Who’s The Monster Now? | Facing the Other in the Self

Interesting post from Brian McLaren, who, via a piece from Miroslav Volf, asks who the next ‘monster’ will be given that Bin Laden is dead:

Fear is a foolish counselor, and it is also an addictive one. As the work of Rene Girard and others makes clear, our national anxieties love to vent themselves on some monster, real or imaginary. We can unite our party, if not our nation, around common aggression against shared fear – even if we can’t unite them around a common vision around shared values.

It’s a very good point. One – rather extreme – etymology of the word community is ‘co-munis’ – people we build walls and fight with. We gather together in common resistance to some greater evil, and when this is vanquished – witchcraft, communism, Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism – we move on to the next thing.

We need something to fear, because without this external fear, we would have no choice but to face the real monster: the monster within.

Christopher Booker’s work on why we tell stories outlines this progression well. The Three Billy-Goats Gruff is a children’s story about facing an external orge… but as we move into more serious stories, the orge turns out to be the ‘self’ that we need to face.

This is one of the key questions I’ve tried to address in ‘Other’ – a book I’m pleased the Brian is a big fan of. We need to address the other within the self before we can properly address the problems of engaging the ‘other others’ who exist externally.

That ‘the West’ and ‘Islamic extremism’ have risen in opposition to one another suggests that they are both experiencing some kind of existential crisis. The west is really not convinced by the spiritual vacuousness of consumer capitalism, and Islamic extremists are not convinced that the Arab / Middle East construct is anything like what Mohammed envisaged. Both need to look within themselves, and somehow try to resolve their problems without conflict with each other.