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The Sacrifice:
Religions and the Role of the Scapegoat

Many religious traditions have a story of sacrifice at the heart of their cultic practice. These articles explore the meaning of sacrifice seen through the words of the Bible and the Quran, through literature and pilgrimage and testimony. They reflect on key stories and practices, such as Abraham's offering of his son, the Leviticus rites of sacrifice and purity, the Hajj, and the death of Christ. Can a substitute be offered for punishment? What happens when an innocent victim — a scapegoat — takes on the suffering of another? Redemption or injustice? Or both?


Featured Panelists

Did You Sacrifice Your Son Today?

Did You Sacrifice Your Son Today?

Ali Asadullah

We maintain faith in Allah's promise that sacrifice in this life elevates us in the next, and our sacrifices don't have to be grand gestures.

"The Terrible Good": The Inklings on Sacrifice and Atonement

Kerry Dearborn

For Tolkien, Williams, and Lewis, all of life is meant to reflect the nature of its Creator, a divine dance of co-inherence and self-giving love.

Scapegoating the Atonement

Scapegoating the Atonement

Crystal Downing

Throughout history, people have made sense of the atonement in ways appropriate to their context. Here are some of those theories.

Living Sacrifice as Theosis

Living Sacrifice as Theosis

Timothy Hannon

We must not teach people to become victims of their acts of sacrifice, but rather to join our very humanity (which is also Christ's humanity) with God's divinity.

Less Religion, More Violence?

Less Religion, More Violence?

Tony Jones

We might ask if, lacking the ritualized violence of religion, humans will simply act out our violent tendencies elsewhere.

Letting Go and Actualizing Good

Letting Go and Actualizing Good

Derek Koehl

Ancient stories of sacrifice serve as instructive archetypes of what it means to assume a posture of nonattachment and of the internal work one must be willing to undertake to arrive at that posture.

Sacrifice and Empathy

Sacrifice and Empathy

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz

You can only truly grow to care for another when you give up a piece of the self. Empathy demands the sacrifice of the "I."

Hajj and the Role of Ritual Sacrifice

Hajj and the Role of Ritual Sacrifice

Deanna Othman

Abraham's journey and the story of sacrifice have become immortalized in the experience of the pilgrim's journey during hajj.

Sacrificing Sacrificial Death

Sacrificing Sacrificial Death

Sharon Putt

Jesus' entire existence was lived as a sacrifice for others. He lived in order to reveal to others the way toward abundant life.

Scapegoats for Each Other

Scapegoats for Each Other

Jonathan Ryan

Christianity requires me to be the scapegoat for others as they are scapegoats for me.

Vocation of Forgiveness

Vocation of Forgiveness

Melinda Selmys

Scapegoating, as we see it, is a way of escaping from our own responsibilities by offloading them on to others.

Commentary From Our Blogging Community

There Are No Scapegoats in Modern Paganism

There Are No Scapegoats in Modern Paganism

John Beckett

This month’s Patheos Public Square topic is “The Sacrifice: Religions and the Role of the Scapegoat.” As best I can tell, all the entries are from Christians, Muslims, or Jews. That’s probably for the best – there are no scapegoats in Paganism.

Christianity as the Modern Pagan Scapegoat

Christianity as the Modern Pagan Scapegoat

John Halstead

We Pagans like to think we don't have scapegoats in our religion, because we don't have a concept of "sin" or divine guilt. And yet, we do have scapegoats. Speaking for myself, Christianity has been my scapegoat for a long time -- and I think it's one that a lot of Pagans have.

The Sacrifice: Should Religion Be Expelled or Redeemed?

The Sacrifice: Should Religion Be Expelled or Redeemed?

Adam Ericksen

Many atheists argue that religion is a massive problem in our world. Since religion is the cause of major conflicts and violence, we would be much better off if we expelled religion from our midst. As a Christian, it may surprise you that I think there’s a lot of merit to this atheist critique of [Read More...]

If God Needed A Blood Sacrifice For Sin, God Is Not Holy

If God Needed A Blood Sacrifice For Sin, God Is Not Holy

Benjamin L. Corey

I grew up on the Three Stooges. Saturday mornings on the farm my grandfather would take a rare break from work and often sit down to watch them with me, in what has become a fond memory of my grandfather. I’m sure by the time I hit puberty I had seen probably every stooges episode [Read More...]

Blood Sacrifices? But God Didn’t Even Like Blood Sacrifices!

Blood Sacrifices? But God Didn’t Even Like Blood Sacrifices!

Benjamin L. Corey

Continuing my series on theology of the atonement, we continue discussion of the issue of a blood sacrifice. The other day I noted that if God had demanded the blood sacrifice of a perfect, sinless human, he would not be all that different from Pagan deities who demanded blood to appease them. Many, of course, find [Read More...]

Yom Kippur Depicts Israelites as the Scapegoat

Yom Kippur Depicts Israelites as the Scapegoat

Kermit Zarley

Patheos Public Square is featuring essays on “The Sacrifice: Religions and the Role of the Scapegoat.” In the history of religions, I don’t think there has ever been any greater focus on sacrifice and scapegoat than what the nation of Israel did during antiquity on its most important religious holiday of the year–Yom Kippur, which [Read More...]