In my last post I discussed the role myth plays in covering up the violent scapegoating of innocent victims. The myth of Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) serves this purpose in modern Evangelicalism. In this myth we are told a grand story about the satisfaction of the wrath of an angry god by means of Christ’s death on the cross. Underneath this grand story, however, lies Jesus the victim, falsely accused and unjustly murdered. PSA does what all myth does, namely, it causes us to forget what is really going on in sacrifice. It covers up the injustice and violence of sacrifice.
The Oedipus myth that I summarized in my last post is a great example: Oedipus represents the innocent scapegoat who is killed because he is to blame for the community’s misfortune or sin. The way the myth is told, however, covers up the fact that the crimes Oedipus is supposedly guilty of are in no way correlated to the plight of Thebes. His exile is unwarranted but the myth, again, covers this fact up and instead justifies it. In the story world that the myth creates there is no victim and there are no murderers. Oedipus “deserved” what he got.
Rather than myth, what we find in the gospel accounts is what Mark Heim calls anti-myth. The death of Christianity’s central figure is not mythologized in order to cover up the innocence of the victim or to legitimate the killing of the scapegoat. Instead, the readers are reminded throughout that Jesus was indeed falsely accused, that his “crimes” were fabricated by the religious elite in order to legitimate their desire to kill him.
Here’s the rub: Myth silences the voice of the victim. In contrast, the passion narratives at the end of the four gospels tell a story from the perspective of the victim.
The crucifixion of Christ and the passion narratives that describe that event serve as an emphatic rejection of the mythologizing of violence. In these stories we find Jesus, the truly innocent victim, who entered into our violent sacrificial machine in order to rob it of its power. We unjustly murdered the one who could not be rightfully accused of anything. What’s more, when he was brought back from the grave he chose to forgive rather than mete out retribution. Instead of laying the smack down on his disciples for deserting him during his hour of need, the risen Christ invites them to a table for fish and bread. Thus, the cycle of violence is broken.
In response, the Christian community finds unity not in the sacrificing of an innocent victim but rather in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine around the table of the Lord.
In addition, part of the Christian vocation is to give voice to the victim–to stand in solidarity with the one who is being unjustly sacrificed for it is in the cross that Christ identifies with all innocent scapegoats.
This means that we must identify the myths in our society that attempt to do what PSA has done to Jesus.
A few examples:
- Behind the myth of American imperialism lies the countless individuals who have been displaced, robbed, and killed in the name of Manifest Destiny. Christ stands in solidarity with these victims.
- Behind the myth of Zionism lies the victims of Israel’s recent bombardment of Gaza. Christ stands with the Palestinians.
- Behind the myth of neo-liberal Friedmanite economics lies those who are mistreated and abused by corporations all over the globe. Christ stands with the slaves and the socialists and the poor who have been killed and marginalized in the name of the free market.
- Behind the myth of technological progress lies our non-human neighbors who continue to be destroyed by our inability to say “enough.” Christ stands with these victims.
What other myths need to be unmasked?
Other thoughts, questions, concerns or comments?