As we know, any form of religion involves the attempt to heal this breach -- to undo the damage via re-ligio, which means to "bring back or bind to God."
However, since time is a one-way phenomenon, that's not actually possible. The only way back is forward. But our primordial ancestors did not know this.
Rather, history has only recently been discovered. If man has been here for 100,000 years, then only about 5% of our existence has been in history. And even then, it took quite awhile for history to be fully disentangled from more primitive modes of being, i.e., the cyclicity of time. We will return to this subject a few posts hence.
"If human culture begins with the birth of religion, religion begins with the separation of the sacred and the profane, and the separation of the sacred and profane coincides with the apotheosis or divinization of the victim" (Bailie).
Note the symmetry break: from some unknowable prior unity (called "innocence") emerges the polarity of sacred/profane, and with it, the need for religio to undo the break and put Humpty back together -- to shove the profane back into the sacred.
In the past I have utilized catastrophe theory to try to illuminate this break. But for early man, it couldn't have been just a theoretical catastrophe; rather, it must also have been catastrophic in the colloquial sense.
Again, other animals are unaware of history, of death, of separation from reality. Although animals in the wild have much more reason to be anxious than we do, they don't worry about where the next meal is coming from, or what will happen if it doesn't come. Like the lilies of the field, they don't spin or toil.
Just as animals must adapt to the physical environment, I believe it was necessary for man to adapt to the new environment in which he found himself: the psycho-spiritual.
The reason I believe this is that we are still trying to adapt to it. Always and everywhere, the problem is thoughts and what do do with them. And there is a multitude of things we can do with them besides think them. Indeed, thinking them is often a last resort.
Whatever else we say about human sacrifice, it is one way to deal with unruly thoughts, to adapt to the curious circumstance of mindedness. If Girard is correct, then it does effectively tamp them down, at least for a while. But only for a while. It must be periodically reenacted when thoughts again threaten to overwhelm the psyche.
Let's put it this way: what is the leading edge of what we call psychological maturity? I would suggest there are two complementary factors, integration and actualization.
When a person is unintegrated, it means they lack an "organizing center," so to speak, such that thoughts take on a life of their own, often projected into the external environment.
This is how I regard pagan polytheism: as an externalization and crystallization of primitive emotions and impulses that obviously emanate from the psyche. These are "parasites" that "prevent the true God from emerging" (De Lubac, ibid.). Thus, our ancestors lived in "a beclouded but inchoate form of pre-Christian lucidity, thoroughly enveloped though it was in a sea of delusion..."
I might add that this lack of psychic integration is precisely why monotheism was so slow in emerging: the psyche is fragmented before it is integrated, so God is necessarily many before he is One.
It also explains the anthropomorphization in the Old Testament, which gradually gives way to more abstract notions of God. Chesterton wrote of how this psychic "cleansing" had to occur -- i.e., the withdrawal of projections -- before God could incarnate.
From the Christian perspective, the Old Testament chronicles the slow de-paganization of the Jewish mind in order to prepare the way for a revelation uncontaminated by our own unwanted psychic fragments.
Therefore, "the crucified Christ, as Paul insists, would eventually despoil the very cultural and religious structures he originally brought into being, making a public spectacle of them by nailing them to the cross," thus dispersing "the cloud which until then had been hiding the truth."