Religion 101

Finally, what about something like religious sacrificial offerings? The practice is common enough among indigenous religions; but what role, if any, might such a practice play within major religions of the modern Western world, like Judaism or Christianity?

Well, the practice of making sacrificial offerings to God is clearly evident in Judeo-Christian scriptures. The Jewish Bible (known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible), which is also incorporated into the Christian Bible as its Old Testament, depicts such ritual sacrifices as something specifically commanded by God himself. The Torah gives detailed instructions for various types of sacrifices for various purposes, including (but not limited to) the offering of blood (animal) sacrifices to God in order to atone for sins.

The Jewish practice of making sacrificial offerings to God at the Temple in Jerusalem came to a rather abrupt end in 70 CE (or 70 AD), when their occupying Roman overlords crushed a Jewish revolt by sacking Jerusalem and destroying the Temple (the sole site then authorized by God for the offering of sacrifices), which over the ensuing two millennia has never been rebuilt.

Although such sacrifices have therefore yet to be resumed, there is at least scriptural precedent — and even direct divine authorization — for the practice, so it is hardly unknown or unapproved within the pages of the Bible. And today, Orthodox Jews still pray daily for the Temple to be someday rebuilt, and its practice of offering ritual sacrifices to then be restored.

At first blush, one might think that Christianity, by contrast, has no truck with such things as animal or blood sacrifices. However, if one stops and thinks about it for a moment, then a pretty clear connection may soon come to seem almost blatantly evident, after all.

Don’t many, if not most, Christians understand the crucifixion of Christ as having been, at least to some degree or in some sense, an explicitly sacrificial death? One which, much like some of the sacrifices conducted at the Jewish Temple before its destruction, was offered to God in order to atone for sin?

Granted, the scale might be different, but the underlying principle seems much the same. Instead of continuously offering ongoing ritual sacrifices at the Temple in order to atone for this or that specific sin (and as sins continued to be committed), one single sacrifice was said to atone — in one stroke — for all human sin, collectively (past, present, and future). But either way, in both cases, it’s still “sacrificial atonement” in action.

Christian sermons and popular hymns often feature prominent language emphasizing how sins are forgiven by virtue of “the blood of Jesus.” The Christian connection, or parallel, to Jewish blood sacrifices seems clearly underscored here.

Is any of this sort of thing necessarily in any way fundamentally different from the widespread and ongoing traditional practice, among a great many diverse indigenous religions worldwide, of similarly offering ritual sacrifices (sometimes bloody, sometimes not) in order to placate angry nature gods, or disturbed ancestor spirits, when some tribal taboo has been violated, or the like?

Looking back now at all five parts of this series of blog posts on this particular topic, does it still seem like the traditional native religions of small-scale, often tribal indigenous cultures are really so very different from such major religions of the modern world as Judaism or Christianity?

Or do they perhaps now seem to have much more in common with each other, after all, than might at first have met the eye?