Idolatry is the Same
We still have conflict within our modern societies, and this conflict is still because of idolatry. The idols don’t often resemble ancient ones, but they are still things made with hands, and we still bow down to them. Anything that comes between us and love for neighbour is something we bow down to. Love for neighbour is the image of God. Anything else is a different image. Modern forms of idolatry are just as religious as older forms, and this false deity of self remains the cause of our conflicts.
Scapegoating is the Same
The innocent victim spoken of above is often called a scapegoat. Our modern societies still scapegoat others as a solution to our need for social cohesion. Nothing has changed in this regard.
And we still do it for the same reason that ancient cultures did it. We do it to re-establish order, and we do it to appease our own collective conscience. The law still works in our conscience, which we seek to appease. This is religious, even though mostly we are unaware of the motivation.
However, modern cultures have been too impacted by Christianity for ritual sacrifice to openly happen. Sacrificing, or scapegoating, still happens, but it is hidden. It happens the same way as before, but now in secular clothing.
Let’s look at some ways scapegoating commonly happens today.
In the Office
The office work environment is one that many people are familiar with. A group of people in an office gang up against one person who is different in some way. This so-called enemy gives the rest of the group cohesion, and a common identity. This is usually led by one person, who is using the process to enhance his/ her dominance over the group. For one to have precedence, someone must become a scapegoat. The satanic procedure is usually hidden from us.
The person leading this group may have ambitious desires within the larger organisation. Or the scapegoat maybe to distract attention away from the leader’s own misdemeanours. Often our own motives are hidden from even ourselves at times like this, covered by a sense of “right doing.” At School
When I was a boy I was enrolled in a new school. The first day I found a boy with red hair. I remember thinking that because he was different to the other boys, he would be humble and he would accept me as a friend. So I sat next to him and we ate lunch together.
While we were eating our sandwiches, a group of big boys ran around a corner, heading towards us.
They picked up the boy with red hair and they all started hitting him and wrestling him to the ground. Finally, they were satisfied and they all went their way.
As I sat there by myself continuing to eat my sandwiches, I looked up and the same group of boys came running around the corner again. This time, the red-haired boy was part of the pack, running with them. He had been included into the boy’s order. I noticed they were running towards me. So I gathered up my containers, and ran away as fast as possible. Thankfully I managed to escape before I received my beating. My crime? I was new.
The boys had managed to restore order to the school playground. They had dealt with those infringing their collective righteousness. The red-haired boy had been punished and the new boy chased off. The group had their unified status and friendships intact, while their leader who was manipulating the entire process. Now they could go onto greater exploits, in whatever way the leader would decide, to use the group for whatever he wanted.
Beating up other people gave the leader power over his group. He had to have a ready supply of scapegoats to enhance his community’s order. This is a very simple and startlingly clear example of how human affairs work in local and international levels. It a satanic way of forming civilization.
It is common for one person in the public sphere to be selected for persecution. The ills of the community are placed at that person’s door, and the politician who can take that person down in “justice” will be seen as the saviour of the nation. Sometimes, all the people focus their frustrations on that single person and call for their demise, as a way of making themselves feel more secure.
Bloodletting is a common activity in modern nations. With a collective sense of sin, we go after one person, or sometimes a group of people, in our society, and we vent our guilty conscience on them for our cleansing. This is highly religious, though we claim to be secular.
When I was growing up in Sydney, there was an ambitious project being undertaken to build an iconic opera house. The project was a centre of pride. It somehow summed up our identity and our sense of wholeness as a people. When the project ran into trouble, the city soon began to look for a scapegoat to blame. Politicians seized upon this opportunity. An architect was blamed and destroyed in the public eye. This returned a sense of unity to the community, and enhanced the position of the political party. It didn’t matter that the person was blamed unjustly.
