desire took this sort of twisted shape, then people really would be lost, always looking through a mirror dimly at their relationships with others, in need of radical transformation. And maybe that's true.

What I think Ktismatics is going for here (or at least what I would say is important) is that we don't get so caught up in "the crowd" that we lose ourselves. But in reality, it is very difficult to identify if our desires are "ours" or whether they are based on mimetic desire (desiring things because we have seen others desire them, and they seem happy...). This is like Kierkegaard's "crowd" or Nietzsche's "herd" mentality. It's the whole thing about marching with all the other little lemmings....except many Christians think it's okay to follow the crowd, as long as the crowd of little lemmings is marching up to heaven. But is this what Jesus envisioned? The building of massive (and pricey) institutional infrastructures for the purpose of herding the masses into heaven?

This is what Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor narrative comments on. Our institutions become focused on the herd. In American Christianity terms, this is called a three point sermon with application...or a John Piper dvd...or Blue Like Jazz...or some other form of spirituality made and sold for mass consumption.

Is this the point of it all?

It seems that one of the points (and one that Ktismatics shares with theists and a/theists) is "transformation," that we discover our individuality and our selves. This cannot be done completely in isolation but rather it seems necessary to do this (at least in part) in the context of a dynamic and authentic community. But here's the key: the community must grant each other freedom to be a self and to grow as a self, not just focus on conformity.

If the church focuses on conformity--by preferring mass media and concentrated power structures--then it loses something valuable and becomes a place to herd the lemmings together and march them up into heaven. Daniel, I don't think that is a participation in Christ.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set you free."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: I woke up this morning thinking about this response, Daniel, and I agree. Your remark points out a conflict that I have a hard time resolving: how do I distinguish between imitative desire and authentic desire?.....As I read Paul, the conflict between the flesh and the spirit is the conflict between mimetic desire and true desire....Wanting what someone else wants can be good if it doesn't degenerate into competition and jealousy. Wanting the other person can be good if it doesn't degenerate into obsession and manipulation. Wanting to be wanted is a good thing if it doesn't degenerate into conformity and fear of rejection.

I think the difficulty in distinguishing between "true" or "authentic" desire and merely "mimetic" desire stems from the fact that the line between the two is blurry, if it exists at all! Same thing (I would say) with the Spirit/Flesh dichotomy. So, here is where I think it is helpful to have a bit of poststructuralist suspicion of drawing the dichotomy to sharply. However, I do think there are times when we have an overwhelming sense that we are acting on mimetic desire (in an unhealthy way) or conversely that we are discovering a true and authentic self. At least, that is the case for myself.

I don't think the point is to look at mimetic desire as evil. Frankly, it is fun sometimes to have stuff that others have. I suggest there is this general orientation of life where mimetic desire has clearly gotten out of control.

Similarly, not all desires (I'm thinking here specifically of sexual desires) are wrong. In fact, at this point I would say there are no desires that are "wrong," or at least that evaluating desire morally is a mistake and misses the point. The question is, I think: how does one's desire fit into the context of life as a whole? Or, what is the overall orientation of one's life in relation to desire?

So, personally, my focus has turned away from evaluating the morality of particular desires, to trying to evaluate and be conscious of how these desires affect my orientation toward myself, toward others, and perhaps also toward God.

Does that make sense?

So, in short, I think it is important to recognize that it is very difficult to understand the true "nature" of our desires (mimetic/authentic or fleshly/Spiritual), but that NOT understanding is part of the process of being human. Part of understanding our dynamic process of becoming.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

A few passages from Revelation. Admonitions to the churches. I post them because I see in them an implicit warning that the churches can lose their power, love, and even God himself. To Ephesus: "remove thy candlestick."

1Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

2I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

3And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

4Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

5Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.....


chap. 3
14And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:

18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.

19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

How long can a church be "lukewarm" and "lost its first love" before one suggests that it is time to leave? Or just let it die?

Apathy is a cancer, and if congregations don't take drastic action, the apathy continues to grow and leave the body weak.

I just have a hard time thinking that a church that is lifeless, powerless, apathetic, complacent, and lukewarm has God amongst them. In short, when the faith becomes religious routine then I think God goes elsewhere. I think he has better things to do than to hang out with American Christians on Sunday morning who come to get a spiritual buzz. It becomes something purely artificial and synthetic: human made. Of course, being human made is not bad in itself, what I have a problem with is this: parading a human made institution as "God's work," when it is apathetic.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Okay enough for now....I want some turkey.....hhhhmmmm....mimetic desire???

ktismatics said...

"I think the difficulty in distinguishing between "true" or "authentic" desire and merely "mimetic" desire stems from the fact that the line between the two is blurry, if it exists at all!"

I think that's true. A crucial human distinctive is our ability to imitate one another. Most of what we know we learn from others. To learn from someone else we have to perceive them as being like us, motivated by desires similar to our own, purposely doing things in order to satisfy those desires. It's why we can use tools, communicate with language, accumulate knowledge and skills, love one another...

Jubal said...

I came upon your blog while googling the "why" of Sadomasochism which led me to Girard. I can go about 50/50 with Girard regarding how little of our desires are original to us. However, your comparisons of the Christian corporations continually creating desire are, I believe, spot on. In a less philosophical milieu I call what the Christian corps are doing "a Christian innoculation."

When we are innoculated for the flu or some other disease we are usually given a small amount of either live or dead antigen. This small amount then protects us from the disease by alerting our immune system that, "THIS IS BAD, DESTROY! DESTROY!"

