On sacrificing your children

I wrote a whole ago about an article by a secular woman dating an evangelical man, and how that man as an evangelical believes he must love and serve God before even his serious girlfriend. In evangelical and fundamentalist circles, this same idea applies even to parents’ love for their children. One must always love God more than one’s own children, or else those children become an idol.

One passage of the Bible was held up to us growing up as an absolute validation of this idea: the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac. Basically, God tells Abraham to kill his only son as a sacrifice in order to see if Abraham really truly loves God, and when Abraham is about to do so, God is satisfied that Abraham truly loves him and calls the whole thing off.

Genesis 22: 1-18

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

I only just noticed, on this read through, that it says God was testing Abraham to see if Abraham “feared” him, not to see if he “loved” him. This is a total tangent, but there’s a verse in the Old Testament that says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” I wonder whether our conception of needing to “love” God rather than to “fear” God is new, and if so, when it developed. Because like I said, this passage was always held up to me as a test of whether Abraham loved God more than anything else, not of whether Abraham feared God.

Now this passage is obviously rather extreme. Evangelical parents today aren’t put through this sort of test. The moral is still there, though – the idea that parents are to love God more than their children, and to put God first, before their children.

But then there are the stories of Christian martyrdom evangelicals read from organizations like Voice of the Martyrs. I remember hearing one growing up about a man who was forced to watch his son tortured in front of him. The torture would stop if the man verbally denied Christ, but of course, being a good, stalwart Christian, the man did not relent, and his son was ultimately killed before his eyes. Here’s another example from another martyrdom story:

Back in the 1920s and 30s, Western missionaries brought the gospel to Korea. The people received it with joy and, by God’s grace, Biblical faith spread like fire. The news of their zeal spread to China, and Chinese believers came to visit and learn from them. But everything changed when the Communists took control. By the 1950s, thousands had been killed. Torturous persecution had forced others into hiding.

Near the village of Gok San, a group of 24 adults and 4 children lived underground in hand-dug tunnels. They were discovered when communist workers built a road near their tunnels. The Christians were pulled out, bound and led before a village crowd for a public “trial” and execution.

A guard told them to deny their faith in Jesus “or die.” But they refused. A communist officer then ordered the guards to seize the four children and prepare them for hanging. The frightened children clung to their parents, but the heartbroken parents comforted them with the tender assurance that “we will see you soon in heaven.”

With ropes tied around the children’s small necks, the officer again promised freedom if only the parents would deny Christ. None were willing to betray their Lord. The children were hanged.

Now I don’t know if these incidences really happened, and if they did, this sort of persecution of people for their religious views should be horrifying to all regardless of belief. My point here is simply to illustrate the insistence that God comes even before one’s own children. My parents read martyrdom stories like those above to us to illustrate a point: God must come before all else. And when they read these stories, they hoped that they too would have the courage to act as these stalwart believers if they ever found themselves in this situation.

For evangelicals, religion matters more than anything else. And if it doesn’t, if an evangelical seems to care more for his cars or career than his faith, that’s seen as gravely concerning. Growing up an evangelical, I used to worry if I was making my possessions or hobbies “idols,” loving them more than I loved God. I even knew a girl who gave away almost all of her possessions, leaving only a few outfits for herself, in an effort to make sure that she wasn’t putting anything before God. It’s something that’s drummed into you as an evangelical: if you love anything, whether it’s fashion or new house or spouse or children, more than you love God, you are living in sin by putting an idol before God.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • amavra

    I was always concerned because I was fully aware that I loved my parents and even most of my friends and family more than I loved God. I was certain that I would have done anything to save them from pain or death, no matter what God or the Bible said. Those stories always make me depressed, but also nauseous because they are told to kids as good and godly stories.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    I always took this for a really poor-taste practical joke on God’s part. He’d jump out at the last second and laugh at Abraham and tell him he should have seen the look on his face.

