JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Recently my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary with a trip to Mexico. Among the highlights was a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal. I had studied this culture as an undergraduate, and I was giddy with excitement.
The complex’s magnificence left us speechless. The thousand-year-old pyramids are indescribable. We drank in the sights greedily, knowing that we probably would never return.
The Great Pyramid dominates the ruins’ southern end, and I braved my dislike of heights so I could scale my way to its small temple. The view was one I’ll never forget.
I paused a moment before slowly returning to solid ground, but a thought halted me for a moment. One of the distinctive elements of Mayan culture was their use of human sacrifice. From what we can tell, the practice was tied to a fertility cult. A young athlete from one of the blood-sport games would be killed at the top of their cultic pyramids as a way to ensure the fecundity of the fields and the persistence of the rains. I couldn’t help but wonder how many young men’s chests had been pierced by an obsidian blade on the very spot where I now stood.
What was even more jarring, however, was the speech that our tour guide gave us as we passed through the ball court.
“Human sacrifice is misunderstood!” he declared. “It was a pleasure! The young man died happily, with a smile! It was a privilege to die for his people, to ensure the rains and the crops. It was no big deal. It was just their way of understanding the world.”
I was shocked by his defense of human sacrifice. I knew from my studies that the single sacrifice of the ball court led to the eventual slaughters of thousands in rituals undertaken by the later Aztecs, peaking in an incredible bloodbath of over 80,000 persons in a single festival that rededicated the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487.
Noted philosopher Alister McGrath once said that reality is what you are faced with when you are wrong. Reality must be faced by those who say that worldviews do not matter, that they all are of equal value and that we just need to learn how to get along. Tell that to the thousands of innocent victims of human sacrifice over the millennia.
A worldview that justifies human death, even a suicide for the cause of the belief system, never stops with that one death; it always spreads to the deaths of thousands of unwilling persons. Similarly, a worldview that claims the inherent superiority of some races will always draw the circle of purity smaller and smaller with each jack-booted step of power. A worldview that says that everyone really believes the same thing, just in different forms, is one that is singularly incapable of facing reality.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, once observed that our violent world is “red in tooth and claw.” Christians, however, understand this violent reality in terms of the fall; the antidote to that reality, however, is found in the antidote to the fall: the redemptive grace offered by the Gospel itself.
Death is, indeed, a reality, but as a part of the created world, it also is not permanent. One day death itself will be conquered, which is why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting? Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (15:55-57). Christ’s once-for-all victory negates the so-called value of human sacrifice, whether it is literal (such as with our culture’s Aztec -like slaughter of unborn children) or metaphorical (such as in the cynical abuse of the poor and the helpless).
Worldview matters because the redemptive mission of Christ matters. He is, after all, very God of very God, the only begotten Son whose death and resurrection did not heal the lands for the sake of crops but instead healed our souls so that we might commune with God himself for all of eternity.
Gene C. Fant Jr. is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.