Friday, November 18, 2011

The Cult of Sacrifice

President Obama’s recent Press Conference in Hawaii can provide us with a “light-bulb” moment about the President’s mindset. It provides a microcosm of insight into a pattern of thinking that has characterized mankind for centuries to its detriment. I call it the Cult of Sacrifice. Here is the President’s statement regarding the “need” for Congress to pass his “American Jobs Act”:

“This doesn’t require radical changes to America or its way of life. It just means that we spread out the sacrifice across every sector so that it’s fair; so that people don’t feel as if once again people who are well connected, people who have lobbyists, special interests get off easy, and the burden is placed on middle-class families that are already struggling. So if other countries can do it, we can do it — and we can do it in a responsible way.

I’m not going to comment on whether I’d veto a particular bill until I actually see a bill, because I still hold out the prospect that there’s going to be a light-bulb moment where everybody says “Ah-ha! Here’s what we’ve got to do.””

As the President indicates, “what we’ve got to do” is sacrifice, spread out the suffering so that no one person suffers too much. Yet, one thing he overlooks is that the debt of this country cannot be dealt with even if you took all the money made by the richest in America. In fact, the debt is so massive that it would barely put a dent into the deficit. Even spreading out the suffering would accomplish no negligible benefit to our society. More sacrifice will not work.

One would think that the President’s logic is flawless. Certainly, as patriotic Americans we all want to make things better in our society. And, some think, considering the present circumstances, our leaders are only trying to encourage Americans to do their part to lift society out of the doldrums. But, I think that the President’s remarks are nothing more than a ritualized (in other words, automatized) response that has been repeatedly imposed upon mankind for centuries and that it has never worked. In fact, it is a form of “sleight of hand” where the President offers great benefits to the people if they would only sacrifice; but, historically, in other similar cases, those benefits were never accomplished. The only thing we did is lose people, energy and time.

In fact, our deficit problem was created by the very same thinking in which the President is asking us to engage. He asks us to sacrifice for our fellow man. Yet, the trigger for the economic collapse, the subprime crisis was caused by a former President Clinton who asked the banks to sacrifice so that more people could buy homes. The result was a massive number of foreclosures; and those people who got homes are now sacrificing whatever money they have left to the banks that were decimated by the original sacrifice. It seems that someone has figured out how to use sacrifice to convince people to re-distribute lots of money. It is an old game.

Along the way, President Obama’s biggest supporters have become exceedingly wealthy by taking in more sacrifice from the tax payers, creating a crony capitalist scheme that rewards his supporters with stimulus dollars so that they can do it all over again in 2012. Everyone gets rich but the taxpayers who are sacrificing. This is the ancient Cult of Sacrifice made contemporary.

It appears that Ayn Rand, in her novel Atlas Shrugged was correct in her assessment of crony capitalism. In the universe she created, it was the crony capitalists that were using the language of duty, of collective salvation and of love in order to justify their thefts. They used this language to condition society to the necessity of sacrifice, all the while, destroying their industrial enemies in order to keep their grip on power. As each new producer rose up, he was immediately seized upon as by vultures and eaten alive by laws, government programs and regulations. Each new sacrifice was supposedly engaged in for the good of society, to save society, to get us out of the doldrums. And the argument was always: “we should spread the sacrifice around”.

In spite of the fact that Atlas Shrugged was a fictional story, today we are seeing it come to life as if it were a prophesy. And, as happened in Ayn Rand’s fictional universe, our universe keeps descending into more poverty and more calls for sacrifice. How could she get it so right? How could she know that cronyism is the hallmark of collectivism, of communism, of socialism and of fascism? Her answer was “Identify the dominant philosophy of a society and you can predict its future.” (1) Today, the dominant philosophy of society is “The Cult of Sacrifice”.

Today, cronyism has exposed itself as a “bubble” and it is ready to burst. The entire house of cards built by the President, a house made up of “looters” as Ayn Rand would call them, is beginning to collapse around the President. The cronies have taken over the economy and no one is safe until the American people put a stop to it. They must restore the Constitution by limiting the power of the President.

Everyone knows that the President is lying with virtually every sentence he utters and that nothing he says or does will bring about an economic resurgence. His words are more of the same; more calls for the very sacrifice that got us into the situation. What is the Cult of Sacrifice; and how is it destroying us? It is not something new, but something very old, like a dusty old skeleton dug up after centuries in the sand…propped up as the source of life when it is merely old and dead.

