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Human Sacrifice in Cancun: Then and Now

Jim Tonkowich | Senior Fellow, Cornwall Alliance | Thursday, December 9, 2010

Human Sacrifice in Cancun: Then and Now

A widely circulated photo showed Greenpeace's "aerostatics balloon" emblazoned with the message "Rescue the Climate" floating near the ancient Mayan pyramid temple in Chichén-Itzá. As I look at it, it seems a fitting image for the United Nations' Climate Control Conference that began November 29 in Cancun, on the coast about one hundred twenty miles to the east. After all, Chichén-Itzá was the center of Mayan Earth religion and of human sacrifice. Let me explain.

According to a post on the New York Time's "Post Carbon" blog, when Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, opened the conference, she began by invoking the ancient Mayan goddess Ixchel. Ixchel is the ancient Mayan moon goddess and also, in Figueres' words, "the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving." It might have been more appropriate to have invoked Chac, the Mayan god of rain and storm—the climate god, you might say.

Ancient Mayans worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses in the sacred city of Chichén Itzá. The temple over which the Greenpeace balloon floated is the best-known and most emblematic structure, but hardly the only one. It is a city of temples and sacrifice.

 According to ReligionFacts:

…human sacrifice seems to have been a central Mayan religious practice. It was believed to encourage fertility, demonstrate piety, and propitiate the gods. The Mayan gods were thought to be nourished by human blood, and ritual bloodletting was seen as the only means of making contact with them. The Maya believed that if they neglected these rituals, cosmic disorder and chaos would result.

In order to be in the good graces of the gods the Mayans offered sacrifice—including human sacrifice. Anthropologist Gary Feinman of Chicago's Field Museum described the sacrifices in a 2008 Reuters article. Victims were tossed into deep limestone sinkholes as crowds watched from the rim. "Adult males may have had their hearts removed before they were dumped in," he added. Archeologists have excavated the remains of hundreds of victims.

Of course, the Mayans weren't alone in offering human sacrifice. Their neighbors the Aztecs were notorious and far across the world, so were the people of the ancient Near East. Bible readers are familiar with the Canaanite god Baal, whose worshippers surrounded Israel and were a constant source of temptation for God's people. Like Chac, Baal was god of rain and storm. Like Chac, Baal demanded sacrifice.

While there is, of course, no evidence that ancient Canaanites and Mayans ever met for a conference hashing out the fine points of a common theology, the similarities between the two are striking and tell us a great deal about human nature. Baal and Chac were nature gods of rain and storm. That doesn't mean much to us, but in an agrarian economy, rain and storm at the right time of the year and in the right quantity meant fertility for flocks, herds, and crops. If the rains were too early or too late, or if there was drought or flood, agriculture suffered, food was in short supply, and hard times and death ravaged the population.

The blessing of the gods was required if the people were to continue. The equation in the minds of the ancient people was simple and straightforward: Angry gods = No rain = No food = No people. The weather and climate had to be and could be controlled. All that was required was sacrifice. After all, they would have argued, what is wrong with some being killed so that others may live?

To many climate negotiators, including those meeting in Cancun, this question makes perfect sense. Gaia—the modern Earth goddess—is angry and needs to be appeased. Human activity has disrupted the climate, and the climate must be controlled. All it requires is some human sacrifices.

Not that any of the delegates advocate cutting out hearts and dumping bodies into sinkholes—at least not with WikiLeaks on the prowl. Nonetheless, world population, we are told, must be cut dramatically to reduce the human impact on Mother Earth. Eric Pianka, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, recommended a ninety percent reduction. Jonathan Porritt, one of Great Britain's leading Green advisers, warned that to have a sustainable society, British population needs to fall by more than half.  And Britain's Prince Philip famously said, "In the event that I am reincarnated, I would like to return as a deadly virus, in order to contribute something to solve overpopulation" and thus save the planet.

If humans are merely consumers and polluters, then humans are the Earth's big problem.  If you begin there, you cannot help but reach the conclusion that to save the Earth, you need to eliminate people. Humans must be sacrificed. Population control and climate control go together seamlessly even, I'm sad to say, in Christian environmental groups.

Through abortion, euthanasia, contraception, one-child policies, and the denial of economic development, we can cut population—mostly among the poorest of the poor. Once those necessary sacrifices are made, Gaia will be happy, the climate will recover, and the world will be a better place—for whoever is left.

As Dr. Charmain Yoest of Americans United for Life comments in the video series "Resisting the Green Dragon," the question of biblical stewardship of the Earth "begins with the question of people. Are they parasites or are they possibilities?" The Bible demands that Christians answer, "Possibilities and resources who are created in the image of God and for whose sake Christ died." The vast majority of environmental activists would answer, "Parasites and polluters who evolved from the Earth and must die for the Earth's sake."

And so down the road from the rocks of Chichén Itzá, stained as they are with human blood, is, sad to say, a fitting location for a climate control conference.