Lay your burden down, God is not a jerk

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

I was reminded of that passage from Matthew’s Gospel when watching the video below (via Joe Jervis). It’s part of an interview with David Blankenhorn, who founded the National Fatherhood Initiative back in the 1990s, but may be most famous for his role as an expert witness in support of California’s Proposition 8, the law banning same-sex marriage (John C. Reilly played Blankenhorn in the all-star staged reading of 8, Dustin Lance Black’s play based on the court transcripts.)

Blankenhorn has since changed his mind and he now supports marriage equality. In this video he responds to a question about the “spiritual or religious dimension” of that change:

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Here’s my rough transcript of what Blankenhorn says there:

You ask if there was any spiritual or religious dimension. I’m a Christian and I grew up in the church and I think of myself as trying to live, you know, a Christian life. For me, I’m not saying this would happen to everybody, but for me, when I was able to change on this issue, it felt like a burden had been lifted. … It just felt like I had been carrying around a weight, and it felt like the weight was just not there, you know? And I think it was because I had, I felt that at some level, I was, you know, pointing the finger of condemnation at other people, and I was saying … “Bad!” … these people, “Bad!” … “Oh, sin! Wrong!” Based on, you know, who they are. And when, from a spiritual point of view, just my own spiritual life, when I felt that I was no longer doing that? I felt better.

This struck me as remarkably similar to what Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said about her own sense of relief when she allowed herself to stop opposing marriage equality:

[Gregoire] came into office a supporter of gay rights, but not marriage. “And it’s probably the biggest occasion in which my religion, something that I hold very dear, stood in the way of me doing what I thought was right,” she says.

Gregoire is Catholic. In 2011 she changed her position on marriage. As a lawyer she kept coming back to the concept of separate but equal. But it didn’t sit well with her. It was at Thanksgiving with her husband and daughters that she told her family she would not only come out in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, but she would lead the effort to pass the legislation.

“It resulted in all of us hugging each other and crying,” she says. “I look back on it, it was an emotional moment for me.”

What Blankenhorn describes as a great weight or great burden, Gregoire identifies more precisely as the experience of allowing religion to stand in the way of doing what you believe is right.

That burden, that discomfiting sense that religion and goodness are at odds, is something I’ve seen dozens of Christians wrestling with when it comes to the simple justice of marriage equality. Their instinct, their conscience, their sense of fairness and rightness all compel them to support equality, but religion stands in the way. Religion says there’s a rule, a text, a verse, a passage, some words on a page somewhere — and that those words trump your conscience, your sense of fairness, your desire to be kind, and just, and loving to your neighbors.

If you let that happen, it won’t sit well with you. You will feel like you’re carrying around a weight.

And unlike Blankenhorn, I am saying that this will happen for everybody: If you let it go, set it down, and stop allowing religiosity or rules to overrule what you know is right, you will feel the burden lift. You will feel that immense relief when suddenly that weight is just not there.

In a recent post, Rachel Held Evans discussed “The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart,” asking:

What makes the church any different from a cult if it demands we sacrifice our conscience in exchange for unquestioned allegiance to authority?  What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice?

A while back I wrote about similar questions in a post called “Maybe God is a better person than you think.” That post included my second-hand garbling of Pascal’s idea that “Christianity is bound to be despised unless it seems like something that a good person would wish to be true.”

Or, to put it more directly, if Christianity is something that a good person would not wish to be true, then Christianity seems despicable.

That, I think, is the burden that Blankenhorn describes. It’s the fear that his faith might be something despicable. That it might even be despicable to him — something that he, at his best, could not in good conscience wish to be true. That’s the same fear that Gov. Gregoire and Rachel describe.

Another way of describing it would be to say it’s the fear that God is a jerk.

So listen carefully: God is not a jerk. God does not want you to be a jerk. So if you ever feel like God’s will, or God’s commands, or God’s rules are compelling you to act like a jerk — to betray your conscience, to be unloving, unjust, unkind, unfair — then that’s not God.

Get out from under that weight.

It hurts down here on Earth, Lord
It can happen here: Trumpism, Franklin Graham, and respectable white evangelicalism
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Pray that you will be among those 'left behind'
  • Ben English

    I know exactly what you’re talking about, Fred. It was that burden–born from the repetition of the ‘literal and inerrant’ hermenuitic throughout my childhood, that eventually led me to stop going to church. I found it easier to be a decent human being as I distanced myself from the idea that God is an asshole, and to be good you have to be an asshole like Him.

