35th day of Lent. Attempting Clarity.

I thought I’d go back to the beginning of my last post, and try to do a better job of spelling out what I was trying to do there. Since I start these late at night–for example, I’m beginning this one a few minutes after midnight–the late hour in a way limits my ability to polish these. With polish comes clarity. That said, since it’s after midnight, this might not be much clearer. Caveats. There are always caveats.

Anyway I started by juxtaposing a sampling of hot button issues which I purposely tried to present in the way someone who believed whatever side they did, would recognize. The examples are limited, yes. There are rarely only two sides to any issue. Still, one of the things that keeps us from being able to have civic dialogue in the U.S. is that we reduce too many issues to two views. We’re very black and white, very either-or that way. It limits our ability to hold an opposite view to our own with any regard. Recently in conversation, a friend of mine told me that she’s taken to staying silent, rather than hear another friend say a version of “how can you believe that?” Hearing her say that I thought of  Carol Gilligan, and a quote that I think is from her book In a Different Voice, where she said: “The hardest times for me were not when people challenged what I said, but when I felt my voice was not heard.” There’s no greater treasure than a person’s voice. We’re shutting each other down. Shutting each other out, and in what might be a greater sin, we demonize those who hold views opposite our own.

Why do we do that? As I said a few weeks ago, I like the anthropology of René Girard and his ideas about Mimetic Rivalry. Girard, says that desire is mimetic. People want what they see others as already having. The whole idea of the need to “keep up with the Joneses” points to this. You’re driving a seven year old car in great shape, and that you’re perfectly happy with. One day you see your neighbor has purchased a new car. What happens next? You start wondering if you should get one too. Before your neighbor made their purchase, you had no need. Suddenly you do. That’s what he means.

At a social level this rivalry can get so heated that it leads to violence. Of course, your new found desire for a new car that you may not be able to afford may not lead to more than an argument with your spouse, or your boss about your pay. Then again, there are bunches of ways the story of Cain and Abel can play out in our society. To avoid social violence, Girard says, societies developed the “scapegoat” mechanism as a relief valve. That’s why you see in many early religions that an innocent victim is chosen, and after the sin of the community is assigned to them, and they’re sacrificed. It’s under the guise of appeasing the gods/God, but what’s really happening is that the pressure towards violence is released.

Since Liberals scapegoat Conservatives, and Conservatives scapegoat Liberals–that’s how badly things have degenerated–it’s almost impossible to recognize that a person who holds a view different or opposite from our own has come to hold it as true through a process that is as genuine, honest, and legitimate as the way we’ve come to hold true what we do. We can’t get there. At the same time, there is common ground.

Here’s when I made the leap that’s hard to do because we’re entrenched the way we are. While we may not be able to see a view opposite our own has having value–that’s where the phrase “morally equivalent” comes in–this week in Christian circles we’re all, Conservatives, Liberals, Green, Libertarian, Black, White, rich and poor Christians are celebrating the murder of Jesus in the celebration of Easter.

For Christian theologians–and regular folk like myself–what makes Easter transforming, is that Jesus becomes the scapegoat of everyone. That’s where shouting “Crucify him” as we read the Passion is an act that can help us get in touch with the way we we’re still scapegoating people, and cultures different than our own. That’s a hard thing to grasp. You might say, I’m not doing that. I can’t see that. It’s at this point that I think invoking Matthew 25 is appropriate:

41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’

Anyway. It’s one. I’m running on fumes. I hope that’s a little clearer. Tomorrow if I’m lucky I’ll dive a little deeper with the idea of Jesus as the scapegoat who forgives us. It’s a very different way of thinking about atonement. It’s a way–despite the way the passage I just mentioned reads–without an angry God.


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