Scapegoating, Projection, and Envy

This week, Dan and Rachael discuss scapegoating as a kind of rage that moves into the dehumanization of others. Stemming from contempt and judgement, the topic of scapegoating also brings up the experiences of projection and envy. As they ponder these categories, the ask the question: How do we become aware of our own propensity towards scapegoating and our use of it to escape what we don’t want to have to see and own in our own hearts?

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Episode Transcript

Dan: We have begun to address the issue of the killers of community. What keeps a good marriage from growing. What keeps friendships from growing. And what we attempted to address is the reality of rage. And again, I want to step back to rage and to say there are people who see rages only explosive, that kind of hot screaming, yelling. And indeed that’s rage. But there are so many other ways to be rageful that actually kind of looks socially more acceptable. Like, you know, to have sort of a serious look in your eye with a kind of judgment. You know, that group of people, you know, they suffer because they don’t take seriously something about the word of God, and you know, I guess what I’m getting at is rage can show itself in tattered blue jeans or in a tux. It can be well dressed and look at one level quite acceptable. But if we can begin to say rage is where there is judgment built on contempt that ultimately denigrates another human being. Then there’s a whole lot of people operating and in my experience, at least in the broader what could be called evangelical community, a lot of writing feels really to me very rageful judgment, contempt based, and undermining both people and communities in a way that you go, are you serious? It’s just really a reflection of truth built on love? On compassion? If so, I’m sure there are plenty of people who listen to me and go, “oh he is so full of rage and he just doesn’t see it.” And that’s part of the dilemma of going, Yeah, I kind of agree and maybe not always, but oftentimes there’s enough failure within my own ability to see sentences in a book or in a conference or in this podcast and to go, this is just not what I want. So as we begin, love for you to just to kind of, what have you been thinking since we did our last podcast?

Rachael: Yeah, I mean honestly, actually I just feel a lot of sorrow for where we are in our world right now and obviously my own fear around the impact of rage. I also was thinking as you talked about these categories about kind of hot, smoldering, and cold rage, what it has been like to live in a city like Seattle for 14 years and then be in Philadelphia because I’m like, oh yeah, Philly is a hot city. It’s a hot city. Like you don’t have to guess what people are feeling, they just will tell you straight up to your face and in some ways I kind of find it refreshing after living in what I would say is a smoldering and or cold rage filled kind of kind of the passive aggressiveness of the pacific northwest where you’re like I know you feel something when you got something to say, say it. But people are like no I don’t feel any, no.

Dan: Let me just stop there for a moment and to go a couple of days ago, somebody just wouldn’t move from a green light and I mean I have acclimated to living in the city over 22 years and I waited, for me in eternity. I waited 10 seconds. How do I know that? I counted it which is an indication of cold rage. and finally I went “beep.” I mean like I’m telling you just like if my horn could be diminutive. It was like “, pardon me but beep.” And the people on the street in Seattle looked at me like I was a serial killer. I mean I don’t know if our audience will actually believe me but I’m telling you to use your horn in Seattle is an offense. So yeah I kind of agreed having lived in Philadelphia. I just think of waitresses that I work that that I got to know and then “what do you want? What do you want hon” It’s like oh this is so good compared to polite but cold.

Rachael: Yeah. Yeah, so it’s kind of just full disclosure what I needed to get him up.

Dan: Well as we step into this particularly the category of scapegoating becomes really sort of difficult for me because there’s some people I just don’t like. And I’m sure without any question I fit for that for a number of people, and you know, you don’t have to like everyone in the world. Thank the living God. But nonetheless, the issue of there are certain kinds of people that become the localized depository of your dis-ease, your irritation, your anger. And then if we get up it to rage. And again, let me remind: rage is always built on the deep fabric of contempt. And we need a face to sustain our animosity.

Rachael: Again, these are, you know, when I think about scapegoating, it is one of the more wicked forms of violence when you say we need a face because I think scapegoating is so bodily. And so connected to image bearer-ness. It’s a stripping away and a putting on an image bearer something so that we can actually use them.

Dan: You think about our capacity for compassion needs to face as well in that you hear of a disaster, the loss of life through a hurricane, most, I just want to say almost all human beings feel sad, you know, to go, “oh my gosh, there’s been an accident on the road. Eight people died. Oh.” And especially if you know the road that’s where we begin to move toward particularization vs abstraction. The human heart is not moved by abstraction. And but when the news begins to show two or three of the lives lost and you literally see their face and their name and then a part of their story most occasions your grief grows. Well, but it’s also true with regard to rage. Abstract rage doesn’t last for long. You need someone to hate that you can visualize, that you can know something about, or at least even if it’s not true, you think, you know something about them. And in that sense, particular, particularity arouses us so that we need to be close enough to our enemy to smell them, feel them, sense them. And in that sense, it’s the very, very dark opposite of what is intended to be. That the closer we get to a human being, the more our heart is aroused with heartache, grief, compassion on their behalf. But the closer you get to an enemy, the more there is that sense of fury to destroy. So the question of what kind of face generally becomes your enemy.

