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On the Molochs of Modernity | Dr. Jose Yulo | September 14, 2006
"But of course the death of the community is not useful
to the community -- only the death of some of its members. What is really meant
is that the death of some men is useful to other men. That is very true. But on
what ground are some men being asked to die for the benefit of others?" -- C. S. Lewis
There is much regarding the
proxy war recently waged in Lebanon that is simply unfathomable to western
eyes. How has the terrorist militia known as Hezbollah withstood the force of
what is soldier for soldier, one of the world's most potent armies? Why, if
Hezbollah is indeed a terrorist organization responsible not only for numerous
Israeli, but also American deaths over the last two decades, has the United
Nations and international community not resounded with condemnation for its
wanton aggressions? What exactly is the rationale behind many in the West's
tendencies to apply a moral equivalence between Hezbollah terrorists who launch
crude rockets en masse into civilian Israeli towns, and Israeli soldiers who
actually drop leaflets to allow Lebanese civilians (and, obviously many in
Hezbollah) to leave cities before shelling begins?
The first query will
unfortunately be debated at military colleges for the foreseeable near future;
at least until a feasible response to urban guerilla tactics has been deduced.
The second can and has regrettably been answered by the UN and international
community's past history of taking Israeli violence to task, even as it gifts
terrorist founders such as Yasser Arafat with accolades.
It is the third inquiry that
directly has the most bearing and pertinence to citizens at large. Much of the
general populace in the West is unschooled in military history, as evidenced by
the relative scarcity attained by figures such as Thucydides and Polybius in
today's book circles. Likewise, the Byzantine workings of the UN perplexes, if
not leaves to the public much to be desired in the arena of world leadership.
However, the fashionable moral relativism and equivalence espoused by many
western social and academic elites, eventually trickles down in more diluted,
but equally incoherent public permutations.
To address this quandary, in
which the paradigm of aggressor and victim are replaced by (as Paul Johnson
puts the term) "belligerents," one may find two tales from western
civilization's past helpful. These two accounts at first may not appear to
share much more than rough geography in common. However, there is more beneath
the surface of the tales that inextricably bind them as a reminder of man's
capacity for something less than greatness. The imposed dormancy of these
accounts, in addition to the shared meanings between them, makes for a
difficult lesson for today's mores, which are willing to ignore shared human
standards of rectitude.
Genesis 22 recounts how God,
after granting Abraham and Sarah their first son, calls on the patriarch to
offer up his child as a form of sacrifice. Ascending a mountain, Abraham
prepares to perform the unimaginable act. Just as he is about to complete the
task, an angel descends to inform him of the Lord's satisfaction at Abraham's
willingness to maintain loyal to His decrees.
On the surface, the lessons
gleaned from this episode speak of a patriarch's fidelity to his Lord. Abraham
is here willing to strike down that which he has craved most in his life as a
measure of his unbreakable bond with his deity. Crucial in this -- and a
glimmer of things to come -- is that Abraham does not have to carry out the grisly task at all. Aside from
being a gauge of Abraham's loyalty, this tale doubly serves to relate the
unique nature of God's dealings with His people.
History points to the land
of Canaan, a land promised to Abraham, as practicing a variety of indigenous religious
rituals. Sources from later on in the Old Testament will elucidate these
rituals as particularly heinous, often involving human sacrifice. In the land
known formerly as the Levant, the Phoenicians would extend and specialize these
sacrifices. In localities such as Tyre and Sidon, areas heavily involved in
today's conflicts, the Phoenicians would choose children as their sacrificial
It may be deduced that
Genesis 22, aside from testing the quality of Abraham, was an account that
taught the patriarch of the distinct significance of following a faith other
than those of the Canaanites. Aside from moral codes, which generations later
shall be passed on to the Hebrew people under Moses, God provides a cardinal
feature of His covenant with men. Being involved in any covenant with a
divinity by itself elevates mankind from the servile position of forever
attending upon gods; much as in the more ancient Sumerian religion. Coupled
with this is the new message that although sacrifice may at times be called
upon, it did not involve what mankind held most dear: its progeny.
This new feature of a
godhead caringfor the very being of his
followers serves as a moral milestone in the ancient world, particularly in the
land of Canaan. As
St. Augustine would many
centuries later speak of with regard to a morality and a free will, the very
freedom of the will necessitates the knowledge of what the choices of the will are. Abraham is presented with the
knowledge that though his and his people's moral paradigm opposes that of his
co-inhabitants, it is the more true paradigm. It can be assumed that a divinity who required spiteful, slavish
human sacrifice of his followers in a way needed something from them. The act
in this case takes on the appearance of appeasement to either the god's vanity
or caprice. In the very least, the potency, let alone the veracity, of this
kind of divinity is suspect.
