At my church, we're in the middle of four Wednesday evening sessions called "Faith Without 'Othering.'" In it Betsy Hansbrough is helping us learn about some of the thinking of René Girard, a Christian philosopher and historian who died last November at the age of almost 92.
In Girardian thought, referred to as Mimetic Theory, there is a prominent role for scapegoats. To scapegoat someone, of course, means to blame him or her for whatever the current trouble is. Oddly enough, this often works, though only temporarily.
It's no surprise that politicians often use scapegoats as a way of diverting attention away from the reality that they don't know how to fix things or that their most recent screw-up wasn't really all that bad. And as individuals we also employ scapegoats to deny our own responsibility for some decision or action that has turned out badly. How do we treat scapegoats? We scorn them. Scorn is a powerful emotion and action, as people who have been scorned surely know.
As we were talking about this last Wednesday evening, I was thinking not just about individuals who create scapegoats to blame and scorn but also about how sometimes whole communities or whole nations do the same.
In fact, the night before our class, Joakim Soria, a Kansas City Royals relief pitcher, had -- once again this frustrating season -- pitched badly, leading to another team loss. Soria has had a tough year. About a dozen times this season he has entered the game with the Royals ahead or tied and, by the time he left the mound, the Royals have been behind. In fact, it happened again last night in Cleveland in the bottom of the 9th inning.
Baseball fans always want to assign blame for losses. So Joakim Soria has become a scapegoat who is blamed by the whole legion of Royals baseball fans. Well, both Soria and his manager, Ned Yost. All over town (until the Royals won the series from the White Sox) I've heard fans scorn both Soria and Yost as the team's hopes of returning to the World Series for the third year in a row have almost evaporated.
Do Soria and Yost deserve some blame for the team's trials this year? Of course. But, in fact, baseball is a terribly complicated game, and if the Royals dumped both of them there would be no guarantee that all would suddenly be right at The K. Losses happen for a multitude of causes, some of them so subtle that most fans miss them.
But in Mimetic Theory, people often react to bad news not as individuals but as mobs. And mobs have hypnotic power, as we can see while watching political rallies and sporting events. In the case of the Royals, the mob demanding that the team rid itself of Soria and/or Yost will, if that happens, enjoy what Mimetic theorists call a fake peace. Because it's fake, it won't last long and eventually will demand another scapegoat.
Breaking that cycle requires love, grace, forgiveness, compassion and empathy. But that stuff is hard and in short supply, especially among sports fans. Scapegoating is easy. That's why the latter is much more prevalent than the former. You could look it up -- in almost any history book. No doubt the ease of scapegoating and the difficulty of loving and forgiving is why authentic, healthy religion is so hard to live out.
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A GOOD SUGGESTION FROM JIMMY
Former President Jimmy Carter says Baptist leaders should be in the forefront of efforts to combat "resurgent racism" in the U.S. Good idea. And they could start by standing against the racist remarks turning up in this presidential race.