Rachel: Well I don’t think we have to look very far to really begin to answer this question, it’s playing out so explicitly in our midst, in our world, in our nation. Faces that are different than our face, not like the face that’s not like me. Foreign faces, not like us. There’s some kind of collective or even I would say our propensity to move towards alien faces. Faces that we don’t perceive as being human. When there’s actually been a move to dehumanize someone. Where you have lost the capacity to view them as human. I’m you know, just as a content warning, watching what’s playing out with the refugees trying to get into the United States at the Mexican border, the Haitian refugees and the ways in which their bodies are being treated in this moment. And you see the very act of not just a foreign scapegoat, but at the movement to actually a dehumanizing scapegoating to be treated not even as human beings. And again, we’ve seen that multiple ways and how we treat the other, how we create the other. You will see it playing out everywhere with regard to differences in our bodies, with regard to race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status. You know, national locatedness, what region of the world you come from, religion. The scapegoating of the religious other. So it is, sad to me, it feels like one of our more basic human, I would say sinful instincts to scapegoat.

Dan: Yes, say it, preach it. I mean psychologists will talk about this as projection. You see in the other, what you fear in yourself or what you know is true about yourself. So in that sense the power projection is “I need you to bear my sin.” So I don’t have to engage the turmoil, fear, but also in many ways the vengeance that exists within me and to step back and say “yes, different. Yes, the other,” but I want to come back to that word alien. How we use that word. Illegal? What? illegal, what illegal aliens. I mean the word alien, it means you are not of my group, people, you’re not of humanity. It’s one of the brilliant works of Joseph Goebbels, the propagandists of the Nazi era. What he did was, early on in the late 20s, early 30s, he began to picture Jewish people as rats. And he created cartoons where a Jewish person, male or female would be pictured as an actual animal rat with the face distorted. So what you get is a hyper misuse of the face bound to the body of something not human. And when you can do that, then literally what Jews were called, were vermin. So as you would want to eradicate a rat in your basement, so would you be justified in being able to annihilate a group of people who are labeled as a rat. So the principle here has been used by propagandists of all sorts. so the moment we label someone as a destroyer of democracy, a destroyer of America, we are actually being able to do harm to them irrespective of what their views actually may be because we are justified in destroying the inhuman. Now, that’s actually not even true, but the fact is we need blood in order to in some sense cover our own need for mercy, goodness. So in that sense, rather than seeking justice, we are so bound to want to seek vengeance. Rather than seeking righteousness we want relief of what’s happening within us. And that need for blood virtually always sends us into some process that treats the other in that moment. And I’m thinking of a lot of the work I do as a marriage counselor. You know, some of the ugly interactions, you know, the language that gets used and I won’t repeat it, but it is so deeply dehumanizing. the use of the F word as a means of denigrating another human being literally in some sense using the so called F word to rape another human being verbally. It’s you have the right to harm because the other is not human and what they have done to you or to your system is to endanger it and therefore you are right to eradicate them. Again, this is happening individually, it’s happening in families, and it’s certainly happening in our collectives.

Rachael: Sorry, I’m just like feeling like it’s like painful in my body. Feeling just the feeling the wickedness of this kind of movement. Feeling in my own probably deep grief in the places where I know I have scapegoated others. Whether I’ve joined in a collective scapegoating where I’ve where I’ve been the recipient, like where I’ve been scapegoated, where just that propensity it gives me a lot of grief. We might like you can feel it in my body.

Dan: Becky and I recently watched this Broadway play that they’ve made into a film. “Come From Away.” It’s the story of 9/11 when about 30 different airplanes landed in this very strange but not strange world in northern, very northern Eastern Canada. And you know, the hospitality that about 7000 people showed to about 7-8000 people who landed suddenly within about a 12 hour period at their doorstep. As we watched this really brilliant play, about five minutes in, I started crying and it wasn’t really at a moment that was particularly moving. And Becky was like, “what’s going on? Can you pause?” And she said “it’s just a touching film. I get it. But what are the tears?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, just let me put it back on.” So we put it back on and the tears just kept coming and coming in about five minutes after that. Becky. Just said, “I can’t watch it with you crying so much. I need to know a little bit more.” And I think the best I could do at that moment was, “I feel such a need for compassion.” And I want to be part of a group of people who would open their homes, who would give food, and in one sense have a profound energy of “what can we do for you today.” And, the image, in Texas and Del Rio of thousands and thousands of Haitians and other refugees seeking care. I’m not stepping into immigration at the moment, but what I’m saying is even if you choose to deport these people, then there should be a wild supply of goodness, of tents, of food, of supplies, to honor, to invite. So, in that sense, you know, we are, you know, we are foreigners. And we have been welcomed. So, the dilemma with almost all forms of scapegoating is it provides a simple solution. And, you know, you’re at fault. We have this problem because “you’re bad, you failed. You didn’t love your family well. You’re not faithful to the word of God. You didn’t do what was honorable. You’re illegal.” And to step back and to go, I’m not trying to resolve complex matters, but I’m talking about, you cannot scapegoat and create a realm of hospitality. And if the gospel is about hospice, hospital, hospitality, it’s how we welcome the stranger and is the stranger and enemy we need to fear because they smell different. They look different. They sound different. They have different values. Then, , it’s inevitable. Even if we don’t think of ourselves as people who turn other human being into rodents. We’re ultimately annihilating when we do not offer welcome and hospitality. So, we know that scapegoating actually puts us in a position of having to face what’s going on for us? What’s actually happening in my own heart? When in a family, you know, it’s a pretty common assumption that one kid is likely going to be the, what’s often called the “proverbial black sheep.” And do families scapegoat? pretty regularly. Who gets blamed? Who generally is the screw up in the family? And often that kid, later adult, has served the family unwittingly to be the alien, the stranger, odd. I think of the grief I feel for many in the LGBTQIA community who have been exiled from conservative families because the family believed they were doing something right in cutting them off. Nothing from my standpoint is more alien to the gospel than cutting a human being off simply because you perceive them to be other than you. So when we start stepping into this, the question that, in part, I’d want to bring is: how has scapegoating served you in your family, in your church? How does dogma, which I’m not faulting having deep convictions, but where being dogmatic has served you to be able to alienate you from other christians, who in one sense, hold different theological views or practice in different ways. How has it served you in your own family to be the scapegoat or to scapegoat someone in your world.

