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Sacrifice and the Sacred

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Filed under Jesus

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.

I once saw a startling exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin titled “Kingship and Sacrifice.” On display were two “bog bodies” – “Clonycavan Man” and “Old Croghan Man” – which, because of the chemical composition of the bogs in Ireland, were preserved in fairly recognizable shape for over 2300 years. Scientists and historians were able to extract a surprising amount of information from these bodies. The Irish Examiner explains:

"Both men had been subjected to gruesome deaths, indicating ritual killings. Old Croghan Man had holes cut in his upper arms through which a rope of hazel withies was threaded in order to restrain him. He was then stabbed and he had his nipples sliced, before finally being cut in half.
 
Clonycavan Man had been disembowelled and struck three times across the head with an axe and once across the body. This brutality is not confined to Irish bog bodies and has been paralleled on human remains from British and continental bogs.
 
Kelly believes that both men were failed kings or failed candidates for kingship who were killed and placed in bogs that formed important tribal boundaries. Cutting the nipples was more than simply a brutal act. Its purpose was to dethrone the king. “Sucking a king’s nipples was a gesture of submission in ancient Ireland,” says Kelly. “Cutting them would have made him incapable of kingship in this world or the next.”

There was obviously plenty to be disturbed about here. But looking down and seeing the two leathery bodies, their violent end sealed on them forever, was the most disturbing thing of all. This brutal Celtic past was not a hypothetical or even an abstraction – it was ossified flesh in a glass case beneath me.

In How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill reminds us that this behavior was not confined to the ancient Celts, and that nearly all early peoples sacrificed human beings. At a certain point, human sacrifice becomes “unthinkable,” and is substituted with animal sacrifice – but blood sacrifice remains, and almost always as part of a religious ritual. Why?

Our anachronistic impulse is to see the latter as causing the former. Religion thirsts for victims to appease a fearsome deity, and sacrifice satiates it. What could be clearer? But we “delude ourselves,” Cahill argues, if we reduce the “complex history of religious feeling” to this caricature. In reality, sacrifice and the sacred – linked though they are – are both functions of a deeper cycle of victimization written into the very heart of social order.

Anthropologist and Catholic convert René Girard has spent a lifetime trying to better understand this cycle. According to Girard, ancient human societies were destabilized by mimetic conflicts: two parties who desired the same object would start to imitate each other’s desire until the rivalry erupted into a kind of contagion which threatened to destroy the whole community. Then, a hidden mechanism was triggered which transferred the blame onto a third party, one that was either uniquely strong (e.g., a mighty king) or uniquely feeble (e.g., a decrepit itinerant). The collective sacrifice and sacralization of this figure, enshrined in religion, was a sort of release valve that restored peace and order in the community. Girard termed this third party “the scapegoat” after a rite of atonement in ancient Judaism in which the “transgressions of the Israelites” were transferred to a goat and driven out into the wilderness (Lev. 16: 21-22).

The explanatory power of Girard’s theory is immense: the ritualized sacrifice, collective persecution, and mythical traditions of the ancient world are all best explained by one and the same scapegoat mechanism.

But it doesn’t end there. The theory also clearly has something to do with Christianity and our “Holy Week”. But what exactly?

Anthropologist James Frazer saw in Christianity one more mythical story of death and rebirth. On this reading, Christianity is modeled after scapegoating only insofar as it's modeled after other mythical situations. But for Girard, this misses the obvious point of departure: that Christ is declared an innocent victim. The scapegoat mechanism doesn’t see innocent victims; it doesn’t see victims at all. It only sees that guilty outsider, that “true” threat that has to be eliminated.

But the New Testament, building on the groundwork of the Old, exalts victims of collective violence through a supreme, innocent Victim. There’s an irony in this: the summit of scapegoating violence unexpectedly collapses on itself through itself. As Girard puts it: “God Himself reuses the scapegoat mechanism, at his own expense, in order to subvert it.” (An early metaphor for Christ – that of a mother pelican gnawing at her own breast to feed her starving young – captures this idea perfectly.) The Christian sacrifice is an inversion of all sacrifice, one which tilts the scales back against the community by mirroring its violence back at itself.

The same is true of the Mass. The ancient world was so immersed in ritual violence that the Mass was, in the second century, suspected of being a cannibalistic cult which consumed the flesh and blood of its members. The reality, of course, was far less strange – there was only ordinary bread and wine – but talk of sacrifice, and of consuming of the body and blood of a victim, remained. In the Mass, as in Good Friday, reflections of the outward forms of scapegoating are present, but only to redound upon the head of the community. The whole interior logic had become one of self-sacrifice – and Christ’s love, not man’s violence, had become the means of restoration.

In Ireland – as in so many countries still immersed in human sacrifice – this mighty itinerant, decrepit king, and “Lamb” of God transitioned the people from ritual violence to collective disarmament. Cahill explains:

“Patrick declared that such sacrifices were no longer needed. Christ had died once for all...Yes, the Irish would have said, here is a story that answers our deepest needs – and answers them in a way so good that we could never even have dared dream of it. We can put away our knives and abandon our altars. These are no longer required. The God of the Three Faces has given us his own Son, and we are washed clean in the blood of this lamb. God does not hate us; he loves us. Greater love than this no man has than that he should lay down his life for his friends. That is what God's Word, made flesh, did for us. From now on, we are all sacrifices –but without the shedding of blood. It is our lives, not our deaths, that this God wants.”

The song “There Is a Valley” by Bill Fay captures this historical transformation in a few powerful verses filled with pathos:

There is a valley where the trees stand tall and an icy wind blows
Trees don't speak, but they speak to each other of a people long ago
When the soldiers came and took away the villages one by one
And the fury of that moment they felt, but could only silently look upon
 
There is a mountainside where sheep are grazing with their young
Sheep don't speak, but they speak to each other of a killing long ago
When the people came and sacrificed their children to the sun
And the fury of that moment they felt, but could only silently look upon
 
There is a hill near Jerusalem that wild flowers grow upon
Flowers don't speak, but they speak to each other of a crucifixion
Guess because he said he was the son of God
And the fury of that moment they felt, but could only silently look upon
Every city bar brawl, every fist fight, every bullet from a gun
Is written upon the palms of the Holy One.

This anthropological perspective on Christ's death is indispensable; it gives proper context, for example, to the film The Passion of the Christ. As one journalist notes, the film’s apparent fixation on violence makes perfect sense through a Girardian lens. “The blood and gore of the supreme sacrifice is not a distraction from the Christian message,” he writes. “It is the message itself.”

Even if we accept this, we’re still faced with the difficulty Girard poses in his most recent book: “Why is there so much violence in our midst?” Cahill argues that “cut flowers, Christmas trees, vigil lights, and the Mass may be the last vestiges” of sacrifice. Nothing could be further from the truth. The twentieth century has been called “the bloodiest century in modern history.” A bombardment of headlines about mass beheadings, mass shootings, and mass nuclear threats – not to mention domestic violence, school violence, and gang violence – portend more bloodshed in our own. Why, if the above is all true, is the world still so violent?

Girard argues that even though ritualized violence has largely collapsed, scapegoating continues to play out “at the level of individuals and communities.” Without access to their original structure, these violent impulses (whether they play out physically or not) become more sporadic and random, and occur “in a shameful, furtive, and clandestine manner.” We all see oppressors everywhere (a religion, a political party, a neighbor, a family member), but we don’t see ourselves as being involved in the same nexus in our own way. Scapegoating, paradoxically, is “universal as an objective experience, and exceptional as a subjective experience…It would appear that everyone participates in this phenomenon, except each one of us.” Put another way: “to have a scapegoat is to believe one doesn’t have any.”

To tear up scapegoating up at its roots, we have to confront the full picture Christ’s saving action existentially. In Girard’s view, “knowing the emissary victim requires a certain kind of conversion, namely, that one has to come to see oneself as a persecutor.” We deny this up and down, of course. Why can’t we just apply Jesus’ moral message (a more palatable version, anyway) and stop short of faith? We can, and we do; but still, we feel increasingly helpless to shake the curse of our own habitual violence. For Girard, this is no coincidence.

The 1999 documentary Messiah pairs Handel’s oratorio with the less attractive features of modern life, including its spasmodic brutality. In it, one sequence leads us to the victorious “Hallelujah” by way of some disturbing footage of mob violence (warning: graphic). We’ve all heard this “Hallelujah” song before, usually as capturing some moment of superficial joy in a movie or commercial. But here, it reclaims its original meaning though this Girardian prologue. The bass soloist, who seems to laugh at the insanity of it all, wonders why people rage against each other the way they do. The tenor announces the breaking of this endless cycle of persecutors and victims “like a potter’s vessel.” Then the chorus of Easter emerges again with new power: the humbling of every kingship, the subversion of every sacrifice, and the freeing of every scapegoat – all except for One.
 
 

 
 
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Matthew Becklo

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Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • Loreen Lee

    Thank you for posting this, especially today, the day of remembrance of that ancient king, the Fool.
    If you make a Google check you will find that until recently, (17th C I believe) the new year began on the feast of the Annunciation, March 15th, with April 1st, the octave, itself being the commemorative (and astrological) date of the New year. So Happy New Year's to all of you.
    And yes, I read The Golden Bough by Fraser, in the 60's as a supplement to my reading of the bible. I have never quite believed in the 'mythos', of the killing of the king, as I always wondered how someone of power would allow others to take such advantage. But this article has convinced me of its 'truth'. The true April Fool, therefore is the sacrificial scapegoat, and if this is the case, perhaps it is even appropriate that we 'laugh at ourselves' as even a relief in becoming more aware of the continuing reality of our folly.

  • Raymond

    I'm afraid I don't see the difference between scapegoating with an actual goat and the Crucifixion as the sacrifice of an "innocent" scapegoat. What did the goat do to deserve his sacrifice? If the answer is 'the “transgressions of the Israelites” were transferred to a goat', then how is that different from the transgressions of the world being transferred to Jesus?

