Is abortion a form of child sacrifice?
I am not sure if is appropriate to characterize abortion as child sacrifice, as Thomas Bertonneau does [see this and this]. It would seem that one sacrifices only what one considers valuable, and so the more valuable a thing the more significant the sacrifice (hence a bull is a greater offering than a goat which is greater than a dove). The arguments used to justify abortion, however, normally attempt to prove how the life being destroyed has no value. It is something of a dark achievement to have created a system of infanticide that is more degrading to human beings than the cult of Moloch—for they at least destroyed lives they considered somewhat valuable. Abortionists destroy only what they consider so much problematic tissue.
Thomas Bertonneau replies:
Is abortion sacrifice? Joseph S. says no and gives reasons that are plausible on a cursory inspection. I say yes. The explanation is so obvious that I can articulate it even while writing in a state of considerable fatigue.
The victims of sacrifice are scapegoats—and a scapegoat is, in the eyes of the mob, an intolerably inconvenient person whose being disrupts the community, incites strife, and makes happiness impossible. The overwhelming majority of abortions are discretionary abortions. They occur because the woman, or the man, imagines the as-yet-unborn child in its post-parturition status as an infant or toddler whose burden, in the demand of attention and money, constitutes an intolerable obstacle in the way of happiness, however happiness might be conceived. Moreover, the woman—or the couple, where the man is involved—never acts alone. The abortion-seeker acts in the context of, and with the voluble public encouragement of, the self-denominating “pro-choice” community. That community would include Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, the National Organization of Women, the ACLU, and the entire liberal half of the country. Every abortion is a communal act. Every abortion is also a communal act insistently celebrated as a positive increase of freedom in the community.
In recent days, university professors have gone on record to the effect that the principle of abortion should extend beyond birth. This is merely the logical—which is to say, the nakedly honest sacrificial—extension of the apology for abortion itself, as it currently exists.
To sum up: Abortion is the communal killing of an inconvenient person, whose speculative infancy and childhood stand in the way of speculative happiness. Q.E.D., abortion is sacrifice.
It seems to me that Joseph and Thomas are speaking of two different types of sacrifice and we need to distinguish between them. One type of sacrifice is, as Joseph S. describes, the sacrifice of something valued—the more valuable, the more meaningful the sacrifice. So, as laid out in great detail in the first eight chapters of Leviticus, when one wants to thank God for a small blessing, one sacrifices a dove; for a more significant blessing, a larger and more valuable animal, say a calf or a bull.
- end of initial entry -
The other type of sacrifice is of the scapegoat, which Mr. Bertonneau mentions. Here, the animal being sacrificed does indeed represent a disharmonious element in the community that must be expelled in order for the community to return to health. I would say that abortion corresponds to this type of propitiatory sacrifice, not to the “Thank you, God” sacrifices described in Leviticus.
Alan M. writes:
An interesting thing to note between these two types of sacrifice is that one is individual in thanks to a good God, while the other is collective to a god that must be propitiated (one might say that god is a projection of the collective psyche). The two types line up with the spiritual worldview of those who practice them.
Thomas Bertonneau writes:
The proper word for giving something up the way we give something up during Lent is atonement, discipline, or askesis, as in the adjective ascetic, used to describe someone who lives with the minimum of chattels. When the young girl became pregnant, carried the child to term, and then with great regret let people adopt it, who could care for and raise it, she was making a “sacrifice” in the loose sense of the word. Using the word that loosely, however, deprives us of an important moral distinction that we would do well to preserve and emphasize. When the pregnant couple avails itself of the Planned Parenthood abortion option, then, as I have argued, it is a case of sacrifice in a more rigorous sense of the word. The couple are not “giving something up”; they are killing an inconvenient person and they are doing so with the encouragement and approval of the entire liberal community. The Carthaginians propitiated Moloch during unusual crises that afflicted the community, as in the final Punic War. Liberalism has made the abortion clinic a place of mass daily recourse. This implies, by the way, that liberalism avails itself perpetually of sacrifice, in the active sense of the word, because liberalism is in a perpetual severe crisis; or rather that liberalism is a perpetual severe crisis. Unfortunately, liberalism is also a totalitarian system that sucks everyone else into its orgiastic excesses.