Let’s begin at the beginning; somewhere in a distant past, before history was being written. It is within this past that we can see the remnants of the Cult of Sacrifice. Imagine that archaeologists have just dug up a group of people who had not gone through the Industrial Revolution, whose level of knowledge was miniscule compared to ours. These people knew so little that they interpreted everything they saw from a primitive perspective. They saw the influence of “spirits” everywhere and their most fundamental principle is that there were two dimensions of reality, the world of the spirits and the world of reality in which they lived. One realm was superior, active and real (the world of the spirits) and the other was full of fear, terror and catastrophe (the reality in which they lived). These people yearned for the paradise of the spiritual world and wanted to escape the drudgery of the real.

Everywhere the archaeologists dig, they uncover bodies without heads in one place, and in another place, heads without bodies. They find children buried at the cornerstones of buildings and the tombs of kings with hundreds of dead “attendants” including people, animals, chariots of war and even whole horses. They find a “cemetery” with bodies thrown in as in a mass grave and they find votive offerings with statues of ancient gods whose names are long lost to history. Everywhere, they find the Cult of Sacrifice.

The gods and spirits were everywhere for the men in this society, influencing their daily lives and sometimes even raining down disaster, hurricane and earthquake as punishment for not honoring them. The archaeologists find layer upon layer of dust in the village and layer upon layer of buildings built upon older buildings as if periodic destruction came to this society. And with each destruction layer, they found more bodies.

For these people, the spirits lived, not only in the heavens, but in the animals and objects of nature, everything had an animating spirit and everything that happened on this earth was influenced by their interventions. Understanding what the gods demanded was a daunting task that could only have been accomplished by the priest/rulers who presumed to have a deep connection to the gods and spirits.

We must understand that these people had no science. They had no view of reality that informed them of cause and effect and they had only their trust in their leaders. If their leaders told them that in order to save society, they must offer up their children in sacrifice to the gods, they believed it. If they were told that in order to ensure that earthquakes did not destroy their buildings, they had to bury a living child at the cornerstone of each building. If they were told that the gods were angry at them and could only be appeased through the brutal murder of some of their citizens, they believed such sacrifice was necessary. If they were told that, as servants of the king, they must continue their service by being buried with him upon his death, they believed that as soon as they died en masse they would resume a new life of service to the king.

This new archaeological find, however, is not so different from other finds which have been discovered all over the world, on every continent, in virtually every country and river bank on the planet. And, as we examine the writing of recent history and explore our planet, we see strains of human sacrifice, even up to modern times. The brutal truth is that the Cult of Sacrifice has informed the lives of people for century upon century.

Throughout these many centuries, most men believed that all causes were enacted by the gods and all men must live in their service. Did any of them notice that sometimes their devout sacrifice did not accomplish the end they sought? Yes, but they were told that they had not sacrificed enough. Did any of them question their religion for asking them to give up their highest values? Yes, they were soon offered up as the next to be sacrificed. Did any of them offer their own bodies in order to save the lives of their children? Yes, but they were told that only the sacrifice of children could appease the gods. At each questioning of the wisdom of the ruling elites, there was an argument ready and one thing they did not question: the belief that the gods existed and that they could rain devastation upon them.

The cult of sacrifice was so engrained in men during past ages that even today men believe they have to sacrifice to God or Allah in order to live moral lives. Sacrifice, today called altruism, is a remnant of the human sacrifice that was practiced by our ancient forebears. And all the negatives of ancient ritual sacrifice are with us today in lost human energy, lost dignity and lost love; in devastated societies and people resigned to suffering and death. It has come down to us by means of religion and those philosophers influenced by Plato who preached a two-dimensional universe. We can see how ingrained sacrifice is today if we understand the meaning and purpose of ritual.

Ritual is the scripted reenactment of mythological tales about the lives of the gods. Ritual is the ancient version of moral thinking. In fact, ritual is the method by which ancient leaders kept the “people” in line, controlled their activities and instituted their sacrificing. A ritual was both a commemoration of the lives of the gods and a moral lesson on how to act at all times. Ritual told men how to live, how to be god-like. Ritual always included obedience and sacrifice and was the means through which ancient rulers earned their booty or “made their living” so to speak. Ritualized practices were the means of maintaining the Cult of Sacrifice.

