Obama on the Bible: Protecting Isaac from Abraham

As president Obama, himself a Christian, continues to make decisions about stem cells and other matters that most Republican Christians disagree with him on, it is worth seeing again this speech about the Bible and American society given by Obama (HT The Rev’s Rumbles).


I can’t think of a better example of why “the Bible says” cannot be a basis for American law than the example Obama himself mentions of Abraham and Isaac. To be Biblical could mean to make laws stating that the police and child protection agencies are not to intervene if someone is seen sacrificing their child – God may be testing their faith, and to stop the test before it is done would be inappropriate, perhaps even irreligious. But to provide for a modern society in which children are protected, we must choose not to regard this component of the Biblical literature as inerrant, leave what today’s Abrahams may or may not have heard between them and God, and have laws that allow the authorities to intervene and protect our children before it is too late.

Obama rightly emphasizes that this doesn’t mean that one cannot discuss one’s religious values in the public square. But they must be translated into some form of reasoned discourse. This is important because, in the end, if we cannot make cases for our values involving actual data and concrete examples, are we not subtly admitting that our faith is irrelevant to real life and real situations?

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  • Bryan

    James: “This is important because, in the end, if we cannot make cases for our values involving actual data and concrete examples, are we not subtly admitting that our faith is irrelevant to real life and real situations?” Interesting. I took more or less the opposite meaning from that. If a person of faith makes a case for their values in secular language, involving reason, data and examples, then that act is what shows that the faith was irrelevant since the same conclusion could have been reached with or without that particular faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    Religious “commitment” can be so misguided. And in Christian circles, this misguidance is based on Scripture and the ‘theological intpretation”….Isaac was a person, a child, worthy of being considered, beyond being a “promise of God”. The religious zealots who are out to prove their “total commitment”, loyalty to God’s “call” and discipleship are bent on doing harm, at times, to prove their allegiance. There is not rationality here, only “religious zeal and commitment”.Damn all of this world, these are out to sacrifice and cause others to sacrifice because of thier commitment to Scripture, etc…I have had it with the zealous zealots…I like Obama’s speech and heartedly agree with it! We need reason in an age of “non” reason, “no reason”, and ir-reason…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I can see your point. It is also an interesting aspect of this issue that our values are often precisely those things that it is particularly hard to make a reasoned case for. But that’s a key to democracy: figuring out what should be universally legislated, and what should be left to individuals, families and other smaller communities to decide for themselves.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    On the other hand, the danger of “faith based” intiatives that intrude upon another’s life, in the name of religion, but really for the profit of the organization is the epitome of abuse of religious identity…And it doesn’t matter where one turns in regards to “reason”, the religious will define it in their own terms (using whichever or whatever philosophical measures) to serve their own interests…that is palatable, as long as one is informed up front!Do you think Sarah was aware of what Abraham was about to do? And if so, what do you think she would have done?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03533014237382788471 Luke Zedwick

    The scary part in my mind is when all the world’s population manufactures their own sense of deity based on their own universal value: selfishness. For every crackpot who circumcises his 12-year-old son because of the Bible, there are millions of crimes committed every day at the altar of self. Talk about misinterpretation.It also seems like the height of personal arrogance to conclude that watching Oprah and reading Deepak will give you better insight than listening to Jesus or Saul of Tarsus. after thousands of years and millions of people adding to and debating their insight, it seems more valid than television. Jesus could still be wrong, but I wouldn’t be quick to declare it.

  • Anonymous

    I wanted to point out on the Scripture where Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac. We must never forget that God sacrificed his only Son Jesus Christ our Lord to save us. With this sacrifice many peolpe who have been healed and see the Truth have been saved and guided by the Holy Spirit to lead a Holy Life. God sacrificed His only Son to save all His children and no one else Loves us like God does. Politicws and laws are just to keep the world in order, but if we follow the Law of God which is Love for one another, this will bring unity , love and respect in the world. But this requires that we Love God with all our heart.God Bless.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thank you for your comment. The early Christians used the Abraham-Isaac story to try to make sense of the death of Jesus. It isn't clear that this use of the story in Christian theology makes it any less problematic when considered on its own terms, as a story of a father nearly killing his son because he felt called by God to do so, or heard a voice, or whatever we are supposed to understand to have occurred.