Joseph S. writes (April 5):
Thank you for posting my comment.
I suppose I would say, in response to Mr. Bertonneau, that I do not think he has provided sufficient reasons to think of abortion as propitiatory sacrifice or as scapegoating.
First of all, he has not addressed the value of the aborted child in the eyes of the mother and the abortionists. In Micah 6:7 we read, “May the Lord be appeased with thousands of rams, or with many thousands of fat he goats? Shall I give my firstborn for my wickedness, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” In other words, propitiatory sacrifices as well must be things of value. Most of the arguments, however, that I have encountered defending abortion do so by attempting to establish that the unborn child is of no consequence whatsoever, or that, compared to the mother’s well-being, it is of relatively no consequence. One abortion apologist (I think it was Judith Jarvis Thompson, but I could be mistaken), argued that abortion is no more morally problematic than getting a haircut. The psychological or spiritual motive of propitiation does not seem present in such arguments.
Secondly, the practice of abortion takes place behind closed doors and generally out of sight. There is no mob activity or even mob psychology involved in abortion. There is a movement of people which supports it, but it is not an activity in which the majority or even a plurality of people participate, let alone participate in as a collective social ritual. Nor is there anything close to the relationship as seen between priest and scapegoat as described in Leviticus 16. The priest there at least poured prayers upon the goat before it was driven into the wilderness. A fetus is simply destroyed. On the abortionists operating table, the only connection made with the unborn child is via surgical instruments. No prayers upon the child, nor to any deity. When we consider this, we again see that those who perform abortions do so upon what they consider a troublesome growth of tissue. They are hardly making an offering, whether in thanksgiving or in propitiation- as far as I can tell, they are destroying the moral equivalent of a tumor.
Finally, concepts of sacrifice are anathema to liberalism. To posit that they destroy their children in a quasi-religious manner in order to preserve their social order, is to suppose a large inconsistency in their thinking. Liberals typically oppose the death penalty, for example, as well as cruelty to animals. They favor assistance to the weak and innocent, and their natural sympathies are for minorities and the marginalized. To try and fit liberals into the same category as Moloch worshipers does not describe the intellectual road they have taken to arrive at abortion on demand. Abortion is a part of their wider efforts at social renewal in favor of the groups they consider to be long disadvantaged. Liberals do not have within them the sensibility to slaughter infants or animals- seeing pain and bloodshed is singularly unpleasant to them. They arrive at abortion, not out of an atavistic impulse to emulate some ancient savage cult, but because it is consistent with their theories of benevolence.
This is very well argued, insofar as abortion is concerned, and makes me question my previous comment that abortion is a form of sacrifice. If the act is private, and mainly done for reasons of convenience (notwithstanding the quasi religious importance that the promoters of abortion publicly devote to it), does it really fit the pattern of sacrifice?
However, when it comes to the destruction of designated class or race enemies, such as the “wealthy” or white Christian males or George Zimmerman, I think that the idea of liberalism as a cult of human sacrifice still holds up.
Clark Coleman writes:
Thomas Bertonneau wrote:
The proper word for giving something up the way we give something up during Lent is atonement, discipline, or askesis, as in the adjective ascetic, used to describe someone who lives with the minimum of chattels. When the young girl became pregnant, carried the child to term, and then with great regret let people adopt it, who could care for and raise it, she was making a “sacrifice” in the loose sense of the word. Using the word that loosely, however, deprives us of an important moral distinction that we would do well to preserve and emphasize.
Is Mr. Bertonneau claiming that the translators of numerous Biblical translations, who employed the English word sacrifice in numerous passages (e.g. I Samuel 15:22) that do not refer to scapegoats, were mistaken in their word choice? I do not understand his point, and object to anyone having his own private dictionary that the rest of us need to follow.
Regarding the Greek words in Mr. Bertonneau’s following comment, in Firefox you can get them to display properly via View menu, Character Encoding, Unicode (UTF-8). In other browsers it may not be possible to get the proper display. Perhaps Mr. Bertonneau can send a Latin alphabet transcription of the Greek.
Thomas Bertonneau (while expressing his regret for engaging in polemic on Good Friday) writes:
Responding to Clark Coleman and Joseph S.:
The Old and New Testaments are consistently against sacrifice, but they are not against renunciation. I Samuel 15, cited by Clark Coleman, is a case in point:
Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices As much as in obeying the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed is better than the fat of rams.
