Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Child Sacrifice and the Default Religion of Mankind

The grueling three-headed interrogation by Sigmund, Carl and Alfred continues.

Q: You said, "The default religion of human beings is the practice of human sacrifice. This pathological virus planted deep in the heart of the human species has been given insufficient attention by scholars. Virtually all primitive cultures and ancient civilizations engaged in it." You state further, "Obviously, the foundation stone of Judaism is the injunction against human sacrifice, when God tells Abraham not to kill him a son out on highway 61. Superficially, Christianity may be seen as a resuscitation of the sacrificial motif, with the murder of the innocent Jesus, but in reality, this is clearly intended to convey the idea that when we murder innocence, we murder God. The crucifixion of Jesus is meant to be the last human sacrifice, with Jesus standing in for our own murdered innocence (and our own murderous selves)."

Was Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to the one God, a shortcoming? Did Abraham “pass the test” or did he fail? Does God have a sense of humor?

A: First of all, I should say that this particular view of the sacrificial motif in Christianity is not original to me, but is outlined in a wonderful book entitled Violence Unveiled, by Gil Bailie (who in turn was deeply influenced by the work of by René Girard). A number of readers actually contacted me for clarification of my view, because I didn’t make it clear that Bailie (who is Catholic) is not talking about Christian theology per se, but about the unconscious anthropological implications of Christian theology, as it seeps into the culture at large. In short, Christian cultures are going to have a much greater capacity to identify with the victim, which has both a positive side (empathy for true victims) and a potentially negative side (the whole dysfunctional leftist victim culture that shadows and parasitizes Christianity).

Now, “was Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to the one God, a shortcoming?” And “did Abraham ‘pass the test’ or did he fail?”

Like all biblical stories, this one operates on no less than four levels -- the literal, moral, symbolic, and mystical -- but actually several more than that, including psychological, metaphysical, meta-historical, and cosmological. These stories are like multifaceted little holographic jewels -- turn them just a bit, and you can unlock an entirely new dimension. But the main idea is that scripture embodies both an exterior/horizontal and an interior/vertical dimension.

So what is this story telling us? What is its point? I’m not sure if what follows is a kosher exegesis, but it is my own attempt to square the story with psychological truth.

The first question we must ask is, who was that voice in Abraham’s head telling him to murder his son? Was it really God? Or was it something else? In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes put forth the intriguing idea that ancient man lived in a state of psychological fragmentation, almost like what we would now regard as a multiple personality, or perhaps like Mel Gibson after a night out with the goys. He deduces this from a great deal of data, but concludes, for example, that what modern people experience as a relatively integrated conscience, or superego, ancient man experienced as a sort of command hallucination.

Child abuse has always existed. As a matter of fact, the further back in history you go, the more child abuse you discover. Except that it goes unnoticed, because it is simply embedded in the culture, just as it is today in the Islamic world. I would go so far as to say that mistreating, rather than loving, children is the “default” setting of human beings. As a psychoanalytically informed psychologist, I have no hesitation whatsoever in making this statement. Childhood is filled with trauma that is internalized, only to be acted out later in life in various relationships -- including with one’s own children.

Nowadays a person just lashes out at their children without the verbal middleman. They don’t generally hear a voice telling them to do it, as did, for example, Andrea Yates. But the internalized unconscious entity that compels the abuse is still there. If we could put the abuser on the couch, have them free associate, and take the deposition of this split-off sub-personality, we might well be able to give voice to the entity that wishes to harm the child. It is very likely an internalized sadistic object lashing out at a projected, devalued, masochistic part of the abuser's own self. In other words, it is an entirely internal psychological drama into which the child has been inducted to play a role.

I have seen this dynamic play out in dozens, probably hundreds of clinical histories. I remember one case of a woman who was sadistically and arbitrarily abused by her mother. She remembers asking her mother why she beat her, to which her mother responded with words to the effect of, “when I was a little girl, my mother beat me. When you grow up it will be your turn.”

