The huge bronze statue stood with its arms outstretched in front of it and tilted slightly downwards. The parent would place the child onto the platform of those slanted arms and watch as the child rolled into a raging fire pit directly under the statue. Music played loudly to drown out the screams of the children as they were burned alive.
According to Andrew White, this was the nature of the child sacrifices offered to Moloch during biblical times. In addition, in 1921, a graveyard of hundreds of sacrificed babies’ bones was uncovered in Carthage, victims of sacrifices made to the Phoenician goddess Tanit, confirming this as a practice of several cultures. Parents killed their children for a variety of reasons: most commonly, their sacrifices were made to “avert potential dangers in a crisis or to gain success through fulfilling a vow”—to appease the gods so their crops would not fail, to end a drought, or to ensure their success in a venture. Less common, but documented, rationalizations included ridding themselves of “defective” children or deliberately reducing descendants that would otherwise have a share in an inheritance. Sometimes proxy children for sacrifice were purchased from the poor; if these poverty-stricken parents cried out or showed any emotion during the sacrifice, they were not paid for their child.
Not surprisingly, God unequivocally condemned such practices, warning the Israelites not to adopt the heathen practices surrounding them. In Deuteronomy 12:31, God proclaims, “You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods” (emphases mine). In Leviticus 20:1-5 God outlines the consequences for those who disobey this command: the parents are to be stoned to death, and, worse, God vows to “set [his] face against him and . . . cut him off from his people.” Importantly, those who witness the killings and do nothing to punish the offenders will suffer the same abandonment by God. So revolting is this sin that God himself claims that it is unthinkable even to him: it is “something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind” (Jeremiah 19:4-5).
Perhaps this is part of the reason that the concept of abortion is not explicitly addressed in the Bible—in the Hebrew culture, children were to be considered great blessings from God, so the idea of choosing to kill one’s offspring was an unthinkable horror. Yet as we know, the Israelites did in fact cave to the surrounding cultural practices and engage in the child sacrifice that God explicitly denounced. God names this as one of the reasons that he “set his face against” the Israelites and punished them through sword, famine, and Babylonian exile.
Though the Bible does not explicitly connect them, as early as the second century Tertullian was already pointing out the obvious parallels between child sacrifice and abortion: in both, parents kill their own children, they do it to avoid crisis in their lives, as a means of controlling the size of their families, or to dispose of a “defective” child. Today, we can add the parallel of saline abortion, which chemically burns the child alive.
Today, child sacrifices to pagan gods or Satan are less common; the god we sacrifice to has changed—we are now our own gods, killing to further our own purposes. Hitler killed over six million in order to achieve his agenda; Pol Pot annihilated up to 3 million Cambodians within a mere five year span. Stalin killed twenty million during his regime. These numbers are stunning. Horrifying.
Yet worldwide, at least 40-50 million children are killed through abortion every year. That grim statistic averages out to 125,000 per day, with 3,000 deaths daily in the U.S. alone. In the U.S., 50% of all pregnancies are unintended, an astounding percentage for a nation in which contraception is so widely available. Of those pregnancies, 40% end in abortion; 22% of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion (“Abortion Statistics”), a figure which mirrors the worldwide percentage of 25% (“Induced”). Since abortion was legalized in 1973 in the U.S., over 50 million babies have been killed (“Abortion Statistics”).
Abortion is the primary form that child sacrifice takes today, and the reasons for it have not decisively changed. To avoid a crisis or to ensure a better life for the one who sacrifices remain the rationalizations. In a Guttmacher Institute report, considered to be one of the most accurate studies of the reasons for abortion, over 1,200 women were polled. Seventy-four percent cited that a child would interfere with work, education, or current family responsibilities; 73% claimed they could not afford a child; 48% said they did not want to be a single mother, and almost a third said they were not ready (Finer, et al.). In an insightful reinterpretation of these statistics, however, Michael Spielman points out that the respondents were able to choose multiple answers, and it is perhaps more accurate to examine what responses were given as the main reason for their abortions. With this reconsideration, only 4% (not 74%) cited interference with present responsibilities as their main reason for abortion; 23% rather than 73% could not afford a child; 8% as opposed to 48% cited not wanting to be a single parent. The number one reason statistically that most chose an abortion was because they were not ready (25%). As Spielman notes, all of these are excellent reasons for not having a baby “but they are not good reasons for killing a baby that is already alive.” Spielman also highlights the twisted moral logic of some of the respondents: Guttmacher interviewed 38 of their 1209 respondents at length, and one third of these said they considered adoption as an alternative to abortion, but ultimately “concluded that it was a morally unconscionable option because giving one’s child away is wrong.”
Tragically, most abortions are performed, as Spielman points out, not out of necessity but expedience. The overwhelming number of abortions alone suggests the veracity of that claim. Even more tragically, women are choosing abortions because they can. It should be obvious that our role as Christians is to be sympathetic to the situation and the desperation of those who are considering abortion and to support and help them in any way we can. However, at the same time we need to recognize that abortion is a modern day holocaust that we as Christians must stand up against; to ignore it is, as God warned the Israelites regarding child sacrifice, to be culpable ourselves for this ongoing atrocity.
“Abortion Statistics” worldometers.info
Finer, Lawrence B., et al. “Reasons US Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 37, Number 3, 2005, pp. 110-18.
“Induced Abortion Worldwide” March 2018 fact sheet. Guttmacher.org
Spielman, Michael. “Here Are the Real Reasons Women Have Abortions.” Savethestorks.com, May 3, 2017.
White, Andrew. “Abortion and the Ancient Practice of Child Sacrifice.” January 5, 2012. Biblearcheology.org