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THINGS HIDDEN 22: Twilight of the American Gods

Shannon Braswell and David Gornoski return for another exciting episode of THINGS HIDDEN. The two address Kanye West’s appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast, the concept of the holy fool, the cultural decline in France, the rise of suicide terrorism, the rise of troll culture, the need for distinctions and role models in society, and more. How do we cultivate good role models in today’s culture of top-down coercion? What does putting skin in the game mean? How does Christianity help us in overcoming human barriers in a way other religions could not? Listen to the full podcast to find out.

THINGS HIDDEN 21: Jean-Michel Oughourlian Interview

In this THINGS HIDDEN conversation, David Gornoski and Shannon Braswell are joined by Jean-Michel Oughourlian, psychologist and author of The Mimetic Brain. Oughourlian starts the discussion with an insider’s perspective as Girard’s collaborator and how he found breakthroughs in the field of psychotherapy upon studying mimetic theory.

“The mirror neuron is something fantastic,” Oughourlian remarks, “because if you experiment, if you put a CT scan or PET scan on your own head and mine, and I’m drinking a glass of water, and you are on the other side of the Atlantic just looking at me, in both our brains the same regions will be activated the same way. In other words, whether I do the action or whether you look at it, the brain functions the same way–it mirrors what I’m doing.”

How does this discovery relate to the right and left-hemisphere brain study by Iain McGilchrist? How has mimetic theory helped Jean-Michel Oughourlian in the field of psychotheraphy?

“What I try to do when I see a patient is not so much find out what he is suffering from but to find out who he is suffering from. In other words, who is his rival,” Oughourlian states, “This becomes extremely tricky because some people look like friends but they are your enemies, some other people you think are your enemies but they are friends, they want to help.”

Is mimetic theory connected to physics? What is consciousness, or more precisely, how does consciousness function? Since we’re all compelled to imitate, how should we select our role models? Listen to the full podcast to find out and more.

Buy ‘The Mimetic Brain’ on Amazon.

Our Cannibalistic Desires: Shannon Braswell Interviews David Gornoski

Shannon Braswell, in his first episode of Polymath’s Paradise, sits down with David Gornoski. The two resume their discussion on the works of Rene Girard. David takes us through his disillusionment with mainstream Christian talking points and his introduction to Rene Girard.

“Jesus was basically an object for folks rather than the subject of your life,” David says, “Jesus had become an object with people to have a social status in comparison with others.” How do we make Jesus the subject of our lives?

How does the eucharist relate to cannibalism? How is civilization, as we know it, rooted in cannibalism? How has Christ affected humanity through this ritual consumption of the other in our species? Listen to the full podcast to find out.

James Kourtides, David Gornoski on Rene Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Gospel Technology

How do we understand the growing undifferentiation–the breaking apart of traditional hierarchies–in western society? How can the church regain the gospel aesthetic of standing for the hidden victims of our society? The church must tell the stories of victims, David says, and in doing so, woke culture would evaporate in an instant. But then how would Jesus’ salvation of the world look like when we consider the insurmountable cultural and statist resistance to the gospel technology? Join David Gornoski and James Kourtides as they tackle these questions while figuring out how humanity can move past stagnation in innovation, polarization in society, and academic indoctrination.

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Visit James Kourtides’ YouTube channel.

Finding Good News in Chaos

“Everything that you see in politics is based on a zero-sum frame of reality,” David Gornoski says. He points out how politicians rely on you to vote them into defeating your enemies without actually dealing with any of the core issues. “Excellence doesn’t require a savior; it requires skin in the game.” Amid social scandals, it’s important to realize that, thanks to the crucifixion of Christ, we can recognize the hidden persecution when we see the news. How can we see the good in an environment of discord and unrest? The key is to emulate Jesus, David says. Listen to the full episode for David Gornoski’s deconstruction of the political game of attraction and repulsion and more.

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THINGS HIDDEN 12: The Return of Dionysus

Shannon: “Parents often say: ‘don’t discuss politics and religion at the dinner table.'”
David: “But that’s what I always talk about at dinner; all politics and religion originate at the original dinner which is ritual cannibalism.”