    • Marie Van Gompel Alsbergas

      The Mosaic introduction of an animal to "carry away" the sins of the people attempts to break the cycle of selecting a human outcast, such as a failed king or unknown itinerant. Many times through the Law the children of Abraham are reminded to be kind and generous to the resident alien, for they were once strangers in a strange land; while at the same time they are warned against intermarriage with these strangers and aliens.

      Intermarriage was banned because it opened the opportunity for the old concept of the human sacrifice to infiltrate the community again. Through the Law, God teaches that human life is far more valuable than any property and through His Son, God teaches HOW to value human life.

      Those are cultural differences between the Hebrew people of Judea and Israel, and their successive conquerors, including the Romans. The PRIMARY distinction between the "escape" goat and the Crucifixion is what happens next. Another important, and frequently overlooked, part of Mosaic Law was the Act of Redemption. Borrowed money and items were to be returned, purchased property to be given back to the hereditary owners if the family could be found, slaves and bonded workers to be freed on a regular basis. The release of Barabbas is a token of this redemption which foreshadows the Redemption of the Resurrection emphasizing again the God's infinite Mercy and Justice.

      • Raymond

        That's a lot of words to say that the distinction of "innocent" isn't a useful distinction.

    • Spencer

      Innocence is a key component of all scapegoats, as they are third parties to the conflict in which the guilty parties (or society) avoids chaos and self destruction by choosing an innocent victim. Jesus is a similar innocent victim, but the Gospel narrative makes that plain, whereas the narrative of the theoretical mob (or other systems of power) always portrays the scapegoat as the guilty party. Essentially, the crucifixion is revealing that all our scapegoating, violent tendencies are false, and thereby deconstructs them.

  • I don't think the scapegoating idea is actually significantly related to most pagan sacrifice. From my memory the detailed sacrifice "offerings" in the Old Testament were distinct from the scapegoating practice, which does not even suggest a sacrifice to me.

    By contrast, my surface understanding of animal sacrifices is that they were indeed offerings to the Gods, including Yaweh, who seems to enjoy the pleasing smell of burning flesh when Noah began sacrificing to him Gen 8:21. But this is also consistent with what I understand from Greek and Roman practices. If you gave offerings to the gods they would favour you. This seems to have been instrumental to the conflict between Christians and Romans, as unlike almost all other sects the Christians would not sacrifice to the imperial cult, which the Romans felt endangered the Empire. In Incan culture you can see the sacrificed and mummified young girls who, apparently were treated as the opposite of the holders of sin or badness.

    Why was there a change from human to animal? presumably this has something to do with the fact that humans did not always have livestock to sacrifice. People's without livestock can't offer their animals to gods, so have to offer themselves. Of course this can only be taken so far, as human sacrifice surely persisted among people with domesticated livestock. But once you have valuable livestock it is not hard to imagine good reasons to slaughter these rather than your friends and family.

    But certainly there was a distinct change with the Christian practice of relying on a symbolic or historical sacrifice of a god. This is completely different. Sure, it might be explainable by way of the theology of Christianity. Of course as atheists we see a more reasonable explanation. The theology of god-sacrifice developed after the fact. Early followers of Christ were faced with a problem. He was easily arrested and killed like a common criminal. At some point, they came to believe he was god. Thus the strange theology of god-sacrifice developed to explain why he didn't do something other than get brutally killed. Actually the arrest torture and killing were his whole plan. He didn't actually die.!

    From this it is easy to see why then christians must not downplay but venerate the pain and suffering. To those of us who do not accept the theology, it is actually quite a gruesome and perplexing story and worldview. But I will save that for another comment.

    • Hey Brian - Thanks for the comment. There's a lot there but I'll just speak to the first part. For Girard ritual sacrifice and ritual expulsion (the scapegoat rite), while distinct, are both expressions of the same victim-generating mechanism (the "scapegoat" mechanism). As history progresses, all scapegoating is not sacrifice - all scapegoating is not even physically violent - as evidenced by the manifold and subtle forms of scapegoating we see everywhere today. In the documentary about Steve Bartman "Catching Hell", for example, there's a discussion about the scapegoating mechanism which I think is entirely appropriate, even though Bartman's ordeal is entirely social and psychological. Fast forward to about 1:25:00 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9Qm3xzIf5A

      • It's seems no scapegoating was sacrifice. It was practiced by ancient Hebrews and "superficially similar" practices occurred in ancient Syria and Ancient Greece. For the Hebrews, it seems that sacrifice did involve killing and animal in the place of yourself for your sins against god, but that to was particular to that religion.

        As far as I can sacrifice, was an offering, a gift for the gods. People burnt some of the animal and ate the rest. They expected gods to favour them in turn for the offering.

        Certainly people blame others for their own misconduct, and this had something to to with scapegoating for the ancient Hebrews. But neither scapegoating as a religious ritual or social phenomena is related to ritual animal sacrifice as far as I can tell.

  • William Davis

    The idea that human sacrifice was everywhere in ancient times isn't really accurate. Even the article linked here indicates that they could have just been executions. Did executions double as human sacrifice in cases? Sure, they probably figured it was a 2 for one. The Phonecians and worshipers of Baal were probably the worst for human sacrifice (not counting the Aztecs who were probably the worst ever, but they were much later in history).

    • Loreen Lee

      I had the thought to that perhaps giving up sacrifice of one kin could have actually begun with Abraham, and that this could be considered an interpretation for the substitution of the ram, which set the precedent for future behavior of the tribe.

      • William Davis

        I think there is something to that, and worshipers of El possibly sacrificed humans just like Baal very early. Notice that El first commands Abraham to kill Isaac, then changes his mind. El was turning into a more noble god, the beginnings of the idea that "God is good", at least in Judaism (note that Abraham could have been a fictional character, many Christians now think this).

        • Loreen Lee

          Yeah! Well since I hold the theory that 'conversations with God' began with the advent of self-referential/reflective consciousness, although awareness of the basis of such a dialogue was (and is) primarily unconscious, such a change may reflect some development of human as well as 'God' consciousness. I find it interesting that such belief systems as Hinduism and Confucianism do not seem to have a history of projection of consciousness on an 'objective' other. I would so appreciate if a 'scholar' would do research into the psychology of religions/cultural phenomena.

    • Spencer

      Executions for crimes are a great example of human sacrifice. Death penalty as a function of law would have been preceded by human sacrifice by eons in my estimation, once sacrifice became an established pattern for solving community disputes. It's the same thing that happens today - when Bin Laden was finally found and killed, the world community is expected to breath a collective sigh of relief, even though objectively we all know that the extent of violence in the world was not actually mitigated by this death sentence.

      • William Davis

        Exactly what evidence feeds into your estimation? Human sacrifice has to be directed at a God, killing someone simply for revenge does not qualify. Killing Bin Laden made perfect sense for a variety of reason. The world was made safer by his death (he was trained by the CIA making him very dangerous).

        The fact is that human sacrifice was rare in Mesopotamia, there were only a few cases in Egypt and Sumer, and these were only the kings retainers who wanted to accompany their king in death. The Japanese Samurai did something similar, and voluntarily killed themselves when their Shogun died. The honorable suicide in these cases isn't exactly the same as forcibly killing someone. It was only the Jews and the Phoenicia that had a real problem with human sacrifice in the region. The core problem with the Jews and Phoenicias was the worship of Baal and Moloch. El (the God of the Jews) and Baal were actually friends in pre-Jewish Canaanite religion. The stuff you read in the Bible was the Jews struggling with their own problems, accusing other great contemporary civilizations of this is nothing but slander.
        The first religions to prohibit killing were Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Hinduism is nearly 7000 year old, Buddhism, 3000 (about the same age as Judaism) and Jainism 5000 years. I'm not talking about prohibiting human sacrifice, I'm talking about all killing. Christianity is just now catching up. It is sad that Christians think they know something about ancient history after simply reading the Bible. There is a wealth of knowledge available that is simply ignored.
        I'm on the side of religions who believe God was never a blood thirsty monster. People only believed that because the world back then was a tough place. The first guy who sacrificed someone and won a battle thought he was on to something, but all he really had was confirmation bias. This is barbarism, superstition, and stupidity of the worst sort.

  • I was not raised as a Christian and just about everything about the Easter story makes no sense to me. I actually do not understand what the problem Jesus' death was meant to address was. I am told it is something to do with the division man placed between himself and God through sin. I don't really know if that is how Catholics describe it.

    But what I really do not understand is what exactly Jesus' torture and death for a few days did or how. It certainly did not stop sin from happening, it did not save all of humanity. Jesus tells us that no matter what most humans will not be saved. People seem to still sin as much as ever and the passion did not save them. Most Christians believe they need to do something in order to be saved. Most Protestants seem to say this is believe in Christ and that he died for them. I don't see how that works or why he needs a bloody painful death and resurection for it to "work"?

    Is he atoning for our sins in any way? Soaking them up in some immaterial way? That seems utterly contrary to my moral intuitions that those responsible for their misdeeds must atone and answer for them.

    At the end of the day the atheist cliche really does seem to remain a good question and unanswered. How exactly does it make sense that Jesus could come up with no better solution than his own bloody sacrifice and death to create a loophole to get around the consequences of a system he designed?

    Why can't he just forgive?

    Pagans offering people and animals to gods to gain favour makes sense to me. Jesus sacrificing himself to himself makes none to me.

    • Alexandra

      That is a really great question Brian. Very insightful.
      I hope this helps:
      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CtcKV65-9uY

      • Loreen Lee

        Then how come it's still a redemption without being a salvation. Why is it that there is still to be a last day of judgment? And this not a negation of the sinful behavior which would be put in hell-fire, but of the whole individual, doomed to eternal flames? On this point I agree with the Orthodox interpretation in preference to Catholic orthodoxy. I see no reason why 'all' cannot be saved. And yet the constant 'warning?'.......

