Envy's Narrative Scripts

romulus and remusPaul M Blowers in his “Envy’s Narrative Scripts” published in Modern Theology Jan ’09 elucidates the way in which our emotions are shaped by narratives we have been acculturated by; both for ill and good. The contemporary cornerstone to accounts of envy, as I see it, is Réne Girard’s mimetic desire. Girard, in a nutshell, saw that desire was organized based upon what others’ desired. For instance, a sweater is a valued because others desire it. This leads to rivalry because fellow desirers are viewed as competitors. Girard, like the monastic sages Blowers examines, understood that rivalry goes both ways: it can function as healthy emulation as well as anxious jealousy. What patristic writers seem to agree on is that the line between the two is often minimal and obscure. But there is little agreement on the cure for the distressful and disastrous variety of human rivalry. Bowler focuses on how narrative scripts in particular functioned to describe and overcome invidious behavior and replace these emotions with virtuous ends such as charity, humility and mercy. The cure comes through the same method as the poison: envy. The cure is far from a panacea though because the very remedies used to overcome envy can become the new objects of competition (e.g., a race for the most humble character). Blowers concludes with this summary:

Envy and its cognates had to be displaced by virtuously “rivalrous” emotions like emulation or godly ambition, such as were informed by salutary judgments, shaped by the Bible’s own narrative scripts, and projected toward worthy ends

Healing comes through narrative scripts enacted in community, such as the ones found in the Bible and church history, that offer a “new vision” and perspective to the envious emotions and passions. In an email correspondence with Blowers regarding the messy and mixed up nature of narratives he clarifies that “the key is to try to fix on clarifying scripts.” I think that’s a good way of putting it.


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