When a community has a collective sense of it sinfulness it will select scapegoats and pursue them on the media with bloodlust. It will be masked in a sense of “righteousness.” It will select people who have done wrong and attack them without mercy. The community isn’t really out to fix what was wrong, but just to hang someone for it. They are after the sense of peace this gives. It is a murderous and satanic group lynching.
The person who is scapegoated may not be literally killed, but his/ her reputation and career may be destroyed. This is the same as murder. The Apostle John said, if we hate a brother in our heart, that is murder. People are singled out and “murdered” to bring a sense of collective righteousness to the community, a unity that makes the nation strong. In war time it’s called propaganda, necessary for the esprit de corps, for strength and unity of purpose to prevail.
Politics make use of scapegoats to enhance a party’s popularity. The scapegoats may be one person, or a group the society fears. Anyone, or any group, that stands out as different to the society, can be used to build fear. It may be sinners, foreigners, poor, or people of other faiths. A politician gains power by seeing this anxiety within the community, and feeding the fear. The demise of that scapegoat becomes the cost, the sacrifice, for the party’s success and the politician’s career.
It is true that people in these groups who are scapegoated may be at fault. They may pose a threat to the society. But scapegoating the whole group kills many innocents as well. Targeting the group doesn’t allow us to treat them as humans, preferring their restoration, salvation and healing.
Restoration can avert cycles of hurt and violence, and war as well. But we still find this option a shock, just as the Pharisees did, who wished to scapegoat the woman caught in adultery.
Scapegoating in politics is extremely dangerous. As competition among politicians escalates, some leaders may stop at nothing to produce division and enmity between people or groups, to enhance their chances of power. Division between people is the fuel of political empowerment.
This is the satanic way of leadership Jesus pointed out in Luke 11. Satan divides, and the leaders of Jerusalem were dividing the population to enhance their own prospects. As the community continues to divide, one strong man after another arises to plunder the goods for himself. It’s a process of scapegoating other people to conquer. Divide and conquer.
In contrast, Jesus said his kingdom gathers. It gathers in the sick and poor, from people of all backgrounds. It doesn’t divide, but seeks healing for us all as humans. It gathers in those the community has scapegoated, treats their wounds and heals their diseases. Jesus said, “Whoever gathers is with me.”
This is the way of the cross. We cannot guarantee our own safety this way. But its God’s way, as we saw in the cross of Christ. It’s building through reconciling. We have joined the new way to do community. We have delivered ourselves from satan’s way of nation building. We build by healing, not by dividing and killing. We build by feeding our faith and hope, not by feeding our fears.
Recently we were in Wales in Great Britain, looking at a museum. It spoke of earlier years, when parliament took the land from the common people, and sold it off to the wealthy. This was to improve the agricultural quality of the land, which increased the food capacity of the nation.
But the wasn’t improved on a community, cooperative basis. The people were divided, so the rich could benefit most. Land prices increased and this shut the poor out of the market. The rich could sell their improved land to people who had money through unfair economic advantages over others, at home, or in the colonies. The poor were scapegoated. They had nothing to eat and so they became “thieves” for stealing food to live.
This was the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. New factories were opening, which needed a large, cheap workforce. Because the poor no longer had common land, they couldn’t farm crops or animals. They were completely impoverished, and needed jobs. The Agricultural Revolution made a strong ready workforce available for the Industrial Revolution.
Britain prospered and became a leading force in the world, by organising their poorer people in a subjugated way. Because the people didn’t own land, they were also available for the army. Britain was ready to rule.
When you go through Wales today, you see the ancestors of those “common people,” still in poverty. When the coal mines were closed some decades ago, large numbers lost their jobs, and exist today on government benefits. It’s part of the ongoing brutal restructuring processes. As you drive through Britain, it is still clearly two nations.
We learned about the same business model when we visited Adelaide, in Australia. We read an old publication, in which a politician from Britain advised politicians in Australia. This was soon after the British takeover of Australia and the new government had been selling land cheaply to European Australians to own and farm.
