Monday, August 6, 2007

Naming the Dead

René Girard has described scapegoating sacrifice as, “a phenomenon that unbeknownst to us generates all human cultures and still warps our human vision in favor of all sorts of exclusions.” “Unbeknownst to us:” This is the key to the universal practice of scapegoating, in which a person or group is killed, while surrounded by the aura of the divine, to solve internal conflicts by uniting against the chosen victim. As S. Mark Heim points out in his book, “Saved from Sacrifice,” violence is done but, if the scapegoating is successful, none is perceived. Sacred killing does not register as killing because it is seen as a divine command, and, as in magic, our eyes are directed elsewhere at the moment of death, so scapegoating is “Unbeknownst to us.” The view and the voice of the victim are hidden from us.
Heim points out that, in contrast, in the Bible we come to hear the objections of the sacrificed. The voices of the victims are heard in the Psalms, the book of Job, the Prophets, and, of course, in the narratives of Jesus’ Passion, where redemptive violence is a sinful human construct for peacemaking, not a divine institution.
In her column, “Naming the dead,” in the July 24, 2007 issue of the “Christian Century,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes that she first encountered naming the war dead in church at a California monastery. She writes that our current war is “a touchy subject;” “to name the dead might be construed as a political statement; and “to say these names out loud, in the presence of God and God’s people, is not a matter of being for or against the war.”
However, naming the war dead is to make our scapegoats, those we would sacrifice for national unity, visible. Unlike Brown, I believe that once the dead are named, we must wrestle with the sacrifice of their deaths. We must wrestle with the politics of the war, whether we are for it and believe that the war deaths are justified or against it and believe that these deaths are a waste.
However we come down politically, it is telling that the Bush administration has worked hard to keep the war and the war dead invisible, thus lending credence to the idea that the war would be hard to justify if the costs and the deaths were made widely known. For example, the $456 billion that the war has cost so far has, until recently, been “off-budget” and thus effectively hidden. And, in his column in the “New York Times” on August 5, 2007, Frank Rich reminds us: “Mr. Bush created the template by doing everything possible to keep the sacrifice of American armed forces in Iraq off-camera, forbidding photos of coffins and skipping military funerals. That set the stage for the ensuing demonization of Ted Koppel, whose decision to salute the fallen by reading a list of their names in the spotlight of “Nightline” was branded unpatriotic by the right’s vigilantes.”
The crucifixion of Jesus was a political event undertaken, as Mark has it, “to satisfy the crowd.” However, with the resurrection, Jesus’ scapegoating became visible, and now he offers us “peace not as the world gives.” To receive this peace, we must renounce war and killing in war as a way to peace. As a start toward receiving Jesus’ peace, we must continue to make the war’s scapegoats, American, Iraqi, and Afghan, visible by naming them. As we become more aware of the deaths perpetrated in our name, we should be spurred to undertake the political work to end our wars and the scapegoating they entail.

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