How will social justice be sought outside the premises of Christendom? Critics like Zahnd don’t typically explain. They imply a hoped for future of harmonious pluralism, though this lovely vision is inextricably a child of Christendom, and there’s no real human model for it apart from biblical ethical and social expectations. Horribly, the two most zealously specific modern revolutions against Christendom, Bolshevism and National Socialism, fervently returned to vast, unparalleled social machinery centered on mass human sacrifice.
One thousand years ago a great native civilization straddled the Mississippi basin whose capital, Cahokia, near what is now St. Louis, may have had more people than London at the time. It was reputedly North America’s largest ever city until Philadelphia in the late 1700s. And it may have lasted as many centuries as Anglo-America.
The Cahokians were for their time sophisticated in farming, trade, astronomy, and building great pyramid earthen mounds, used residentially and ceremonially, the largest of which, ten stories high, can still be visited. Their civilization had another distinguishing, less admirable mark: it practiced human sacrifice. Mass graves have been unearthed, one composed of young women who may have been strangled to death. Another mass grave includes young men bashed and mutilated.
It can be speculated the Cahokians practiced human sacrifice as part of their religious and civil life, like other great native empires to the south, like the Aztecs and Mayans, whose temples were blood drenched. Human sacrifice was intrinsic to many if not most ancient pagan cultures at some point. The gods demanded appeasement from their disobedient subjects.
Higher-end ancient cultures, like Rome and Greece, believed themselves superior for shunning direct human sacrifice, seeking their bloodlust through other barbarities. But there was still a religious and civil system of sacrifices, often involving slaughtered animals. As Peter Leithart describes in his insightful book Defending Constantine, the emperor credited or faulted for establishing Christendom helped end the sacrificial liturgy central to ancient pagan cultures by, after his Christian conversion, declining to offer the requisite sacrifice to Jupiter after a momentous military victory.
With time, Christianity and the church displaced the sacrificial system with a new understanding of the sufficiency of atonement through Christ’s death on the cross, reenacted through the Eucharist. The pagan temples closed as did the gladiatorial slaughter associated with pagan sacrifice, along with a civil liturgy centered on worship of emperor or state. The shedding of blood, whether animal or human, was no longer needed for divine appeasement.
While recently watching a documentary on Cahokia and its human sacrifices, I reflected on this achievement of Christendom, which fueled countless other civilizational reforms benefitting all humanity.