    I grew up with these stories, too. In fact, one of the main reasons you weren’t supposed to date non-Christians (besides that they would want sex and lead you into sin) was that they didn’t really love you because real love was impossible unless you loved God most of all. Trying to save your children in your martyr scenarios would be evidence you didn’t love them.

    • Alverant

      I thought in the story an angel stopped the murder, not God. God was perfectly willing to let it happen and accept the sacrifice.

      • Contrarian

        Evangelicals believe angels act only by God’s command.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      I interpreted the story in the same way. I could see God telling Abraham: “You should have seen the look on your face. I haven’t laughed so hard since I drowned all those people in the flood.”

    • seditiosus

      I interpreted it a bit differently. I didn’t think it was a practical joke, I thought it was god on a power trip, making Abe sacrifice his son just because he could and to bully Abe. It really put me off christianity, so I guess it was at least educational.

  • http://starisland.co.uk Sheila Crosby

    “Name a moral action or moral sentiment uttered by a believer, that couldn’t be taken or uttered by me as a non-believer. Something that only a believer, a person of faith could do, that I couldn’t emulate since I don’t have any belief in God. So far, no one has been able to suggest anything under that heading.

    Now think of a wicked thing said or an evil thing done by someone only because they thought God was telling them to do it. Now you’ve already thought of one haven’t you? Of course you have. And now you’ve thought of another, and another. I rest my case.”
    —Christopher Hitchens

    • MadGastronomer

      It’s a false equivalency. The second part should be, “Now think of an evil thing that has been done in the name of religion that could not also have been done by atheists, in the name of some cause that admits to no god, or just for their own satisfaction, aggrandizement, or power. You can’t, can you?”

      Hitchens’ version is dishonest.

      • Gordon

        Please explain why you think it is a false equivalency? Because I don’t see it.

        Hitch’s challenge was never (and probably will never be) successfully answered.

      • http://kagerato.net kagerato

        It’s not dishonest; you’ve simply misunderstood the point. Hitchen’s goal there was to show that religion can easily lead people to do evil, not that religion is the only source of evil. Atheism is not comparable. It’s not really even comprehensible to say you did something out of non-belief, whether it be in gods or anything else. To try to justify an act in the negative like that might very well be used as evidence of mental illness. Among the sane, there is always an actual reason and it usually involves some kind of personal gain.

        If anything is wrong with Hitchen’s remarks, it’s merely that they’re too narrowly focused. Any kind of authoritarian ideology will cause the problems we see with religion. Voltaire put it this way:

        “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

      • anne mariehovgaard

        Sorry, I can’t think of any examples of atheists being willing to sacrifice their children because they love something imaginary more, and insisting that this is the good, moral thing to do. Killing their children for various petty, selfish reasons, sure, I guess people of any or no faith are capable of that. But doing it because you think refusing would be sinful means that even otherwise good people may end up doing it.

    • Judy L.

      “Now think of a wicked thing said or an evil thing done by someone only because they thought God was telling them to do it.”

      Hitchens isn’t saying that an atheist couldn’t say or do a wicked thing, but rather than they would never say or do an evil thing and justify it by claiming that God was telling them to do it. The point here is that everyone’s capable of saying and doing horrible things, but that only religious people will use their religion as a reason or be motivated by their religion to say or do horrible things. The logical summation of this is expressed beautifully in Steven Weinberg’s famous quote:

      “With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion”

      • KG

        Not so: other ideologies can have the same effect, including atheistic ones like some variants of Marxism, and non-religious ones such as xenophobic nationalisms. These ideologies have their poisonous effects because of their resemblances to intolerant religious ideologies, but they are not religions.

  • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com/ Slow Learner

    Wow…it’s just such a topsy-turvy world.

    This is why I love reading your blog Libby Anne; this is an ethics so reversed from everything I understand that I need a guide who has lived it.
    Without that perspective, I just recoil in horror, which whether justified or not, is hardly useful.

