By Michael Greer
The wise leaders of ancient Israel were keenly aware that the failure to publically atone for the corporate sins of the nation would result in a national catastrophe. The current obsession with fixing blame for the refugee crisis on our southern border may be a deformation of an ancient Jewish practice that regularly sought to atone for Israel’s collective sins (Leviticus 16).
Two goats were involved in that cultic ritual. After a period of corporate confession one goat was ceremoniously slaughtered as an expression of deep sorrow over the nation’s sins. The other goat, symbolically carrying the sins of the nation, was sent to disappear into the wilderness. That scapegoat was meant to serve as an expression of hope that Yahweh would accept Israel’s sincere acts of contrition.
In the present deformation of that ancient practice, the scapegoat not only carries the burden of our sins on his back. The scapegoat becomes the cause of all of our problems.
Today America is prone to skip the practice of contrition and focus solely on fixing blame. The national practice of scapegoating, enhanced by our collective economic anxiety, requires that we settle on a specific target to blame for our problems. The national debate over the current refugee crisis that is unfolding on our southern border reveals how our perfected mechanisms of projection and displacement, driven by strong feelings of animosity and frustration, have led us to seek for a convenient scapegoat.
The popular American version of the blame game is now being most masterfully played in the quest by some to pin all of the blame for the current refugee crisis on the president. This sanctimonious and narrow focus upon culpability is a monument to the genius of those political and religious leaders who know how easy it is to misdirect and to incite this citizenry. They are keenly aware that many of us want to be misled and are begging for someone (more correctly, willing to pay someone) to do so.
There are some very mischievous psychological and political benefits that come with playing the blame game. First, it is a perfect way to shift responsibility for our national problems onto the backs of a few. Second, the blame game deviously insures that that the predicament before us stays unresolved. The lack of resolution allows us to continue to find ways to personally benefit from the immediate crisis. Third, the blame game excuses us from the necessity of making a meaningful and sacrificial contribution to the resolution of the problem at hand. Fourth, the blame game is ingenious in that it allows us to escape from the haunting suspicion that we have in some way helped to create the problem.
Who really is to blame for the current refugee crisis? The truth is that there is plenty of blame to go around. First, the expansion of Central American drug cartels, inspired by the success of Mexico’s cartels, is creating a hellish and deadly state of anarchy in that region. Who can blame desperate people who will do anything to save their children’s lives?
Second, the failure of Congress to create a sane and comprehensible immigration policy leaves the world in a state of confusion about our willingness to take in Central America’s displaced refugees. Let us confess that our intentions are far from clear. We communicate mixed and conflicting messages about how open our doors are to those who are still “yearning to breathe free.”
Third, and most troubling, we must confess that, as a nation, our insatiable thirst for illicit drugs has played a significant role in the destabilization of Mexico and Central America. We, the people, (not the federal government we so despise) are directly funding and sometimes even selling weapons to the cartels that are leaving severed heads in Latin American streets as demonstrations of cartel dominance. We Americans spend $60 billion a year on illicit drugs. This reality should, at a minimum, temper our tendency to demonize those who are trying to escape the horrors that we are helping to bankroll.
In religious terms, the taking in of these thousands of refugees who are begging for asylum should be seen as an opportunity for America to atone for some of her national sins. If we do so perhaps the Almighty will be gracious and help us with many of our other addictions that are contributing to the destabilization of the global human community. It may be that these refugees will play a role in our salvation. Maybe they can help us move beyond the blame game and teach us how to put our creative energies into a constructive and humane resolution of this humanitarian crisis.