Could a society get away with a systemic culture of murder? As I have been researching missionary biographies while writing a sequel to Daring Devotion, I could not help but notice a disturbing trend across the world. We humans kill our own young.
I did not purposely seek out this information. I was looking for inspiring stories of dependence upon God. However, as I read the firsthand accounts of missionaries encountering either primitive cultures or the remnants of ancient civilizations, their descriptions often included societally accepted (or even demanded) practices of infanticide. This depraved pattern transcended ethnicity, forms of government, local religions, and societal structures.
On the pristine island of Tahiti, twenty-four-year-old Queen Tetua-nui Taro-vahine lived an idyllic life. Her servants carried her on their shoulders wherever she wanted to go as cool breezes rustled the palm trees above her. Because the island easily produced abundant food, including delicious tropical fruit, a relaxed atmosphere permeated the society. Despite being married to the king, the queen could spend each night with whomever she pleased. The only inconvenience was her healthy fertility. Already the queen had birthed three children. Each she calmly murdered as soon as they appeared. Tahitian society of that day approved since the infants’ different fathers were all of a lower class. The children were not fit to live. Across the island, Tahitian women also followed the same tradition as their queen.
In Nigeria, Mary Slessor ran through the jungle to rescue dying infants. In the society of Calabar, local superstitions taught that when twins were born, one was a demon. To be safe, both babies must die. Soon, Slessor’s home burst with the children that she managed to rescue before their parents killed them.
In northwestern China, the reasoning was different but the result the same. Grandmothers sometimes poisoned their granddaughters simply because they were female. Few in society blinked an eye. This was the grandmother’s right, even if she bashed the baby’s head in. Females were not worth the effort and expense to raise.
In southern India, rather than kill unwanted babies, many were sold to the Hindu temples. These children became slaves and prostitutes under the guise of a holy occupation. Amy Carmichael fought to rescue and care for these helpless children.
Long before the other examples, the Bible traces infanticide thousands of years before Christ. In ancient Canaan, parents appeased the Phoenician god Molech by placing a screaming infant in the outstretched arms of a towering idol and burning the child alive. Archaeologists dig up child sacrifices from one end of the world to the other.
Back to Barbarism
By now, you are wondering why you have read so far in this article. This is horrific! Why would anyone want to read this—much less do this?
But wait. What if a society became so advanced that they could quietly eliminate unwanted infants? What if they knew the dying infant could feel searing pain but no one could hear its voice? Then, what if they justified murder by redefined what a baby is, despite the fact that ultrasound technology clearly and scientifically proves that a fetus is, in fact, a human baby? What if that culture praised the practice as humane to prevent the overpopulation of the planet and the proliferation of uncared for children? What if the sale of the dead baby’s DNA and organs could lead to scientific breakthroughs? Though such practices are proclaimed as progressive, is this not, in fact, regressive—falling from civilization to primitive barbarism?
No society gets away with murder forever. God gave the Canaanites four hundred years to repent before severely punishing them. Foreign invasion and colonial rule forced India and Nigeria to curtail their abuse of children. A bloody civil war rocked Tahiti, and venereal disease decimated their population. Though many additional factors contributed in each case, judgment fell on societies that murdered or abused their own children. Will it happen again? Will God use civil war, foreign rule, or even disease to judge such a wicked, child-killing society?
Is there no hope? The seeming impossibility of changing a culture of death also confronted missionaries like Henry Nott in Tahiti, Mary Slessor in Nigeria, and Amy Carmichael in India. What did they do?
- They spoke up on behalf of the helpless.
- They rescued the individual babies that they could.
- Even more importantly, they shared the gospel.
Only God can change a society, and God works one by one. God uses His people as they reach out in compassion to lift up mothers in need and to adopt orphans. God communicates through His people as they speak His truth in love. He offers forgiveness and healing through Jesus Christ. As individual hearts change through the power of the gospel, minds change to see life as God sees it—to value children as God values them. Our hope is in God and the gospel.