Shannon Braswell, a Girardian from Washington, sits down with David Gornoski to examine the historical and mythological narratives through the lens of mimetic theory. The two also talk about the social justice movement and its sacrificial undertones beneath the guise of the Christian concern for victims.

The conversation moves toward an interesting study of Girardian anthropology that helps us deconstruct the scapegoat mechanism that originated from archaic, tribal cultures. How is the scapegoat mechanism carried forward in our secular culture? The myth of social contract says all conflicting parties suddenly decided to get together but when we study the sacrificial foundations of our culture we know that to be false.

Can we understand the left’s rage against the founders of this nation? How does the myth of Dionysus help us decipher the class divide and the growing undifferentiation in America? Listen to the full podcast for a fascinating conversation on the relationship between mythology and anthropology and how knowing that is the key to understanding and dealing with our weird modern-day culture.

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How the Gospel Technology Works

Host David Gornoski explains how we can be freed from the shackles of collectivism by looking to the Biblical story of the woman caught in adultery. He who is without sin may cast the first stone, Jesus told the persecuting mob. The first step is the recognition of our part in societal injustices. Abandoning the notion of correcting others through violence allows for what David calls ‘the gospel technology’ to flourish. What does Jesus’ forgiveness of the adulterous woman tell us about right governance and true justice? Listen to the full episode for the answer and more.

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Dr. Norman Horn on Contagious Violence

“We’re seeing the overreaction to the pandemic spilling over to other parts of life,” says Norman Horn, founder of the Libertarian Christian Institute. Dr. Horn goes on to explain how institutional coercion spills onto the streets in the form of riots. “Just because we agree that there are structural problems does not mean that we should burn the city down.” Is capitalism to be blamed for the injustices in our system? Dr. Horn partially agrees and argues that we need to resist government collusion with private companies. He warns that usage of violence will backfire with enormous effect. Can one be both Christian and Libertarian? Can one celebrate both liberty and jubilee? Listen to the full episode to find out.

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Follow Norman Horn at libertarianchristians.com

Metropolis – A Film Analysis

Very few films have defined a genre. One of these films is the 1927 German silent movie Metropolis. Directed by legendary filmmaker Fritz Lang, Metropolis is a dystopian sci-fiction movie that touches on important socio-political and even theological aspects of modern society. Made during the Weimar era—a time when Germany was in political and economic turmoil, and when cities often witnessed street battles between communists and fascists—the movie manages to be relevant even today as it was then. Why? This is something that we will try to understand as we analyze some of the movie’s key characters and narrative points.

The opening scenes depict the underground-dwelling workers of an enormous unnamed city toiling away at ambiguous machines that keep the city alive. After their ten-hour shifts of grueling manual labor, these crestfallen workers descend to the depths and limp away to their homes. We then move heavenwards, to the roofs of the skyscrapers, where the children of the rulers and the powerful play and enjoy gardens and private arenas. It is here where we meet our hero: a young man named Freder, who is the son of the city’s master, Joh Fredersen.

The setting makes visible the sharp class divide that exists in the city, and this divide has parallels to our own modern-day urban life. The cinematography perfectly utilizes the workers’ robotic movements to make them appear as extensions of the machines and ultimately non-humans—others. This divide of the classes and the other-izing of a segment of the city’s population gives the impression that something is lacking in society, and this lack gives way to a shattered and unbalanced way of life. Again, this is analogous to our real-life urban existence.

It is because of this missing component that our society is divided into warring factions who look to sacrifice one another to produce the perfect society. The working class and ruling class divide gave rise to Marxist thinking, something that the film addresses, albeit in a fragmented way. Marxist theory is a derivation of Hegelian thought, that society evolves through dialectical struggle and through revolution which produces a fair and desirable state of being. This struggle that Marxism describes is a variant of mimetic warfare—conflict that ends in human sacrifice and false hope for a better future.