    It’s difficult task to let go of that when you’ve had it hammered into your head all your life.

  • Carl

    I tend to agree that God is not a jerk, and when you think God wants to violate conscience, you’ve misunderstood, but the contrarian in me cannot help but object, “Tell that to Isaac and Abraham on the summit of Mt. Moriah.”

    Yes, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    But Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

  • Dan Hetrick

    Thank you for another post that so eloquently says what I’ve been thinking all along.

  • reynard61

    It would help me to think of God as less of a jerk if He could/would somehow get it through the thick skulls of some of His more eager (and obnoxious) fanboys that *they* don’t have to be jerks for Him. Until then; yeah, I’m going to be of the not-so-humble opinion that God’s a jerk.

  • Andrew Hall

     What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him?

    The God of Job.

  • Carstonio

    Pascal’s idea assumes that what we wish to be true matters. When it comes to things we’re not able to change, such as what character or personality a god has, what we wish is irrelevant. All we can change is how we respond to such things.

    Fred seems to be saying that folks who insist that they’re being compelled by the Christian god to act like jerks are simply rationalizing. While that may be true for many people, it’s still reasonable to fear that any god in any religion may be a jerk, if for no other reason that many people in real life are jerks. I’ve been in situations with loved ones where I’ve been almost paralyzed with indecision, because I didn’t know which course of action would make the loved one angry at me.

    Ultimately any assertion about the character of gods – Fred’s that the Christian god is not a jerk, the RTC claim of an angry and vengeful god, the ancient Greek idea of gods as caricatures of human personalities – seems no different to me than an assumption.

    I share Fred’s desire for a world where people don’t act like jerks. But Fred doesn’t acknowledge a different kind of weight, where people try to do what they think is right but still fear retribution for making mistakes. If I were a Christian, I could easily imagine myself favoring the legality of same-sex marriage while still subconsciously fearing the possibility of a lightning bolt as my punishment, or still fearing the possibility of hell when I die. Fred insists that the Christian god is like that. I wouldn’t have any way of knowing if he’s correct or incorrect, and it’s natural to fear the worst.

  • esmerelda_ogg


    Fred insists that the Christian god is (not a jerk). I wouldn’t have any way of knowing if he’s correct or incorrect, and it’s natural to fear the worst. – Carstonio

    For what it’s worth – you’re right, we have no way (in this life, at least) to be completely sure about God’s character, or existence, for that matter – all we can do is put the jigsaw together, allowing for missing pieces, and try to decipher the partial picture as honestly as possible. It’s not unlike trying to make sense of the character of an important person we don’t expect to ever meet – Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Nelson Mandela, Vladimir Putin…

    I was raised to believe in God the Jerk, in fact God the Monster – and I refuse to worship such a being.  Now, in my own case, as I have become aware of the God who is indeed loving and non-jerkish, I find myself willing and even eager to worship him. If I’m wrong and I die to find myself faced with the sadistic vengeful Phelpsian God – well, at least I’ll have refused it homage; but I honestly don’t believe that God exists, except in the angry or frightened minds of some humans.

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  • Carstonio

    The metaphors of jigsaws and partial pictures are meaningless to me in this context. If I had never heard of religion I probably would never have conceived of gods. It might almost be like expecting a Martian to accept that gods exist.

    I doubt that even the most fervent believers in god as monster worship such a being. Unless you’re using that word to mean fearful obeisance and not passionate adoration, and I would only define worship as the latter.

  • Sue White

    Jerks believe God is a jerk.  Good people believe God is a good guy.  Unless they’ve been indoctrinated by jerks.

    There is no way to tell who’s right, so you might s well go with the good guys.

  • seniorcit

    He sees what you do,
    He hears what you say.
    My God is writing all the time, time, time, time….

    We used to sing that song in Sunday School.  I was frightened of that God, the God who was writing down all my sins and bad deeds in his black book, who would read them out loud for all the world to hear on judgment day.  When I came home from school some afternoons when no one was in the house, I was terrified that I had missed the Rapture and was left behind.  Christianity was a religion of judgment and fear for me. 

