There are a lot of stories in the bible I hate- Revelations in its entirety, for sure, and I could spend all day talking about all the things I disagree with, but there is one in particular that really makes my blood boil.
This one, to me, is an example of god at his worst. Its moral is sick and twisted, and it astounds me how often I was told this story and was expected to love god.
The Binding of Isaac
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.”
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.”
Where to start. I suppose I should mention that I am discussing this from the common Christian viewpoint, the way I was taught to interpret it. Jews and Muslims have very different perspectives on the story so my comments forthwith, for the most part, do not apply to their interpretation.
The moral of this story: love (and fear) god more than you do your own family. If a family member conflicts with god’s will, you’d better stick with god.
Any god who would test his people like this is evil.
Imagine this story exactly the same way, except instead of god commanding Abraham to kill Isaac, a king did so. Pretty much everyone is going to hear that and say the king has an ego the size of Texas to cruelly test a father’s loyalty between his son and his king. At best, that king will be looked at as character of questionable morals, but because this is the bible and god did it, people of faith have come up with numerous ways to rationalize it. Well the truth is there’s no way to justify this. It’s just plain wrong.
Think about poor Isaac. In the Islamic version of the story Isaac knows he is to be sacrificed and willingly goes to the mountain, which makes him come off a bit noble, but in the Christian version he is tied up and just keeps asking his father “where’s the lamb?” which Abraham responds to with a lie. Isaac is a poor, scared boy who trusts his father while unknowingly being led to slaughter. Heartrendingly tragic.
Christians draw connections between this story and the crucifixion as if that somehow justifies it. God was willing to give up his own son for us, so we should be willing to give up ours for him.
Err, no. No one should be killing anybody for anything. I am no subscriber to utilitarianism. The minute you say something has to be done through killing you’ve already made a serious misstep. Then there’s that line the angel gives near the end, “Now I know that you fear god,” is that our purpose in life? To fear an almighty dictator who wants our foremost loyalty to be to him and abandon our earthly bonds at a moment’s notice if he so commands? Just because he didn’t make Abraham go through with it doesn’t mean the point wasn’t made: Your ties to each other are less significant than those with me. Well pardon me, sir, but you’re not down here struggling, fighting, loving, and growing with the rest of us. I don’t feel very close with the voice on high shouting commands at me. Oh he gives me good things? I’d rather earn them myself through hard work and persistence. He gave me life? So did my parents and they went through pains to raise and feed me. He loves me? Well then respect me enough so as not to belittle my love for other people by giving them up for you. I will touch on this issue more in a later post.
In any case, that is why I hate the story of Isaac and Abraham. It belittles our connections with each other and tells the story of a father and son forced to go through terrible psychological trauma all as a sick test of loyalty.
Now on the brighter side of things I’ll now discuss a story from the bible I actually enjoy.
Cleansing the Temple
Jesus visited Herod’s Temple and found it infested with merchants and money changers. Upon seeing this he was so overcome with rage he ran through the temple flipping over tables and proclaiming these people had made his father’s house a den of thieves… even though they weren’t doing anything illegal.
This story is appealing because it is one of the few instances where Jesus really seems human. The majority of the New Testament depicts Jesus of a being so far beyond reproach that he is near impossible to relate to. He’s the son of god, yes, but he’s also supposed to be one of us. In that case why is he so frustratingly perfect all the time? In nearly all stories with Jesus he is calm and forgiving, and he acts so unlike a real person that it becomes increasingly harder to see him as one, and it is important to see him as one in order to make the crucifixion a meaningful event.
When I was first taught the death of Christ it didn’t mean much to me A) because I was a kid and kids don’t really understand death and suffering and B) because Jesus was always presented as being so perfect that I figured it wasn’t a big deal for him. Sure the bible may describe him as struggling and suffering while on the cross, but up to that point he just seems so above everything I had a hard time imagining him in any real pain, even as an adult I find it difficult.
A key rule to storytelling is make characters relatable. Jesus was too often displayed as the person we should be rather than one of us. His generous spirit is a mountainous climb for the average man afflicted with jealousies, angers, pressures, sorrows, and heartache. And you know what? That makes Jesus kind of a douche.
Everyone hates Mr. Perfect.
And in church that’s exactly what they’ll tell you. Jesus was better than all of us, we should try to be like him, but just know that he’s better. Well I don’t find that inspiring, I find that infuriating. Why should I aspire to be like a man who was just born perfect? He was blessed with natural goodwill, he didn’t work at it like I have to.
Cleansing the Temple Jesus is a Jesus I like. Just like me he has anger, and just like me he can’t always control it. This tells of a man who has weaknesses just like the rest of us, but was able to overcome them and be a good person. That’s inspiring, that’s worth remembering. Weaknesses are not an excuse to act poorly, they’re just a challenge to overcome. It’s a rare occasion where I felt Jesus really was one of us, and that makes all his actions just a little more noble.
These stories that tell of an arrogant, vengeful, angry god puzzle me. I don’t understand how people hear this and say “that’s a guy I want to worship.”
If any character in any other story acted the way god does in the bible the audience would be completely against him, but the religious are trained to always rationalize god’s actions even when they are outright amoral. We should not go against our instincts as to what we perceive as right and wrong. When you read that a man wiped out the entire world with a flood because he felt they were all “bad people” you are in the right to think he did something wrong.
Smart people of faith, good people, extract lessons out of these stories rather than take them as literal, yet they believe in god which I find puzzling. I suppose they choose to envision a god who never committed some of the more heinous acts of the bible. I may not agree with it, and I hope one day we can build a society that can function without certain individuals relying on an omniscient presence, but as long as it inspires goodness in people I suppose I can deal with it.