Scapegoats: How do we experience freedom and forgiveness? #LinerNotes

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The same word used to describe forgiveness, in the Gospel of Luke, is the same Ancient Greek concept used to describe freedom. Maybe Jesus and the first Christians were on to something when they used this concept.

Aphiemi is used to describe the “forgiveness” of sins as well as Jesus mission to “set the captives free.”

How might we experience freedom as we live forgiveness?

The ancient world had a way of ritualizing forgiveness - they killed a goat. That’s where the concept of scapegoating comes from.

French philosopher Rene Girard once wrote:

Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not they find them.

He went on to describe three ways Scapegoating happens:

1. Leviticus 16:10

2. Ancient rituals of expulsion

3. Transference today

(if you want to nerd out a bit on Rene Girard, here’s a great intro to his body of work)

As Richard Rohr reflects:

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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.

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.” We see this in much of the United States in our own time, with churches on every corner.

I think we see this everyday in our politics, in our workplace, and on social media.

We might literally not single some one out and violently do away with them - but when was the last time you saw, you were or you may have even “scapegoated” someone for something they never did?

Case in point: consider the story of R&B artist Chrisette Michelle. Featured recently in the Washington Post, she was scapegoated by some influential people on Twitter simply for accepting an invitation to sing at President Donald Trump’s Inauguration in 2016. Her sin? For some it was her very presence on a stage - a stage she took with great intention attempting to be a bridge to someone and their voters (she even performed a gospel song about God’s intentionality!). She never voted for Trump and she even wore a Basquiat skirt depicting African American art. But that was too much for followers and critiques on social media. People made up stories about her and the feeding frenzy continued for nearly two years. This is what scapegoating looks like in public.

Question for us is how will we experience freedom from these endless cycles of violence, blame and scapegoating - and live the freedom that Jesus invites all of us into, together?