“Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.” – Luke 4:38-39
We are selfish creatures by nature. It is, after all, traceable back to the fall that a man will place himself, his own desires, his own pride and glory ahead of his relationship to God. That’s not to say that we don’t have our moments of selflessness – we were created to be so much more than selfish creatures and we do hold an innate desire to fulfill that purpose. Still, we have a great propensity to be motivated by and focused on (even if subconsciously) matters of the self.
One manner in which this comes through is the mindset of the “victim”. I use the requisite “scare quotes” here to make it clear that I’m not talking about every person who suffers victimization. The word victim is perfectly suitable to describe a human state. But when I say “victim” (or “blessed victim” as in the title) I’m talking of those who have the ideology, or even theology of victimhood. We’ve all known them (and even been them!) in times past.
The “victim” finds a reason to be oppressed in everything. It is a rather impressive mode of pride. “I find my value in expressions of sympathy from others, in the idea that others feel sorry for me (and are therefore thinking about me); therefore I embrace oppression … it makes me feel good.” Some folks just don’t want to be happy – because to be happy would mean they have to relinquish their sadness, which has already made them “happy” in a perverse way.
We see it in certain religious circles, where the most “righteous” person is the one who has suffered the most (and maybe they have). That’s not to say that people never suffer and never deserve sympathy, they most certainly do. But you find something different in the “blessed victim”. Having spent so much of their mental effort creating sympathies for themselves (and therefore necessarily thinking of themselves) they find great difficulty in understanding the difficulties, sufferings, and requisite sympathies for others. Tell the “blessed victim” your worries and they are almost confused. “I don’t get it, how can you think about your problems when you should be thinking about mine?” Watch out for them. You’ll know them by their response. If you happen to open up with them about some difficulty you are facing they will respond almost too quickly with their own difficulty or oppression. When you stub your toe you can rest assured that their stubbed toe is worse and much more worthy of compassion.
It is a dangerous position in which to find oneself, and one to which we are all susceptible if not careful. It leads us to two unfortunate conditions. First, the “blessed victim” doesn’t want to be happy. Or, at least they don’t want to be happy through the solution of their problems. If you give them the solution to everything they complain about they would find themselves most miserable indeed – their whole mode of self-fulfillment has been taken away. Next, “victimhood” denudes our ability for self-reflection. As soon as a difficulty faces the “victim” they very quickly attribute it to oppression, label the oppressor, and declare themselves oppressed. In this they excuse themselves of concrete actions that could benefit their situation. (“Why try? I’m oppressed, and if I tried to work toward a solution my oppressor would just find a new way to oppress me. There’s no point.”)
Now, on the geo-political front there are many places we find trace elements of the victimhood theology. Think for a second of Yasser Arafat, who walked away from an incredible offer at the 2000 Camp David summit. Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat more than he could ever have hoped for – and he said “no”. To have taken the deal would have taken away his role as leader of the victims, and he couldn’t tolerate that. (Regardless of where you fall on the Israel/Palestine issue, it’s rather clear that Barak offered more and more and more in an attempt to get Arafat to play ball, only to see Arafat walk away. Arafat needed the deal to fail, so he could maintain his position as leader of an oppressed populace.)
It’s not just Yasser Arafat, of course. We see victims all across the political spectrum. For instance, we see it in the various forms of “liberation theology” – where righteousness is tied to victimhood status.
The point is to keep your eyes open. First, we have to watch out for ourselves – we can all become “victims” if we give in, because we all have the propensity for self-centeredness. Next, watch out for the “blessed victim”. Trying to negotiate or rationalize with this person is near-fruitless task. They don’t actually want to be happy. Or, they want to be happy in their victimhood, and will react poorly if you try to take it away.
(A note on the lead quote: Peter’s mother-in-law was expressly not a victim. When her suffering was taken away she got up, and became a servant.)