So breaking the cycle of acting out our “mind parasites” on children is one of the keys to both individual and collective psychohistorical evolution. It is well understood by historians of antiquity that the Jews were exceptional in this regard. (I had a recent series of posts on this topic.) One of the things that set the ancient Jews apart from their contemporaries was their more humane treatment of both women and children, in particular, female children (who were greatly devalued in the ancient world, just as they are today in the Islamic world). It is not so much that their standards were higher as compared with the modern West, but by the incredibly cruel standards of the day. I believe that this is one of the factors that allowed the Jews as a group to vault ahead of others despite the constant vilification and scapegoating that has dogged them right up to the present day's New York Times editorial page.

In my opinion, it can surely be no coincidence that the most humane place in all of the Middle East is surrounded by barbarians who wish to extinguish it in the exact degree to which they systematically abuse their own children.

As a matter of fact, a couple of days ago a reader sent me this link to a piece in the Claremont Review on child sacrifice. In it, the author recalls Golda Meir’s famous remark about how “peace with the Palestinians will be possible when they love their own children more than they hate the Israelis. In saying so, she touched upon a fundamental difference between pagan and biblical religion: the presence or absence of child sacrifice.... Many ancient peoples believed in sacrificing a child to an angry god like Moloch or Baal in order to avert misfortune. Today, thousands of Muslims believe that sacrificing their children as ‘suicide’ bombers in a crowd of people pleases their God Allah. More, Islamic terrorists invite the death of children by placing their military and political headquarters in residential areas which they know their enemies will strike.”

Folks, is this not an obvious, if horrid -- and therefore denied -- truth about fallen mankind in general and the Islamic world in particular? The author concludes his piece on a pessimistic note, speculating that “if the current intellectuals’ project of undermining the Biblical traditions of the Western world continues unabated, [instead of] embracing some new, ‘enlightened’ philosophy which previous generations were supposedly too dull to conceive or practice, likely we will wind up with ancient paganism instead.”

This is exactly what I have stated in the past. Naive secularists believe that if we can only eliminate religion, then we will end up with a scientific and rational worldview. Not so. Eliminate religion -- specifically, Judeo-Christian religion -- and pagan magic rushes in to fill the breach. If your three eyes are opened, you only see it everywhere, for example, in the faux religion of global warming hysteria.

As the writer puts it, “Paganism has the advantage of being older than Christianity, the faith which arouses most of the hatred of the pseudo-intellectuals of our time.... Much of Islam today seems to have more in common with the pagan religions which preceded its founding in the seventh century. No clearer case of child sacrifice exists now than radical Islam’s cult of suicide bombings...” So who is that voice telling Muslims to murder children -- both their own and others'? Could it be the same voice that told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? No: could it possibly not be the same voice?

Here's one of Moloch's stenographers, speaking live to you from the pre-Abrahamic bowels of history -- from the contemporary Muslim Middle East: "What else is there for a man but to sacrifice his son for his religion?" Hizb'allah is actually Hiz'baal.

Now, I realize there are other interpretations, but as a psychologist, I see the story of Abraham and Isaac as a primordial, archetypal tale of how barbarous pagans stopped listening to their psychotic, child-hating "god," and instead took a right turn in history, discovered the God of Love, and became the Jews that we know and love. That little crack of light and Life that opened up in antiquity runs in a straight line to us. Another line -- a line of Death -- leads to contemporary Islamism and its allies among the international Left. It is so obvious, and yet people do not see. This occasionally causes me real despair, as if the foundations of the West are being eroded in plain sight, on one side by Islamic do-badders, on the other side by leftist do-gooders.

Oh, by the way. You asked if God has a sense of humor. I don’t know how that question got mixed in with this one, but the answer is yes, which is one of the things I try to bring out in my blog. Speaking of which, we all know that Jews are staggeringly over-represented among the greatest comedians of all time. Likewise, this whole global jihad nightmare would be over in a second if Muslims could just laugh at how silly they are, instead of killing people. But the god of jihad and child sacrifice is not the God of Groucho Marx or Rodney Dangerfield. Well, maybe Rodney Dangerfield, in that they are obsessed with being granted the respect that they haven't earned -- probably because it was never given to them by mullah or fatwa when they were infatoddlers or jihadolescents.

