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Humane Religion Magazine

January - February 1998 Issue

HUMAN AND ANIMAL SACRIFICE

A television program that concentrates on religious news (News Odyssey), recently presented a segment that dealt with the growing occurrence of child sacrifice in India. It reported that in rural areas of the country, this had become enough of a problem that several human rights groups have been called in to investigate the disappearance of children. It is feared they are being kidnapped in order to be sacrificed.

The newscast did not link this report of child sacrifice to the fact that animal sacrifice is an everyday fact of life in rural Indian villages. Neither was this connection made by the team of educators who are going about the countryside, trying to educate their people away from sacrificial worship. A spokesman for these educators said "We strongly condemn these acts of human sacrifice." (Emphasis added.)

But it is not a coincidence that the sacrifice of young children is being carried out in a country where animal sacrifice is still an acceptable form of religious worship. And it is not only in rural areas that sacrificial worship is practiced. In the vast city of Calcutta, where worship of the goddess Kali is widespread, animal sacrifice is a common occurrence.

This belief in a deity who can be persuaded to provide good things for people—or dissuaded from doing bad things to them—if living creatures are killed on its altar, is a form of worship that is still supported by various religions. And even Christianity, which never sacrificed animals, supports this practice in retrospect. It maintains that the slaughter of animals was a legitimate form of worship, instituted by God.

Not surprisingly, the Bible shows that our Judeo-Christian heritage includes a history of child sacrifice. As long as the slaughter of animals is considered a godly form of worship, there will always be those who see human sacrifice as a reasonable alternative. If the killing of an animal earns great merit, than the murder of a child will be even more efficacious.

It is this kind of thinking that is leading to child sacrifice in India today, just as did in Palestine, in the past. The Bible is replete with references to the sacrifice of children. It was a continuing problem among the Jewish people, for whom animal sacrifice was a central act of worship.

The Bible is filled with euphemisms that obscure its own references to human sacrifice. It tells of the "false worship" among the Hebrews, who were worshipping Molech or Chemosh. And for the most part, the modern reader equates this false worship with some kind of veneration, or adoration, of foreign gods. But the false worship that was denounced by the prophets also had to do with human sacrifice.

Although there is no record of King Solomon sacrificing his own children, the Bible does report that he built altars to the gods who demanded such worship. "And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord...then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh and for Molech. And likewise did he for all his strange wives which burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods. (I Kings,11: 7,8)


Human sacrifices were burnt on the altars built by King Solomon


So while the priests were burning animal sacrifices at the great Temple built by Solomon, there were others who were offering human sacrifices "on the mountain east of Jerusalem" on the altars which the King had built for himself and his wives.

Solomon reigned circa 961-922 B.C., And from the time that the Jerusalem Temple became the center of unending animal sacrifices, the Hebrew people were also plagued by the incidence of child sacrifice among them. It continued for centuries, and the Bible reports that there were Kings of Judah who not only made human sacrifices, they slaughtered their own children. The scriptures name King Ahaz and King Manasseh as having sacrificed their sons.

The many biblical references to Topheth and to the Valley of Hinnom as places where the Israelites worshipped false gods, are also references to the sacrifice of children that went on there. These human sacrifices were burnt offerings, in imitation of the animals who were offered as burnt sacrifices (called holocausts) at the Jerusalem Temple .

The Latter Prophets, who condemned the sacrifice of animals, understood that the slaughter of any being—human or animal—was an abomination. In the book of Micah, no distinction is made between the evils of animal sacrifice and the evils of human sacrifice.

"With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul"? (Micah 6:6,7)

The Prophet went on to say that the lord demanded mercy and justice, not sacrifice. "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."(Micah 6:8) Centuries later, Jesus repeated this message to his followers: "I will have mercy, not sacrifice." (Matthew l9:13; 12:7) Micah was prophesying to his people in the eighth century, B.C., and his ministry continued during the reign of three separate Kings of Judah. Their behavior makes it apparent that they ignored the Prophet. One of those who came to the throne during that time was Ahaz, who sacrificed his own son. A generation later Manasseh, who also slaughtered his son, ascended the throne. He ruled for 55 years, and during that time the king and the people continued their ritual murder of children and animals.


 The Prophets warned that sacrificial worship would bring disaster


Other prophets like Isaiah, Amos, and Jeremiah, had warned that the slaughter of either children or animals, in the name of God, would bring disaster to the nation. But the Hebrew people continued their sacrifices until they were compelled to stop by outside forces. In 586 B.C., the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground. The Jewish people were exiled to Babylon.

But a few generations later, when the people returned from their Babylonian captivity, sacrificial worship was reinstated. It was still going on during the time of Jesus but several decades after his death, animal sacrifice was, again, forcibly ended.

This time it was the Temple built by Herod that was destroyed. And this time it was the Roman Army that defeated the Jewish people.

The Temple has never been rebuilt, so sacrifice has never been resumed in Jerusalem. But in spite of the prophetic warnings against animal sacrifice, and in spite of the disasters that came upon the people who refused to give up this violent worship, both Christianity and Judaism uphold the slaughter of animals as having been a legitimate form of worship.

Both religions claim that the God who breathed His Spirit into all creatures, commanded men to murder His animals. They claim that the Lord of all creation was pleased by the sacrificial worship in which frenzied animals were murdered in the name of God, and their blood poured, by the bucketsful, on the altars of their Creator.

Just as human sacrifices were a counterpart to animal sacrifices in ancient Israel, this relationship continues in modern India. And those educators who are trying to eradicate the ritual slaughter of children need to understand that as long as they condemn only human sacrifice—implying that the sacrifice of animals is an acceptable and godly form of worship—the problem will continue. There will always be those who think that if the ritual murder of a lamb is pleasing to their god, then the slaughter of a child will be even more pleasing. #

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