The language of sacrifice: to sanctify, make sacred

The language of Sacrifice: to sanctify, make sacred

Bronze statue of William Penn atop Philadelphia City Hall in Pennsylvania, USA

Who is more important to you: your own descendents or a single individual who died hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Let’s ask a slightly different question.

If you have children or grandchildren and they are also in the room with you now, look at them and consider whether you would sacrifice them in exchange for a single painting. Before you answer, keep in mind that the painting displays an imagined scene featuring a famous Hebrew prophet. Would that be an important detail?

Or, would you rather promote the long-term well-being of your descendents even if that involved sacrificing an old painting of the famous prophet? Plus, what if the old painting of the famous prophet no longer exists but it was photographed- or at least a small section of one corner of the painting- and then the photograph is slightly blurry?

Which would you sacrifice then: the blurry photo or your descendents? Further, if one of your children makes a low-quality scanned image of a blurry photograph of small section of the famous old painting, then would you be more interested in your child or in that scanned image of the blurry photograph of the painting?

Now, even though I expect everyone to favor the welfare of their own descendents, I would like to say a few things about the value of stories about paintings about legends about ancient Hebrew prophets. You already know your children, but you probably do not know all of the stories about all of the people who have been called prophets by any Hebrew. Further, perhaps listening to what I will tell you could result in you increasing your clarity about your appreciation for the well-being of your descendents.

As you know, there have been a few famous Hebrew prophets, so you might think of a painting of a crucifixion of a famous Hebrew prophet. Or, you might think of a painting of a famous Hebrew prophet who saved humanity from a dangerous flood. Many prophets have been called saviors, including for things like saving a very small, select group of people from a danger that killed millions.

Who did Noah save? Mostly, the people he saved were his descendents.

But neither Noah nor Jesus are the ancient Hebrew Prophet in the painting that I want to tell you about. I am talking about a prophet who was about to sacrifice his own son in exchange for staying faithful to an idea of religious obedience. I am talking about a painting of the Prophet Abraham.

Actually, I am talking about a story of a scanned image of a fuzzy photograph of a section of a painting about Abraham. The scanned image has this long caption under it of “This myth trains people to be willing to sacrifice their descendents in the service of a religious ideal. Some ways of focusing on this myth may be for triggering in people a sense that the lives of their own children are in danger. Obedience to the congregation is presented as clearly more important than the life of a single child.”

Could it be that a single child would ever be sacrificed by a parent? Of course. Parents may intentionally favor risking one child’s welfare in order to protect younger children or the extended family (like cousins and so on). For instance, a strong young man may be sent in to danger to be a guardian of the family or the clan.

William Penn, 22, a British soldier

William Penn, 22, a British soldier

In Great Britain a few hundred years ago, there was a law requiring everyone to swear an oath of loyalty to the King (rather than to the Pope, because the King of England had just issued a declaration of independence from the Holy Roman Empire). By the way, Great Britain is still a theocratic monarchy, with the head monarch recognized as the official head of both the government and the Church of England.

So, a long time ago, a crime was created in regard to failing to swear loyalty to the King. Many people complied, but many people from a particular religious group refused to swear any oath, citing a passage from their Bible that prohibited the swearing of oaths.

The men of these rebellious Quaker households were put in jail for treason (for disobedience or disloyalty). They were going to be kept in jail until they died, which they knew.

In those days, keeping the father in jail would likely lead to the impoverishment and death of all of the rest of the family. The courts allowed for an exception though.

The men could continue to honor their sacred scripture and still also be let out of jail one one condition: if they just sacrificed another family member to replace the husband as an inmate in the King’s dungeons. Typically, in order to promote the interest of the entire family, the youngest female member of the Quaker family was presented to the court in a prisoner exchange for her father (offered as a sacrifice). Given the conditions of the King’s prisons, the daughter typically lived between a few months and a few years before dying.

Many Quaker families (perhaps reduced in size by one daughter) fled to North America, especially Pennsylvania. Being a Quaker was also even less welcome in Massachusetts, where Puritans dominated. (Virginia was not as harsh, never enforcing it’s 1659 death penalty for being a Quaker, but a century later, US President (and Virginian) Thomas Jefferson was famous for his prejudice against Quakers.) Quakers were banished from the state of Massachusetts and some who failed to leave (or dared to return) were executed for the crime of spreading Quaker principle (“unlicensed publishing”): http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01-2.html .