The English phrase “Burnt offerings” translates the Greek Oλοκαυτoματα. The English word “sacrifices” translates the Greek θυσiαι. The latter, θυσiαι, also connotes the frenzied activity that accompanies the killing of a victim, either human or animal. The Biblical God would prefer that his worshippers not offer him holocausts and sacrifices. The English “scapegoat,” as in Leviticus, translates the Greek φαρμακος. The driving-out is equivalent, in an archaic society, to killing; it is merely an indirect form of killing, hence whenever it occurs it is an instance of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is a default gesture of human beings. The Old Testament especially tells the story of how God gradually draws those who heed him away from sacrifice, as in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham thinks it perfectly natural to worship God by slaughtering his son on an altar; but God makes it known that he would prefer an animal victim to a human one. The verses of I Samuel 15 give us to understand that God would also prefer simple obedience even to an animal offering. (Having no Hebrew, I cannot go deeper than the Septuagint.)
Pace Mr. Coleman, my dictionaries are not private. They are the standard references. Why Mr. Coleman thinks that I Samuel 15 subverts my claims, I cannot fathom.
Joseph S. writes: “First of all, he has not addressed the value of the aborted child in the eyes of the mother and the abortionists.”
But I have done precisely this. The seekers of abortion regard the prospective infant and the prospective child as intolerable burdens on their own future happiness, for which position liberalism offers voluminous confirmation. But I am merely quoting my previous remark. I should point out that the phrase “value … in the eyes of” is pure relativism. The moral point concerns the absolute value of the child, not anyone’s selfish opinion.
Joseph S. also writes: “Finally, concepts of sacrifice are anathema to liberalism. To posit that they destroy their children in a quasi-religious manner in order to preserve their social order, is to suppose a large inconsistency in their thinking.”
First, I never “posit” that liberals do these things, whatever that might mean — I merely point to the reality of abortion and to what people do in respect of it. No “positing” is necessary because there is no question that liberals do precisely these things. The “consistency” is not to be found, therefore, in liberal self-definitions, but in liberal behavior; between the self-definitions and the behavior there are indeed extraordinary inconsistencies. Look for the inconsistencies there. Thus if we questioned liberals about abortion, they would undoubtedly repeat the materialist-reductionist justifications of the practice that are too well known to require being rehearsed here. As for sacrifices being “anathema” to liberals, Mr. Auster, looking to what liberals do rather than to what they say, has already made nonsense of the claim. (They ask us to sacrifice A to B, C to D, and E to F, and they themselves do these things, as his paragraph eloquently and specifically put it.)
Finally, with reference both to Mr. Coleman and Joseph S: The inability to see a difference between giving up rich food during Lent, i.e., renouncing something, and killing something is nothing short of astonishing. The two responses call to mind my statement that it is agonizingly difficult for modern people, even those of a conservative disposition, to understand sacrifice.
P.S. Joseph S. says that abortion, as practiced by modern liberals, cannot be sacrificial because it takes place in private. I must remind Mr. S. of the insistent liberal claim that, should Republicans succeed in restricting abortion by law, the provision of the service will revert to the domain of the proverbial “dark alleys” and “secret arrangements.” Ten thousand people need not be standing about for an act to have a public meaning. The liberal “right to abortion” or “right to choose” is entirely consonant with abortion as a sacramental rite, God help us.
Michael R. writes:
This a very timely topic for me as I have been participating in a forum where God’s command to destroy the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 20:16–18) has been heavily criticised. The consensus among unbelievers is that God is a despicable monster and undeserving of any respect. Any explanation for the command such as the evil of the Canaanites and God’s merciful forbearance over 400 years (during which time Israel was in Egyptian slavery) count for nothing.
Rather than defend what they consider indefensible I decided it would be interesting to hold them to the same scrutiny that they apply to God. How would their self righteousness stand up as regards the situation which is pretty well universal throughout the Western world, abortion on demand. I made the claim that the current situation, in which man decides at what point in pregnancy the life of the unborn shall come under protection, and until that time they can be killed, is perfectly consistent with an atheism shaped by evolution. Not all atheists agree with abortion, but atheism is the philosophical basis for abortion as now instituted and protected by the apparatus of the State, in Western democracies.