Many people think that very few cultures actually engaged in ritual human sacrifice. In fact, the practice took many forms throughout pre-history and was practiced in almost every culture of the past. Those forms we read about from ancient Egypt and ancient Greece were some of the most brutal form of sacrifice that had been practiced for centuries before as archaeology has borne witness. The only changes men saw throughout pre-history were the various different forms of sacrifice, some more brutal than others, with different sacrificial objects to accomplish different results. Religious reformation was slow but sometimes it was more deadly and at other times more benign. Eventually, many cultures were told that the gods no longer interfered in the affairs of men. It was no longer necessary to fear catastrophe at their hands. Brutal deadly sacrifice was slowly replaced by animal and money sacrifice. The gods became fatherly and motherly figures teaching love, knowledge and piety. Still the means of control were ritual reenactments of the lives of the gods that became morality. The Cult of Sacrifice has always been alive and well.

We obtain a hint at how religious reformations came about if we look at how the reformation of Greek myths slowly evolved into secular philosophy. Early Greeks began to question the premises of their brutal religious practices by inventing some key questions about the nature of the universe. These questions challenged the view of the gods as brutal masters who demanded human sacrifice. The Greeks asked such questions as what is the relationship between the one and the many. What principles create change? Is it the spirits or earth-bound processes such as air, water, fire and earth? What is the role of the individual as an autonomous thinker and what of the collectives that demanded various forms of human sacrifice? As they grappled with these questions, their society developed along two tracks, one religious demanding sacrifice and another secular demanding that the individual mind be allowed to question and investigate without the influence of religion. To a great extent, Ancient Greece was very much like our society in that both societies experimented with various forms of social structure and investigated such issues as a separation of church and state, the role of the individual in solving his own problems and the role of government in the lives of individuals.

If you examine the writings of Greek philosophers, you see the tension between secular analysis and religious dominance. Their example reminds us of the many intellectuals during our Enlightenment period that experienced a similar tension as they strove to understand the difference between a free mind and one enslaved by doctrine. A new vision once again strove to remove men from the slavery of the mind. These issues continue to influence us today as we question the viability of sacrificing the individual to the demands of the state. We ask whether it is society or religion to which we should sacrifice our minds, our time, our possessions; and some of us ask whether there should be any sacrificing at all. Some of us think that the legacy of the Enlightenment, what thinkers like Locke and others struggled to understand was the issue of freedom versus tyranny. Should society defend and protect the human mind seeking to understand, prosper and flourish or should it be the instrument of enforcing sacrifice? This is the Founding Fathers versus the progressives.

Through the influence of the progressives today, the residue of the demand for human sacrifice looms as a deep threat. According to the progressives, it is immoral to be for “yourself” and moral to think of the whole. It is immoral to seek profit and moral to sacrifice for the good of the group. Indeed, the statement by President Obama quoted above is nothing more than an echo of the ideas that confounded the Greeks so many centuries ago and still confound us today. The Cult of Sacrifice is alive and well among the President’s allies in the “Occupy Wall Street” pseudo-movement, while others, the true historical radicals in the Tea Party movement, cry out for capitalism, freedom and individual rights.

Some would say that connecting ancient human sacrifice to modern calls for altruism is unfair. Yet, one of the most ancient examples of the tension between the one and the many has come down to us today in the form of Greek tragedy, a ritualized recreation of the lives of the gods and demigods. These plays helped people experience catharsis by seeing for themselves, as we see today on television and in the theater, how the gods lived and how they acted. Greek plays were virtual examples, morality plays if you will, on how ancient Greek citizens were supposed to live their lives.

You can observe two basic themes in Greek plays that you can also observe today in American theater and movies. These themes make up the “natural resources” so to speak of both Greek and American story telling. They are the “suffering savior” and “the battle of the sexes”. These themes are repeated constantly in our stories today as they were in the plays of Greek tragedy. Each theme represented an ancient religious perspectives; they were primitive forms of religion, so to speak, that laid the foundation for modern religion and political theory today.

Stories of Prometheus, Atlas, Hercules, Theseus, Odysseus, Oedipus, Perseus and more provided for the Greeks the examples that taught them how a creature like man, all too human and frivolous, could participate in world consuming events, suffer, struggle and fight against the gods and nature, take on tremendous challenges and defeat violent enemies, sometimes to die (sacrifice himself) as an offering or scapegoat for the good of the earth or the people.

Likewise, today, actors such as Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis and others play heroes who suffer and die to save the planet, America and little children. They participate in world consuming events, suffer, struggle and fight against the odds and nature, take on tremendous challenges and defeat violent enemies, sometimes to die (sacrifice themselves) as an offering or scapegoat for the good of the earth or the people. The images of these sacrificial offerings, these virtuous men, are intended to elicit admiration and a desire to live as they lived, to experience the "magnificence" of life as a successful sacrifice. These tragedies are the symbols of the Cult of Sacrifice.

