On Goats

15 Apr
April 15, 2015

(Disclaimer: atheist stuff)

This is fascinating. Totally nuts, but fascinating.

Note the chicken thing.

The term scapegoat derives from ancient practices where a tribe would symbolically cast its sins into a goat, then drive that goat into the wilderness to perish. The goat takes the punishment in place of the tribes people, and their God forgives them for their misdeeds.

This idea was practiced by ancient Israelites as a regular religious observance. And it was from those people and their beliefs that Christianity sprung. The core principle of which is, of course, that the sins of Christians were symbolically taken on by Jesus, who was then tortured and murdered in our place, so that God could forgive the rest of us (Jesus himself being pure and innocent of any crime, of course).

The ultimate scapegoat.

Funny how, when you grow up with the story, carefully sanitized and presented in the best possible light as an act of love and forgiveness, you don’t stop to think “whoa, that’s crazy and immoral”. Any human justice system that would accept the brutal murder of an innocent in place of punishing the guilty party would be considered grotesque and perverse, not celebrated. That system would itself be a crime, even if the victim was willing to do it, out of love.

But we do celebrate it. With little symbols around our necks and bumper stickers on our cars. We sing songs about our sins being washed away with the blood of the Lamb. Washed clean. With blood.

We sing these songs, unthinkingly, even bored as we say the words. Across the world, in the centers of modern civilization, people raise their voice in celebration of blood sacrifice.

The idea of chucking a virgin into a volcano to prevent it from erupting is, these days, a cartoonish caricature we laugh at. Ho ho, how primitive. But it’s the same thing, isn’t it? The sacrifice of the pure to buy mercy for the rest of us.

There’s a lot like that in the Bible, stuff that is horrifying when you really give it some thought, but which you are taught is great and deserving of celebration. Like God killing all those babies in Egypt in order to convince the Pharoah to let the Israelites go. Including, as specified in the book, the babies of Egyptian slaves, whose parents couldn’t have chosen to let the Israelites go if they’d wanted to, being slaves and all.

Why not just kill the adults making the decision, God? Just the Pharoah himself? Or maybe just teleport him to the top of a mountain somewhere to ruminate on the consequences of being a douchebag? That would be more direct, and killing the innocent to pressure the guilty is an abhorrent, immoral act.

It’s all so surreal, once you’re outside the thing, looking in. There’s a lot of aggressive atheism and atheists out on the internet these days, and that aggressiveness is problematic in many ways. But it stems from the urge to grab your fellow humans and shake them, try to snap them out of it, break the spell.

“Look,” we want to say. “Look at it! See it for what it really is! Stop swinging that fucking chicken!”

3 replies
  1. James McNeill says:

    I grew up in devout Christianity and it was a slow painful journey out. Christianity (of Paul) is a door-to-door sales religion. Judaism isn’t so much so maybe my analogy is off. But the first step of sales is convincing people that they have a need, a lack. Establishing a feeling of guilt in people is like shooting fish in a barrel, and the story about why they should feel guilty does not have to make much sense to be believed. I think that is because most people are sensitive and don’t want to hurt others, even inadvertently.

    But yeah, the Bible is a crazy book.

  2. James McNeill says:

    A big chunk of the Old Testament explicitly uses the “God is a jealous, abusive spouse” analogy. The Israelites were always making eyes at Baal or Asheron and it pissed God off. Israel, you can get a better boyfriend, honestly!

  3. gareth says:


    And yeah, exactly. There are those big, universal emotional vulnerabilities in the human psyche for religion to hook into: fear of death, guilt at hurting others, anger that the universe isn’t fair, that strange mix of anxiety and desire around sexual urges…


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