Not one atheist has conceded that this might be true; instead they are vehemently opposed to the idea. I have asked for evidence of what other worldview might lie behind universal abortion, but have been given none that fits. Some even claim Liberal Christians are largely responsible. Perhaps I have overstepped the mark with a sweeping generalisation, so I’m interested in what you or your readers might think about it. In any case, it has been fascinating to realise they think atheism cannot possibly have any consequences for which they, the atheists, can be held responsible.
Thank you for your very engaging comment.
Indeed that is the way not only atheists, but liberals in general, think. It is an astonishing fact that there are zero negative consequences obviously proceeding from liberalism that liberals will admit are caused by liberalism. Conservatives will admit various problems resulting from conservative society. Liberals will admit no problems resulting from liberalism.
Here’s a classic example. Some years ago I was having a conversation with an intelligent left-liberal, an educator in upstate New York. Like most lefties, he had a constant bee in his bonnet about how conservatives were ruining America. In this instance, he was complaining about the problems in education, about the decline of educational standards, saying this was caused by (fasten your seatbelt) conservatives capitalists. I said to him: “If there is any area in American life that has been completely controlled by liberals for the last four or five decades, it is education. But you think the problems in education are caused by conservatives!” I think my remark slowed him up slightly for a moment, but I don’t know if it made any real impact on his thinking.
Also, on the question of the eradication of the Canaanites in the Bible as commanded by God, I have a different view of this from most people. It’s never bothered me in the slightest. It’s never struck me as an objection that needed to be overcome. To the contrary I find it a thrilling and inspiring expression of truth.
How could I say such a horrible thing?
The problem is that people are reading the Bible from a contemporary, humanistic, realistic perspective, not from the spiritual perspective of the Bible itself. The Hebrews represent the human soul—the potentially spiritual part of man—that God wants to deliver from its state of bondage in Egypt to the state of true freedom and true order under God. Pharoah represents the ordinary human ego, keeping man’s potential spiritual self in chains to the ego’s greed and desire. The land of Israel is the place where the right life under God is to be lived. For that life to be realized, the anti-God elements in the human soul that stand in the way of it must be removed. So the entire story of the Exodus is a psychological parable showing how God leads man to himself. Which doesn’t mean that the main events of the Exodus—the plagues on the Egyptians, the escape at night, the miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea, the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai—did not really happen. They did. But their meaning is to be perceived spiritually. And certainly some aspects of the story are enhanced to bring out their spiritual meaning. One of the most important of these is the elimination of the Canaanites. We must always remember that the Bible presents two entirely different accounts of the Israelite entry into and conquest of Canaan. In the Book of Joshua, the Canaanites are systematically eliminated in short order as per God’s command. But in the next book, Judges, there is a very different picture. The Israelites have settled in Canaan, but there are lots of Canaanites around and there is continual war between the two groups. How can this be? What happened to the total eradication of the Canaanites as told in Joshua?
The answer is that the eradication of the Canaanites is, as Eric Voegelin puts it in Israel and Revelation, a paradigmatic expression of the idea that the spiritual part of man, as represented by the Israelites, must get rid of or subdue the parts of man that stand in the way of the life of the spirit. The writers of Joshua thus turned what was in reality (as shown in Judges) a slow entry into Canaan, followed by years of wars, into a spiritually “perfect” eradication of the Canaanites that represented God’s magnificent transformation of the Hebrews from a bunch of slaves in Egypt into a people living in the promised land under God, or, in psychological terms, the soul’s victory over the lower self.
In any case, when I first read the Torah and the Prophets in sequence, about 30 years ago (long before I had read Voegelin), that was the way the elimination of the Canaanites struck me, not as some horrible genocidal act (which is the only way the contemporary liberal—and literal—mind can see it), but as an expression of God’s wonderful gift of providing the Hebrews with a good land where the life under God could be lived, which was, by the way, the beginning of our civilization. People who regard the God of the Jewish scriptures as a monster consign the West to death, because they are cursing the very source of our being as Westerners.
Liberals will admit no problems resulting from liberalism.