    I’m a 70 year old senior citizen now, who has left behind a fundamentalist childhood and a constricted evangelical adulthood.  In this last part of my life I am learning to love the God of love and compassion as revealed in Jesus (thanks Marcus Borg and Brian McClaren, your writings have set me on a new path).  I have a long way to go, but the journey is proving so worthwhile.

      And as a resident of Washington State I was pleased to be able to vote in favor of same sex marriage last fall.

  • frazer

    My favorite literary example of this is Huck Finn’s decision to go to hell rather than betray Jim. He goes with what he knows in his bones is right, rather than what he was taught God wanted.

  • misanthropy_jones

    I can not and will not accept that the God I worship is less compassionate, less merciful or less caring than I am. This belief led me away from the church and back to the Christ.
    I may, of course, be wrong. If I am, better to be damned for love than exalted for hate…

  • connorboone

    I’m a bad person, because all I can think of is the last line from Cowboy Bebop: “You’re going to carry that weight.”

  • D. Potter

    Mr. Blankenhorn testified at the trial on the issue of constitutionality of Proposition 8 and was unable to point to anything concrete supporting his statement that marriage equality would be Bad.  It’s good that his spirituality has finally aligned with logic here.

  • FearlessSon

    It would help me to think of God as less of a jerk if He could/would somehow get it through the thick skulls of some of His more eager (and obnoxious) fanboys that *they* don’t have to be jerks for Him. Until then; yeah, I’m going to be of the not-so-humble opinion that God’s a jerk.

    There is a trope for that.

  • Seraph4377

     Interesting note: before the Isaac Incident, God spoke to Abraham all the time.  Abraham argued with God.  God even came to visit occasionally.  They were friends, if such a thing is possible with such a great power differential.

    After the Isaac Incident, God never spoke to Abraham again.  I wonder if maybe God was testing something other than what Abraham thought.

  • Sue White

    I wonder if former creationists go through the same thing, when they realize they can still worship God without denying reality.

  • Worthless Beast

    As long as I’m on the Stairway to Heaven and get to meet an obnoxious little frog…  

    The real moral of that show, however, as you should know is “Don’t leave things in the fridge.”

    I think it’s perfectly possible for people to believe things they do not wish were true and to even be good people under it.  Most people I’ve known in my life (including myself for a time) who believed in Hell saw it as a “hard but true thing,” something that ulimately, people send themselves to and don’t escape because they really don’t want to… that kind of thing. (Shades of that still exist with me because I am prone to putting myself through emotional, earthly Hells that only vanish when I start climbing of them).   I also love Nature, though I believe (know!) that Nature is often very brutal – yet I don’t think it makes me a brutal person.

    Still, those times I found myself saying “I don’t *want* to believe in Hell or that homosexuality is wrong, it seems so unfair and terrible” were a significant stepping stone toward… well, not wanting to believe them – and looking for arguments in religious circles against them. You see, questioning your beliefs doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to become an athiest, even though many would wish it or fear it so.

    The way I see it, if, in the end, if I’m wrong about some things, (other than God being a thing) and it turns out that my desire to be fair to gays displeases God, I think if he’s loving, he’ll be able to forgive me for being “wrong for the right reasons.”  Otherwise, if he is the petty damn-happy creature some make him out to be, I think “not being afraid anymore” is in order and one of Fred’s favorite lines “I’ll go to Hell, then!” is in order, too. 

    It makes me hopeful to think that there is some kind of ultimately-benevolent force or arc to the universe.  I figure if we’re wrong, we’re all screwed, so make the best of life.

  • AnonymousSam

    There’s a trope for everything. It’s like an app store, except it nickle and dimes your time to death instead of your wallet.

  • Mariah Dennison

    The problem is, a lot of the people in the “Jerks for Jesus” camp have been taught to believe that their own consciences, their innate sense of justice, their feelings on any given matter cannot be trusted, and they’ve got lots of proof-texts to back this up. They we as humans are so corrupted by sin that anything *we* believe is right is suspect by mere virtue of its source.

    So if you ask them to put their scriptures and their conscience side by side, they’re going to go with the external scriptures because they’ve afraid to trust their own hearts.

  • Dave

    After the Isaac Incident, God never spoke to Abraham again.  I wonder if maybe God was testing something other than what Abraham thought.

    That’s kind of brilliant.

    I’m reminded of a short story I read years ago where Adam replies to God “Yes, I did eat of the Tree, and I was right to do so. Deal with it.” and God says “Finally! You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this moment!”

