The Sunday Leader

The Point Of Animal Sacrifice

Taking goat to sacrifice

Taking goat to sacrifice, photo by Natalie Soyza

By Indi Samarajiva

There has been much commotion about the recent (and ancient) animal sacrifice in Chilaw. On www.thesundayleader.lk the news has drawn hundreds of comments, most condemning the practice. There is no similar condemnation, however, of the daily killing of thousands of animals to supply the appetites of Sri Lankan omnivores.
The issue cannot be the killing, as that is done everyday, displayed in every market and supermarket. The issue, therefore, must be killing and not eating. There is, however, no similar dispensation in human law. One cannot, for example, commit murder and get a lesser sentence by eating the corpse. For animals presumably, the offence is that the creatures are killed pointlessly. But what if there is a point?

Religious Significance

Most major religions are founded on some sort of sacrifice, which they have since abandoned. The people of the book (Jews, Christians and Muslims) symbolically descend from Abraham who once tried to sacrifice his son Isaac (on God’s command, until the boy was spared by an angel). Hinduism is based on Vedic religion in which animal sacrifice was quite regular. Buddhism is the only major religion which doesn’t feature animal sacrifice, but it also emerged as Hinduism itself had abandoned both sacrificing and eating animals.
Sacrifice was traditionally offered for a number of reasons, but a main one seems to be externalizing and controlling the animal tendencies within ourselves. In this case the goat is literally a scapegoat. This is discussed in the book Animals On The Agenda.
Another reason is to change fate by making an offering, by giving something up, by making a sort of deal with the gods, one which most holy books have shown them receptive to. This is discussed in the book Sacrifice In Religious Experience. Whether there is an actual deal or not, faith alone can give a person a confidence to change their fate, something of a placebo effect.
This placebo effect (being told you’re taking medicine and being given a sugar pill) has been shown to work for depression and many ailments and faith alone can do wonders. With sacrifice as a concrete, memorable spur to that faith, it can make a real difference in people’s lives. Animal sacrifice is undertaken to help humans, but at the animal’s expense. Seeing as we use animals to help us in many other ways, this alone may not be a moral disqualification.

The Animal In Us

Since there is some valid point to animal sacrifice, the question is whether it’s necessary to make that point anymore. In a time when most people have access to meat and when sacrificing one goat does not significantly impede one’s marriage prospects, is sacrificing an animal really a sacrifice? At one point it may have been a big deal, a leap of faith to sacrifice ten or 20 sure meals for the prospect of something better. Today, however, it’s really not. Most religions now ask for the sacrifice of something more scarce — one’s time and attention.
It is well and good that animal sacrifice is fading from modern religion, just as human sacrifice faded in the past. We are not quite in a position, however, to tell this to the generations-old practitioners in Chilaw. People are right to peacefully protest, but they should respect that this sacrifice is not entirely pointless and that it does have significance to the people that do it.
Human murder is murder whether you eat the corpse or not. For animals the moral principle must be somewhat the same and if we accept industrial animal slaughter, we have to accept small-scale animal sacrifice at well. It may be disturbing in that that it shows an animal part of ourselves we don’t usually confront, but that’s kind of the point. In that sense, this Chilaw controversy has been positive for all of us. We have reacted with disgust, fear and self-righteousness, but what we’re really reacting to is the bloody, primal animal within us. That’s a point well worth making.

16 Comments for “The Point Of Animal Sacrifice”

  1. Psycho

    What about beheading, stoning to death, eye gourging in Saudi Arabia?

    Babarism in religious cloak.

    • muzammil

      What about shooting in uniform to kill thousands,and what about tyre-burn
      them,what about throwing in the river? civilization!

      • Aussie Sheela

        Sorry mate you tried your luck here and no one took notice of you.

        We understand that you have to bend backwards to please your arab masters, as they are feeding you now.

        • Gamarala

          And you doing the same to your Aussi & White Masters Shamless Sheela!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. R.M.B Senanayake

    How hypocritical to kill daily for food but to oppose sacrifice of animals to Gods as believed by those people. Ban all killing of animals including fish to be consistent or stop being hypocritical.

  3. Ferdy

    “Buddhism is the only major religion which doesn’t feature animal sacrifice..”

  4. Eternal

    I think you are missing Jainism. While Buddhism doesn’t promote animal sacrifice, it is silent about consumption of meat. Jainism on the other hand specially asks its adherents to be strictly vegeterian (don’t even eat roots of plants).

  5. ABDUL NAZAR

    HOW ABOUT PEOPLE WHO FOLLOWS BUDHISM DID THE MASSACRE IN SRI LANKA? HOW ABOUT PEOPLES ABDUSTIONS DFROM WHITE VANS AND KILLINGS. WHAT ABOUT THE GENOCIDE HAPPENED IN NORTH EAST

  6. ABDUL NAZAR

    ONE MORE THING. BUDHISM IS NOT A RELIGION. IT IS A PHILOSOPHY

  7. Saro

    Animal sacrifices or killings are cruel that too in the name of God. The people with blind beliefs must be educated to the cruelty of it and unacceptability of killing God’s creations.

    Those who preach the horrors of animal sacrifices must be reminded of the way humans were starved and bombed in Mullivaikkal, Wanni.

    The difference between two types of sacrifices is that in one it’s done in the name of God and in the other in the name of ‘terrorism’ but both are abhorrent.

  8. rajan karalasingham

    Note to Samarajiva; Good points but I think the sacrificed animal or bird is in fact consumed by the devotees later.
    RK

  9. K Suresh

    The slaughter of the animals and birds at temples are many decades old practice and why these bigoted Buddhist monks are screaming over at this sensitive time for the minorities in Sri Lanka.

    Well! Do the Hindus, Christians or Muslims cry about kiddies being recruited to Buddhist vihara’s to become monks at village levels according to religious traditions.

    Do they say anything about the big fat Dhanas being served to Bikkus at vihara by people? Food provided includes meat, fish and chicken curries prepared from the slaughtered creatures. The monks enjoy the big fat food without any murmurs within close doors and hypocritically criticise other religions over their own practices.

    Every religion has its way and when one religion attempts to dictate its terms to the other by trying to sit on high moral grounds, I feel it only fumes religious discontents.

  10. kadher

    kill anybody NOT cows or goats as they are our brothers in our past

    • Nimal

      Well, you’ve got to be more specific on this one… are you referring to two legged variety or the four legged variety?

  11. Ranbanda

    kadher, why worry abt cow and goat brothers in the past (not sisters I suppose), when we have no problem killing people all the time. We have a high murder rate, many inter-family.

    Anyway, those guys carrying the goat to slaughter seem delighted. let them do their thing. and mr karavalaya says, they eat the creatures after the puja. I eat all meat. Buddha eat pork, and unfortunately died of rotten pork food poisoning. Jesus loved fried fish, mutton curry and roti and potent jewish wine. even made wine into water when the wedding party ran out of booze. as for placebos, if they work, why not?

  12. Citizen

    Spot on, Indika

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