I thank Jason Pitzl-Waters of The Wild Hunt Blog for making note of Academia Antinoi in his Pagan News of Note post today! (I’ll reserve comment on some of the other issues raised there for the moment…and possibly forever, as I don’t know that I really do have anything useful to add to the discussion.) I’d like to use as a jumping-off point for the present entry something that he wrote about in his entry yesterday, and which may also have some degree of relevance to something that Sannion wrote in his blog regarding Dionysos and Jesus. (But on the latter, possibly not–nonetheless, it’s very worthwhile to read his entry from yesterday!)
The specific bit in The Wild Hunt post from yesterday that I want to respond to is some words by Cristina Odone, a conservative Catholic, on the recent decision in Britain that information on and the histories of other religions besides Christianity (and therefore including modern paganism, under certain circumstances) can be taught in public schools (her full comments are here):
God, Gaia, whatever: school children are already as familiar with the solstice as with the sacraments. In pockets of Cornwall, children will point out a nun in her habit: “Look, a Druid!” Their parents will merely shrug — one set of belief is as good as another. How long before the end of term is marked by a Black Mass, with only Health and Safety preventing a human sacrifice?
Oh, har-har-har, many of us might be saying–here’s just yet another ignorant and overprivileged Christian using scare-tactics in the face of the no-longer-“privileged-because-only-legally-allowed” status of her religious viewpoint. It is really a kind of pathetic phenomenon that a huge number of Christians cannot abide even the possibility that another religion (and oftentimes, another form of Christianity) gets anything like equal footing in any situation; and, the matter at hand in British schools is not one of equal footing by any means, since non-Christian religions cannot take up more than 40% of the religion curriculum…and that’s for all of them. You can guarantee that Judaism might get 10% since it’s the “parent” religion of Christianity; you can guess that (grudgingly, I’m sure, in some sectors) Islam will get at least 10% because of the large numbers of Muslims in Britain due to the British Empire’s colonizing legacy, and likewise for Hinduism. So, that leaves 10% of the religion curriculum for Jainism, Sikhism, atheism, Zoroastrianism, Shinto (if one is lucky), and possibly paganism–if (and only if, as I understand it) there are students with pagan parents in the given class. That hardly seems like much of a threat…unless, of course, one is completely and totally insecure in one’s own religion, and the mere possibility of other options makes it impossible for one to be able to function…
But, all of that is a side issue.
The idea that modern pagans are only prevented by health and safety standards from having “human sacrifices” is pretty thoroughly ridiculous from a variety of viewpoints–why waste perfectly good humans, especially when there’s so few modern pagans to begin with? And just randomly sacrificing non-pagans? Nope, sorry, it wouldn’t work…and, despite the apparent wish and fantasy of many non-pagans that we really want them and their religious “purity” and so forth for our “nefarious” purposes…well, that’s awfully medieval, and awfully anti-Semitic in origin–read Chaucer’s The Prioress’ Tale if you doubt where this whole complex comes from. So, I hate to destroy all of their fantasies, but there will be no “martyrdoms” of Christians due to the pagan thirst for human blood through sacrifice–what is offered to the gods has to be of the highest quality, and I’m very sad to say that most Christians who have such complexes don’t remotely qualify as potential sacrifice material, even if human sacrifice were on the table as an option these days…which, I again emphasize, it is not.
But, it would also be entirely erroneous to suggest that polytheist societies the world over never practiced human sacrifice. (In fact, put “human sacrifice” into a Google image search and you get a whole pile of Aztec images coming up first!) Various other societies, including several in Europe, also practiced human sacrifice at various points. Several different Celtic peoples seemed to have done so, as did various Germanic peoples. In Greek myth, there are several occasions in which human sacrifice is either decried by the gods (e.g. Lykaon via Zeus) or in some manner somewhat condoned or even demanded (e.g. Iphigeneia via Artemis), so the “record” on that matter is a bit ambiguous. Rome had a great (but only apparent) distaste for human sacrifice–unless it was a foundational sacrifice, which has left a record both archaeologically and mythically (e.g. Romulus’ killing of Remus)…or, unless it was a Gaul (because they weren’t really “human” anyway and thus didn’t quite qualify as “human sacrifice”)…or in a variety of other circumstances, including devotio, which is to say, dedicating one’s own death to a deity or to the health and well-being of another person. The latter, in fact, is an accusation that many of the “historical” sources from late antique Rome make in regards to Antinous…but, let’s leave that matter aside for the moment.
