I wrote a piece on Truth Cancer and the
Redemption of Rebellion. Its point was that heresy tends to mutate into its opposite over time.
So we find, for instance, a student writing for
the Harvard Crimson who demands that free speech and academic liberty be
ruthlessly crushedin order to protect liberalism.
righties somehow manage to go from small government libertarianism to support
for making the US an Orwellian national security torture state without noticing the
contradiction. And nobody is more certain to become a bullying thug than some
Professionally Aggrieved Grievance Professional whose life is built around Stopping Bullying.
in America, we live in the Land of Calvinist culture and Calvinismbeing a
particularly potent form of heresyhas mutated into its opposite with
peculiarly potent force. It retains its joylessness and icy fear that someone,
somewhere, is having a good time as it turns everything fun into an exercise in
moralism, even when it kills off God and replaces him with social do-goodism.
So instead of preachments on observing the Sabbath, we get homilies on having a
green vacation. My favorite of
these was on NPR a decade or so ago, in which the canon law for obtaining
carbon credit indulgences while vacationing was laid out in Talmudic granular detail
along with this final buzz-killing caveat: “But can we ever really
justify taking vacation at all so long as there is ecological damage happening
anywhere in the world?” Love that.
the Calvinist missionary impulse and the Calvinist work ethic continue unabated
in our culture long after the Calvinist belief in God is dead. Only now the
mission is to export hedonistic democratic capitalism with an entirely
different Madonna as our icon, preaching an unholy trinity of Mammon, Moloch,
and Venus to the world.
once remarked that in America we have a feast to celebrate the arrival of the
Pilgrims and in England they should have a feast to celebrate their departure.
As the English were to discover under Cromwell, Calvinism is famously on the
lookout for impurity and tends to seize on those sacrificial victims (such as
Charles I) upon whom scorn can be heaped as the group periodically purges
itself of shame by means of a scapegoat.
did not, of course, invent this deeply human habit. In ancient Greece a cripple
or beggar or criminal was cast out of the community in response to a natural
disaster or other crisis. In Leviticus 16, a rite for literally laying the sins
of the community on a scapegoat is prescribed. In Catholic Europe, Jews were
themselves periodically scapegoated by the Gentile majority, as for instance,
when the Jews of York were
massacred in 1190 as the age-old pattern was played out.
Puritan heritage and its various mutated descendants have done a bang-up job of
continuing the periodic human itch to isolate somebody in American culture and
exile them, whether from the community or from the ranks of the living.
Catholics have been on the receiving end of this as often as not, what with
various Know Nothing, KKK, and Nativist movements. But such thinking did not
die in the 19th century and remains with us today in various expressions.
of scapegoating is traditionally done by finding somebody within the group who
is deemed insufficiently pureand then suddenly transforming them into a
foreign threat to be expelled or killed. Thereby the sins of the community are
placed on their head and the community is protected by sacralized violence that
purifies from sin.
really like to believe that we left that sort of thing behind in the smoldering
ashes of the Tower in York where 150 Jews were suddenly transformed by a mob
from “fellow Englishmen” into foreign contagion that needed to be extirpated.
But we still are quite capable of this stuff in all kinds of major and minor
ways. The greatest major outbreak of this sort of thinking in the past century
was, of course, the Holocaust, when the German Jewish community found, to their
astonishment, that they were suddenly transformed from being seen as “fellow
Germans” to being seen as a foreign bacteria infecting the Reich. The slaughter
which followed astonished Jews no less than non-Germansin no small part
because German Jews saw themselves as Germans who shared 99 things out of 100
with their countrymen. Similarly, the European Jewry that followed German Jewry
into the camps saw itself primarily as sharing in European civilization and
could not comprehend its sudden transformation into a gigantic scapegoat for
the ills of Germany.
course, not all incidents of scapegoating involve mass murder, but they do
generally involve some form of metaphorical death or exile (or attempt at it).
So, for instance, we see the same pattern played out in an extremely minor key
as Stephen Colbert, who obviously is no racist, does a sketch making fun of
racism and is met with the ridiculous spectacle of people in dire need of
Insensitivity Training striving to overcome the stereotype that Asians are all
highly intelligent. This obvious man of the Left who would not think of
seriously engaging in racism is picked, out of a world of Internet and media
examples of racism, for outraged opprobrium. Not Pat
Robertson (who recently bestowed upon the world the intelligence
that Jews don’t fix their cars or mow their lawns because they are too busy
polishing their diamonds). Nope. It’s gotta be Colbert, plucked from within the tribe of the
Left, who is singled out for sudden declaration as an enemydespite the bleedin’
obvious fact that he was, in fact, mocking racism. Humor is not a strong suit among the New
Puritans any more than among the old.