  • Tricksterson

    I would like to think that if I were to die and be confronted by the God of Fred Phelps, as opposed to that of Freds Clark or Roger  I would have the cojones to give him the finger before beiing plunged into Hellfire.  In the case of the God of the other Freds I would explain that I was looking for Coyote or Eris and I’m sure they’d give me polite and accurate directions.

  • Alan Alexander

     Jerks believe God is a jerk. Good people believe God is a good guy. Unless they’ve been indoctrinated by  jerks.

    This is pretty much my objection to organized religion. I believe that if there were no religion, then good people would (for the most part) do good things and that bad people would (more often than not) do bad things. But I think you would see a lot less of the phenomenon of good people doing bad things. Religion isn’t the only thing that can make an otherwise good and decent person become full of rage and hatred towards someone he doesn’t even know and who never did anything to him. But it’s one of the most effective things at doing that by far.

  • esmerelda_ogg

     Tricksterson – We could give the God of Phelps four fingers (one from each of our two hands) in concert. Sounds like a plan.

  • Tricksterson

    That’s an actual stream of argument although not a mainstream one.

  • FearlessSon

    The way I have always seen it is that starting from the postulate of an all-powerful divine will with expectations of humanity to follow it, we have two options.  Either God is good, and in being good God is understanding and compassionate and respects us even without veneration as long as we actually do good.  Or God is a jerk, in which case we have no obligation to worship such a being, since it is well, a jerk and therefor undeserving of veneration, being a subject to mere appeasement at best.  Either way, I see no particularly pressing point to the act of worship itself, except as perhaps a pragmatic way of focusing one’s own thoughts and energies or solidifying a group dynamic.  

    I suppose there might be a third option, that God is neither completely good nor completely evil, but that would also mean that God is fallible, and is not a paragon in any sense, but rather has some good ideas and some bad ideas.  I think that too is unworthy of worship, but is still worthy of consideration (like any mere mortal.)  I think maybe that is what we see more of in the Bible itself than elsewhere.  Heck, we see characters arguing with God, or deciding that earlier commandments were no longer worth following.  

    Some fundamentalists would call that “picking and choosing”, but when the precedent of such things is in the Bible itself, I think that such so-called fundamentalists are kind of missing the point.  

  • AnonymousSam

     There’s still another option, which came up in the last NRA thread:

    God is good, but we can’t always understand how his actions lead to goodness because our perception is too limited.

    The problem highlighted there is that God is Cthulhu and his ways lead into madness. The entire concept shuts down discussion, negates the very meaning of understanding and enslaves people to the interpretations of God’s nature and expectations via the priesthood. God’s whims become arbitrary to be read in any event, good or bad, and individual events lose all human significance (“Congratulations, you’ve won a new car! Clearly God wanted you to do so. Of course, God may also have you fatally crash it in the middle of a school bus, in which case, further congratulations on doing God’s will!”).

    Which always makes me think of the Star Trek: TNG episode “Who Watches the Watchers”, where an undeveloped race witnesses Federation technology and concludes that the being in charge of it–”The Picard”–must be God, and then begin inventing increasingly barbaric ways to appease The Picard’s wrath, which they see as on the verge of striking down at any possible moment.

    Of course, the episode is pretty blunt about the writer’(s’) attitude about religion (or at least religion imposed on an undeveloped society):

    Millennia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the dark ages of superstition and ignorance and fear?

  • Lliira

    it’s natural to fear the worst

    That’s the problem with worshiping a god: figuring out what they want. (Credit to Deanna Troi.)

    Lots of people think they have. And they all contradict each other, even about whether there is one god or one million. Fred’s views make a lot more sense to me than many others, but we’re talking about gods here. Hence my conclusion many years ago that the gods are an unnecessary postulate. We don’t need them for morality or for practical things. We don’t need them for love, beauty, and truth. I like the Klingon take on gods — Klingons figured gods were more trouble than they were worth, so they killed them.

    Some people feel they do need gods, and that’s okay, so long as their need does not drive them to do bad things. Maybe after I’m dead I’ll end up in a beautiful garden were a sun goddess in the shape of a wolf tells me I was wrong, and in my next life after this vacation I should try to do better. One thing I do know, though: there is no hell, there is no eternal punishment. That is one thing we have created entirely from ourselves.

