A Matter of Faith

Victim as victor


Victims are not always virtuous. But most of us would judge that they still deserve our help and support.

However, in pre-Christian history, if you were born amid the meager margins of society and made to endure the privations and injustices of that station, that was that. You had no significance and no voice.

Only the victors were heroes. The strong, yet often ruthless, leaders got their names inscribed on battle monuments, were celebrated in lavish feasts, or paraded in special chariots through the streets while their armies or followers shouted their ardent accolades.

In Philip Yancey’s book “What Good is God?” he writes about the late René Girard, a French, agnostic professor at Stanford University who became shockingly aware that, in modern Western society, the victim, not the victor, often garners the sympathies of the people or the moral high ground, merited or not, in situations of conflict.

But in former ages, the uplifting of the downtrodden was simply unthinkable.

Girard also noted that a plethora of freedom movements — the emancipation of slaves; the increase of civil liberties; women’s suffrage; the broadening of the rights of ethnic minorities, of homosexuals, of the disabled, of the mentally ill and even of animals — had all gained velocity in Western civilization during the last 150 years.

This baffled Girard as he could find nothing that paralleled such development in ancient historical accounts. He eventually tracked this phenomenon back through history to a disparaged region in the land of Israel and an obscure carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. This discovery occasioned Girard’s conversion to Christianity.

In truth, Jesus chose to identify with the poor, passed part of his childhood as a refugee in a foreign land, was a member of a minority group oppressed by the prevailing rulers, endured the torture and scorn of a common Roman prisoner, and was maligned as a criminal in his death. All this was perpetrated upon a totally innocent victim. 

According to one of Girard’s followers, Jesus’ life and crucifixion, initiated an unprecedented outlook that has opened a fresh path across the entire globe: empathy and support for the victim.

This has had a profound impact on Western civil society. The news sympathetically portrays the plight of refugees rocking in an overcrowded boat on the open seas; the media unabashedly report on the outpouring of financial and material aid for victims of tsunamis. Consider the nondescript but gutsy Rosa Parks raised to celebrity status for her refusal to move to the back of the bus. 

Today, Christian believers (and others) protest in displays of public outcry against abortion and euthanasia. We witness daily the compassion felt for the Ukrainian people in their struggle against the Russian bully. None of this would have occurred prior to the life and death of Jesus.

Martin Luther King in one of his speeches said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This is possible because the rightful King on His way to Jerusalem, the place of His execution, reined in His donkey and stopped to weep.

This column may include both fiction and nonfiction, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of The SUN. Submissions can be sent to editor@pagosasun.com.