Every god demands sacrifice. The real God demands that you die to yourself so that you and others may live. The gods demand that you feed what is worst in you so that you and others will die.
Sacrifices are strange and paradoxical things. Remember the last time that you were waiting for a friend who was late? There is a tension between waiting for them for a couple more minutes and going to take some action to find them or simply giving up. That tension, at first quite mild, grows with each passing minute. Should I give up now? But perhaps they’re just around the corner? How stupid would it be if I were to wait 30 minutes and then leave, only to find out later that 32 minutes was the magic number? Or, again, how long do you wait for a late bus before hailing a cab?
The example is a simple one, but I hope it speaks to our everyday experience. When you have given up a little, the demand to give up more becomes more and more reasonable. You might not think you’d be willing to wait a full hour for your friend at the start of your wait time, but by the 40 minute mark, you just might. At what point do you stop and walk away?
If you plan on shopping tomorrow, Mammon may well ask you for a little offering, a tiny pinch of incense, at the beginning of your day. “Get up early,” he whispers. “You can be at the front of the line. You can beat the crowd.”
What harm is there in that? It makes perfect sense. In fact, it is to my credit to be disciplined and proactive.
But be on your guard. Mammon never asks for just a little.
“For your sacrifice,” he notes, “you deserve to be at the front of the line. You were here first. But wait, what is that other person doing here in the parking lot? They weren’t up as early as you. They got here later. (Or at least they would have, if they hadn’t run that early morning yellow light that you stopped at, good citizen that you are. And they think you didn’t see such flagrant disrespect for the law!) And are they angling in on your territory?”
Time to burn a little more incense. Get your back up. Use your body to assert your position and dominance. Let them know you aren’t going to stand for this.
“More and more people are arriving. And they don’t seem to care who was here first! Just look at them milling about, jostling for position. Some of them were more than an hour behind you, and they seem just as likely to get first crack at the sales as you. The injustice!”
Time to stoke the fire. Get to the door. Plant your feet. Stand firm. Offer dirty glances.
“Wait. Did that person just give you a dirty glance? Who do they think they are? You’ve been here since before they got out of bed!”
Like the good worshiper that you are, you are preparing your soul to get the most out of the liturgy to come.
The lights go on in the store. The high point of the liturgy, the consecration, approaches. Your devotion reaches a fever pitch. You must commune with your god. The crowd surges around you. As the space between your bodies shrink, the space between your spirits grows exponentially. Threatening looks and well-placed elbows assure your neighbors that you wish them anything but peace.
The bell rings. The sacred moment has arrived. Mammon is here. Let us worship.
Now the sacrifices get bigger and bigger. We offer the god even our basic human decency. What we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing even yesterday now emerges from us with hardly a second thought. What was prefigured in glances becomes embodied in pushes, pulls, punches, and a wild procession to the altar. Mammon is incarnate!
We are on our way to the temple and we cannot stop to help the bleeding and bruised on the roadside. The only one who will stop is the outsider, the irreligious, the non-worshiper, the heretic Samaritan.
Every god but God demands blood. Mammon is sure to get blood tomorrow. It is not impossible that he will even be offered a holocaust, a whole burnt offering, that leaves nothing behind.
I wish I were making this up. I wish this were mere mythology. But people actually die in stampedes for toasters and video games. That should put any temptation to dismiss this as hyperbole in perspective. Demon worship conjures up images of dark rites in dark halls with dark chants. But that is merely to throw us off the scent. When innocent blood is offered, there is the unholy.
Tomorrow is the great liturgy of Mammon. A Friday the opposite of Good. May we all be heretics.
Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one.