And, of course, there are various stories and accounts in Near Eastern archaeology–including in bits of the Hebrew Bible–that mention human sacrifice (and in particular child sacrifices to Ba’al) was something of a “problem” and a common custom in various cultures inhabiting that area of the world. We are given to understand that the Hebrew God–who shall be referred to in the remainder of this blog post in the Graeco-Egyptian manner as “Iao,” in alignment with my own practice, and in accordance with the custom of this blog–does not approve of human sacrifice at all. While the story of Abraham and Isaac is meant to demonstrate this, in a kind of roundabout way (and perhaps, ultimately, not very effectively), it is an important and in fact foundational moment in the history of the major “Abrahamic” monotheistic religions.
Now, Christians and Muslims are pretty insistent that their god is the same as Iao–although many Jews will not agree on that matter, and never have, but that’s a side issue–and Muslims have done a pretty decent job of following the “rule of thumb” that human sacrifice doesn’t fly with that god. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for–to my knowledge, any–Christians. Let me explain why.
Though it is too quickly and too often forgotten, the standard (little “o”) orthodox view on Christology is that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human; it was his incarnation as a human that made his ultimate “sacrificial” death both possible and valid for the purposes of Iao’s plan for the redemption of humanity. And while we who are polytheists are quite used to the possibility of theomachy (the death/slaying of a deity), and of the sacrificial deaths of deities (for what could be “made holy” [i.e. sacrificio] more than deities, who are often thought to be the very essence of holiness already?), and the litany of them is long and esteemed (though not as extensive as many atheists seem to think…but that’s another story!), adding in the element that when Jesus died, he was both human and divine changes things considerably. (The element of his apparent monotheism is also a bit anomalous–if he really is one person of a triune godhead, and he really did die during the crucifixion, then some part of what Christians think of as Iao had to have died–very likely, the human part, which is to say, the only part that has any sympathy or similarity to all of us, at least in the Christian view.) Now, rather than focus on the matter of the lack of creativity of this view of Iao, and that the best this version of Iao could come up with to redeem humanity was to commit a gross act of human sacrifice/theomacy that is both against his entire modus operandi and outline of best practice from the phase of the Hebrew Bible, and which also amounts to quasi-theo-suicide (!?!), let’s just take this matter as seriously as every Christian should, but apparently has managed not to do.
No matter if the sacrifice of Jesus’ death was a once-and-for-all, “he did it so no one would ever have to again” sort of affair, we’re still dealing with what is human sacrifice. It is human sacrifice that is endlessly re-represented in the central iconography of the religion; it is human sacrifice that is endlessly repeated in millions of sacred communion rituals and in the central “mystery” of the Mass on a daily basis; it is an event upon which the validity and the community and the theology of the entire Christian theological tradition is based and rests and finds all of its meaning. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I again emphasize that it’s human sacrifice, plain and simple.
Any argument to the contrary is the very definition of “special pleading.” If Jesus was fully human–which Christian theology insists he was–then his death, required by the Christian understanding of Iao, is human sacrifice. (Even if it is other types of sacrifice, e.g. “god-sacrifice,” as well.)
The cult of martyrdom that was the mainstay of the early Christian tradition, and which persisted after the period of Christian persecution was over (and continues to persist to this day!), and which is also heavily responsible for some of the worst abuses of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism in the modern world, is a direct result of this cheapening of human life and this regard for human life which suggests that these religions’ version of Iao is somehow “pleased” with humans willingly giving up their lives–which is to say, sacrificing–on behalf of their deity or making some point about him in the face of opposition. Saul of Tarsus’ words, that in order to save the soul of someone in the Corinthian community, that person’s body had to be slain, has been the basis of so much Christian dealing with anyone it does not agree with–or, rather, that it cannot convince to follow its rules and submit to its authority–rather than the actual words and most important teachings of their religion’s ostensible founder, deity, and “willing human sacrifice,” Yeshua ben Yoshef, a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth, on “love your neighbor as yourself” and many similar such statements. I know for a fact that there are Christians out there who wish for those “glory days” once again, so that they could punish with total impunity anyone who does not accept their particular version of Christianity.
Don’t get me wrong–most of the Christians I know personally, and all of the Christians that I consider my friends, do not think anything near to these types of thoughts, and do not wish anyone harm of the least sort. It is not any of these with whom I have difficulties.
But, I greatly resent it when certain Christians of a particular ilk make throwaway comments about supposed pagan human sacrifice in the modern world while quite myopically not realizing that they would not have a religion at all if the theological value of–or, more accurately, demand for–human sacrifice was not a cornerstone of their religion’s foundation and its continued liturgical vitality.