The term scapegoat comes to us from the Bible. The Book of Leviticus, which is the third book of Moses in what we call the Pentateuch and Jews call the Torah, mostly consists of instructions for the priestly, ceremonial, aspects of the Sinaitic Covenant. Hence the title of the Book. The Levites were the Tribe of Levi, the tribe assigned to the priestly role. The sixteenth chapter of the book is a set of instructions pertaining specifically to the high priest, on the one day of the year he was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant with the Shekinah of God over the Mercy Seat was located. That day was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On that day, the high priest was commanded to bring a young bullock for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. The fifth verse adds that he was to "take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goat for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering". The first bullock and ram were offerings required for himself, the others were required for the people. This, as St. Paul reminds us in the book of Hebrews, was what was required of the Levitical priesthood in their daily office as well as on the Day of Atonement - first they brought offerings for themselves, then on behalf of the people.
After Aaron, and by implication his successors in the role of high priest, offered the bullock for his own sin offering, he was commanded to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the door of the Tabernacle. Lots would be cast on the goats to determine which would be the Lord's, the sin offering, and which would be the scapegoat. The one chosen by lot to be the Lord's would be offered up on the altar as a sin offering. As for the other goat, the scapegoat, after the priest had made the burnt and sin offerings and sanctified everything by sprinkling it with blood, he would bring the scapegoat, present him live before the Lord, lay his hands upon the head of the goat and "confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins", after which the goat would be led away into the wilderness and released. The purpose of all of this, if it is not already plain, was the symbolic removal of the people's sins. The live goat, released into the wilderness, was called an azazel in Hebrew. This word, derived from the verb for "remove", has generally been rendered in translation by words that emphasize the removal of the goat itself, although there is an alternative , mystical, tradition that sees Azazel as the proper name of a demon that receives the goat and the sins. The English "scapegoat" uses a shortened form of the word "escape", and thus aligns with the first interpretive tradition, albeit in a way that would be awkward if this rendition had been made today.
In Christianity, books such as Leviticus are understood in the light of the revelation of God's mercy and grace in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Atonement He made in His death, and His triumphant Resurrection. The aforementioned epistle to the Hebrews contains the longest canonical example of such interpretation, laying the foundation for all that followed. Although St. Paul elaborates in that epistle on how Jesus Christ was the true High Priest to which Aaron pointed, as well as the true sacrifice, and even how the heavenly Tabernacle where He entered through the sprinkling of His Own blood is the true Tabernacle to which the Tabernacle in the wilderness pointed, he does not mention the scapegoat. It is likely he felt that given everything else he had written the Christian understanding of the scapegoat would be so obvious as to not need to be elaborated on. Jesus is the fulfilment of both the sacrifice and the goat that was released because it is through Him our sins are taken away. Elsewhere, St. Paul wrote "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him". (II Cor. 5:21) Even before St. Paul, however, the prophet Isaiah had tied the imagery of the scapegoat to the promised Messiah, in the last of his Songs of the Suffering Servant, when he wrote "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Is. 53:6)
The word scapegoat in the Biblical sense we have just looked at is a noun. It has entered common parlance, however, as a verb, and a verb with rather negative connotations. It has become the verb that denotes the act of unfairly blaming an innocent victim either for your own mistakes or wrongdoings or for some bad thing that is happening to a group to which you and the now-excluded scapegoat belong(ed). In other words, to do to a person or group of persons, what the high priest was commanded to do to the literal scapegoat in Leviticus.
It could be argued that this usage distorts the original meaning of the word and such an argument would, in a sense, be right. It is worth noting, however, that the vernacular usage of the verb scapegoat describes precisely the actions of the human agents involved in the Crucifixion, from the priests and lay leaders of Israel who conspired against Jesus, to the Roman governor who acquiesced to the execution of a Man he knew to be innocent to satisfy the demands of a mob. Think of the words of Caiaphas, as recorded by St. John, following the resurrection of Lazarus "Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one Man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not" (Jn. 11:49-50) and consider them in the sense obviously intended by the high priest, rather than the prophetic sense recognized by the Apostle. The intent is parallel to that of Pontius Pilate - sacrifice an Innocent Man to avoid a catastrophe that would affect the whole society. However Caiaphas and Pilate may have eased their own consciences over this, they have gone down in the judgement of history as the most cowardly and treacherous villains of all time.
One thinker who saw a very close connection between the literal Biblical scapegoat and the social phenomenon that bears its name was the late French-American historian, literary professor and social philosopher René Girard. Girard, who was born and raised in France, but who taught in various American academic institutions including Indiana, John Hopkins, and finally Stanford Universities, developed his thoughts on scapegoating as a societal mechanism in the context of his larger theories with regards to mimicry. What began as a fairly non-controversial theory of learning and development - that human learning begins with the imitating of adult language and behaviour - he expanded into a general theory explaining the origins of violence, conflict and religion. As people learn by copying others, they come to develop the same desires as others. This mimetic desire, as Girard called it, produces competition and rivalry, which grow into conflict. Here violence enters into the picture. Scapegoating, in the sense of finding someone to pin all the blame for the conflict and violence upon, and then banish or kill that person, he maintained, was the means which communities and societies had developed for relieving the pressure from this cycle of violence when it had gotten to the point of being about to explode and destroy everything, restoring unity and harmony, and preserving the community. This only worked, however, if everybody accepted the (false) guilt of the scapegoat. The restored societal peace was built upon a lie.