The British politician said the price of the land should be increased so people wouldn’t be able to afford it. Then the people would be a cheap labour force. The Australian government followed that advice and increased the price of the land it had confiscated from the Aboriginal people. The people were made dependant.
People in modern nations are in the same predicament. Most people live in houses they don’t own.
Homes are owned by the banks. Prices are so high, young married couples cannot afford the deposit to buy a home. This is caused by speculative purchases, forcing up housing prices. Investors make money by buying many homes. Because the majority of the population never have financial security in their place of dwelling, they are continuously dependant on the labour market, even well past retirement age. This lowers the cost of labour in the economy.
All of this is contrary to Moses’ Law. After the food crisis in Egypt, Pharaoh owned all the people from the top of Egypt to the bottom. God brought Israel out of Egypt to develop a new community, which cared for all the people, and scapegoated none. Land was owned by the people, and returned to them at Jubilee if they had lost it. Debts were forgiven. When we ignore God, we go back to Egypt. Pharaoh still rules, even in our modern societies.
Pharaonic economies, that scapegoat rather than serve the weak, produce injustice, and this leads to war. War is the inevitable outcome. You have to keep war happening abroad, to keep the people at home on your side. And this injustice abroad produces more instability, more terrorism and more war. But Pharaoh doesn’t mind that, if he can manage the political fallout, and make war patriotic.
He can sell more weapons and take more economic control over global regions.
In Pharaoh’s economy, people go back to slavery. They must work for others all their lives and can never become free. This enables us to be easily manipulated by politicians, over our fears about interest rates. It is claimed that our bankers, politicians or large businesses are not at fault. Rather, it’s another aggressor nation, refugees, or Muslims who are to blame. This unites us all at home.
This doesn’t mean we turn to scapegoat bank personnel, politicians trying to do well, or business people trying to build community. And it doesn’t mean that diverse threats to our society don’t exist. But any form of scapegoating blinds us from our self-centredness and feeds the violent cycle. It harms many innocents and makes the world more unjust and dangerous. We can’t participate in using and harming scapegoats, to bring legitimacy to our own lives and communities.
God wants to bring us out of this way of life, just like in the Exodus. This is the purpose of the gospel.
Instead of scapegoating the poor, the different, those we fear, there is self-giving care, there is a rejection of propaganda, and a seeing of people as being like ourselves, people who need neighbourliness. God wants us to reject our political narrative about the enemy and reach out in reconciliation to heal our land. This is how we get to the “promised land.” In Britain of old, when the poor were being so badly dealt with, they were unified in part by a fear of their international enemies. This brought a cohesion to the British people, even as they suffered in their home nation. They also suffered greatly abroad in the foreign conflicts. Scapegoating has become far more refined now. We can target enemies with drones, keeping our home populations, economies and political aspirations intact. But this peace can’t last.
In France and Russia, they eventually had revolution, to try to change the prospects of the lower classes at home. However, the revolutions just made things worse. They released more killing, which gave rise to even more brutal leaders. They tried to cast out satan with satan and it backfired.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain was blessed with Christian revivalists. People like John Newton, the Wesleys, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, William Booth, and many Christians in general then, who cared for the poor and enslaved. They started a system of social change that eventually brought relief to large numbers of people. In those days Christians led the charge for social justice.
This shows how our nations can be set free. Not through revolutions, but through a wider church community who don’t live for themselves, who don’t join the scapegoating narrative, but who serve the poor and less privileged. This is the hope of our nations. We need this church back.
When people try to divide us to scapegoat others, we should not join in to punish them, even when we are called upon to scapegoat sinners. All scapegoating serves the interest of political, business, or church leaders. We should not join the hatred and alienation. Instead, we are called to serve. We are to love our neighbour, as Jesus called us to. Then our enemies can see the light, then our witness of Christ can be real and affective. Then our own hearts can be renewed.
