Nothing we can say or do can reduce the inherent dignity of another human, created in the image of God. But when we demonize an "other," we dehumanize ourselves, and turn ourselves into demons. No wonder, since accusation and blame are at the very center of what Scripture describes as "the Satan"--literally, the accuser. In the same way that love is not just something that God does, love is what God is; accusation is not what Satan does--it is what Satan is.
This is why spiritually sensitive people, whether inside or outside the church, feel a palpable, intangible soul-sickness when they engage (or even just overhear) much of our current political discourse in America. There is a real malaise, a very real and sometimes overwhelming negative energy that consumes us, when we are devouring someone else. It can feel like there are toxins in the air (note that Scripture refers to the Satan as the prince of the power of the air) that we ingest, coating our spirits the way second-hand smoke can coat our lungs. Thinking we are becoming more attuned to the darkness in someone else, the evil in our own hearts is what is actually illuminated.
It is not overstatement to say that, in Christian terms, much of our discourse is actually demonic-for we actively and regularly engage in the politics of demonization. Especially in a dumbed-down, caricaturized two-party system, no side is left unscathed. The toxicity of the process is so terrible for my soul, I want to go to Mexico for most of 2016, just to try and save myself. Elections now are a non-stop assault on reason, a wholesale slaughter of nuance. The level of blame leveled on "the other side" of whatever side we are on, continues to hit new levels of irrationality. This is true of most any election, now.
There may still be a deeper and saner place within us that knows that our blame is wildly out of proportion--that whatever we think ills us really can't simply be entirely the fault of illegal immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, pro-life or pro-choice people, or fundamentalist Christians. Yet blame has a uniquely energizing, galvanizing energy to it, especially in a crowd. Scapegoating is always a religious practice, a spiritual ritual that offers the community what at least feels like cleansing from their sins. If we can deport, excommunicate or marginalize the right people, we just know that our problems will go away with them. No matter how secular the language we use, there is always a savage, toxic kind of spirituality that underwrites this entire project. No issue is ever quite as pressing for us as our own need for atonement. The trouble is, many of us are looking for someone other than Jesus to suffer for our own sins.
Scapegoating, in general, is the devil's religion. For a little background, let's go to Sunday School for a moment: Satan in Hebrew is not a surname, but a title, a position--literally rendered "the accuser" in the book of Job, the character's most overt appearance in the Old Testament. The Satan's entire job is to act as a kind of cosmic prosecuting attorney, bringing accusations against people before God. Again, accusation is not just what the Satan does, it is what the Satan is. Accusation is not just one of his behaviors, it is the defining one. He is not defined as the ultimate naughty angel who goes about planting naughty thoughts in the minds of humans--he is defined by accusation.
Accusation, then, is not evil, but the spring bed of all human wickedness, the origin of all sin--connected to the Genesis narrative of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (drawing heavily from Rene Girard's vital work here). To partake of the tree is to play god, to act as if we are the ultimate arbiters who know the difference between good and evil, in and out, righteous and unrighteous. Yet God, it would seem, has endless mercy for most kinds of human misbehavior, other than playing God. This is the most dangerous human behavior precisely because it insulates us from seeing our own brokenness. We can never need God, so long as we are still playing God. We can never need God, so long as we have someone else to blame for what's wrong with the world, other than ourselves. We become incapable of taking responsibility for our own brokenness, because we channel the energy of our guilt into demonizing someone else. We purge ourselves on another life, rather than allowing God to do the purging.
No wonder our rhetoric gets more and more forceful, the guiltier we feel about our own inability to affect positive change in the world. No wonder the language is so quickly inflated, when we find someone to crucify for our sins. We carry a profound amount of guilt, and the corporate exorcism that happens in the demonization of the other in our politics has real religious zeal, intoxicating moral energy behind it. The fact that it is fundamentally immoral energy doesn't diminish its raw power. It's a powerful thing to cleanse yourself on a Muslim, or a fundamentalist, a liberal, a conservative, a homosexual, an immigrant. It feels like it sanctifies us, even while it damns us. It is a powerful force in an individual, but much more so in a group or political party. Us vs. them, good guys vs. bad guys, white hats vs. black hats--it's the collective madness that, when unleashed in a room turns a crowd into a mob. It's the force of darkness that makes the people who a week prior cried "Hosanna" while Jesus walked one street, cry out "crucify him" a week later, as he walked down another.
Accusation turns men into devils. Demonizing turns us into demons. This is precisely why the Satan doesn't show back up in the book of Job after the prologue--he doesn't need to accuse Job anymore, after Job's human friends take over doing the Satan's job. This works in two directions, really. So long as you have an accusing mob, you don't need a devil. Conversely, so long as you have a scapegoat, you don't need a savior. You don't need God on a cross, if you have an immigrant on it instead. When we accuse, we look for someone else to shoulder the shame, that God already shouldered for us. We take over the devil's work, and simultaneously inoculate ourselves from the hope of salvation.
This is why Jesus is hard on the Pharisees, but never on ordinary sinners: because religious sin is the only truly dangerous kind, because playing God is the only way to keep God far from us. Yet when we are caught up in the power of the Satan, we like the Pharisees, strangely seem to miss this all the more even when we have our Bibles open in front of us. We not only imitate the Satan in our accusation, we also learn to interpret Scripture in devilish ways that justify our own fear-mongering; we develop acrobatic, Cirque du Soleil hermeneutics.
To be clear, it is not that I do not understand the appeal of pinning all my problems on someone (or a group of someones) other than myself. Believe me, my sins are heavy, too. It's far easier to drop them down the chute under your feet, letting them land squarely on someone else's shoulders, than to carry them into the presence of God alongside a community of other sinners. It's easier to crucify someone else for your sins, than to behold God bleeding out on a cross over your own. It's cheaper to build a wall on the border to Mexico, than to wall off the devils in your own head. I don't want to admit my complicity in systems of injustice. I don't want to own my own duplicity and double speech. I don't want to confess the darkness of my own heart. I would far rather oversimplify the problems of the world, than acknowledge the complexity of my own character.
I don't want to carry my cross anymore than anyone else. It would be easier to hire an immigrant to carry it for me.