  • Ruby_Tea

    I’m sure I can be a jerk sometimes, but I think God is a jerk.  Given a choice between the jerky path and the not-quite-so-jerky path, God seems to choose the jerky path about 90% of the time.  I’m glad that there are so many Christians who are not like their God, given his behavior throughout the Bible.

  • Carstonio

    Figuring out what gods want wouldn’t be exclusive to worship. It would simply a matter of placating them for one’s safety, just like dealing with any powerful human like a judge or a police officer.

    How do you know that hell and eternal punishment don’t exist? It’s possible that they exist and that humans created those concepts independent of any knowledge of their existence. I’ve said for many years that people who assert that others are headed for hell should present proof that hell exists.

  • Ross

     Or maybe God was jealous of Abraham’s new baby and tried to off it in its sleep. The way cats are sometimes (almost certainly apocryphally) rumored to.

  • Matt Herrera

    I almost wish that Fred could have told me this or shown me this post way back during Confirmation.  I was having the same problem of reconciling what my heart was telling me and what the priests were telling me needed to be true for me to be a full Catholic.  I struggled with that burden and finally came to the conclusion that if I had to put aside my conscience in order to be with God through the One True Church (it’s right there in the Nicene Creed!), then it was better just to believe that God didn’t exist (or at least that he probably doesn’t exist).

  • WayofCats

    We cannot let our misconceptions about the Divine be mistaken for what the Divine actually is. I gave up organized religion in my mid-teens. I never gave up my spiritual side.

  • Erl

    My Rabbi believes that 1) the incident atop Moriah is literally true, and 2) God lied. 

    The test of Abraham was a test to see if he would refuse God’s command and save his son, demonstrating moral adulthood. He failed. He failed miserably. But God, a loving, saddened parent, pretended that Abraham had done the right thing, because what else can you do?It’s a bit of messy interpretation in a couple ways. But has some distinctly preferable features to the traditional one. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    Uh, I beg to differ. I try really, really hard to not be a jerk unless someone deserves it. I’m not the best at it, and some people will likely think me a jerk anyway, but I doubt they would throw me in the same line as the people Fred is talking about in the OP. 

    And I still see the God of the bible as a jerk. Yes, I was raised by fundies with some really twisted theology, but I spent years studying other views and trying to make some semblance of the faith I was raised in work. 

    I couldn’t do it. I can’t reconcile the god of the bible with the claims that god is all about love and forgiveness. Does this make me a bad person? Because that’s what you seem to be implying. 

  • Carl

    I like that interpretation too. (In general, I think we should read the “Old Testament” [sorry for the Christian terminology] with the idea that these are examples of what NOT to do.) Unfortunately for Christians, I don’t think it will work since our interpretation is hemmed in by Hebrews 11:17–19:

    “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises, offered up his only begotten son; (To whom it was said: In Isaac shall thy seed be called.) Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also he received him for a parable.”

  • Carstonio

    Regardless of the motives, the test was still a monstrous abuse of power. The Genesis god was capable of subjecting Abraham to any number of horrific deaths or tortures for disobedience, and Abraham probably knew it.

    Abraham should have told the god that it was a monster, refused to sacrifice Isaac, and dared the god to do its worst to himself instead. And then if the god revealed that it was all a test, Abraham should have condemned the god even more strongly for demanding that he choose between his son’s life or his own, and declared himself done with the god.

  • Ross

     Or Abraham should have looked at the relationship he had with God and realized that “God just asked me to do someting monsterous, but I have a long history of interacting with God, with which this monsterous request is radically inconsistent. Something doesn’t add up here.”

    If your, say, brother, told you to kill your son, would you tell your brother that he was a monster and dared him to do his worst, then when he told you that it was a test, condemned him and declared yoyrself done with him?

    God didn’t just show up out of nowhere one day and demand Abraham sacrifice his son. Abraham knew God, he knew Him well. It’s not unreasonable for God to have expected that Abraham knew him better than that.

  • Makarios

    “What Blankenhorn describes as a great weight or great burden, Gregoire identifies more precisely as the experience of allowing religion to stand in the way of doing what you believe is right.”

    I’m reminded of a line from The Rainmaker–can’t find the precise wording just now–in which one of the characters says that another is so concerned about doing what’s right that he forgets about what’s good.

