Redekop’s Mimetic Structures of Blessing and Reconciliation

I got swept away by a productive digression in the middle of responding to Redekop’s outstanding paper, so this is part two. (Read part one.)

Vern Neufeld Redekop, “Mimetic Structures of Violence and of Blessing: Creating a Discursive Framework for Reconciliation,” Theoforum 33, no. 3 (January 1, 2002): 311–335.

Interestingly, Redekop criticizes the traditional language of sacrifice on the grounds that it is discursively ordered towards passivity, renunciation, and death rather than agency and life. While he is in continuity with the Christian tradition of giving for the sake of others, even giving one’s life so that others may live, he emphasizes that even such “non-action” is a form of action. I’d suggest that “agency” would be clearer language to use here, as one may exercise one’s agency either by acting or refraining from action.

The language of sacrifice is an area in which the mimetic theology community appears to be divided. While some argue for the importance of retaining the language of sacrifice in order to subvert and reclaim it, others believe the negative connotations are sufficiently strong that it cannot be reclaimed and should be abandoned. While I incline towards the former, I also believe that the language of sacrifice is sufficiently central to the Christian project that we cannot abandon it without being credibly accused of abandoning Christianity for a “post-Christian” form of religion, and therefore it must be retained by those who intend to remain in continuity with the historic church.

Adopting the language of agency helpfully contravenes the passive, trapped, or coerced experiences undergone by survivors of violence and others for whom the concept of sacrifice can be particularly problematic. It restores and emphasizes subjectivity and moral agency over against the objectification that typically accompanies victimization.

Combining the language of agency with the language of vulnerability, as Redekop does in his discussion of Jesus’ own choices and his teaching on turning the other cheek (329-30), suggests a discursive safeguard against leveraging the language of sacrifice to perpetuate existing structures of domination: such as, for example, uneven expectations about which classes of persons will sacrifice their goals, money, or time for the benefit of others. “Making oneself vulnerable” is grounded in relation rather than acquisition, and it may therefore be easier to observe a disparity of vulnerability than a disparity of sacrifice; in particular, those who are vulnerable as pharmakos [1] are already mimetically charged and perhaps therefore more easily identifiable. The fact that relationship participates in mimetic structures of blessing, while acquisition participates in mimetic structures of violence, may also make this easier. Vulnerability is also an important concept in other approaches to ecclesiology[2], and may provide a productive interface for further development.

Redekop develops the characteristics of mimetic structures of blessing more extensively in the theological than the secular section of his paper. In his discussion of the story of Solomon and the baby, he identifies desire for the well-being of the other, truth, and justice as features of the reconciling movement from mimetic structures of violence to blessing.

Much of this section describes Jesus’ actions: or, we might say, his practices. His actions of reaching across identity boundaries are described as a “blessing of undifferentiation.” (327) Because Girard and many of his successors identify undifferentiation as a source of rivalry, I don’t think this is an apt term within a mimetic paradigm; instead, I would describe this as a blessing of inclusion, encounter, welcome, or hospitality.

Redekop emphasizes the creative, reframing nature of Jesus’ responses: in contemporary language, we might say that Jesus thinks outside the box, refusing to allow the terms of the question to be defined by his questioners or accusers. This is characteristic of creative discourse that opens out, unlike the closed discourse associated with the violence involved in keeping communities closed. His repeated exhortations to “love one another as I have loved you” is clearly fundamental when viewed through a mimetic perspective; his teachings and demonstrations (modelling) of servanthood embody the desire for mutual wellbeing.

Jesus’ relationship with God and his “eschatological imagination . . . based on “transcendance, relationship, and love” (332) were significant in his refusal to participate in mimetic structures of violence.
Thus, theologically, Redekop describes mimetic structures of blessing as grounded in love, empowered/inspired by an eschatological imagination, and ordered towards friendship with God.

These characteristics correspond to the fruits of the Spirit as explicated by Robin Collins. Faith, defined as trusting in God’s sufficiency and purpose, mitigates the existential anxiety that impels us to attempt to control others and acquire surplus possessions. Hope, defined as holding to the eventual good outcome of justice and the reign of God, anchors our present situation to an eschatological framework and places our current circumstances, however distressing, in the context of the ongoing story of salvation history. Love, defined as desiring the full flourishing and independent agency of the other, results in a non-coercive, non-rivalrous desire that has the potential for creativity and growth, rather than violence, when amplified by mimesis.[3]

That the movement from mimetic structures of violence to blessing is a work of reconciliation (316), and that the church is called to incarnate and spread mimetic structures of blessing in a world dominated by mimetic structures of violence, yields an emphasis on the church’s mission as one of reconciliation. While this is not an entirely new insight[4], it is a theme that is rarely sounded in ecclesiology: it did not appear in my survey of systematic ecclesiology for chapter one; it does not appear in Lumen Gentium; it is mentioned in the recent WCC document Towards a Common Vision in paragraphs 26, 59, and 66; and it was treated in John Paul II’s 1984 Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today (which I know only because a Google Books search for “reconciliation” in Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church (Expanded Edition) turned up a single reference in its appendix); a search for “ecclesiology and reconciliation” in the ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials returned only 21 results, many of which were only narrowly or tangentially relevant.

