Recently, a man in Pakistan's Sindh province took a bath, met with his family, and then killed his three daughters and himself.
This was not your run-of-the-mill murder-suicide. It was human sacrifice to a god who couldn't be more different from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That god was the Hindu deity Kali, who is often depicted wearing a garland composed of severed human heads. When the British arrived in Calcutta in the 18th century, a boy was sacrificed every day at her temple.
Over the years, pumpkins, effigies, and goats have replaced people in the sacrifices. What hasn't changed is the belief in Kali's appetite for blood. Thus, while what happened in Sindh was rare, it was not unheard of.
Several devotees, known as "tantrics," have been arrested for performing human sacrifices. In every case, the goal was the same: to appease Kali and obtain favors such as wealth, happiness, and, ironically, children.
I want to emphasize that Hindus are among the most peace-loving people in the world. The actions of these people are by no means representative.
What is representative, however, is their belief that worship largely consists in appeasing the deity. In order to obtain favor, the worshipper must offer the proper sacrifice. Get it wrong and your prayers aren't answered. Or worse.
This worldview is very similar to that of the ancient world into which Jesus became incarnate. The pagan gods were a fickle and demanding lot who demanded blood and abasement from their worshipers-and even then "answered" prayers only on a whim.
This is why so many classical philosophers, like many of their Indian counterparts throughout history, were put off by popular religious practices. So they substituted an "unknown" god and an unknowable god.
Once you understand the options, it's easy to see why the Gospel turned the classical world upside down. It revealed a God who was neither remote nor capricious. He wasn't driven by human-like appetites and petty emotions. He is motivated by love for His people and the good of His worshippers.
This God desires "mercy, not sacrifice," and to prove how much He meant it, He sacrificed his only Son so as to render all other sacrifices unnecessary.
This message took the classical world by storm-and continues to do the same thing in our world today. Its message that Christ has triumphed over death and "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" is liberating, not only on a personal level but also on a societal level.
The idea of man made in God's image revolutionized ideas about human life and ethics and provided a whole new way of seeing life in the Western world.
How ironic that we in the post-Christian West are exchanging belief in the "personal, benevolent God" of Christianity for a sanitized paganism. Whether it's "new age" mumbo jumbo or Wicca for Dummies, we have forgotten the dread these beliefs caused our ancestors and the awful things it made them do.
This weekend, as we commemorate Christ's once-for-all sacrifice on the cross, we'd do well to remember that we are no longer slaves, we are heirs-children of God. And that is very good news, indeed.