Young Freder, during one of his escapades in the gardens, is dumbfounded at the appearance of a character named Maria and several children of the workers whom she has brought along with her. “Look, children,” Maria says, pointing to the sons and daughters of the wealthy rulers, “these are your brothers and sisters.” Maria is the Christ-Marian archetype of the story. She is the unconscious Christian insert by the writer Thea von Harbou, unconscious because her character is produced as a figure of innocence and beauty, and also because she inadvertently leads a curious Freder to the horrors of the underground machines of the city.

In the underground, Freder witnesses firsthand the anguish-ridden existence of the workers. One of the machines explodes when a worker fails to tend to it in time. Freder is thrown back by the explosion and he then hallucinates the gigantic head of Molech swallowing bound slaves and the workers who walk into the monster’s mouth in defeat. This entire sequence of events is an unconscious retelling of the Passion story in the New Testament. The Marian-Christ figure leads the pagan who is steeped in mythology into the reality of misery faced by the unquestioning innocents, and by doing so she unveils the ritual human sacrifice that sustains society. The shock treatment of this revelation opens Freder’s eyes. His world will never be the same again.

We are again brought back to this missing component—this absence of a bridge between the ruler and the ruled. The incomplete state of Metropolis means that violence links and sustains society and as a result, Molech—the Canaanite god of human sacrifice—swallows those who fail to do their work properly. The missing component means that natural law reigns in all its Darwinian glory. Might makes right! Human beings are mutated into lifeless and disposable machines. Such a society is bound to fail because it relies on an endless supply of scapegoats; Joh Fredersen denies this reality when his son rushes to tell him of the suffering of the workers.

Fredersen ignores his son’s plea for mercy. He recognizes that the expulsion of workers to the depths is a necessity, and this necessity—this myth—must not be broken or everything will fall apart. The later parts of the story prove him to be partially right. Fredersen is not overjoyed or passionate at this recognition; indeed, he is concerned about his son. He is, after all, faced with a dilemma as are his real-life counterparts. He must either choose the path of expulsion and keep the city running as he is obligated to or he can break the religious structure and risk an inversion of the hierarchy or, even worse, a war of all against all.

But Fredersen does not realize that there is a third way, and this way is discovered by his son Freder who voluntarily exiles himself to the underground and takes on the role of a worker himself. Freder discovers that the workers, after their shifts, go to the catacombs and devoutly listen to Maria who preaches about a coming ‘mediator’—a heart that will bring together the mind (the rulers) and the hands (workers). Maria explains this need for a mediator through a revisionist telling of the tower of Babel story wherein she claims that the tower could not be completed because of discord between the slaves and the chief planners.

So here we are told what the missing component is and what needs to be done to achieve equilibrium. Unbeknownst to Thea von Harbou, who was really pointing to a charismatic leader to fill in the role of the mediator, she is unconsciously arguing for the sovereign rule of a divine king, and not just any king but a king who is uniquely redeeming, non-violent, and persuasive through voluntary discourse. This king in all certainty is Jesus Christ. It is Christ who fulfills the unraveling of pagan mythology—the violence that serves as the foundation of cities. And it is Christ who, upon his advent, achieves the role as the perfect mediator and the perfect role model.

Also, the characters of Maria and Freder themselves are an indication of Christ in the world of Metropolis. Maria emerges from the place of the workers, therefore she represents, in a sense, Christ’s human nature. Freder comes from the place of the wealthy and the powerful; he represents the divine nature of Christ. The two natures sometimes overlap between the two characters. It is no wonder that both fall in love with each other, thus symbolizing the spiraling unity of the divine and the human in bringing about redemption to the world. From here onwards, after Maria almost supernaturally recognizes that Freder is the promised mediator, Freder and Maria work together to save Metropolis.

Next, we are introduced to the iconic machine-person and its creator, the mad scientist Rotwang whose name translates to ‘red cheek.’ Rotwang is the mimetic double of Fredersen. He was once a close friend of Fredersen but later becomes a rival due to his pursuit of Fredersen’s now-deceased wife Hel. The character of Rotwang ends up as a scientist who, in his model-obstacle relationship with Fredersen, attempts to play God. A scientist who ‘plays God’ is typically one who lacks any intention of preserving the life-affirming goal, i.e. healing of human life, given to science by the Gospel revelation.

