Monster Worship– Part 1 of Sweetnasty: A Monstrous Reversal
“We make our own monsters, then fear them for what they show us about ourselves.” ― Mike Carey, The Unwritten, Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity
I have a two part article. The goal in the first is to show that at least one aspect of the Halloween season (the monster archetype) is actually one of the most beautiful, and sweetest, aspects of the season. The second is to re-evaluate the actual sweetest part of Halloween: chocolate. I wish to show its effects are far more deteriorating than just cavities.
Growing up I was not raised on Bible stories. Rather, I was told tales of hybrid man-wolves, demonic clowns, and life-sucking vampires. Stephen King was my gospel, and horror films were my epistles.
While I no longer watch horror film, and rarely if ever read a horror novel, I am quite grateful for the background. Although violence and gore disgust me to the core, I think monster narratives offer a great representation of the story of Jesus. Yes, you read that correctly. The gospel of Christ is a monster story.
Don’t believe me? Understandable. First, I’d like to proffer an important facet of the monster archetype: they are commonly both victim and victimizer.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Jesus… and the devil.
Jesus is referred to as a lamb (Revelation 5:6). The devil is also referred to as a lamb (Revelation 13:11). More interestingly, both Jesus and the devil are referred to as “snakes” or “serpents.” Almost every Jesus-disciple knows the Genesis 3 reference of the devil and the snake. Many people disregard, though, the John 3:14-15 reference of Jesus as Moses’ snake (an event that took place in Numbers 21). Both Jesus and the devil are described (metaphorically of course) as lions (Rev. 5:5 and 1 Peter 5:8 respectively). As a final note, both Jesus and the devil are referred to as the “morning star,” although that is a bit more debatable. The key point in all of this is that an identification of Jesus versus the devil can appear to be ambiguous and confusing, sometimes dependent upon the perspective of the reader, as is seen most emphatically in Leviticus 16.
When we take a look at Leviticus 16, we see the scapegoating ritual taking place. This happens because a concrete entity/being must be removed, or sacrificed, from the community to allow the group to retain its holy status. It is a ritualistic representation of the sin of Israel being cast out of the community in order for Israel to be “clean,” or holy, again. The question is, then, is the goat sent out in this ritual the devil or Jesus? Does it represent sin, or does it represent atonement? Some scholars, such as Cairn’s renowned Dr. Schnittjer, in his book The Torah Story, suggest the answer may be both. They suggest this foreshadows the atonement (goat representing Jesus), while at the same time, reveals the importance of the banishment of evil/sin from the community (goat representing the devil). Scripture, then, seems to say that both Jesus and the devil are the goat. You’re probably thinking that sounds heretical, or at the very least, wondering what the implications are. Hang tight, as this is where the work of Rene Girard enters the picture.
Girard, a historian and philosopher of social science, proffers that the act of scapegoating, which the ritual described in Leviticus 16 can be classified under, was believed by many cultures to be a means of discharging the devil, or evil entities, from a community. The scapegoat is viewed as the reason a society is not functioning properly. Scapegoating is not simply a primitive societal activity, though. Societies, and individuals, commit this act all the time, as seen in racism, sexism, and classism. One could suggest, then, that the scapegoat itself is a sort of exemplar of the monster archetype.
That said, scapegoats are generally poor, voiceless people, who really could not harm or benefit society one way or the other in their current state. They could, by our understanding, easily be considered victims. Nonetheless, the larger society views these scapegoats as perpetrators: the root of society’s issues. Thus, these “victims” become the “victimizers” in the eyes of their society (whether or not they actually did anything heinous). They are then sacrificed and shunned as scapegoats for the community.
As many fans of Girard’s work know, he suggests that this scapegoating ritual is exactly what happens to Jesus in the gospel narratives. Jesus takes on the role of scapegoat for the community via his sacrifice. Depending on how one views the historical crucifixion, Roman and/or Jew blamed Christ for society’s ills by his subversive nature. Therefore, when the people crucify him, he is viewed as the devil, and his crucifixion is “just.” Viewed by his disciples, however, he is viewed as a victim; his crucifixion is unjust. Jesus is identified as the devil (by the larger society), and in so doing, saves us from the devil. By letting himself be viewed as the monster, or what we hate, Jesus saves us from the true monsters: ourselves. By being the scapegoat, he saves us from having to be the scapegoat. By playing the role of both victim and victimizer, Jesus redeems a broken world.
How does this tie in with my monster theme? Well, as previously mentioned, a key aspect of the monster archetype is that the monster is quite often both a victim and a victimizer. For example, Frankenstein drowns a girl, and we initially feel anger and hatred toward him. By the end of the story, he is hunted down, with the intent to be killed by angry mobs. We start to feel for the confused monster. We feel his pain, realizing that he was just confused, the product of his environment and situation. Put another way, the audience starts to fear that the monster is unjustly persecuted. The audience starts to realize that the monster isn’t actually a moral monster, rather he is just “different.” A “moral reversal,” in the words of Richard Beck, occurs. Similar to what happened with Christ’s identification as the devil.
Why is this important? Because, quite frankly, monster stories function as allusions to the Gospel story. They remind us of our (unhealthy) psychological/spiritual need to scapegoat in order to feel clean and righteous. I call this unhealthy, because the scapegoating and monster-naming has already been dealt with on Calvary. Jesus Christ, the most fearsome monster of all, completely tore apart any justification we may believe we have in scapegoating others as monsters. Yet, we often view the “other” as a monster, when in reality, we have a log the size of Godzilla in our eye. Monster stories thus remind us to re-examine those “monsters” in our own lives. You know… the person who hurt and victimized you. There is more to the tale – they may also be victims. In fact, they may be holding a glimmer of Christ’s glory within. I mean, if we can find glimmers of Christ in Frankenstein, how much more can we in actual, albeit frail, human beings? Therefore, in summation, I ask you to examine your “monsters” anew, because I don’t know about you, but I worship a monster.
Schnittjer, Gary Edward. The Torah Story: An Apprenticeship on the Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006. Print.