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As in biblical times, we seem all too ready to sacrifice our children

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: December 28, 2012 9:13PM



This Christmas season, more than any other I’ve witnessed, should have included observances of a holy day that passed Friday with little notice even among churches. For 1,600 years, Christians have observed Dec. 28 as the “Feast of the Holy Innocents.”

The “innocents” commemorated on this occasion are the infants and toddlers of ancient Bethlehem whom Herod the Great slaughtered after roving astrologers, otherwise known as Magi, brought word of a new king born in his land. Shrewd and powerful, Herod systematically eliminated potential threats to his reign. Historians of the era report that he ordered several of his own sons killed lest they one day overthrow him. Roman authorities with whom he collaborated had a saying that captured Herod’s character, a line with a clever pun the Greek politicians spoke back then. “Better to be Herod’s ‘hus’ than his ‘huios,’” they said. Herod’s swine were safer than his sons.

We habitually overlook this dark story in Matthew’s gospel and conveniently cut and paste the Magi and their gifts into Luke’s sweet story of angels singing to astonished shepherds while Mary births her baby in a stable. Thus do we try to hide from our children the harsh realities of state-sanctioned violence, especially the kind that requires their blood.

Herod wasn’t unique in sacrificing innocents to allay his fears. When archaeologists dig up ancient near-eastern cities and find a portion of a city’s gates intact, they usually discover infant skeletons buried beneath the gate’s foundation. A city’s wall served as its primary defense, and no portion was more vulnerable than its gates, so the ancients sacrificed the most precious things they had to the gods they trusted to make their gates secure.

We may deem such behavior barbaric and its practitioners benighted, but we have proven again in recent days that we are no different. We, too, have shown ourselves willing to sacrifice our children, a score at a time, to the divine and saving power of the weapons we trust to keep us free and safe.

Numerous times since the Sandy Hook massacre I have read the opinion that our Second Amendment rights are the only guarantee of our First Amendment right to the freedom of religion. If I understand the argument correctly, that means guns alone enable our worship of God.

Forgive me if I have missed something, but doesn’t this mean that the national motto on our money and elsewhere is a lie? Our ultimate trust is not in God.

Even more unsettling, perhaps, is the number of politicians and editorial writers who have said, in effect, “This is all very sad, but there is nothing we can do.” Coming from leaders of a nation that started two wars and has spent trillions to avenge the 3,000 souls murdered on 9/11 and to see that nothing similar happens again, such resignation in the face of repeated schoolhouse massacres, not to mention the remaining 30,000 shooting deaths reported in this country annually, borders on pathetic.

In the heat of our current anger and grief, many no doubt have ideas for addressing this shameful stain on our culture. I surely do. This is not a time for solo voices, however, nor for any other kind of individualism. As a nation, we owe it both to the children already sacrificed to our idolatry and to those currently at risk, including the ones who will die in the next lethal rampage, to search our souls, put our best minds to work, and to strive together for solutions and measures that will prove we are not merely free, but civilized.



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