Human Sacrifice

Discussions unearthing human history including cultural anthropology, linguistics, etc.

Human Sacrifice

Postby wolfhnd on January 9th, 2015, 6:14 pm 

In another thread we were discussing how human sacrifice was relevant to terrorism. It didn't generate a lot of post but it did get me thinking about why almost every where in the world at one time or the other human sacrifice existed. I try to start analyzing human behavior by way of some ethological comparison. The only thing I can come up with is how human seem to like to shock their emotions there by intensify the level of experience. Another animal that flirts with death is the ground squirrel ... er-nothing. Ground squirrels demonstrate that being brave has a fitness advantage for "social" animals if it helps disorient predators. Perhaps sacrifice works on a similar mechanism in so far as bravery is a desirable human characteristic. This article talks about the willingness to sacrifice warriors to the sacredness of the collective will ... bourg.html. Ritualistic playing with death perhaps prepares people for meaningful sacrifice.

Re: Human Sacrifice

Postby Forest_Dump on January 10th, 2015, 3:18 pm 

I have run across some literature on human sacrifice although not so much on the psychology (not too many of those people you can talk to around). But it was certainly popular among state level societies including in the Middle East. We do "know" Abraham was told by god to sacrifice his son, although he got off the hook. And Jesus was, in theory, offered by God as the ultimate sacrifice. People did it for many reasons from a conspicuous display of wealth (i.e. with slaves) to, you could argue, capital punishment or warfare (and let the tangents begin).
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Re: Human Sacrifice

Postby TheVat on January 10th, 2015, 4:23 pm 

I've wondered if there's a "Hey, Fred's in the club!" thing with squirrels and cars....that thing they do where they run into the street and seem to come as close to being run over by you as possible, it almost seems like they are deliberately engaged in some ritual display of courage. So I wasn't surprised by the article, where they are flirting with rattlesnake-induced mortality. My kids used to get a kick out of the "tree-clipse" thing, where they get on a tree trunk and, as you walk around the tree, they carefully keep 180 degrees away from you. OK, this is definitely a tangent.
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Re: Human Sacrifice

Postby wolfhnd on January 10th, 2015, 9:00 pm 

I have run across some literature on human sacrifice although not so much on the psychology (not too many of those people you can talk to around).

Are you saying this belong in the psychology section? Do you mind tangents?

Re: Human Sacrifice

Postby wolfhnd on January 10th, 2015, 10:24 pm 

And Jesus was, in theory, offered by God as the ultimate sacrifice.

I don't think there is any doubt that the popularity of Christianity is tied to the blood ritual of sacrifice with a smattering of cannibalism. It's the your are what you eat theory taken to it's metaphysical extreme. (That said I think Christianity is part of the one religious tradition I have some respect for as I suspect it was influenced by Buddha. Which of course is arguably not a religion in the Western European sense at all.)

People did it for many reasons

That is the point though they did it not something else. It's the ultimate act of fealty either to and idea or a person or state. You take the thing that is most precious to you and you destroy it to prove your sincerity and commitment. The Western hypocrisy is the idea that we value human life when in reality we value some human lives and in other cases value ideas more than life. Part of the message in terrorism is see you hypocrites who's life did you really value. I would also argue that terrorism is as old as human sacrifice. The terrorist sees suicide no differently than we see sacrificing young men to the idea of "freedom" or some other abstract value. It's are willingness to die for a cause that makes peace unobtainable. (Which is about the only thing that the protestors in the 60s got right. Of course the sophistication of teenagers is almost the same as earlier societies.) How much we value our lives is a determining factor in how much we value other peoples lives. "Good" soldiers place honor and courage above self preservation. Culturally there seems to be a point where the daily struggle for existence no longer satisfies some primal instinct for extreme altruism and ritual acts step in to be a surrogate. It need not be reciprocal altruism. Altruism refers to behaviour by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the actor and is not isolated to animals with high cognitive abilities. It is a fundamental property of being social. While altruism can cross group lines and species that is not the norm and it is group identity that is key to understanding sacrifice. Here I would refer to Pinker's "Blank Slate" while in many ways it is a terrible book one thing he got right is how moral imperatives can negatively impact the very moral principle that was intended if human "nature" is not considered. In other words when instincts go wrong denying they exist can make a bad situation even worse. All instincts are subject to perversion in humans and non human animals alike. Any environmental remediation we may wish to under take should consider the "nature" of being human as well as the culture. Dehumanizing terrorist is like trying to cure the disease with the disease.

I didn't necessarily want to discuss terrorism but it was what made me curious about human sacrifice, so you may now return to the regularly schedule discussion.

Re: Human Sacrifice

Postby Percarus on April 20th, 2015, 6:20 am 


I was impressed how you managed to throw in an argument of altruism when in principle you were talking about human sacrifice. Pure Altruism itself may be seen as a form of 'sacrifice'. A sacrifice of lifestyle, being, self, sanctity of the mind, and of joy plus liberty. However if one is of the philosophy that at the end of 'all' days (afterlives included) each person is destined to enjoy life in equal grounds to one another (ie: if you suffer more you gain more, as entitled by divine nature and organized causation), as ordained by God or higher forces, then I see no reason to see Altruism as a form of sacrifice but instead as a nobler and more just way to live.

I won't state the intrinsic nature of my philosophies why I believe each human being will experience contentment in life on equal grounds, but I would argue that most individuals do want others to benefit more than their own selves (an act of altruism & non-selfish sacrifice) if they are indeed nobler, like was the case of Jesus.

Terrorism is a ghastly idea, but sometimes Utilitarian ethics necessitates human sacrifice already pointing out to a fallacy on strict secular thinking (there is only a few flaws with secular morality and I once discussed this in another thread, but asides its pretty good). Secular thought attributes no benefits to martyrs or 'sacrificial lambs' is the pun and the generic argument I proposed - I won't get into the details.

Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings, usually as an offering to a deity, as part of a religious ritual. I find it quite an irony that creeds/doctrines that preach love and compassion (aka. religion) are the main causes of human sacrifice, if not the sole cause. My two decade older friend attributes this due to the fact that God has a sick sense of humour, I tend to disagree. In modern times, even the practice of animal sacrifice has virtually disappeared from all major religions (or has been re-cast in terms of ritual slaughter) asides from vestigial acts of terrorism in the cause of Islam, but human sacrifice has become extremely rare. This attributes an importance to secular thought as it was the main cause for obliterating human sacrifices from the human mentality; my applauses to some atheists - God has a plan for Atheists too (not saying that Theists did not contribute to secular morality too).

However, there is a new threat, the practice of 'Ritual Murder'. Ritual killings perpetrated by individuals or small groups within a society that denounces them as simple murder are difficult to classify as either "human sacrifice" or mere pathological homicide because they lack the societal integration of sacrifice proper. The concept of predictive violence, as depicted in the movie 'Minority Report' (as a extreme example), may be one of countless ways that we shall be able to stop ritual psychopathic murders in people. There is also the danger that as human sentience diverges some individuals will lose value of human life to a certain degree - this is were religion becomes important to keep us going straight.

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