My mind went to the phrase “sacred cow on the altar of change” this morning. So googled it. Some say it derives from the Hindus who view their cows as sacred. But I also found an Orthodox commentary on cows in the Bible. (Very funny, but also informative. I’ll post the link below.) Some of the Biblical references are:
A: the sacrifice of bulls:
“Then build an altar to the LORD your God here on this hilltop sanctuary, laying the stones carefully. Sacrifice the bull as a burnt offering on the altar, using as fuel the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.”” Judges 6:26 NLT
B: one of four faces Ezekiel saw
“As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle.” Ezekiel 1:10 ESV
C: measuring wealth by cattle used for sacrifice
““Then you shall bring the bull before the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull. Then you shall kill the bull before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall take part of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar.” Exodus 29:10-12 ESV
D: how cows (livestock) are singled out in creation:
“And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:25 ESV
E: and bulls sacrificed on the altar
“Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.” Psalms 51:18-19 ESV
I think the phrase came to mind because many in society are angry that their sacred cows are on the altar, specifically abortion and the view of women’s rights that requires abortion to be legal. The latest women’s march is really about the anger some women have that their sacred cows are being threatened. I understand. Because many of my sacred cows have been threatened over the last 8 years.
So if I understand the feeling of a “sacred cow being sacrificed on the altar of change” could it help me to better relate and talk with those who are upset since the election? Could I have more compassion because I’ve experienced things I hold near and dear being threatened?
I guess I’m dealing personally with this issue in my family, but also with friends, classmates, etc. who begin conversations basically upset about their sacred cow and assume I will be in agreement with them. Sometimes I’m amused. Do they not know me? Will they be surprised if I disagree? What if I don’t laugh at their jokes and poking fun at specific persons or institutions? Will they “unfriend” me on social media? These conversations come up regularly these days. I try to focus on not being offended, accepting that my sacred cows are not their sacred cows.
I was in such a conversation recently, where golden hair was mentioned and humorous comments were made about making fun of such things. You only have to watch TV, internet or social media to see such “humor” elevated to political statements. It may be why I’ve searched out alternative sources for news lately, or spend less time on social media. I have to work very hard to not react to comments on Facebook, or to not post opinions on Facebook about the sacred cows in society.
What I find amusing, in a sense, is that the election was so close that you should assume 50% of the people in your gathering might take offense or disagree with you. But then, we do tend to congregate with those we agree with, don’t we? If the only people we come in contact with are those who agree with us, how can we expect to be compassionate when we interact with someone who disagrees with us? Is it possible to remain civil and respectful, while arguing about sacred cows?
So let’s list a few of the “sacred cows” in our society today (feel free to add to the list in your comments) using both points of view:
– abortion, the right to women’s health including birth control
– the sanctity of life, valuing the life in the womb and throughout the life cycle
– the entitlement to government support, financially, but also in laws to protect rights
– the work ethic that depends on self for prosperity and success
– the joy of accepting immigrants and refugees into our society
– the desire to keep our society and ways of life insular
– the desire to have the government care for the orphans and widows
– the personal acceptance of responsibility to help those in need through giving and volunteer efforts
– the right to a public education
– the desire to keep the innocence and belief system intact for the next generation in a family or ethnic community
– the belief that there is no truth, no rights or wrongs, and pursuit of what the heart wants to be true or right is a personal choice
– the belief in a truth and righteousness that is not dependent on personal desires but in faith
I could go on, but the question is, do you know what your sacred cows are? How do you respond when they are threatened? Are your sacred cows based on your belief system? Does your belief system allow for others to disagree with you? Do you hate those who threaten your sacred cows? Can you be friends with those who have different sacred cows?
Forty years ago, I was part of a generation that wanted to upset sacred cows and usher in changes that would give more freedom and protection, like the right for women to have a career and family, protection from sexual harassment in the workplace, raising the expectation of women to be capable of rising to ever higher levels in every aspect of society, for each person to choose the career of their choice, without stigma, not based on their sex. I was part of a generation that upset the sacred cows of my parents generation.