  • http://mamamara.wordpress.com Mara

    Huh, that’s interesting. I seem to recall that I was taught as a wee one that threat of death was the one time when Jews *are* allowed to renounce our religion. Or maybe it was the threat of someone else’s death? Are there any other Jews here who remember this? I might have to Google later to confirm or deny this.

    It would make sense, though, since I know that you’re allowed to eat non-kosher food if it’s necessary to stay alive and you’re allowed to drive on Shabbat if it’s necessary to get to the hospital and so on and so forth.

    • Judy L.

      From what I know of Judaism, having not been raised Jewish, is that it’s more of a mind-your-own-business kind of religion than most; it’s non-prosthelytizing and allows for situational flexibility in the rules. Also, given the long history of forced conversion of Jews, there has to have been the acceptance that you’re allowed to publically denounce your faith to preserve your life, because what matters is that you know the truth in your heart (generations of Jews practiced in secret, sometimes to the point that their descendents preserve some Jewish rituals that they regard as simply ‘family traditions’ even though they themselves don’t identify as Jewish or are even aware of their ancestors’ religion).

    • anat

      The Talmudists differentiated between normal times and times of heightened persecution (such as the days of Antiochus or the time around the rebellions against Rome). In normal times, one may break most laws to save a life, because the law was given to live by, not to die for. The exceptions are the big 3: idolatry, incest (though some interpretations include all sexual immoralities) and murder – these are ‘be killed and not transgress’. OTOH in times of heightened persecution one goes and gets killed to avoid the smallest transgression (especially if one is required to do so in public) – I think because they all become proxies for idolatry.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    The most disgraceful thing about this bit of doctrine is that God doesn’t NEED our love nearly as much as our children do, for some reasons that are so obvious I feel stupid even listing them. When your kids are hungry and in need of protection and guidance, what could any God possibly need that can’t at least wait till the kids are fed and in bed?

    This is not the first time I’ve wondered what sort of family environment leads to such dysfunctinal authoritarian attitudes. Who is these people’s role-model — Muammar Khadaffi?

    As for that story of parents letting their kids hang rather than renounce their faith, I’ll just add, in fairness, that the parents may have had reason not to trust any promises made by such brutal thugs; and may have figured that their best option was to let their kids’ suffering end sooner rather than later.

  • Who Knows?

    My favorite version of the story.Abraham and Ivan

  • Dhorvath, OM

    Kierkegard anyone?

    • Judy L.

      I prefer no fear and no trembling, thank you. ;)

      Slogging through that in university hurt my brain.

  • bcoppola

    …I used to worry if I was making my possessions or hobbies “idols,” loving them more than I loved God.

    I know it’s a minor sidebar to your main point, but this nicely explained to me what struck me as the odd tendency of Evangelicals to “dedicate” their recreational activities and hobbies to Jesus; “Bikers/Woodworkers/Surfers/Whatevers for the Lord”. I thought it was mostly about “witnessing” but also had the vague suspicion it had something to do with the inability to enjoy something for it’s own sake without slapping a Christian justification on it. Guess it goes for those “Not Of This World” clothes ads that pop up on FTB too…being fashionable (if that applies to those togs) is OK if it’s for the Lord.

  • Alverant

    Am I the only one who sees this as an abusive relationship?

    • dianne

      Abraham and Isaac’s or Abraham and God’s? Either way, you’re right, the relationship is abusive.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

        Both.

  • dianne

    I’ve read several modern interpretations of this scene which are essentially attempts to make it, well, more acceptable to modern values.

    One is that Abraham failed: he was supposed to tell god no. This view is somewhat supported by a writing in Jewish tradition but not in the Torah in which a group of rabbis is arguing over whether or not an oven is kosher. One rabbi asks god to perform various miracles if his view is correct. These miracles are all performed. The other rabbis are unconvinced and argue that it’s none of god’s business to tell them whether the oven is kosher or not: that his only role was to give the laws, not to interpret them. God laughs and says, “My children have defeated me!” That sounds like, ultimately, not obeying was the right answer, maybe because it indicated that people were finally growing up.