One sign of the mad-scientist archetype is his act of creating an artificial being that rivals humans who are God’s creation. Rotwang’s creation is the Maschinenmensch—the machine-person. This machine-person takes on the likeness of Maria to lead the workers and eventually the whole city into a state of disarray. The machine-person is depicted as the ultimate scandal generator. She is comparable to the array of Christ substitutes—false Christs—that exist in our modern day societies. She is presented by Rotwang to the elites as a prostituted savior, a corrupted messiah who sells herself as a glittering object of desire and scandalizes society as a result.

The machine-person causes numerous rivalries and deaths amongst the elite. Those who burn in lust for her end up competing and fighting over her, thus killing rivals in fistfights and duels. The machine-person’s real-life counterparts are the various socialist, Marxist, and other such radicalized political and cultural movements that present to us numerous false-Christs—charismatic figures that claim to fight for victims but end up scandalizing society in an attempt to erase differentiation.

One characteristic of a false-Christ is his/her claim of protection of victims through violence. In order to fight evil, a false-Christ will always urge the use of violence, equal or greater than the perceived offense. This is made all the more clear when the machine-person impersonates Maria at the catacombs and sends the workers into a revolutionary rage by urging them to “destroy the machines.”

Freder recognizes the machine-person as an impersonator. “You’re not Maria!” he says, “Maria spoke of peace—not violence!” His words fall on deaf ears as the crowd turns on him before proceeding to wreak havoc on the machines that run the city. The crowd dances around the ruins, not realizing that the destruction has caused severe flooding of their own homes with their children inside. This scene is an obvious indication of the cannibalizing nature of violent revolutions. If there is violence, it will eventually come back one way or another. Such is the nature of violence.

Fortunately, Maria and Freder, who just narrowly escaped lynching by the crowd, join together and save the workers’ children from drowning. The children here represent the non-violent victims who fall in the crosshairs of mob persecution, emboldened in our world by unjust laws. We have numerous real-life examples: the millions murdered under the communist and fascist regimes, the separation of families due to the “war on drugs,” the drone attacks on innocents in the so-called war on terror, and the list goes on. Maria and Freder’s actions here are the only valid Christian response that we can take in the face of tyranny and mob persecution: the imitation of Christ which leads to the salvation of victims and the total rejection of the scapegoat mechanism.

Admittedly, the movie falters when it kills the primary antagonists, the machine-person and Rotwang; the former in a literal witch-burning by a crowd that has recognized the deception. Again, we must keep in mind that the narrative treats violence and the scapegoating ritual in a fragmented manner. The writer, not a Christian in any sense, had unconsciously inserted the anti-scapegoating segments as a result of the post-Calvary revelation—the innocence of the one persecuted by the many—that has haunted and continues to haunt the European psyche. Where the movie succeeds brilliantly is the salvation of the children of the workers and the resulting peace it manages to achieve between the workers and Joh Fredersen.

Upon the appearance of Fredersen, the crowd is poised to lynch him but they are made aware of the fact that it was Fredersen’s son who has rescued their children. Fredersen and the workers shake hands, solidifying peace in Metropolis and symbolizing the victory of mutual consent over tyranny. The message is overwhelmingly true: it is salvation and redemption that joins society together, not scapegoating. “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator,” Maria says. In a Calvary-haunted society, it must be argued that the heart cannot be anyone else other than Christ. Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou managed to recognize the power of the Gospel narrative in binding society together, and so should we.

David Cayley on Rene Girard, Ivan Illich, and Societal Breakdown

In these times of social unrest we need to understand what drives humanity towards conflict. David Cayley, longtime CBC Ideas broadcaster, joins David Gornoski to discuss the breakdown of social unity through a distinctly Christian lens shaped by experiences with Rene Girard and Ivan Illich. On the pandemic, Cayley says that “the virus is the perfect enemy” but expresses concern over those who are suffering due to the measures imposed. “There’s this perfectionist notion that this virus can be wrestled to the ground and that we can be safe,” Cayley remarks, “but we can never be safe.” Listen to the full episode for an anthropological breakdown of the pandemic and more.

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Visit David Cayley’s website at davidcayley.com