Why ‘Pandemonium’ Breaks Out

When desire goes unchecked it sets into motion a kind of domino effect that is hard to stop once it starts, hence pandemonium.

We are encouraged by some pundits and politicians to think that all of this is the result of rampant racism and sexism (and have you noticed that even the church can’t stop talking about either of these topics?). But race and sex do not go deep enough because the problem goes all the way to the core of our humanity. That is to say, the problem is the human problem, the human predicament. It’s anthropological.

 

President Donald Trump, and The Squad (as congresswomen Ihan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley now call themselves) have become what Rene Girard referred to as mimetic doubles or imitative twins. According to Girard, these confrontational doubles are actually the mirror image of one another.  They mirror each other’s emotions and actions. They mistakenly see great differences between themselves, but in reality, they are carbon copies of each other. For doubles, “identity is realized in the hatred of the identical” (p. 22).

Initially, there is usually some object that is the basis for the rivalry between mimetic doubles, but this is soon forgotten, and they turn on each other with increasing rage and hostility until they become a danger to themselves, and others. Often, they become self-destructive.

Some archaic cultures used to sacrifice biological twins killing one or both for fear their similarity would lead to conflict and violence. They were considered monstrous doubles. Also, mythical heroes were sometimes portrayed as twins because they were mistakenly believed to fight all the time until one finally killed the other.

The real danger, however, is that the rage of confrontational doubles is contagious and has the power to transform whole communities and unite them against a single victim or scapegoat. We saw a hint of this phenomenon in the recent attack against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Tacoma, Washington. In his manifesto, the attacker actually used the same “concentration camp” rhetoric as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a defense for his violent and despicable actions. Similarly, Trump supporters echoed the language of the President’s tweets at a rally in North Carolina on Wednesday when they chanted “send her back” in reference to Representative Ihan Omar.

Whatever the object of their political rivalry may have been, it’s mostly been lost. All that remains, all that will be remembered, and all that is being talked about, is the rage and hostility.

It is hard not to think this could easily lead to something more sinister. We should not overlook the very real, evil and Satanic spectacle that is playing out before our eyes. This was made all the more evident when Father Patrick Conroy, House Chaplain, prayed to “cast out all spirits of darkness”:

This has been a difficult and contentious week in which darker spirits seem to have been at play in the people’s House. In your most holy name, I now cast out all spirits of darkness from this chamber. Spirits not from you.

Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver, defended the house chaplain’s exorcism of the congressional chamber. Cleaver is himself an ordained United Methodist minister. He presided over the debate considering a resolution to condemn President Trump’s tweets that suggested “Progressive Democratic Congresswomen go back…to the places from which they came.” The debate was so contentious, and so absent of any decorum, that Clever threw down his gavel and walked off the podium, saying, “I abandon the chair.”

The house chamber was pure pandemonium—a word, we should remember, that was coined by John Milton in his 1667 classic Paradise Lost, literally meaning the “place of all demons.”

A solemn Councel forthwith to be held At Pandæmonium, the high Capital Of Satan and his Peers.

The parallels are to palatable to pretend they don’t exist. While Chaplain Conroy’s exorcism was exemplary, apparently, it was ineffective. Perhaps, this kind comes out only by prayer and fasting, and we shouldn’t tire of either.

We are encouraged by some pundits and politicians to think that all of this is the result of rampant racism and sexism (and have you noticed that even the church can’t stop talking about either of these topics?). But race and sex do not go deep enough because the problem goes all the way to the core of our humanity. That is to say, the problem is the human problem, the human predicament. It’s anthropological.

Girard is also helpful here too because his whole approach is anthropological. For Girard, the human problem is not simply sin in a generic sense. Rather, it is a particular kind of sin, namely desire as forbidden in the tenth commandment.  According to Girard, desire, is not merely an internal impulse; it is something external to us. Simply put, “I want what my neighbor has.” Or, “I want what my neighbor wants.” Or what’s more, “I want what I think my neighbor wants.”

This is exactly what the 10th commandment in the Scriptures prohibits. And it is the key for understanding the rest of the commandments, too.

As James, the brother of Jesus, explains:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2).

It is frightening how fast James moves from desire to murder. “You desire and you do not have, so you murder.”

According to Girard, when desire goes unchecked it sets into motion a kind of domino effect that is hard to stop once it starts. Desire naturally leads to rivalry. Rivalry then leads to conflict. The conflict results in scandal, and the scandal gives way to violence. Thus, the community is transformed into a mob which then attempts to relieve the pandemonium and bring order to the chaos by choosing and sacrificing a scapegoat of sorts.

As we approach 2020, it appears that the idea of a peaceful transfer of power is being lost. David Gornoski is right when he reminds us that our elections have now become something of a sacred rite in which the mob must collectively sacrifice its rival to restore order to the state. It won’t take very long for the rhetorical and symbolical to be transformed into the actual and the real.

We would do well to have more exorcisms before “Pandemonium” completely has its way with us, and our little corner of paradise is lost forever.

Jim Fitzgerald is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary with Equipping Pastors International.