Item description for Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads by Gil Bailie...
Overview This is a Girardian-influenced, engagingly written classic on the nature of violence and the hope for overcoming it in our conflict-ridden world. It is also a literary work, an often miraculous interplay between cultural documents and historical periods.
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Studio: The Crossroad Publishing Company
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.91" Width: 6.27" Height: 0.81" Weight: 1.25 lbs.
Release Date Feb 1, 1997
Publisher Crossroad Classic
ISBN 0824516451 ISBN13 9780824516451
Reviews - What do customers think about Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads?
Essential for understanding social violence Apr 18, 2007
As we head into the post industrial Dark Age, brought on by global warming, climate change and the end of the oil age, it is important that we understand the nature of the violence that pushes us to the brink of extinction in a nuclear armed world that is still poised on hair-trigger alert, with the spread and upgrading of weapons of mass destruction, that are illegal according to the world court.
This book is excellent at uncovering the deeper roots of our violence. An important cvontribution to the subject.
Boring and bad theology Mar 13, 2006
Bailie is an engaging writer and a true believer. I envy him. I would love to believe in the Girardian view. It would make a "mechanism" the scapegoat. This is a much more comfortable problem than the Gospel problem: we are all sinners.
Girard is warmed-over Hegel, which has been warmed over numerous times before, leading inevitably to totalitarian regimes.
Don't buy it. If you must buy the book, don't buy what's in it. The goat you scape may be your own.
General Overview - Contemporary Applications of Girard Nov 11, 2005
Recognized for its contemporary applications of Girardian theory on violence and the sacred, Baile examines the current cultural crisis facing humanity. Written in the early 1990's, Baile believes the Cross and the gospel shatter the need for scapegoating and sacrifice, but humanity has yet to complete this cultural transition. To achieve this end, this book can be split roughly into four parts: understanding our current cultural crisis, an examination of sacrificial institutions, a Girardian hermeneutic of Scripture, and a study of philosophy and nationalism.
The gospel has greatly changed the course of human history, and its effects still drive human history. Unlike primitive religion that needs sacred violence to dispense with violence, the gospel allows humanity to dispense with organized violence without falling into apocalyptic violence. The biblical tradition creates a moral concern for victims, but this concern does not reduce both victimization and violence. On the contrary, having empathy for the victim destroys the social harmony that conventional sacrificial rites seek to achieve at the expense of a victim. Our cultural habits favor scapegoating and sacrificial rites to bring social harmony, but the gospel has eroded the myths that keep this sacralization conscionable. Empathy for the victim and the need for sacrificial rituals are incompatible, and the violence we see in the world today is the result of this incompatibility. Violence has become more devastating and powerful because it has "lost its capacity for generating the metaphysical aura that gave it its sovereign power and its moral privilege," (53). As such, humanity is losing its ability to differentiate between beneficial and destructive violence, throwing societies in chaos. Like the example of Captain James Cook's trip to Tahiti in 1777, we rely on the vestiges of the sacrificial system, and Baile believes that the gospel comes to encourage us to live without them. In the meantime, however, an inept sacrificial system, or one aware of its muderousness, becomes more violent. When the ritual loses its religious aura the fascination of the mob will unleash further violence.
Baile seeks to understand how violence that fails to achieve catharsis leads to mimesis. When sacrificial institutions are abandoned, new representatives are selected for group fascination - fascination primarily geared towards the person who brought down the original institution. The group falls into chaos and sacrifices the new representative to bring social cohesion, and, in order to understand its actions, the group divinizes the representative. This system of scapegoating has been around since the dawn of time, but through the light of the gospel, this is no longer viable. As the sacrificial system collapses, we must rethink our desires that lead towards violence, desires that, if unchecked, can lead to uncontrolled or apocalyptic violence.
Examining the role of mimetic desire, Baile seeks to understand the source of violence. Like two toddlers fighting over a toy or two adults wanting the same item on sale, the exhibition of desire for an object from another person leads to our desire for the same object. In a concise Girardian overview, Baile shows how this desire leads to violence and religion through the sacrifice of a scapegoat. Myths, prohibitions, and rituals emerge to remind the tribe of its achievement of internal solidarity. The gospel story, from the point of the victim, comes and ultimately demythologizes this mythology.
To understand the full impact of the Cross, Baile seeks to understand the history of biblical Israel. Over the next several chapters, Baile interprets the scripture with a Girardian hermeneutic in order to highlight the evolution of the biblical understanding of sacrifice. From Adam and Eve to the resurrection of Jesus, Baile asserts that Scripture gradually exposes the errors and inadequacies of sacrificial ritual. This revelation culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Perhaps oversimplified, Jesus' death overturns our scapegoating predispositions, and his resurrection expresses the "profound emancipation" (232) from these systems.
