For both believers and nonbelievers, the pageantry of religion can sometimes feel like a whole lot of extraneous fuss. The stained glass, the snakes, the evocation of languages long dead — up, down, up, down, up again, down again. Shouldn’t you just be able to close your eyes and stand alone on a mountaintop wearing a simple shift to commune with the spirits? Even that, though, is a kind of ritual. The externalization of faith, whatever form it takes, is unavoidable. But it is also meaningful to and necessary for religion. All religions share a common attempt to communicate something that is, by all accounts, inexpressible: belief. Religion itself isn’t belief but razzamattazz, and all the glorious rituals and songs and handicrafts are in the service of communication, and thus, community. Years ago, during my youthful days in theater school, a teacher summed up this process quite nicely. “But Stefany,”… More…

I watch an 18-month-old girl hold tight to her father’s hand as she waddles over to the decapitated goat. Blood, oozing from its neck, has coagulated; flies land furiously on the bright red stump where the head once was. The little girl stops to stare at the carcass a few inches away from her feet. I’m transfixed by her little white shoes, the blood, and the motionless, hairy carcass. Her father is busy on a cell phone, talking distractedly while the little girl swerves slightly, catching her balance.

 

*Warning: This slideshow contains graphic images.

It’s a busy sacrifice day at Ganesh’s Surjya Binayak temple in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Barefooted women in red saris, young men and women in jeans checking their cell phones for messages, and children in their Sunday best all line up… More…