Every once in awhile I get exposed to a new idea or set of ideas that opens my eyes and changes my perspective on the world. Recently I’ve quoted a theologian named James Alison in both devotionals and weekend messages. I came across his work quite accidentally about a year ago and found myself so moved by his writings that I sent him an email. We’ve been trading emails ever since. E-pen pals, perhaps.
Quickly, James introduced me to the writings of Rene Girard, a man James has both been influenced by and worked closely with. Girard developed a theory about human interaction that, to me, makes a lot of sense for both how we think about addiction, faith, and life together in communities. I’m going to try to boil down some of the basics and unpack them over the course of however many days this takes me. Some of this will be high-level theory type stuff and some of it will be me gut level, very personal, reactions to it. But it’s going to take me a few days to work up to the personal and practical. So hang with me.
The first idea is quite a basic one. As humans, we learn through imitating each other. Girard uses the term, “desire.” Our “desire” is shaped by what we see others “desire”. We not only imitate actions, we imitate desire and my desire is shaped by the desire of those around me and who I am likely to imitate. In this way, we’re not just trying copy the behaviors of those we see, we learn to want what they want.
That’s enough theory for today. Let that sink in. We do not just copy others’ behavior, we learn to want what they want. It seems to me that this spells trouble. If I instinctively want what others want, then competition and rivalry is inevitable. My ability to love selflessly is at risk. Being gracious is unintuitive.
More on this tomorrow.