We were blessed this weekend by a first reading from a portion of Sirach (Sir 27:30-28:7) that begins this way:
Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
I spent the afternoon of September 11th in a bar, even though I never go to bars, because I was away from home and wanted to watch the news with other people around, even if they were strangers. I will never forget the guy sitting at the bar next to me, waving his glass around as he beerily fulminated, “We’re gonna find out who did this, and we’re gonna BOMB em inna the Stone Age, we’re gonna BOMB em back inna the Stone Age!”
A few years later, I read an analysis of the events of 9/11 from a mimetic or Girardian perspective proposed by James Alison in “Contemplation in a World of Violence”, the first chapter in his book On Being Liked, which has illuminated my understanding of those events, and the Girardian concept of scandal, and the baptismal liturgy.
As has become common in this era of 24/7 news coverage, the same visuals of the events were shown on television over, and over, and over, again. For hours. For days. For weeks, even. For months, the brand-new (and newly-branded) “War on Terror” was covered in every newscast.
In our fascination, our insatiable desire for more, more, more coverage, we hypnotized ourselves. I remember feeling that I could almost literally hear the drums, sounding louder and louder, marching us inevitably off to war.
This fascination is what Girard means by the term “scandal.” It was particularly extreme in the aftermath of 9/11, but it’s the same process that underlies the celebrity gossip industry and the internet flame war.
And this fascination, this hypnotic effect, is the “glamour of evil” that we reject in our baptismal promises: “We reject the glamour of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin.”
…I always wondered about that phrase, “the glamour of evil”. As a lifelong fantasy reader, I knew that glamour could imply not only its modern elegant “glamorous” connotations, but also the older meaning of glamourie, bewitching illusion, enchantment…. fascination. Now I get it.
We promise to “reject the glamour of evil” so that evil, sin, scandal doesn’t run us, doesn’t define our identity even in reaction against it. We reject the glamour of evil, and instead we clothe ourselves in Christ. We name ourselves, take our identity, from Christ.
Because of our baptismal promises, Christians are especially called to refuse to be terrorized: because if we believe what we have promised, if we are going to live up to those promises, then we must not give ourselves over to the power of terror. We must “refuse to be mastered by sin.”
And understanding how this fascination emerges from mimesis also explains the reason for the Christian commandments “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44, Lk 6:27). The practice of praying for your enemies weakens the mimetic rivalry, because it changes how you think about them. You cannot pray for someone who has been reduced to a caricatured, two-dimensional Other: once you pray for someone, they begin to become fully human to you, in all their vulnerability and complexity. This disrupts the dynamics of a mimetic crisis, and can slow its escalation.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.
redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
The Lord is kind and merciful,
slow to anger, and rich in compassion.