        • Alexandra

          Thank you for your comment Loreen.
          Jesus' death on the cross is both for our redemption and salvation, but you are right that not all will necessarily be saved. Jesus alludes to this: He warns us repeatedly that judgement is coming. We don't know who will be condemned. (The church does not state who deserves Hell.) Jesus died to save each and every one of us. But those that die in a state of mortal sin without repentance are condemned.

          Although we don't know who is in Hell, we do know some of those who are in Heaven - the saints. (We are in communion with them). Ultimately we are called to follow God's commandments. Love God with your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. This leads to a life of virtue, which the saints exemplify.

          We look to God's mercy and grace to help us, despite our frailty and sinfulness. We will never be perfectly virtuous, but through God's grace, He strengthen us to become who we are truly meant to be - good and loving people of God.
          Ultimately it is God alone who saves us.

          (For me, I am full of hope and not discouraged by the thought of judgement. I know God is merciful and just.)

          For more on the subject see Catechism of the Catholic Church
          http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you for your response. Alexandra.

          • Loreen Lee

            Alexandra. I just received this in my e-mail. http://www.politicalislam.com/prayers-for-kafirs/
            I interpret as a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. And I believe the Islamic interpretation of their scripture is also very 'fundamentalist'. But I thought it might be interesting to post, as a comparative study perhaps, and as a prod to understand how 'scriptures' are interpretated generally.

          • Alexandra

            Thanks Loreen. I've never heard of this before.

          • Doug Shaver

            It is so important to belong to the 'true religion'.

            It would be, if there were one.

          • Loreen Lee

            Some day my irony will be appreciated for what it is. grin grin. I am not using the term 'religion' in this comment within a formal theological context. but as a definition 'in use' of what it means to 'dig down deep' to use a 'poetic phrase!' for truth, goodness, beauty, purpose, -define as you will . It's your life. I don't want commit to a formal definition that requires reference to an Aristotelean category of being within the hierarchy of species, genus, etc. I would like to be able to understand the world within the context of
            grammatology as well as within the abstract logic that is the usual
            criteria of what constitutes 'definition'. Even with respect to my own individuality, I need always regard my understanding/definition of myself, my logic, my religion as a 'work in progress'. Please understand in this regard that I will allow the possibility that
            your understanding of 'religion' differs from mine and possibly every other member of
            the human race on this planet. Maybe that's why it is often so difficult to 'understand' one another. The phrase perhaps still applies. - We see through a glass darkly, and language doesn't always 'help'. Thanks for 'getting in touch'.

          • Doug Shaver

            Please understand in this regard that I will allow the possibility that your understanding of 'religion' differs from mine and possibly every other member of the human race on this planet. Maybe that's why it is often so difficult to 'understand' one another.

            Well, yeah. If your intended meaning of words differs from the meaning intended by most other people, then most people will misunderstand you.

          • Loreen Lee

            Touche. At least I'm out of my 'rant' episode! I've settled down quite nicely, I believe. Whatever that 'connote' to you. grin grin.

      • I don't need help. Rather, I think it is Christians who need help in explaining how this works. Just like you could not simply explain in a few lines, you point to Fr Barron, who also doesn't explain anything. He tells a story. A weird story.

        He first says Jesus was like a warrior. No. Almost nothing reported about Jesus was warrior-like. Turn the other cheek, love thy neighbor, love thy enemy. Prince of peace. These are not the descriptions of a warrior.

        Ultimately it seems his explanation is that only through sneaking into a backwater and radiating divinity, that was bound to gain enough opposition so that most would turn against him and torture him to death (even though deep down they really knew he was truly divine and good and God or something). Then and only then could he attain this situation where he was obviously the best most divine thing, so everyone naturally betrayed and murdered him and thought they had destroyed him. But he came back so then everyone learned for the first time that God, the God of the Hebrews, not puny Jove, the God who created the world and the Heavens, all life itself, the angels, the flood, the plagues and so on, they learned only then that this God was powerful enough to conquer death.

        And this had to really happen on Earth. This would not work as a story. It had to be literally witnessed by people. It only works if there is real blood shed and real sadistic torture. God couldn't just beam this message into our heads so that we would "get it"?

        What about Paul?" Isn't that exactly what happened to him? He never witnessed any of it and he got the message better than anyone.

        It shouldn't be complicated, it shouldn't be mysterious. It should be obvious why if you torture God to death this saves humanity and resolves original sin, or whatever Catholics believe. It is difficult to explain because it actually doesn't add up.

        Judaism, I get, I don't believe it, but I get it. Same with Islam, even Hinduism, Bhuddism and Shintoism. Christianity, I don't get the central message.

        • Alexandra

          I simply meant I hope this helps answer your question- not that you need help.

          • No problem. Thanks for the video, but I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

          • Alexandra

            Jesus' passion and crucifixion is the ultimate gesture of God's love for us. He loves us so much that he voluntarily and willingly offered his own body as the supreme atonement sacrifice for the redemption of our sins. His blood is shed for our salvation. He is our Paschal lamb, and we partake in the sharing of His body. Our sinfulness corrupts the world, and sinfulness leads only to death. With his death, death has no victory as we rejoice in his Resurrection. Love is greater than Evil.

            For more on atonement sacrifice.
            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=z6ROgZfVu6o

            "Almost nothing reported about Jesus was warrior-like..."
            The "warrior" reference is a metaphor for his battle against evil and sin. It has nothing to do with his personality or love of neighbor.

        • "Christianity, I don't get the central message."

          This is an interesting admission. It would seem to preclude you from making judgments about it then, but you still speak quite often (and dismissively) about something you admittedly don't even understand.

          • What I find interesting is that in a site designed to foster dialogue between Catholics and atheists we almost never have any posts about what Catholics believe about their central story. When we do and I raise questions about it, I get virtually no responses.

            Rather, I am accused of being judgemental and dismissive. That's your opinion and you are welcome to it. But I'd prefer you just address the points I make.

            Why does the torturing Jesus to death have to happen? Why does real blood need to be shed?

            I don't think Catholics have a clue and this is a problem for a worldview that contrasts itself against atheism as having answers and being able to account for everything. I think Catholics focus, these days, in large part on ideas of love and fellowship, which are great, but they are also secular humanist principles. The problem and the problem or the crucifixion are just glossed over as mysterious.

            On the Catholic view God does things intentionally, he chooses to save humanity and he chose the method. The idea that he chose to do this through having us torture him to death I put it to you is out of character and inconsistent with how he is otherwise represented. The idea that he had no choice is also inconsistent. The idea that we chose this for him is also in conflict with him being the one who saved us.

            At the end of the day the criticism stands, when you think about it from the atheist perspective it is absurd. God sacrificed himself to himself to create a loophole in a system he designed. If you keep your theistic lenses on and see everything as necessarily somehow having to make sense and fit with your contemporary moral intuitions, you can rationalize it.

            But when you put on lenses like that you can rationalize anything.

          • William Davis

            You forgot..."You can't question God" ;P That's the only answer I've received to the problem you present. I think I was about 10 years old when the non-sense here became clear. It is the fear that the religion invokes that causes it's members to fear "questioning God". They are correct that I have rebelled against their "God", but I find it an admirable trait to rebel against tyranny.

          • Hey, Brian. Sorry you feel your questions haven't been addressed. A couple things in reply:

            "Why does the torturing Jesus to death have to happen? Why does real blood need to be shed?"

            The Catholic intellectual tradition is filled with answers to these questions. Some of the Church's greatest minds like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas devoted several pages to the topic.

            You might also be helped by this article by Fulton Sheen, one of the great twentieth-century theologians: "Sin Is in the Blood".

            "I don't think Catholics have a clue and this is a problem for a worldview that contrasts itself against atheism as having answers and being able to account for everything."

            I think for Catholics, it just isn't a problem—it's not a difficulty that causes us to ponder like the "problem of evil" or divine hiddenness. In light of both human experience and the Jewish culture from which Christianity emerged, it makes total sense that God the Son wanted to sacrifice himself to the fullest extent possible, suffering and then absorbing the greatest violence, torture, stupidity, pain, and corruption that the human race could throw at him. It's only then that he can offer total, unconditional forgiveness—all can be forgiven because he's already forgiven the worst of the world. Naturally, such an ultimately evil fate would involve blood—so that's one reason—but as Sheen explains in the article above, all true sacrifice involves blood of some form, as well.

            "The problem of the crucifixion is just glossed over."

            Knowing how well-versed you are in Catholic theology, at least in general, this claim seems pretty disingenuous. Either that or it's wildly ignorant. Even if you ignore past theologians and just focus on contemporary thinkers and apologists, you'll find hundreds of thousands of pages of theological, historical, and scientific reflection on the crucifixion (Pope Benedict's recent book on Holy Week is a particularly shining example). If nothing else, the crucifixion is certainly not "glossed over."

            "The idea that he chose to do this through having us torture him to death I put it to you is out of character and inconsistent with how he is otherwise represented."

            I disagree for the reasons I explained above and for the reasons cited in the articles I linked to. Through this violent act, God demonstrated that he was willing to take all the evil, corruption, and torture that the world could throw at him and still respond in forgiving love. Taking on that violence speaks much louder and more tangibly than simply saying, "I forgive you."

            "The idea that he had no choice is also inconsistent."

            Catholics would agree. The Catholic Church does not teach that God the Father was obligated, by something outside of his nature, to sacrifice his only son in the manner he did. God has no external obligations; he freely willed the events as they happened.

            "The idea that we chose this for him is also in conflict with him being the one who saved us."

            I don't see the contradiction. We chose to kill God and he let himself be killed, offering the sacrifice of his life for the redemption of the world. We chose his crucifixion and, by that choice, he saved us.

            "At the end of the day the criticism stands, when you think about it from the atheist perspective it is absurd."