    However, this interpretation doesn’t explain the second angel’s statement, which rewards Abraham for being willing to sacrifice his son.

    Another view is that Abraham was testing god. This was a time period where child sacrifices weren’t all that uncommon so the theory goes that Abraham wanted to see if this god that had attached himself to Abraham’s people was really worth worshiping by seeing if the demand for a child sacrifice would be carried through or not. If it were, then they would turn from worship of yaweh as he was just another capricious murdering deity. That interpretation makes Abraham look kind of bad in that he was willing to sacrifice his kid for the “cause” and also makes the reward a little awkward, but I don’t think actually contradicts the described events.

    Wondering if you’d heard either interpretation before and how you think the fundamentalist community would react to either interpretation?

    • anne mariehovgaard

      To me, it seems like the real message of the story is “we’re not going to do this anymore”. Yes God is sadistic, yes you should obey him like a mindless automaton – but at least we won’t have to sacrifice our children. If the whole concept was new to Abraham, he’d be a lot more shocked.

    • anat

      The Midrash reads this chapter as taking place shortly before the next one, where Sarah dies at 127. This makes Isaac a 37 year old man who gave his consent to being sacrificed.

      A modern take by Yehuda Amichai, an Israeli poet who was raised Orthodox but became secular in his teens, (and someone else’s take on Amichai) is here

      Oooh! I found Akedah which has many views of this story from different times in history.

      The Jewish thinker who bit the most bullets over God vs morality was Yeshayahu Leibowitz who believed that religious duty is to put aside moral considerations before obedience to God – but OTOH argued for very strict moral values when God isn’t around to give commands. Thus the contrast between his view that it was the duty of the early Israelites to commit genocide because they were commanded to do so vs his campaign to encourage modern Israelis to disobey orders to serve in the Occupied Territories.

  • jose

    The story of God testing Abraham is strange anyway. Why would an omniscient God need to test anything? Apart from that, this fear testing is coherent with the Egypt story you wrote recently, where God plans everything, including the Pharaoh’s negative, so he can torture a whole nation so Moses would have some horror stories to tell children at dinner so the children would fear God.

    About the last bit, the one on idols… I don’t know if this is its intended purpose, but it’s a very convenient idea if you want to convince everyone else around you that they shouldn’t compete with you for the access to resources and wealth. This way you’re erasing not only the populace’s chances for decent wealth, but the will to get it as well!

    • Gordon

      When the story plays out again, with a daughter, there is no last minute reprieve.
      Judges 11:29-40

      • anat

        But, but … in that case it was the father’s own idea! That surely must be why God didn’t intervene. Nothing about the gender of the child, whatever makes you think so? /sarcasm

      • http://trepto.myopenid.com trepto

        I’ve seen a few people choose to interpret this as Jephthah dedicating his daughter to a life of service, rather than actually killing her. I don’t buy it for a second, but there are people who would rather believe that than believe that God would actually have someone kill their child just to keep a promise.

  • http://alisoncummins.com Alison Cummins

    “Evangelical parents today aren’t put through this sort of test.”

    Aren’t they?

    There’s a lot of faith healing in the evangelical movement. If your child is successfully medically treated it’s “demonic healing” and “not real.” Only healing through prayer is “real.” Succumbing and getting real medical treatment for a child who needs it is demonstrating lack of faith that god will step in and heal the child at the last minute.

    Sounds an awful lot like Abraham and Isaac to me.

    • Gordon

      There is no excuse for faith healing!

    • eric

      I thought that too. Sects who reject modern medicine and believe they should only pray to help their child get better are, in essence, being put to an equally extreme test. And some kids do get sacrificed/die.