There is an old joke: “It doesn’t matter what religion you are, so long as you’re ashamed of it.” Islam is supposed to be a “shame culture.” If so, one wonders why they always behave so shamelessly. Perhaps because they are angry victims of their own childhood shame -- projected onto the West that "shames" them -- and the Left is always willing to assist a fellow self-made victim.


Robin Starfish said...

Stain Remover
tortured cinder wall
king of kings and lord of lords
bleeding through the world

Susannah said...

Trying to catch up here, so I'm behind the rest of the class. I only just finished reading "What About Bob?" and appreciated the analogy to music. It reminded me a little bit of a Jack Deere quote in which he used another analogy:

"There are people, however, who devote themselves diligently to Bible study and are still spiritually malnourished. This frequently happens in environments where people make Bible study an end in itself. They are like people who study a menu with great precision and can tell you every detail about it: When it was first written, how it has changed over the years, how each dish is prepared, how it ought to be served, which food should come first—even why the chef has organized the menu in its present order. Perhaps they even went to schools whose major goal was to explain menus. When they graduated, the ones who were the best at explaining menus were able to build the biggest 'menu clubs' where many people meet regularly just to hear a new and inspiring explanation of the menu. Yet no one grows strong from an explanation of the menu or even from first-hand study of a menu. Only those who order from the menu and eat grow strong. Don’t mistake the menu for the meal.

Jesus Christ is the Bread from heaven. If our Bible study does not lead us to experience Jesus Christ, then it is leading us to spiritual malnutrition. The Bible is the menu meant to lead us to experience God in every facet of our lives. If we make Bible study our goal, we will end up just like the Pharisees who searched the Scriptures diligently but never came to Christ (John 5:39-40). They studied the menu regularly and religiously. But they never ordered. Never tasted. And that was both the irony and the tragedy. So close to the menu, yet so far from the meal” (J. Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 174-75])."

River Cocytus said...

Related, I think, I've been re-reading some of the Orthodox stuff, and I came to this:

"In other words, the christological definitions of the ecumenical councils are grounded in a relational-ontological soteriology based on humanity’s being homoousios (one in essence, substance, or nature) in our humanity with Jesus Christ, who is in turn homoousios with God the Father. Thus, the soteriology of the ecumenical councils (and hence of Eastern Christianity) is based not on putting us juridically “right” with God, but on the existential healing of human nature through the person of Jesus Christ."

It almost demands a kind of evolution. If we aren't evolving towards God, then where are we going?

"From nothing to nowhere with a handful of gimme"

Interestingly, God seems to prepare for his coming in different forms. I think it is recognized that the Jewish culture itself was required for the coming of Christ, existentially speaking. In this same way, there had to be someone receptive to God enough to get the drift and not stab his son. Earlier I was arguing with some folks who find evolution and the soul incompatible - 'when did souls appear' they asked. Well, when did God appear in the flesh? What about the birth of the Church? Reality didn't spontaneously emerge just after all of the unusual and miraculous things happened. Humanity emerged from the only creature able to apprehend God. After that, no amount of physical evolution offered anything but a temporary advantage.

Susannah said...

I'm having great success printing these posts and reading them at my leisure! Makes them easier to absorb.

You hit upon real truth, here, Bob. I completely agree with you that human sacrifice, and cruelty to children in specific, are the default setting of humanity.

I would say unequivocally, yes! It *was* God who spoke to Abraham. It was also God who provided the ram for the sacrifice instead. Of course, as a Christian, I read this as a prefiguring of Christ.

I believe God reaches us wherever we are psychologically. He knows better than we do what we need. He knew what Abraham needed to learn of him.

