Sunday, 3 February 2008

Sacrifice: Blind Obedience or Obsessive Barbarity?

Question: What kind of god requires sacrifice? Compare and contrast the moral implications of sacrifice with regard to human rights, with the principles of ritual and appeasement.

This question may never appear on a college paper but I would like you, the interested reader, to imagine you are the student and you have been given this assignment. How would you tackle it. Of course, I'm taking for granted the fact that you have done extensive research on the subject and your essay writing skills are beyond question. Feeling generous, I'm disposing with the normal time constraints. Go can do it!

However, just in case you don't feel too confident I shall endeavour to offer some assistance by going over a few salient points. For starters, let's have a dictionary definition, or two, to get the juices flowing.

Sacrifice: n. (1) The slaughter of animal or person, surrender of possession, as offering to a deity.
v. (2) The giving up of a thing for the sake of another that is higher or more urgent.

You have probably learned from past teaching that sacrifice is synonymous with archaic religious rituals. That much blood was spilled and many innocents died. When you think of the word 'sacrifice' you think of ancient civilisations like the Aztecs and the Incas who practised the art frequently. That such offerings would appease angry gods or guarantee a good harvest next year was the natural expectation of the people. But you might say that these civilisations were godless in Judaeo-Christian terms, and that men of God such as Moses, Joshua and Abraham would never get involved with the idea. Wrong! In fact the principle of sacrifice is prevalent throughout the bible right into the New Testament.

The Bible sets the Scene

The original plan was to sacrifice animals. Most of the book of Leviticus is taken up with the ritual slaughter of birds and animals 'to cleanse lepers'. Can you believe this?

"And the priest shall command that one of the birds shall be killed in an earthen vessel over running water."

(Leviticus 14:5)

"And he shall slay the lamb in the place where he shall kill the sin offering and the burnt offering in the holy place."
(Leviticus 14:13)


In most cases the blood of the animals was sprinkled over the people. For what purpose? In Genesis, Abraham's obedience was 'tested' by God who demanded that he should offer up his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering. The killing didn't take place as it seems that Abraham had passed the test by placing his son on the altar. But instead of everyone packing up and going home, Abraham felt it necessary to offer up an animal. Why waste an altar? It so happened that a ram was "caught in a thicket by his horns" and this poor animal was offered up to God in place of Isaac. I'm pleased for the sake of Isaac but why needlessly destroy the animal? This slaughter was not for food.

The New Testament

"And almost all things are by the law purged with blood. Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins"
(Hebrews 9:22)

Here, St Paul is referring to the crucifixion of Christ who was regarded as the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of man. Whose idea is this? First of all, you have to believe in the principle of sin. If like me, you don't, there is no need for senseless, ritual slaughter. Do you imagine for one moment that a sane, intelligent, all-seeing and all-knowing God would stoop to this barbaric level? No way! But then if you think about it, all down the ages, man has anthropomorphized deities. He has endowed God with human characteristics. He does it to animals and inanimate objects. And he has certainly done it to God. This is why God is seen as judgemental one minute and merciful the next. This is why God is called "a jealous God" who is easily angered.
This is why the God of the scriptures must be appeased and prayed to by penitents who need to suffer some form of deprivation so that there will be a change of mind, so that disaster will be averted.

Man has projected his feelings and emotions on to something on the outside. He has created a means whereby an outside entity can take all the blame for his own shortcomings and problems.

What am I saying here? That man has invented God? I think that will have to be another question paper.

I look forward to receiving your answer sheet with interest.


JayPeeFreely said...

A very interesting question (and path to discuss) in answering.

I'll have to sleep on the answer for a bit. At this point, researching it and posting a coherent response is beyond my capabilities at the moment. (Plus I have other stuff to do. ;) )

Appreciate your response to the last post. I doubt many got the linkage between the two.