Jesus Reveals the Lie of Scapegoating

Nonviolence

Jesus Reveals the Lie of Scapegoating
Thursday, October 13, 2016

If your ego is still in charge, you will find a disposable person or group on which to project your problems. People who haven’t come to at least a minimal awareness of their own dark side will always find someone else to hate or fear. Hatred holds a group together much more quickly and easily than love and inclusivity, I am sorry to say. René Girard developed a sociological, literary, and philosophical explanation for how and why the pattern of scapegoating is so prevalent in every culture. [1]

In Leviticus 16 we see the brilliant ritualization of what we now call scapegoating, and we should indeed feel sorry for the demonized goat. On the Day of Atonement, a priest laid hands on an “escaping” goat, placing all the sins of the Jewish people from the previous year onto the animal. Then the goat was beaten with reeds and thorns, and driven out into the desert. And the people went home rejoicing, just as European Christians did after burning a supposed heretic at the stake or American whites did after the lynching of black men. Whenever the “sinner” is excluded, our ego is delighted and feels relieved and safe. It sort of works, but only for a while. Usually the illusion only deepens and becomes catatonic, blind, and repetitive—because of course, scapegoating did not really work to eliminate the evil in the first place.

Jesus came to radically undo this illusory scapegoat mechanism, which is found in every culture in some form. He became the scapegoat to reveal the universal lie of scapegoating. Note that John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin [singular] of the world” (John 1:29). It seems “the sin of the world” is ignorant killing, hatred, and fear. As Blaise Pascal so insightfully wrote, “People never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it with a religious conviction.” [2] We see this in much of the United States in our own time, with churches on every corner.

The Gospel is a highly subversive document. It painstakingly illustrates how the systems of both church and state (Caiaphas and Pilate) conspired to condemn Jesus. Throughout most of history, church and state have sought plausible scapegoats to carry their own shame and guilt. So Jesus became the sinned-against one to reveal the hidden nature of scapegoating, and we would forever see how wrong power can be—even religious power! (See John 16:8-11 and Romans 8:3.) Finally Jesus says from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). The scapegoat mechanism largely operates in the unconscious; people do not know what they are doing. Scapegoaters do not know they are scapegoating, but they think they are doing a “holy duty for God” (John 16:2). You see why inner work, shadow work, and honest self-knowledge are all essential to any healthy religion.

The vast majority of violence in history has been sacralized violence. Members of ISIS probably believe they are doing God’s will. The Ku Klux Klan used the cross as their symbol! With God on your side, your violence becomes necessary and even “redemptive violence.” But there is no such thing as redemptive violence. Violence doesn’t save; it only destroys in both short and long term.

Jesus replaced the myth of redemptive violence with the truth of redemptive suffering. He showed us how to hold the pain and let it transform us, rather than pass it on to the others around us. Spiritually speaking, no one else is your problem. You are first and foremost your own problem. There are no bad goats to expel.

Gateway to Silence:
Be peace.

References:
[1] I highly recommend James Alison’s exploration of René Girard’s work, particularly Alison’s series of studies Jesus: The Forgiving Victim, http://www.forgivingvictim.com/.
[2] Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: P. F. Collier, 1910), no. 895.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 72-73; and
CONSPIRE 2016: Everything Belongs (CAC: 2016), sessions 2 and 3 (MP4 video download).

Image Credit: Le Bateau-atelier (detail), 1874, by Claude Monet (1840-1926), Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands.

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