There is a fascinating article in this months edition (November 2010) of National Geographic. The cover story is about migrations, which is nice in an eye candy kind of way. I love the pictures in National Geographic! But that is not the article which made me think real hard. No, it was the one near the back of the magazine. It is a report on the archaeological digs in Mexico City of the Templo Mayor (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/11/greatest-aztec/draper-text)
The dig has been ongoing since 1978 and continues to increase in scope as more and more finds are discovered. My interest in archaeology aside, there were two theological themes which stood out to me. Granted this is comparative religion, but I have fun thinking about these things.
- The Aztec practiced a ritual sacrifice of human beings which deeply disturbed them. These sacrifices took place on top of large pyramids, like the Templo Mayor.
- The writer, Robert Draper, refers to the Aztec religious thought as troubled. He quotes one of the dig experts who label them as living with a “cosmic insecurity.”
Both of these religious themes are interesting to me. As to human sacrifice, the article rightly indicates it was not uncommon in ancient, pre-modern societies. David Carrasco, the Harvard historian on the topic indicates that the Aztec themselves had a great deal of anguish about the human sacrifice situation. They were not psychopathic barbarians who enjoyed it. They felt it had to be done, but it bothered them.
It should have. It is wrong to kill human beings. However, there are innate human understandings that sacrifice and the shedding of blood is the only way to achieve atonement. This deep psychological and spiritual need erupts in so many cultures that it cannot be ignored as an innate human characteristic. As a person who claims Christ, I realize that it is not a victim or a conquered foe that must die. Instead, it is Jesus who became the one human for all time that died for my sin so no one else has to. Ever.
The second theme, “cosmic insecurity” is what any rational person would deduce form a world filled with chance and thousands of apparently meaningless, random actions each day. Will it rain or will it not? Does my child live at birth, and will my wife survive labor? Why would I get this disease and not a thousand other people?
The Aztec turned to superstition and ritual to guarantee some control of the randomness. Of course their efforts failed; as do our efforts to control the Lord with manipulative prayer.
The world truly is insecure; and it is intentionally so. It rains on the just and the unjust. Yet there is an amazing difference between the workings of the One True God and the superstitious pagan rites of the Aztec. The Aztecs were right about the role of chance, but the scriptures teach God himself is not insecure. There is nothing that threatens him or that can thwart his purposes. My temporary, individual cosmic fate is unknowable and seemingly prone to chance. However, my eternal fate is far from insecure. It is held in the tight grip of the Lord Jesus Christ. As such the two concepts of sacrifice and security are woven into the work and being of one person.
The Aztec performed ritual sacrifice as a means to keep chance at bay and buy a little security in an insecure world. In Christ’s sacrifice on the cross he secured for me freedom from fear and insecurity by trusting him to shepherd me through an insecure world.