The priest raises the stone knife high under the blazing sun. With his free hand, he holds the drugged but struggling victim as he calls on the name of Huitzilopochtli, the sun god. His hair is matted with the blood of those already sacrificed on this altar high atop the massive stone pyramid. He is dressed in the skins of previous victims. He plunges the knife into the chest of the victim, whose cries are drowned out by the pounding of drums, and pulls out the still beating heart. He lifts high this sacrifice, symbolic of the life blood that will appease the god of the sun and strengthen him in his nightly struggle against the god of darkness. The limp body of the victim is kicked flopping down the steep, blood-slippery steps of the pyramid to lie in a heap with those already sacrificed. The sun will continue to rise in the land of the Aztecs.
The god is called Molech, though he has many other names. Set in a grove upon a high hill, he towers above his worshipers, bronze and silent. The acolytes stoke the fire burning in their god’s belly. The noise of flutes and drums is heard as the priest steps forward, holding the sacrifice, and begins his incantation. Molech’s arms extend, palms upward, from his waist and emanate a dull red glow as the idol is heated by the adding of wood to the fire inside its hollow metallic body. The voice of the priest rises in pitch as the flutes wail and the drums throb louder and faster. The priest raises the sacrifice high above his head. The heat from the idol is becoming unbearably hot and the priest’s voice rises to a scream to be heard above the frenzied drumming and the nerve-rending wailing of the flutes. The living infant is placed on Molech’s super-heated arms, its cries drowned out by the noise of the instruments. Molech has been appeased. The Ammonites will have rain for their crops and victory over their enemies.
A man closes the door to his study and lights a stick of incense. From a purple Crown Royal sock, he pulls a one-hit pipe and a small baggie of marijuana. He loads the pipe and takes a deep lungful of smoke. As he holds it in, his mind begins to experience the familiar floating sensation and his body relaxes. Now, shut off from the world and from his family, he can spend his evening playing his guitar or simply listening to music as his mind wanders through mist-laden corridors of forgetfulness.
On the other side of the house, his wife clears away the dishes and walks into the living room. Settling on the couch with her purse, she produces a small bag full of prescription bottles. Selecting one, she takes from it a green and white capsule and places it in her mouth, washing it down with a drink of iced tea. In a short while, as 20 mg. of Prozac begins coursing through her bloodstream and into her brain, she will drift downwards into oblivion and the disconnect she seeks.
Alone in her bedroom, their daughter sits cross-legged on the floor staring at the contents of a small pink box in horror and fascination. The chorus of Linkin Park’s “I’ve Become So Numb” sounds from the stereo. Little-by-little, she surrenders to the waves of despair washing over her and she takes from the pink box an Exacto knife. She applies it slowly, precisely to the skin of her forearm and the blood and the pain become her reality and her release.
Peace of mind. Now more than ever before, we seek it. We search for it, not in religious ritual, but in the achievement of personal goals. Relationships, community, even family are sacrificed in the pursuit of this new god, this old god. Peace of mind is a drug-induced high, a pharmacological numbness, even a rending of the flesh in an effort to feel. Something.
What is real?
Where is salvation?
The sound of a hammer striking nails echoes down the hill, across the valley and through the streets of the empty town. A cross is raised and set in place. On it, a man beaten and disfigured beyond recognition, begins the agony of death by crucifixion. The priests are there, but pagans preside over this ceremony while these “righteous ones” stand out front and shake their heads and offer mockery. Beside them women weep and only one of the disciples has the courage to come and watch. Crushed under the burden of human iniquity, the victim struggles for brief gasps of air in a haze of pain and rejection. After six long, slow, tortuous hours, he cries out with his dying breath to his God: “Father, forgive them.” The midnight-dark sky emits squalls of rain and the rocks of the city are rent by an earthquake.
God has provided the sacrifice.