Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 71: Forgiveness: How Can We Distinguish Scapegoating from Justice?
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 71: Forgiveness: How Can We Distinguish Scapegoating from Justice?

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

We may feel genuine love for those who harm us or other individuals, and we may find forgiveness in our hearts. But, we donít want them to continue harming innocent individuals. The problem is that our point-of-view is always clouded by our own desires and prejudices. If we used force (either ourselves or by proxy, e.g., the police) to stop ďevil,Ē ďviolentĒ people, how could we know that we were motivated by a desire to protect the innocent rather than a desire to satisfy selfish desires for power, control, wealthy, or revenge?

From the perspective of mimetic theory and the scapegoating mechanism, this is a difficult problem. A central tenet of Girardian mimetic theory is that the scapegoating mechanism is always hidden and that those involved in scapegoating donít recognize the degree to which the victim is innocent. If they did recognize the victimís innocence, scapegoating would fail to bring peace to their community. The mob believes that expelling or killing the scapegoat will eliminate the evil in their midst, because they have attributed far more guilt to the scapegoat than is justified. Being mimetic creatures, we readily become caught up in the scapegoating mechanism and participate (directly or indirectly) in scapegoating violence, all the while believing that our actions are righteous and just. Becoming aware of the pervasiveness of the scapegoating mechanism may help prevent us from participating in it, but nobody is immune to its attractions.

One difficulty is that the victim of scapegoating is rarely completely innocent; the error is the victim is far less guilty than the scapegoaters believe. How do we accurately ascertain the degree of an accused personís guilt? One important way is to remain mindful of scapegoatingís allure. It is very tempting for us to blame others for our shortcomings. Fortunately, as previous essays have discussed, the story of Jesusí life, death, and resurrection has exposed the human tendency to scapegoat. We have learned how a mob can be convinced of a completely innocent manís guilt. Only because Jesus was completely innocent (which the Resurrection validated) could the mob (and the Gospel reader) eventually recognize how wrong they were; if Jesus had been partly guilty, people could still have rationalized killing him.

Now that Jesus has exposed the scapegoating mechanism, we are encouraged to view the situation from the victimís perspective. And, this is what we must do if we aim to distinguish justice from scapegoating. We must seek to understand the perspectives of those we regard as evildoers by listening to their voices and the voices of those who stand with them. Their perspective may be as distorted from the truth as ours or even more so, but taking their point-of-view seriously while recognizing the limitations of our own perspective reduces the chances of misguided decisions.

I wish to emphasize that I am not encouraging moral relativism. I am not claiming that all moral stances are equally tenable, which would put murdering humans and abusing animals as equally justified as showing kindness and compassion for all Godís living creatures. While remembering that we are all sinners and remaining cognizant of our human tendency to scapegoat, we must take a firm stand against practices that harm the innocent. Our faith teaches love and compassion, but showing love and compassion for evildoers should not prompt us to abandon the victims of human abuse. For example, how can we express Christian love for animal abusers while protecting animals? We will turn to this next week.

Go on to: Part 72: Forgiveness: Animal Abusers, part 1
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