People call for divisions in Nigeria, based on Muslim/ Christian, North/ South, Fulani/ Farmer, Middle Belt/ Non-Middle Belt, Biafra/ Non-Biafra. Every time, there is someone’s political career behind the call for division. Someone is trying to become a leader, by scapegoating, raising hatred and unrest towards another group. Division is accepted because it is in our nature. Once we start with division, it never stops.
There are corrupt people, who defraud the economy, and divert our attention to others by calling them our enemies. Scapegoating our enemies, allows them to go on plundering wealth, while they pretend to be on our side. And because of our prejudices, we easily believe and are effortlessly recruited for their cause. This is not said here so we will fight these corrupt people, but so that we won’t answer their call to division and violence. It is manipulation.
Someone wants to divide us, so he can spoil the goods. They are all the same, no matter which group they come from. We are followers of Jesus, not of these divisions, and Jesus calls us to serve everyone in need, and to make no distinctions about who people are. We love and serve all as our neighbour, whether north or south, east or west. This is his teachings on neighbour.
The church is an example in this. We all become one, from all our tribal backgrounds. Yet even in the church, we have divided into our tribal groups. We have lost our witness of unity in our nation, because we no longer eat as one people at one table in Christ. We need to come back to Christ, and back to each. Then we can heal our nation.
There is pressure to join in the blame game, to mimic scapegoating, because other people do it. It becomes fashion. This mimicking is manipulated by those who desire control, whether in our work place, churches, or society. They use division to gain power, at the expense of a scapegoat. Someone must die for someone else to gain power. But the strong in Christ will forge a new fashion, of love for neighbour. It takes strength to love our neighbour when the world says hate.
Jesus calls us to a new mimicking, to mimic his cross, by which he forgave and served us all, friend and enemy alike. Forgive the scapegoat and serve them, revealing the gospel. Adopt a new mimicking. Our community won’t like it. It would be like loving the Jews in Nazi Germany. It’s dangerous. Our community is afraid of it. But Christ didn’t fear to do his Father’s will.
We keep the above competition and scapegoating out of our lives and churches. The only memetic desire we have in our church families is the desire to follow Jesus in his community restoring and neighbourly ethics. This means those who have a difference are included and those who have a fault are nurtured.
However, mimicking the world is common in ministry. Preachers desire success in worldly terms and then they are also mimicked by others who desire that same kind of success. Preachers gain followings, finances, power and esteem. The other people desire the success these preachers have.
The preachers will attract people who gather around them for “mentoring.”
The preacher gratefully receives these mentors, because they can help build the ministry. They are volunteer supporters. But they are after “mentoring” because they want what the minister has. This desire eventually leads them into conflict. They can’t both have the congregation. They can’t both have the honour and reward of the top position. So eventually a kind of rebellion will take place.
The rebellion is covered over by scapegoating. But this time the leader becomes the scapegoat, so the new leader can bring “order” to the church. The rebellion is carried out “as an act of righteousness.” The mentoree claims the mentor isn’t leading well. He isn’t keeping order. If the mentoree was in charge, he claims, he would make things better. See Absalom as an example of this.
Accusation is used when we desire what someone else has, especially in work places or in church ministries. Absalom accused his father, because he desired his place of rule. Sigmund Freud noticed this about father/ son relationships, and claimed it was unconscious sexual competition over the wife/ mother. But Girard went further, to say it is desire for the father’s rule, memetic desire.
This is what we see in the pagan creation myths, showing again that these myths are derived from human history. The gods were scapegoated people. The myths match human behaviour.
The body of Christ is called to put accusation away. We are called to help those overtaken by a fault, not to overtake them our self. We need to be aware of our memetic desire and be ruled by the peace of God in our hearts instead. Any forms of competition for place, covered over by scapegoating accusations, need to be noticed in our motives. It is normally buried deeply.