Because Paul stated that philosophy cannot express the Cross, Baile examines the superiority of the Gospel over philosophy. The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega noted that philosophy will never unearth truth because it orbits around its "radical past." Philosophy ultimately functions like primitive religion and is incapable of understanding the truth of the victim. Examining the history of philosophy, Baile opines that philosophy became a haven for the primitive sacred and that philosophy is in crisis because of the revelation of the gospel. To understand true historical and anthropological knowledge, philosophy must examine the role of the victim. The Cross then is the root for post-philosophical epistemology.
Baile concludes with an exploration into the complex phenomenon of nationalism. Nationalism, civil war, and ethnic cleansings are in effect religious phenomenon. Because of a sacrificial crisis and the awareness of the gospel, groups have "tended to endow something else - race, ethnicity, nationality, ideology - with religious significance ..." (263). Because we cannot live without an understanding of religious transcendence, if we do not find transcendence in God, we will create "some shabby semblance of transcendence, a transcendence born out of violence or prelude to it" (270). Only to believe and to love God will allow us to love our neighbor and remove us from the shackles of violence and sin. In his epilogue, Baile concludes that the church is currently both a stumbling block and a cornerstone to undermine the structures of sacred violence.
Good, but not what I was expecting Jan 27, 2005
Bailie asserts that the Gospel has fundamentally changed the way humanity views what he calls sacrificial violence. Taken in the big scheme of history, the Bible is relatively new literature. And regardless of one's personal beliefs, it is hard to argue that the Bible hasn't been the dominant moral influence on the Western World. The argument Bailie makes in the first half of this book is that violence, along with many obvious negative effects, can positively affect a society's structure. Ancient cultures engaged in sacrificial violence, often in the form of ritual sacrifice. While to a Christian outsider this may seem immoral, it served a purpose within those cultures by unifying them. In it's simplest form, often as a scapegoating device, a religious leader would select a person to sacrifice before a tribe went to war, or to appease the gods so that the crops might grow. While it is tough to believe that these sacrifices had anything to do with the outcome of a war, Bailie suggests that they actually did. It wasn't that the gods were pleased and thus helped the tribe, but that the tribe was united by this ritual. It served as a kind of primitive pep rally. It was more a psychological advantage than a divine one. That was the nature of many cultures throughout the world. They were bound by ritual violence in one form or another. What the story of Jesus did, was flip that on its head. The Bible was the first religious literature to be told from the point of view of the victim. Jesus was by choice a victim of ritual, state-sanctioned violence. "Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do." This, according to Bailie, threw back the curtain, or unveiled the machinery that was in place. Bailie uses several examples of groups engaged in a frenzy of impulsive violence, shocked to their senses by an outsider stepping in and questioning it. That, on a cultural level, is what Jesus did. He threw the world into a crisis because the Christian viewpoint can no longer accept this ritual violence (there's a section on the church and church-sanctioned violence, but that's something else), and thus one of the pillars that held civilization together has been removed. We are desperately searching for something to replace it.
I had hoped, from this point, that Bailie would go into HOW we are trying to replace it, what this means for modern culture, and how we can survive this crisis as a unified world. Instead, what follows is an in-depth analysis of the Gospels, where he dissects many of the stories to support his grander assertions. I wish he'd gone the other way. Rather than support his assertions, I was more interested in the implications of his assertions. What are some current forms of sacrificial violence? There are many, I believe. Our current wars. Our criminal justice system. Capital punishment. One does not need to look further than the spectacle of the Scott Peterson case to see that this is the current equivalent of tying someone to a tree and stoning them. This is not to comment on Peterson's guilt or innocence, merely on the effect this spectacle has on society. It has been said that nothing brings a country together like a war. I wish Bailie had explored these topics, but aside from a short bit on nationalism as the new religion and a brief examination of a few modern genocides, he turns inward to Biblical analysis.
Perhaps it's unfair to criticize this book for not doing something the author never intended to do in the first place. Bailie's breadth of source material (he draws from all facets of history, literature, poetry, and religious material) is incredible. But as someone uninterested in Biblical analysis, and as someone who was on board with Bailie's theory already, I would have found an application of his theory much more interesting than a support of it. Maybe that will be another book.
HARD TRUTHS Jun 6, 2003
In Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads, Gil Bailie makes a hard demand of the reader: put aside for this time your cherished preconceptions, and listen. That is not only a hard demand but a risky one for any writer to make, lest he be found foolish. In my judgment, Bailie is not foolish, but prophetic.
