Debunking Sacrifice

For as long as humans have been carnivores, animals have been killed and eaten by humans. Cooked meat has been a feature of festivities, cementing relationships and agreements between people, and used as offerings to impress people and gods. The belief that food offerings make gods happy, or calms them down when angry, seems to go back to the earliest religious rituals. It is within that context that the idea of ‘sacrifice’ emerges.

The biblical Noah sacrificed ‘clean animals and clean birds’ to his god after leaving the ark, thereby causing their extinction if the story is to be believed, as a token of thanksgiving. We are told that the smoke from the burning flesh was a pleasing aroma to God (Genesis 8:20-21). That is all relatively innocuous. But it soon becomes bloody awful, nocuous, and wrong.

What is ‘wrong’? We are all able to differentiate between right and wrong, just as we can between light and dark, and good and bad. In fact, you would never know one from the other unless both always existed. When it comes to right and wrong in moral and ethical terms, this is always about relationships. Not just people, but other life on the planet, and our relationship to the planet itself (the Bible sadly neglects this almost entirely). Understanding this requires no religion and no god. This is nature; this is natural (see my other blog posts on Taoism).

But this does not serve tyrants and political control freaks, and the gods fashioned after them. So it was found necessary, in order to maintain their authority, to invent laws to control people… or at least codify the common sense ones that always exists (e.g. killing people is harmful, stealing from people his harmful, etc). Right and wrong is then measured by abstract laws and abstract punishments. Wrongdoing becomes disobedience against a lawmaker, who demands retribution and punishment. Compensating the victim (if it happens at all), and seeking reconciliation between the offender and the victim take second place to an ‘offended’ ruler and lawmaker who is not the victim at all.

The story gets worse when wrongness becomes sin, when we bring in superstition and magic, when ‘sin’ becomes a noun (rather than a verb), some stuff, some ‘thing’, and is separated from the dynamic of relationships between people. Sin becomes easier to deal with when it is believed to be a thing. Now you can charge money for removing it by developing a professional priesthood, and build ‘cathedrals’ from the profit.

In an early form the business worked this way… Step 1: you take an innocent animal, a goat; Step 2: the sinner lays their hands on the goat; Step 3 (optional): a prayer or incantation is spoken; Step 4: there is a transfer of the ‘sin’ to the goat, by laying hands on it; Step 5: it is sent off into the wilderness to die there along with its new infection. Problem solved! ‘Out of sight and out of mind’. What happened to the ‘sin’. Perhaps it defiled the land where the animal perished. Anyway, this was the mystical mechanics (metaphysics) of purification from it.

So, the ancients turned the abstract concept ‘wrongdoing’ into a substantial thing: sin. This is the reification fallacy.

Reification is when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it were a concrete real event or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating something that is not concrete, such as an idea, as a concrete thing. (Wikipedia)

According to the Bible this sin stuff is physically transmitted from parent to child (through sex) so that every child born is contaminated. All of humanity is therefore infected.

Given that it is a contaminant, the best and most effective way to deal with it is some other thing that can cleanse it away… like a detergent with special properties and powers. This requires the same magic as reification, but in reverse (counter-magic). We must retrofit some thing so it has properties that it never had before. We make it holy by endowing it with unseen powers. A special incantation or ritual does the job, especially if performed by a qualified practitioner.

The magically retrofitted stuff from the animal or human sacrifice is blood, turned into a cleanser. My guess is that blood was chosen because it was symbolic of life. But so is ‘breath’ symbolic of life (Genesis 2:7). Anyway, blood it was. The working formula entailed sprinkling it on buildings, or furniture, or clothing, or people. More specifically sometimes, “on the lobe of their right ear, and on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot.” (Leviticus 8:24). It was a cleansing agent. It purified. Ironically, it putrefies or decomposes if not soon washed off. But let’s not get ‘modern’ and hygienic about it. This does however demonstrate that the magical and superstitious views about blood are pre-scientific, and almost certainly would not and could not develop in a modern non-religious world. Here are a few more ‘old time religion’ beliefs about blood, now shown to be pre-scientific and false:

  • that babies are conceived from the mixing of blood
  • that a woman’s menstrual blood is dirty and defiling
  • that bloodletting prevents or cures disease

Let’s return to animal blood. Rather than animals just being a convenient mode of transport for carrying away sin (the scapegoat), they were put to death because there is magical power in the blood itself. The animal becomes a blood sacrifice with not only the power to appease an angry and offended god, but to also magically cleanse or wash away sin with its blood.

