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March 03, 2004

Sanctified by the Blood

Aziz links to this post on LGF that graphically depicts how some Lebanese Shia cut & bloody their own children during Aashurah.

My first reaction was of course that that's grotesque and barbarous. On the other hand...the majority of the world's Christians believe that they consume the literal blood and body of Christ! Blood sacrifice seems to be an ancient human tradition, Muslims still sacrifice animals during holidays, Jews will recommence once the Temple is rebuilt and some Hindus still practice human sacrifice. Children kill animals in cruel ways, while I remember reading about the reversion to animal sacrifice by German peasants in one village in the 1700s when they were lacking a Lutheran pastor for a generation.

I believe these are all manifestations of the nautral "vitalism module" that Steve Pinker speaks of in The Blank Slate. To those who hold a naturalistic origin for religion, this is not a peculiar conclusion, and the recapitulation of specific practices in various guises universally in the world's cultures is not surprising. But, if like most humans, you hold that religion, usually one religion, is True from On High, the emergence of practices from the psychological substrate must be either A) justified as orthodox practice or B) denied as a perversion. In such a fashion, you can have Catholic missionaries in Africa telling local people to end their animal sacrifices and encouraging them to consume human blood & flesh in a new religious rite, the former is "perversion," the latter is "sanctified" from On High.

P.S. My characterization of Catholic Christian rites as something verging on cannibalism might seem peculiar. But, both ancient pagan Romans and early modern Ching dynasty Chinese (circa 1650-1900) saw it this way. Without cultural preconditioning as to its normality, two peoples seperated by more than a millennia and the Eurasian supercontinent, had the same reaction to the practice, which strikes me as confirmation that it is rather weird if one is not inured to its banality.

Addendum: I don't believe in racial memory, but, I do think it is interesting to reflect that the Shia of Lebanon sit smack-dab in the middle of the ancient Child Burning Mecca of the Near East.

Posted by razib at 02:29 PM