United by Cruelty: Carthage and America

Outside Carthage, a special part of a cemetery dedicated to the burial of infants. Photograph: Josephine Quinn

Ancient tales tell of how Carthaginians sacrificed their own children to obtain favors from the gods. Historians dismissed these accounts as mere propaganda, but new interpretations of the archaeological record suggest the stories were true.

As the archaeologists and historians relate their new theories in this story from the Guardian, it’s clear that none of them makes the connection between children killed to bring parents good fortune, and the ongoing industrial scale slaughter of children in the modern world.

“…when you pull together all the evidence – archaeological, epigraphic and literary – it is overwhelming and, we believe, conclusive: they did kill their children, and on the evidence of the inscriptions, not just as an offering for future favours but fulfilling a promise that had already been made.

“The inscriptions are unequivocal: time and again we find the explanation that the gods ‘heard my voice and blessed me’. It cannot be that so many children conveniently happened to die at just the right time to become an offering – and in any case a poorly or dead child would make a pretty feeble offering if you’re already worried about the gods rejecting it.”

Thus far the hard evidence suggests these sacrifices were limited to perhaps a couple dozen a year, and were offered for good fortune. Period accounts, however, suggests a larger scale of sacrifice.

As people gather in DC today for the March for Life (the largest annual protest, and the least covered), our body count puts the Carthaginians to shame.

Here in America, the slaughter of our children enters its fourth decade with over 50 million dead, sacrificed not on an altar to the gods for good fortune, but on the altar of convenience to maintain our disposable culture of death.

Thus, when one of the researchers says this…

“The feeling that some ultimate taboo is being broken is very strong. It was striking how often colleagues, when they asked what I was working on, reacted in horror and said, ‘Oh no, that’s simply not possible, you must have got it wrong.’”

“We like to think that we’re quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I’m afraid, that they really weren’t.”

… you have to marvel at the blindness. What the hell are we doing every day if not sacrificing our children? I can drive five miles to a place where women are offering their unborn children up for murder at the hands of strangers. That’s what abortion is: the murder of an helpless innocent to “improve” the life of the parent. It’s not that we’re that different from the Carthaginians, it’s that we are far, far worse.

Carthago delenda est was the way Cato the Elder ended his speeches: “Carthage must be destroyed.” Now we have a hundred Carthages spread across the world, each proclaiming the right to mutilate women and kill unborn children. What else is it if not a sacrifice to our own modern gods: convenience, money, abundant consequence-free sex, and selfishness?

Carthage? When it comes to evil, they were amateurs.

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Maggie Goff

    “What else is it if not a sacrifice to our own modern gods: convenience, money, abundant consequence-free sex, and selfishness?”

    The modern sense of entitlement.

  • guest

    A cluster of cells incapable of feeling pain or fear is not equivalent to a child. A fetus is not self-aware, it has no personality, in the early stages it doesn’t have a nervous system. It can’t see, hear, feel or think. Children can.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    Fascinating. Let’s just assume you’re right about this “cluster of cells.” (You’re not, but I’ll play along.) When does he become the “equivalent” of a human being to you? What time and date? At what point in fetal development? At what point is she sufficiently human for you to determine that her right to existence outweighs the inconvenience of the person determining her fate? At what point does he pass the moment at which you’ll chop him to pieces or burn him to death with saline and be free to exercise that most basic right: life?

  • ahermit

    Well, one suggestion I’ve heard is that we look at it from the other end of life; how do we know when someone is no longer alive? Generally when the brain is no longer capable of sustaining the body’s basic functions without external assistance. This level of neural and physiological development doesn’t occur in the human fetus until the twentieth week at the earliest. Most abortions are performed well before that stage.

    But the real question is at what point does a woman lose the right to control what happens inside her own body. There may be a point at which the rights of the fetus become paramount, but at least in the early stages it’s difficult to accept that an insensate embryo should have more rights than the living, thinking, feeling person whose body has produced and sustains it.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    You’re shooting in the dark. The 20 week mark is the point at which nociceptors are present, based on current understanding. A fetus can react to touch at 8 weeks. So let’s not assume we are at the high-water mark of developmental knowledge here in 2014.

    Regardless, reversing the standard to match brain death sounds clever, but it’s not a valid comparison. We have a knowledge about an adult human outside the womb that we do not have about a developing human inside the womb. Humans can live and function with little more than a brain stem. There are intelligent people with less than a millimeter of cerebral tissue. So let’s not go chasing after trendy phantoms in the current “brain” over “mind” debate, since the neuroabsolutists are rapidly loosing that battle.

    The decision cannot come down to cognition or even neurological development. The full potential of the human being exists at the point of conception. An irreproducible life is created. It’s potential will not direct it to become a blancmange or a chair, but you and me.

    And I’m not even arguing from the central reason held by those of us who are religious: that life is sacred because it is created by God, and thus has innate dignity and purpose from conception to natural death.

    As for this “right” to control what’s in our bodies, those rights come with obligations, if they exist at all. Attempting to sever the natural connection between sex and the generation of life contributed far more to the chaos and horror of the modern world than all those religions the atheists like to complain about. The “choice” isn’t one person’s choice when it involves another. The choice took place in the decision to perform an action which naturally leads to the creation of that other.