            Well, of course if you assume the atheist perspective, namely that God does not exist and that Jesus is not divine, then of course the Catholic view of the death and resurrection of Christ seem absurd. On atheism, Christ is a misguided fool who died like thousands before him (although atheism has yet to provide any plausible, naturalistic explanations for the accounts of his purported resurrection.)

            I'll agree that the crucifixion and resurrection only make sense within the Christian worldview, if that's all you're arguing. But at the beginning of your comment, you seemed to suggest that these things seem problematic even within Catholicism.

            "God sacrificed himself to himself to create a loophole in a system he designed."

            It's not a loophole—it's the fulfillment of the "system" he designed. Your sentence seems to insinuate that when God created the world, and the first humans sinned, God had to scramble to come up with a back-up plan and ended up devising a way to sacrifice his son for the sake of the world. But God, being omniscient, knew how all of history would unfold even before he created the world. Thus Jesus' sacrificial death wasn't a duct-tape fix added at some point in the middle of history; it was part and parcel of God's plan from the beginning of time.

            "If you keep your theistic lenses on and see everything as necessarily somehow having to make sense and fit with your contemporary moral intuitions, you can rationalize it. But when you put on lenses like that you can rationalize anything."

            Ah, good. By the end of your comment, you admit that Jesus' sacrificial death can fit rationally within Catholicism, making it no longer problematic. If so, we're on the same page!

          • joey_in_NC

            Beautiful response, Brandon.

            I'm a new poster on this forum (though a lurker for some time), so I'd like to take this moment to say hi and to also express my thanks to you (and to all others responsible) for such an awesome site.

          • Thanks, Joey! Welcome! Glad to have you commenting on the site.

          • Raymond

            The comments he is making are that Christianity is ambiguous, contradictory, and illogical (if I may use that term). That you think they are judgments is your hobby horse, and the Christian posters are not explaining it satisfactorily. Maybe because they can't.

      • Doug Shaver

        I hope this helps:

        It doesn't. The reasoning is incoherent.

        • Peter

          Without Christ and his Passion humanity would be extinct by now, utterly destroyed by its own evil, or at best turned into a living hell for those that remained.

          Christ's Passion and Resurrection showed that evil is very powerful in the world but that it does not have the last say and that goodness ultimately prevails.

          The idea that goodness is greater than evil has motivated Christianity over the past 2 millennia to create a world which, though very far from perfect and ridden with violence, does at least strive in principle to achieve justice and peace.

          Without this motivation, without this salvation history, the human race would have had no higher goals to achieve and would have sunk into a pit of death, despair and ultimate extinction .

          • William Davis

            It is fair to say that the salvation history of Christianity has prevented this

            Nah, the majority of the world has gotten along just find without Christianity, and still does. It was philosophy that brought science into being, not Christianity. The two simply got married inside the Roman empire. The fact is that Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are excellent religions that have never been the cause of war or conquest.
            It isn't the theology you embrace, but the motives you have that matter. The pursuit of virtues like truth and justice are the key to good motives. If belief in Jesus helps you get there great, but belief in Jesus does absolutely nothing by itself. I've met just as many Christians who care nothing of virtue as anyone else, therefore Christianity makes no difference. A difference that makes no difference, is no difference at all. Some of the philosophy that has come out of Christianity is some of the best in the world, but that is only because the philosophers have embraced and struggled toward virtue.

          • Peter

            It was the Judeo-Christian belief in a universal lawgiver, a rational author of creation responsible for establishing the laws of nature, which led people to search for those laws and, in doing so, make scientific discoveries.

            My post assumed the beneficial effects of Christianity on a collective level, not on an individual level.

          • William Davis

            Nah, it started with Plato and Aristotle (non-Christians) stayed married to Christianity for a little while, then divorced it in the 17th century. How much have you studied the history of science. I love history, science and philosophy, and know a ton about how they have intermingled. Your belief is quite false.

            https://explorable.com/history-of-the-philosophy-of-science

          • Peter

            The motivation for scientific discovery stems from the Judeo-Christian belief in a rational lawgiver. St Clement of Rome in his First Epistle to the Corinthians in 97 AD said:

            "“The heavens, as they revolve beneath His government, do so in quiet submission to Him. The day and the night run the course He has laid down for them, and neither of them interferes with the other. Sun, moon, and the starry choirs roll on in harmony at his command, none swerving from its appointed orbit.

            Laws of the same kind sustain the fathomless deeps of the abyss and the untold regions of the underworld.

            Upon all these the great Architect and Lord of the universe has enjoined peace and harmony".

            The Judeo-Christian belief that unchanging and universal laws existed motivated the search for them leading to discoveries. Where is your evidence to contradict this?

          • William Davis

            Just gave you the evidence, the rest is up to whoever reads this.

          • Doug Shaver

            Just gave you the evidence, the rest is up to whoever reads this.

            Demonstrating once again that for the True Believer, evidence is beside the point.

          • Peter

            We are talking about motivation for scientific discovery, not scientific method. The Chinese used scientific method but had no great motivation for scientific discovery. Lacking belief in a universal lawgiver, they had little notion of the existence universal laws and were therefore not motivated to discover them.

            Can you please be more specific in the point you are making instead of merely producing a link.

          • William Davis

            The scientific method started with Aristotle and Greek philosophers. Arabs made major contributions to mathematics. Christianity absorbed the collective minds of all of these people when it became the official religion of the Roman empire. Christianity helped science in a number of ways, but your claims don't hold up. Even the great Thomas Aquinas based his views greatly on Aristotle (just ask Ye Olde Statitician, he's a Thomist). The concept of the soul Catholics believe in came directly from Aristotle, though Aristotle may have gotten it from the Hindus.

            "Towards the middle of the 5th century BC, some of the components of a scientific tradition were already heavily established, even before Plato, who was an important contributor to this emerging tradition, thanks to the development of deductive reasoning, as propounded by his student, Aristotle. In Protagoras (318d-f), Plato mentions the teaching of arithmetic, astronomy and geometry in schools. The philosophical ideas of this time were mostly freed from the constraints of everyday phenomena and common sense. This denial of reality as we experience it reaches an extreme in Parmenides who argued that the world is one and that change and subdivision do not exist."

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_scientific_method

            If Christianity wants to take full credit for science, then it must take credit for every last little thing that went wrong in mostly Christian countries (including the holocaust). Taking credit for all the good and running from all the bad is nothing short of hypocrisy.

          • Peter

            Scientific method, whether from the Greeks or Arabs or Chinese, is not scientific discovery. No one is denying the origins of scientific method. Christianity takes the credit for scientific discovery, for convincing mankind that universal unchanging laws exist and for motivating efforts to discover them. It is Christianity which has driven science.

            (BTW, the holocaust occurred in a country which abandoned its Christian values as evidenced by its incarceration of Christian ministers)

          • William Davis

            OK, just witness the fact that 93 percent of the National Academy of Sciences are atheists (these are the elite scientists). Sure, Catholics try to defend by saying 51% of all scientists believe in God or some higher power, but that doesn't mean they believe in the Judea-Christian God. I'm a Spinozist, like Albert Einstein, so technically I believe in God, so I would be part of the 51%. I agree with this quote by Einstein (and so do a ton of scientists):

            ". . I came—though the child of entirely irreligious (Jewish) parents—to a deep religiousness, which, however, reached an abrupt end at the age of twelve. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment—an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections. It is quite clear to me that the religious paradise of youth, which was thus lost, was a first attempt to free myself from the chains of the 'merely personal,' from an existence dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned as a liberation, and I soon noticed that many a man whom I had learned to esteem and to admire had found inner freedom and security in its pursuit. The mental grasp of this extra-personal world within the frame of our capabilities presented itself to my mind, half consciously, half unconsciously, as a supreme goal. Similarly motivated men of the present and of the past, as well as the insights they had achieved, were the friends who could not be lost. The road to this paradise was not as comfortable and alluring as the road to the religious paradise; but it has shown itself reliable, and I have never regretted having chosen it."

            I have never regretted haven chosen it either, even though my entire family is Christian. How much science have you studied, and who are you, or the Church, to tell me what it takes to make scientific discoveries?

          • Peter

            "who are you, or the Church, to tell me what it takes to make scientific discoveries?"

            Facts are facts whoever states them.

            Einstein was mistaken about quantum mechanics so why could he not be mistaken about God?

            As for atheist scientists, almost certainly the bulk of them are anti-creationist, but so too are the majority of Catholics.

          • William Davis

            The church was mistaken about so much, I don't even know where to start, the church even imprisoned Galileo for preaching the earth revolved around the sun...this was heresy. I'll stick with Einstein, thanks ;)

          • William Davis

            Facts are facts whoever states them.

            You never stated any facts, just so you are aware.

          • Marc Riehm

            To continue in the vein of cherrypicking individual quotes from individual early Christians, here are some polemics from Tertullian against the need for philosophic thought:

            What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from "the porch of Solomon," who had himself taught that "the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart." Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.

          • Marc Riehm

            Of course the ancient Greeks were the ones who laid down the logical and mathematical foundations upon which science was later built. And early Christians did much to eradicate Greek knowledge of which they were not fond.

            As a result of Christianity, Europe languished in the dark ages as a backwater of natural knowledge. It was only when Europeans began to open their minds to other ideas that scientific methods and knowledge accelerated through the Renaissance.

          • Doug Shaver

            Without Christ and his Passion humanity would be extinct by now, utterly destroyed by its own evil, or at best turned into a living hell for those that remained.

            You say so.

            Christ's Passion and Resurrection showed that evil is very powerful in the world

            Nothing happened to him that had not already happened to millions of other people. The power of evil in this world was perfectly obvious before his execution.

            The idea that goodness is greater than evil has motivated Christianity over the past 2 millennia to create a world which, though very far from perfect and ridden with greed and violence, does at least strive in principle to achieve justice and peace.

