scape goat theory

I recently awoke with a fresh remembrance of an event that happened nearly 35 years ago. I remembered in junior high school, during an outdoor assembly, perhaps because the fire alarm had gone off, participating in community scapegoating.

This poor boy, who had a recent growth spurt, as young adolescents do, was wearing pants that no longer came down to his shoes but only to his ankles. Kids around him started laughing. Then more kids saw him and started laughing. Finally, at one point, a teacher tried to help him by escorting him away from the crowd. But instead his ankles were exposed to the rest of the school. We all laughed, like ignorant, insensitive, immature, insecure kids.

I can't imagine what it feels like when you are an awkward insecure 13 year old boy to have hundreds of your fellow students laughing at you without any protection from your teachers. I joined in that mocking and laughing. In my mind, if I join the laughter I am safe from being laughed at. I joined in the catharsis of our collective pubescent insecurity by participating in the emotional scapegoating of an innocent victim.

Rene Girard is a recently deceased French anthropologist who developed a theory of society and religion called Mimetic Theory. The scapegoat, the innocent sacrificial victim is an essential part of that theory. Here is a link to an introductory essay, by himself, to his theory from 1996.

There is always more reading on this, but Richard Beck has done a great job recently delving into this. The Voice of The Scapegoat: Parts 1, twothreefour, five, and part six  is a blog series by Beck exploring this concept from Girard's perspective. Please read.

In part six, today he writes,

But here in the gospels everything finally gets exposed. In the death of Jesus the final revelation occurs: Scapegoating must end, forever, because it is simply a ruse and strategy to accomplish our self-interested goals. In the cross there is one final scapegoat: Scapegoating. As Heim says, the "sacrifice" of Jesus was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Violence must cease because we just might be killing God.

To put the matter crudely: After the crucifixion of Jesus you just can't kill anyone with confidence anymore. You have to deeply question your motives for violence, to consider the possibility that the person you have so righteously nailed to the cross just might be God Incarnate.

I'm only a newbie at this scapegoating theory, so I do not know if this qualifies, but it sure seems to me that our society is afraid of terrorism. But instead of focusing on the guilty few, we scapegoat an entire nationality, Syrians, and paint all Syrian refugees with the brad brush of terrorists-in-waiting. Instead of seeking to help them by delivering them from their trauma, many political leaders in America declare that these victims are not welcome, contrary to the teachings of Jesus, who as Beck writes, has provided the final answer on scapegoating.

I was immature at 13. I refuse to be as immature as some of my country's political leaders today. I empathize with France. I empathize with Beirut, I empathize with Kenya. I empathize with Syrian refugees. There is no them, only us.

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