|Philosopher Roger Scruton Conservative British philosopher Roger Scruton thinks that religion (read: Christianity) has been unfairly singled out by its current atheist critics. He thinks that we should focus on the function of religion, but his argument is dangerously naive.
Why? Scruton follows the work of French Catholic theologian and philosopher Rene Girard, who makes the following argument. Humanity is beset by "mimetic desire", in which we strive to attain what other individuals and groups have, which usually leads to violence between groups and individuals over who gets what. Their solution? We should emulate ancient Judaism and select an individual scapegoat for humanity's ills, projecting all our evil onto that person, so that he (?) can "atone", and humanity can be reunified through belief in the symbolic sacrifice of the innocent victim. In ancient Judaism, the totem sacrificial animal was a sheep or goat.
One can see where all this is leading. If you've noticed the resemblance of the above theory to Christian theories of Christ's atonement, and the symbolism of the eucharist or communion in Catholic and other sacramentalist forms of Christianity, exactly. Therefore, rituals and ceremonies are important because they resolve social antagonisms through symbolic reference to a scapegoat.
Problem is, the scapegoat isn't just an animal, nor is it necessarily limited to the questionable historical personage of Christ. Throughout human history, sacrificial messianic figures have been insufficient to resolve those antagonisms. Thus, Jews, witches, heretics, women, lesbians and gay men, Muslims, socialists and anarchists and other outsider groups are designated as collective scapegoats, and are subjected to violence, harassment, persecution, sectarianism, terrorism, or mass slaughter. Far from providing a unifying symbol of universal harmony, the sacrificial scapegoat's function can be either individual or directed against groups.
Like Girard before him, Scruton has resolved nothing through referring to his ahistorical theory about the function of scapegoating, and its all too terrible collective costs through human history. While it is unfair to blame all human barbarity and oppression of the marginalised on religious philosophies, religious institutions have all too often sanctioned that. LGBT folk have been one set of victims, but not the only ones.
Roger Scruton: "The Sacred and the Human" in Prospect magazine 132 (August 2007) Craig Young - 27th November 2007