Friday FaithPost: Scapegoating, Mimetic Theory and Another View of Atonement

OK, so the title of this post doesn’t roll off of the tongue very well. And you may be asking: Why should I read about atonement? How does it relate to scapegoating? Or even “What is atonement?

From a Christian theological perspective, atonement refers to how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection reconciled our sins. The “bumper sticker” version of this is “Jesus saves.” Many, if not nearly all, Christians, when thinking about how Jesus saves, adopt a transactional or legalistic view of this process.

Substitutionary Atonement is a general term for this view. The logic supporting it can be summarized:

+ Human sin, both Original Sin and the myriad individual sin flowing from it, offends God’s sense of justice.

+ This justice demands payment or punishment commensurate with the offense committed against God.

+ Since human sin is so massive, there is no amount punishment or ransom humans can endure or offer which can appease God’s justice.

+ Only God’s son – both human and divine – can take upon himself human sin. When he endures the violence of brutal punishment and sacrificially sheds his blood as a stand-in for humans (a substitute) God’s justice is served. And through this sacrifice, God and humanity are reconciled.

A very popular narrative representation of this view of atonement is in C.S. Lewis’ beloved and allegorical “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Edmond betrays his siblings to the evil character. Even though he is forgiven for this by the Christ-like Aslan, the satanic witch cites the foundational justice of the land which requires traitors to become subject to destruction at her hands.Instead,  Aslan takes the witch’s violence himself, thus saving Edmond. And in doing so, an even “deeper magic” come into effect to restore him to life and energize all to defeat evil.

Another bumper sticker sized statement flows from this view of the mechanics of atonement – “Jesus Died For Your Sins.” Adherents of this perspective often emphasize how much Jesus suffered before and on the cross. A correlation is drawn between the magnitude of sin committed by humanity and the amount of pain Jesus endured as a direct consequence. The not infrequently stated: “Your sins drove a nail in to Jesus” is the harsh conclusion of this belief.

The question at the heart of this view of atonement is: “Did God the Father need (or want) Jesus to die in order to save humanity from sin and death?” Certainly Jesus died a violent death at the hands of the Romans. But, did God want/need this? If the answer is “yes,” then violence and the resulting salvation proclaimed by Christianity is sanctified and glorified. The implications cut right to the heart of Christian ethics. Although Jesus lived a life proclaiming peace, if God the Father needs/wants the blood of his son for appeasement, then violence trumps peace as the core characteristic of God’s nature. And consequently, Christians may be justified in similarly using “righteous” violence.

A growing number of theologians are showing how the exact opposite is true – Jesus died as a result of sin, specifically the foundational human sin of scapegoating.  God didn’t need/desire this violence, but allowed it, in order to turn it inside out through the resurrection of the innocent, scapegoated victim.

Perhaps the most prominent American Catholic theologian, Bishop Robert Barron, has  been speaking more and more about the theology of non-violent atonement. Read or watch below Bishop Barron’s high praise for recently deceased sociologist and theologian Rene Girard who wrote extensively about mimetic theory and scapegoating.

Bishop Barron concludes about Girard:

There are some thinkers that offer intriguing ideas and proposals, and there is a tiny handful of thinkers that manage to shake your world. Girard was in this second camp. In a series of books and articles, written across several decades, he proposed a social theory of extraordinary explanatory power.

Girard also informs the excellent work of The Raven Foundation who offer this video mission statement:

I appreciate the dedicated work of the Raven team who frequently post commentary pointing out the many ways scapegoating happens all around us. Two thought-provoking, recent posts to check out are:

“Zootopia” How to Make the World a Better Place

“Spotlight” on Children

A bonus third post, my favorite one, also referencing a movie:

My Daughter, the Star Wars myth and Jesus – How to Defeat Evil

So, why did I spend time with this long post today? First of all, a week from now, on Good Friday, I hope this post and Girard’s powerful way of re-understanding how atonement happens allow you to experience the cross in a deeper, more profound way.  Next, as the violence, especially religiously justified acts, increases in the world, Christians must look at the root of our theology to critique how it may support God-ordained violence. Finally,  a deeper understanding of mimetic dynamics, the subsequent scapegoating and its ancient social power should lead all people of faith to prophetically expose this mechanism in order to defuse its seductive power.

 

 

 

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The Conversation – What Makes Haunted Houses Creepy and What Motivates Students?

Yes, those are two very different questions in the title of this post. I put them together here because they are both thoughtful, scholarly yet accessible recent articles at the remarkable site The Conversation.

I’ve written about The Conversation previously and the more I read it the more I’m impressed by the quality and especially the timeliness of the articles published by it. According to the home page, the mission of the site is for “academics and researchers [to] work with journalists to provide evidence-based, ethical and responsible information.”

The article entitled “Evolutionary Psychology Explains Why Haunted Houses Creep Us Out” answers the question: If I’m a reasonable, mature adult, why do I get the tar scared out of me if I visit a place like Ohio’s Haunted Hootchie? According to Frank T. McAndrew, Psychology professor at Knox College:

From a psychological point of view, the standard features of haunted houses trigger feelings of dread because they push buttons in our brains that evolved long before houses even existed. These alarm buttons warn us of potential danger and motivate us to proceed with caution.

McAndrew then describes the human “agent detection” mechanisms which provoke the creeping sense of anxiety and dread we feel when we are in haunted houses – real or made-up.

Another anxiety-producing question for teachers is: How do I motivate my students? Turns out, according to another excellent article at The Conversation, it isn’t money. You can read the details of the study the author conducted. Basically, his team wanted to see what would get a sample of 300 fifth to eighth graders in an urban district to attend free, after-school tutoring sessions. The study discovered:

 We found that the students who were offered up to $100 for regular attendance were no more likely to attend sessions than if they were offered nothing at all.

In other words, money made no difference.

Alternatively, when students received a certificate of recognition for attending tutoring sessions regularly, the differences were dramatic. The students in the certificate group attended 42.5% more of their allotted tutoring hours than those assigned to the control group.

Take a look at the article itself to discover the full conclusions and the suggested actions for teachers and policy-makers to implement. After reading this, I think I’ll go and find those Google Doc certificate templates…