Which got me to thinking. How is this any different from the human sacrifices done by pagan cultures to please or appease the gods? How?
1Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, "It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death." 2So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah). 3Thus David said to the Gibeonites, "What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the LORD?" 4Then the Gibeonites said to him, "We have no concern of silver or gold with Saul or his house, nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel." And he said, "I will do for you whatever you say."
5So they said to the king, "The man who consumed us and who planned to exterminate us from remaining within any border of Israel, 6let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD." And the king said, "I will give them." 7But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the oath of the LORD which was between them, between David and Saul's son Jonathan.
8So the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, Armoni and Mephibosheth whom she had borne to Saul, and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she had borne to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9Then he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before the LORD, so that the seven of them fell together; and they were put to death in the first days of harvest at the beginning of barley harvest.
Come to that, how is anything that we do different from pagan practice, in essence? We do what we believe God has told us to do, but that's what they did, as well. The older religions were just more bloody. Religion has evolved into a more peaceful, internal thing. But still, the thought remains. How is what we do any different?
We do what we do because we believe that God wants us to do it. We do it, ostensibly, because we believe that God is good, and therefore, what God desires for us to do is good, and gives him glory. But also, we believe that, should we do as we are told, we will be rewarded in the end. And we believe that if we *don't* do as we're told, we'll be punished. So we do what we're told in the expectation that it will give us a positive result.
Religion can be looked at as an attempt to control and explain the environment around us. We're the only animals with self awareness, that we know of. We look around, and we wonder 'why' and 'how' and we want to control the things around us so that they're not so scary and harmful and *random*. People love order and patterns. Even if it looks like chaos to other people, every person has a pattern to their life. And it's comforting. We know that if we do (a), (b) will occur. And we do things in the same order, over and over and over again. We impose artificial order on what looks, to us, to be natures chaos. Which is, of course, not true, since nature has it's own order. It's just not one that we can manipulate and control, so we impose our own on it, whereby we can manipulate and control it, to a certain degree.
Volcano explodes. The people who survive wonder why, and someone has a dream, or an idea, that it's because the gods are angry. And the people are terrified. They can't do anything about volcanoes! You can't build a wall to stop the lava flow, and even if you could, there's the ash and the fumes and everything else! So they want to know what they can do to keep the gods from being angry and setting off the volcano again. And someone tells them to do yadda. Sacrifice x to the gods, and they will be appeased. So the people do, and it seems to work. The volcano doesn't erupt again. And they connect the two, and believe that their sacrifice worked. So they keep doing it. Of course, there is no real cause and effect connection there. Not really. But the people don't understand how volcanoes work, and they feel like now they have some control over the gods. 'As long as we keep them happy, they won't wipe us out!'
Even the concept of an afterlife may only exist because we can't imagine non-existence. You may recall my assertion that words have no meaning without context. We can conceive that we exist, and we know that that state changes, when we die. We understand, conceptually, the difference between alive and dead. What we don't understand is what 'dead' is like. We've never been there, so we can't say, death is like 'this'. When we contemplate what death is, we must come up against the idea that there may simple be nothing. And that is terrifying. On a personal level, how do you cope with the concept that *you*, all your thoughts, all your life, everything that you are, will simply *blip* out the moment you die? It is *horrific*. How do you contemplate your own non-existence?
You don't. Not easily, at any rate. So the after life. Heaven and hell. We paste images of what we think it must be like, cribbed from the physical reality around us on it, idealized, and declare that that will be what is. But we don't really know. We just shy away from the horror of nothingness and declare that there must be something.
Note: I don't want anyone to think I've gone off the rails and lost my faith or anything. I can think thoughts like this and not fall 'off the wagon', as it were. It should be possible for people to contemplate 'what if' scenarios.