This being said, why does it
seem that in this new value accrued to young human life, Abraham and his
followers are in a minority in Canaan? What were the reasons driving man to
offer up the most innocent of his own to the fires of Moloch? Here, knowledge
taken from the Phoenicians direct descendants is of value.
civilization, Phoenicia colonized various outposts in the western Mediterranean
for trade and military purposes. Among these were Spain and North Africa.
Carthage, located in modern Tunis, eventually succeeded its motherland in terms
of financial and political success. There is little surprise then in noting
that historians ancient and modern described the Carthaginians practicing their
inherited Phoenician ritual.
Sadly, it seemed that this
sacrificial rite was especially widespread if and when the city of Carthage
experienced periods of great duress. With its propensity for expansion and
colonization, adversaries in the Mediterranean were abundant. The city would
last long enough to contend with Greece and the Rome, yet would have its fate
later sealed by the latter. The historian Adrian Goldsworthy noted that though
substitution of animals for children sometimes occurred in these ceremonies,
the likelihood of human victims increased over the years.
After two ruinous wars with
Rome, Carthage would begin to view its end with the persistent exhortations of
Marcus Cato the Elder. The great Roman censor, fearing Carthage's return to
power, unabatedly called for the city's complete destruction. Of course,
factors both economic and military played a part in Cato's efforts. The
Carthaginians were surprisingly able to rebuild from the disastrous defeat at
Zama. However, examining Cato's personality as portrayed by Plutarch, one can
see a deep- seated reservation held against things the censor felt corrosive to
Roman culture. Railing even against Greece for its perceived Eastern
affectations, what could have been even more slavish than a nation who killed
its own offspring to gain favor with the gods? In 146 BC, after a deadly siege,
Punic Carthage was finally burnt to the ground.
Oddly enough, the Romans did
perhaps too thorough a job eradicating an adversarial civilization. Generations
passed and the grisly Phoenician religion became a thing little mentioned, if
at all outside academic circles. Modern scholarship even attempts to rewrite
the account, claiming Greek and Roman blood libel against a redoubtable foe.
This when excavations in Tunis show mass remains of small skeletons
collectively buried and sharing telltale signs of burning. The belief in
sacrificing the most vulnerable in society, once predominant in Abrahamaic
times, perished under Roman steel and fire. It is now obvious that mighty
Carthage, as a city, perished with less resistance than its religion.
Today, there are no beaches
at Normandy where groups like Hezbollah hunker down and await an allied
landing. Groups of this mold are more than content to kidnap soldiers, refuse
to give them up, use their own children to shield themselves, all in the effort
of influencing Western opinion against Israel. To this can be included
terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the recent London plotters.
Apparently, a young mother with child held in the London investigation planned
to use her baby as a decoy for smuggling explosives in a plane for a suicide
attack. The smoke of Moloch seems to still pungently waft.
The new mystery though is
the propensity for many in the West to rationalize this inhumanity of sacrifice
because of a perceived socioeconomic disenfranchisement of the extremist. As
the slipshod argument goes, these are the weapons of the poor man. Canaanites
were the dominant race before Abraham came. Carthage was one of the wealthiest
states in the ancient world. No, it would seem that rather than the actions of
the poor man, these are those of the un-free, slavish man.
It is supremely ironic that
it is predominantly free people, the inheritors of Greece and Rome, who use
this rationalization. Could it be because in Western freedom some human beings
are but organisms to be utilized for the benefit of others? Or perhaps freedom
is seen as supreme over other inalienable rights, including one to simply live?
After all, it is a peculiar Western argument that freedom extends to deciding
the minutia of one's life, all the way down to a death that ameliorates one's
loss of a certain "quality of life." As in Huxley, the preponderance of choices
renders those most vital to humanity inconvenient and obsolete.
Earlier, it was mentioned
that the struggle in Lebanon was a proxy war. Analysts will speak of Hezbollah
fighting for a hegemonic Iran, as Israel acts for a reluctant, apathetic West.
In this clash, however, can be seen older themes of human existence reigniting
their age spanning struggle. Victory may hinge on man's rediscovery of the
nature of false gods promising the comforts of freedom and deliverance.
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The Temptation of the Earthly City: Tolkien's
Augustinian Vision | Dr. Jose Yulo
9/11 Revisited | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The One War, The Real War | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Wars Without Violence? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Jose Yulo, Ed.D. teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization,
United States history, and public speaking at the Academy
of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education
from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy
of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication
from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical
liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Originally from Manila
in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the
histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of
J. R. R. Tolkien.
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