Sunday, May 06, 2007

Stonings and Sin Laid on Innocent People

I've been discussing the stoning/murder of Achan so this post over at Metafilter caught my attention. It's almost astounding that collective, lynch mob murders, in their most barbaric/primitive, most raw form still take place in our world today. This isn't the highly mediated lynch mob of the Iraq war, where people sat around their TVs watching Fox News waiting for "Shock and Awe" to start, this is a story of a group people picking up stones and brutally murdering a young girl to uphold some kind of order or unity. I know for certain, without really knowing anything about the situation that this girl is not guilty, that this girl surrounded by a group of murderers, bloody, dying a horrific death, for supposedly breaking some kind of "law" is a scapegoat. The same kind of "law" that Achan supposedly broke. As a commenter at Metafilter, speaking of another stoning, said "...all that was left was a mutilated body slumped over. It looked like an animal rather than a human. It was savage and nauseating." It's obvious that this girl is a scapegoat, but it should also be obvious with Achan, I understand that he is our scapegoat, but by the 20th century we should be able to understand that Achan is a scapegoat in the same way that this girl and Jesus were scapegoats.

I'm sure the people who were involved in this lynching were quite happy with themselves. They had punished an evil-doer. They felt very close to each other, they felt very good about each other. United in a job well done. I'm reminded of this photo from a Duluth, Minnesota lynching, it's a very graphic, disgusting and as the Metafilter commenter said, "savage and nauseating", but this is the way the crowd looked as it stood around Achan's dead body and the mutilated bodies of his children. Here's the photo (rated graphic and disgusting, but it's from the Minnesota Historical Society site). The people standing around the mutilated bodies, posing for the camera, thinking they delivered some kind of justice. This is the way all lynch mobs look. This is the way the people around Achan looked, this is the way the people around Jesus looked, this the way the people around Stephen looked, this is the way lynch mobs look. They all look happy and sure of themselves, because so many others around them look happy and sure of themselves. They all believe in the guilt of their scapegoat and in their own righteousness and goodness. You must remember that we Americans aren't very far removed from scenes like the above. That photo was from 1920's Duluth, Minnesota.

The mob feels a tremendous amount of unity after a lynching. It feels to them as if a god has blessed them with peace and unity. This is the foundation of all primitive religion. Religion begins around the body of a dead lynch mob victim. The community in world-ending crisis one minute and the next after they have united to kill a transgressor falls under an indescribable peace. Gods and religions are formed in this unity and peace around a dead body. The thing with Christianity though, some one speaks up, before or after the lynching and says, "this person is/was not guilty". This destroys everything, this is the sword that Jesus brings, because people will retaliate and seek revenge on the murderers if they don't believe the victim was guilty. So it's either endless reciprocal/retributive violence or people with broken and repentant hearts putting a stop to it. The Gospels destroy the idea that the scapegoat is guilty and the lynch mob is innocent and righteous.

The Gospels make a big deal about Peter denying Jesus. Peter was not able to separate himself from the crowd. He still believed the crowd had all authority, that the crowd was the voice of Yahweh. Even Pilate was not able to resist the lynch mob. The Gospels tell us that everybody was involved in the lynching of Jesus, all institutions, all people, even the disciples were not able to resist the lynch mob. They were all lost in the flood of violence that had rained down on earth and crushed Jesus. It wasn't until Jesus returned, forgiving them that they were able to resist the narrative of the lynch mob and begin telling another story about Jesus. Stephen became the first martyr by trying to tell the story, by proclaiming Jesus' innocence.

Rene Girard in The Scapegoat said, "The Gospels constantly reveal what the texts of historical persecutors, and especially mythological persecutors, hide from us: the knowledge that their victim is a scapegoat...".


SaintSimon said...

You accept that God told Joshua to lead his armies into battle as they entered the promised land.

If you accept this - genocide in 21st century language - then you must also acept that God told Joshua to execute Achan.

'If you can't accept the latter, then you are inconsistent to accept the former.

If you cant accept either, then you effectively dismiss the whole pentateuch.


You may have a vaguely relevant point on the lynch mob thing, but Achan is NOT an example of the kind of thing you are saying. And whist the lynch mobs may tell us something about human behaviour, it is wrong to equate this to the Biblical scapegoat principle.

Buck Eschaton said...

I'm not going to attempt to claim complete consistency in what I've written or will write, try to do my best though before the kids start raising a ruckus. I really don't accept the fact the God told Joshua to lay waste to cities. At this point I'm not really sure what the Book of Joshua even represents. The latest and most interesting scholarship says something along the lines that Joshua is actually a projection of King Josiah's. King Josiah, presided over the destruction of Israel's first religion, the religion of the first temple, the religion the New Testament has so much in common with symbolically. Well anyway it's a very exciting time for Biblical scholarship and theology, just wish I was much more excited about it when I was 20 years old and still in college and could make a career out of it.

SaintSimon said...

The faith is for the simple man on the street. I have no confidence in the supposed scholarship that you look to for guidance. You will believe anything that they write, even when it is self-contradictory, rather than believe the straightforward canonical scripture. Eve did something similar in Eden.

I think we are so far apart that there is little purpose in continuing this discussion.