  • oregon nurse

    I think you were trying to describe the medical/legal definition of brain death but you’ve gotten it wrong. It is determined by a lack of brain wave activity. An infant’s body isn’t “capable of sustaining the body’s basic functions without external assistance” either. I hope you aren’t advocating for infanticide as well as abortion.

  • ahermit

    Reflexive reactions to touch are not indicative of higher level neurological functions.

    And you exaggerate the evidence for human beings living without brains..http://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2011/11/boy-with-no-brain-isnt-spiritually-significant.html

    Consciousness still requires, by all the best evidence, a bare minimum of neurological development.

    You say “The full potential of the human being exists at the point of conception”, but why choose that point? And what exactly is the “point of conception?’ Is it the instant a sperm penetrates the egg wall? Must the egg implant in the womb first? Isn’t every egg a potential human being and if so shouldn’t we require women to attempt to become pregnant whenever they are ovulating?

    It’s not as simple a thing to define as either of us would like, so I prefer to leave the decision to the person in whose body all of this is happening. Particularly if there are health concerns associated with the pregnancy…

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    The article you linked to about consciousness in the absence of brain tissue was a rhetorical hash. The use of exceptions is how they help illuminate the norm, so the whole seatbelt analogy is absurd on its face. We’re not gaming the data here.

    Human potentiality is only partly present in the egg or the sperm separately. It’s only fully found in the fertilized egg. As for implantation, I don’t see how that changes anything about the nature of potentiality. A baby that will miscarriage–and which bears in it the seeds of that miscarriage from the moment of conception–is no less a unique and unreproducible entity that a child who will come to term.

    In saying “it’s not a simple thing to define,” shouldn’t we be deciding that the error (if we are to make one) should be in favor of the life and rights of the individual whose life and rights will be ended by the abortion, rather than in favor of the individual whose life will be merely be inconvenienced for a short period? Is physical autonomy so important as to override the rights of the individual to life?

    Which is the greater right? IS there a greater, more central, more fundamental right than life?

  • ahermit

    I expressed that all rather badly yes; I’m thinking of a case lie Terri Schiavo where all but the basic reflex functions are gone; the “person” is gone at that point.

  • ahermit

    The article I linked to calls into question the whole suggestion that there are people living with no brains, as you suggested was the case. The most famous case appears to rely on a misread CATscan…

    ‘Human potentiality is only partly present in the egg or the sperm separately. It’s only fully found in the fertilized egg.”

    What does that mean; “only fully found?”Every egg could potentially become fertilized after all. How do you know its potential is “fully” found at that point and not at some later point determined by neurology or viability?

    And this isn’t about people being “inconvenienced” by pregnancy. I know anti-abortionists like to frame the debate that way but I think it is unfair to women to reduce their concerns about what’s happening inside their own bodies to a mere matter of convenience.

  • Sagrav

    “Let’s just assume you’re right about this “cluster of cells.” (You’re not, but I’ll play along.) ”

    Um, are you trying to say that a developing embryo has the ability to fear or understand sensations like pain? Even before the brain develops? If so, I don’t see how that would work. How can developing cells perceive anything without a functioning brain or a nervous system?

    “At what point is she sufficiently human for you to determine that her right to existence outweighs the inconvenience of the person determining her fate?”

    There is no cut and dry point at which a human personality appears in the fetus, but I would guess that something vaguely resembling a personality might exist at some point in time when neocortical development is well underway. At that point, it might be a bit late to abort the pregnancy (unless the woman’s health is at risk).

    I think I understand the point you’re trying to make, but it just seems overblown. A fertilized egg is just not a person. Neither is the pre-fetal ‘cluster of cells’, or even the fetus for much of it’s development. Yes, they have the potential to be future ‘persons’, but they are not yet. The woman making the choice to carry this potential to term or not is an actual person with real thoughts, feelings, and dreams. I just don’t see why I should want an actual person forced to stifle all of that for the sake of a potential future person.

  • oregon nurse

    I may not be clear on your meaning but just to be clear clinically, persistent vegetative state (Terri S) and brain death are not synonymous. People in a PVS can live many years without any form of life support more sophisticated than providing for a helpless infant. They are NOT brain dead and since PVS is poorly defined clinically and even more poorly understood cognitively, we should not go around saying the “person” is gone. Neurologists may well yet discover that cognitive awareness still exists and so we must err, as in abortion, on the side of greatest protection for life.

    Brain dead people are dead. They have NO reflexes and require aggressive life support measures to keep them from rotting like the corpse that they are. If you take them off of life support they don’t breathe and the heart stops within minutes. Sorry to be so graphic and crude but sometimes I think it’s necessary in order for people to understand the situation.

  • oregon nurse

    I believe it is the life itself that is sacred. It’s not the utility, or the potential, or the quality of that life which makes it so. It’s not dependent on any characteristic, parental motive, metric, or gestational marker to make it worthy of protection. It is worthy because it is human and it is alive. As soon as we allow a single “yeah, but” argument we run into trouble with any definition or criteria for protection after that. Sometimes things really are just black and white.


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