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Our Elites Are So Deluded By Moral Relativism They’re Excusing Mayan Human Sacrifice

An author of a study of a Mayan burial site says we should show tolerance for civilizations that murdered their own children to honor gods.


Corporate media and elite institutions from The New York Times and CBS to National Geographic and Smithsonian Magazine are celebrating a recently published study in the scientific journal Nature cataloging the genetic analysis of a subterranean mass burial site in the ceremonial center of Chichén Itzá, Mexico, notorious for human sacrifice during the Mayan civilization. Yet rather than trying to deny or downplay the existence of human sacrifice among indigenous American peoples, our multiculturalist institutions are actually charting a bolder route: recasting this behavior as justified and even civilized. 

As incredible as such a rhetorical tack may be, it’s made even more incoherent by the fact that those willing to defend such brutal societies are the same ones who offer knee-jerk condemnations of Western sins as unequivocally evil, regardless of culture or context.

Elites Say We Shouldn’t Judge the Perpetrators of Child Sacrifice

According to the new research, all identified buried victims in Chichén Itzá were male, and several of them were closely related, including two pairs of twins. These findings track with the prominent role of twins — often representing deities and heroes — in both Mayan and broader Mesoamerican mythology. Rodrigo Barquera, a lead author of the new paper, called the research “a breakthrough,” as the biological kinship and the similar age of the victims suggest an intentional ritual practice, possibly associated with a sacred Mayan text, the “Popol Vuh,” which describes the sacrifice of a pair of twins after they lost a ballgame.

Barquera acknowledged in a June 14 Washington Post interview that it could be a bit arresting to learn the remains at Chichén Itzá belonged to children killed in a human sacrifice ritual. “But we have to bear in mind that death is a completely different concept for Mesoamerican cultures,” explained Barquera. “Death is not seen as a bad thing. Of course, under our perspective, it’s wrong. But back then, and according to their myths and their beliefs, what they were doing was considered correct, so we cannot judge what they did under our modern point of view.”

Moreover, according to the Post, the findings “contradict the popular belief that young women and girls made up the majority of those sacrificed at the site.” It unquestioningly cites study co-author and professor of anthropology at Harvard University Christina Warinner, who explained that the findings turn “that story on its head and reveals the deep connections between ritual sacrifice and the cycles of human death and rebirth described in sacred Maya texts.”

Can Cultural Relativism Ever Excuse Child Sacrifice?

One wonders how these new genetic findings regarding sacrificial victims in Mesoamerica from hundreds of years ago, however interesting, turn our previous understanding of these events “on their head.” The Mayans still sacrificed children after all. Perhaps whatever sexually lurid portrayals were once told about Mayan human sacrifice were inaccurate. But turning the historical record on its head implies some dramatic shift, as if archaeologists and scientists discovered the Mayans didn’t sacrifice humans after all, and that there is some other less horrifying explanation for mass graves of children.

Surely we must scoff at claims by professional academics telling us that the dictates of cultural relativism demand we withhold judgments from those societies that engage in human sacrifice. Barquera, cited by the Post, egregiously misconstrues and deflects when he suggests that modern distaste for Mayan behavior can all be explained away by different, equally valid cultural conceptions of death.

Yes, cultures can expectedly differ in how they understand death, but are we really to believe it is ever permissible to kill children, whether it be via some familial revenge killing, a mythic religious ritual, or some other means? Across many cultures, spanning thousands of years, children have been understood as innocent and vulnerable, and thus to be protected rather than exploited and abused. Civilizations that repudiate this basic truth — not only the Mayans, but also the Aztecs, Incas, Pawnee, Patawomeck, and Cahokia “Mound Peoples” of present-day Illinois — engage in an affront to one of the most basic, inherently appreciable tenets of human society.

Excusing Human Sacrifice While Condemning Other Evils Is Incoherent

Though it shouldn’t need to be said, condemning the Mayans and other indigenous American peoples for engaging in human sacrifice should not obviate the historical fact that many other civilizations across many continents have done much the same. Celtic pagans engaged in human sacrifice, including the “wicker man” documented by Romans and Greeks; the Hebrew Bible and other ancient sources describe North African and Near Eastern cultures sacrificing people to gods such as Baal and Moloch. An October 2023 article in First Things disturbingly notes that archaeologists can easily tell when they’ve encountered a Roman imperial-era brothel because those digging will inevitably find the bones of male infant skeletons, since baby boys were of little utility to such “businesses.”

Killing anyone without just cause is morally reprehensible, but it is a special degree of evil to murder children. Most humans (especially parents) know this, which is why pro-abortion advocates work so hard to argue that life in the womb is in some way not fully human and thus can be justifiably obliterated. Any attempt to claim children are not worthy of society’s special protection, as multiculturalist academics and journalists seem to be attempting to do when it comes to the Mayans, is flatly contemptible.

It’s also patently incoherent. Our legacy elite institutions are overflowing with academics, journalists, and bureaucrats earning their living condemning Western civilization for exploiting other peoples through imperialism, slavery, and other such crimes against human freedom and flourishing. Yet according to multiculturalist reasoning, why should we condemn those who engage in military conquest or slavery? Aren’t such behaviors simply the manifestation of alternative belief systems and social structures, no better or worse than anything else? Who are we to judge societies built on slavery or violent military conquest? Or is it that these behaviors are only bad when Europeans and their descendants engage in them?

Perhaps it’s too much to ask for intellectual coherence from those who, while financially benefiting from Western civilization, seem bent on doing everything in their power to vilify and destroy it from within. Yet shame on us if we show anything but disgust for anyone who claims with a straight face that we should show tolerance and acceptance for civilizations that murdered their own children to honor or appease some deity, no matter how “complex” the ritual. For if we cannot condemn such obvious evils, how are we any different?

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