The Sacrifice: Pinnacle of Belief

The initiating scenes of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) are powerful. They depict ape-like creatures going about the process of living in what is presumably a part of our distant, prehistoric past. Since the obvious intention of the film is to imply that humans evolved from this point in time, and from these kinds of creatures, such scenes undoubtedly caused an uproar amid the established religious community at the time of its release. My own interest rests with a particular scene in which a leopard attacks one of the creatures by the watering hole. In this moment we have what many cultural anthropologists believe to be the origins of religious sacrifice.

Leopard Attack

For the evolving man, nature was a continuous, ever-pervading threat, especially in terms of the food chain. When a predatory animal entered the space of evolving humans, like any other species, these early humans must have felt great anxiety. Imagine the relief when the group became safe as one of their members fell prey to a voracious predator. In this sense, the threatening elements of nature became a force to be reckoned with and appeased. As consciousness formed, the idea of safety through sacrifice evolved.

Eventually the association of cruel nature and formidable forces came to equate matters of the unseen, the supernatural. To think that over a period of thousands and thousands of years, the loss of tribal members to the jaws of life eventually came to manifest itself as the religious sacrifice, this hypothesis is not far fetched. The end result clearly expresses itself in the goat sacrifices of the Old Testament and beyond.

Of course, we can thank J&M to put matters of religious sacrifice in their proper place (through humor), since humans have come to understand the reality of nature’s power:

J and M 3

For more humorous reflections on the Atheism/Religion debate, read J&M here:

This entry was posted in atheism, LIfe, philosophy, Psychology, religion, science and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Sacrifice: Pinnacle of Belief

  1. john zande says:

    I’d never made the connection between prey and sacrifice before. Fascinating, and it makes perfect sense.

    • Alice says:

      I agree, interesting theory.

    • LEjames says:

      If I can ever get my own thesis done (it’s due in three months), I will follow up on this post because I agree, it does make sense.

      A university blogger was writing about this last year and that’s how I learned about it. Unfortunately, I didn’t save the links.

  2. I have always thought that the bone represents the beginnings of technology and weaponary. The bone throne into the air as the Strauss music reaches a crescendo evolves into the space station. I picked up on that, but I missed the sacrifice link.

    It makes a lot of sense. When the apes start killing with weapons (bones) they have begun what would become mankind’s attempt to play God, or at least become master of his own destiny.

  3. LEjames says:

    That is a good point, the development of mankind’s sense of strength, weakness and technology as something simultaneously evolving…and hence, the mechanics of evolving homo sapien psychology in general.

  4. Mortem Fide says:

    This is fantastic. I had never made this connection; it makes perfect sense. Is this your thesis topic? I wish I’d written my thesis on something this intriguing. Mine was on the Christological underpinnings of the Iconoclastic Controversy in the Byzantine Empire. My wife would be the first to tell you just how boring it was…

    • LEjames says:

      “Christological underpinnings of the Iconoclastic Controversy in the Byzantine Empire”

      Are you kidding? I love and devour any kind of research involved with the Byzantine Empire. I’m sure you did very well.

      I learned the material about sacrifice from an anthropology blog I encountered a while back and reformulated the ideas for this post.

      My own thesis, though, was kind of obscure in which I studied parallels between Roman religious practices (mainly Vestal Virgins) and the women who fostered the movement to save London circa mid-18th century. It was probably boring to some, as well. But the realm of academia always presents us with at least one or two fascinated persons per every hundred bored ones…

      • Mortem Fide says:

        It’s good to know I’m not the only one who finds these subjects not only not boring, but fascinating!

        Your thesis sounds quite intriguing. Those would be very interesting parallels to study. I do love the study of pre-Christian Roman religion, as well.

      • LEjames says:

        “It’s good to know I’m not the only one who finds these subjects not only not boring, but fascinating!”

        Indeed, which is why I’m the type who can sit through three and a half hours of Romer’s Byzantine Empire and be thrilled the entire time.

        I had watched this just before seeing that you did your thesis on the topic; so I was kind of marveled to have encountered a kindred spirit.

        (Funny having to use the word “spirit,” since I don’t believe in them!)

      • Mortem Fide says:

        My sentiments exactly with regard to spirits, but I’d say kindred nonetheless.

        I had no idea you could find that series on YouTube. I had considered buying it on Amazon, but maybe I’ll just have to dedicate some time to watching it in its entirety online. Thanks for the link!

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