Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blind Obedience and the Story of Abraham and Isaac

As I previously wrote in the article, "Thoughts on the Christian God", the actions of the Christian god throughout the Bible are very disturbing, to say the least.  This god's actions, such as commanding genocide, condoning slavery and justifying eternal torture for finite misbehavior, are absolutely abhorrent and any human caught today engaging in these same actions would at best be imprisoned for the rest of their life and have the key thrown away.  In this article, I will focus on a lesson frequently taught by this god.  This lesson is of blind obedience, which is, perhaps, best exemplified in the story of Abraham and Isaac.  Here is the story, copied by me from the NIV Bible:

Genesis 22 (New International Version)
1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"  "Here I am," he replied. 2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled 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. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 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."

6 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, 7 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?" 8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.

9 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. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.  12 "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."

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram [a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 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."

15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 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, 18 and through your offspring [b] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

What kind of god would tell a parent to sacrifice/kill their own child, or any child for that matter?  What would you call a person who would command another person to murder a child?  Any person with even the slightest sense of decency, empathy, and morality would call such a commandment monsterously evil.  This is the kind of nightmare scenario one would expect to hear from a Nazi concentration camp, not a loving god.  This is not a loving act.  In fact, it is completely the opposite.

There is not a shred of logic to this event as well.  If the Christian god is all knowing, why would the god ask Abraham to do this?  Obviously, any all knowing god would know what Abraham would do beforehand.  Therefore, what would be the purpose of asking Abraham to actually do it?  Like many stories in the Bible, this one makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The god in this story is not the only monster.  To me, Abraham is just as bad.  Would you follow the direction of anyone or anything which commanded you to kill your child or any child?  No one with any sense of goodness or morality would do such a thing.  The moral action for Abraham in this situation would have been to absolutely refuse to follow command and reject the being which was giving the command.  It should have been crystal clear to Abraham that any god who would ask him to do such a thing would have been the direct opposite of good and moral.  This is the kind of direction one would expect from a devil, not a loving god. 

I also submit that Abraham knew he was doing something wrong.  First, he told his "servants" (i.e. slaves) to not follow him and his son.  This is because his slaves would obviously have tried to stop him from killing his son.  Then he lied to his slaves by saying "we will come back to you", when he knew that only he would return.  Did god rebuke or punish him for lying?  Not at all.  Second, Abraham deceived and lied to his son by telling him that god would provide "the lamb".

Why was it also necessary for Abraham to sacrifice the ram instead of his son?  The story says this god rewarded him for the blood offering as well.  It seems absurd to me that I have to write this, but gods who command and reward animal and human blood sacrifice are not good. 

Not only are the actions of this god and Abraham in this story despicable, but so is the lesson one is to draw from this story, which is of blind obedience.  Apparently, a good follower of this god is supposed to do anything the god says, even if it is clearly evil.  A person is not supposed to think for themselves; they are to do what they are told to do without question.

This lesson is clearly wrong and dangerous and everyone alive today knows this to be true.  Our own military makes it clear that soldiers are to follow only LEGAL orders of those senior to them (see Articles 90-92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice).  If they follow illegal orders, they are subject to criminal prosecution.  Another example of how blind obedience is completely unacceptable, is the rejection of the legal defense that a person was "only following orders" during the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

It is important for all of us to question things that seem wrong.  Doing so is how our morality as a species has progressed and evolved for the better.  This is how our society's racial and gender prejudices and discriminatory practices have changed for the better towards equality.  To question is moral, good, and right.

1 comment:


    I loved the article on Abraham and Isaac. What a fucked up story. I understand that it is about devotion and most religious people hang on to the part that Abraham didn’t kill his son, and that God spared the child’s life. It is nothing short of the mafia making you kill a friend to show your devotion (or fear) to the mafia. Ah, where do you even begin? I could go on and on forever. Religious extortion.