In this article, Ong adds clarity to a point expressed by René Girard concerning the "imitation" of Christ.  The point was noted in a published conversation with Rebecca Adams entitled "Violence, Difference, Sacrifice:  A Conversation with René Girard."

Ong starts his discussion by noting that according to the Gospel, Jesus never tells anyone to imitate him but to follow him.  Instead, the idea of imitation comes from the letters of Paul.  To point out this fact, Ong quotes the various passages in Paulís letters that mention imitation.  Ong then returns to the words of Jesus using the Greek translation and states that Jesus always used words that denote following him but never once used words denoting imitation (or mimesis).

Ong continues by explaining how "imitation" and "following" are quite different concepts.  Imitation means to do exactly as another does and can be performed almost mechanically.  In such a case, imitation can connote something less than genuine, as in "It is only an imitation."  Following, on the other hand, specifies a difference between the leader and follower in terms of position and situation.  To foloow is not to do exactly as the leader does, but to act in accordance with, or complementary to, as a companion.  In relation to Christ, the difference is reduplicating Christís life as "imitation" suggests, as opposed to being an extension of Christís life, as "following" suggests.  Ong suggests that the difference in word choice may be the result of differing educational backgrounds.  "Imitation" and mimesis" are terms of Western schooling stemming from the Greek tradition, whereas "following" is more ancient and stems from Hebrew thought.

Ong concludes his discussion by dealing directly with the words of Girard and reasons that "following," not "imitation," fits best with Girardís hypothesis.  In this discussion of Girard, Ong reiterates the fact that Jesus asked others to follow him, not to imitate him, and that is what the people who have a relationship with Jesus are called:  his followers.

Mark E. Johnson
Communication
University of Dayton
 

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