Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Ceremonies: let us remember that we managed to stop human sacrifice 3000 years ago

Armistice day. Remembering 800,000 young men whose lives were sacrificed on the altar of the Gods of War a century ago. The gods in that case being Power Blocs, Arms Race and access to oil.

Is it not time for us to reflect on this idea of sacrifice?

Three thousand years ago, the necessity of the regular and orderly sacrifice of human beings to propitiate the gods was also a universal belief. Then some began to question it. It began with people  like Abraham, or like Kaveh, who had handed over their sons and daughters to the priests, and watched the golden knife slash the neck of their loved ones. People began to question the absolute wisdom of the priests. They began to think independently of the masses and the respected leaders of the time. They began to talk. Many of them would have been arrested for thinking irreligious thoughts, and no doubt many of the skeptics were sacrificed to the gods in their turn. The priests would have scorned them, and castigated them for undermining the very fabric of civilisation. "The gods will kill us if we do not give them the sacrifices that are due to them". Kings would have passed decrees outlawing any critics of human sacrifice.

In the end, humane sensibility defeated the artificial reasoning of the priesthood, and by the 6th century BC most human civilisations had got over the idea of the necessity of human sacrifice. But just as the old gods survived into Christianity redressed as saints, so also human sacrifice survives in the guise of warfare. Instead of ritualised killing of one or two a week, thousands of young men and women are initiated into the orderly rituals of the military parade, and then slaughtered in the chaotic mess of battle. Instead of being immolated on the altar of the nation's god, they are sacrificed on the altar of national security. Instead of obeying the psychotic ideation of some crazed arch-priest, they obey the orders stemming from the projected belief of George W Bush and Tony Blair that the demon Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.

It doesn't have to be like this. Wars always end in talks. Real talks can prevent war.  Frameworks can be set up that make it more difficult for dictators to emerge.  Separatist aspirations, which are behind about one in three of the wars burning in the world at the moment, can be discussed under the aegis and authority of the United Nations.  

It will take a long time to break the power of the military industrial complex, just as it took a long time to prise the sacrificial knife out of the hand of the priests. It is a long journey to make, but the longest journey begins with a single step, and that first step is for us to stop giving head room to the irrational belief that war is inevitable.

See also: Nuclear weapons and logic.

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