Religion, Girard maintained in Violence and the Sacred (1972, 1977) has its origins in the scapegoat mechanism. The human sacrifices of primitive religions were scapegoats, the animal sacrifices of more advanced religions were an attempt at accomplishing the same end with less human bloodshed. Christianity, Girard, who was a Roman Catholic, argued, in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (1978, 1987) presented a solution that was the very opposite of all of this. Jesus Christ was the ultimate victim of the scapegoat process, but turned it all around. As He was crucified He forgave His murderers. He rose from the dead, proving both His divinity and His innocence. This denied to His persecutors the fulfilment of their purpose in scapegoating Him - no new unity could be built upon the acceptance of the lie of His guilt, but He offered something better instead. If man cannot live in peace and harmony without the death of an innocent victim, then so be it, but let there be no pretension about it. He Himself would be the last sacrifice, the voluntary scapegoat, satisfying the sinful human need for innocent blood and offering real peace and unity, but on the grounds of the truth of our guilt and His Innocence, rather than the lie of the reverse.
Of course people are as free to reject this solution as they are to accept it and so scapegoating continues long after the final Sacrifice.
Almost a century ago, a man who rejected the Christian solution rose to power in a country that had largely turned its back on Christianity in its embrace of modernity, by promising them relief for the hardships they had endured since the end of the First World War. As part of his pitch to the German people, Adolf Hitler employed the scapegoat mechanism of blaming the Jewish race for their woes. I don't need to tell you what the result was. As the late Paul Harvey used to say, "now you know the rest of the story".
Which brings us to this year and what is going on right now.
The number of cases of bat flu here in the province of Manitoba in the Dominion of Canada has been rising since the end of summer. There has also been a rise in hospitalizations and deaths, the latter mostly among those who are very old and have three or more health conditions. The media with its alarmist hype has blown all three of these rises - case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths - way out of proportion, and tried to convince us that we are living out Stephen King's The Stand.. Brian Pallister, the province's premier, and Brent Roussin, the chief health mandarin, have sought to allay the irrational fears brought about by this irresponsible excuse for reporting by imposing restrictions upon Manitobans, When the first set of restrictions didn't work, they imposed more, and when that didn't work, they imposed more yet again. Once again they failed to achieve their desired result. Sane people, at this point, would have realized that if something hasn't worked, and more of the same hasn't worked, and yet more of the same hasn't worked either, that it is time to try something else instead. They were incapable of thinking of anything other than restrictions, however, and so we ended up with more of the same. Ultimately it got to the point where we were in complete lockdown again, worse than earlier this year, with a month-long ban on socializing with people outside of our immediate households. It was as if they wanted to move us out of The Stand and into The Shining (another Stephen King novel in which an alcoholic writer, driven mad by loneliness and isolation, tries to murder his family).
Clearly, Pallister and Roussin's bat flu policies were a complete failure. Worse, they had taken away all of the traditional and prescriptive freedoms that are rightfully ours as citizens of one of Her Majesty's Commonwealth Realms, as well as our constitutional rights, and had nothing to show for it. They decided to look for a scapegoat and found it in the very few Christian congregations in this province who have not behaved as quislings in the face of the flagrantly unconstitutional suspension of the fundamental freedom of worship. The reason the case numbers keep going up, Pallister and Roussin tell us, is not because they, Pallister and Roussin, have small, one-track minds, incapable of thinking of anything more creative than slapping restrictions and fines on people, but because these congregations insist on meeting in violation of public health orders.
They are blaming innocent parties for their own failure. Classic scapegoating.
Take, for example, the story that has been all over the CBC this weekend. On Saturday evening and again Sunday morning, Springs of Living Water held drive-in services. These services are banned under the present public health orders even though they cannot possibly contribute to the spread of the bat flu, because everyone stays in his own car in the parking lot and listens to the service on a loudspeaker. Since nobody can transmit the bat flu - or any other contagion for that matter - under these circumstances, the public health order forbidding them are unconstitutional. Court precedent dictates that limitations on our fundamental freedoms - and the freedom of worship, assembly, and association are all involved here - can only be considered constitutionally justifiable if their impact on the freedom/right is minimal and demonstrably contributes to the policy end for which the limitation is enacted. The inclusion of drive-in services in this ban fails both of these litmus tests and is clearly in place to bully and harass worshipping believers. I don't think much of the "prosperity gospel" theology of this congregation and its pastor Leon Fontaine, but they are well within their constitutional rights to stand their ground here, and are certainly not contributing to the spread of the bat flu.
The other congregation that has been all over the news for its defiance of these evil and unconstitutional public health orders is the Church of God, located just south of Steinbach in the Municipality of Hanover. Last weekend the police fined this congregation $5000 for meeting and they fined its pastor, Tobias Tiessen, about half that amount in two tickets, one for holding the service, another for attending the anti-lockdown rally in Steinbach on the 14th. The latter ticket, of course, is a violation of the constitutional right to peacefully protest. This weekend, the congregation had planned a drive-in service to be held in the parking lot, against which no public health order is constitutionally acceptable. The RCMP blockaded the congregation's parking lot.
It is time that we call this government harassment of people exercising their constitutional "fundamental freedom" of worship what it is - scapegoating. It is not people attending worship services that is causing the bat flu numbers to rise. It is not even people breaking the stupid and absurd health orders in general. There is simply not enough of that going on here for that to be the cause. The fact of the matter is that the continual rise in numbers prove that the public health orders don't work and should be rescinded in toto immediately. Pallister and Roussin should admit their bullying, thuggish behaviour and vile health orders don't work, apologize for infringing upon our rights and freedoms, and immediately cease and desist their attempts to scapegoat Manitobans who wish to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms, live their lives, and obey their God, rather than locking themselves away in their homes and living in fear of the bat flu.