This article is part of a series on scapegoating by Franciscian, Richard Rohr.
It seems we always find some way to avoid the transformation of our pain. There’s the common way of fight. Fighters are looking for the evildoer, the sinner, the unjust one, the oppressor, the bad person “over there.” He or she “righteously” attacks, hates, or even kills the wrong-doer, while feeling heroic for doing so (see John 16:2). We are all tempted to project our problem on someone or something else rather than dealing with it in ourselves.
The zealot—and we’ve all been one at different times—is actually relieved by having someone to hate, because it takes away our inner shame and anxiety and provides a false sense of innocence. As long as the evil is “over there” and we can keep our focus on changing or expelling someone else (as the contaminating element), then we feel at peace. But this is not the peace of Christ, which “the world cannot give” (see John 14:27).
Playing the victim is another way to deal with pain indirectly. You blame someone else, and your pain becomes your personal ticket to power because it gives you a false sense of moral superiority and outrage. You don’t have to grow up, let go, forgive, or surrender—you just have to accuse someone else of being worse than you are. And sadly, that becomes your very fragile identity, which always needs more reinforcement.
The other common way to avoid the path of transformation is the way of flight or denial. It can take many forms. Those with the instinct to flee will often deny or ignore pain by naively dividing the world up through purity codes and worthiness systems. They keep the problem on the level of words, ideas, and absolute laws separating good and evil. They refuse to live in the real world of shadow and paradox. They divide the world into total good guys and complete bad guys, a comfortable but untrue worldview of black and white. This approach comprises most fundamentalist and early stage religion. It refuses to carry the cross of imperfection, failure, and sin in itself. It is always others who must be excluded so I can be pure and holy. Denial is an understandable—but false—way of coping and surviving. Yet it is often the only way that many people can deal with the complexity of their human situation.
All of these patterns perpetuate pain and violence rather than bringing true healing. Jesus took the more difficult path: to know the depths of suffering and sin and yet to forgive reality for being what it is. That is the Third Way, beyond fight and flight, and yet in a subtle sense including both of them. Only the Spirit can teach us the paradox of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the pattern of all growth, change, and transformation. It is equally hard to trust both sides—the dying itself and the promised new state.
Gateway to Silence:
Father, forgive them.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior,” Richard Rohr on Transformation, Collected Talks, Vol. 1, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 1997); and
Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2001), 19-20, 22-24.
Originally published on May 2, 2017 at https://cac.org/avoiding-transformation-2017-05-02/ It is shared with full credit and general permission.