I grew up in a moderate Protestant community in conservative Texas. I often heard anti-Catholic remarks like, “they promote superstition; they aren’t real Christians” (thankfully not at my church). Perhaps some fundamentalist and nativist Texans felt a need to distinguish their kind of Christianity from other believers, but was it necessary to do it by scapegoating?
Recently, I visited a significant Buddhist gathering in Austin with a notable speaker on the power of Mindfulness and meditation in the prison system. It was an inspired and transformative talk, but then came the caveat: “we live in a Calvinist society that proclaims human sinfulness and promotes retribution,” instead of recovering basic human goodness. Again, scapegoating?
Today I sit at a conference on Restorative Justice within a Catholic activist network, and the speakers range from gifted scholars and community workers to perpetrators and victims of crimes. Amidst the focus on face-to-face processes for restoration and change, there was one comment that sounded all too familiar: “the Puritan founders of this country promoted individualism and punishment” instead of community and restoration. Does this scapegoating help?
My focus has become a mutual-encounter of dialogue and the “healing of memory” so that these caricatures and narratives of mis-recognition can be overcome. How else can Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and others build solidarity around important issues and witness? This requires looking within our own traditions for histories of scapegoating and even violence against other religious groups. Is this necessary? You bet.