  • AnonymousSam

    Erm, but the problem is, up until that point and frequently afterward, God’s behavior isn’t all that consistantly good. It’s often consistantly bad. We’re talking about the part of the book where God lit two people on fire because they carried a candle too close to the tabernacle, turned a woman to salt for looking over her shoulder, and was praised in a song about murdering infants. The same iteration of God for whom the only way to consistantly appease was to make sacrifices. Numerous sacrifices. Hundreds of animals a month sacrifices.

  • Carstonio

    The brother analogy doesn’t work because adult siblings are hypothetically equals in terms of power. If my brother tried that, he wouldn’t have the same power to punish me if I refused, and I could seek justice from the law.

    In a relationship between a god and a human, the former would hold all the power. Even if there were ostensiby amicable interaction between the two, that power imbalance would still be there. Most likely Abraham would always be aware of his powerlessness. Maybe he found it to be a constant source of stress, always worrying that he’ll do something to get on the god’s bad side, or worry that the god would become irrational. He could have seen the demand to sacrifice his son as almost liberating, and realized that he had nothing to lose by standing up for his dignity and personal boundaries. He should have said that no one treats him that way for any reason, no matter who they are.

  • Dragoness Eclectic

     You do know that the sacrifices were communal feasts, right? Big barbecues that everyone was fed at?  Not just the priests, but everyone who came to the temple. So, we “appease” this terrible god by having a big cookout that makes sure the poor, the orphans and the widows get fed?

    I’m missing the bad here.

  • olsonam

    I’m surprised no one has called you out on your Philippians verse yet.  There isn’t a period after “trembling” – your usage of scripture reminds me of the way anti-gay people use scripture.

     12 Therefore,
    my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but
    now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with
    fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

    Edit: this is in reply to the second post I think of the comments section.

  • AnonymousSam

     I’m not really sure how you get that interpretation. Even if a large part of the description of these bloody rituals didn’t entail incinerating or desecrating the entirity of the animal, several sections command that anyone outside the priesthood is forbidden to partake of any part of the meat or grain sacrificed.

    The same law applies to both the sin offering and the guilt offering: They belong to the priest who makes atonement with them. The priest who offers a burnt offering for anyone may keep its hide for himself. Every grain offering baked in an oven or cooked in a pan or on a griddle belongs to the priest who offers it, and every grain offering, whether mixed with olive oil or dry, belongs equally to all the sons of Aaron.

    There were also sin offerings which describe rituals such as “collect two doves, bleed out one of them, kill the other and submerge it in the blood, then burn both of them.” No mention is made of eating the meat and it’s made clear that these sacrifices are to prevent people from being killed by God for approaching the tabernacle in a state of uncleanliness (which, again, is fixed by killing animals).

    “‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them.’”

    If this really wasn’t the case, then it wouldn’t have been such a big deal in the New Testament that people be forbidden from making sacrifices. o.O

  • AnonaMiss


    God didn’t just show up out of nowhere one day and demand Abraham sacrifice his son. Abraham knew God, he knew Him well. It’s not unreasonable for God to have expected that Abraham knew him better than that.

    Except Abraham had to argue with God on behalf of Sodom. Abraham’s experiences with God aren’t of a god who values human life, they’re of a god that Abraham has in the past acted as the voice of reason and mercy to.

    In the Sodom story, Abraham plead on behalf of someone else, in language that reminds me of the Trickster figures of other mythologies. I guess you could argue that God expected Abraham to argue on his own behalf in this situation, but it’s a lot easier to argue against an authority who’s punishing someone else than it is to argue against an authority who already has his eye fixed on you. And even if this is what happened, the proper response for God is, “I thought what I was suggesting was clearly a joke but you took me seriously.” And then Abraham could be like, “Yeah well remember our discussion about Sodom & Gomorrah.” And then God should be all “Oh shit, I really am a monster aren’t I; I won’t put you in that position again.”

  • Rissa

    I can’t speak for the rest of them, but for me, yeah, that was something very similar. I grew up with a mild-ish flavour of fundamentalism, and YEC was part and parcel of the belief system. It took me much longer to step away from the idea of a young earth than it took to shake free of homophobia, actually, because I could clearly see homophobia as hateful, but YEC didn’t have the same love-thy-neighbour incentive to step away, since I didn’t see that it was hurting anybody (looking back even now I’d name its biggest victim as my own intellectual growth at the time).

