Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 29: Animals as Scapegoats, part 2
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 29: Animals as Scapegoats, part 2

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Last week, we started to discuss how animals are often scapegoats, victims of human concerns about mortality. It is remarkable that animal researchers talk of “sacrificing” animals rather than killing them. One reason for this, I think, is that there is an element of sacred, scapegoating violence in animal experimentation.

In pre-scientific times, people often made sacrifices to God in hopes of restoring their own health or that of someone they loved. (This could include self-sacrifice, such as fasting.) Today, in a more secular manner, people often blame nature for illness, and the scientific establishment sacrifices animals to force nature to yield its secrets and permit restoration of health.

While we now know that many Western diseases are related to lifestyle choices, including eating animal products, people don’t want to accept the consequences of their behavior. First, of course, people don’t want to be sick. Second, if people regarded illness as a sign of unwise decisions, then disease could damage their self-esteem as well as their bodies. Third, just as natural disasters can generate a “sacrificial crisis,” severe disease is often seen as a violation of the sacred order and constitutes a “sacrificial crisis” that prompts a search for scapegoat(s). (See Part 7.)

Animal experimenters play a role analogous to the tribal medicine man, who offers sacrifices to heal the sick. Profane objects (particularly, but not exclusively, animals) become sacred when they are destroyed during special sacred rituals. By analogy, the “sacrifices” of animals in modern laboratories purportedly transform the profane (animal bodies) into what researchers and the public now regard as sacred (data that lead to life-saving discoveries).

Sometimes, animal experimenters assert that animals benefit from animal research, particularly veterinary research. What is remarkable about this claim is that it deprives each animal of his or her importance. Justification of veterinary research requires ignoring or greatly discounting the needs and feelings of individual animals.

In truth, however, it does not appear that utilitarian calculations (greatest benefit for animals at the least cost) dictate veterinary research. The choice of which veterinary research projects to pursue is likely influenced far more by financial considerations, such as the development of profitable drugs and treatments. And, we should not forget that love of money tied to our mimetic rivalries, illustrating another way that animal mistreatment is linked to the scapegoating mechanism.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in our pursuit of self-esteem (see recent essays), there are always winners and losers when people compete against each other. The ability to dominate and/or kill an animal can give anyone a sense of self-esteem. For example, the National Trappers Association Trapping Handbook writes, “While many youths develop interest in sports or good grades in school, some do not when they realize that they can’t excel. . . . Any young person, regardless of social advantages, can excel and be an achiever by catching the big fish of the day, or making a nice shot, or catching a mink.” In other words, those who can’t generate self-esteem by comparing favorably to their human peers can gain self-esteem by killing an animal.

Animals are indeed scapegoating victims of humankind’s universal quest for self-esteem. They help restore communal peace and tranquility because those who perform poorly at sports, academics, or attracting members of the opposite sex can gain self-esteem by outwitting and killing animals. Furthermore, like all scapegoating victims, animals are blamed for their own predicament, e.g., “They reproduce too fast and threaten to offset nature’s balance”; “They are dangerous”; “They are disgusting”.

Must there be losers (human or animal) in order for people to gain self-esteem? If so, there would seem to be no hope of transcending the tendency towards scapegoating violence. Christianity offers an alternative. If God’s capacity to love were infinite, we would not need to compete for God’s affection. And, if God loved us unconditionally, we would not need to harm anyone else to demonstrate our own worth. We would not need to prove to ourselves or anyone else that we “deserved” God’s love—we would have confidence that we were important and valuable regardless of how we lived. If that were the case, we would not need to engage in scapegoating violence. We would not need to convince ourselves that our violence was ordained by God. We would then be freed from the bonds of human mimetic desire, rivalry, and destructiveness to become instruments of love and peace. As we turn to the New Testament, this, I will argue, was the central message of Jesus Christ.

Go on to: Part 30: Animals as Contemporary Scapegoats: Reply to a Question
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