Sacred Cows

We all have our sacred cows, those beliefs that we simply cannot allow to be challenged – most often for reasons we haven’t examined. Often, they are spiritual or religious beliefs, but they also exists in other areas of life. One rather benign example is that brand of car you drive. When I was a child I was aware of General Motors, Chrysler, Volkswagon, Ford, and American Motors. My family drove General Motors cars, period. To buy a Ford product would have been anathema, no discussion necessary. Why? In the beginning it was because my father worked for a division of General Motors, but after he left that job I don’t think any of us had the first idea why the rule persisted, but it did. To challenge the rule was to be looked at as if one had just proposed chopping off the neighbors’ heads while they slept.

To be sure, that’s a fairly benign example of a sacred cow. At their heart, sacred cows create an irrational culture of fear. Last week I shared a picture on Facebook that tipped someone’s sacred cow. He announced that he couldn’t respect a Bishop who was pro-choice and went on quite a rant. The funny thing about the two most prominent sacred cows in conservative Christian religious circles today – abortion and sexual orientation – is that Jesus never talked about either of them. Somewhere along the way the institution of Church made them sacred cows and once they achieved that status nobody dared question them – except people opposed to institutional religion like me, of course.

Another sacred cow to many Christians is unquestioning support of the nation of Israel. In the minds of these people, Israel can do no wrong and any suggestion that the United States change its policy toward Israel is met with the kind of resistance you might expect if the town drunk told you he wasn’t to date your little sister – and the town drunk happened to be your father. Sacred cows often elicit responses out of proportion to the action which threatens the cow. In psychological terms, when someone pushes against our sacred cows we get “triggered” and respond not just to what has been said or done, but we also respond from past perceived offenses and so the proportion of our response increases exponentially, leaving the cow tipper scratching their head and wondering where all of that came from.

You see, sacred cows mask areas in our life that need our attention and our growth. We try to mark them off as sacred in the hopes of avoiding them, but much like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, they “won’t be ignored.” What’s more, the consequences of trying to ignore them are pretty much what happened in that movie. So, if you don’t want to find the spiritual equivalent of the family bunny boiling on the stove of your life you would be well served by identifying your sacred cows and working on them post haste.

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