And like the old, they are far more obsessed with finding the Enemy
Within than with opposing the obvious opponent without. In Colbert’s case,
however, the scapegoating attempt appears
to have backfired rather spectacularly.
example of a similar dynamic: Alec Baldwin.
Here is a
guy who, again, is obviously a huge supporter of LGBT communitya clear insider
on the Left. But unfortunately for him, he is a) personally dislikeable and
abrasive; b) has made enemies and c) has not grasped a crucial double standard.
double standard is this: gay people can use the charge of homosexuality as an insult,
but nobody else can. Recall Dan Savage
calling high schoolers “pansy asses.” Or recall Andrew Sullivan’s
strange insistence the Pope Emeritus Benedict is gay as though that’s a bad
thing. But let an obnoxious hetero male lefty like Baldwin toss around
epithets like “toxic queen” and he runs the grave risk that the scapegoating
mob will suddenly target him as foreign contagion when the fever is on.
So to his everlasting
confusion and astonishment, Baldwin suddenly found himself the object of a
pogrom as the “liberal”
LGBT community suddenly turned on him for doing, well, exactly what Dan Savage
does when he calls somebody a pansy ass or Andrew Sullivan accuses Benedict of
being gay. Baldwin is as hard left as they make ’em, including on all LGBT
matters of pietyand yet none of that could save him. He was selected for the
anti-sacrament of mercilessness and his sins shall not be forgiven, for he is
the Scapegoat. And to drive home the fact that it is the Calvinist Purifying
Impulse behind it all, the theological language from the Gay Legion of Menacing
Visigoths for Tolerance helpfully
casts Baldwin in the role of Satan himself.
that. The devil is not, say, Pope Francis (who does, after all, actually teach
that gay sex is sinful, despite what the NY Times deludes itself to
believe). Nor is he any given GOP candidate, or Pat Buchanan, or even that
beloved bogeywoman Sarah Palin, who seems to have finally relaxed her terrifying
grip on the mind and viscera of the Left.
Baldwin of all people, is declared the devil
because he hails from within the community and is therefore the ideal
scapegoat upon which the community can heap its sins and purge itself in a
violent orgy of Righteousness.
course, it isn’t just LGBT Paladins of Tolerance who indulge in this sort of
Puritan pogrom. Reactionaries on the right, both secular and religious, have
more in common with progressive extremists than they care to realize, and also
are on constant watch for signs of impurity. Here, for instance,
is the Breitbart Inquisition ginning up the troops for a heresy verdict against
pot-smoking hippie liberal Bill O’Reilly. His crime: not hating Barack Obama with
O’Reilly does not think that the president of the United States is part of a
secret cabal that actively wants to destroy the Republic but instead, retaining
some sanity, believes that Obama understands himself to be an American who
imagines that “American” maps to his set of liberal values. Therefore O’Reilly
regards Obama as a patriotthat is, as a lover of the US of A, and not its
sworn enemy. He does not think that Obama is right in his judgments about what is good for America, but he does
not doubt that Obama thinks he is trying to do good by America and does
not subscribe to the fever swamp vision painting the president as a monstrous IslamoAtheistNaziCommunist
hater of America willfully bent on its destruction. In short, he strongly
disagrees with the president, but is not filled with unreasoning hatred of
every atom of his being.
act of impurity, O’Reilly might as well be a communist as far as Breitbart’s
audience of inquisitors is concerned, and their responses in the comboxes
generally run in the “He is dead to me!” vein from people who would agree with
O’Reilly on 99 subjects out of 100. Again, it is precisely because he is not
Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden or Rahm Emmanuel or some other tribal outsider,
but an insider, that
the fury directed at him over such a triviality is so intense. Because you can’t purge an outsider.