      Admittedly, it is impossible to know what percent of these sect’s parents sneak antibiotics to their kids, because the ones that ‘fail the test’ (I would frankly consider it passing) don’t make the evening news.

      ***

      Didn’t some mainstream theologian come up with an all new category of moral acts to try and address this issue? Aquinas or someone? There’s bad acts and good acts…but then there are acts that are really really good but which aren’t bad if you refuse to do them. Asserting a belief in God when you know it will lead to your torture or death is the latter: a really really good act, but not something God demands or expects us to do.

  • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    I usually refuse to engage in moral dilemma discussions, trolley style, because I think they serve nothing more than better than thou intellectual musturbation (“I would curl up in a ball and cry” never comes up as an answer but seems to be a frequent reaction).
    I don’t suppose to know what I would do in an extreme situation.
    But there’s one thing I think I know:
    If you have my children, you can have everything, but be prepared for everything if you mess with my children.

  • http://www.withinhismind.com WithinThisMind

    I dated a Christian guy once, a while back. We were watching some film, I forget which, and talk of the events in the film led to the discussion of the Abraham/Isaac myth. The guy spoke of how much he admired Abraham for being willing to make that sacrifice.

    I grabbed my things, dumped him, and left.

    • Gordon

      I hope you didn’t turn your back on him as you left o_0

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    About those martyrdom stories…on a purely practical level, I’ve never been at all convinced that a renunciation of God/Jesus/whatever would actually stop a murder-torture in progress even if the option was offered. It seems that the sort of people who would DO that sort of thing would do it regardless, and getting you to renounce something meaningful or sacred to you is just another way of torturing you before going in for the kill. Like those Nazis in the incident in the book _Schindler’s List_ who had the Jews spit on the Torah; the refusal to spit (the only refusal was made by a secular gangster, not a religious Jew) made no difference except possibly in who got shot first. Murder/torturers are unreliable.

    • Ysanne

      Then again, it’s certainly worth a try… And IMO there are a couple of good arguments:
      * A god that takes forced “denials”, made to save a life, seriously and counts them as a sin is not a god worth worshipping.
      * Who is helped by “standing up for god”? Definitely not god, what effect could a “denial” possibly have on him?
      In contrast, the believer who sticks to the belief does so in order to be “good” by god’s standards, which leads to rewards in the afterlife. Pretty selfish to sacrifice one’s children, just to avoid the possibility of god’s jealousy.

      • carlie

        Well, supposedly it is a huge witness to the evil people doing the torturing, and they will renounce their evilness and become saved on the spot after seeing how much people love God and what they will sacrifice for him.

        Except that doesn’t ever happen, so then they say it’s because it serves as such an inspirational story to others, assuming the story ever gets out in the first place.

  • dj pomegranate

    I grew up conservative evangelical and I remember being scared to death that I wouldn’t have the strength, words, or ability, when inevitable persecution came, to stay true to my faith. I was worried that I would cave too easily and quickly. I would rehearse situations so that I was sure I’d have the right answer right away and not have to think about it and thus waver in my conviction. Needless to say, it’s terrible that a child (I was probably 5) should be worried about martyrdom! Thanks for shedding light on all of this, Libby Anne.

    • http://potatoesarenotvegetables.blogspot.com Ashton

      I too was terrified of how I react in the face of persecution. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to “stand up for Jesus.” I could barely manage to go through the routines when I was forced to let alone when i would have a choice or be forced not to be religious. I could only hope that I would be able to get older and more “mature” before the end times came. I kind of knew that I would never become that though. I knew that I would cave to fear and then end up in hell for it.

  • Gabbeh

    Because like I said, this passage was always held up to me as a test of whether God loved God

    I think that’s supposed to read “whether Abraham loved God”.

