January 9, 2011 by Ron Madson
Saturday I spent most of the day with my youngest son—stacking firewood, snow shoeing and working on his English paper on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—I was with my son most of the day, but my mind was elsewhere. During the first part of the day I could not stop thinking of the theological significance of the moving and thoughtful post by Tristan Call entitled “My Family is Illegal.” Then when I heard the news of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford and the incendiary rhetoric that had been directed towards her before this shooting, a melancholy set in. Maybe it is only for my own therapy, but I feel a need to write something to try to make sense of “all of this.” Having posting privileges with the Mormon Worker I have an outlet to share what may be jumbled thoughts—so bear with me—I am doing this even before it has time to settle in my mind….
I first watched Franco Zefirilli’s Romeo and Juliet when I was in ninth grade. I was taken with the movie and Shakespeare. Since then I watched that movie several times during the last forty years and each time I still tense up just irrationally hoping that this time that somehow, something will happen to allow Romeo and Juliet to not be the victims of their family’s enmity. But the scourge of hate led inexorably to the loss of both family’s greatest joys for which “all are punished.”
As has been so brilliantly developed and articulated by Rene Girard, throughout history and as consistently depicted in great literature, mankind has demonstrated the almost universal scapegoat mechanism. In simple terms, the scapegoat mechanism is the act of singling out any party or individual for unmerited negative treatment or blame. A scapegoat may by a child, employee, peer, ethnic or religious group, or even another country. As explained by Girard, the scapegoat mechanism arises when at least two individuals, but more often groups, desire the same thing which rivalry can and often grows into an intensifying competition for the object of their desires. These individuals/groups grow in increasingly animosity for which a “contagion” arises where those in rivalry begin to mimic each other’s hatred and animosity— which inevitably escalates to the point of violence. Then into this contagion somehow, someone or some group is identified as a “common enemy” or source of the crisis. This scapegoat, whether an individual or a group, then absorbs all the antagonism of these individuals, mobs or even a country. Then once the identified victim(s) absorbs the violence of the contagion, the warring factions are appeased believing in their collective myth that it is the scapegoat that is the source of their rivalry. Then over time they begin to deify the sacrificial victim(s) as having brought peace through his/her/their sacrifice—“it is better that one man perish than…” pick your desired end. When the scapegoat is found with fault then those in the contagion/rivalry can ignore/deny their collective sins that led to the scapegoats’ victimization by blaming the need for violence on the scapegoat alone—thus burying the truth that the source of the contagion began and ended with the perpetuators of the violence rather then the victim. However, when the victims of the crisis, such as Romeo and Juliet, are innocent then the “ancient grudge” is revealed and cannot be buried under the cairn of lies. Those that placed innocent children and/or even a group (think Holocaust) on their altar are then forced to face squarely their collective evil that led to their individual and collective antagonism that found its expression in violence—from the slaying of Abel to the last predator drone bomb exploding in some child’s bedroom.
It was haunting to see the archives of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s interviews after her office was vandalized after she had voted for “Obama Care” health care reform. She spoke of the vitriolic threats of violence upon her person that the interviewee saw as something that should cause her to fear for her safety. Gabrielle spoke calmly about her concern for the extreme antagonism from both the extreme right and the extreme left. By all accounts Gabrielle was a moderate that sought to reach out and help her constituents. But at the last election in November she was “targeted” with such venom that one could not ignore the ascending violent imagery of her opponents:
Without recounting all the antagonism she had previously faced and was facing on the day of her being shot, as well as the statements of some at the rally that were pleased that now she could be replaced with a “conservative,” her father, who we can be sure was very aware of the many threats and their sources directed to his precious daughter, was quoted as saying when asked if his daughter had any enemies responded by saying “Yeah. The whole Tea Party.” It should be mentioned that the Federal District Court Judge Roll had ruled that illegal immigrants could bring a claim against a rancher for which he also received death threats (“we should kill him and “He should be dead” was voiced on a local talk radio with 200 callers identified as supporting the such a proposition and posting personal information as to the Judge and his family).