Of course, on reflection, this insight is unsurprising: if Christ’s mission was one of reconciliation, then how can the church’s be any different? “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” While later theological reflection has (over-)emphasized the individual and spiritual nature of Christ’s work of reconciling each individual to the Father, an examination of his ministry, as Redekop demonstrates, and of the early church with its strong emphasis on catholicity and unity, shows that his work was also that of reconciling us with each other. (After all, how can we be reconciled to the Father who loves each of us if we are not reconciled with each other?)

Redekop notes, almost in passing, that the “[s]imple acknowledgement of the desire to be first already begins to dissipate the power of the [rivalrous] structure.” (333) In the context of mimetic ecclesiology, I would lift this up to valorize the ecclesial practice of confession, however it is practiced throughout the church. These varied practices include spiritual accountability in small groups as Wesley did; with spiritual directors and companions; as part of corporate worship; or in the sacrament variously known as confession, penance, or reconciliation in the Catholic church.

In the church of my childhood, the sacrament of confession was generally seen in terms of permitting access to the sacrament of communion: you couldn’t receive communion unless you were in a state of grace, nobody could go more than a day or so without sinning, so you generally went to confession Saturday night so you could receive communion at Mass on Sunday morning. As the liturgical reforms of Vatican II proceeded, the importance of full participation at Mass, including the reception of communion, was emphasized more than the technical, canonical requirement to be in a state of grace, and participation in the sacrament of confession dwindled away to almost nothing. Other sociological, theological, and ecclesial factors likely also contributed to this decline, but the real problem was that the sacramental rite of reconciliation was reformed without a corresponding theological reform. We didn’t need to go to confession in order to receive communion; but that was the only reason we’d ever been given, and no new rationale emerged to take its place. The sacrament was classified as a “healing” sacrament, like the Anointing of the Sick, but that was just a label, not a rationale. The rare homily that urged “visiting the little room in the back of the church” (ie, the confessional) typically sounded a bit defensive, little more than a variation on the “nobody goes to confession anymore” blues. The recent archdiocesan campaigns (”The light is on for you” during Lent and, recently, Advent) to increase participation in the sacrament have conveyed little more than a sense of hospitality (pastorally positive) and technical obligation (free of theological or pastoral content).

Understanding reconciliation as a constitutive mission of the church offers a theologically meaningful framework for participation in the sacramental, spiritual, or liturgical practices of reconciliation. Understanding that the acknowledgement of sinful desires begins to dissipate their power provides a theologically and pastorally meaningful rationale for the practice of auricular confession and frequent examination of conscience.

This perspective provides a means by which to understand the recent rise in participation in the sacrament as a result of the “Francis effect.” Francis’ personal ministry has included many of the characteristics Redekop associates with the reconciling movement from violence to blessing: love, joy, service, relationship, inclusion, and creative dramatic gestures.


Mimetic scholars sometimes adopt the Greek term pharmakos to identify “those who are on the fringes of society by virtue of their social identity.” By virtue of their marginality, the pharmakos are likely scapegoat candidates: “aspects of [their] personhood that hold the widest variance from the dominant norm” are seized on as the supposed reason for expulsion.[9] Additionally, such persons tend to be physically or socially vulnerable, and thus relatively safe targets because they lack the resources or allies to fight back.

James Alison uses the more colloquial term “semi-insider” for this concept.

(Excerpted from another post.)

2 For example, {Beek, 2008}; {Koopman, 2008}
3 {Collins, 2000}
4 Actually, it was an entirely new insight to me, and I’m just glad it occurred to me to check on that while revising this section! But that tells you something about how little this is talked about.

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2 Responses to Redekop’s Mimetic Structures of Blessing and Reconciliation

  1. Pingback: Clericalism, Anti-Clericalism, and Mimetic Rivalry | Gaudete Theology

  2. Pingback: #2popesaints: A Creative Gesture of Desperately Needed Reconciliation | Gaudete Theology

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