Girard denies that Satan exists, considering him to be a mere metaphor for certain societal processes. His interest is in the Jesus’ argument: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him.” (Mk 3:23-26) Amazingly, he claims that “Jesus does not deny the reality of Satan’s self-expulsion; he asserts it.” (34) I don’t understand this: it’s obvious that He does deny it; the denial is precisely a highly plausible proof that His miracles are divine in origin.
For Girard, the main Satanic trick is precisely to cast out himself:
Satan can therefore always put enough order back into the world to prevent the total destruction of what he possesses without depriving himself for too long of his favorite pastime, which is to sow disorder, violence, and misfortune among his subjects. (37)
When the trouble caused by Satan becomes too great, Satan himself becomes his own antidote of sorts: he stirs up the mimetic snowballing and then the unanimous violence that makes everything peaceful once again. (43)
What is the cure-all of the prince of this world, his most clever trick, perhaps his only resource? It is the mimetic all-against-one or single victim mechanism. It is the mimetic unanimity that, at the highest pitch of disorder, brings order back into human communities. This sleight of hand remained hidden until the Jewish and Christian revelation. …
Thanks to this deception, human communities are indebted to Satan for the shaky relative order that they enjoy. They are thus always in his debt and cannot free themselves on their own. (44)
Perhaps this could serve as an argument in favor of political anarchism, because the state is such an awful and crude tool of protecting social cooperation. It is through the Satan of the state (or for the ancient Jews, the entire community armed with stones) that the Satan of private criminals is expelled. It’s a colorful way of describing the human condition.
But Girard is wrong that the devil does not exist as a real creature, a fallen angel. Moreover, the aim of Satan is not careful control; he wants to end mankind as soon as possible, but, being incorporeal, he cannot kill and destroy directly. He seeks to make us humans murder each other. Satan does not play games or have a “pastime.”
What then is the essence of collective violence? My mother just bought a nice new electric tea kettle. My own kettle, being 5 or so years old, was slightly leaking, but I “conservatively” made do. It is only when she got her own that I was jolted into desiring a new kettle for myself. There was indeed imitation. But never did it occur to me to steal my mother’s kettle or even to “covet” it. When my own desire for this good was kindled, I went on Amazon and bought my own. The imitation then was not rivalrous or violent. It was even good, a process of learning and self-discovery of what might give me future utility.
The mimetic violence then must refer to a special kind of imitation, i.e., of morality. How can a thousand Jews demanding the death of Jesus be wrong? To unite with them is to bind yourself to the community speaking in one voice, to be “accepted,” to belong. In this belonging, where dissent is not merely not tolerated but is inconceivable, there is a definite pleasure and strength is numbers. You are one of us. And yet this pleasure comes at a price.
To murder one as all, thereby earning a joyous “catharsis,” is the essence of respectability; or rather one can be respectable both in a peaceful country club and in a vicious gang. What crimes will you commit to merit your respectability?
The voice of the people is the voice of God, isn’t it? The crowd is infallible and omnipotent. You can’t fight City Hall. Well, not in the Gospels. It turns out that even the entire community can be objectively wrong about a point of morals or law. The voice of the people was in fact the voice of the devil inciting them to kill God.
I agree with Girard that this is an important lesson of Christianity.