Immorality, unanimity and victimisation

The implication of my previous post is that sometimes what we think is a heartening display of unity within the church may actually be an example of a sinful, satanic unanimity “over against” some other than we are excluding.

It seems to me that this may be what lies behind 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul calls on the church to expel the man who “is living with his father’s wife”. We normally read this as being about “extreme”, “scandalous” sexual sin, and the question is then how bad someone’s behaviour has to get before we are required to follow the course of action commanded by Paul: “Drive out the wicked person from among you”.

However, there is a clear hint in this passage that something else is going on here. Take Paul’s summary of the situation:

A man is living with his father’s wife.

Our Girardian antennae immediately start to twitch at this clear example of mimetic desire – the son finding his stepmother attractive because his father does – leading to mimetic rivalry as the son moves in to take over from dad.

This in turn should have us on the alert for two things: a victim, and a satanic unanimity over against that victim. Well, it appears we have at least one “victim” in this incident: the wronged father. We probably have another victim in the stepmother: one wonders how much choice this first-century woman, presumably somewhat younger than her husband, had in the matter.

As for the satanic unanimity, we find this in verse 2:

And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?

In other words, the Corinthian church, instead of siding with the victim in the face of his/her/their victimiser, has entered into unanimity with the victimiser over against the victim.

This helps us make sense of Paul’s instruction to the church, that when they are next assembled:

…you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

What does it mean to “hand this man over to Satan”, and particularly with the aim that “his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord”? It means to expose the reality of what has been happening: to rip apart the veil of “spiritual freedom” that has covered over the sinful unanimity of the church with this victimiser, and enable him to see the reality of his own actions and motives: their roots in mimetic desire and rivalry. The hope being that he will then recover “the intelligence of the victim” and thus be restored to faith in the divine Victim, Jesus.

In other words, the problem is that the Corinthians have allowed themselves to retain some of “the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil” – that is, of satanic desire and victimisation – rather than becoming the “unleavened bread” of those who know that “our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed”, and thus all such forms of satanic victimisation have been exposed and overthrown.

This is then how we are also to read the general principle which Paul states at the end of the chapter:

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.

Paul is not telling us to go around identifying the “impure” people within our congregations and to shun them, drawing a line between “of-course-we’re-all-sinners” and “but-you’re-too-sinful-so-go-away”. Rather, we are to recognise that in each of those patterns of behaviour there is a victim, even it we don’t know who they are, and whatever else happens we are not to fall into the trap of forming a satanic unanimity on the side of the victimiser over the victim.

Of course, this leaves us with the tragic irony of a text whose original purpose was to break the satanic unanimity of church and victimiser over against the victim (and aren’t the paedophile scandals in the Roman Catholic Church a modern-day example of this?) being used so often in the church’s history to create (or at least justify) a victimising unanimity of church against some “other” who is perceived as failing to live up to expectations in terms of sexual morality.

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6 Responses to Immorality, unanimity and victimisation

  1. frank sonnek says:

    I count at least 4 victims. the father, son, wife, and the congregation. all are done in by mimetic desire.

    the part I am not visualizing exactly is…

    “Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you” this does not look like a “driving out”.

    the example of paedophile priests is an excellent one. how many victims in those cases? and who is the “he” who must be removed?

  2. John H says:


    I count at least 4 victims. the father, son, wife, and the congregation. all are done in by mimetic desire.

    indeed. But in the immediate context, the only way in which all four can be freed is by breaking the unanimity between congregation and son over against the father and his wife.

    “Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you” this does not look like a “driving out”.

    Yes, I agree, it is hard to visualise – but again it can be seen in terms of a breaking of unanimity. And I wonder if we can read “he who has done this” as referring to Satan rather than (or as well as) the son. But on the basic practical level it involves the congregation rejecting so firmly any unanimity with victimisation that the victimiser finds he has no place – unless he repents.

    And I can’t claim any credit for the paedophile priest example: my wife suggested it when I was talking through the idea of this post with her last night. 🙂

  3. Blair says:

    This is brilliant – you’ve just helped me see that text afresh. Thank you.

    in friendship, Blair

    (PS and your analysis could also be applied to ‘the gay issue’ in some ways, no? As you’re doubtless aware, some have used 1 Cor 5 to suggest that fellowship with gay Christians who are in a sexual relationship, should be broken. Your argument casts a different light on that…)

  4. frank sonnek says:

    keep this stuff coming. My head is ready to explode. but it is all good…. hehehe

  5. Rick Ritchie says:

    I’ve been thinking about the text in question a bit recently. The tough part for me is that if you follow the standard reading, it seems like while you may not stone the woman caught in adultery, you will end up shunning her. That may be less harsh, but still does involve selective application of the Law. Perhaps such may be justified to some degree to avoid scandal. But it does have the smell of scapegoating, as Girard describes it.

    The mention of “mourning” in the Epistle has often escaped my notice. Or I gave it too smoothed over a reading. Perhaps the idea is that the people involved in such actions are often feeling a sense of triumph. If those around them are in mourning, they are a wet blanket to such an arrogance party.

  6. fws says:

    Rick the standard meaning of the woman being stoned seems to go to the part “go and sin no more”. this seems to be the take home point urged on most of us.

    I would have expected Jesus to say, “go and stop bein a whore”. and everyone seems to read the text as if Jesus said that. He said something that sort of does not make sense. he said “now go and stop sinning. ”

    What Jesus said is of no practical use in turning this into a moral lesson story or to instruct us what to do with manifest sinners.

    To follow Jesus example is to tell everyone to simply stop sinning. all sinning. every bit of it. period.

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