            That idea did not originate with Christianity. The world was striving no less to achieve justice and peace for centuries before Jesus was born.

            Without this motivation, without this salvation history, the human race would have had no higher goals to achieve and would have sunk into a pit of death, despair and ultimate extinction .

            You say so.

            mass genocide, widespread destruction and total self annihilation. It is fair to say that the salvation history of Christianity has prevented this or at least curtailed it.

            Fair to say? More like preposterous.

          • Peter

            "Nothing happened to him that had not already happened to millions of other people"

            If millions of people resurrected, I've never heard of it.

            "The world was striving no less to achieve justice and peace for centuries before Jesus was born"

            Where and when?

            "More like preposterous"

            Why? The greatest barbarity against humanity has occurred where Christian values were either rejected or non-existent to start with.

          • Doug Shaver

            If millions of people resurrected, I've never heard of it.

            You were making a point about the evil that happened to him. If you're offering the resurrection as an example of that evil, then I withdraw my comment.

            "The world was striving no less to achieve justice and peace for centuries before Jesus was born"

            Where and when?

            Athens, ca. 400 BCE, for just one example. Babylonia, 18th century BCE, for another.

            The greatest barbarity against humanity has occurred where Christian values were either rejected or non-existent to start with.

            The values that would preclude barbarity if more people adopted them are not unique to Christianity.

          • Peter

            "You were making a point about the evil that happened to him"

            I was making the point that despite whatever evil happened to Christ, good prevailed. You took my original quote out of context by quoting only half of it and ignoring the part about good prevailing.

            "Athens, ca. 400 BCE"

            In 416 BC Athens attacked Melos, an island sympatheic to Sparta. After Melos surrendered its men were killed and its women and children sold into slavery. Hardly just and peaceful or compassionate by Christian standards.

            "The values that would preclude barbarity if more people adopted them are not unique to Christianity"

            "IF" is a big word.

          • Doug Shaver

            You took my original quote out of context by quoting only half of it

            In context, the part I quoted was one of two conjuncts. A conjunction is false if either conjunct is false.

            After Melos surrendered its men were killed and its women and children sold into slavery.

            That doesn't contradict what I said.

            "The values that would preclude barbarity if more people adopted them are not unique to Christianity"

            "IF" is a big word.

            That is irrelevant to my point.

          • Michael Murray

            Perhaps God foresaw than humanity would soon be capable of mass genocide, widespread destruction and total self annihilation.

            Well you would hope so or I'm very confused about the meaning of omniscience. I thought in fact that your God was outside of space and time so doesn't foresee but rather sees everything. Presumably not though with photons as they would be in space-time.

          • Peter

            God is not in space-time but I am, therefore I can only use my limited space-time vocabulary to describe God's omniscience.

          • Marc Riehm

            Evil is done by men who possess a single viewpoint and who do not doubt themselves. Yes, much evil was committed by Hitler and Stalin. And today much by Islamists. But the history of Christianity is also tarred, examples being the Albigensian crusade and the Spanish Inquisition.

        • Alexandra

          What makes it incoherent?

          • Doug Shaver

            What makes it incoherent?

            Absence of logical relationships among the premises connecting them to the conclusion.

          • Alexandra

            Ok. Brandon and I both have given a response to Brian's questions. (See below.)

          • Doug Shaver

            Brandon and I both have given a response to Brian's questions.

            Brian and I are saying that a particular teaching of your religion makes no sense to us. You and Brandon have explained how it makes sense to you. Your explanation depends, though, on several antecedent assumptions that, to me at least, seem justified.

          • Alexandra

            Thank you for your comment Doug. Quick question first: Did you mean to say "justified"?

          • Doug Shaver

            Did you mean to say "justified"?

            No. I meant "unjustified." Thanks for catching that. I'll be fixing it.

    • Marc Riehm

      Nicely said. The overarching story of Christianity - of original sin and the fall, of the subsequent millenia in which redemption was presumably impossible, and of the peculiar need to send Jesus as a sacrifice to enable redemption - just doesn't make sense.

    • Terry

      Hi Brian Green Adams,

      I'm brand new on this site and not well trained in Theology, but I'll try. What I know is from digesting little bits of information in a whole lot of silence.

      In order to understand Calvary, one must understand the Nature of God, the Nature of man, the concept of evil as an absence of good, and that Jesus is true God and true Man. Please bear with me – it’s not a short answer.

      God is simple. God is perfect. God alone is good. God is Three Persons in One. He is the eternal total gift of self (love) between three unique perfect Persons. Love always goes beyond the lover. It creates, gives, and self-sacrifices. These three Perfect Persons (who are Love) went beyond themselves. Creation was a gift to Love by Love, and man
      is its crown jewel with the capacity and awareness to return the love of God on behalf of Creation.

      Though he is limited, man is even invited to participate in creation as co-creators. By participating within the boundaries of God's design, mankind produces new human souls through procreation. By "boundaries," I reference those conditions that must be present. Mix baking soda and vinegar, you do not get a new human soul. Mix a human egg with a human sperm, and you get a new human soul. Beyond procreation, every decision made by man leaves an inerasable mark on creation.

      More on the Trinity before I go to Calvary: Why Three Persons in One God? How can God have One Nature yet be three Persons?

      First: if something is perfect, flawless, and whole, then nothing can
      prevent it from being reality. Existence itself is good.

      The Identity of the Father is perfect Truth. Truth is good and beautiful, and when complete, flawless, and whole it is perfect. In the Old Testament, God referred to Himself as “I AM WHO AM,” not the qualified version of limited creatures who say “I am who I am.” All of Creation is a part of God. He remains beyond the whole of Creation because He is infinite while Creation is not.

      If the Identity of the Father is Perfect Truth, then the Word Made Flesh (nickname for Jesus) is the perfect Word describing Perfect Truth. Anything Perfect, flawless, and whole enough to be reality ought to be describable and expressible. Human tongues are limited in expression because both humans and the human experience are limited. The Word of God is
      complete, accurate, and Perfect because it proceeds from a Perfect and infinite Being.

      If the Identity of the Father is Truth and the Identity of the Son is the Word, then the Identity of the Spirit is the Breath by which the Word is spoken. The Holy Spirit is found in action. It is the active and perpetual expression of
      the Truth.

      It should not surprise us then, that there are three Persons in One God, Who act with one will. When we express the truth, we need both words and breath. God is the unceasing expression of Truth. There is no need to describe what does not exist, and so there would not be language (and arguably breath) if there were no Truth.

      Evil is the absence of good.

      St. Augustine tells us that evil does not exist of its own accord. It comes from the warping, polluting, and obscuring of Truth. It is a shadow, a deprivation of light. It is impossible to love without a will; it is impossible to succeed if one cannot fail. For all the trouble it can cause, nature is not malicious. Man has the capacity for malice because man has been given a will and a share in ongoing creation, both in the procreation of souls and in the history of creation. He can choose to participate or to undermine. Our failures to participate according to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful cast a shadow over the good God-given nature we have as well as over creation. Before Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession, we could not remove the obstacles blocking the light from our souls.

      Since these obstacles to light and truth exist, they become a part of the created order, which is a part of God. Thus, the fabric of God’s being was torn by the decisions of man long before the flogging of Christ. Every rebellion against the good, the true, and the beautiful simultaneously existed and rebelliously went against existence.

      Jesus is True God and True Man.

      Jesus needed to assume our humanity if He was to make reparations to the fabric of His Father’s being. By right, it would be our blood shed in
      justice for the wounds we inflicted on the One Who gave us His life and love, but finite creatures could not hope to heal the wounds of an infinite
      Being. Jesus, Himself an infinite Being, redeemed fallen man by becoming Man. He took upon Himself the expression of His Father’s wounds. He suffered with and for His Father in solidarity that the wounds of sin be healed by a member of the offending party, though sinless Himself. By His wounds, He restored mankind to friendship with His Father. In solidarity with Jesus and the Triune God, man can fast, pray, study, and trustingly submit to the Divine Will, thus minimizing His pain and offering condolences and love. Sin still exists because He still honors our free will, though we now have the opportunity to wash our robes white in the Blood of the Lamb. There are many Catholics (and other people of faith, I imagine) who do penance and make sacrifices in reparation for their sin and the sin of the world. Nothing we limited creatures can do could ever cover the full debt, hence Jesus' sacrifice was necessary.

      • Terry Cyr

        *I goofed - evil can only warp or obscure the truth, not pollute it (nothing to pollute with).

      • There is a lot of "what" here, but not really any why. You write the above as if Jesus and God are just working within a natural system that they just have to manage within. But they/he made it this way.

        You say "by right" it would be our blood shed for the wounds of sin... But this is by design. God's design. It could not have been by way of necessity, since this universe and the moral framework was chosen by God. We can of course think of alternatives. Such as god just forgives these sins, without needing to effect this exception to his system of justice. Or forgives us when we believe in him.

        But I just do not understand this idea of healing through wounds, repair through torture and suffering. You just say this as if it makes sense. But it doesn't make sense. Why does wounding and killing repair? These are not acts of healing or repair, they are destructive.

        Not only this, but ever since we continue to have sin and rip the apart the fabric of the Father's Being. So either these sins we do now are not damaging this fabric anymore, which suggests they are not really "sins" in the sense they were before the crucifixion. Or, that the crucifixion etc, was not the event that actually fixes and heals things, rather, the cure is Jesus' decision to allow it to be healed etc., which means the Easter story was symbolic, which seriously undermines Christian belief.

        • Terry Cyr

          Hi Brian Green Adams,

          I am trained in Biology, where the “what” and the “why” are closely related. Structure-function relationships are a big deal in Biology. For example, one could either say that a carnivore has sharp teeth because it eats meat, or one could say that a carnivore eats meat because it
          has sharp teeth. Both statements would.be ok, but the most complete way to say it is, “As the animal evolved, it became better built for how it lived because it lived that way, thus enabling it to live that way.” I suppose I
          consider God through the same lens – where what He Is, what He does, and why He does it are inseparable. (Only He didn’t evolve, nor does He change).

