Rich Paxson

“Understanding Sacrifice,” Section 2.3’s subtitle, refers to the sacrifice of society’s innocent and silenced victims. Discussion questions for this section ask the student to reiterate the community crisis described in the narrative vignette; and then to explain a) how human sacrifice worked to restore community morale; and b) how the community silenced the victim’s voice.

The “great lament” of this community was crop failure due to drought. The narrative vignette reveals the presence of an innocent, silent and frightened victim. Nothing more is written about her or him, except the priest’s “killing blow.”

At times of prolonged crop failure, of hunger and even starvation, a gathering hollowness claws in the pit of the stomach; followed by an inevitable turmoil of doom-laden anguish and dread. Massive denial is one not so healthy way to cope with dread. Another way is projection, denial’s fraternal twin.

The face of anguish is the recognition of our own mortality. Inchoate longing for immortality trumps any reasoned discourse in the face of anguish’s oncoming visage. Just as our mortal face emerged at birth, so also the visage of anguish reminds us that our eternal face can emerge fully only through death.

Longing just to stay alive; longing for individual immortality; or to leave a lasting personal legacy; or for bodily resurrection are magical responses to the message anguish scrapes on the inside of our very being. Anguish can never be tolerated for long. Projecting this dreadful emotion onto someone else may seem to take away the pain, may seem to make life manageable again.

And so, desperate for the return of the familiar, and willfully projecting the agony lying within, we acquiesce to ritual and/or actual lynching of the silent, innocent one. The one we believe inappositely is the locus of our intolerable pain.