Archive for July 7th, 2006

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Zinedine Zidane smokes fags, apparently.

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Sacrifice

The lesson commenceth.

In the Old Testament, God, or, if you like, G_d, prohibited his people from calling him by his name, lest they make a fetish out of him the same way they did with idols. Since he created all things, any representation of him by man, whether it took the form of an giant inflatable calf or a simple word, meant that man was using him for his own ends, and what man was honouring was not God at all, but a human and imperfect version of him, or, as the Ten Commandments would have it, a false god.

This might have seemed drastic, but it made sense. If you had arranged to meet up with a friend out the back field for a barrack-buster of cider, and he didn’t turn up, but told you the next day that he preferred sitting in his bedroom chanting your name to your framed portrait and writing your name all over his schoolbooks, because, in the end, it was all the same thing anyway, you might not be impressed.

One thing that this God did appear to allow, however, was sacrifice, although this seemed to be more an allowance for man’s lack of imagination than a liking for burnt lamb. It may be clear by now that I am not a theologian, but it appears to me that the whole point of allowing the killing of animals for the heck of it was that (a) at least man was doing something to honour God, so it was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick; (b) it was the sort of thing man had been used to doing, and if the aftermath of the animal’s death gave him some sort of intimation of what God was like, i.e. something beyond life and death, then so much the better.

Sacrifice basically means to make something sacred, or holy. If something is sacred, its essence is beyond the reach of the human, and therefore beyond categorization by human concepts of time, space, matter, and all that. Nowadays, some people argue that there is no such thing, and what we observe and what we know is really all there is, and that any knowledge is human knowledge, but others disagree, assigning holiness or sacredness to a whole host (no pun intended) of physical things from temples to walls to statues to relics to old men in white suits (see Your Holiness).

If that wasn’t bad enough, man openly assigns sacredness to human acts, which is precisely the sort of thing that the Old Testament God would have got doubly offended about, because (a) he was the one who knew what was sacred, and what wasn’t; (b) in terms of the ‘false god’ rule, this is a red card offence, because it’s tantamount to man impersonating God.

Nowadays, in supposedly secular societies, people still use the word sacrifice in the public sphere, but they do so sacrilegiously, i.e. they arrogate for themselves the right to legislate what is holy and what isn’t.

So, for example, you hear of people paying ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ for dying in a war, or, more mundanely, ‘sacrificing their lunchtime’ to attend a conference call.

The latter example isn’t so much of a problem, in that it just means that sacrifice has more or less shuffled off its original meaning, and has become just another way of saying ‘give something up’. That, or the tuna mayonnaise sandwiches are divine.

The former, however, is more of an issue, because it largely retains the religious meaning, and deliberately renders human acts holy, for expressly human purposes. This entails that whatever it was that got done in the past, it is now fixed (in the sense of a fixed gaze), and cannot be changed by anyone in future. These ‘sacrifices’ are then used to legitimize actions in the present. So you have Peter Hain talking about the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ paid by Irishmen at the Somme, and Gerry Adams talking about the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ paid by IRA members. There is no clear idea of what exactly has been made sacred, nor how it relates to the present, yet we are expected to believe that it underpins whatever we have now, and that forgetting or denying the ‘sacrifice’ would invite collapse. Some people call this sort of thing fundamentalism.

Here is another example: in Spain, when Partido Popular Mariano Rajoy recently broke links with the Spanish socialist government in relation to its stance on ETA, he said justified this on the grounds of the ‘sacrifice’ paid by the victims.

They suffer because we Spaniards have decided to maintain a dignified political
stance toward the murderers. They have paid in the name of all of us, and
they have the right to demand that their sacrifice is not
devalued
, that they are not denied justice, and that they are not left
forgotten in a corner.

(My translation, emphasis mine)

No-one would deny that victims of ETA deserve justice, nor would anyone argue that they ought to be forgotten, but in secular societies, neither justice nor progress can be limited by quasi-religious concepts. This is not to say that dead people should be forgotten about for political expediency. Rather, I would suggest that memory -human attempts at remembering people and what they did- is hobbled by the fetish of sacrifice. Like Oscar Wilde said, a thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

Thus endeth the lesson.


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