Rachel Held Evans blogged about the story of Abraham trying to sacrifice Isaac, on the same day that I was scheduled to speak to a group of local artists about the story. She said what I personally consider the most appropriate response:
I’d like to think that even if those demands thundered from the heavens in a voice that sounded like God’s, I’d have sooner been struck dead than obeyed them.
Neil Carter commented on the post, and reflected on the implications of religious attempts to defend Abraham, and along with him the stories about Canaanite genocide and other such details. He writes:
When I tell people I’m an atheist, the most common (and most exasperating) response I get is: “Well, without God, where do you get your morals from?” Inevitably they will tell me that I cannot have an objective framework for morality if I don’t believe in spirits and afterlives (which is rubbish), but the irony is that between the two of us, my challenger is actually the one who cannot categorically condemn any moral choice we could make. John Piper will tell you in a heartbeat that killing your child is totally legit if God tells you to do it, because the Bible tells him so.
In the end, if whatever God tells you to do is right, then morality is fundamentally relative. Once you’ve decided on that way of thinking, it inevitably devolves into a theological debate about God’s feelings. This is a highly subjective discussion, of course, since one of the key tenets of monotheism is that if there is a God, you’re probably not him. So how is it that you feel qualified to determine what he wants and what he doesn’t (and for that matter, why it has to be a “he”)? It’s your word against another man’s word, not God’s word against everyone else’s. You can try saying “but the Bible says,” except that’s really the word of more people just like you. Any attempt to deny this leads to untenable absurdity because the Bible isn’t even consistent with itself. Biblical writers didn’t all see everything the same way.
Libby Anne also mentioned the post, indicating that “talking back to God” is not only Biblical, but it is something highlighted in the Jewish tradition. It isn’t a rejection of God (despite what some of Rachel Held Evans’ critics have said). Indeed, the Jewish tradition has a long history of being puzzled about why Abraham didn’t discuss this with God in the way he discussed and debated and bargained when God told him about Sodom and Gomorrah.
At the workshop I mentioned at the start of this post, another presenter surveyed a wide range of art related to the story of the binding of Isaac, including the depiction in the recent Bible miniseries. Can you honestly watch this without flinching or being disturbed?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ4H3Qgk-Kw