“And there shone on them in that dark hour a light that has never darkened; a white fire clinging to that group like an unearthly phosphorescence, blazing its track through the twilights of history and confounding every effort to confound it with the mists of mythology and theory; that shaft of light or lightening by which the world itself has struck and isolated and crowned it; by which its own enemies have made it more illustrious and its own critics have made it more inexplicable; the halo of hatred around the Church of God.” (The Everlasting Man, Hodder & Stoughton, 1939, p.188)
G.K. Chesterton wrote those words more than sixty years ago. One of the things that, for him, gave the church credibility is the fact that, invariably, it is surrounded by a halo of hatred.
I quote his words not as an attempt to offer an apologia for the church today as it suffers through a period within which it is frequently an object of intense hatred. Defensiveness is not the purpose here since I am one of those persons who is not entirely sorry that a lot of anger is currently being directed towards us in the church. Some of this anger is justified, after a few centuries of privilege, and all of it will, I submit, be helpful in fuelling an important period of purification within the church. I would rather be a priest in a time of anti-clericalism than in a time within which priests and church are unduly privileged since it is far easier to live the gospel in the former situation. Thus, we, inside the church, should have a curious gratitude for all that anger that is being directed against us today. Besides, as Chesterton points out, paraphrasing Jesus, the church will always be hated.
The point here is not to defend the church, but to make a critical point about God and the theology of God – a theology which is often grossly misunderstood.
And the point is this: Christianity is the only religion which worships the scapegoat, the one who is hated, excluded, spat upon, blamed for everything, ridiculed, shamed, and made expendable. Christianity is the only religion that focuses on imitating the victim and which sees God in the one who is surrounded by the halo of hatred.
There are some important lessons to be learned from this, not the least of which has to do with where we see God, truth, and goodness. We need, today, some correctives since we live in a culture which, not unlike most cultures in the past, scapegoats some persons to the benefit of the others and then identifies God and holiness with those who have created the scapegoats.
God is not to be confusedly identified with the myths of success, power, glamour, and popularity. Never confuse God and what is holy with current cultural religion which, antithetical to Christ, worships the included, the glamorous, the ones who aren’t shamed and ridiculed, and the ones who seem important and indispensable. The God of our culture and the God that is preached in so many of our churches is not the God who dies on a cross, is hated, spat upon, and is excluded and scapegoated in ignorance. No, our culture does not worship a crucified God. The God Jesus revealed, is still, in our very own culture, excluded, mocked, scapegoated, made expendable, and often killed, mostly in the name of God and truth. Where do we see this?
Our own culture, like every other culture past and present, creates a category of persons that it deems expendable and then subsequently victimizes through exclusion, ridicule, scapegoating, and often through actual death. Who constitutes that category shifts slightly from time to time, but there is always a common denominator, it includes always those who are the weakest.
Thus, for instance, our culture, marginalizes and scapegoats the sick, the poor, the handicapped, the unborn, the unattractive, the non-productive, and the aged. These we deem expendable and subsequently decertify in terms of full status within the human race. Worse still, we identify God and holiness with those who are doing the excluding. But that is antithetical to true religion – and true wisdom.
Where is God? God is on the side of the victim, standing with the one who is excluded, specially present in the one being ridiculed, and dying in the one who is being put to death.
True Christianity knows this: It worships the scapegoat – the one who is surrounded by the halo of hatred.