          You’ve got it - the Triune God (including Jesus) is working within His own system. In fact, Jesus often spoke of His own actions as doing the Father’s will. It’s tough to imagine through our own lens of limitations, but the Divine Will is the will of a Perfect Being – complete,
          good, loving, and flawless. His own system, then, isn’t going to be anything short of complete, perfect, and
          good.

          You are right that God is a God of justice. If we were only able to choose the good, would our choices matter? Would we have any more dignity than a rock? It is truly a wonder of God’s love that He allows himself to be hurt just so we can be co-creators. He sure didn’t need to invite us to participate, so it is not out of necessity. It is, however, out of His identity. Love goes beyond itself. It creates and gives life. Love did not make the universe to be a mantelpiece, but to receive and reciprocate love. It is impossible to love without choice.

          I can answer one alternative to Calvary from my own
          experience. I “just forgave” someone who was hurting me. It amounted to pretending that it didn’t matter, and in turn that I didn’t matter, and I was rewarded with an abusive relationship. We would lose sight of God’s dignity and Personhood if He effectively lied about the gravity of our choices. Truth Himself isn’t going to lie.

          I’m not sure what is meant by “without needing to effect
          this exception to his system of justice”?

          In Acts 10:43, it is written that “To Him all the prophets
          bear witness, that everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness of sins through His Name.” Jesus also said “Everyone who acknowledges Me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” So the idea that He “forgives us when we believe in him” has some traction in the scriptures. Sooo… why does the Catholic Church insist
          upon receiving the Sacraments? Wouldn’t it be easier to declare belief in Jesus to be enough?

          Jesus also said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” Another direct quote from Jesus to Peter (first Pope): “I will give you
          the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The Church would be unfaithful to Jesus if she declared belief to be enough. Jesus gave commands. For example, when He instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He commanded His
          disciples, “Do this in remembrance of Me," and "Love one another as I have loved you."

          Categorically, wounding and killing do not repair. Evil sacrifices others for the self. It devours. Love is self-sacrificing and gives life. Birth is a painful, bloody, and terrifying ordeal, but our mothers went through those wounds for us just the same. Jesus set the example for mankind in pouring out His life. His whole life was lived as a gift, culminating in His total gift of self on the Cross.

          Regarding the question of sin before and after Calvary, God is beyond time. All time and space exist to Him as one single picture.

          • I am afraid I cannot distill a point from all of this. You seem to just accept a certain interpretation of what you consider scripture.

            Let me ask you this, does death and suffering involve change? Certainly one would have to of from a state of life to a state of death to die. If god does not change, by what logic can you say he died on the cross?

          • Terry Cyr

            Technically the universe is changing, right? I know I said at some point that the universe is a part of God since it exists, yet He still goes beyond it. It goes back to His identity as Truth, and even the truth that hasn’t “happened yet” belongs to
            Him.

            I think the biggest piece that is missing right now is that my faith is a relationship with a Person. It is not mere belief that something is true. Not even half of this would make sense to me if I hadn’t spent 15 years in prayer (reaching out and
            listening to Him) and silence. Just like any other relationship, it involves taking a risk. I’m willing to bet you grow in trust and friendship with others long before you understand them or even know their life story. Sometimes it’s tough to even understand one’s own self.

  • David Nickol

    The explanatory power of Girard’s theory is immense: the ritualized sacrifice, collective persecution, and mythical traditions of the ancient world are all best explained by one and the same scapegoat mechanism.

    I know next to nothing about René Girard and his theory of mimetic desire and scapegoating, but I am wary of someone who comes along in the 20th century and believes himself to have discovered the key to everything. In googling to try to find an even-handed assessment of Girard's work, I see that one of the things his critics have serious reservations about is the fact that scapegoating is, in its own way, a "theory of everything." The explanatory power is too immense, in the same way we now see the explanatory power of Freudian thought or Marxist thought was (or still is, by some) vastly overestimated.

    • If that's the worst you can say about the guy, that's not so bad!

      But you're right, an over-intoxication with the theory and a hubris about its reach is a common criticism, and a valid one. (Back in college I started regretting my decision to major in English when the capstone classes introduced us to various modes of literary reductionism (Marxist, feminist, psychoanalytic, etc.). It's not that these modes of criticism didn't sometimes give true interpretations; it's that they were, ipso facto, doomed to explain everything except everything. Not to mention boring.)

      Still, I think there's something special about an anthropological theory like Girard's, and the more I read on it the more I'm convinced of this. Freud relied on "the poets" as the forebears of the unconscious; Marx pivoted on a the master-slave dialectic of philosophy. Girard relies only on our cultural artifacts; he digs his hands into the dirt of history, piecing together our oldest recorded activities in mythology and history and taking them on their word. If the conclusions are over-applied by overzealous disciples, at least its tough-minded and "shows its work."

      • William Davis

        Free will (which I am certain exists, though in a limited sense, this is directly from neurology) makes it impossible to corral human behavior into a simple theory. If you really think about Girard, he is basically saying that jealousy is the primary motive for everything, something I find ridiculous. Sure jealousy is a pretty common motive, but some of us happen to be motivated by virtues like seeking truth and justice, and a whole lot more. This article is a great critique, not to mention the biggest criticism that Girard leaves no room for originally (the first person to come of with an idea). I've seen all kinds of theories like this in sociology and psychology, all only hold up in certain situations.

        http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2008/09/01/a-millennial-critique-of-rene-girard%E2%80%99s-thesis-on-scapegoating/

        • Loreen Lee

          Thanks for this William. I found the text referred to in your link very difficult. I have much to learn. What it did impress on me was the validity of Habermas in his approach to religion, generally. (And that includes cosmological explanations for a world order. In that respect I found a You Tube exhortation that we could all be one by considering the unifying aspect of the universe(s)!) The difficulty is to transcend the social order, and thus I attempt to avoid provocative 'critiques', as much as I can. Name calling is just one of the many forms of scapegoating, from gossip, misrepresentation (intentional or accidental with unexpected results), gas lighting, etc. etc. The world is 'full of it'. (pun intended). So there's the mote and the beam again. I have certainly found that if I am unable to 'find the good in anything' it is a reflection of my inability to 'see the good in myself. Thanks again. Am going to keep this link to reread.

      • William Davis

        P.S. While I'm criticizing the content, you did a good job on the article, the subject is thought provoking, thanks :)

    • Papalinton

      "The explanatory power is too immense ......."

      Yes. If Girard's assertions are too good to be true, they probably are too good to be true.

      Hinging on a Girard perspective simply adds a further apologetical interpretation rather than explain the primal reasons for human let alone animal sacrifice to appease gods.

  • David Nickol

    According to Girard, ancient human societies were destabilized by mimetic conflicts: two parties who desired the same object would start to imitate each other’s desire until the rivalry erupted into a kind of contagion which threatened to destroy the whole community. Then, a hidden mechanism was triggered which transferred the blame onto a third party . . . .

    One of the main questions that comes to mind is, if Gerard's insights are valid, what is it about human beings that causes them to follow this pattern? Did God create man this way?

    Someone is bound to say, "No, God did not create man this way. It is the result of original sin." But that is no answer. If God created man, and man damaged himself by original sin, it is ultimately still all within the framework that God designed. Man could only damage himself in ways that God made possible.

  • Ezra Casa

    Sacrifice, the Sacred,Redemption & Salvation

    Apocatastasis or apokatastasis (from Greek: ἀποκατάστασις; literally, "restoration" or "return") is the teaching that everyone will, in the end, be saved. It looks toward the ultimate reconciliation of good and evil; all creatures endowed with reason, angels and humans, will eventually come to a harmony in God's kingdom. It is based on, among other things, St. Peter's speech in Acts 3.21 ("Christ Jesus who must remain in heaven until the time of the final restoration of all things χρόνων ἀποκαταστάσεως πάντων") and St. Paul's letter to Timothy in which he says that it is God's will that all men should be saved (1 Timothy 2.4).
    http://orthodoxwiki.org/Apocatastasis

    Catholic theologian Hans Balthasar though not a universalist , Balthasar tried to demonstrate from Scripture the real possibility of universal salvation—something that could happen. Yet he also contended damnation is a real possibility—likewise something that could happen. (His description of Hell is among the most chilling, by the way.) Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? focuses on the possibility all will be saved, rather than on the danger of damnation, a danger both Balthasar and his critics accepted.
    http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2735/did_hans_urs_von_balthasar_teach_that_everyone_will_certainly_be_saved.aspx

  • David Nickol

    Here is a question that I have often wondered about. Did the Jew of the Old and New Testament sacrifice animals to God because they believed it was pleasing to God, or did God actually command animal sacrifices? For example, here is Leviticus 1:14-17:

    If a person offers a bird as a burnt offering to the LORD, the offering brought must be a turtledove or a pigeon. Having brought it to the altar, the priest shall wring its head off and burn it on the altar. The blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar. He shall remove its crissum by means of its feathers and throw it on the ash heap at the east side of the altar. Then, having torn the bird open by its wings without separating the halves, the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood and the embers. It is a burnt offering, a sweet-smelling oblation to the LORD.

    In Leviticus, this is a direct quote from God himself to Moses. Did God actually want people to do this?

    • Alexandra

      I hope this helps:

      For your question on Old Testament sacrifice (see especially Section III B.)

      http://www.salvationhistory.com/studies/lesson/supper_given_for_you_the_old_testament_story_of_sacrifice

      For why the sacrifices are no longer necessary (Jesus died once for all on the cross.)
      http://www.salvationhistory.com/studies/lesson/supper_one_sacrifice_for_all_time

      For Jesus as the perfect sacrifice and the Mass:
      https://www.ewtn.com/faith/teachings/euchb1a.htm

      (Yes, I do think it would be wrong for Catholics to sacrifice animals.)

