Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and America’s Sacrificial Crisis

Bowe Bergdahl, from Wikimedia Commons

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is free from the Taliban, but his freedom comes at high cost. That cost reveals America at our worst. The United States is in a sacrificial crisis and we can do better. Indeed, we need to do better because our greatest threat is not an outside enemy, be it the Taliban or Russia; our greatest threat is ourselves.

Hours after President Obama declared the release of Sgt. Bergdahl, rumors and accusations began to swirl.

Bergdahl left his post! Five soldiers were killed trying to find him! The prisoner swap makes the US more vulnerable to attacks! Obama broke the law by not going to Congress first!

It is impossible to separate fact from fiction about the details this early in the story. And frankly, I’m not interested in the political facts or fiction behind the Bowe Bergdahl case. When it comes to political facts and fiction, no one is objective, especially when it comes to emotions high. Facts will be skewed to fit one’s perspective, and accusations will be tossed about with emotional fervor.

When something gets politicized it turns into a sacrificial crisis. What does that mean? Politics is all about winning and losing, which means knowing whom to blame so that we aren’t blamed. America is in a sacrificial crisis because everyone is looking for someone to blame. We are amidst a frenzy of rumors and accusations all attempting to find someone to blame, someone to be our scapegoat. Once the finger of accusation is pointed against an individual, those accusations are deflected by more finger pointing. Who’s the bad guy? Is it Bergdahl? The President? The Taliban? And how dare Congress even question the President for saving a soldiers life! America leaves no soldier behind!

How do we stop a sacrificial crisis? It is impossible to answer that question from within the sacrificial system that is fueled by accusations and blame. But the answer is obvious. The only way to stop a sacrificial crisis is to stop fueling the sacrificial system, to stop blaming and accusing.

Ahh, but we do still love a good sacrifice, don’t we? We love to know who the bad guy is, so that we can know that we are the good guys, out for justice and peace.

The problem is that accusations and blame don’t lead to justice and peace; they only lead to more accusation and blame.

The violence of accusation and blame is the greatest threat facing the United States; indeed, it’s the greatest threat facing humanity. The US blames the Taliban and the Taliban blames the US. The Christians blame the Muslims and the Muslims blame the Christians.  The English blame the French and the French blame the English. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. The Bible reveals that if we continue the cycle of blame, humanity will destroy itself with apocalyptic violence of our own making.

After Adam and Eve demonstrated the universal truth of humanity’s tendency to blame, it didn’t take long for the tragic outcome to be revealed. Cain killed his brother Abel. Blame leads to murder, which leads to blame and murder, until we have a flood of violence and the earth is destroyed.

And so we must abandon our addiction to blame and to violence. Blame and violence are a distraction from what truly matters; from the only thing that can save us. After he killed his brother, God went to Cain and asked “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain responded with the most famous rhetorical question in human history, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Yes. The only way to stop our worldwide sacrificial crisis is to become our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Who is my brother and my sister? Just remember in the flurry of blame and accusation: Bowe Bergdal is your brother. The American military is composed of your brothers and sisters. Barack Obama is your brother. John Boehner is your brother. Sarah Palin is your sister. The Taliban is your brother. Your annoying co-worker is your sister. Your crazy uncle is your brother.

How do you care for your brother or your sister? The answer depends on circumstances, but refusing to play the blame game is a good place to start. Once we stop the cycle of blame new ways of relating begin to emerge. Without blame, these new relationships are formed in the spirit of compassion and care for those who become the victim of culture’s scapegoating mechanism.

America is at our best when we stop the cycle of blame and become the keeper of our brothers and sisters. It’s as simple as this: Blame leads to death. Compassion leads to life. This is the biblical choice of life and death. Which will we choose?

About Adam Ericksen

Adam Ericksen is the Education Director for The Raven Foundation. He writes blogs and films vlogs on the Raven Foundation website that explore the intersections of mimetic theory, the news, religion, and popular culture. He is also a youth pastor where he engages young people with Christian tradition, mimetic theory, and youth culture.

  • Sophia Sadek

    For years, Bergdahl was the pawn of the Taliban. Now he is the pawn of American religious zealots. I look forward to the day when he can tell his own story and be a pawn of neither.

    • CayuseWarrior

      Be honest to yourself and other. Both parties are up to their elbows in this like they are in all INJUSTiCE (fair and equal)

    • Adam Ericksen

      Sophia, your excellent comment makes me wonder, with the death threats levied against Bergdahl’s parents by their fellow Americans and our political leaders threatening him with a military trial, where would Bowe and his parents rather be – with the Taliban or in the US? With friends like these…

  • Ron Schaeffer

    Thank you. This was beautifully written, and to me profound. Blame or compassion -it really does come down to that.

    • Adam Ericksen

      You’re welcome, Ron! Thanks for the comment. I think putting it like that – blame or compassion – is another way of understanding the biblical principle that we must choose between life and death, between blame or compassion. That makes sense to me!

  • CayuseWarrior

    I think you speak of a real issue “How do we stop a sacrificial crisis? ”

    It think the answer is easier than you think. We have 24/7 news that seek to whip up every issue in a frenzy of OPINION and not information soley for the commercialization of the news.

    In the past news gave information with the respect to let each fellow American digest the facts in their own way. And although fact were not alway available immediately there was never speculation. That was left for each person in his digestion of facts for his own opinion.

    It is like the old west. With the MOB seeking immediate justice without the facts. Lynching instead of bringing to Justice.

    And there are no Gunslingers to stop the Vigilante’s from vengeance and revenge against who ever they choose.

    In this case you have a Captured American soldier who suffered 5 years in the hands of the Enemy and his loving Mother and Father and home town pouring out their hearts and their love is being held at a arms length. Anyone send their kid into harms way should be ashamed. You children are not yours to send off to these wars of Imperaialism

    No way was America every threatened to SPEAK Korean, Vietnamese, Iraqi or Afghani. Yet German, Italian and Japanese was a possibility. Not just here at home but around the word

    • Adam Ericksen

      Thanks for that comment. I think there is a lot of responsibility the media can take in changing the hostility within our culture. At the same time, the media wouldn’t be fomenting it if it didn’t sell! Unfortunately, we all tend to love a scandal and to watch people yelling at each other. I think a good practice would be to turn the television off and join a group of people that intentionally listened to one another. Maybe a group that practiced empathy would be even better. This, of course, is part of what the church/synagogue/mosque should be doing in and I know many of them are. But we need more places to practice that way of being together.

  • Paul Guthrie

    Thank you for a wonderful and important message. If only the polarized likes of Fox News and MSNBC, their followers, and our species in general could get off the blame game wagon. And oh, if all of those nasty one-sided, one-liner postings on Facebook and elsewhere- the anti-Obama, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-Christian, anti-whatever – would stop. It might just set the stage for an increase in the level of compassion and understanding. Harsh and insulting attacks change no minds, they only harden hearts and drive people further apart. How can we respond? Response in kind is not the answer. Speaking the truth as you have done is a good start.

  • Tami Gregory

    Once you said that facts were irrelevant to you, there was no point to keep on reading.