Community ethics is to lead us, above all “righteous” reasons to point fingers at others. This means memetic desire, which isolates those who fail, can’t work in a proper community. Instead, we try to bring each other along, restoring those that fall. We don’t behave like the secular wold, where one person’s fall is another person’s rise. It is, “One for all, and all for one.” Churches will often have mimetic struggles, not always as a testimony against the church, but against human nature. Churches, because they are places were people congregate, can attract people who desire power. They may not be transformed Christians, or may not be Christians at all.
This desire to have what the mentor has, to be the mentor, to take his place, can even produce sexual desires for the mentor’s wife or husband. There is an unconscious desire to be the mentor, to be fully in his/ her position. All kinds of rivalries can develop, with the real motives being hidden, even to the perpetrator.
We overcome the violence in the secular world, rather than mimic it in our church families. We adopt a new strategy for leadership and relationships that are Christ orientated, as he spoke of serving the least, which means the scapegoats, failures and those overtaken by an error.
In older times, the church persecuted heretics. Physical violence then gave way to violence against the reputation of others. Those “in error” are still viciously attacked. Our desire to attack those “in error” is a memetic desire. We see a church building its respect and following by attacking those “in error.” We desire to have this respect and we follow this worldly form of violence, even within the body of Christ, pulling up tares and harming the wheat.
Memetic desire strongly worked in Peter, when he denied Christ, and when he drew away from Gentile believers in Antioch. He was following the violence in the world around him, by not caring for his gentile family in Christ, for those of different tribal backgrounds. When we feel strong memetic pulls to follow the crowd, we must obey Christ and love our neighbour instead.
Memetic desire works in denominationalism. We see a denomination successful in worldly terms and we desire to be like them. We launch out into memetic competition within the body of Christ. If another church builds near us, we fear they will attract our members. So we build walls to keep our members. These walls are accusations against the other church. “They have their doctrine wrong. If you go there, it may cost you your relationship with God.”
Pointing out the error of other churches becomes a memetic desire. A new believer sees church leaders “standing up against the error of others.” They admire this “non-compromising position” and see the respect and power this leader has with his followers. They want this respect themselves.
Soon the ministry becomes a competition in finding “false gospels” and denouncing the faults of others.
Division is now a memetic desire, in which we “devour and consume one another” with accusation, trying to raise our ministry by killing the ministries of others. This was the mimesis that worked in the church at Galatia. We have seen this working in our churches since the Reformation.
As we take our message of division out into mission, we find it is welcomed. We preach against Catholics and other Protestant denominations and people like it because it chimes with their secular divisions. We are used to division in our tribal and nationalist groups. It makes us feel better about ourselves and gives us better prospects in possessing territories.
Division is demonic. Satan appeals to the self, to our church and our denomination, not to the cross.
We use division to maintain control over others. Christ tells us to love our neighbour as our self.
Anyone in Christ is our brother and sister and we must fellowship with each other freely. So who do we obey? Those who create division, or Christ? We obey Christ. And if there is a fault in our brother, or in ourselves, we seek renewal through bridge building, not through scapegoating.
Memetic desire works in almost all areas of our lives, in far more ways than we are conscious of. Like an academic joked, “The only thing two academics can agree on, is the bad paper of a third academic. This brings them into unity.”
Once I landed at Melbourne airport. We dove down the highway into the city. All the way into the city, lined all along the roads, are high sign boards, displaying people wearing and using things. They wear new clothes. They drive new cars. They buy new houses.
This is a shock, after being out of the country for a while. I am not used to having my senses so assaulted by advertising. It is intrusive. It bullies you into submission. It’s like the signs are saying to you, “Look at what these people have. What is wrong with you? Why don’t you have these things?” After seeing all these sign boards, you begin to think you aren’t a complete person. “What is wrong with me? Why aren’t I like these people?”
So you begin to think how you can catch up. You start feeling the anxiety of lack, of not having enough. You don’t have enough money. So you wonder about getting a bank loan. Maybe some people think of stealing, or scamming other people in some way, to make the money you “need.” Here is an economy that is predatorial. It feeds on fear, anxiety of lack. It enslaves the population in debt. It enslaves them in constant work, so they can pay the debts and the interest. They are never free. They never have enough. This breaks the whole Law of Moses. It breaks the whole purpose of creation: sabbath, wholeness, good, peaceful living. Pharaoh rules the commercial world.
