This last weekend almost one third* of the world’s population celebrated Christ’s offering of himself on the crucifixion, as well as his subsequent resurrection. No doubt a moment of deep reflection on the meaning and purpose of sacrifice.
*Not including orthodox Christians, simply because they celebrate according to the Julian calendar rather than Gregorian calendar… and so they haven’t had Easter yet!
Of course, a great deal of the approximately 3.2 billion Christians commemorate this moveable feast via extensive pagan cultural appropriation… because let’s be honest, even children can see there really isn’t any correlation between being condemned to death on a cross and chocolate bunnies.
The more devout however, of which there are plenty down here in South America, flood to the churches, knees on pews, to contemplate what is considered in their religion the greatest sacrifice in history; the Abrahamic God in heaven giving up his only son.
This being a critical point in the religion’s history and theology isn’t very surprising. After all, the concept of sacrifice, both personally and societally, runs deep within our various collective cultures. Whether it’s the killing of a lamb, a virgin, or maybe just offering some yummy food, ancient folks from around the globe consider ‘doing without’ or ‘giving up’ a preferred form of worship.
An ancient Fourth-Pompeian-Style Roman wall painting depicting a scene of sacrifice in honor of the goddess Diana; she is seen here accompanied by a deer. The fresco was discovered in the triclinium of House of the Vettii in Pompeii, Italy.
And while this historic form of sacrifice may not seem so … relatable to us, there are plenty of instances where our modern and ancient versions coincide. No doubt the vision of Sparta’s 300 (not including the Thespians and the Thebans) laying down their lives to stop the Persian invasion from taking over the entire Greek peninsula, resonates with us to this day. We can understand the sacrifice of soldiers for their country as something noble… at least when they are on our side.
But what about the self sacrifice of others, whether kamikaze pilots, cave dwelling terrorists or any other type of asymmetrical warfare? Is it still moral then?
So we come to today’s mailbag question, dear reader, on the nature of sacrifice.
Aztec human sacrifice, from Codex Mendoza, 16th century (Bodleian Library, Oxford).
Is Sacrifice inherently good? Is it a virtuous act? Or is the opposite also true? Is there a possibility the very concept is simply outdated?