The purpose of this post is not to draw a direct line between the far right rhetoric and this gravely evil act, but to expose the full gravity of the scapegoat mechanism generated from one rival to another. If there was or is any rhetoric from the “far left” advocating violence or mimicking such violence then it should be equally condemned and exposed. But we can only address the hatred and evil antagonism that we know exists. Such rhetoric should be fully owned and placed squarely on any individuals or groups that have or continue to perpetuate such words that lead predictably, even if indirectly, to such violence. The innocence of Gabrielle, the nine year old girl (ironically born on 9/11/2001), Judge Roll and others should deflect any attempts by those who have been part of the contagion leading to their deaths from not taking full accountability for any part that they may have contributed to the environment that fosters and then climaxes in such evil.
So what about Tristan Call’s “Illegal family”? I recently watched a History Channel program with my wife called “Prophets of Doom” which had a panel of seven contemporary experts discussing the inevitable and multiple crisis that are upon us or at our doorstep as a nation and world—peak oil, water shortages, starvation, economic collapse (mathematically unavoidable), war, etc. etc. They all agreed that as a nation we will face increasing shortages and a significant reduction in our lavish standard of living for which there will be an ever increasing sense of crisis. We can and should feel it in our bones that the scapegoat mechanism will continue. And who will be targeted? The same individuals and groups from the foundation of recorded history—anyone and every group that the mob senses is a minority, weak and powerless. In Germany it was the Jews. Today it has been and will continue to be illegal immigrants, racial minorities, those on welfare or government assistance, the weak, powerless and anyone who supports the weak—in short the “others.” For a decade we have placed much of our animosity on entire nations and their citizens through our wars of aggression. But whatever common appeasement/peace internally we might have gained from focusing on the “terrorists” and/or “insurgents” is losing its grip. First, because one can kill only so many civilians in another nation without satiating one’s blood lust and secondly, the “justifications” for killing those in those countries has been exposed to any rational and honest person as being founded and continued on deceit. One need not be a prophet to see the coming contagion and scapegoat mechanism that is rapidly rising and will continue to grow within our own nation against the “others.”
What will impeach this contagion and scapegoat mechanism? I believe that today’s ugly killings and maiming will abate the contagion and, of necessity, significantly reduce (or at least it should) those voices/rhetoric that promote such violence or at least its’ imagery. Any individuals or groups that do not distance themselves from such violent images and voices deserve to be marginalized not only because it exposes the darkness of their hearts, but also based on their sheer political stupidity. However, I am convinced that this moment of soberness will not last. Only the desire for real charity for the “others” within the hearts of true Christians, true Muslims, Buddhists or others who embrace the messages of peace within their faith can avoid the inevitable rivalry that will increase with escalating national and world crisis (every faith, including agnostics and atheists, have within their ranks those that gravitate towards the messages of peace and those that find excuses for violence and the “us versus them” thinking rooted in anger and fear).
So why do I have this sense of melancholy? Because despite the voices such as Tristan Call and Katy Savage, and an occasional voice within each congregation, it appears to me that the majority of those in our faith embrace the scapegoat mechanism—-support our foreign wars killing innocent civilians everyday, have enmity towards illegal immigrants (I am talking about you Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce); contempt towards poor, uninsured, and anyone who might take even a slightly increase of our wealth in taxes to fund social services. Yes Utah takes pride in being a “red” state, and in fact the “reddest state.” Call us Mormons, but as to being Christians—the jury is still out for all of us. When the Lord returns he promises us that he will separate the “sheep from the goats.” His sheep are those that stood up for the victims of the scapegoat mechanism (Matthew 25) and not those that participated in either word or deed to the contagion that always ends in the violence we saw today.
We must transcend the “blood and sins of this generation by applying the gospel of Christ. Our affection must reach out to all, even our enemies. If not then the blood of “others/ the least” will surely one day also be on our hands and it will be a “plague on both our houses”—both us and our rivals. May the victims of January 8, 2010 not be in vain and serve as a wakeup call that we must reject all forms of the scapegoat mechanism that leads to such violence.
* “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” Joseph Smith Jr.