We are told advertising is good, “It produces jobs.” The main ethic in modern culture is advertising.
It’s our sacred cow. You wake in the morning and go to the kitchen. A radio is on in the background and within five minutes you have heard about 15 things you don’t have. “Your life is incomplete.
Your neighbour has these things. He has quality of life. He is better than you. You are not a whole person.”
People must learn to desensitise to this world of advertising. But then we also desensitise to the news of the world in suffering. It too assaults us daily. The advertising wins out. We learn to shut out the bad news, and tune into the good news, the products we can enjoy. Not just enjoy. The products we must have to be whole, to have respect from others.
We remember the ethic, the value of our society, the justification, “Advertising is good, it is what makes our economy work, it provides jobs, wealth.” We are helping others by buying for our self.
But how can advertising be good, bringing the society into servitude, driving us to focus on ourselves? Something is wrong here. It is out of sync with Moses’ Exodus, Jubilee life.
Wouldn’t a higher minimum-wage help people more? Wouldn’t lower housing prices and lower debts help more? Wouldn’t a backtrack on speculative investing help more? How can our societies produce a Jubilee/ sabbath ethic? Isn’t this what God wants? Wouldn’t returning land to those who lost it be in line with what God commanded us?
Modern economic theory gives us a new set of values. It says market economics develops a nation.
So if we spend, we are helping the world, even with our disconnection from the poor. Wouldn’t an economy that invested more in developing refugees than on entertainment, have a better chance of keeping us from war? Wouldn’t this economy prosper more, by building everyone in as an active participator? Wouldn’t this prosperity be more holistic?
However, it is memetic desire working through advertising that is more compelling. The economy makes the products our advertising calls for. As mimesis escalates, we all must have the latest and greatest. Tension rises in our communities, as some people have and others don’t. Gaps between people groups aren’t closed. There is no incentive to heal those in need Advertising doesn’t care about these people. Society becomes more fragmented at home, and internationally.
Something must win out here. Either we stop the advertising onslaught and attend to the healing of our divisions and hurts among our communities, or we blame those parts of our communities and continue to shun them. We can’t do both.
If all our attention is given to advertising and consumerism, then the tensions and hurts of others can’t be addressed. If they aren’t being addressed, then we must scapegoat those people, to preserve unity and continuity in our society. Scapegoating is a necessary part of a consumerist community. The society cannot be sustained without it.
There are much more sinister issues at play that we may not admit enough. As business, media and political interests merge, then a message that brings stability to the market economy will begin to dominate. This message must divert rivalry away from the market area, to other spots in the globe.
“The enemy can’t be within our market economy, which needs cohesion, it must be someone else.” This message is appealed to by a sense of patriotism. To deny our commercial-interest message, is to deny our loyal responsibility to our group. We then also become a scapegoat within a society struggling to maintain its bottom line of profits.
The outcome so far, at the date of writing this, is that the five richest people own as much wealth as the “bottom half” of the world’s population. We are returning to a world where inherited, dynastic wealth begins to dominate, and this doesn’t bode well for democracy.
In a mimesis controlled world, first we rival each other for the goods that advertising tells us we need, then we copy each other’s violent postures in a mad escalation towards war. Mimesis produces escalation. The Sermon on the Mont seems the only way to retract from this. The Sermon outlines a non-self-justifying contentment, that instead of copying violence, responds with reconciling acts.
And to respond to the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, we need to do this together. We need growing groups, in early days called churches, in which people live out the teachings of Jesus, encouraging each other to do so, in a counter-cultural love and care. Advertising encourages us to live as individuals. As individuals, we can have no impact on a world that is slipping away. We can only challenge the status quo as a collective, a collective witness of good.