Jesus was born into this cult. And I might add, was conceived without sex so he was sinless (uncontaminated), or so the story goes. He grows up within this religious and sacrificial system and apparently supported it. His contempt for some fauna and flora may be related e.g. cursing a fig tree not fruiting out of season, and sending a large herd of pigs to their death. Anyway, the whole Bible story is constructed around the idea that sacrifices worked, and that Jesus was the ‘lamb of God’ who removes the sins of the world. I would go further and say that the whole story was invented to magnify the myth, and that it is essentially a marketing campaign to give it supremacy over competing mythologies and religions. Whatever you think of the Bible (and my reading of it), if you are an adherent of Judaism, Islam, or Christianity then you believe in the efficacy (effectiveness) of blood sacrifices, even or especially a human sacrifice. I mean real sacrifices, not ‘symbolic’ ones. There is no disclaimer like in the movies… “No animals or people were tortured or killed in the making of this movie.” Millions of animals (including humans) have been killed, and still are today, because it is believed that there is “power, power, wonder-working power in the blood.” You can sing along here if nausea and vomiting doesn’t overwhelm you. I find this abhorrent and disgusting. It is morally, spiritually, and intellectually reprehensible in the modern scientific world. I confess to you, with remorse, that I have ‘been there’ myself. This is my absolution.

On being Offended

Some people say they are offended by what I have to say. I think I know why, and I reflect with a good deal of embarrassment that I too for much of my life would have been offended by what I am saying now. But I now have some courage, and have perhaps developed an ounce of reason, to think outside the box that I have lived in for most of my life, and to think and question what I have been told to believe.  This has led me to many awe-inspiring discoveries, mainly through science, history, and early Taoist philosophy… all of which is largely nonsense, even blaspheme, to those poisoned by religion.  

Offended people, besides just feeling that way, sometime react and miss the point entirely by attacking the person rather than their argument. This is always arrogant, bigoted, and narrow-minded. It is most unfortunate that ‘being offended’ has become an accepted feeling for not thinking, especially under the disguise of being tolerant and accusing others of being intolerant. But I am perhaps most disappointed by the Christian notion that thinking itself is always wrong (vs faith). So, the rug is pulled out from under the feet of reasoning, because all humans are flawed (born sinners) and incapable of reasoning (and doing good). The Psalmist put it best, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good” (Psalm 14:1). I’m not offended by this accusation. It’s just irrational anti-empirical nonsense, and perhaps the worst example of the ad hominen fallacy… so atheists are allegedly wrong because they are humans, not mere fools.

A YouTube compilation ‘On Being Offended

Another Bible study, with reference to Jesus and C.S. Lewis, from the late great Christopher Hitchens

[the following is an extract from Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything]

JUST AS THE SCRIPT of the Old Testament is riddled with dreams and with astrology (the sun standing still so that Joshua can complete his massacre at a site that has never been located), so the Christian bible is full of star-predictions (notably the one over Bethlehem) and witch doctors and sorcerers. Many of the sayings and deeds of Jesus are innocuous, most especially the “beatitudes” which express such fanciful wish-thinking about the meek and the peacemakers. But many are unintelligible and show a belief in magic, several are absurd and show a primitive attitude to agriculture (this extends to all mentions of plowing and sowing, and all allusions to mustard or fig trees), and many are on the face of it flat-out immoral. The analogy of humans to lilies, for instance, suggests — along with many other injunctions — that things like thrift, innovation, family life, and so forth are a sheer waste of time. (“Take no thought for the morrow.”) This is why some of the Gospels, canonical and apocryphal, report people (including his family members) saying at the time that they thought Jesus must be mad. There were also those who noticed that he was often a rather rigid Jewish sectarian: in Matthew 15:21-28 we read of his contempt for a Canaanite woman who implored his aid for an exorcism and was brusquely told that he would not waste his energy on a non-Jew. (His disciples, and the persistence of the woman, eventually persuaded him to unbend, and to cast out the non-devil.) In my opinion, an idiosyncratic story like this is another oblique reason for thinking that some such personality may at some time have lived. There were many deranged prophets roaming Palestine at the time, but this one reportedly believed himself, at least some of the time, to be god or the son of god. And that has made all the difference. Make just two assumptions: that he believed this and that he also promised his followers that he would reveal his kingdom before they came to the end of their own lives, and all but one or two of his gnomic remarks make some kind of sense. This point was never put more frankly than by C.S. Lewis (who has recently re-emerged as the most popular Christian apologist) in his Mere Christianity. He happens to be speaking about the claim of Jesus to take sins on himself:

Now, unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden-on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.

It will be noticed that Lewis assumes on no firm evidence whatever that Jesus actually was a “character in history,” but let that pass. He deserves some credit for accepting the logic and morality of what he has just stated. To those who argue that Jesus may have been a great moral teacher without being divine (of whom the deist Thomas Jefferson incidentally claimed to be one), Lewis has this stinging riposte:

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman and something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

I am not choosing a straw man here: Lewis is the main chosen propaganda vehicle for Christianity in our time. And nor am I accepting his rather wild supernatural categories, such as devil and demon. Least of all do I accept his reasoning, which is so pathetic as to defy description and which takes his two false alternatives as exclusive antitheses, and then uses them to fashion a crude non sequitur (“Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”). However, I do credit him with honesty and with some courage. Either the Gospels are in some sense literal truth, or the whole thing is essentially a fraud and perhaps an immoral one at that. Well, it can be stated with certainty, and on their own evidence, that the Gospels are most certainly not literal truth. This means that many of the “sayings” and teachings of Jesus are hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay, which helps explain their garbled and contradictory nature.

For further enlightenment, read the whole book:
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Allen & Unwin, 2007).

This book is now out of print. But it can be purchased as a Kindle edition from Amazon.

A Bible Study with the late great Christopher Hitchens

[the following is an extract from Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything]

