“They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination....” -Jeremiah 32:35
I couldn't sleep once I woke up early on this day after the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. I kept thinking about this passage from the Bible's Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, in which the prophet laments the practice of child sacrifice.
The passage was fresh in my mind because it is alluded to in last Sunday's Gospel reading from Mark chapter 9, in which Jesus refers to Gehenna, which is another name for the Valley of the son of Hinnom, which is the site on which these residents of Judah, to Jeremiah's horror, had adopted the practice of putting children to death to try to curry favor with Molech.
“The motive for these sacrifices is not far to seek. It is given in Micah vi. 7: "Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" In the midst of the disasters which were befalling the nation men felt that if the favor of Yhwh could be regained it was worth any price they could pay. Their Semitic kindred worshiped their gods with offerings of their children, and in their desperation the Israelites did the same. For some reason, perhaps because not all the priestly and prophetic circles approved of the movement, they made the offerings, not in the Temple, but at an altar or pyre called "Tapheth" (LXX.), erected in the valley of Hinnom (comp. W. R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., p. 372). "Tapheth," also, was later pointed "Topheth," after the analogy of "bosheth." In connection with these extraordinary offerings the worshipers continued the regular Temple sacrifices toYhwh (Ezek. xxiii. 39).+
Yesterday, in response to Umpqua tragedy, the satirical magazine The Onion published an article titled 'No Way to Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. In it we read:
“This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Ohio resident Lindsay Bennett, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this guy from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what he really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past six years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”
Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County, Oregon is now handling the investigation into the murders and casualties inflicted by the 26-year-old man on Umpqua CC's campus. Two years ago, when the massacre of elementary school children in Newtown was still a fresh wound, Sheriff Hanlin wrote a letter to Vice-President Joe Biden firmly opposing any gun control measures. In his letter, he wrote:
“We are Americans. We must not allow, nor shall we we tolerate, the actions of criminals, no matter how heinous the crimes, to prompt politicians to enact laws that will infringe upon the liberties of responsible citizens who have broken no laws.”
Something deep is at work here in the American way of life. What is it? I think it has something to do with our belief in the myth of the redemptive power of violence, a myth the late Walter Wink exposed. We believe that only violence can stop violence. That appears to be our article of faith, to which we cling closely as a kind of security blanket. Like closely held articles of faith, we find it very difficult to question this article of faith.
In Jeremiah's time, there were those who clung to the idea that a way out of the insecurities and dangers of the time was to try to appease the god Molech. If you could just get Molech on your side, perhaps the nation would be freed from insecurity and danger. If it meant the sacrifice of children, then well, so be it. Jeremiah was horrified. Jeremiah spoke up. Jeremiah called people back to faith in the God of justice and righteousness.
In our time, we as a nation seem quite prepared to go on sacrificing our children. It isn't the god Molech, but it might as well be.
We've got problems. We have problems with many out-of-balance young men. We've got a surfeit of guns for them to use. We have the obvious problem of copy-cat behavior on the part of violent men. And we have a culture in which gratuitous violence in entertainment is taken for granted.
And we think we're better than those who offered their children to Molech? I'm not so sure.
Lord, have mercy, and wake us up from our torpor!