I have read the article “A better atonement: the last scapegoat” and the in-depth discussions that follow. I noted that Rene Girard has sought to explain the mindset of ancient people who subscribe to the scapegoat mentality as a foundation of their archaic religion, in terms of fulfilling their mimetic desire, which is “Human beings want what they see that other human beings have…Because human beings want what they see that others have (aka, mimetic desire), that leads to violence”.
I think this mindset of people wanting what they see that others have and resorting to violence to obtain what they want from others stems from the illusion of separation and identity crisis. Because of lack of self-knowledge and self-awareness, they were ignorant of their true identity – they did not know their own abundance and completeness and magnificence, and they thought they had to fight or kill others to get what they wanted.
So symbolically, Adam’s eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil had resulted in that duality and separation mindset, which may have resulted in people coveting and resorting to violence. The scapegoat mechanism may be a fruit of this mindset since people saw themselves as separate from one another and chose to blame others instead of seeing themselves as one with one another and taking responsibility for their own actions.
From my understanding, the scapegoat mechanism became a ritual in ancient religions that are built around the idea of sin and sacrifices. It was thus institutionalised by man, not God, so to speak. So Christ may have come to put an end to this religious ritual once and for all, especially for the Jewish people who subscribed to their own theology of sin and sacrifice. As the article put it:
“In Christ, God becomes the one who is rejected and expelled. That is, the scapegoat is not one us us who is sacrificed to appease an angry deity. Instead, the deity himself enters our society, becomes the scapegoat, and thereby eliminates the need for any future scapegoats or sacrifices.”
So in this sense, Jesus chose to become the non-sacrifice “sacrifice” (which is a divine paradox) that puts an end to all future sacrifices, and therefore an end to all organised religions based on the idea of sin, sacrifice, rituals and laws.
This reminds me of my reflections I shared recently in my blog in which I wrote:
I have read through Andre Rabe’s recent article “Glimpses into a mystery“, and I appreciate his explanation on the history behind the traditional ideas of sacrifice and atonement, which I understand are man’s ideas, not God’s. Even the Jewish idea of sacrifice is man’s idea, and so in this sense, in order for Jesus to transform the Jewish mindset about sacrifice and angry god and sin consciousness, he probably chose to speak their language by becoming the perfect sacrifice himself, not because God required it but because the Jews required it in order to find peace for their guilty conscience. (After all, the book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrews/Jews.)
How does the scapegoat theory compare with the penal substitution atonement (PSA) theory?
From my understanding so far, Girard’s scapegoat theory (aka mimetic theory) seeks to explain that it is man who required a sacrifice to satisfy their bloodthirsty requirements for their own version of penal justice. (This penal justice, by the way, is based on the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or the law mindset in the lower consciousness – the carnal desire that seeks revenge and returns an eye for an eye is not based on Love because Love keeps no records of wrongs.)
On the other hand, the penal substitutionary atonement (PSA) theory proposes that it is “God” who required a sacrifice to satisfy his bloodthirsty requirements for his penal justice (and thereby satisfy his most holy and majestic wrath, and also his royal temper tantrums, if I may venture to add). Already, I see the problem with the PSA theory because it makes God look like some savage monster who acts his own base desires for revenge and violence. Secondly, if God is love and love keeps no records of wrongs, why then the need for punishment or “penal justice”? Thirdly, if Jesus is God and Jesus taught people to love one’s enemies and not return an eye for an eye, then God is a hypocrite himself by doing the very thing he taught others not to do by exacting revenge and punishing himself on the cross as a “penalty” for people’s “sins” (and if that is not bizarre enough, he supposedly created a literal torture chamber called “hell” to punish for eternity those who did not acknowledge him or accept his “offer of salvation”, but that’s probably another topic for another day, since the topic here is about sacrifice/atonement).
