Sacrifice: the Mystical Dialogue

This is the second post in a four part series. Click the ‘previous’ tab for part 1

If you want to drive a committed Darwinian crazy simply mention sacrifice because sacrifice is one of those quirky human traits that seemingly undermine every law of natural selection, primacy, or utility. Still, it keeps reappearing in many guises. Worse, nobody particularly likes making sacrifices and yet some innate moral sense seems to compel us to do it at times. (And to refuse would only mean losing one’s self respect.) So why would selfish creatures like ourselves ever make sacrifices?

Sacrifice has been a fundamental component of religion for thousands of years, from ancient pagan cults even up to our own day. But what exactly is sacrifice? Unfortunately, the word itself has been greatly stretched from its original Latin root which literally means, “to make sacred or holy.” Continue reading

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The Sacrificial Imperative – Introduction

I am not a particular fan of Sigmund Freud’s theory of man which devolves around his so-called ‘Oedipus Complex’ and purports to explain some of man’s deepest primal drives. Nevertheless, the agnostic Freud clearly recognized a seemingly hard-wired cultural trait that repeatedly emerged among virtually every tribe, ethnic group, and civilization, namely the impulse to offer sacrifice. But what was one to make of this mysterious activity which made little sense to an enlightened ‘man of science?’ Hoping to distance this stubbornly recurrent phenomenon from its more natural psycho-spiritual moorings, the good doctor constructed an elaborate thesis to explain man’s predilection for sacrifice in psycho-sexual terms, Freud’s favorite home turf. He treats the subject extensively in his classic work Totem and Taboo which, despite its erroneous conclusions, does provide us with a compelling explanation of the causes and meaning of sacrifice. Continue reading

Angels, Partners in Salvation

One of the joys of Christmas is bringing the presence of angels back to the forefront of our consciousness. Angels are wondrous beings who reflect the unfathomable glory of the Creator. Unfortunately, as too often portrayed in popular culture, they come off as some semi-human celestial hybrids trying to ‘earn their wings.’ (Think of Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” or Billy Bigelow in  “Carousel.”) On the contrary no angel ever had a body in some previous life nor shared in our human nature. Angels are purely spiritual beings created that way by God.

Perhaps the term ‘angel’ itself is misleading. St. Augustine observes that ‘angel’ is the name of their office, not their nature. In other words, it refers to their job description as messengers and servants of God. Continue reading

The Problem With Death

“The worst is death, and death will have his day.”  (Shakespeare, “Richard II”)

We are living in a culture where random psychotic violence has become alarmingly endemic. Yet I would venture that most of us have experienced our own close brush with death at some point in our lives. I am not just talking about so-called ‘near death’ experiences where somebody appears to die only to be unexpectedly revived but something far more common, the ‘close call:’ a mislabeled toxic vial that you nearly mistook for medication, an emergency appendectomy that saved your life, the speeding vehicle that narrowly missed sending you to your eternal reward. At such moments one can almost feel the cold icy breath of death on the neck.

Close calls produce a particularly chilling release of adrenaline, yet they also serve as periodic reminders of the fragility of life. After recovering from a life threatening illness do we not see life in a very different way? We suddenly remember how each day is its own special gift; not to be taken for granted. Our fear of death is inversely proportional to the joy and beauty we experience in life. Continue reading

Shocking Mockings

The declining sense of public decency sank to a new low in the aftermath of the tragic shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I refer to the vicious mockery which broke out like a sour chorus among various “progressive” entertainers and journalists after various public calls to prayer and reflection were made. Actress Maria Sirtis summed up the progressive’s mood succinctly. “To all those asking for thoughts and prayers… it seems that your direct line to God is not working.” In other words, praying to God as such moments is a delusional, if not worthless, placebo at best and at worst, nothing more than self-indulgent superstition. So when are all you ignorant rubes going to figure out that your ‘unproven’ God doesn’t have all the answers? We progressives, on the other hand, could surely fix everything overnight (in the form of ever more intrusive social controls.) Continue reading

Thoughts on Luther’s Reformation

Yesterday marked the 500th anniversary of possibly the most momentous event in modern Western society. Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg demarcates the transition from a medieval society going back to the era of Charlemagne into what we know as the modern world in many respects. Most Protestants today regard Luther as the sainted reformer of Christianity while other Christians would see him as a heretic who split the Church asunder. And while both views may have their respective merits (and passionate defenders) neither view provides a clear and dispassionate analysis of Luther’s methods and objectives. Continue reading

Large Numbers

On my recent long drive back from Nebraska I was pondering just how expansive our great country is, but also how people today are so impressed by large numbers, especially when preceded by a $ sign. But numbers are really just abstract ciphers until we attach some more pertinent meaning to them. For instance, they can be helpful in measuring relationships between physical objects or to gain some sense of proportion. My mind then wandered into the field of astronomy where Really Big numbers are common, everyday occurrences. It turns out this big, old world of ours is really pretty insignificant in the universal scheme of existence, and yet its significance derives not from any physical properties but because it contains something that is exceedingly rare in the cosmos, and even more precious: life. Continue reading

“Follow Me”

The very first command that Christ utters in the Gospel to his followers is this direct and simple summons, “Follow Me.” And in a sense this may be considered to be the first commandment of the New Covenant, which builds upon its Old Covenant counterpart, “I am the Lord Your God, You shall put no strange god before Me.” But this summons is both an invitation and a command, for Christ never imposes on our free wills as if we were boot camp recruits. He desires only a freely given response on our part. But, like those first apostles, once we make that commitment there must be no turning back. The only one who turned back from the original twelve was Judas whose fate we might not wish to share. And where does that divine command to “Follow me” eventually lead? It takes one to wherever the master goes, which means it ultimately leads to the very brow of Calvary.

We just returned from an exhilarating trip to Great Britain and one of the most edifying aspects of our journey was discovering the many English martyrs who so heroically accepted their Lord’s challenge to “follow me” throughout 150 years of persecution during the 16th and 17th centuries. Continue reading

Thoughts on Charlottesville, or It’s about Tolerance – not Race

Sharks and Jets ─ spoiling for a fight, looking to rumble when cops are out if sight. Did West Side Story just play a return engagement in real time recently in Virginia? And yes, just like the musical, someone even got killed in the fracas. The recent events in Charlottesville just brought the story into a 21st century setting. Anyway, that is how I interpret the senseless brouhaha in Thomas Jefferson’s home town ─ a street riot between two brawling gangs, each determined to shut down the other.

The absurdity of this farce is heightened by the fact that its purported cause is a couple of long-deceased generals whose memorials are deemed to be “offensive” to the radical left which has taken particular pains to spin events into the familiar narrative about hate and racism. True, the moronic white supremacists involved were itching to make gaudy headlines by whatever means, egged on by their radical counterparts on the left. What I find truly hateful though is the attempt by self-appointed “culture thugs” on either side to shut down the rights of anyone else to disagree with their obsessively self-righteous positions. Continue reading

Calm Before the Storm

On Monday, August 21 several million Americans will witness a total eclipse of the sun. From ancient times solar eclipses, like comets, have been considered portents of singular events, either great or chilling, something like a celestial early warning system. I am not normally prone to make wild predictions based upon astronomical signs, but this year already seems to be filled with foreboding on many fronts, as though something great and terrible looms on the horizon. Being the 100th year of the Fatima apparitions in Portugal, many others have also expressed a sense of imminence, as though a significant spiritual storm is brewing the likes of which our generation has never seen. Like any premonition there is no real way to accurately predict what form that storm might take. But, as always, the best clues about the future often come from the past. Continue reading