The world-famous primatologist discusses her new book, which is back on shelves after some controversy.
On the eScapegoat website, escgoat.com, guilty consciences can unload their sins — no more than 120 characters — which are then tweeted out online @sinfulgoat. More than 15,000 users have made confessions, from trivial to heartbreaking.
Website says, “The eScapegoat is roaming the Internet collecting sins before Yom Kippur. Like in Bible Times, only nerdier!” It goes on to explain the backstory:
In Bible Times, Israelites atoned with sacrifices. Once a year, on what we now call Yom Kippur, the High Priest placed all the Israelites’ sins on a goat and set it loose in the wilderness. Today we reflect and try to clean our slates during Elul, the Hebrew month before Yom Kippur.
“Yom Kippur is not all doom and gloom,” G-dcast founder and director Sarah Lefton told Here & Now. “It can be incredibly uplifting if you do it right.”
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
If you can tweet, then you can atone. That's what's being said about a new online tool called eScapegoat, a creation of the non-profit media production company G-dcast, which works to increase biblical literacy. Sarah Lefton, founder and director of G-dcast says it's all just a warm-up for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement which begins tonight. She joins us from San Francisco. And, Sarah, thanks so much for being here.
SARAH LEFTON: Hi, Meghna. Thanks for having me.
CHAKRABARTI: So, first of all, what exactly is the eScapegoat?
LEFTON: So the Bible tells a story in Leviticus about how once a year on what we now call the Day of Atonement the high priest would take two goats, sacrifice one and then put his hands on the other and confess the sins of the entire community onto its head, and then send it off into the wilderness presumably to die, which was part of cleansing everybody's slate for the new year. So we no longer have goats in synagogue on Yom Kippur. But we do read this story.
And so it occurred to us at G-dcast, why not bring the goat back, teach people about where the whole idea of a scapegoat came from by creating a virtual scapegoat that you could lay your sins on and then we would send it off into the virtual wilderness right before Yom Kippur. That's cleansing the community on the Internet of our sins.
CHAKRABARTI: OK. So walk me through how this actually happens. How does one lay their sins down?
LEFTON: Right. So if you go to the website, escgoat.com, you are presented with an adorable little goat. And after learning a little bit how the goat works, you can actually type in a sin of up to 120 characters. And then we put it onto that virtual goat and keep the goat moving around the Internet. Now on the side, if you go to our Twitter feed, we have Sinful Goat - it's @SinfulGoat - is tweeting out these sins anonymously. So you can actually check out what's going on in the community there.
CHAKRABARTI: OK. So we've got some notable tweets. They range from the somewhat hilarious like, once I ate bacon before the rabbi came over, to some pretty frank ones such as, I am super judgmental and I'm going into social work, to one that I actually found to be incredibly moving, that just simply someone tweeted I could have had a baby. So what does the variety tell you there?
LEFTON: Well, we didn't know what people were going to lay on the goat when we launched this. And it says to me that, you know, we still need a day of atonement in our lives, and it is valuable to give people outlets to share these kinds of things. We are definitely not trying to replace traditional ritual. People have a lot on their minds, and people are getting more and more comfortable with using social media to share that.
And social media isn't only a place to show off cute baby pictures and brag about what you had for breakfast at that awesome restaurant today. It's also maybe a place to share things you're not so proud of.
CHAKRABARTI: Such as: I was never in love with my fiance and I should have told her. That's another one of those tweets. Heavy.
LEFTON: You know, the most common thing people have laid on the goat are confessions about lying. But really interesting to me is that the second most common thing people post is Internet overuse. So, for instance: when I babysit, I'm more interested in my iPhone than playing with my nephew. Really common theme.
CHAKRABARTI: And it's interesting to me that they're confessing this sin through yet another Internet tool. Some people might see that as just evidence that while the idea of eScapegoat is good on the surface, it's not really the same means or the same meaning of confession if you're just tapping it out on your smartphone.
LEFTON: That's absolutely right. You can't properly confess on your smartphone. What we're trying to replace is empty, meaningless smartphone time with interesting, meaningful smartphone time.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Sarah, before I let you go, I've just got to read a couple of these other favorite tweets we have. One of them is: I think my first confession here was as much an attempt to be retweeted as it was a genuine confession. So that one harkening back to what you said about it's not meant to be the real deal. But also, for example: I don't sweep the floor on Shabbat, but I do kind of sweep along it in my socks.
LEFTON: Talk about brushing something under the rug. I love it.
CHAKRABARTI: Well, Sarah Lefton is the founder and director of G-dcast, the non-profit media production company behind the eScapegoat, an online tool where anyone can submit their sins anonymously. There's a link to it at our website, hereandnow.org. Sarah, thanks again.
LEFTON: Thank you, Meghna. Great to be here.
CHAKRABARTI: And from NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.