Despite living in a time of plenty, many in the West are eager to identify themselves as victims. The poor claim to be victims of capitalism; women claim to be victims of the patriarchy; racial minorities claim to be victims of racism, politicians claim to the victims of the press; the press claim to be victims of internet trolls; and rich college students claim to be victims of everyone and everything from intellectual conservatives to global warming.
Even the most powerful people attribute their failure to their status as victims rather than their incompetence. President Trump regularly complains about the unkind media coverage and dithering GOP legislators. Hillary Clinton blamed James Comey, Russia, and nationwide misogyny for losing the presidential election. Even Pope Francis implies that rigidly orthodox clergymen and wealthy businessmen account for the evils he sees in the Church and the world at large.
Seeing that most people want to see strength in their leaders, and presumably themselves, it seems counterintuitive that everyone hopes to have the label of victimhood. However, in a fallen world, the reasons should be obvious: victims can demand sympathy or reparations for their supposed suffering, and they can justifiably transgress moral boundaries in order to rebalance the scales of justice. By fashioning themselves as victims, all people can absolve themselves from responsibility and blame.
The first sinners, Adam and Eve, modeled this logic for all humanity to follow. After breaking God’s command to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they argue that they were victims of a deceiver—Eve and the Serpent, respectively—and did not deserve any punishment. Thus did original sin enter the world.
Millennia later, pseudo-intellectuals at college campuses would lend legitimacy to Adam and Eve’s argument (and subsequent sin) by devising a bogus new theory, “intersectionality,” which systematically charts the degrees of oppression one possibly encounters—it recognizes all forms of victimhood and shows where they “intersect.” Conservative speaker and writer Ben Shapiro along with many others ridicules this idea repeatedly, yet a significant portion of educated adults still cling to it.
Instead of making the world kinder and more tolerant, the proliferation of individuals identifying as victims has done the opposite. For example, while fake transgender victims like Brad Manning win presidential pardons for their crimes, dictators massacre actual victims with impunity. While Muslim apologists claim to be victims of Islamophobia, actual Muslims encourage more terrorist attacks by publicly honoring them. While pro-life activists try to highlight the travesty of so many victims of abortion in Italy, the Church will shut them out in favor of more appealing victims like African migrants and refugees.
Whole communities have fallen to the victim complex. Mired in an epidemic of rape, alcoholism, and abject dependence on government assistance, leaders of Indian reservations and their leftist enablers will state that they are the victims of white culture. Instead of purchasing necessities and creating a functional society, Palestinians will use their aid to sponsor terrorist thugs and launch rockets at Israel because they are the victims of Isreali oppression. Nearly all social justice demonstrations from Black Lives Matters to the March for Women partake in the rhetoric of victimhood as they recast actual victims (murdered police officers or murdered children in the womb) as oppressors.
In its most toxic form, the excuse of victimhood can corrupt a whole nation and lead to mass cruelty and death. All countries run by mass murdering dictators, from Stalin and Hitler to Fidel Castro and Kim Jong Un, excuse themselves by blaming the nefarious schemes of bourgeois capitalists, Jews, or wealthy Americans.
Seeing the harm this kind of thinking brings, people of good faith should clearly confront these lies. They should call it out in others and renounce it in themselves. Rather than buying into the narrative of victim and an oppressor, which allows emotions to rule, they should rationally comprehend a problem and develop a solution according to moral principles.
Unfortunately, as reasonable as this sounds, many people will still balk at the challenge to forsake their victim status. If they admit they are not victims and are not oppressed by anyone around them, they consequently have to admit that they have made a mistake. The porn or drug addict has to admit that he has a problem and it is his own fault; the dysfunctional community must take ownership of its deficiencies and rectify them on its own; denizens of the totalitarian nation-state would need to recognize that their enemies are their own leaders and take back control of their country. Even if it represents the only way of moving forward, taking responsibility is too difficult for most, so they will continue investing their hearts and souls in the victim narrative.
Fortunately, Catholics are uniquely equipped to counteract this trend both individually and globally in the sacraments of Confession where they learn that they are not victims and in the sacrament of Eucharist where they learn that there is only one true victim, Jesus Christ.
Few things illuminate one’s culpability and weakness like confessing one’s sins to a priest. This probably explains why non-Catholics shudder at the thought of it and why the great majority of Catholics rarely go to Confession or forego this sacrament altogether. The excuses are always the same and revolve around the idea of victimhood: “I don’t confess to a priest. I confess to God directly [since he’ll understand that it’s not my fault],” or “I have nothing to confess! I don’t really sin [and if I do, it’s not my fault].” By overcoming these excuses and attending Confession regularly, Catholics not only have the chance to receive the grace of forgiveness, but also the grace of humility that allows them to fix a real problem instead of protecting their pride.
After one purges one’s victimhood in Confession, a Catholic may unite with True Victimhood in the Eucharist. When one beholds Jesus on the cross, bearing the sins—taking on the victimhood—of the world, and participates in Holy Communion, he wants to do the same and receives the grace to do so. Instead of lamenting his failings and demanding love, he will use his own failings as a way of loving others and save them from their suffering. Like Jesus, the victim will become a savior.
All the saints have this dynamic in common. Few people had greater claim to victimhood than the saints, who suffered every kind of malady, yet these holy men and women managed to bear their cross along with the crosses of others. They never sought pity and recompense; they sought conversion and healing. They knew that former ultimately results in mere virtue signaling while the latter brings about true virtue.
Some of the brusque types in society may give the simple advice, “Don’t be a victim.” The saints offer an alternative to this. In their example, they recommend becoming a victim for the benefit of others. This comes through recognizing one’s faults in Confession, and receiving the means to rectify those faults in oneself and others through the Eucharist. God gives humanity a choice between repining their deficiencies as helpless victims or sanctifying those deficiencies as virtuous saints. If all Catholics are called to be saints, and if the Church exists to turn all people into saints, then the choice is clear, even if it is not easy.