      • David Nickol

        Thanks for the links.

        • Alexandra

          You're welcome David. I've been enjoying many of your questions- very thought provoking.

    • Arthur Jeffries

      For Catholics, would animal sacrifice today be deemed simply unnecessary, since the Mass is the perfect sacrifice?

      According to Paul, the Gospels, Hebrews, the apostolic fathers, etc. the sacrificial system has reached its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

      You've mentioned Jesus' cursing of the fig tree a few times in the past. You might be interested to know that some scholars, such as Robert Hamerton-Kelly (see The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark), interpret that tale as a reference to the termination of the sacrificial system.

      • David Nickol

        Thanks!

        Have you seen what a used copy of The Gospel and the Sacred: Poetics of Violence in Mark is going for? The prices for the ten copies on Amazon range from $49.94 to $4111.50 plus shipping. If I pay $4111.50 for a used book, I don't know why I should pay $3.99 for shipping!

    • Doug Shaver

      Did God actually want people to do this?

      Whoever wrote Leviticus said he did. I don't think I'm being unreasonable if I don't think I should just take his word for it.

  • Michael Murray

    nearly all early peoples sacrificed human beings

    Is that correct? I wouldn't have thought early hunter gatherers sacrificed that much if at all. I don't think there was sacrifice amongst Australian indigenous communities who are a good snapshot of such societies. Depending on what you think constitutes an early human all our ancestors were hunter gatherers from 2.6 million years ago until around 10,000 years ago.

    • William Davis

      The idea that all early peoples sacrificed human beings is false. In fact the linked article doesn't even say that, let's look at what it says:

      "Was Fissured Fred a human sacrifice? We shall probably never know for certain but there is circumstantial evidence to suggest he was. His remains were mixed up with weapons and equipment, which had themselves been sacrificed and thrown into the water.

      The evidence for human sacrifice in this period of the Iron Age is most prolific in Denmark, Germany and Holland, where many bodies have been found completely preserved in peat bogs. Some were hanged or strangled, the noose still around their neck, and others were bludgeoned on the head or had their throat slit.

      They too, like Fissured Fred, were found in special places, where people had made offerings to an afterworld. It seems clear that these were not murders, but deliberate, socially sanctioned, killings.

      Writing much later, in the first century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus tells us that these Germanic peoples executed their social outcasts - cowards, shirkers and those of disrepute - by pressing them down into bogs. So were these bog victims in fact executions and not sacrifices? If such a distinction could be drawn between the two, it does seem most likely that they were sacrifices, because bogs were places where other, inanimate offerings were made."

      The evidence for human sacrifice in this period of the Iron Age is most prolific in Denmark, Germany and Holland, where many bodies have been found completely preserved in peat bogs. Some were hanged or strangled, the noose still around their neck, and others were bludgeoned on the head or had their throat slit.

      They too, like Fissured Fred, were found in special places, where people had made offerings to an afterworld. It seems clear that these were not murders, but deliberate, socially sanctioned, killings.

      Writing much later, in the first century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus tells us that these Germanic peoples executed their social outcasts - cowards, shirkers and those of disrepute - by pressing them down into bogs. So were these bog victims in fact executions and not sacrifices? If such a distinction could be drawn between the two, it does seem most likely that they were sacrifices, because bogs were places where other, inanimate offerings were made."

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/british_prehistory/human_sacrifice_01.shtml

      It's obvious what they have done, they have turned every human killing they find into a "human sacrifice" which is a completely bizarre. Look at the reason to suppose it was a human sacrifice...swords were sacrificed too. Really sacrificing swords? How about there was a battle, fred died, and no one wanted his stuff and left it with him. What makes them think the swords were sacrificed and how does that even make any sense??? It isn't surprising that executions (and battles) occurred in places where religious ceremonies were held because this is the only place where primitive peoples gathered. History makes it clear that the temple came before the city, so we have to think of these places as cities. You also have to take Tacitus with a grain of salt, he had worse words for the Jews than he did for the Germanic peoples, to put him in context.

      There are two major motives at work here. The first is sensationalism. People are much more likely to read something on human sacrifice in ancient times than simple executions (though future peoples will likely look at us as barbarians for continuing capital punishment). The second is ego, it serves the ego very well for us to think we are somehow superior to all ancient peoples. Christians tend to have a presupposition (directly from the Bible) that anyone who isn't a Christian must naturally be a moral barbarian, because only Jesus can make one righteous. This stuff feeds right into that world view, and sorry, but I find it repugnant and destructive to real understanding of history.

      I'm not saying that these people never sacrificed humans, but I am saying there is not good evidence to think that it was rampant, so I don't think it. The article was only talking about a specific region anyway, far from all early peoples.

  • I know this is off topic, but I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all the Catholics on this site a happy Easter.

    We spend a lot of time adversarial to each other, and I think those of us who repeat here quite enjoy it.

    But we haven't really acknowledged that in doing so we've built a little community as well.

    Other than attending mass I expect we will all be spending time with family, friends and hopefully contemplating renewal and springtime this weekend. And sacrificing chocolate pagan symbols.;) we probably all have a lot more in common than different.

    Thanks Brandon for maintaining this site (and not banning me) Thank you all for your respectful and often challenging discourse.

    • Ezra Casa

      Thanks Brandon for maintaining this site (and not banning me)

      Thanks for the site and well wishes is one thing ...but the groveling?....(thanks for not banning me?)...makes me gag a bit. But it is as you wish. Reminds me of the Stockholm syndrome.

      • Loreen Lee

        I checked your Disqus file and found that I was banned. So, if you self-reflect a little, perhaps you will find that the openness of Brian's remark is justified. After all, I am not going to thank you for being 'banned'.

        • Ezra Casa

          I checked your Disqus file and found that I was banned.

          Excuse me...how is it that I have banned you? I did not think that was possible on Disqus? If you were banned...it was not I that did it. Please explain that I was not being open to the remark of BGA?

          • I think she means that you have your Disqus profile set to private, which hides your comment history from public view.

          • Ezra Casa

            Ok....so as it is for many if not most! What a paranoid B. So many hostile people that seem to think that we should not have any privacy. Thank you Luke....I would have though that she would have been more sophisticated than that since she is a regular in these discussions for a long time.

          • Yes, many people do set their profiles to private. As far as I know, there's no way to selectively block certain users from viewing one's profile in Disqus after it is set to private.

          • Loreen Lee

            Luke: If the Disqus file is set to private, I believe you have blocked all viewers, and there is no intent to be selective.

            Edit: And please, by the way, I trust you will not flag these comments as inappropriate, as you so often do.. You do 'like to please', do you not!!!!! But don't worry, for a while my daughter too thought that I tended to be a people pleaser. Hopefully, I have overcome any feeling of adequacy, or what not, that may have contributed to a need for approval by others. So I shall wish you and your friend, Ezra a delightful relationship. But I shall not retract any comments that I feel I have made in support of Brian's freedom of speech.

          • I understand.

            Just so you know, I've probably only flagged 5-10 comments on Strange Notions, out of the many thousands I've read over the last few months. I like to think I'm pretty discriminating, but maybe that makes me an overzealous flagger by others' standards.

          • Loreen Lee

            Thank you Luke, for your 'understanding'. I was concerned at one point that you might have flagged a chap whose comments I generally enjoyed for your humor. I do understand that it was not one of his cartoons that was possibly flagged. But as a general rule I do not commit to any form of 'Stockholm Syndrome', (see another comment), and so such support of policy that 'could' lead to banning, i something that I always avoid. Let's just say that I put my 'faith/trust' in their superior capacity to make the proper edits. And by the way, do not be surprised if these comments are deleted. They are after all very 'off topic'. So please do not be alarmed. All the best. I follow you on both sites. And yes I have checked your Disqus. I always do. Trust you are not offended, and that you can see this 'personal policy' of mine with a generous spirit.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks for that summary. Presumably a third motive is that having made sacrifice the underpinning of the whole cosmos by sacrificing God you are going to want to see them everywhere.

          • Loreen Lee

            Do you mean that the sacrifice of Jesus is a kind of precedent for further sacrifice. An interesting link on this topic was given in a comment by William Davis. That is that the atonement actually, in some way, had the effect of making the Jewish faith a scapegoat. It was a very difficult article to understand though. Especially when I have understood the value of the atonement and the fulfillment of the law, and with grace, as being the overcoming of the need for at least animal sacrifice. It is true, though I understand that Jesus being made the world made flesh from the beginning of time, seems to iimply at least the potentiality within the human race to understand the entire cosmos, intellectually at least. But I may be exaggerating here. I was surprised for instance at even Father Barron referring to Jesus as an icon. But as I mentioned earlier, it is very easy to presume that one truly understands the depth and implications of these world-changing developments. One of the reasons why I do not condemn any 'religion' . I don't understand enough to do that. Seems now true that I kinda lived the life of an atheist though for about fifty years without 'worrying' about it. But I have found many questions to ask and answer in 'coming back'. So what is happening here is a kinda strange 'revisitation'. Thanks.. P.S. I can even accept reductionism on the premise that we really do not know what matter is. I am amazed at the theories that are 'out there'.

          • Ezra Casa

            AhhhLuke.....Depending upon your reply....will determine whether I will be back or not....she seems determined to demonize me.

          • I didn't mean to become the intermediary! I'm not sure what the right thing is to say, here. If you'd like to stay, I'm fine with it, haha, but know that I'm a guest here, too :)

          • Ezra Casa

            Than you Luke....if only the other individual has grace to let things go as per any definition as per 'forgiveness.'....I am willing to do the same.

          • Loreen Lee

            I believe the quotation that initiated this conversation was: Thanks for the site and well wishes is one thing ...but the
            groveling?....(thanks for not banning me?)...makes me gag a bit. But it is as you wish. Reminds me of the Stockholm syndrome.