I think the proponents of the PSA theory tend to:
- take the bible literally (when it is meant to be interpreted metaphorically for the most part)
- see God of the old testament the same as God of the new testament (they are not the same – God of the old testament is mostly a mental projection of the people living in ancient times projecting their own ego or false self onto their image of God, hence Jesus came to transform the Jews’ minds and tell them God is not like what they taught but rather God is their heavenly father)
- think the law of Moses is from God (no because the law was given by Moses, a said representative of man, not God. On the other hand, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ – a picture of our divinity and humanity.)
- see God as separate from man (no, God is one with man, and Jesus came to show us we are one with him and with the father, as the kingdom of God is within each of us)
So no matter how many verses the proponents of the PSA theory dig up from the bible to support their theory, it does not hold any water.
I remember sharing some thoughts about Joshua Tongol’s excellent message that debunks the PSA theory too – especially the part where he shared a Hebrew translation of Isaiah 53 that is contrary to the conventional idea that “God” was the one who “crush” Jesus on the cross.
“And the Lord desires to purify him of the plague; if you would give a sin offering, your soul will see long-lived posterity, and the Lord desires to take away.” (Isaiah 53:10)
We see that this translation is different from the common English translation that says “It pleased the Lord to crush him”, so the verse is indeed not about punishment. So we see that God is not the one causing Jesus to suffer. Jesus’ suffering was because He was taking the place of the first Adam (natural man) who had a separation mindset (sin, as we know, simply means ignorance). Jesus’ cry at the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” echoes man’s cry when man thought he was separated from God (his highest self), but in fact God has never forsaken man – separation is only an illusion.
(From “Was Jesus punished by the father? Challenging penal substitution” by Joshua Tongol)
How does the scapegoat theory relate to our modern world today?
Even today, there appears to be this condition in humanity that causes people to envy one another and want to imitate others in order to be accepted, such as in the fashion industry. This may be due to the fact that people have lost sight of their own intrinsic value and completeness, hence the gospel of the mystery of Christ in us may be the remedy to this condition because when people realise they are already whole and beloved and no one is better or worse than one another, they will naturally cease to covet other people have.
The gospel may also address the scapegoat mechanism that is still seen in workplaces where some people in the company put the blame on one person and fire the person but the resultant cohesion among them is only temporary before they find another scapegoat to blame. But once people have a revelation of the mystery of Christ in every person and see themselves as one, perhaps the “mental illness” might be overcome. This may sound idealistic but I guess it depends on how each person grasps the gospel for themselves. At least we see some progression from the medieval times when people and animals were routinely killed and burnt as sacrifices or scapegoats, or from centuries ago when those who challenged church authorities were executed (such as Galileo).
I suppose we all may still have a long way to go before we see greater peace in the world. Nevertheless, I think understanding the gospel in terms of mimetic theory does help each person to be free from the illusion of separateness and ego, and focus on the beauty and divinity in oneself and others. When people realise they are already innately beautiful and divine, they will no longer envy or desire what others have or try to imitate them in order to be accepted. Similarly, when they see themselves as one with one another and not separate, they will not find scapegoats to blame others because they know what they do to others they do to themselves (and vice versa). Jesus came to heal us all of our hurts we do to ourselves and one another by becoming the innocent scapegoat (representing our true self who is innocent and blameless) and putting to shame the principalities and powers (operating under the scapegoat mechanism) at the cross, so that in receiving and experiencing his forgiveness and love, we too begin to love and accept ourselves and one another as he has loved and accepted us.
- According to Colossians 2:14, did Christ expose and put to shame the scapegoat mechanism? (themysteryofchrist.wordpress.com)
- Did Jesus come to help humanity break free from the cycle of mimetic desire that is marked by violence? (themysteryofchrist.wordpress.com)
- Exploring perspectives on why Jesus became the perfect scapegoat (themysteryofchrist.wordpress.com)
- Progressive thoughts on why Jesus died on the cross and whether God is retributive or restorative (themysteryofchrist.wordpress.com)
- Getting atonement right: 1-2-13 (billtammeus.typepad.com)