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I think I finally got what you’re trying to say here when I connected it with straw dogs, ceremonial objects that hold a place of reverence during the ceremony but are discarded afterward. The straw dogs are not inherently sacred or inherently worthless: their status comes from the context in which they are encountered.
More to the point, the straw dog’s contextual sacredness is not an arbitrary choice. You can decide to have the ceremony or not, of course, but once the ceremony has begun, it is sacred; and once it’s over, it’s not. Continuing the treat it as sacred afterward is as inappropriate as trampling it beneath your feet during the ceremony.
I didn’t know about this! Thank you very much. Yes, from the brief Wiki discussion it seems relevant.
I had a thought a while back that seems worth sharing. On another page, you mentioned that contemporary culture collapses sacred value into moral value.
I think the temptation to do this comes from the idea that sacred values are more important than any other values. But moral values also have that claim in our culture, and the only way to reconcile those two claims is that sacred values are moral values: specifically, the highest moral values.
But thinking about the origin of the word “sacred,” the idea that sacred values are more important than any other value is a misunderstanding. The word “sacred” comes from a root that literally meant “set apart.” So maybe the primacy of the sacred over the mundane comes not from the former being categorically higher values than the latter, but that simply from the fact that sacred contexts are set apart from mundane context; mundane concerns are supposed to be put aside as much as possible when in a sacred context.
The higher-lower ordering strikes me as the result of attempts to rationalize values. If someone has a heart attack in the middle of a ritual, obviously you need to stop the ritual and deal with it, as a matter of morality. Does that make the moral value of saving their life higher than the sacred value of the ritual? In the moment, perhaps. But you can also see it as the intrusion, or emergence, of the mundane into the sacred: literally, it’s an emergency.
(Of course, maybe the simpler approach is simply that treating morality as having ultimate value is also a mistake, and there just is no context-free ordering of types of values.)
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