Similarly, those coming into the "church" - whether disciples of the Health & Wealthers or of Rick Warren or of a mainline denomination - have just enough of the faith to "hook them" but not to grow; substantive growth in the Faith is like having the antibodies come along and keep us "safe" - if I have explained myself well enough. Please forgive me if I have been less than clear.

As to your hypothesis of the "knowledge of God" being the problem, I really don't think it is in the way you are looking at it. As someone who has been in the Faith for 40 years come April 2009 and who is an ordained minister I am shocked and appalled at how little Christians truly know of God. Sure, they "know" of the cultural Jesus, cultural God, etc. but their knowledge of the Scriptures - even that they are responsible to know and act on the Scriptures irrespective of any other person - is shockingly and abhorently low, rather like the U.S. savings rate.

I find most peoples' "knowledge," positively or negatively about God and Christianity is based not on any sort of an objective standard but on the stereotypical standards of either: "Oh, I could never be a Christian because there are too many hypocrites in the Church," or
"We have to follow and defend the absolutes of Biblical morality; stop illicit sex, stop gays, etc.!" Both positions can seem knowledgable but are falsely so, informed by prejudicial experience or hearsay rather than by "knowledge" of the Scriptures that informs us, at least initially, of what it truly means to be of the House of God.

Thank you for your post.

JJS Harshaw - a nom de plume for an amateur writer of erotica and a disciple of Christ

jhesiak said...

As someone who has been in the Faith for 40 years come April 2009 and who is an ordained minister...JJS Harshaw - a nom de plume for an amateur writer of erotica and a disciple of Christ

ok...chalk it up...THAT was interesting...and new!

ktismatics said...

When we first moved to France my wife struck up what has proven to be a lasting friendship with a couple from Scotland who were on their annual vacation to the Cote d'Azur. The husband is an Anglican priest of long standing who in his spare time writes crime fiction. The premise of each book is the same: a Scotland Yard detective and his prostitute girlfriend go on vacation to some exotic locale just as some horrific unsolved crime is perpetrated. Though his novels are a bit raunchy, this priest doesn't disguise his identity behind a pen name. I have accused him of of inventing his "real" name, however, since I find the name David Shepherd entirely too conveniently pastoral.

jhesiak said...

ok...now this reminds me of when i thought my notiong that postmodernity is so closely associated with globalisim was unique only to find out that it was a basic idea of derrida's!! ha ha...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jubal,

I think I share your desire for a more studious and passionate approach to the knowledge of God--that is, that believers tend to be lazy about wrestling through their faith. They tend to prefer preachers and teachers that will tell them what they kind of already believe. Fair point. So, there is a sense in which we need better knowledge of God....however, I still wonder if this doesn't miss the point.....because my thinking is that the reason we have grown so apathetic to pursuing a better knowledge of God is because our Christian pop culture is so saturated with it.

I just can't help but think that things that are rare tend to be valued more highly. God is not rare or precious in the U.S.--he is blasted through the radio, television, on dvds and cds, marketed by the publishing houses, and pushed on us as a trendy fad: What Would Jesus Do?, The Purpose Driven Everything, The Prayer of Jabez.....and now, the latest fad is The Shack.

Interesting.....I like The Shack, and I just finished reading it yesterday. After we discuss The Stations, the next novel will be The Shack....at least, that's my general plan. The Shack is some novel/narrative and a lot of theological dialog. It is sort of like a systematic Theology of God set in a story. Very interesting. I like the idea a lot.

And I liked The Shack. But it already shows signs of becoming the next Christian fad: read (or partially read) by millions and then quickly set on the shelf as we pursue the next "work of God."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Christian mass media is "immoral"--I'm making no value judgment here. I'm simply suggesting that the 21st century American Christian has more access to the knowledge of God than any other person in history via mass media, but something is missing.....and I don't think it is merely a "better" knowledge of God. That's what William P. Young (author of The Shack) naively (imo) thinks: if people just had "the right" view of God they would be good to go........hhhmmmm.....maybe....

Jonathan Erdman said...

Has Shepherd been able to find a publisher for any of his works?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jubal (aka JJS Harshaw),

I'm intrigued. Are you truly an amateur writer of erotica?

I'm interested because sexuality, pornography, erotic, sensuality, etc. have been discussed on our blog here with quite some rigor.

There have been diverse opinions by people here (people of faith and non-faith) on the subject. I am rethinking the whole issue of sexuality and the rather stringent laws that conservative Christianity tends to impose on sexuality....while others believe that things like erotica and pornography tend to be destructive and/or immoral.....Interesting thing: I was driving in west Texas yesterday and I came across a road-side billboard that essentially read: [Name of Town] does not welcome pornography--it degrades women and destroys families. My first thought was that they had misplaced the cause: does pornography degrade and destroy? Or is it a heart problem with the user?

daniel hutchinson said...

There have been very astute comments to this post. I've been interrogating myself in light of the question Jon poses re. mimetic desire lately... I'll ask myself "do I want this because I see another has it, and I want to be like them, or do I want it for myself?"

There is as yet no answer to this question. I'm a little depressed that the person I want to be is apparently already out there.

P.S. down with cultural Christianity, up with Christian culture.

Carnal Christianity vs. Christian carnality in the amatuer erotica of 40 years in the faith?

Am I this "and" that, or "this that" and "the next thing"!

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