In a progressive society, it seems that upsetting and overturning sacred cows is a drive for change. But, have you ever heard of “cow tipping?” If you grew up in a rural area, it was a lot of talk and little action, but a desire nevertheless to tip a cow over and watch it struggle to right itself. It sounds cruel, doesn’t it? When you apply the technique to a living animal, most can agree that it isn’t a practice with compassion and concern for the animal’s well being. (Having grown up in rural America and having attended an “Ag” school this was a topic of conversation. Really.) But isn’t putting “sacred cows on the altar of change” sort of like cow tipping? Just think about it.
While I was involved in activities pushing for change I was quite civil. I didn’t do the drug scene or act in embarrassing ways “under the influence” of drugs. And I kept my behaviors in line with activities that didn’t counter my parents teaching. I didn’t shout, get violent, humiliate the older generation or behave in ways that would embarrass my mom. (A very important driving force in my young adult life.) This was not true of many of my friends. The same is true today. Yes, some are in our face, behaving in ways that offend our sensibilities, humiliating those who disagree, disrespecting the value of everyone, but not all do this. They act in a civil way, listen, respond, and don’t judge others.
For me, my Christian faith is the source of what I believe to be truth, where I get my sense of right and wrong, and my source of strength in an antagonistic, stressful culture. My sacred cows relate to what is sacred in my faith and in the Bible. I listen, read, pray and talk to God about many issues, but lately it has been a lot of emotional needs. I do need help to forgive those who hurt me sometimes. I do need wisdom to know when to speak and when to be quiet. I do need help to find my way in the maze of our society these days. My God, the Lord Most High, my Savior and my Friend is Who I go to when the rhetoric goes beyond what I can handle.
Christian faith and beliefs don’t have the centricity in our society today. I can’t expect to be received well when I express my faith. Well, sometimes expressions of faith aren’t accepted at all, honestly. It seems a new sacred cow has arisen: no evangelism allowed! I think it’s referred to as proselytizing and that word has a very negative connotation. So public discussion of my faith comes with a risk. I might be rejected, ridiculed, humiliated, judged, put on trial…oh wait; that’s what my Savior went through for me! Jesus faced all these reactions and more, yet he remained without sin. Sin is an old fashioned word these days. It’s considered a harsh judgment to say that someone has sinned. But in a sense, it means you have transgressed the law, broken the law, and are guilty. Jesus did none of these things. He went through humiliation without anger, he was riduculed and did not fight back, he was unjustly condemned and yet knew he was following his Father in all he did. He was sacrificed on the altar of defying change.
If we have a sacred cow that needs to be changed, we should be open to having it tipped over. What comes to mind is many years ago, the realty profession and city administrations just didn’t show homes in some neighborhoods to “people of color” (term used in the 1960-70s) so that neighborhoods could stay white. This was a sacred cow that needed to be tipped.
No one, no matter what, should ever be bullied. Yet we have allowed our children to be bullied because they are “different” and need to be reminded of that, often in humiliating ways. This is a sacred cow that needed to be tipped.
So, are there sacred cows that should not be tipped over? Are there constants that our society needs to be stable, to flourish and be caring? Are there issues that need to be updated but not eliminated? How do we balance safety and security with terrorism and hate crimes?
I’d rather we be talking about these issues. But our personal sacred cows get in the way. We can’t get past them. Incivility and disrespect permeate our society. No where do we see this more evident than in the “notmypresident” movement. We had an election. We followed the rules in our constitution. Someone lost and someone won. For the next four years, we have a President and that office needs to be respected. That’s one of my sacred cows. I don’t have to agree with the elected officials. I can write my opinions on issues to my President, Representative and Senators, but with civility and respect. And as the Bible commands, I do pray for all elected officials, that they would have wisdom in guiding and leading our country. And I did that for the previous President as well.
I’ve just about exhausted my thoughts on sacred cows. I’m still chewing I the idea of the altar of change and what it all means. And cow tipping analogies just won’t leave my mind right now. Hopefully I’ve given you things to think about in your own life. Meanwhile, I’ll keep chewing on these thoughts!
Here is the blog about cows: