Goat sacrifices vs. a point of light

Posted: Nov 06, 2003 12:00 AM

 In India this summer, I witnessed sacrifices of goats and sacrifices by Christians. Goats by the thousands have their throats slit at folk temples throughout India, with bodies left twitching for about 70 seconds. But some Christians work sacrificially to help children live for perhaps another 70 years, with eternal life thereafter.

            One of the Christian organizations that help Indian children (and their counterparts in 11 other countries) is Kids for the Kingdom, a California-based nonprofit group. At a time when Lt. Gen. William Boykin and others who speak of Christ receive abuse, it's a pleasure to note that the Points of Light Foundation, which has been honoring one philanthropic organization a day since the first Bush administration, made Kids for the Kingdom its 2,534th Daily Point of Light on Oct. 22.

            Some Indians emphasize faith in Vishnu or Shiva; many believe in a religion of transaction rather than one of grace. One sacrificer, Balu Subramanian, said a local god supposedly satisfied his prayer for a son, so he had to satisfy the god. That's transactional religion: "I promised, I got, and now I must do," one devotee explained.

            Subramanian also noted that a goat sacrifice feeds people, while allowing him to show off his wealth. (A goat this past summer cost between 1,000 and 3,000 rupees -- $22 to $66 -- with price depending on size and color. White goats are more expensive.) Many live by sacrifices, but imagine what happens when children learn about a God of grace who made us in His image. How freeing it is to realize that Christ cannot be controlled by goat sacrifices, but delights to do good for all who trust in Him!

            Christianity emphasizes the importance of facts -- and paramount among them the fact of resurrection at a particular time and place. Contrast that emphasis on history with the attitude of leaders of a 300-year-old temple in a south Indian village who three years ago erected kid-friendly, colorfully painted giant figures linking the temple to an imaginary local god, Ayannar.

            The temple priest, Ayyaavu, told me frankly that "Ayannar doesn't belong here -- the temple has its own mother goddesses -- but, even though it's not our tradition, we wanted to have another public figure." The investment in new statues is producing new revenue, he said.

            Larger Hindu temples are such big business that the government has taken them over and pays the salaries of both gurus and guards. Many big temples are marketplaces, renting booths to shopkeepers who sell food, toys and baubles amid neon lights and an unholy cacophony. Hinduism, of course, does have an intellectual theology, but on a popular level much of Hinduism is karma marga: keep caste regulations, perform religious rites, offer sacrifices.

            Tens of millions in India believe that such practice puts the cosmic powers in an indulgent frame of mind toward them. Children learn to fear gods and attempt to placate them in ways large and small. At one of India's largest temples, the famous Menakshi in Madurai, children and adults can pay 2 rupees (about four cents) to throw balls of butter at idols of Shiva and his wife Shakti, thus cooling down their anger. By late afternoon, the statues are dripping in butter.

            Adults also try to justify themselves in the face of potentially severe cosmic forces. In northern India, I saw hundreds of Shiva devotees carrying pots of water from the Ganges River several hundred kilometers to their home temples. Compare their expenditure of enormous effort for nothing with the hope offered by Christ's statement in chapter eight of the gospel of John: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

            Fear rules, until a point of light makes a difference.