Scapegoating fury is reserved for an insider.
looking in, often have difficulty even understanding the nitnoid and granular
nature of the quarrel that consumes Insiders bent on a purge. And so outsiders
look on in amazement as a man with whom the average Breitbart Combox Inquisitor
shares 99 out of 100 things in common is declared a traitor and expelled. Their mouths open and close and nothing comes
out as a lefty like Alec Baldwin is suddenly stoned to death by the very people
he once urged to stone Henry Hyde.
and particularly Reactionary Catholics these days, are not immune from this
either. Case in point: The Reactionaries vs. Michael Voris. Here again, on 99
subjects out of 100, Voris and the Reactionaries are on the same pagewith one
notable exception: Voris steadfastly
refuses to indulge in criticism of Pope Francis. I regard this as a
very hopeful sign and I sincerely commend him for publicly refusing to join the
ranks of the self-appointed saviors of the Church who have fallen under the
powerful delusion that God died and designated them to defend the Church
against the pope.
Reactionaries who loathe and fear Francis with now nearly unbridled hysteria are increasingly bringing pressure against (and
ginning up hostility toward) Voris, of all people, in the attempt to get him to
fall in line and start ripping the pope as the evil monster they have convinced
themselves he is. Whether it is just applying overbearing
muscle in the effort to suggest Voris is a bad Catholic for his heretical
submission to the pope, or flat out denouncing
him for the grave sin of charity toward Francis, the Reactionaries
are making it clearer and clearer that even the slightest variation from
absolute purity of hatred toward Francis will not be tolerated. Once again it
is the insiderthe person perceived as hailing from within the
tribe of Real Catholics[TM]who is singled out as the scapegoat in need of punishment
and (if no repentance from the grave sins of faith, hope, and charity toward
Francis is shown) expulsion. “Neo-Catholics,” us ordinary slobs who actually
like Vatican II and find the Paul VI rite of the Mass suits us just fine, don’t
even merit consideration for such a bull of excommunication because, again, you
can’t kick out an outsider. Novus Ordo riff-raff don’t even count as real
Catholics for that subculture.
this reminds me of the brilliance and insight of Rene Girard, whose thought about the strange human impulse
to create scapegoats eventually wound up bringing him back to the Church when
he realized that precisely what God did
was enter the human race, not to join the mob of Inquisitors, but to take
on the role of the scapegoat. And He did it, not merely for one tribe, but
for the whole human race. In doing so non-violentlyin letting the whole of
human and demonic hatred, viciousness, spite, and sin wash over Him and, as it
were, drown HimJesus undergoes the baptism in death that His baptism in the
Jordan prefigures. He is “made sin for us” as Paul put it (2 Corinthians 5:21) and
thereby opens the way for our baptism into His death and our participation in His
wonder then that Jesus begins His ministry first with that baptism and then
with a sojourn in the desert, which is exactly where the scapegoat was driven
after the priest placed the sins of the people on it. Likewise, in the
sacrificial rites of Moses, the cattle, sheep, and goat offered in the
Tabernacle prefigured the sacrifice of Christ:
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought
into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside
the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the
people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp
and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek
the city which is to come. (Heb 13:1114)
It is therefore
properly the place of the Christian to find himself, from time to time, scapegoated,
betrayed, exiled, and even killed. When Christians take the role of the
persecutor they betray Christ. When they are persecuted, conversely, Christ
reserves a blessing for them:
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all
kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your
reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before
you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
blessing need not be limited merely to those who are visible members of the
Christian community. The prophets have, so far as we can tell, no conscious
knowledge of Christ, yet share in his blessednessand in his martyrdom. So
might any other person. Why? Because
they did the right thing even when punished for it by the world. We are free to
hope that any person who obeys his conscience is likewise liable to be rewarded
for it through the Holy Spirit. As the
parable of the sheep and the goats makes clear, some of the saved are going to
be surprised: “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in
prison?” (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).
This does not mean
that anybody unjustly persecuted is therefore bound for heaven. Horst Wessel
, the Nazi
stormtrooper who became the basis of the Nazi anthem “The Horst Wessel Song”
was unjustly murdered, but that doesn’t make him a hero. Just because you are a
victim doesn’t mean you can’t be a jerk too. But still and all, in the ordinary
run of things, a blessing is pronounced by Christ, not only on those who are
persecuted for his sake, but on people who are persecuted for righteousness’
sake. As our culture continues to
de-Christianize and turn an ever more hostile face, not only to followers of
Jesus Christ, but to the weak, the marginalized, the innocent, the vulnerable,
the poor, the reviled, and the despised, let us go to our despised Lord outside
the camp and welcome in his train every loser, oddball, factory reject, sinner,
screwup, failure, jack and jill who tries, however, feebly, to do what is
right. It will probably mean going, or
even being driven, outside the camp. But
that’s where Jesus is.