As an aside, this is why the path to sanctification (i.e., becoming more like God) is unique to each individual--and why one person cannot prescribe "holiness" for another. While I do believe scripture upholds certain standards of behavior, Jesus summed up the entire law and prophets pretty succinctly, and showed so clearly that it's the HEART that counts.

NoMo said...

What I also find problematic is cultures wherein they put the children up on pedastals - as in, they can do no wrong, receive minimal and ineffective discipline, objectified, etc. I have 2 half-brothers from Brazil in their 20s that have serious identity / reality problems. I believe it is a form of child abuse to not establish boundaries -not freedom, for sure.

sehoy said...

The first time I read this post, a while back, crystalized for me what I am actually fighting against: human-sacrificing followers of a bloodthirsty god. Both/and.

OT, I find it interesting that Isaac, for all of his days afterwards, referred to God as "the Fear." Isaac apparently didn't escape unscathed, which is pretty understandable.

Appreciated the John Deere quote too.

NoMo said...

River - It's either evolve or devolve. Since change is constant, I don't think there's any stasis in between.

Sus - It strikes me that the closer one evolves toward Christlikeness, the more perfect Christ appears - in every way.

wildiris said...

As a point of understanding the story of Abraham and Isaac, it may help to remember that Abraham was neither Hebrew nor Jewish. He might have been the first, for both of those lineages, but he himself did not have the benefit of Jewish traditions and customs to fall back on. He was, if you take the biblical account as true, Sumerian, late Third Dynasty. He, along with other family members, emigrated south to live in the land of the Canaanites. So, ethnically, he was Sumerian and his religious background would have been the pagan world of the Canaanites. Child sacrifice was a standard practice among the Canaanites, so for Abraham to act in the way he did would have been a perfectly normal, even expected, action for the pagan world he lived in.

I have always looked at Abraham as God’s first willing pupil and have considered the stories in Genesis of Abraham and his family as accounts of those first lesson plans God had for his people.

In other words, Abraham was not being tested, but was being taught a new way by God.

Susannah said...

"In other words, Abraham was not being tested, but was being taught a new way by God."

Good point. The Bible does say that God "tested" Abraham, but perhaps it was his faith that was tested--i.e., his willingness to follow that path to the new way.

This adds light to the scriptural comment that "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Believing, in both the OT and the NT, seems to be the prerequisite for the seeking/finding of God. Hence, Bob's comment that being "religious" comes first--not so much knowledgeable, but willing to believe and follow.

Abraham's cultural origin couldn't be described as "righteous," judging what I learned in that speed-through-ancient-history seminar at the recent local homeschool convention. :)

killer wayhole said...

Wouldn't it be best to do without religion altogether? In other words, dispense with any attempt at intersubjectivity.

Just groove with God but don't talk about it. Just you and God. No history. No scripture. No parental guidance. Nada. Just you and 0 in the now, to remain confidential.

Then just go about your rational secular-appearing business and everyone should be happy.

If only the Islamists would do this simple thing.

Chucky said...

Speaking of child sacrifice and that excellent point made by Golda Meir. I find the work of Lloyd deMause quite compelling. And also that of Alice Miller especially her book "For Your Own Good"---toxic pedagogy rules.

I used to read deMause's Psycho-History Review at my local university library. Very chilling stuff altogether. Abused children dramatising their collective suppressed rage on to every one else on the world stage. The insights expressed re the motivations of USA presidents, from Reagan onwards, was/is distubing to say to least.

Alice Miller points out that Hitler somehow tapped into the humungously enormous reservoir of repressed childhood rage and hate of the German people (and his own) to weave a deadly enchanting dark spell on the (till then) seemingly sane Gereman ordinary person. Sacrifices, or the necessary scapegoats, were duly, and "righteously", called for and the corpses began to rapidly pile up.

Magnus Itland said...

deMause was my first introduction to psychohistory. He writes very convincingly about the distant past, but I have to wonder about his analysis of events in his own lifetime. It is hard to avoid the impression that he is politically motivated in his choice of examples, a feature that is so common among modern intellectuals as to hardly even be questioned. It is far easier to see things clearly when all involved are dead and buried.

