Was institutionalized human sacrifice doomed to extinction?

By that I mean was institutionalized human sacrifice fated to die out, for reasons besides enemy conquest and the caprices of certain rulers/religions.

For example, one can make an argument that slavery as an institution was doomed because it was economically inefficient, especially when industrial machinery came to the fore. Is there an equivalent argument for human sacrifice?

Obviously sacrificing humans comes at a real cost to society (you might be sacrificing a potential Einstein or Nelson, for example), but surely that can't mean much if, like the Nahua, you sacrificed to prevent the end of the world.

So is there a reason for the abandonment of human sacrifice in the long-run? Or could a surviving Aztec religion still plausibly retain such rituals into modern times?
 

Lateknight

Banned
No it's not even today the iconography around human sacrifice is a central part of the worlds largest religion. It could easily still be accepted part of society.
 
No it's not even today the iconography around human sacrifice is a central part of the worlds largest religion. It could easily still be accepted part of society.

There is a difference between human sacrifice as a tradition and the Crucifixion. The main one such a sacrifice only had to be performed once, and Jesus was no ordinary man, but one with both human and divine natures.

As to the OP's question it all depends on the values of a society. Nothing is inevitable about it ending, but if in the wider world decides that human sacrifice is a no go eventually through economic and military pressure they could end it. But otherwise, it could stay forever.
 

birdboy2000

Banned
I could certainly see it survive much longer intertwined with capital punishment if the dominant religion was one which accepted human sacrifices. Can't see things like retainer sacrifices lasting.
 
In a way, death penalty is institutionalized human sacrifice. And I'd say societies were police brutality or aggressive wars are accepted are also engaging in a way of human sacrifice. It may not be because of fear of the sun not coming up in the morning, but how far off the mark it really is?
 

Lateknight

Banned
There is a difference between human sacrifice as a tradition and the Crucifixion. The main one such a sacrifice only had to be performed once, and Jesus was no ordinary man, but one with both human and divine natures.

That's true but Christian sects also encourage martyrdom to varying degrees, which is after all a form of human sacrifice. If Human sacrifice is defined as an offering of a individual's life to a deity or supernatural force it fits.
 
When you're talking European history the Romans were well-known for their abhorrence of human sacrifice and frequently used it as justification for military action in cases like the Gauls and Carthage. Perhaps more exploration into why the Romans found it to be so objectionable would give a sense as to what would push other societies to similar conclusions.

Another thing worth pointing out is the impact of the concept of PoWs and ransom for prisoners. During ancient times enemy prisoners were frequently enslaved or, in the case of the Celtic and Germanic peoples as well as the Aztec Empire, offered up as sacrifice to the Gods. I wonder if enslavement or ransom had something to do with the demise of human sacrifice in some societies less for moral reasons and more for economic ones.
 
There is a difference between human sacrifice as a tradition and the Crucifixion. The main one such a sacrifice only had to be performed once, and Jesus was no ordinary man, but one with both human and divine natures.
Actually, I'd say that the main one is that the Crucifixion sacrifice is rooted in Jewish traditions of animal sacrifice. Which has a wholesale separate origin from human sacrifice in Mediterranean cultures. They arose independently, coexisted briefly, and then human sacrifice declined sharply after the Bronze Age collapse.
 
When you're talking European history the Romans were well-known for their abhorrence of human sacrifice and frequently used it as justification for military action in cases like the Gauls and Carthage. Perhaps more exploration into why the Romans found it to be so objectionable would give a sense as to what would push other societies to similar conclusions.

Kind of odd, considering gladiatorial combat was basically human sacrifice.
 
The Enlightenment, or something like it, would probably doom human sacrifice. After all, once it is widely accepted that the Sun is simply a ball of hydrogen in the sky, the gods don't give people disease or create natural disasters, and the rain will fall based on complex metrological factors that are difficult to change, human sacrifice will lose most of its raison d'etre.
 
You could say it was sacrificed for the greater good :p;)

But more seriously, institutionalized human sacrifice isn't necessarily doomed. The cultural and social pressures that made it viable don't necessarily have to go away, it survived in the Aztec Empire quite well.
 
When you're talking European history the Romans were well-known for their abhorrence of human sacrifice and frequently used it as justification for military action in cases like the Gauls and Carthage. Perhaps more exploration into why the Romans found it to be so objectionable would give a sense as to what would push other societies to similar conclusions.

Another thing worth pointing out is the impact of the concept of PoWs and ransom for prisoners. During ancient times enemy prisoners were frequently enslaved or, in the case of the Celtic and Germanic peoples as well as the Aztec Empire, offered up as sacrifice to the Gods. I wonder if enslavement or ransom had something to do with the demise of human sacrifice in some societies less for moral reasons and more for economic ones.
And yet the Romans themselves have human sacrifices when they are desperate.
 
I think it has to do with a Creator God becoming either the most powerful god of the pantheon, or the only god around period. If a creator god makes us humans as the crown of his creation, may be giving us a little godly spark as well, you just don't offer them another human for celebration. This would be akin to celebrating a kid's birthday with a big boil of stew you made from his favorite bunny rabbit.

Incidentally, the rise of benevolent creator god/monotheism also coincides with the rise of the value of human life and the shift from using humans primarily as muscle to seeing humans primarily as thinking beings.
 
And yet the Romans themselves have human sacrifices when they are desperate.

