So now we wade into lots of laws and instructions, so why not start off with sacrifice?
Sacrifice is one of those words that tends to make our modern sensibilities cringe. We tend to think of it, at best, as a yoke of martyrdom, a burden by which we grudgingly give up something we don’t wish to give, often at the urging of others. (This is particularly true as the word is manipulated by political figures who seem to ask others to sacrifice while they themselves reap benefits.)
Failing that, it tends to conjure up something dark and terrible, perhaps out of a B-grade horror movie. A shrieking virgin on a fire, a small fluffy pet on a dark altar.
But neither of these things are really where sacrifice, in the historical sense of the word, lies.
Before we jump right on into the controversial bits, let’s talk grain offerings. Flour, honey, frankincense, salt, first fruits. Offered up to God, but also consumed by priests. This type of offering is one that makes an intrinsic sort of sense to me — it is giving thanks and returning some that you have been granted to a higher power. A portion is given up to God and a portion to feed those who work in the name of faith, the priests. There’s also an intimate connection with life and religion — that the first fruits harvested are not yours, but belonging to God.
Then we move into other sacrifice. Animal sacrifice
I know I should probably react in horror here. But…I don’t.
Here’s the thing. I eat meat. I like a good steak or a hamburger. And no matter how much our society tries to separate that hamburger from the cow it once was — it was still a cow.
I have a slight bit of discomfort with the burnt offerings; mostly because they strike me as particularly wasteful, with the whole animal being burnt. But the wellness offerings? Like animal sacrifice in other cultures, the majority of the animal would have been consumed by the community; parts were offered and that again falls a bit in the line of giving thanks and giving back.
Because here’s the thing: like I said, I eat meat. When I look at this I think — on the one hand we have an animal killed, a portion sacrificed and the rest fed to the community. On the other, we have animals raised and slaughtered in factory farm operations with horrible conditions, chopped up and sold piecemeal to individuals for consumption, with an enormous amount of waste inherent in the system.
Which one of these strikes you as more ethically problematic?
To be clear, I don’t think animal sacrifice really has a role to play in (most) modern religion. It doesn’t fit our cultural sensibilities and we live in a vastly different world. But I can’t help think that there’s an element of mindfulness and community that we could bring to bear a we recognize that even when we don’t call it sacrifice, other creatures die so that we may live.