Bailie is founder and director of the Florilegia Institute, a kind of Catholic "think tank/apologist." In his analysis of the roots and results of violence, he scrutinizes disparate sources, ancient and modern, including the Bible and current events. He does so both as a Christian and as an anthropologist, peeling away layer by layer the myths and pieties often associated with "The Greatest Book Ever Written." Readers who regard the Bible primarily as a literal statement of God's word may be shocked at many of Bailie's assertions, but they need to remain open to the end of the book and beyond. As well, non- and nominal Christians will be put off by Bailie's unwavering focus on Jesus Christ's role in the unraveling of the power of "sacred violence", but they need to "put on" what Bailie considers to be the fundamental Christian message.
The seminal assertion of Bailie's book is best stated in his quotation from literary critic Northrup Frye: "Man creates what he calls history as a screen to conceal the workings of the apocalypse from himself." All civilizations (according to Bailie) arose out of a sea of chaotic violence, and were in fact established by acts of such overwhelming and consummating violence (the apocalypse) that chaos was stilled and stability reigned. At least for a while, as in the Bolshevik Revolution. This "screen" of history (or myth) is a whitewash protecting the civilization from facing its own founding horrors, especially by shutting away the faces and voices of the countless innocent victims. "History" we admit, is written by those who win. The celebration and ritual re-enacting of this founding act of "sacred violence", now a sanitized myth, is the beginning of religion, with its bloody sacrifices (often human), and its prescriptions and taboos, all intended to placate fickle gods (ideologies) who alone, it is now exhorted and believed, have the power to keep the apocalypse from recurring.
The effectiveness of the founding myth (still according to Bailie) and its ritual re-enactments in maintaining stability has relied on two factors, the first being the ardent acceptance by the members of the civilization of the "sacred truths" of the founding myths, and the second being the non-recognition of the victims. To see and hear the human victim, Bailie points out many times, is to empathize and see through the screen, thereby nullifying its "good" effect.
Bailie argues that Western civilization, over the course of several millenia, has gradually and uniquely come to see the plight and humanity of the victim. It has done this through the Bible of Judeo-Christian culture:
". . . all of the world's religions urge their faithful to exercise compassion and mercy. . . . But the empathy for victims --as victims-- is specifically western, and quintessentially biblical." (p. 19)
The Jews, alone among the ancients, stubbornly wrote or referred to facts about victims in the mix of their writings, thereby creating in much of the Old Testament, including the Pentateuch, the Proto-History, instead of a "sacred history", or myth. The face of the victim may be seen not only in the Psalms and in Isaiah and the prophets, but also in the stories, including those of Abel, of Jonah the reluctant prophet, of Abraham and Isaac, of Moses' empathy with the Jewish slaves; and it reaches its fulfillment in the New Testament, told from the point-of-view of Jesus, the infinitely innocent victim. This is not to say that the Old Testament is a unified treatise condemning violence and defending violence. It is in fact an odd mixture of mythic sacred violence, historical fact, and advocacy of victims. The beauty of Bailie's book is his ability as an anthropologist to unearth the historical facts and extract them from the mythological debris.
There is no need today to document today's escalating cycles of violence. Palestine will more than suffice. The supreme irony in Bailie's thought is that Western civilization's maturing empathy with victims over the centuries has made "sacred" violence unpalatable, and ineffective. This fact is amply documented in the book, as in our refusal to use ground troops to oust Milosevic from Kosovo, and our reluctance to maintain the "peacekeeping force" in Somalia once American servicemen began to suffer significant casualties. The military presence was seen as not only victimized, but ineffective. We may today dwell with sad fascination on the present debacle in Iraq. So much for "shock and awe"! Sacred violence has lost its stabilizing ability to fend off chaotic violence.
The protective screen is fading, but unfortunately the human instinct towards violence remains. Bailie writes at length about the nature of this instinct, rooted in mimesis, the impulse to imitate, to want what another wants, to fall in with the scapegoating mob. It will seem to many readers that we are indeed out of time, out of money, and out of luck.
One need not believe in the resurrection of Christ, or in his divinity, or indeed to believe in his actual historical existence, to appreciate and follow his message: To achieve world peace (a step towards the Kingdom of God), we must all --as individuals, as societies and nations-- completely and irrevocably abjure violence. Bailie is no more sanguine about our prospects than you or I:
"Ultimately, there are only two alternative to apocalyptic violence: the sacred violence . . . and the renunciation of violence. That the former is now impossible, and that the latter seems hardly less so, doesn't change the facts." (p. 25)