    On the subject of the content, I remember hearing this story too growing up as a Catholic. The idea that faith had to to come before EVERYTHING was beaten into our heads as children to by our teachers and church. It took me a really long time to disentangle how screwed up that was.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    Back when it mattered to me, “Put God first” contained the implicit assumption that among God’s highest priorities for us was looking after our spouse and children (which is, after all, the theme of a lot of teaching within the evangelical fold). Thus, it wasn’t a case of competing priorities so much as that putting God first was the thing that ordered all one’s other moral priorities. So the question didn’t even arise, except theoretically — and conveniently, God just didn’t do things like the Abraham/Isaac story any more.

    • ScottInOH

      This sounds like how it was presented to me, too. If you love God, all your other loves will fall into place: they will be selfless, forgiving, and so on. And if you don’t love God, you other loves won’t fall into place, because humans are incapable of such things on their own.

      Re-reading the actual stories, though, whether it’s Abraham/Isaac, Job, Moses/Pharaoh, or whatever, is pretty stomach-turning, to say the least.

      And, of course, taking the stories seriously opens the door wide to people with abusive personalities or serious mental disorders using God as an excuse to do horrible things. In my upbringing, we were taught to test any calling we thought was from God by asking if it was a loving act. We meant that in the sense of loving the people around us, but if all you’re worried about is loving God, you can do some pretty sick stuff pretty quickly.

    • carlie

      That’s not how it was ever presented to me – the church I grew up in loved to use the “JOY” acronym: Joy is putting Jesus first, others second, and yourself third. There was a very clear hierarchy that God came BEFORE family. And you yourself? You’re really not worth anything. It took me years even after I became an atheist to work free of all that training to be a doormat, and it’s still not all gone.

  • nm

    The Jewish take on this story is that Isaac was a willing participant — that he agreed to sacrifice himself for his religion, if you will. This interpretation became the basis for a number of actual historically attested episodes of communal self-slaughter in the face of physical threats. If I’m not mistaken, one of the exceptions to the general rule that Jews can break any (religious) law to save a life is that it’s forbidden to break the law against idolatry.

    • Judy L.

      How is that explained, exactly? There’s never any mention of Isaac knowing what his father had planned right up until he bound Isaac and laid him out to kill him.

      And the non-consenting sacrificing still lives on today in the form of religiously-motivated genital cutting of baby boys by Jewish and Muslim parents.

      • http://potatoesarenotvegetables.blogspot.com Ashton

        I was told while growing up in a conservative Christian church that Isaac could have resisted, but didn’t. He obeyed his father. Abraham was very old, according to the Bible, and Isaac was said to be a young man (at least as it was told to me – not sure what the bible says about his age at this time). The logic was that Isaac was strong and could have easily overpowered his father and run away.

      • anat

        The Midrash has this chapter taking place shortly before Sarah’s death at 127. This makes Isaac 37. A grown man who could figure things out. he does question his father about the animal to be sacrificed. So this non-naive Isaac sees through his father’s avoidant reply.

      • nm

        Yes, what Anat says. The Biblical text itself is only the beginning of how Jews understand scripture. There are a lot of collections of explanatory/expansive stories based on Biblical texts, discussions of how laws are to be put into practice, a whole host of authoritative works that have a lot more influence on Jewish beliefs than the equivalent sorts of Christian writings have on Christian beliefs.

  • http://skjaere.livejournal.com/ Skjaere

    I can’t read about this Bible story without thinking of Leonard Cohen’s 1969 song, “The Story of Isaac”. If you haven’t heard it, I highly recommend checking it out.

    You who build these altars now
    to sacrifice these children,
    you must not do it anymore.
    A scheme is not a vision
    and you never have been tempted
    by a demon or a god.
    You who stand above them now,
    your hatchets blunt and bloody,
    you were not there before,
    when I lay upon a mountain
    and my father’s hand was trembling
    with the beauty of the word.

  • Judy L.

