“The search for scapegoats is essentially an abnegation of responsibility: it indicates an inability to assess honestly and intelligently the true nature of the problems which lie at the root of social and economic difficulties and a lack of resolve in grappling with them.”
– Aung San Suu Kyi –
We find our Scapegoats at a young age.
Her name was Helen. She wore glasses that were too big for her face. Her school skirt nearly touched her ankles. She smelt of mothballs. She was the perfect playground scapegoat. And we all reminded her of her role everyday. Our need to deflect from our own anger, guilt, aggression, rejection, and project it on someone else, starts very early in our life. In fact, it seems like we have a genetic human default of wanting to blame someone or something else for the angst we carry as vulnerable
History eagerly awaits to be summoned and reveal its countless files on scapegoats. Animals often wore the brunt of the blame game. The early pilgrims to the USA brought a religious superstition to its shores that
resulted in wariness of anything not defined in their worldview. Black cats
were among their targets in looking for explanations for disasters. Unfortunately, this irrational belief lingers to this day as black cats are five times more likely to be euthanised and continue to be subjected to horrendous abuse. Christian pig farmers
in Egypt found their property attacked and pigs killed by Sunni Muslims who blamed the pigs and the Christian farmers for spreading the Swine Flu pandemic in 2009 (a pointless carnage). And, of course, then there’s Mrs. O’Leary’s famous scapegoat cow
who was blamed for the Great Chicago Fires.
Charlie Campbell’s excellent book, Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People,
devotes a great deal of attention to the scapegoating of women throughout history. He contends that the witch hunts and trials of early modern Europe were mainly motivated by men’s fear and hatred of women. Scapegoating women is as old as the story of Adam and Eve. Alexis Carrel
blamed the shambles and ageing of a post World War I France on women, for they had “ceased to obey the law that binds them to the propagation of the human race.” The Spanish Civil war was blamed on women whose “vaginas had given birth to republican filth.” From the Laws of Manu to early Christian apologists like Tertullian to the Buddhist thinker Santideva, men found solace in blaming women for their desires. Women were called evil
and confined to the home, as
society needed to be protected. Jack Holland in his book Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice
argues that women are the universal scapegoat of history.
History is littered with notorious individual scapegoats like the French Army Captain, Alfred Dreyfus
, or the Communist leader, Leon Trotsky
, or Hitler’s Party Leader, Rudolf Hess
, or the tragic figure of Gaëtan Dugas
(Patient Zero). Then there are the minority groups that become the scapegoats for community ignorance, religious beliefs, or fear: the Albino children
in Africa, the LGBTIQ
, and perhaps in modern Australian history nothing exemplifies the scapegoating of minority groups more perfectly than the consistent
slandering of refugees
by political power puppets. All of this to say that us humans have never had a problem of finding someone to blame!
We often tend to think of scapegoating as something that happens outside our family of origin. Nothing can be further from the truth. There are many people who will tell their stories of being picked on and
excluded from the people who were meant to love and care for them. Scapegoating is often a way for families to hide problems they cannot face. Blaming a vulnerable family member can be the practice, for
example, of a parent with Borderline Personality or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The child, or scapegoat, is the one who wears their
frustrations, aggression and hatred, as they unite the rest of the family against the one being attacked. If you have been a family scapegoat there is no sugar-coating it: you have been abused
. This is not ok! Please consider the effect it has had on your life. Perhaps it is time to say “No More” to the bullies?
Sadly, religious institutions are not immune from scapegoating
. The ‘God of Wrath and Judgement’ is keenly at work in the minds of some
, zapping anyone who does not agree with that leader’s
interpretation of the Sacred Text. I think the fairly modern flavours of Christian Fundamentalism
, that have permeated some faith communities, have contributed to the fervency devoted to scapegoat hunting. When adherence to a certain code of beliefs and behaviour is the litmus test to achieve belonging and affirmation, then it is fairly easy to find a scapegoat that is not living up to the ’standards of holiness’. Blaming another for our own existential angst and catastrophes is nothing new. Hear the echoes of the disciples asking Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Of course, if we can convince the rest of our social tribe that God also blames them, then the dehumanising has even greater repercussions for the damned scapegoats.
A month ago, many people around the world celebrated one of the most significant events of the Christian Liturgical Year: Easter. We reflected on the Passion of the Christ: The Innocent One, without any guilt, who breaks the mythical cycle of human superstitious violence. The scapegoat becomes the Lamb of God
. With his brutal death, “the foolish genesis of blood-stained idols and the false gods of superstition, politics, and ideologies” are exposed. “It is finished,” is the Gospel declaration of a Kingdom that is not of this world and has put an end to scapegoating. The unjust slaying of Christ reveals the foundation of a culture built on murder and a lie. Jesus, knowing we are mimetic
creatures, calls us to follow his footsteps on the path of peace. It is time to lay aside the scapegoat. It is time to face our own souls.