Scapegoating, Victimhood and Abuse

*Updates below

Rene Girard died a couple of days ago.  I’ve read one of his books, “I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning From Heaven”, and it was incredible.  It showed how ancient religions all heavily depended on the scapegoating mechanism, the random selection of some sacrificial victim on which to place the blame for the problems of the community, and lynching him.  This lynching has a powerful effect on making the community feel like their problems were ameliorated and thus creating catharsis and solidarity, that the problems of the community really do feel like they are solved, and thus the lynching was justified.  So this lynching over time takes on mythic proportions, and are reenacted in sacrificial ritual.  Very interesting.  Girard shows how Christianity upends the whole scapegoating mentality, showing that the problems of the community are not due to evil outsiders but the sin in our own hearts.  The envy and covetousness that rules in all our hearts and causes our communal conflicts escalates and escalates, until it’s all located on one bad person- usually some victim already culturally accepted as a suspect- a creepy old woman, a foreigner, a Jew, a homosexual, etc, and sacrifice him.  It’s a bit beyond the scope of this post to do justice to Girard’s insights, but I highly recommend his books.  Girard really should be viewed as one of the seminal thinkers of the 20th century.

What Christianity points us to is the problem of sin and covetousness in our own hearts which feeds the conflict in our communities and the scapegoating mechanism that keeps it at bay.  God takes the side of the victim, shows him to be innocent.  Christ Himself is the ultimate example of this, the truly innocent victim that by His sacrifice takes away the sin of the world, and fully exposes the scapegoating mechanism in the process.  The result has been that Christian society, unlike other societies especially of the ancient world, has always been intensely concerned with the innocent victims of society- the poor, the slave, the woman, children and the like.

I raise this because of the way I see a lot of people talk about abuse and victimization today.  Girard points out how the devil’s tactic, his own scapegoating mechanism having been thoroughly exposed by Christianity, is to try to use Christianity’s very concern for victims to create a new set of scapegoats.

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