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Sending Our Scapegoats Out To Sea

February 22nd, 2013by Katherine Schmidt

Laying both hands on its head, he shall confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and their trespasses, including all their sins, and so put them on the goat’s head. He shall then have it led into the wilderness by an attendant. The goat will carry off all their iniquities to an isolated region. Leviticus 16:22

 Mainstream and social media have been reporting endlessly about the recent cruise-turned-disaster of Carnival’s Triumph ship.  An engine fire left the ship stranded and without power in the Gulf of Mexico. After days of miserable conditions such as sleeping on the decks of the ship so as to avoid the stench of feces and urine in the lower levels of cabins, passengers disembarked on Friday, February 15, to the inevitable onslaught of reporters wanting to get reactions from them.


No sooner had these exhausted, un-showered former passengers expressed their feelings about the week’s events did many people take to the internet to criticize them for lacking the proper perspective about their ordeal. “4200 Americans lacked access to toilets for 5 days,” one picture reads, “Meanwhile in real news- 2,500,000,000 people world wide lack basic sanitation every day.” The logic of such critique is clear: what these passengers endured was nothing compared to what the majority of the world endures on a daily basis, with no tug boat to pull them back to affluence.

image of ship


I get it. There is something distasteful listening to otherwise well-to-do folks complaining about what may seem like was just a vacation gone wrong with rather miserable yet terminable inconveniences. But I also find the rampant self-righteousness of such critiques distasteful. What is particularly unbecoming of such social media “slacktivism” is that the speed with which we take to Facebook and Twitter to accuse perfect strangers of sins of which we are all guilty.


How relieved the Hebrews must have felt as their scapegoat walked out of their midst: There go our sins, they believed. The difference between the Hebrews and us, however, is that at least they recognized what they were doing. It is so easy to make fun of or chastise the tears of Triumph’s passengers, and yet, who are we to accuse them of lacking perspective? Who among us hasn’t complained about the wait time for health care so many lack? Left a bad tip for a waitress who just wasn’t fast enough to fill up our glasses with the precious water for which so many children thirst? Sent back the food of our third square meal of the day because it wasn’t just to our taste?


Lack of perspective and failure to live in solidarity is indeed sinful. But let us not congratulate ourselves for pointing out the sin of others when we’re really just sending our scapegoats out to sea. 

Katherine Schmidt

Katherine Schmidt is a doctoral student in Theology at the University of Dayton. She lives in Dayton with her husband, Jordan, and is a parishioner at Immaculate Conception.