Is God Violent? Making a New Beginning with the Bible

December 27th, 2019 to January 1st, 2020

with Tom Gates

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Friends often struggle with the Bible, especially because of its ubiquitous violence. But violence is precisely the point: the Bible is to a large extent about the human tendency to violence, and how it might be overcome. We will see how the archaic connection between violence and the sacred gradually gives way to the conviction that “violence is not an attribute of God” (Epistle to Diognetus, 2nd century).

We will look at some key texts that illustrate “the scapegoat mechanism:” the unconscious collective transfer of aggression and violence on to a random victim; its replication in ritual sacrifice (ubiquitous in the ancient world); and the way in which sacred violence has always provided the glue that makes culture possible. We will see how, beginning in Genesis, continuing through the Hebrew prophets, and culminating with Jesus’ life, teachings, and death, the Bible decisively exposes and undermines this pervasive dynamic of scapegoating.

Scapegoating is the prototype of “good” or sacred violence overcoming “bad” violence—a dynamic that is all too present in today’s world. Based on the work of Rene Girard, this reading of Scripture has enormous implications for our understanding of violence in the world, as well as Friends’ work for peace and racial justice.

About the program facilitator: Tom Gates is a member of Lancaster (PA) Friends Meeting, where he has been active on Worship and Ministry. His particular leading among Friends has been to translate insights from contemporary theology into a Quaker context. He is the author of five Pendle Hill Pamphlets, including Reclaiming the Transcendent: God in Process (#422), and You are My Witnesses: Witness and Testimony in the Biblical and Quaker Traditions (#435), as well as an FGC publication, Opening the Scriptures: Bible Lessons from the 2005 Gathering of Friends.