    When I finally dumped the idea of God as a toddler making toys out of playdough, and saw him as some kind of cosmic engineering genius, with all the intricacies of the universe born of evolution out of nothing at all . . . it was like a religious experience unto itself. I still get chills when I think about it for any length of time.

  • auroramere

     Or maybe Abraham stopped listening for fear of what he’d hear next.

  • Sue White

    I couldn’t do it. I can’t reconcile the god of the bible with the claims that god is all about love and forgiveness. Does this make me a bad person? Because that’s what you seem to be implying.

    No, quite the contrary.  When you say “the god of the Bible”, that sounds to me like you’re talking about something you’ve come to see as a mythical character (which is how I see it), rather than a supreme being that you actually believe in.

  • Hilary

    OK, about God, Abraham, and Isaac, it’s just going to eat at me if I don’t at least try to explain something.  I’m not in a particularly good mood, fair warning, but I just need to not let this stew and get grumpier.

    I don’t think it is possible to completely understand this story.  It probably made a lot more sense 3,000 years ago, and if anything like it really did happen, that would have been ~4,000 ish years ago.  Do we want our descendants 3,000 years from now judging us, as we sit here on the cusp of ruining this planet’s atmosphere permemently?  Do we even want to assume humans will exist 3,000 years from now? Maybe we could be a little more humble trying to judge our ancestors 3,000 years ago.

    The best midrash I’ve come across on the Akidah  -  the Binding of Isaac – is from Rashi.  He’s like only the biggest name in Talmudic exposition in the last 1,000 years.  He was a rabbi in mideval France, ran a vinyard.  His take is that Abraham failed.  The word for ‘offering’ was ‘olah’ which can mean either sacrifice or just to ‘bring up.’  I think it is got the same Hebrew base as the word ‘aliyah’  which does just mean ‘to go up, to ascend.’  It isn’t the word for slaughter.  So the test for Abraham could have been, what word did he hear, the word to bring his son up the mountain, then bring Isaac back down, or did he hear the word to slaughter his son? 

    I’ve been looking for an unbiased, extra-biblical source to learn if the culture of child sacrifice really did exist in ancient Canaan.  All I can find is answers for both yes and no, and nothing is unbaised.  I’ll keep looking a little harder.  But regardless, there probably was a culture of sacrifice of some form, even if not exactly as described in the Torah. So for Abraham to hear that his personal God was calling to him to sacrifice his son would have been terrible, but not outside reasonable cultural expectation.  Perhaps God was justified in wanting to know if Abraham would be has faithful to him as other people around him were to their false idols.  Perhaps he wanted to see if Abraham was free enough of the influences of surrounding culture to hear the alternative option that did not involve slaughter. 

    Perhaps the people telling this story used it as an answer to their neighbors who did sacrifice their children. “Yes, our tribal father was just as faithful as you, just as willing to make such a sacrifice.  But our God demands that we don’t sacrifice our children to him, and you are an abomination for doing it.”  Perhaps the people writing this story down knew it was tribal folklore and included it for their own reasons.

    I remember in a Rosh Hashanah sermon that the ram caught in the thicket was always there, and it wasn’t until Abraham looked up that he noticed it.  Had Abraham had not been so intent on following through with what he thought he heard, he could have seen the alternative right away, brought his son up, slaughtered the ram as an offering, and brought his son down again.  So while Abraham passed at being faithful, he failed at hearing what he really should have done. He leaves the mountain by himself, never speaks to his son, or wife, or directly to God again.   

    Ultimately these stories are only as powerful as how we chose to live with them.  The bottom line is that God did not allow Abraham to kill Isaac.  No matter how faithful we are, we are not allowed to sacrifice our children.  Even when we think we are hearing directly from God to make an offering of them, we are not supposed to actually do it.  No mater how obsesive we are towards our goals, we don’t sacrifice our childrens lives for them.  We can always raise our eyes and find a ram in the thicket, another alternative to what seems a no-win scenario if we just look up and stop thinking there is only one option, blind obedience.  

    That’s where I’m at with this story right now.  Maybe later in life I’ll change my mind.  I’m not expecting to change the minds of anybody reading this – another one of my extra long posts.  But I’ve been thinking a lot about this story, looking for different commentary both modern and traditional, and this is where I’m at with it.  Take of it what you will - YMMV


  • Sue White

    I’m sure I can be a jerk sometimes, but I think God is a jerk.

    But, do you believe in him?