The foundation story of all three faiths [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] concerns the purported meeting between Moses and god, at the summit of Mount Sinai. This in turn led to the handing down of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. The tale is told in the second book of Moses, known as the book of Exodus, in chapters 20 – 40. Most attention has been concentrated on chapter 20 itself, where the actual commandments are given. It should not perhaps be necessary to summarize and expose these, but the effort is actually worthwhile.
  In the first place (I am using the King James or “Authorized” Version: one among many rival texts laboriously translated by mortals either from Hebrew or Greek or Latin), the so-called commandments do not appear as a neat list of ten orders and prohibitions. The first three are all variations of the same one, in which god insists on his own primacy and exclusivity, forbids the making of graven images, and prohibits the taking of his own name in vain. This prolonged throat-clearing is accompanied by some very serious admonitions, including a dire warning that the sins of the fathers will be visited on their children “even unto the third and fourth generation.” This negates the moral and reasonable idea that children are innocent of their parents’ offenses. The fourth commandment insists on the observance of a holy Sabbath day, and forbids all believers — and their slaves and domestic servants — to perform any work in the course of it. It is added that, as was said in the book of Genesis, god made all the world in six days and rested on the seventh (leaving room for speculation as to what he did on the eighth day) . The dictation then becomes more terse. “Honor thy father and thy mother” (this not for its own sake but in order “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”). Only then come the four famous “shalt nots,” which flatly prohibit killing, adultery, theft, and false witness. Finally, there is a ban on covetousness, forbidding the desire for “thy neighbor’s” house, manservant, maidservant, ox, ass, wife, and other chattels.
   It would be harder to find an easier proof that religion is man-made. There is, first, the monarchical growling about respect and fear, accompanied by a stern reminder of omnipotence and limitless revenge, of the sort with which a Babylonian or Assyrian emperor might have ordered the scribes to begin a proclamation. There is then a sharp reminder to keep working and only to relax when the absolutist says so. A few crisp legalistic reminders follow, one of which is commonly misrendered because the original Hebrew actually says “thou shalt do no murder.” But however little one thinks of the Jewish tradition, it is surely insulting to the people of Moses to imagine that they had come this far under the impression that murder, adultery, theft, and perjury were permissible. (The same unanswerable point can be made in a different way about the alleged later preachings of Jesus: when he tells the story of the Good Samaritan on that Jericho road he is speaking of a man who acted in a humane and generous manner without, obviously, ever having heard of Christianity, let alone having followed the pitiless teachings of the god of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all.) No society ever discovered has failed to protect itself from self-evident crimes like those supposedly stipulated at Mount Sinai. Finally, instead of the condemnation of evil actions, there is an oddly phrased condemnation of impure thoughts. One can tell that this, too, is a man-made product of the alleged time and place, because it throws in “wife” along with the other property, animal, human, and material, of the neighbor. More important, it demands the impossible: a recurrent problem with all religious edicts. One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions, or barred from committing them, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much. In particular, it is absurd to hope to banish envy of other people’s possessions or fortunes, if only because the spirit of envy can lead to emulation and ambition and have positive consequences. (It seems improbable that the American fundamentalists, who desire to see the Ten Commandments emblazoned in every schoolroom and courtroom — almost like a graven image — are so hostile to the spirit of capitalism.) If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species.
   Then there is the very salient question of what the commandments do not say. Is it too modern to notice that there is nothing about the protection of children from cruelty, nothing about rape, nothing about slavery, and nothing about genocide? Or is it too exactingly “in context” to notice that some of these very offenses are about to be positively recommended? In verse 2 of the immediately following chapter, god tells Moses to instruct his followers about the conditions under which they may buy or sell slaves (or bore their ears through with an awl) and the rules governing the sale of their daughters. This is succeeded by the insanely detailed regulations governing oxes that gore and are gored, and including the notorious verses forfeiting “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Micromanagement of agricultural disputes breaks off for a moment, with the abrupt verse (22:18) “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” This was, for centuries, the warrant for the Christian torture and burning of women who did not conform. Occasionally, there are injunctions that are moral, and also (at least in the lovely King James version) memorably phrased: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” was taught to Bertrand Russell by his grandmother, and stayed with the old heretic all his life. However, one mutters a few sympathetic words for the forgotten and obliterated Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites, also presumably part of the Lord’s original creation, who are to be pitilessly driven out of their homes to make room for the ungrateful and mutinous children of Israel. (This supposed “covenant” is the basis for a nineteenth-century irredentist claim to Palestine that has brought us endless trouble up to the present day.)
   Seventy-four of the elders, including Moses and Aaron, then meet god face-to-face. Several whole chapters are given over to the minutest stipulations about the lavish, immense ceremonies of sacrifice and propitiation that the Lord expects of his newly adopted people, but this all ends in tears and with collapsing scenery to boot: Moses returns from his private session on the mountaintop to discover that the effect of a close encounter with god has worn off, at least on Aaron, and that the children of Israel have made an idol out of their jewellery and trinkets. At this, he impetuously smashes the two Sinai tablets (which appear therefore to have been man-made and not god-made, and which have to be redone hastily in a later chapter) and orders the following:

“Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.”
   And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses, and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.

A small number when compared to the Egyptian infants already massacred by god in order for things to have proceeded even this far, but it helps to make the case for “antitheism.” By this I mean the view that we ought to be glad that none of the religious myths has any truth to it, or in it. The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals.

For further enlightenment, read the whole book:
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Allen & Unwin, 2007).

This book is now out of print. But it can be purchased as a Kindle edition from Amazon.

The Context of Collapse

Back in the 1970s, Carl Sagan popularized the ‘Cosmic Calendar’ method for showing the history of the universe by condensing the fourteen billion years this universe has existed for until now into one year. The clock starts ticking on the first day of January. Sometime in September our solar system is formed around one star, one out of one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. In December life begins to evolve on this ‘speck of dust’ planet. On the last day at about 8pm various species of humans evolve, and for a moment three of those human species co-exist. By the last second (about four seconds after the first Christmas ironically), 99.9% of all the species that have ever existed have gone extinct.

