The great thinker Thomas Aquinas expressed his devotional spirituality in hymns, one of which included,
O saving Victim, open wide
the gate of heaven to man below;
our foes press on from every side;
thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.
Aquinas here appeals to Jesus as the “Victim,” using the old sense of the word, which means a sacrificial animal killed to appease the gods. Jesus, in Cranmer’s Communion Prayer, is
a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world
Jesus is the unique Victim. Yes, in the contemporary use of the word, one on the bad end of an injustice or tragedy is a victim with a small v, but none should capitalize that and try to move their experience to the center of the universe. To do so is idolatry, displacing the cross and the one true Victim offered there.
A now departed Anglican Priest I knew used to warn newly ordained clergy to Remember that you are AT the altar, not ON it. That is, don’t confuse yourself with Jesus. See your hardships and sufferings as part of his work, but not equal to or, God forbid, some kind of replacement for what the Son of God uniquely suffered for the sins of the world. We all suffer as victims but are not the Victim.
I think that the polarized, tribalized politics Americans roll around in today are just that kind of idolatry. Even Christians, who should know better, have taken up the cant. Here’s an example from a left-wing commentary, which is manifestly hostile but admits my point in the very first line quoted here,
Claiming the mantle of victimhood is so politically potent that religious-right leaders are going to do it, no matter how untrue it is, because, to be blunt, they’re not held back by any moral interest in honesty. Getting Grandma to think she’s going to lose her church is a great way to get her to sign her Social Security check over to your organization.
And here’s a piece by a Christian disgusted by our tribe claiming victim status,
Sure, some people don’t like me for my faith, but look around at the other people groups who have it worse. What in the world do I have to complain about? Christ has made me a conqueror and he’s named me as such.
The victim->Victim political game is showing up on HBO in a serialized rendering of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I read the novel when it came out in the mid-80s. It is a well done work of story telling, very hard to put down once you start reading it. Atwood is a very good writer whose words can conjure unforgettable images, which I’m not sharing here so as to avoid spoilers.
But reactions to the story, which envisions a dystopian future in which a fundamentalist Christian putsch has deprived American women of all human rights and dignity, are all about I am Victim hear me roar. When I was first reading it as a student, a female classmate walked up to me and said, Now you’ll see what life is like in the real world. Current social media and other commentary on the upcoming production are full of that same angry anxiety.
But the situation of American women seems to be improving in the years since Atwood’s book came out. More jobs are open, including military command and combat roles. Women are the majority in higher education and thereby increasingly the people with access to better paying professional careers. In 2015, 44% of Federal government jobs – the careers populating the wealthiest cluster of counties in the nation – were held by women.
Like American Christians, wailing about being Victims while Christians in Egypt, Pakistan, Nigeria and other places are slaughtered in their church gatherings, contemporary American women waving The Handmaid’s Tale as some kind of new Uncle Tom’s Cabin should strike us as at least silly, if not in need of psychological help.
But such is our politics. With Christianity and it’s central Victim displaced as a unifying assumption, we find each and every group wanting to sit at the right hand of God without bothering to go by the way of the cross.
Christianity holds that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, but that God in love has sent the saving Victim in whom There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28). Our politics today holds that me and mine are the Victim and you and yours are the problem. And me and mine and you and yours want to grab that central power in DC to avenge ourselves on each other.
In so doing we help create the realities we claim to foresee and despise.