Celebrities exist so that we can lift them up and adore them only to throw them to the ground when they fail us. We love to love them. And we love to see them fail and to “kill” them for it.
The philosopher Rene Girard points out that this exaltation and execution pattern has been with humanity from our earliest days. In order to resolve the tension that exists between us, we look around for a scapegoat, a person of greatness who has failed us in some way, so we can vent our tension on him or her.
Sports fans whose teams go through disappointing seasons call for the firing of the coach or the trading of the key player who is seen as the focal point of the failure.
Church members who feel tension amongst themselves for various reasons turn against their pastors when they drop the ball in some way (sometimes it’s sexual misconduct, but most of the time it isn’t) to resolve their tension.
I’ve seen a husband go to heroic lengths to rescue and restore his faithless wife, who’d become ensnared with a dangerous man halfway across the country, only to watch her turn on him later and kill their marriage when he didn’t keep the garage clean.
Voters turn against politicians who had been elected with great expectation (remember those Obama “Hope” posters?) and excoriate them when the unemployment or inflation or interest rates tick up or school scores or foreign policy concerns tick down. There are a thousand things a politician can get wrong and we snap them up like my dog on a table scrap.
And so it goes.
I’ve been a scapegoat more than once. And as I reflect on it, I’ve used too many people to count as my own scapegoats, especially when it comes to athletes and celebrities.
There is something satisfying about throwing someone under the bus.
When there is a scapegoat, according to Girard, a form of reconciliation takes place.
Think of angry sports fans. When the coach is fired after an abysmal season, the fans are mollified. Guilt has been appointed (on the coach). A sacrifice has been offered (the coach has been fired). The fans are satisfied because tension has been vented and hope restored as fans are reconciled with their team — until the team fails again.
But things are supposed to be different for Christians. We aren’t ever to participate in scapegoating, because everything changes with Jesus.
In Jesus, we have the ultimate scapegoat, but with a significant difference. As far as divinity is concerned, he towers above every superstar. And even more importantly, he is innocent. We are the guilty ones, not him.
When the innocent one takes the place of the guilty ones, the need to continue looking for a scapegoat is gone. Because the truth of the matter is that all of these fall guys are “killed” by us to placate our own guilt.
We don’t measure up ourselves and so we look around for someone who should measure up but doesn’t, and we pour out our wrath on him.
But Jesus does measure up. And he does bear the weight of our failures. And that means they’re done. Taken care of. Dealt with fully and finally.
We don’t need to look around for any more scapegoats. We have no more guilt to be born. The tension is over. God is satisfied. And so should you and me.