This summary (taken straight from my draft term paper) provides some background on the mimetic approach to theological anthropology and the atonement from which I frequently tend to work. It is based on the work of Rene Girard and of other theologians working in this area, most notably James Alison. (Science fiction fans who are familiar with Ursula Leguin’s Hugo-winning short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas will recognize some of the themes here.)
Feedback, either from those who are familiar with this area and can offer corrections or amplifications, or from those who are unfamiliar with it and do not find it clear, would be very welcome!
Human desire (as distinct from appetite, and considered in the general, not the specifically sexual sense) does not arise spontaneously; instead, all human desires are modelled on the desire of another. This can be seen in the nursery, where the toy that most fascinates a child is the toy that another child possesses: the first child (the mimetic model) mediates the desire for the toy. But in another sense, the toy mediates the desire of the second child for the first child: I want what you have because I want to be like you. Contemporary advertising techniques both exemplify and exploit this mechanism of desire. This capacity for mimesis has great potential for good and is an inherent element of human socialization, but it also has the capacity to lead to violence. Mimetic rivalry can escalate until the original mediating object is forgotten, and the two persons become mimetic twins, each mirroring and intensifying the threatening demeanor of the other until violence breaks out. Again, we can see this in the nursery as children quarrel over a toy.
When this machinery of desire is activated in a larger social setting, the effects are amplified, and may escalate into a mimetic crisis with the potential of erupting into universal uncontrolled violence. The scapegoat mechanism can avert this outcome by engaging the mimetic machinery to focus the violence of the entire crowd onto a single victim: as an initial accusatory gesture is imitated by all, the result is the lynching of an allegedly guilty (but actually innocent) victim, rather than a riot. The emotional bonding experienced by the crowd as they unite against the scapegoat resolves the crisis.
Although literal lynchings and riots are thankfully rare, we can see the same social dynamics in muted form in the schoolyard, and in virtually every domain of human sociality. Gil Baillie observes that even the morally legitimate violence enacted by our judicial and penal systems engages this mechanism: he distinguishes between moral innocence and structural innocence, and notes that even a morally culpable victim can be said to be structurally innocent if the crowd experiences the same benefit of emotional bonding from the victim’s punishment.
Christian theologians working with mimetic theory have developed an understanding of the atonement as the culmination of the gradually unfolding revelation in the Tanakh that God speaks on behalf of the victim. In the atonement, God in the person of Jesus Christ literally becomes the innocent victim of mob violence, revealing the workings of the scapegoat mechanism and, because once exposed it becomes ineffective, thereby inaugurating the process of its destruction.
 Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, 76-83.