I don’t know how it happened. But a very long time ago people decided that goats were the ones. They were the animal chosen to be sacrificed. Somehow somebody concluded that it was okay to kill and exile goats for a human ritual. According to the Christian Bible, two goats were brought for a Jewish ritual called atonement. It was a way of redeeming people for their wrongdoings. Goats were brought in pairs to the High Priest. One would be sacrificed – killed – as an offering to their God. The other would be symbolically laden with the people’s sins and then run off into the wilderness. And that’s where the term ‘scapegoating’ comes from.
Goats were not killed and abused by only this group of Jewish people. Ancient Greeks and Ancient Syrians did something similar. And, let’s face it. We continue this scapegoating ritual in different ways even now. If you’ve seen the movie ‘The Watchmen’, you watched Dr. Manhattan be made to look like he killed a million New Yorkers when he didn’t do it. Just so the Russians and Americans would team up against him. Dr. Manhattan is a scapegoat. And I’m sure some of you remember the HIV epidemic in the 1980s. Some people were saying that the virus was a punishment from God for homosexuality. Gay people are the scapegoats there. Maybe you know that Yoko Ono was blamed for the Beatles breaking up in the 1960s. Yoko is a scapegoat in that example. Further back in history, we have witches. These were people, mostly women, rumored to be devil worshippers and determined to deserve cruelty, abuse and death simply for being non-Christians. Witches were scapegoats, too. For that matter, how about Eve? As in ‘Adam and…’ This woman is blamed for the Fall of Mankind. Definitely another scapegoat.
I think we dehumanize and demonize something or someone in order to make ourselves feel better. Seems like we set up a scenario where the other person is a villain so we get to say we’re the hero. We don’t want to be a bad guy. We want to be the awesome one, the good one, the better one, the best. We don’t want to look at ourselves as flawed. We don’t want to accept that we’re imperfect. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes intolerable, to embrace ourselves with the good, the bad and the ugly all in one bundle. It’s not easy to embrace all of ourselves, cuz we’d have to embrace our imperfections and unlikeable stuff, too. Instead we delegate the truth – the truth that we are just as much a mess as everyone else – onto something or someone other than us. And boy we get nasty with it, don’t we?
I’m thinking scapegoating is at the root of most, if not all, types of division. We divide people into groups. We say there are male/female, Black/White, gay/straight, old/young, Christian/non-Christian, red/blue and a host of other divided groups. Then we take the other – the group that we are not part of – and we cut it off from ourselves. We don’t stop there. We continue to feed the separateness, the differences. We feed the division. We generate disparaging thoughts, which give rise to denigrating comments, which become rumors that cultivate and grow the fear of this group that is not us. This breeds anger and leads to the spread of hatred. It’s how we justify killing others, too. I’m wondering if maybe we can try to get to the source of this. Maybe we can change it.
If you’ve been scapegoated – and I think many of us have at some time or another – you know how it feels. It’s painful. We scapegoats know all too well what it is like to experience judgment. Alienation. Othering. I was the scapegoat in the family I grew up in. I became the repository for their scorn, the cesspool that collected their negativity and bile. I took the brunt of their self-loathing. The wall of division between them and me grew thick. For them, it built protection. For me, it built isolation. I detest it. I told myself I would never be like them. I would never do to others what they did to me.
I realized something the other day, though. I became aware that, while I never want to intentionally other anyone else and I swore I would never be like that, I am. It occurred to me that I sometimes demonize those who have wronged me. I do it in my mind and in my speech. I make them the villain, the bad guy. To those who will listen, I tell the story of how bad they were to me. I sometimes try to get people to take my side and join me in rejecting them. I want them to join me in the scorn. I am not proud of this behavior. I don’t like that I have these thoughts and say these words. I really don’t like that I draw a line between myself and them. That is not who I want to be.
So I’ve been asking myself what I’m gonna do about it? I’m not exactly sure yet. But I think it begins by accepting that yeah, I was wronged. And I acknowledge that it hurt. And it’s not okay that it happened. I know it’s okay to talk about it. But it’s not okay to leave it at that. I think I need to take it a step further. I need to turn it inside out and ask myself if I’ve ever done the same thing that they’ve done. Have I ever wronged someone else? Have I ever said unkind things to someone? Have I done things that have hurt someone else in order to lift myself up?
And when I get to the deep-down honest answer – that yes, I have – then, and only then, can I stop the crazy cycle of demonizing, which is definitely a step in the direction of scapegoating. It’s only then that I can see the other inside of me and begin to love and accept myself, warts and all. And it’s only then that I won’t feel the need to run goats out of town anymore.