    I love the claim made by bible believers that God is testing Abaham’s love or faith, when it’s quite explicit that what is being tested, and what is ultimately rewarded, is FEAR. (I talk about the bible in the present tense, as one does with other literary works.) And we know from other parts of the bible (hello, Job) how God tests a perso’ns love for him, so even if we didn’t have the explicit words saying so, it’s pretty obvious that God isn’t testing and rewarding Abrahams love.

    Why do bible believers, particularly literalists, get to pick and choose which parts of the bible they get to re-write? Seriously…if you get to change fear into faith, then why not re-write Leviticus 18:22 to “Thou shalt not lie with children or non-consenting adults, as with consenting adults: it is abomination.” See? So much better.

    • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

      I’d buy a copy of the July L Version, is all I’m saying.

  • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

    Libby-Anne, have you seen all the tweets under the #ToMyUnbornChild all saying “If you’re gay, I’ll kill you” (or similar)?

    Suffice it to say, this stuff has been on my mind today too. I can’t imagine anyone taking an approach to parenting where they put their beliefs (particularly abstract, religious or bigoted ones) above the love of their children. It just… doesn’t make sense to me.

  • sumdum

    Perhaps a proper response from Abraham would’ve been “who are you who dares to impersonate my god? The lord is a just lord, you are not. Begone satan!”
    But you know, that would’ve been bordering on sanity, so nope. Can’t have any of that in your religious texts.

  • http://imp-of-the-perverse.blogspot.com/ mouthyb

    I grew up with this. It was sort of my mother’s way to comfort herself about resenting my brother and I for being part of what prevented her from being able to have a life of her own (she couldn’t blame my father or the religion, of course; husbands are the representatives of ghod.)

    It’s the religious trickle down theory; hopefully, some love will trickle down from a parent’s fevered assurances to ghod that they love him more, they promise, please don’t smite them.

    As in economics, trickle down love doesn’t work. The fear of ghod is handy, however, to justify all kinds of other things done to children. I’m just glad I didn’t get hung or knifed to prove the point to ghod.

  • Yukimi

    I remember my boyfriend told me an example of people putting their faith before everything else. It was about an almost decimated Spanish mission/conquerors in an impossible situation in the Caribbean Islands who were offered a ride by a pirate ship who found them out of pity. The few survivors all refused except the former cook because the pirates were Protestants and he ditched them/betrayed them at the first opportunity. Obviously all of them except the cook died. I’m all for maintaining ones convictions (although religion doesn’t make sense to me) but couldn’t they have put up with being on the same boat with Protestants for a few weeks to survive? It sounds completely silly to me.

  • ismenia

    Regarding persecutions, this reminded me of the letters of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan regarding Christians:

    “For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for executio; for whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubborness and unshakeable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.”

    This is chilling stuff, particularly when you compare it to the warm and caring letters Pliny writes to friends and family. He goes on to say that the Christians do not actually get up to much beyond having meetings where they sing hymns and vow not to do bad things. The Emperor confirms that Pliny’s approach is the right one and says not to actively seek out Christians and to let off anyone who repents.

    When I first read this as a Christian teenager I admired the courage of those Christians and wondered if I would be that brave. In a way I still admire that courage in the face of such horrific persecution but it seems so tragic to me now that those people threw their lives away because they genuinely believed that Jesus was God and that they would go to Heaven. It seems such a terrible waste.

  • http://trepto.myopenid.com trepto

    It’s telling that Abraham never actually tells his servants or Isaac what they’re there to do; to kill his son. If his faith was absolute, wouldn’t he tell the whole truth and trust that as God’s plan, God would make sure it happened?

    I see two explanations: either he knows his son’s and servants’ faith isn’t as strong as his (and as his son and servants, wouldn’t that be a reflection on his faith?) and *doesn’t* believe that God will or can intercede to overcome their disbelief, or he doesn’t really believe that God would ask him to go through with it and is “playing along” waiting for the “gotcha!” moment.


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