Pro-Lifers Are Scapegoats, Just like the Babies They Try to Save
In the days after I published a piece on the media lynching of the Covington Catholic boys, two much more well-known writers put out pieces that were similar. They cited the same thinker, Catholic philosopher Rene Girard. And they advanced the very same premise: that intolerant, anti-Christian leftists were treating those innocent boys as scapegoats. They even quoted the very same passages from Rene Girard that I’d used in my previously published piece.
The Heart of Our Darkness
I encourage you to go read my piece, but let me summarize it briefly. Rene Girard, in a worldwide study of ancient cultures, found a dark thread uniting them. When functioning societies start to break down, a deeply fallen human impulse emerges. That is, to find a cause that will rally people together, and overcome violent divisions. To bring people together against a common enemy. To make a villain of a person or group who’s weak or helpless. Better yet, one that in the past perhaps enjoyed advantages, or enjoyed “unfair” success. Then you have your “scapegoat.” (It could be just one individual or a social or ethnic group. I’ll use the singular here because it’s simpler.)
You blame the scapegoat for whatever is going wrong. Then project onto him all the aggression, greed, envy and other dark motives you find in your own heart. You convince yourself and others that the scapegoat is almost inhumanly wicked and powerful. That way it’s exempt from the rules you want applied to you and your own group: fair treatment, even-handedness, the benefit of the doubt, and even the laws of evidence.
Jesus Came to Shine as Light
For Girard, one central purpose of Jesus’ coming was to expose this scapegoat mechanism. Jesus was uniquely innocent, horribly persecuted, and stayed forgiving until the end. In the light of His story, mankind has no more excuse for ever indulging in scapegoat behavior again. But of course we do, as the history of anti-Semitism reminds us. Indeed, the Nazis re-enacted with the Jews the most primitive and vicious mode of scapegoating in history.
But they were not alone. In the Soviet Union, businessmen and thrifty farmers got the same treatment, going off to the Gulag or starving to death by the millions. In Rwanda, the less-educated, poorer (but more numerous) Hutus launched a genocide against the more prosperous Tutsis. And so on, since man is still fallen.
(Thus far in the argument, Bishop Barron and Rod Dreher’s articles track mine pretty closely. Where we differed was in our conclusions. As you will see.)
What Girard hoped to teach us in his work was this: What is our duty, when we see a mob begin to gather around a scapegoat? What should we take from the Gospel narrative? To be blunt, what would Christ have us do?
Well what did the apostles do?
The John, Peter, and Judas Options
One of them saw the persecution coming. He made a prudent plan. He found a way to protect himself from the gathering storm. To make sure that he wasn’t caught up in the vicious backlash, and even walked off with a nest egg. Of course, that was Judas. And it didn’t work well for him, as we remember. He found that there really was no escape. When faced with the violence he’d helped to unleash, he got caught up in it, too. He threw back the 30 pieces of silver he’d collected, and went off to hang himself.
Another made an effort, briefly, to defend the scapegoat. Yes, Peter drew his sword. But when he found that futile, he instead went off to hide. In fact, he three times denied he had anything whatever to do with Jesus. “I tell you, I don’t even know the man!” And then, of course, the cock crowed.
Only one of the apostles stayed with the scapegoat, and exposed himself to the violence. John stood with Mary at the very foot of the Cross, till the bitter end.
Girard calls us to follow John’s painful, difficult path. To cling to the innocent victim, and stand in solidarity. And to comfort him that he’s not alone. To rebuke the angry mob in silent courage, and prick the consciences of cowards.
And that was my conclusion. I pointed out that the innocent boys were doing exactly what John did. They were standing in solidarity with the group most violently scapegoated today: our unborn brothers and sisters. And so they became scapegoats too. First a mob of racist black hatemongers mobbed them for an hour while they waited for a bus. Then a professional agitator banged a drum in their faces, which set the stage for a national “two minutes of hate” (in Orwell’s words).
Not just leftists but rightists, not just pagans but Christians, rushed to judgment. Their own bishop, their school, and even the March for Life at first denounced them. Because, you see, these boys belonged to other groups with burgeoning scapegoat status: whites, males, and faithful Christians. Those terrified of joining them on the firing line instead rushed to signal their virtue, and collect their 30 pieces of silver. Or at least to disclaim them.
Be Like John
Then the cock crowed. The real video emerged, and we saw their utter innocence of the vicious charges the mob had piled. A lot of people were ashamed of themselves, and rightly so.
But here Barron and Dreher came to different answers than I did. In his piece, Barron says nothing about our duty to rally around the scapegoat. He merely warns us against the rush to judgment. He’d have us stand safely and prudently far from the scene of violence. For his part, Dreher saw the problem but proposed no clear response other than to refer to the “Benedict Option.” But this “Benedict Option,” as The Stream has pointed out before, urges a retreat from the “culture wars.” That would be the death of the prolife movement. If we had listened to Dreher writing in TIME a few days after Obergefell, we would have stopped voting Republican. Instead, we might be looking inward, growing organic veggies and singing hymns while we waited for the authorities to come and take our children.
Imagine if faithful Christians had crawled in Dreher’s hidey-hole in the 2016 election. How would the Covington Boys be faring under a President Clinton? We remember how Obama’s IRS tried to bankrupt tiny pro-life groups through abusive audits. We saw how his HHS tried to close down little convents of Catholic nuns for refusing to hand out abortion pills. How would a much more ruthless President Clinton have responded to this incident? The Covington Boys, their school, maybe even the March for Life would be facing civil rights charges. They’d beat the rap eventually, emerging deep in debt and forever disgraced. Because that’s what scapegoat-hunters always do to their victims.
Perhaps Dreher is starting to change his mind. I hope so. In any case, if we would stand with the vulnerable and the helpless, we must do it politically, too. The pro-life movement, as I’ve written before, is first a political movement. It aims to help good candidates and damage bad ones. To promote just laws, and repeal wicked ones. Whatever other spiritual and cultural aims we’ve attached to it, the politics is central. That’s because a key aspect of the evil we’re dealing with is political, as slavery was: a set of cruel, vicious statutes imposed by Caesar, and aimed at innocent victims — and thus, in the end, at Christ.