Cogent arguments against fundamentalism: 11-26/27-16
What can be done for stateless people? 11-29-16

The scapegoating idea is universal: 11-28-16

A few months ago I wrote here about the late French philosopher and theologian René Girard and his "mimetic theory." I also did this National Catholic Reporter column about Girard.

ScapegoatingOne of the primary points about Girardian thinking is that people find scapegoats on which to blame their problems. This can seem to solve matters temporarily but eventually this solution doesn't work and more trouble appears.

Once you grasp this way of thinking about violence and other disruption, you begin to find evidence of it all over the place.

For instance, I've just finished reading Candice Millard's terrific book The River of Doubt, which chronicles Theodore Roosevelt's astonishing 1914 exploration of an unmapped river that runs into the Amazon in Brazil.

The Cinta Larga was one of the native tribes that Roosevelt and his fellow explorers came into some contact with. Indeed, Millard finally concludes that the entire exploration would have ended disastrously and fatally quite early if the Cinta Larga had not allowed Roosevelt's party to travel the wild River of Doubt unmolested by tribe members.

Here's some of what Millard says about this tribe: "The Cinta Larga believed that death was brought about by witchcraft. If a man became ill and died, the others in his village never blamed their healer, a man who used plants and religion to cure the sick. Instead, they looked around their own village, and if they did not find anyone suspicious, they assumed that someone from another village must have performed the dark magic. The only response was to avenge the death by attacking the offending village."

There you have it: A perfect example of Girard's scapegoating. Of course, when the Cinta Larga attacked a different village, that simply led to a new round of violence and war -- and did nothing to bring back the person who had died.

Girard eventually became a Christian and said that the Bible was the only example he ever found where love, compassion and mercy replaced scapegoating.

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The late Fidel Castro's relationship with the Catholic Church, into which he was born, was complex. As this Religion News Service story notes, he was influenced by the Jesuits but became an oppressor of the church. He made some valid points about the ways in which the church in Cuba and in Central and South America became warp and woof with the repressive governmental structures, but he also crushed some of the very people that the church, at its best, taught him to love and support.

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P.S.: My latest column for Flatland, KCPT-TV's digital magazine, now is online. It's about Jews, Christians and Muslims building or renovating Habitat for Humanity houses together in Kansas City. To read it, click here.

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Cover-Value of DoubtANOTHER P.S.: Looking for a terrific, inexpensive holiday gift for friends who actually read books? Let me modestly suggest this: Order my new book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. I've just given you a link to the page for it. But if you want an autographed copy of either the paperback or the hardback, send me an e-mail ([email protected]) and I'll tell you how we can arrange that. (Just don't wait until Christmas Eve.) Or if you're in the Kansas City area, our great local independent bookstore, Rainy Day Books, has been carrying it. One excellent thing about the book is that it doesn't require batteries. Well, unless you get the e-version for your phone or iPad, say.


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