We use the word sparingly, reserving it in particular for the victims of war.  We commemorate the sacrifice of our soldiers, all hailed as brave, generous, patriotic, altruistic heroes, whether they were or they weren’t.  Many of them were; some shared glory they did not deserve.  The “ultimate” sacrifice, their death, was clearly not as bad – for them – as the sacrifice of the health, mental and physical, and even, too often, of the very limbs of the wounded in action.  Families are condemned to inconsolable suffering through permanent separation from those killed in action – a husband, father, uncle or brother – as well as frequently by the financial and emotional burden their loved one’s death occasioned.  But veterans, returned servicemen, lucky enough to survive, often become a permanent burden for their families, especially if they had endured an amputation or suffer from ongoing physical or psychological ailments.

The word is also used, literally, in the context of volunteering to forego certain advantages in favor of somone else  : a High School graduate, for example, who renounces his ambition of a college education to allow his brother to make use of the limited family funds available.  A famous as well as infamous example of unselfish renunciation and personal sacrifice should be recalled here.  Father Maxiilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest incarcerated in Auschwitz for daring to criticize Hitler’s Reich, was lucky enough not to have been selected to join a group of his fellow prisoners, condemned to die by starvation and thirst as punishment for the escape of several other inmates.  In response to the pleading for mercy by one of the condemned hostages – the terrified wretch’s death would surely result in the impoverishment and death of his widow and their three young children – Father Kolbe offered to replace him in the starvation bunker.  He was later canonized a Saint for his heroic martyrdom and sacrifice.  Such voluntary self-sacrifice was given the appreciation it deserves by a man called Jesus : “Greater love than this no man has than to lay down his life for his friends.”

The sanguinary act of animal sacrifice is still practised in certain religions, although, mercifully, no religion today practises human sacrifice.  The Old and New Testaments are full of the sacrifices of all sorts of animals.  Such sacrifices should be enough, alone, to discredit religion and belief in a God expecting and demanding the life-blood of countless numbers of His helpless animal creations, to appease His anger or recognize His power and authority.  But the Bible, again in both Testaments, does not hesitate to sanction also human sacrifice as a form of worship of a bloodthirsty deity.

The most notorious biblical human sacrifice that comes to mind is the one, aborted in extremis, of Abraham about to kill his son Isaac.  However another less well-known human sacrifice deserves to be mentioned : that found in the Book of Judges and its story of the warrior-chief-judge Jephthah.  This imbecile brute vowed to Yahweh that if He gave him victory in a certain battle with his enemies, he would make a “burnt offering” of the first person who came to greet him.  He was to deeply regret that that person turned out to be his own daughter, but he sacrificed her anyhow (she stupidly agreed that he was bound to do it) – (Judges 11:31).

It would be bad enough if this horror story and its sadistic religiosity were limited to the Old Testament, which Christianity is supposed to have surpassed.  But the New Testament is centered on the sacrifice of God’s own Son, demanded by some imagined divine justice in reparation for the original sin of mankind.  Christians hail Christ as their Redeemer, who paid off a mythic debt to His Father or to some ethereal entity called “Justice”, by a blood-sacrifice, His Passion and Death – which Catholics ritually repeat daily in the “Sacrifice of the Mass”.  It would be hard to find a more adequate reason than this for ridiculing, and, were it possible, destroying the Judean-Christian religion and the murderous maniacal monster who is the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham and Jephthah.