Thursday, April 29, 2021

Which came first? The institutions or the rituals?

Throughout history religion is the constant element in diverse and changing institutions. Therefore we cannot discount it in favor of the pseudo—solution that takes it as a mere nothing, the fifth wheel of all the coaches, without coming to grips with the opposite possibility, disagreeable as it is for modern antireligion. This possibility is that religion is the heart of every social system, the true origin and original form of all institutions, the universal basis of human culture. This solution is all the more difficult to avoid because since the golden days of rationalism we have learned more about ancient societies, Among many of these societies the institutions that the Enlightenment took for indispensable to humanity didn’t yet exist: in their place there were only sacrificial rituals.—Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, 89

<idle musing>
I'm finally getting around to reading this, 20+ years after it was first published. The book is fascinating and explains much that we see going on in society, with the "single-victim mentality" and scapegoating. But I find his exegesis a bit loose and I don't think his attempt to make the founding victim myth the myth is convincing. But then, anytime someone comes up with what they think is the monolithic Ur-myth usually fails. Humanity is too complex for that.

That being said, I definitely recommend the book. It might be a hard slog for people who are unfamiliar with anthropology and mythological studies, but I think the time spent would definitely repay itself in insight into human society.

I got the book via Interlibrary Loan, and won't be posting much from it as I need to get it read and returned...
</idle musing>

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