Rachael: Well, I mean part of what I’m thinking about, Dan, is just back to that power of projection and how often, especially in family systems or in cultural systems when someone has is bearing that reality of scapegoat there often it’s that projection of they are actually and bought like they are being asked to bear with the family system or what the cultural system refuses to bear. And so therefore they expose, they expose what is true, which then further sets up that dynamic to want to split off because it can’t actually be held with honor by the people who need to be holding it. So that’s something I’m thinking about and people who have experienced that. I also, I’m curious like is scapegoating only something we do to those that we perceive as the enemy or who expose what’s true of us and we don’t want to have to bear that. Are there other ways in which we scapegoat? You know, I’m, I’m thinking about it, is it possible that we also scapegoat those we idolize?

Dan: Oh God, now we’re into more complex waters. Go further?

Rachael: Well, I mean you talk a lot about envy as a category and in, you know, for those who would be familiar with some of the language around faith, hope and love and in some ways, what is it that wars against love and how love is so deeply connected to the face and to the body and in that capacity to bring honor to delight, to give and receive love, and and how envy is just one of those things that really evokes in us a desire to mar someone else to annihilate them to make them pay. And so, you know, I think about where we scapegoat those, maybe we even idolize or who we want to be. How I just, I can’t, okay, I’ll, instead of putting this on someone else I’ll own it for myself. How sometimes when we envy, we can delight when someone experiences harm. We can delight when they fail. We can delight when they have that proverbial fall from grace. And again, it’s a different kind of dehumanizing because it’s not, it’s actually not taking on someone we despise or we don’t want to be, it’s taking its putting this on someone we actually want to be and wish that we were.

Dan: Yeah. And think of it this way: the black sheep in the family, though they bear so much judgment and often isolation, I’ve worked in family systems where two or three of the other kids actually envy the black sheep because they pretty much get to do what they want to do in a way that the good kids can’t. So as much as you might use the black sheep in the family to project your own disappointment and fear, often there’s envy. And if we change it from an individual and a family. You know, we look at how the African-American community bears so much historical violence and judgment. Yet the reality that we appropriate language, music, food, style. In one sense, there’s no presence of music, language, style more stolen than often a white community’s misuse, appropriation, of the black community. So do you see this strange, we scapegoat and then we envy. So if we can start playing with this to go scapegoating is as you put it. And I kind of want to go back to this keyword, it’s universal. Every human being scapegoats. And when we scapegoat or when we’ve been scapegoated, we’ve got to come back to how is that being used to actually escape what I don’t want to have to see and own in my own heart. So if I can come back and be open and not surprised that I scapegoat and in some ways this will seem strange to put it this way, not trying to stop it. Again, I’m not saying keep doing it, but just being in that position of going, what is the energy? Why do I need to find this contemptuous judgment of another human being when, and again, this will sound for some too simple, when I already have a scapegoat who has chosen to be a scapegoat and can be the only scapegoat that can bear my rage, my fear, in one sense I need, I need this person to project and to, in one sense, turned the mere back as to why his bearing my sin has actually the possibility of being the righteousness of God. And I don’t want to be to mere metaphorical, but the obvious point of Jesus suffered outside the city gates. All the shame, all the rage, all the cruelty that I as a person can hold through a lifetime. So when we say scapegoating is inevitable in some sense, my faith stance, I don’t like using the word religion. But my understanding of the universe is built on the work of Jesus as the final scapegoat. In scapegoating him, if I scapegoat a people group, a family system, a religion, a sexuality, then I’m actually taking away the one blood that’s sufficient to deal with my own inner war. And that, to me, is the deepest and darkest part of any form of scapegoating. It misses the person and the point. As we end, what comes to mind is that part of the privilege of living in the Gospel is we get to defraud by the kind of defiance that lives something of Micah 6:8. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. I don’t think there is, I don’t think there is anything that will disrupt in families, in marriages, and the larger collective nothing will disrupt the power of scapegoating like Micah 6:8 as it points to the one who lived on our behalf well.