Many of us long for certainty, and a few of us insist on assurance of irrevocable answers to questions asked ages ago and answered according to the science of the time. “Mama, why is the mountain making all those noises, and all those hot-looking sparks? And, why is the soil trembling in such a scary way?”

Mama knew the priest’s decision could not be changed, and that she must keep her vow or they would both face banishment from the tribe and certain death while wandering in the wilderness. Tears streamed from her eyes as she lifted her daughter up and held her close for a final hug. “Hush, little one. You were chosen as our tribe’s most beautiful child, and anointed as such. We must climb the mountain with the priest so you can become a sacrifice so the mountain god will stop feeling angry.”

The little girl fell silent while her mother swirled the ceremonial robe around and around over her body and bound it tight so she could no longer move. Then: “Mama, what’s a sacrifice?”

Mama turned away to wipe her eyes. “It’s an honor.” She made herself smile to stifle a sob, and then repeated, “It’s an honor.”

We now smirk at the thought of such innocent ignorance, but recoil in horror (if we can still feel empathy) at a video image of a child tossed into a lava pit, screaming her child-pitched wail, cartwheeling toward the boiling lava, her arms and legs bound so tightly she cannot move nor shield her eyes from the searing heat. Her mother also recoiled, her own horror burning a memory into her brain of which she dared not speak, but could never forget. She already regretted the loss of her child. Only her memory of the priest’s explanation of how the rite was necessary, that the sacrifice of one child could save the entire village, convinced her to relent. Only thinking of that could fend away a small part of her sense of the evil in which she had participated.

Today, we may feel glad that such practices have long been abandoned, and that our modern religions are relatively sedate (we say). It escapes our minds to realize that, from the very beginning, long before humans gave it a name, the processes of science were under development all over the world. In the guise of religion, human beings performed desperate experiments aimed at learning how to deal with Nature. Slowly, over long ages, humanity dragged itself forward, heels dug in to resist our progress, certain the gods will smite us, sensing evil at every change of direction, until here we are.

As I pointed out a sign or two ago, resisting change requires less resources than adapting to it, and so seems more efficient and is, therefore, only natural. Through realizing that, it seems like we ought to find an efficient way to overcome the tendency. Perhaps by ongoing promotion of science’s benefits, through overexposure to reminders of how things used to be, or by some method that only a scientist could contrive, to realize that, in the long run, acceptance of change proves more efficient than resistance.

Really, the chains and shackles of certainty, worn over the course of a life time, during which we have lost all sensitivity to their great mass, allow us to spring to life upon their removal. Such unfettered joy cannot be ignored, once noted. We must guard it from the curses of the jealous zealous.


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