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Reply To: Sacrificial Origins, with Mythologist Norland Têllez


    Hi Martin, I think you bring a fair question. What does compassion have to do with the gruesome spectacle of human sacrifice? In view of the archaic sacred, how can we say that compassion constitutes the fundamental religious experience?

    Although such a question can appear reductive in some sense, we shouldn’t assume that the universal form of such foundations is the same from age to age. Even where the mythic form remains relatively the same, the historic content undergoes radical transformations which in turn alter the meaning of the archetypical form itself.

    So it is possible to argue, for example, that the sacrificial killing of the archaic context expresses a pantheistic pity for all individual life forms that are so condemned to the cycles of life and death, etc. In the sacrificial ritual, humankind takes hold of death and its negative power required to set the stage for rebirth.

    We might also invoke the Gita to find an example of a profound metaphysical sense of compassion in the very act of sacrificial slaughter.

    Nevertheless, such answers remain a little too “idealistic,” and it has taken the work of René Girard in more recent decades to dispel what he calls “the romantic lie” under which we hide the most critical issue that religion must contend with: how to contain and harness the internal threat of violence within a society.

    Finally, there is one way in which Campbell’s statement remains correct: compassion is the fundamental religious experience for us, on our side of the historic watershed of Christianity. But the fact that this Christian compassion emerges from the image of bloody crucifixion—staging the primal scene of human sacrifice—suggests a connection to the archaic experience of the sacred which can never be erased.