Scapegoat October 12, 2022


Resources: Books, Articles, Posts, Videos

with Ted Peters

“Scapegoat” William Holman Hunt 1854

When in the late 1980’s I gave concentrated time to the theology of sin, I found René Girard’s scapegoat theory very illuminating. Girard shone light where before there was darkness. The darkness of the lie.

Scapegoat theorist Rene Girard, Stanford University

One of the reasons that the phenomenon of sin is irrational and confusing has to do with a lie we tell ourselves. What you and I do almost every day is draw a line between good and evil. We then place ourselves on the good side of the line. I call this, self-justification. On some occasions, we place someone else on the evil side of the line. The one on the evil side of our imaginary line is the scapegoat. Because we are good and the scapegoat is evil, we are justified in ridding the world of that evil scapegoat. We may gossip–what I call cursing–or even perpetrate violence against the scapegoat. All in the name of the good, of course. The scapegoat bears our sins away, according to Leviticus 15. Well, at least this is the lie we tell ourselves.

What I eventually discovered is that there are two kinds of scapegoats. Girard discovered one compact form of the scapegoat. I unpacked what was compact and came up with two: the visible scapegoat and the invisible scapegoat. In some of the articles listed below, I tease out the difference. What they share in common is more important. Both visible and invisible scapegoats bind us together in community. Both bind as they blind.

When Christians generate atonement theories, we sometimes think of Jesus Christ as the final scapegoat. No more scapegoats!

I began to develop scapegoat theory in my book, Sin: Radical Evil in Souls and Society. I refined it somewhat in Sin Boldly! as well as in some recent articles and Patheos blog posts. Below is a list of resources that bring together self-justification coupled with scapegoating.

Here are some videos on theological anthropology and hamartiology.

Unbecoming Evil

Self-Justification and Scapegoating

Sin ‘n’ Grace

Just click on an article you’d like to read.

Book: “Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society.” To see more, just click.

SIN 1 Sin? Really?

SIN 2 Self-Justification

SIN 3 The Visible Scapegoat

SIN 4 The Invisible Scapegoat

SIN 5 Sin Boldly!

SIN 6 Sin and Grace

SIN 7 The true story of Satanic Panic

SIN 8 How can Satan cast out Satan?

SIN 9 Ted’s Tips on Satan and Demons

The Resistance of Self-Justification to God’s Grace (Inaugural Mannermaa Lecture)

Justice, Justification, and Self-Justification

Covenant, Blood, and Violence: America at War with Itself and Others

Six Ways of Salvation: How Does Jesus Save?

How does Jesus save? Part Seven: Final Scapegoat


About Ted Peters
Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor and emeritus seminary professor, teaching theology and ethics. He is author of Short Prayers and The Cosmic Self. His one volume systematic theology is now in its 3rd edition, God—The World’s Future (Fortress 2015). His book, God in Cosmic History, traces the rise of the Axial religions 2500 years ago. He has undertaken a thorough examination of the sin-and-grace dialectic in two works, Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society (Eerdmans 1994) and Sin Boldly! (Fortress 2015). Watch for his forthcoming, The Voice of Christian Public Theology (ATF 2022). See his website: Ted Peters’ fictional series of espionage thrillers features Leona Foxx, a hybrid woman who is both a spy and a parish pastor. You can read more about the author here.

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