Here is some perspective on the politics of 1666 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Penn:

The reign of King Charles had further tightened restrictions against all religious sects other than the Anglican Church, making the penalty for unauthorized worship imprisonment or deportation. The “Five Mile Act” prohibited dissenting teachers and preachers to come within that distance of any borough.[32] The Quakers were especially targeted and their meetings were deemed as criminal.

Despite the dangers, William Penn [a former British soldier and son of a British Admiral] began to attend Quaker meetings…. Soon Penn was arrested for attending Quaker meetings. Sprung from jail because of his family’s rank, Penn was immediately recalled to London by his father. The Admiral was severely distressed by his son’s actions and took the conversion as a personal affront.[35] Though enraged, the Admiral tried his best to reason with his son but to no avail. His father not only feared for his own position but that his son seemed bent on a dangerous confrontation with the Crown.[37] In the end, young Penn was more determined than ever and the Admiral felt he had no option but to order his son out of the house and to withhold his inheritance.[38]

As Penn became homeless, he began to live with Quaker families.[38] Quakers were relatively strict Christians in the seventeenth century. They refused to bow or take off their hats to social superiors, believing all men equal under God, a belief antithetical to an absolute monarchy, which believed the monarch divinely appointed by God. Therefore, Quakers were treated as heretics because of their principles and their failure to pay tithes. They also refused to swear oaths of loyalty to the King. Quakers followed the command of Jesus not to swear, reported in the Gospel of Matthew, 5:34.”

The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King's breakfast chamber at Whitehall.

The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King’s breakfast chamber at Whitehall.

Eventually, Penn fled to other parts of Europe and then returned to England, where he was imprisoned. His father was near death and asked for favors from the Duke of York and the King. A compromise was reached in which Quakers purchased half of New Jersey and also received all of Pennsylvania.

Now, all of that may be interesting, but how is it relevant to the well-being of your descendents? Some people have been willing to sacrifice one of their children in order to promote an ecsape from tyranny for the rest of the family. The ancient Hebrew Prophet Abraham was also willing to sacrifice one child for what he perceived to be the welfare of the family or the clan.

However, what if someone was willing to save their entire family (without fleeing) by sacrificing their loyalty to an old fuzzy painting of a translated scripture about a scanned photograph? Is it a hgher priority to preserve one’s child or one’s open rebellion against the local government (even by making an oath perhaps without any particular sincerity)?

It is not my priority to judge William Penn, Abraham, or anyone else. It is also not my priority to obsess over other people’s perceptions of my religious ideals. Promoting the welfare of my descendents (as a whole, not just individually) is a prioty for me.

I would be willing to sacrifice other priorities or even my own life. I will die eventually and so why not sacrifice my entire future for my descendents?

However, generally speaking, anything that is good for me will further my ability to promote the welfare of my descendents. So, sacrificing my own life does not mean heroically displaying my ego (and my religious ideals) by parading my rebellion against some powerful group or tyrant. I simply do not care what “everyone” thinks of me. I am more interested in what I think of me descendents, and I think very highly of them, by the way.

So, I sacrifice the translated image of a blurry sripture about a sacred painting. I make all of that sacred by sacrificing it in the service of my descendents. If it helps promote the welfare of my descendents, then I value it. If not, I may discard it.

Some institutions may systematically favor the interests of the founders of those institutions. The institutions may be designed to disproportionately promote the interest of the descendents of the founders, even to exploit others or enslave others or kill others or imprison others. Their wealth and labor may be extracted by coercion and they may be programmed, distracted, confused, and deceived in order to promote their compliance and obedience to the system designed to favor one group even at the expense of others.

Some social conditioning may train us to sacrifice ourselves and our children, instead presenting us with ideals of meekness, selflessness, and obedience. We may be programmed with ideals of future reincarnation as a rich person in exchange for our obedience and conformity today. We may be enticed with promises of a paradise after death if we just sacrifice our lives for the military imperialism of the British Monarch or the Emperor of China or the Holy Roman Empire, etc…. If we excel as a soldier, we be promised a medal, two statues, an annual parade, and, when I die, an eternity of sexual pleasure with 100 virgin wives exclusive to me personally.

Quietly, I might be interested in relaxing the trauma and confusion with which I have been indoctrinated. I might be very interested in advancing my economic interests in collaboration with others (including my closest biological relatives). I might sacrifice other ideals and pretenses for the benefit of my descendents.

I might notice that when I sacrifice my commitment to my descendents, I experience discontent. When I sacrifice my loyalty to social conditioning for my welfare of my descendents, I may notice that I experience calmness and clarity and contentment, plus surges of a tenacious inspiration.

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