When it comes to size and space, this becomes virtually inconceivable. Those one billion trillion stars take up a massive amount of space, but only about 0.0000000000000000000042 percent of space! We are not ‘centre stage’ either, as Galileo ‘the heretic’ demonstrated with his telescope.

Things come into existence and things disappear. Stars are ‘born’, and stars ‘die’ (one every second). Our little sun has about 7 – 8 billion years to go. But billions of years before then it will start growing and incinerate this planet. But we’re not going to die because of that… oh no… on the current trajectory of biosphere collapse and climate change (human caused and un-natural), all life on this planet will have vanished by the end of this century, possibly in my lifetime, or in that of my children’s. My grandchildren will not die of old age. My great-grandchildren will never exist.

If you disagree with this story, or you are offended by it, it is most likely because of one or both of the following:

  1. Ignorance of science and history, or you have a large amount of cognitive dissonance towards it.
  2. You believe an entirely different narrative of the beginning, what has been going on, and the ‘hereafter’ ad nauseum. In a word, religion.

But for a moment consider some facts about the present state of the planet and life on it.

  1. It is warming, and faster than at any other time in history. We are ‘cooking to death’.
  2. The habitat that all species depend upon for survival is disappearing at a rate faster than at any other time in history (including previous mass extinction events, with perhaps the exception of one). This is mostly due to the first point, and the next.
  3. The human population has in the last half-century increased beyond what is sustainable on this planet with its finite resources. We consume more and trash more, despite ‘green’ sustainability initiatives. Our biggest problem is ourselves. This is a ‘super-wicked’ problem.
  4. Recovery or restoration is no longer possible. The point-of-no-return, the tipping-point, has been passed and the ‘plunge over the precipice’ accelerates.

Doom and gloom? Yes and no.  It was always going to be this way on the third rock from the sun. But we never thought, until recently, how soon and inconvenient it could be.  

  1. It is natural. This coming into existence and going out of existence, like the cycle of seasons, has happened before and will surely happen again. Cosmologists say that it is true of the universe itself… expanding, cooling, ‘dying’, then collapsing and starting all over again. That is the ‘hereafter’. Enjoy the ride.
  2. We’re also doomed because of un-natural tampering with nature. Despite being called ‘homo sapiens’ humans are selfish,  foolish, incompetent, even malevolent.  If there is a ‘supernatural’ being who is also responsible for this in any way, as many believe, they must be even more so.

Acknowledging this relieves me of the delusions of hope and immortality. There is life and death, light and darkness. Both ‘opposites’ are always present and necessary to each other which is why I am a naturalist, a realist, a Taoist… and loving it, or at least what remains of ‘it’.

 ‘The Cosmic Calendar’ is from http://www.cosmiccalendar.net/

What is the Tao?

  • The Tao is the reality and energy of the universe.
  • The Tao is directly observed and experienced.
  • The Tao exists by and through itself. It is not dependent on anything or anyone else.
  • We are a part of the Tao, the whole universe. Everything is connected and related. So, we are not individuals but an integrated organic whole.
  • Everything includes two opposite aspects, or Ying-Yang.
  • Only the present exists now.
  • The way of Tao is going with what is natural, going with the flow, and ‘not forcing’. Living spontaneously in harmony with nature / the Tao.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of all things

Therefore:
Free from desire you see the mystery
Full of desire you see the manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 1

Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way, Chapter 3

  • … it must be clear from the start that Tao cannot be understood as “God” in the sense of the ruler, monarch, commander, architect, and maker of the universe. The image of the military and political overlord, or of a creator external to nature, has no place in the idea of Tao.”
  • The imagery associated with the Tao is maternal, not paternal.
  • Thus the Tao is the course, the flow, the drift, or the process of nature, and I call it the Watercourse Way because both Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu use the flow of water as its principal metaphor. But it is of the essence of their philosophy that the Tao cannot be defined in words and is not an idea or concept. As Chuang-tzu says, “It may be attained but not seen,” or, in other words, felt but not conceived, intuited but not categorized, divined but not explained.

The great Tao flows everywhere,
to the left and to the right,
All things depend upon it to exist,
and it does not abandon them.
To its accomplishments it lays no claim.
It loves and nourishes all things,
but does not lord it over them.

Tao Te Ching, 34