These stories, both ancient Greek and contemporary American, are derived from the earlier rituals and myths of pre-history where men were called upon to give up their lives, their children and their possessions for the sake of setting the world right. They represent the constantly repeating themes of the Cult of Sacrifice, the idea that was more than a mere suggestion but a demand for sacrifice made upon all men, of all parts of the world and almost for all time.

The Cult of Sacrifice has gone through many reformations throughout history. As the Enlightenment began taking shape, many philosophers realized that religion had come under attack because of the new focus on reason inaugurated by the Enlightenment. Men began seeing that life could be “lived”, enjoyed and that reason was the means of that enjoyment. Men began to question the religious life of self-sacrifice, humility and self-denial and liberated themselves from the shackles of religious intolerance. As some have observed, Ayn Rand for one, the backlash against the ideas of the Enlightenment took the shape of a “new” morality invented by Kant, but based upon the dusty old skeletons of the past, the Cult of Sacrifice. Kant’s goal was to save religion from the Enlightenment and he did it by elevating “duty” as prime motivation, turning it into an "imperative" built into the structure of the mind. Through this “new” morality, we have the effort of the Cult of Sacrifice to throw off the dust of the past and redeem itself by once again controlling man’s mind and actions. When Comte began to elaborate upon the principles of “altruism”, otherism, the victory of Kant was sealed and the Enlightenment was killed. The Founding Fathers never had a chance.

Yet, the Enlightenment left us one legacy; the Constitution of the United States that defined liberty and rights for man. This document rescued one nation from the Cult of Sacrifice and provided, for a couple of hundred years, an example of the magnificence possible to a nation built on reason. For the next few centuries the struggle was between a new morality of freedom and the reconstituted but still dusty Cult of Sacrifice now championed by Kant and the pragmatists. Because the thinkers that ruled the universities were essentially Kantians and their descendents, the victory of the Cult of Sacrifice is near complete. Today, the President can say, as if it is a foregone conclusion, that he will not accept a bill (that is supposed to solve our problems) unless there is some sacrifice in the bill. In fact, because of the resurgence of the Cult of Sacrifice, you cannot be considered a good person unless you convince people that you are pious practitioner of duty, altruism and “love”. The suffering savior is back on the ash.

Let’s look back to the past again so we can identify the one fact that centuries of world leaders, witch doctors, kings, queens and prime ministers have missed. With every demand of sacrifice that has been made, there has always been a presumption that something good would happen; earthquakes would be mild, the gods would be fed and appeased, the world would be set right. Just as our President promises a prosperous economy if there is more sacrifice, men have always been promised that each and every sacrifice will save men, quiet the seas, bring good fortune and generally make things better. When the feared consequences did not come, the sacrifice was considered to have worked. The rulers were please at their accuracy and demanded more loot. When the feared consequences came anyway, the rulers told men that they had not sacrificed enough, that next time they would need to sacrifice more people, more goats and chickens and more money. They demanded more blood and loot.

What did we miss through all these centuries of sacrificing? There was seldom a thought that the dreaded catastrophes had nothing to do with whether men sacrificed or not; that no matter what men did or gave up, the consequence that eventually came, good or bad, would have come anyway. The sacrificing was irrelevant, a brutal, sad waste of human energy and love. It was sacrifice for the sake of sacrificing...as is the call for sacrifice today by the President.

It also did not occur to many men in the past to question the rulers who proclaimed themselves proficient at knowing what the gods wanted from men. They did not notice that the demand for sacrifice kept the rulers alive while they, the pious ones, lost their loved ones, even their goats and chickens not to mention their passion for life. And it does not occur to us today that President Obama is seeking sacrifice, not because he knows it will solve our problems, but because he knows it will not solve our problems. President Obama is a high priest of the Cult of Sacrifice doing what other high priests before him have done: he is faking a moral superiority and making it possible for him and his cronies to loot the substance of society.

The Cult of Sacrifice has never solved our problems and perhaps it is time to stop the sacrificing, recognize that the thinkers of the Enlightenment were on the right track. We should complete their work and profess again the idea that men do have rights and that the first purpose of government should be to prevent sacrifice, to protect the lives and property of the people.

If we want to solve our problems as a nation, we should look at the practitioners of the Cult of Sacrifice and “throw them all out”.

(1)quoted in “Ayn Rand – The Prophesy of Atlas Shrugged

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