Sunday, January 23, 2005

Killing for the gods

The idea promoted by writers such as Jonathan Kirsch that polytheists are less likely to wage religious warfare than monotheists (including, for instance, Communism as "secular monotheism") does not mean that polytheistic societies had no religious violence.

Consider the new evidence from forensic anthropologists that not only the Aztecs but also the "peaceful" Mayans indeed engaged in large-scale human sacrifice, including children.

Using high-tech forensic tools, archaeologists are proving that pre-Hispanic sacrifices often involved children and a broad array of intentionally brutal killing methods.

For decades, apologists for these cultures have blamed the Spanish for their so-called propaganda about the "peaceful" Indians whom the Spanish just wanted to conquer and enslave. Certainly the Spanish conquistadores committed plenty of atrocities, recorded and protested at the time by those priests and laymen who objected to them. But the Spanish also recorded what they saw in Aztec society.

I once wrote a paper for a graduate seminar with DavĂ­d Carrasco arguing that, again contrary to the apologists' view, the Spanish reports of self-mutilation, bloodletting, and self-flagellation by the Aztec priests were probably correct. I quoted Ignatius Loyola and other Catholic religious who advocated self-flagellation, for example, to argue that the Spanish knew these practices when they saw them.

Prof. Carrasco is quoted in the article. I take no credit for shaping his thinking. The man has an ego the size of El Templo Mayor all by himself.


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