We’ve been looking at how a religious spirit, political spirit, and scapegoating forms an unholy trinity that insidiously undergirds the “sin of the world.” It’s the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about (or even notices), the poisonous air we’ve been breathing but are mostly unaware of.
In part one, we laid the foundation. Today, we will look how these three weave their way into the fabric of our everyday lives.
When I say “religious spirit” I’m talking about an influence that compels us to follow God out of fear and obligation because we feel separated from Him. While religion, in and of itself, is not evil, the religious spirit spews hatred, violence, committing all kinds of human atrocities while making us think we’re doing God a service.
As Blaise Pascal once noted, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
When I say “political spirit” I’m talking about a factious, divisive spirit that separates us from each other. It polarizes us and keeps us from hearing each other and benefiting from our diversity.
However, nothing is more mean-spirited and evil than when we mix the religious spirit with the political spirit! This is the very heart of the Beast—Harlot Babylon.
We’ve inherited the dark legacy of this two-headed beast through our Constantinian version of Christianity (“Christendom”): holy wars, crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, ethnic cleansing, and other acts of exploitation committed against those who aren’t like us. Thankfully, it’s losing its grip in our culture, as I pointed out in “How Constantine Changed Christianity.” Of course, this isn’t just limited to Christendom.
The third leg of this evil triad, as we saw in part one, is scapegoating. René Girard points out that scapegoating has been going on since the Garden. Scapegoating looks like blame-shifting. Eve blames the serpent, Adam blames God for Eve, and we’ve been following this Modus Operandi ever since.
The blame-game is the enemy of intimacy—ruining marriages, families, friendships, and nations, keeping us locked up in our prison of fear and insecurities.
Girard points out that, historically, a common villain was needed to pacify increasing tensions between warring tribes. We unite over a common cause to figure out who’s to blame so we can sacrifice them to our scapegoating god (even if our scapegoat isn’t actually guilty). While this does bring about a sense of peace and tranquility…sort of like morphine…the “fix” never lasts.
Hopefully, this will inform us about our current political climate this election year in the U.S. (Just notice the ad campaigns, speeches, how scapegoating is used to convince you that their candidate is the answer to your anger and anxieties). It’s no wonder why our country’s framers warned us against forming political parties.
This is how political scapegoating works within a political party. Each warring faction (Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives…) must find someone or something to blame and be angry about in order to unify and energize the public to act (vote for them) against the other tribe (political party).
In religion, we must have a common enemy to keep our congregations fired-up, fearful, and obedient. This enemy could be spiritual or eschatological (the latest antichrist), but often gets personified in people we don’t like or agree with doctrinally.
As horrifically evil as 9/11 was, and something we should be righteously angry about, it did provide a perfect scapegoat to briefly unite the deeply polarized American people in 2001. And it also united us globally in many ways….for awhile.
While this uniting against a common enemy can sometimes be good, it can also lead to demonizing whole people groups. Nazi Germany scapegoated the Jews and tried to exterminate them, but we had Japanese internment camps, and now we’re thinking of scapegoating Muslims to make us feel safer. The only difference is a matter of degree along the same trajectory.
Looking to scapegoating for peace is a fantasy. We should know by now that all it really does is create more animosity and escalating hostilities and violence.
Scapegoating actually wars against Christ’s kingdom, where we’re told to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. Of course, it’s hard for us to believe that Jesus actually meant that.
Bill Johnson said, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology.” Jesus is the lens by which we interpret Scripture, not the other way around. Michael Hardin also points this out in his book, The Jesus-Driven Life, saying that when we raise the written word above Jesus, we relativize Him in relation to the Bible rather than seeing the Bible in relationship to Jesus.
The Pharisees made the Scriptures their god (John 5:39-40) and they ended up scapegoating God (John 11:50-52). We evangelicals are guilty of this when we turn the Godhead into the Father, Son and Holy Bible, instead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is how you end up with over 33,000 denominations and counting!
Contrast this with how the early church read the Bible, as Hardin puts it, “The apostolic church read the Scriptures in the light of Jesus before they read Jesus in the light of the Scriptures.” (Kindle loc. 651). They knew, like we should, that eternal life is found by living in Jesus’ relationship with the Father (John 14:6; 17:3; Col.3:3), not in our correct interpretation the Bible. And, in Christ, we find each other and the evil triad of religion, politics, and scapegoating has no power.
I won’t go any further down this dark rabbit hole for now. If you want to hear a good message on Jesus and scapegoating, here’s one by Brian Zahnd (Tube video provided by JesusExclusiveSavior).