One of the central aspects of Christianity is where it locates good and evil. We often like to think that the world is made up of good and bad people, and that we could eliminate evil from the world if we just got rid of the bad people. In this way, we often view ourselves as being on the side of the good, and view evil as something outside of ourselves.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed this idea directly. Solzhenitsyn was a Russian writer and a prisoner under the communist regime of the Soviet Union. He wrote a book which detailed the experiences and the horrors inside the Soviet forced-labor camps.
In that book, “The Gulag Archipelago,” he famously wrote: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Solzhenitsyn and Christianity view good and evil not as external, but rather internal. This view also lines up with that of Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.
Jung talks a lot about what he calls the human “shadow.” He views the shadow as being the part of ourselves which we suppress and reject. Since it’s suppressed, the shadow is part of our unconscious mind. The shadow is that part of our self which we do not know.
Jung viewed the relationship between the conscious and unconscious as compensatory. We often consciously believe ourselves to be good people, but what this means is that the shadow includes the unknown and unconscious evil within ourselves. And, until we inwardly recognize our capacity for evil, it will remain unknown to us.
The danger in suppressing the evil within ourselves lies precisely in the fact that the unconscious has a compensatory relationship to our conscious mind. So, when the evil in our hearts is not consciously known, our unconscious mind will compensate by projecting that evil onto the world.
If we do not see the evil within ourselves, we will project that evil outward, and so we will instead see other people as evil. Jung summed this up by saying, “Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.”
Former Stanford Professor Rene Girard said: “Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.”
What he meant is that when we do not see evil as originating within ourselves, we will project it outwards by creating a scapegoat. A scapegoat gives people a common enemy to unite against and it thereby creates solidarity within the group.
Uniting around the victimization and destruction of a scapegoat creates peace in society, and is the foundation of culture, according to Girard. He said, “There is no culture without a tomb and no tomb without a culture.”
Girard realized that most civilizations are founded on a myth where somebody is scapegoated. In these myths, God sides with those who do the scapegoating, not with the scapegoat. In this way, the violence inherent in the scapegoating mechanism is made sacred because God favors it.
An example of this is the founding myth of Rome. Romulus, with divinity on his side, kills his twin brother Remus, and then Romulus founds Rome.
However, this all changes with Christianity. In Christianity, Jesus is the Lamb of God; Jesus is the sacrificial scapegoat who unveils the scapegoating mechanism with His death and resurrection. As Girard said, “Christianity is a founding murder in reverse, which illuminates what has to remain hidden to produce ritual, sacrificial religions.”
Christianity is not just another version of the same myth, but the deconstruction of all previous myth. God not only sided with the scapegoat, but was the scapegoat. Girard says: “The God of Christianity isn’t the violent God of archaic religion, but the non-violent God who willingly becomes a victim in order to free us from our violence.”
Jesus exposed mythology for what it was: a concealment of the scapegoating mechanism which brought temporary peace through tribal solidarity around sacralized violence. In this way, Christianity serves as a true revelation; this is why Jesus says that He is the Truth.
Christianity, by exposing religious violence, becomes the religion of peace. Without this sophisticated religion, we will descend back into tribal violence in the form of ideological warfare. This is exactly what is currently happening on the extremes of our political spectrum.
The alt-right has united around the scapegoated minorities, and the radical left has created solidarity between minority groups by scapegoating the straight, white male.
Both groups see themselves as being on the side of the good. Each group views themselves as threatened by the existence of the evil other, and this is what they use to justify violence. By seeing their existence as threatened, each side views their use of violence as a matter of self-defense; neither side sees themselves as initiating the violence.
This is precisely what Rene Girard meant when he said: “To escape responsibility for violence we imagine it is enough to pledge never to be the first to do violence. But no one ever sees himself as casting the first stone. Even the most violent persons believe that they are always reacting to a violence committed in the first instance by someone else.”
Although solidarity is produced by the scapegoating mechanism, this peace can never last, because the scapegoat is merely a projection. It is not something evil, but rather a reflection of our own evil.
We can destroy as many perceived external evils as we want, but unless we face the evil within ourselves, we will never have lasting peace; there will always be a new projection to destroy.
Christianity, through Jesus, reveals the only chance at lasting peace. Instead of fighting external evils, Christianity says we must turn inward and face the evil in our own hearts. As Solzhenitsyn said, “It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” That is the Way and the Truth of Jesus.
Sam Dugan is a fourth-year student majoring in economics with a minor in philosophy. He can be reached at SD829860@wcupa.edu.