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Reflection November 10, 2019
"Scapegoaters Abound" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
As we know, I’ve been preaching from David Richo’s book, The Five Things We Cannot Change. Recently I was talking with someone about all the worries that we are subject to these days. It’s amazing we’re not ALL stark-raving insane when we look around us.
I’d like to reflect a bit from 1st Timothy. We explored the Letters to Timothy in our Bible Studies on “All of Paul.” Our brother Timothy was pastor of the church in Ephesus. Timothy’s name, in Greek, Timotheos, means “honoring God.” Ephesus, by the way, was the 2nd largest city in the world at the time of Timothy. The largest city was, of course, Rome.
Ephesus was on the west coast of Asia Minor, in present day Turkey. Ephesus was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. Artemis was a pagan goddess, the twin sister of Apollo. Artemis is the name by which she was known in the Greek world. In Roman myth, she was known as Diana.
According to ancient legend, when Timothy was eighty years of age, he was stoned to death because he preached against paganism in favor of following Christ. There’s no way to know Timothy’s end for sure but legends have their place in our collective memory. We know that Timothy was a faithful follower of Christ and that he was willing to pay whatever cost was required. Timothy lived up to his name and truly honored God.
1st Timothy 6:10 contains an often- quoted saying: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Some translations have it: “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” But the Greek is better translated as “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
I believe there’s evil generated in our world that does not have its origin in the love of money but in the will to hurt others, in sadism and scapegoating and in other dark psychological demons. But the love of money often makes things worse.
As I mentioned in last Sunday’s sermon, too often, too many are searching for someone to blame. There seems to be some deep unwell need within the human soul that wants to blame someone else whenever something bad happens. This is called scapegoating.
There exists a sickness of soul called narcissism. I believe one of the factors empowering scapegoat is narcissism. Narcissism happens when one has an exalted, an over-inflated, sense of who he or she is. Narcissists are those who believe themselves to be more important than they really are; to have a higher place on some sort of pyramid.
We all suffer narcissism in some way or another. Narcissism implies self-love and self-love is an essential component to a healthy psyche. Narcissism becomes a problem, however, when it’s allowed to grow so strong that there’s no room within for the love of others. Narcissism is self-love gone bad. For us to love another, we must create some space within our hearts, within our souls, for the other. Narcissists allow no space for anyone but self.
We probably know the myth of Narcissus, who was punished by the gods for his cruelty. He was made to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. In this sense, narcissists are those in love with their own image. They cling to an unrealistic image rather than harboring healthy self-love.
Healthy self-love is always based on an accurate assessment of who we are before God. Narcissists regard themselves as superior beings who should be treated better than the rest of humanity. Narcissism, in this sense, separates those infected with it from others.
Many of us are aware of the caste system that held India in its grip for thousands of years. In the caste system, people were separated from each other according to four main castes. It was believed that one was born into a caste dependent upon how one had lived in one’s previous life. Remember Hinduism believes in reincarnation. One is continuously being reborn after one life ends.
The law of karma in Hinduism holds that one is reborn as a higher or lower creature dependent upon one’s past life. The highest caste is the Brahmins. And the lowest caste is known as the Shudras. The Shudras also contain those known as the untouchables, the lowest human grouping. They were, literally, the unclean. If a higher caste even touched an untouchable, they would become ritually unclean.
I believe many in our own society consider themselves American Brahmins, exalted above others. American Brahmins inflate themselves with an unhealthy sense of themselves. But woe to anyone who might challenge this exalted view.
If you try to help an American Brahmin deflate, to become less narcissistic, you will most likely be attacked. American Brahmins, those who suffer unhealthy self-love, unhealthy self-inflation, are very much given to scapegoating, to blaming others for whatever threatens their highly favorable views of themselves.
And why do most of the American Brahmins feel superior? Why do they have over-inflated ideas of their own importance? The main reason for this over-inflation is because they have lots and lots of money. And in our culture, having lots of money causes many of us to become “puffed up.”
Paul in Colossians 2:18 warns against becoming “puffed up without cause.” The possession of lots of possessions, the accumulation of lots of money, is fraught with many dangers.
Our culture offers few alternatives to the pursuit of money. The gaining of money is the main life-goal presented to our young. Nothing else seems to matter all that much. We may talk about being a Christian nation but, in truth, we are far from becoming one.
Money clearly shouts out and shuts out the teaching of the Poor Man from Nazareth who had no place to lay his head; this Poor Man who told the rich to sell everything and give it to the poor and follow him; this Poor Man who taught us to trust in God and not in what we have.
1st Timothy 9:10 warns us about being “pierced by money pains.” How very easy it is to become over-inflated, to feel smugly self-important, because of one’s wealth. 1st Timothy isn’t saying one should not take care of oneself and one’s family.
But 1st Timothy warns us about the insidious nature of wealth, how easily we can get caught in the prison of narcissism, in unhealthy self-love, when our focus in life is pursuing wealth instead of placing ourselves in the hands of our God. The Prosperity Gospel, as I’ve preached many times, is clearly contrary to the Gospels.
I’m not against wealth. I’ve never been in a seriously wealthy situation. My family was certainly among the poor-struggling, especially after my father died of cancer when I was 11. But I trust in God more than any money I have in any bank.
It may well be that the more wealthy one is, the more inclined he or she may become to judging those who have less. Wealthy people also become afraid of anyone who might try to take away what they have. We see this dynamic everywhere around us.
This cannot be what Christ Jesus wants for us. As I read some time ago from an article: “Research supports the view that the most dangerous people are those who have a strong desire to regard themselves as superior beings.” Is this not very scary?
The reality is that the more superior one feels, the more inclined one will be to judge, blame and exploit those one regards as inferior. But for those of us who live in Christ, there can never be anyone beneath us nor can there be anyone above us. In Christ, we are all one, as our brother Paul famously claims in Galatians, 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
We too easily judge each other. We too easily blame each other. And there must be no exploitation of the weak and vulnerable. As the spiritual writer and Franciscan, Richard Rohr, noted in a retreat I attended years ago: “Until you release yourself from the need to blame, you will always find someone to hate.” Hating, scapegoating, is what nailed Christ to his cross.
We live in a culture that has fallen into a frenzy of blaming, a frenzy of scapegoating. I can hardly bear to listen to political radio anymore because it’s so filled with blaming. It seems to me that politics today is poisoned.
Who, in their right mind, would want to go into politics? Those on the right blame the left; those on the left blame the right. There seems to be no middle ground on which we can stand together. I’ve lived a long time but I cannot recall a time when our country was as polarized as it is today.
Yes, I well remember the polarizations surrounding civil rights. I well remember the polarizations surrounding the Vietnam War. But even in those times of trouble and turmoil, it seemed we could still debate and talk to one another with some semblance of sanity and grace. This no longer is the case.
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor