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But just as a society must have a scapegoat, so hatred must have a symbol. Georgia has the Negro and Harlem has the Jew.
—James Baldwin[1]:53

A scapegoat is a term for someone or something that bears the blame for problems, misfortunes, or the actions of others. Often, scapegoats are forced to take this blame unwillingly and are the targets of irrational hostility as a result.[2]


When searching for some means to publicize one's willingness to screw up a nation, it can be hard work to get people to listen to your (no doubt excellent) ideas and proposals. Why not cut out all that tedious formulating of policies that people might like, and simply find some unpopular minority to take the blame for society's ills?

Jesus' death is the most prominent example of a scapegoat in Western (not excluding Eastern Christianity) ideology.[3] Though a large portion of right-wing Protestants in the United States believe "that's all sissy stuff" and choose to ignore most of the central dogma regarding Jesus as a universal scapegoat.[4][note 1]

If you can't think of a suitable scapegoat, just go with a popular choice: Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, heretics, atheists, communists, feminists, homosexuals, liberals, conservatives, the ruling class, working class, unemployed, welfare recipients, minority races, miscegenation, immigrants, illegal aliens, space aliens, witches, vampires, the Devil, heavy metal, violent movies, violent video games, pornography, the government, the Federal Reserve, etc.

If you lack the confidence to actually sacrifice a goat, try just finding a whipping boy.Wikipedia Similar idea (substitutionary punishment), but you may succeed in prolonging the blaming.


Many cultures employ the use of fictional beings or animals in the position of a "scapegoat". For example, the belief that sins were absolved by animal sacrifice in the temple in ancient Jewish culture is an example of scapegoating. Because the animal bears the responsibility for the sins of the culture's members, members of that culture are better able to forgiveWikipedia minor transgressions that one another have engaged in.[note 2] The belief in demonic possession is a form of scapegoating behavior of a person onto a being that has possessed them rather than the individual themselves. The belief can have both beneficial and negative consequences in such regards as it helps society maintain cohesion by shifting blame, and, hopefully, grudgesWikipedia and disputes, to other beings, fictional or real, but also may cause sincerely bad people to avoid punishment or constraint from further negative actions or behavior.[5][6] They also sometimes cause harm to those whose "possession" is actually due to things like mental illness,Wikipedia as exorcisms have been known to turn violent, or even fatal in some cases.


It's symbolically your fault!

Like so much that is good and true, it derives from Leviticus:

Leviticus 16:8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.
Leviticus 16:10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, [and] to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
Leviticus 16:26 And he that let go the goat for the scapegoat shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water, and afterward come into the camp.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Jesus is arguably a poor example of a scapegoat, anyways, since all he did was take the punishment for humanity's sins, without being blamed for the deeds he was being punished for (except by the Jews and Romans carrying out said punishment); indeed, he has been lionized for his sacrifice in the following years. Usually, a scapegoat is assigned the blame for societal problems (for example, the Jews being [erroneously] assigned responsibility for all manner of fucked-up misdeeds), gets demonized in the process, and becomes widely hated and turns into a punching bag for society as a result.
  2. The aforementioned Jesus-as-ultimate-scapegoat event is simply the logical conclusion of this practice (with the added benefit of removing the requirement for continuous animal abuse).


  1. "The Harlem Ghetto" in Collected Essays by James Baldwin (1998) Library of America. ISBN 1883011523.
  2. According to Merriam-Webster
  3. "Vicarious Atonement"
  4. Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus, HuffPo
  5. The Scapegoat of Leviticus Sixteen, Dallas Theological Seminary
  6. The Custom of Kapparot in the Jewish Tradition