Girard is a philosopher who noted that civilizations tend to organize themselves around theories of cleansing, sacrificial violence directed toward some acceptable victim: the scapegoat.
He eventually returned to his Catholic faith when he saw that Jesus, instead of making somebody else a scapegoat for our lust for violence, makes himself the scapegoat for the sins of the world and, as Paul says, “became sin for us”.
I think of this as I read the savage glee with which Rod Dreher greets the story of a Texas father who beat to death a man he says was molesting his little girl. I don’t mean I think Dreher reaction is somehow peculiarly wicked. I mean I can entirely empathize with his reaction–and it bothers me. Because truth to tell, there is something in me that, well, *likes* the thought of finding somebody I could beat to death without feeling a trace of guilt: somebody I could even congratulate myself for beating to death. Somebody I could savor beating to death.
That is, of course, what horrifies many of Dreher’s readers–and rightly so. Everything they say in rebuke of Dreher’s initial glee over this killing is perfectly true–and Dreher is right to sense the evil in his glee and dial it back.
Some will (rightly) ask how we know the victim was, in fact, guilty. It’s a reasonable question since “I killed him because he was a sexual transgressor” elicits such volcanic revulsion against the victim (see, “Till, Emmet”) that it is no unreasonable to inquire as to whether the victim was really guilty of the thing that the killer claims he was guilty of. However, given that the cops seem to agree that the victim was, in this case, indeed a menace to the little girl, I assume the father *was* acting in her defense and, as a grandfather of Lucy the Cuteness, can only say that had it been my precious little girl, the victim might well not have had a head when I was done with him.
And that’s what interests me about this case: the deep sense of dark joy, not just Rod, but I and many comboxers around the web took in the thought of dispatching that guy to his eternal reward. Here, at last, was somebody upon whom we could lay all of our hatred and loathing without any compunction whatsoever. We could take positive pleasure in smashing his brains in. And when we are done participating in this vicariously through reading the news story, we can tell ourselves that we are… what? Only interested in justice? Not really fantasizing about violence but just heroically interested in that kid? Bunk. The pleasure (and that’s word) of this story is that you get to imagine taking joy in the slaughter of another human being–and feeling the approbation of your conscience when you are done without any scold or check.
People wonder why I’ve spent so much time fretting about torture over the past decade. Many imagine it’s because I consider myself a living saint sent by God to lecture the unwashed on the True Path.
The reality is that I am as tempted as anybody by the allure of violence, particularly violence unhindered by any consideration that the victim is a human being for whom Christ died who deserves any pity. To quote Lewis: “My heart (I need no other) sheweth the wickedness of the ungodly.”
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” – Ezekiel 18:23