You and Michael R make a brilliant point. I believe liberalism is a cult—and I mean that in the popular negative sense—that has gone mainstream and taken over society. If you suspect you’re dealing with someone in a cult, you can ask them to list three things they’d like to change about their organization / system. If they can’t come up with anything, you have a strong indicator they’re in a cult. You can try this with liberals; answers along the lines of “Obama is not zealous enough in rooting out institutional racism among whites!” don’t count, because they’re basic liberalism, not a criticism of liberalism. You can try this with other ideologues and get the same result, this is the age of ideology after all. Free marketers, Randians, Communists, we’re overrun with these cults, and Liberalism is the one that won.
“Liberalism is the one that won.”
That’s largely what VFR is about.
Jeff W. writes:
The response of unbelievers to God’s command to wipe out the Canaanites is interesting. Some unbelievers seem to say, “A God that commands people to commit genocide cannot exist.” But that position cannot be supported by evidence. Without referencing the Bible, it is clear to most people that a very powerful Creator exists. It is also clear from history that the Creator either allows or actively motivates people at times to commit genocide. To base the argument for the nonexistence of God on “he doesn’t meet my moral standards” seems ridiculous when it is opposed to all the evidence of a Creator.
From my point of view, only one triune God exists. People do not get a choice about what kind of God exists, any more than they have a choice of what kind of planet they live on. People do not say, “This world does not meet my standards, therefore it does not exist.”
What unbelievers are probably really trying to say is, “I would prefer to worship a nicer God or no God.” But this also presents problems. First there is no Bible or other authority that describes this nicer God and how he should be worshiped. Second by refusing to worship the God that is real, these unbelievers cut themselves off from their Creator, our Redeemer, and the ongoing help and advocacy of the Holy Spirit.
It is very wrong and arrogant for people to try to judge God. Christians should urge unbelievers to worship the God that is real, and not to be so foolish as to judge God with human judgment.
Happy Easter to you and all of your readers!
Thomas Bertonneau writes (April 7):
The English phrase “burnt offerings” translates the Greek holocautomata, the plural of holocaust. The English word “sacrifices” translates the Greek thysiai, another plural. The latter (in the singular, thysia) also connotes the frenzied activity that accompanies the killing of a victim, either human or animal. (You could gloss it as “killing agitation.”) Concerning the English word “scapegoat,” as in Leviticus: It translates the Greek pharmakos, a word suggesting the toxicity of the victim, a pernicious quality in need of being purged. The scapegoat is thus driven out. The driving-out is equivalent, in an archaic society, to killing; it is merely an indirect form of killing, hence whenever it occurs it is an instance of sacrifice.
Thomas Bertonneau continues:
The theme of holocaustic sacrifice is central to the story of the Canaanites, who are legendarily the descendants of Cain. In Cain’s opinion, God preferred Abel’s animal offering to his own agriculturalist offering of sheaves and fasces. In killing Abel, Cain would be trying to outdo his brother by offering a human sacrifice to God, but God rebukes Cain and sends him into the wilderness. God does not want human sacrifice. He does not want animal sacrifice, but he accepts it because that is an improvement in the direction of ethical refinement.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 05, 2012 09:28 AM | Send
The Canaanites of Joshua’s time, whether they were really descendants of Cain or not, differed from the Hebrews in being ardent devotees of human sacrifice, particularly child sacrifice. The Canaanites practiced the rite called “passing the firstborn through the fire.” The dissimulating figure of speech is telling. Sacrifice always tries to disguise itself. (Liberals refer to abortion as “the right to choose” or “a woman’s choice” or “reproductive health.”)
On the destruction of the Canaanites: Not once in Deuteronomy and Joshua does the text represent God speaking directly to Moses or to his successor; rather, either Moses or his successor speaks for God to the Hebrew people. The Old Testament is perfectly capable of representing God’s direct speech, as in the episode of the burning bush. I find the absence of divine first-person instructions in Deuteronomy and Joshua significant. Joshua especially is reporting what he thinks God wants; but Joshua is thinking like a Bronze Age tribal warrior. We know what God wants from the story of Cain, which predates the story of Joshua in Canaan, and from the story of Abraham and Isaac, which postdates it. Again, the story of the two Testaments is the story of how God taught mankind to wean itself from sacrificial praxis.