Aztec civilizations included cities with pyramids that still amaze tourists. They had sophisticated aqueducts, markets, educational systems, taxation systems, and written communication. Aztecs studied astronomy, history, religion, music, dance, politics, writing, administration, poetry, and rhetoric. The Nahuatl language of the Aztecs is still spoken by 1.6 million people. Aztecs used a calendar with 365 days and had a base 20 number system. The Aztec religion included detailed beliefs about afterlife with levels of an underworld and sky world and stories of the destruction of humanity by flood and other natural disasters.

Still, Aztec civilization had a dark side. Children could be punished by having to sleep on mud or to breathe burning chili peppers. People could be executed for being drunk, and lower class people could be executed for wearing cotton which was reserved for upper class people. Most shocking of all, Aztecs made daily human sacrifices by cutting out hearts hoping to ensure that the sun would continue to come up.

It’s easy to see the differences from how we do things, and some people might not approve of certain Aztec beliefs and practices. What might be harder to see is the dark side of our own nation and what people 500 years in the future will say about how we treat ourselves, others, and the world.

Humanists encourage people to go beyond easy answers of faith, authority, and tradition. We aim to consider the facts, options, consequences, and feelings of those affected what we do. What common assumptions don’t hold up to careful thought and evidence checking? Who or what is hurt by common practices? How could things be more fair? In what ways could universal human rights be put into practice? The answers are not always easy, but the questions are worth considering.

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