Jun 29

Human Sacrifice

Imagine a village in ancient times. This village is inhabited by a culture that is quite primitive when viewed through the lens of today. They don’t know much about how the world works. In good times, they are thankful to their local god for the bounty. In hard times, they feel they must have wronged the god in some way.

During one particularly hard time, a terrible drought, the villagers conclude that they must have wronged the god greatly. They are all guilty and cannot achieve blessings without some way to please the god. The villagers have a history of animal sacrifice, but that has not helped. The animals must not be enough, they decide.

So, the villagers set out to find another kind of sacrifice – a human sacrifice. But not just any human will do. No, for some reason, they think it must be a very pure human. So, they take a young virgin barely into her teen years. Yes, she should do nicely, they think. She is not stained by the filth of a man’s flesh and she has not had time on this Earth to make bad choices to anger the gods. She is faultless by anyone’s definition of the term. This young girl in no way deserves what is about to happen to her, which apparently makes her the perfect sacrifice to the god.

The next day, she is bound and dragged to the volcano nearby. The whole village attends and, while they know it is gruesome, they believe this will be their salvation. Their relationship with the local god will be restored and its good graces will again be upon them.

The girl is thrown into the volcano; she dies in agony. Her parents weep for her.

If you tell anyone a story like this set on a Polynesian island, they will be disgusted. Indeed, it is a barbaric way to think about the world and how to improve our situation. And yet, there are many similarities we can draw to the Christian story of salvation. It is a story of the perfect human sacrifice.

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  1. moose

    Really? Comparing throwing virgin’s into a volcano and dedicating your life to serving other people? That’s a bit of a stretch. Does that make nurse’s ignorant?

  2. Mike

    I’m not comparing throwing a virgin into a volcano with dedicating your time to help people. I’m using the term human sacrifice not in the warm, fuzzy sense, but in the sense of “a person has to be killed as a sacrifice to please the god in which the locals believe”.

    So, Jesus is the virgin girl of the story. Jesus was as pure as you could be and did not deserve to be sacrificed, which somehow means he is perfect for being sacrificed (and who said God isn’t just?). Christians believe that a human sacrifice, like the virgin, had to be performed in order to restore their standing with God.

    Is there something wrong with characterizing it that way? It seems on the money to me.

  3. Moose

    No, but jesus is so much cooler than virgin polynesian girls.

  4. Mike

    Maybe because of the magic powers. But that only means he deserved to die even less.

    One of the real ironies to me, here, is that the Christian religion is built upon the idea that two wrongs actually do make a right. You have the fall of humankind which can apparently only be atoned through an unjust death. I’m going to have to call a Christian on it, next time I hear that phrase.

  5. Bill Kennedy

    Your story is directly relevant and valid.

    And dude, there is nothing I can think of that is cooler than a polynesian girl. lol

  6. Chris

    I’m going to have to agree that polynesian girls are probably cooler than some dude with a god complex. Also, I’m totally going to use the idea that christians believe two wrongs make a right.

  7. Rick Levy

    The Crucifixion is even more bizarre than tossing virgins into a volcano to appease a god. As horrific as the latter practice may be, at least it has some internal consistency. In the Christian myth, Jesus is God, the son of God, and the holy spirit all wrapped in one. So God is sacrificing himself to himself. Religion doesn’t get much weirder than that.

  8. Mike

    Yes, I’m still not clear how fitting three persons into one isn’t a contradiction. I’ve heard the explanation, and it sounds ridiculous.

  9. Lee

    “She is not stained by the filth of a man’s flesh”

    This is premised on the belief that the human reproductive cycle is a thing to be ashamed of, and that not having engaged in this activity ensures purity. For those who think that this doesn’t have any relation to Christianity, recognize that this justification can only arise in a people who already accept that sex is to be feared/shameful/etc., the sort of belief that is part and parcel of the Big Three. Just as you point out, though, Jesus fulfills the role of a ‘perfect human sacrifice’ as though it were redeeming (a point Hitchens unpacks eloquently every chance he gets). Scapegoating was a common practice in pre-christian Jewish society, so one is yet again met face to face with a parallel that screams of plagiarism.

    The second justification seems to me to be a-religious, or even more fully justified in a karma-like system. The link would be something like: as all humans have been cycling through physical states for eternity, and being a human is the highest state, anyone new to being human has obviously earned it with good works or w/e and hasn’t had a chance to screw it up (you hope), so that person would make an ideal sacrifice. Again, though, this requires the belief that there is something intrinsic to sacrificing that somehow redeems the rest of us.

    What’s most terrifying about these stories is that in order for this belief to propagate, the drought or whatnot would have to end soon after one of these events. This means that either there IS a god, and he approves, or there IS a god, and he doesn’t care to dissuade them, OR there isn’t a god at all, and generations of young men and women have all drawn the short straw because of a misunderstanding in the nature of nature. Any way you look at it, as bad as human sacrifice is, the further implications of the success of the first practice are the most disheartening.

    Fascinating post, I’ll be following from here on out!


  10. Mike

    Thanks, Lee. I’m glad you liked it. I first heard Sam Harris draw this comparison as an offhand remark once and the irony of it just struck me like a ton of bricks. I’d never considered it alongside another human sacrifice (Consider it another demonstration of the usefulness of the Outsider Test for Faith: http://foxholeatheism.com/the-power-of-belief/)

  11. kayakgrandma

    This is my first visit to this website so you may have already commented on this. When I think of the human sacrifice of Jesus in Christianity I think about how the method of execution became the symbol of Christianity. If this had taken place today, would Christians be wearing gold electric chairs around their necks? Instead of singing about “the old rugged cross,” would we be singing about clinging to lethal injection? I can’t say that I’m an atheist but I am a “seeker.”

  12. Mike


    Yes, it is very strange and a bit morbid. There is a very funny video (probably on YouTube) that has a whole religion worshipping the symbol of a chair. We would think it was silly…but of course that’s because it’s not so familiar.

    That’s where parallels like other human sacrifices or videos of people worshipping chair symbols come in handy. When people don’t have some stake in the belief, they are free to look at it and give their true “outsider” reaction.

    Thanks for reading! I try and stay pretty interactive with the site to the extent I have time, so feel free to comment or ask questions. Hopefully you enjoy the content.

  13. Rick Levy

    “I think about how the method of execution became the symbol of Christianity. If this had taken place today, would Christians be wearing gold electric chairs around their necks?”

    Kayakgrandma, You must be channeling Mort Sahl, He came up with that line decades ago.

  14. kayakgrandma

    Well, Rick, I guess it’s like the verse in Ecclesiastes says, “there’s nothing new under the sun.”

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