Today I want to write about a phenomenon that I am seeing time and again in my youth justice work: when a child is charged with a heinous crime, people see this as a kind of license to turn off their brains, form purely emotional and often hateful judgments based solely on the hideousness of the offense, and promptly stone the child.
Mind you, this phenomenon is triggered independent of whether or not the child actually committed the crime (or if it is clear he did commit the act, independent of the reasons why). When confronted with a picture of an ugly crime, many people really don’t care if or why a particular child may have committed a terrible deed.
It is more important to them to lash out in anger and strike at someone—anyone will do, but the smaller the better—and it is a sad commentary on the state of our culture that children are seen as suitable objects of retribution.
At a deep level of meaning, children are in fact powerful sacrificial symbols in our acts of retribution.
You have heard the expression “whipping boy.” Do you know where it got started?
A whipping boy was a child who was assigned to a young prince and was punished when the prince misbehaved or fell behind in his schooling. Whipping boys were established in the English court in the 15th and 16th centuries which held that because the king was appointed by God, no one was worthy of punishing the king’s son but the king. Since the king was rarely available to punish his son when necessary, tutors to the young prince used the whipping boy as a surrogate for punishment. Generally of high birth and raised since birth with the prince as one of the prince’s only friends, the whipping boy and prince usually formed an emotional bond upon which this arrangement relied. The idea of seeing his friend being whipped or beaten for something he’d done wrong ensured that the prince would not repeat the same mistakes—if the prince had any moral sense at all.
What I am seeing is that children are too often held to account as surrogates for punishment for the sins of their parents. A child who reaches the breaking point and kills a parent after years of physical and sexual abuse is generally punished as if no abuse had taken place—as if the child were not a victim, but culpable of the crime as if he were an adult. It is shocking to me that the sentences of children who kill a parent are generally twice as long and severe as the sentences for parents who kill a child. Isn’t this bassackwards? Does anyone besides me see how irrational this is? Why and how does this persist?
Yet even senseless outcomes make sense on some level. But where is the sense in this?
I was frankly confused about this question until I ran across a writer’s observation that the rituals surrounding capital punishment are reminiscent of ancient rituals surrounding human sacrifice.
I have spent the last couple evenings researching the phenomenon of child sacrifice in our prehistory and history and have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that child sacrifice has always been a part of human culture (and always will be) in some form, whether actual or symbolic or something in-between. Human beings must be hard-wired in the reptilian parts of our brains to tolerate and engage in such repugnant acts against children. When we commit these sins against our kids in more abstract ways—for example, through the ritualized workings of the courts—we don’t even realize what we are doing.
But it is sacrifice nonetheless.
The notion of sacrificing the life of a child to prove the depth of one’s faith and commitment is present in virtually all of the world’s religious and political traditions. The ideal of sacrifice is invoked today time and again at the graveside services of young soldiers killed in immoral wars. The followers of all three Abrahamic faiths flirt with the tradition of child sacrifice in numerous ways including the foundational stories of the “binding of Isaac” in Genesis, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael in the Qur’an, and the story of Christ which celebrates a “father” who offers “his only begotten son” to be sacrificed on the cross.
At the Tophet (“roasting place”) in Carthage, the largest cemetery of sacrificed infants in the ancient Near East was discovered in 1921. An estimated 20,000 urns were deposited there. It is well established that the rite of child sacrifice originated in Phoenicia, ancient Israel’s northern neighbor, and was brought to Carthage by its seagoing colonizers. The burial urns were filled with the cremated bones of infants, mostly newborns, but even some children up to age six years old were discovered.
The actual rite of child sacrifice at Carthage was graphically described by the Roman author Diodorus Siculus: “There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus (Moloch) extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.” Plutarch, a Greek author, adds that: “The whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums so that the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people.”
Some people claim these barbaric practices are reenacted today, one way or another, in every strata of society—from a mother’s abandonment to the system of a 15-year-old son who’s been wrongly accused of rape (more about that later) to the bizarre rituals held at the Bohemian Grove before an audience of world financial, political, and cultural leaders. Moloch lives, they say, and he needs the blood of children to be appeased.
If sensational media exposes are to be believed, child sacrifice is practiced at every level of society by numerous Satanic and mind-control cults here and abroad. These cults, many of them kept alive through families and tribes, are said to have perpetuated an unbroken chain of sacrificial practice all the way back to the time of the Phonecians and their insatiable god Moloch. Stories of child sacrifice have periodically surfaced in Uganda, India, Chile, and the US.
In mid-August of 2010, three boys in Memphis were charged with raping a 23-month-old girl. Two of the boys—brothers Noah, 13, and Micah Scheulin, 11—are said to have been in serious trouble before, while the third, James Prindle, 15, the brother of the rape victim who claims to have been away from the apartment when the rape happened, is the only one of the three who is being held responsible. He was waived into adult court and is facing the threat of a more-than-50-year prison term.
The incident happened about 10:30 p.m. on a Monday night, as both the toddler’s parents were at work. They had left the girl in James’ care. Although James has said he’d sooner put a bullet in his head than hurt his little sister, his family has disavowed him and apparently abandoned him to the machinery of the state’s “justice” system.
No one had taken an interest in the case until my youth advocate friend Stephen got involved a couple weeks ago and very quickly learned that James is innocent and being railroaded.
The police apparently have not gone to the trouble to corroborate the boy’s alibai and are overlooking the likelihood that two boys with prior offenses are more likely suspects than a boy who has never been in trouble before.
Why is this happening in a way that is so eerily reminiscent of Jordan Brown’s experience? Why have the people in James’ life apparently decided to abandon the boy on the altar of Moloch at a modern day Tophet in Tennessee?
In the meantime, though, we are looking for an angel who, like that one sent to stay Abraham’s hand, will be willing and able to help us secure legal representation that will likely save the boy’s life.
If you are that angel we’re seeking, please contact me for details today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 432/ 371-4257.
Groove of the Day