Without Western Civilization, we veer dangerously close to reverting to our pagan roots — roots watered with the blood of human sacrifice.
For millennia, Jews have forbidden human sacrifice. Although there are myriad more sophisticated interpretations examining the Biblical narrative about the Binding of Isaac, the most basic interpretation was that God created this dramatic scenario to impress upon Jews that he did not crave human flesh and blood. This is hardly unexpected, given that man is made in God’s image. One doesn’t deliberately despoil His creation.
When Jews took this principled, doctrinal stand against human sacrifice, they were outliers. The book of Genesis, in which the Binding of Isaac appears, probably dates back to around the latter half of the 15th century BC (that is, about 1450-1410 BC). Everywhere else in the known world human sacrifice was normative. In a world controlled completely by animistic polytheism, the notion of mere animal sacrifice, which kept from the Gods the tastiest, most important offerings, was ludicrous.
Eventually, both Greece and Rome turned against human sacrifice, but they still remained dedicated to animal sacrifices. These rituals often involved slitting an animal’s belly open and “reading” its entrails while the animal still lived.
Moreover, when it came to humans, neither Greece nor Rome was known for its humanist impulses towards life. Indeed, both Greece and Rome heartily approved of infanticide, rape, torture, and blood sports. Meanwhile, outside of these nations and their first, dainty steps towards modern Western Civilization, the Celts and the Germanic tribes continued with gusto to placate capricious gods with human blood and flesh.
The genius of Christianity was that, over the centuries, it successfully convinced pagans, from Rome to Britain to Norway, that Christ was the ultimate human sacrifice. Through the ritual of transubstantiation, worshipers would receive the eternal benefit of that voluntary sacrifice without having to destroy another human being to placate the Gods. Throughout Europe, these newly created Christians joined with Jews in their understand that man is unique in that he is created in God’s image; one doesn’t mutilate that image and throw it back in God’s face.
The fact that both the Jews and the Christians eschewed human sacrifice didn’t instantly turn them into vegans. In Biblical times, the Jews continued to wage bloody war long after the binding of Isaac and the Christians did the same long after the crucifixion. The Christians also maintained torture and blood sports. Nevertheless, this humanist seed, once planted and cultivated, burst forth in the Enlightenment with all sorts of interesting ideas:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Those words, and the ideas and practical consequences behind them, changed the world. War did not end, but it lessened. Men did not eschew violence, but societies under the umbrella of Western Civilization continued the long slow process of becoming less violent. (For more on the genetic reality that Westerners are less violent, I recommend Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, an honest science book that got its author banned from the New York Times.)
These revolutionary ideas about mankind’s worth would have been incomprehensible to pre-Christian pagans. To them, man was a plaything of the gods, and the gods were the embodiment of the cruel, irrational, omnipresent natural world surrounding the pagans. These hungry, angry, capricious figures needed to be placated and human blood was their favorite food. [Read more…]