            You actually inferred that Brian 'suffered from the Stockholm syndrome'. Surely then I did not 'start anything' but merely came to his defense. I trust however, that Brian will forgive you especially as his comments, as well as Luke's, never indulge in viscious colloquialisms such a calling people a "B", etc. etc. But then I notice that several comments have already been deleted, I presume because of the swearing, etc. All the best to you. At least I have avoided being the third party in a scapegoat chase with you as the initiating attacker. (Just to be a little on-topic here. grin grin).

          • Loreen Lee

            I regret that you do not find my humor sophisticated. But the point still stand. You deny people access to your comment thread. You have banned me from viewing more of your comments. At least Brian's comments are public. And he is entitled to his perspective and concern that his comments are not disagreeable in any way, shape or form. There is often mentioned in this comment thread the possibility of being banned, because of precedent. I hold that Brian was being most grateful. I respect his sincerity. I am grateful also, when my comments are not deleted, and hopefully I too will never face the prospect of being an outcast from this forum.

            P.S. Do you fear going public of something. I do not know you so I can only speculate on your intentions. But, unlike what you say, there are very few people who do not allow access to their Disqus file.

          • Ezra Casa

            Just go FYS....you silly person. If you are gratefull to SN for not deleting your comments you are also a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. My reasons for privacy are personal...for not allowing complete access to my comment thread. You are just being a B. You seem to have a burr under your saddle.

          • Loreen Lee

            My goodness. I have learned a new 'word': http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome By your criteria, perhaps you will be able to see that Brian's reasons for his comment can also be described as 'personal'. However, I find you a very judgmental 'person', and I am not convinced that you have any knowledge of psychology to label his comment with any descriptive term. As Luke Cooper has studied psychology, perhaps he is the one to verify whether such a term is indeed applicable within such a context. In any case, it is possible that you are projecting, especially with regard to the 'B' and the 'burr under your saddle'. Hopefully, Luke Cooper will be able to give you any further support and advice according to your need.

          • Ezra Casa

            What the f is wrong with your head? I would never ever have said such a thing in any normal situation....but you seem to be goading me into such. You should just look at the thread of which you have given birth to the convo.

          • Loreen Lee

            Just a thought. If you are fearful in any way of people knowing what you think on any topic, you can overcome the problem simply by not posting on this or any other site.

          • Ezra Casa

            It is not a matter of fearing people kwowing what I think on any number of topics. You are being a silly B in expecting me or anyone else to change my Disqus privacy setting....you are a sick B.

          • Loreen Lee

            I shall now leave this conversation, learning from the topic of this post, that I may be in danger of being made your scapegoat!!!!

        • Ezra Casa

          I checked your Disqus file and found that I was banned.

          Can you explain to me what you mean when you say you have checked my Disqus file? I would like to know what you are talking about. And why would you be googling me in any case?

          • Loreen Lee

            I always make a search on people's Disqus history in an attempt to get to know them better. It is helpful for instance, in ascertaining when and if a particular comment might be appropriate. In face to face conversation, we can get to know one another personally, with far greater ease, than on an internet thread. But as I strive not to offend, I often do not push an argument for instance, if I feel a person might be sensitive to the issue. You don't have to win them all, I believe. But, I don't need to have an excuse I guess if I have offended you, particularly if your ideas are not transparent and available for people to access. Hopefully, you will not be as hard on other people's choices regarding what they post, as I believe you have been with the comment made by Brian. After all, is it any of your business? And yes, Brian is a very good friend of mine. I 'know him personally'.

    • Papalinton

      Ditto

    • Michael Murray

      I expect we will all be spending time with family, friends and hopefully contemplating renewal and springtime this weekend.

      Except for this of us contemplating autumn and winter :-)

    • Thanks, Brian. I agree. And yes, there will be lots of good red wine and "perpetuation of such pagan joy" on our part this weekend! Wishing you (and all the regulars at SN) a deluge of peace, joy, love, and laughter all throughout the Octave.

    • Thanks for you and all you bring to the community, Brian!

    • Michael Murray
      • Not going to visits that like, because I am pretty sure what it is. I recall well over a decade ago seeing someone on the news being literally nailed to a cross in the Phillipines. You can put that one in the category of "things that made me think religion is potentially dangerous".

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Anthropologist and Catholic convert René Girard has spent a lifetime trying to better understand this cycle. According to Girard, ancient human societies were destabilized by mimetic conflicts: two parties who desired the same object would start to imitate each other’s desire until the rivalry erupted into a kind of contagion which threatened to destroy the whole community. Then, a hidden mechanism was triggered which transferred the blame onto a third party, one that was either uniquely strong (e.g., a mighty king) or uniquely feeble (e.g., a decrepit itinerant). The collective sacrifice and sacralization of this figure, enshrined in religion, was a sort of release valve that restored peace and order in the community.

    How does Sati fit into this paradigm?

    Cannibalism?

    Or Aztec sacrifice, which is uniquely religious:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_sacrifice_in_Aztec_culture

    There are all sorts of human sacrifices that are in contradiction to Girard's paradigm.

    Our anachronistic impulse is to see the latter as causing the former. Religion thirsts for victims to appease a fearsome deity, and sacrifice satiates it. What could be clearer? But we “delude ourselves,” Cahill argues, if we reduce the “complex history of religious feeling” to this caricature. In reality, sacrifice and the sacred – linked though they are – are both functions of a deeper cycle of victimization written into the very heart of social order.

    See Aztecs.

    The explanatory power of Girard’s theory is immense: the ritualized sacrifice, collective persecution, and mythical traditions of the ancient world are all best explained by one and the same scapegoat mechanism.

    Certainly not all mythical traditions? Some are meant to promote civic virtue or explain the seasons. I do not see what that has to do with scapegoating.

    Sacrifice is not explained by the scapegoat mechanism that I quoted earlier. Perhaps Girard means something different.

    The scapegoat mechanism doesn’t see innocent victims; it doesn’t see victims at all. It only sees that guilty outsider, that “true” threat that has to be eliminated.

    See Aztec human sacrifice to Tezcatlipoca for a counter example.

    But the New Testament, building on the groundwork of the Old, exalts victims of collective violence through a supreme, innocent Victim. There’s an irony in this: the summit of scapegoating violence unexpectedly collapses on itself through itself. As Girard puts it: “God Himself reuses the scapegoat mechanism, at his own expense, in order to subvert it.”

    Scapegoating implies a degree of innocence. Certainly in Christianity, Jesus is also a scapegoat.

    The Christian sacrifice is an inversion of all sacrifice, one which tilts the scales back against the community by mirroring its violence back at itself.

    Not sure what this means.

    The whole interior logic had become one of self-sacrifice – and Christ’s love, not man’s violence, had become the means of restoration.

    You mean Christ's death.

    In Ireland – as in so many countries still immersed in human sacrifice – this mighty itinerant, decrepit king, and “Lamb” of God transitioned the people from ritual violence to collective disarmament. Cahill explains:

    Celtic sacrifice was overstated.

    “Patrick declared that such sacrifices were no longer needed. Christ had died once for all...Yes, the Irish would have said, here is a story that answers our deepest needs – and answers them in a way so good that we could never even have dared dream of it. We can put away our knives and abandon our altars. These are no longer required. The God of the Three Faces has given us his own Son, and we are washed clean in the blood of this lamb. God does not hate us; he loves us. Greater love than this no man has than that he should lay down his life for his friends. That is what God's Word, made flesh, did for us. From now on, we are all sacrifices –but without the shedding of blood. It is our lives, not our deaths, that this God wants.”

    This nicely fits a narrative, but also contradicts this:

    Our anachronistic impulse is to see the latter as causing the former. Religion thirsts for victims to appease a fearsome deity, and sacrifice satiates it. What could be clearer? But we “delude ourselves,” Cahill argues, if we reduce the “complex history of religious feeling” to this caricature. In reality, sacrifice and the sacred – linked though they are – are both functions of a deeper cycle of victimization written into the very heart of social order.

    It seems a change in religion was enough to end a "cycle of victimization written into the very heart of the social order. This is having it both ways.

    Why, if the above is all true, is the world still so violent?

    Tribalism, totalitarianism, scarcity of resources, nationalism, and dogmatic belief systems.
    Not scapegoating. At least it is only a small part.

    • Ignatius J.,

      Thanks for the comment. Rather lengthy, but I expect nothing less from someone writing a "lengthy indictment against our century"!

      Girard describes elements of Aztec sacrifices in "Violence and the Sacred" which dovetail perfectly with his theory: how their "flayed lord and master" (Xipe Totec) is alternatively incarnated in both the surrogate victim and the executioner who flays that victim "in order to don their skin" (unfortunately), and how the victim is revered and treated like a god prior to his murder. The kind of ritualized sacrifice practiced by the Aztecs is a sterling example of that "collective sacralization" of the scapegoat "enshrined in religion" I mentioned in the quoted paragraph. Sacrificial rites reenacted, within set boundaries and practices, the original impulse toward collective murder that restored peace and order for the community. In short, such religious sacrifice is precisely what Girard has in mind.

      From an anthropological perspective, Christ doesn't "end" this violent cycle of sacrifice so much as invert it. This inversion of sacrifice is part and parcel of the explosiveness of Revelation, but it retains the forms and of religious sacrifice as to better conquer it from the inside (so to speak). He is the Scapegoat to free all scapegoats, the final and perfect Sacrifice. His followers still attend the sacrifice of the Mass to reenact this primordial sacrifice of Love - like the Aztecs, only turned upside down, with the community guilty and the victim innocent. Girard in an interview makes a similar point about cannibalism which, far from an aberration, he calls the "essence of sacrifice": "[The Mass] means the end of violence yet at the same time it shows the continuity with a whole history of religion...cannibalism is part of human history and the Eucharist summarizes it all in non-violence."