My high school sophomore son was grumbling as he read his world history textbook. He pointed me to this paragraph about the encounter between European and Mesoamerican civilizations.
"The American Indian societies had many religious ideas and practices that shocked Christian observers, and aspects of their social and familial arrangements clashed with European sensibilities . . ."
The text, "World Civilizations: The Global Experience" by Peter N. Stearns et al, was a little oblique about the nature of those ideas and practices. It mentioned human sacrifice but then rushed to add that "Many of those who most condemned human sacrifice, polygamy or the despotism of Indian rulers were also those who tried to justify European conquest and control, mass violence, and theft on a continental scale."
The authors clearly wish to avoid the unpleasant details of Indian practices in their rush to condemn European depredations. A curious student would have to discover on his own that the Aztecs themselves claimed to have ritually sacrificed 80,400 people over the course of four days at the rededication of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487. While this was probably bragging, historian Victor Davis Hansen estimates that at least 20,000 victims were sacrificed yearly. Most were slaves, criminals, debtors, children and prisoners of war (the Aztecs fought to capture, not kill, so as to provide a steady stream of sacrifices). The affair was a bloody and brutal mess, and it consisted of slicing open the chest and pulling the still beating heart from the person's body.
When the topic of human sacrifice was broached in the classroom, my son reported that not one of his classmates was comfortable condemning the practice as immoral. "It was their culture," his classmates said. And it's wrong to impose your values on someone else's culture.
This is not a fluke. In "Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood," Christian Smith and his co-authors recount the results of their decade-long study of a representative sample of Americans aged 18-23. Through in-depth interviews, they examined their subjects' lives and concluded that an alarming percentage of young people are highly materialistic, commitment averse, disengaged from political and civic life, sexually irresponsible, often heavily intoxicated and morally confused. In fact, the authors contend, they lack even the vocabulary to think in moral terms.
The products of a culture that dares not condemn even human sacrifice for fear of transgressing multicultural taboos, these young people are morally adrift.
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