Susannah said...

killer w.--I don't think that would be possible.

Looking at Bob's previous entry:

"So to sum it all up, no spiritual progress is possible without the cultivation of virtue, the closing of the gap between us and our highest ideals. 'To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.' But not arbitrarily. Timeless moral truths are the luster of the eternal target to which our lives are properly aimed."


"As soon as I thought of it, I knew that it was possible, although don’t ask me how I knew that I knew. However, I needed help."

God knows we all need help and none of us got closer to him all on our own. I didn't, at least. My life of faith is the result of the input of countless people, some as close as my parents or my husband and others as distant as authors I've never met who've contributed to my understanding and growth. "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another," and, "the eye cannot say to the hand 'I have no need of you.'" etc.

River Cocytus said...

killer w: The full structure must be built before the scaffold can be removed.

It's gonna take a looooooooot of work.

Gagdad Bob said...


I agree with you completely about deMause. A lot of his research is sound. It's just a shame that he's such a radical leftist.

Van said...

killer wayhole said "Just groove with God but don't talk about it. Just you and God. No history. No scripture. No parental guidance. Nada. Just you and 0 in the now, to remain confidential."

Ah. Lets have a look, just for fun...
No history - so no known passed on,
No scripture - so no stirring language to serve as scaffolding to build the Vertical within,
No parental guidance - so no shared understandings, learning of higher stories or learning of right and wrong from the parental production units,
Just you and 0 in the now, to remain confidential - I think it's telling that you used a 0(zero) rather than an O (Oh!), because that is just about the level and depth of understanding likely to be attained through such a gr00vy plan.

Where do you guys come from? Out of left field no doubt....

Magnus Itland said...

Killer W.,
some people may be born to be mystics, but I don't think anyone is born a mystic. There needs to be a tradition to transcend. Culture is a necessary step in each life as it is in the life of mankind.

red said...

Your summation of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac was interesting. I'd always seen it from a very different angle--that Abraham's being asked to sacrifice Isaac was meant to be a type and shadow of the Christ, both in the sense of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, and in the sense of the ram being offered as a substitute for the original sacrifice.

Strangely enough, this incident also appears in the Koran--only the Muslims believe that Abraham was asked to sacrifice their ancestor, Ishmael, rather than Isaac. This seems, at first glance, a bit odd to me--wouldn't you expect the story from each culture to describe the *other* son as being the sacrifice? Something along the lines of "Son A is OK, but Son B is unworthy and must be sacrificed." Instead it's the other way around--it's assumed that the son to be sacrificed is the most beloved one. I think the distinction is symbolically significant--that the one sacrificed HAD to be the one described as most beloved of his father.

Anonymous said...

I believe that the "child sacrifice" mentality is also prevailant in Secular Humanism.

Secular Humanism's morality is based on the self, right? "We are all basically good", so we can define our own truth as we see fit. If an individual's very existance defines what is good, and that same individual gets the privilege if defining truth, then he or she would be, in essence, a minor god.

Let's say this same minor god develops Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, or has a spinal cord injury. Having scientists/pharma companies concieving human life to be sacrificed and literally consumed by this minor god whould seem "natural" to him/her.

The thought that any person or society that consumes it's own young would be barbaric would never cross his/her self-righteous mind.

-Long Rider

John P. said...

The presumptions bound up in the idea that God is love are profound. Feeling his presence is proof that he is absolutely not there, in a sense. Material existence is a mere jumping off place for the spirit. God's love IS real, but it is not the love we think we "feel". In a nutshell, as long as there is anthropomorphism in religion we will not understand God. So few people go beyond this that it makes virtually no difference to the evolution of the human spirit except on a time scale that would boggle the mind.

This argument about Islamofascism rings true but don't you think they are doomed to failure? The tide of history is just not in their favor. I rather think the more ominous long term threat is statism of the kind we see in Russia and China.