Which suggests they practiced it at one point in time and discontinued this practice for whatever reason. The fact that the Romans had very rare cases of this in extreme circumstances suggests at some point it was a more common practice, the big question is what caused them to view it as utterly indefensible and only practiced in highly unusual situations.

I think it has to do with a Creator God becoming either the most powerful god of the pantheon, or the only god around period. If a creator god makes us humans as the crown of his creation, may be giving us a little godly spark as well, you just don't offer them another human for celebration. This would be akin to celebrating a kid's birthday with a big boil of stew you made from his favorite bunny rabbit.

Incidentally, the rise of benevolent creator god/monotheism also coincides with the rise of the value of human life and the shift from using humans primarily as muscle to seeing humans primarily as thinking beings.

Abraham and Isaac would like to have a word with you on that as would every single person who ever was forced into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Having a Christian ethos that values human life didn't stop European colonial powers from capturing, transporting, and enslaving millions of people over a period of two centuries. If anything it was used in some cases to justify what they were doing and in my opinion the Atlantic Slave Trade was far worse than institutionalized human sacrifice in any culture, anywhere, period.
 
Another thing worth pointing out is the impact of the concept of PoWs and ransom for prisoners. During ancient times enemy prisoners were frequently enslaved or, in the case of the Celtic and Germanic peoples as well as the Aztec Empire, offered up as sacrifice to the Gods. I wonder if enslavement or ransom had something to do with the demise of human sacrifice in some societies less for moral reasons and more for economic ones.

Well, human sacrifice in Shang China was a mix of enslavement and sacrifice - generally the chieftains would almost certainly get sacrificed and everybody else enslaved, but if the occasion called for it, you'd have mass sacrifices that could range up to a thousand people or more.

Also if you belonged to the Qiang paleo-nomadic tribe, which for some reason the Shang really hated (one theory postulates that the Qiang were descendants of the Xia Dynasty, which was overthrown by the Shang), then the likelihood was that the Shang would sacrifice you regardless of rank - though alternatively it could have been an early attempt at genocide.

What's also interesting is that Shang oracles do mention a 'regulation' of sacrificial numbers - during the Wu Ding era (1250-1192BC) you'd see the aforementioned thousands sacrificed in a single occasion, but then the number was toned down to the hundreds and by the end of the Shang it was decreed that only 30 can be sacrificed at any one time. By the middle Western Zhou (c.700BC) the practice had died out completely and replaced with some proto-Confucian idea of 'virtue' in its stead.

I suppose it's just odd that human sacrifice seems to be a Bronze Age thing, though I suppose the Indian practice of sati, going well into the modern era, is pretty much human sacrifice.
 
Treating it in a more abstract way: Are religions submitted to an utility calculus? I don't think so. If you argue otherwise, you need to assume that all characteristics that still exist in modern religions are entirely compatible with today's world and have nothing to do with a cultural heritage. We all know that it isn't true.

That said, to assume that religious sacrifices are incompatible with a modern society is a cyclic cause-and-effect fallacy; i.e. Human sacrifice is not utilitarian because it doesn't exist anymore AND human sacrifice doesn't exist anymore because is not utilitarian.
 
That's true but Christian sects also encourage martyrdom to varying degrees, which is after all a form of human sacrifice. If Human sacrifice is defined as an offering of a individual's life to a deity or supernatural force it fits.

What about soldiers that die in war? That is a form of human sacrifice too.
 

Lateknight

Banned
What about soldiers that die in war? That is a form of human sacrifice too.

It can but human sacrifice usually involves a clearly supernatural element and a will to die. If you change the first part to death for a higher power examples become more common what with people who clearly put themselves in situations were they die for their country or ideology even if it's secular. But the second part of the definition were it becomes clear that most soldiers deaths are not human sacrifice as most the time soldiers just want to survive and mostly that's what their superiors want they lack that wiliness to die, there are obviously exceptions but they are not the majority of cases.
 
What about soldiers that die in war? That is a form of human sacrifice too.

Now that's just stretching the term past all reason. Human sacrifice, at least to my mind, consists of murder as an offering to some type of religious principle, deity, or the like, which is not at all the same thing as killing soldiers in wartime. In that sense, human sacrifice is still ongoing, but the prevalence is much less than it formerly was, and it is rarely if ever institutionalized, that is there are not formal institutions set up to manage human sacrifice, regulate the number of persons who are sacrificed, oversee the sacrifice, and so on. I suspect that economics was, over time, responsible for the dying out of large-scale human sacrifice in most of the world. After all, if you enslave instead you can get good work out of the people you would have sacrificed.

Incidentally, martyrdom can in no way be termed an act of "human sacrifice," since it inverts the formula of "murder for God (gods, heaven, spirits, etc.)" Martyrdom is something the martyr suffers at the hands of others, it is not a deliberate action that is carried out by Christians to propitiate or please God but rather a kind of accident. It is true that martyrdom is glorified and many martyrs were perhaps less than discreet about avoiding death, but the action is quite distinct from human sacrifice. Similarly, the murders of the Inquisition and similar actions were motivated by religious reasons, but ones distinct from the desire to directly please God by offering human lives to him (though skirting much closer). Instead, the goal was to strengthen the fabric of the church and the state by eliminating dissenters, little different in motivation than killing secular dissenters or traitors. If the Inquisition is termed an act of human sacrifice, then so must Stalin's purges, at which point the term has lost all value and ought to be discarded.
 
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