Fundamentalists make up a significant portion of the religions of the World. Whether it is the religious right Christians, or the Shiites of Islam, or the Jewish orthodox, many of each of these religions subscribe to a literal interpretation of their religious texts. This produces a climate where the believers of the particular religion believe they have the absolute truth, and that all others who believe differently are wrong. They also believe that their God will punish all those who believe differently, and some even astonishingly believe that their God is a God of love, even as he has created an eternal torture chamber for those who believe differently.
Abraham is said to be the patriarch of all 3 religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Christianity developed from the Hebrew religion, and the union of Abraham and Hager brought forth Ishmael, and upon this line came the Arab people.
But we see through the life of Abraham the seeds of fanaticism, in the story of Abraham and Isaac. The story is found in Genesis 22: 1-19, and tells the story Of God telling Abraham to take his son, his only son Isaac up onto the mountain and to sacrifice him by burning him on an altar, and if he was obedient then it would be a sign that God could trust Abraham and that God would bless him. Well, as the story goes Abraham actually tied up Isaac, put him on the altar, raised the knife to kill him, when an angel spoke and told Abraham to not kill the boy, but to take a goat found in the bushes and substitute for Isaac.
Well this was enough for God who told Abraham that since his intention was to obey God, that God would as a result would make of him a great Nation and bless him.
Fundamentalists of all three religions believe this story happened word for word as the texts record it.
I will examine this story first to debate that it should have ever been taken literally, and secondly to see if there is allegorical wisdom we can glean from the story for our own lives.
As common throughout all Old Testament scriptures, this account was written many years after Abraham died, and by writing about events in the past, the biblical writers could assign events with the meaning they chose. God could say anything that they wished to write, so the preposterous story of Abraham and Isaac came to light as one of the pivotal and fantastic stories which appears in the Bible.
To say that God would say to anyone to kill his son is so beyond the nature of a personal or universal God that it is hard to argue the point. A truer rendering of the story might be that Abraham had a dangerous psychotic break, and somehow thought that by sacrificing his son to God that would bring him power and blessings. There was child sacrifice at that time practiced by other tribes than the Hebrews, and Abraham had decided to make this a Hebrew practice too. But at the last moment he came to his senses, but not without scaring his son almost literally to death. The appearance of God and the angel, is simply revisionist writing by the scribes, to explain the story as how Abraham was blessed, rather than how he practiced child sacrifice. If this story had played out in modern times, Abraham would have been carted off to an institution for the violently insane.
Literalists believe that this story foreshadows the death of Christ, in that just as Abraham was to sacrifice his son, so God sent his son to Earth to sacrifice him for the sins of the world. Again, after Jesus’ life and death, the sacrifice story was created to wrap Christianity in a nice shroud of either one accepts Jesus or they spend eternity in Hell.
The parallels between the story and the present fanaticism by the religious right cannot be ignored. Instead of Isaac, the religious right has bound and put on the altar all elements of reason. They demand that all knowledge outside the bounds of the Bible be put to death. And as yet, they are not looking to anything to substitute. They have effectively killed reason and intellectual discourse, and demand and insist that all those who believe differently than them are Hellbound. Because of their numbers shrinking year by year, they have found their alliance with the Republican Party to be saving for them, in that this gives them control and power, and influence to keep them safe.
Recently, my daughter met an old friend from years back. The family was a very staunch religious right family, and had attended a right-wing Church here in Albuquerque for years. But last year they left the church. Jennifer was shocked at that and asked her friend why. Well it seems that the youngest daughter in the family developed a chronic illness in her teens, and the affliction bothered her all the time, and of course she asked the church to pray for her. After a few years the illness was getting worse, even though she had been under extensive medical care for the condition. One night at church she was lamenting this fact, and some of the congregation suggested that it was “her fault” for being sick. They inferred that she was not praying hard enough, and that if she prayed the right way she would be healed. Well, she went home in tears and said to her parents that she would never go back to the church. Her parents replied that if that is the way she felt then they would not go back either, and shared with their daughter their astonishment at what the people had said.
These types of religious abuses are being played out in many places. Some, like my daughter’s friends leave when it happens, others are horrified, but cannot leave because they are dependent on the church climate to feel like good people. They need a structure more than they need the truth.
The dysfunction in the fundamental churches today is clearly seen in the story of Abraham, and this “killing of reason” is being played out in the conservatives in our culture.
As to the allegory of the story, I believe it speaks to us in several ways. The whole notion of sacrifice assumes a lesser is acknowledging a “greater”. That the human is giving something to the “God”. As I internalize this, I realize that the acknowledgement of myself as “God” and in oneness with all things is an incredible self-affirming gift that I have “given to myself” in sacrificing those false ideas of the illusion of the ego. And one could say my “lesser: is the ego and my greater is my “higher self”. So I sacrifice the worldly pleasure of the ego to attain those things that are above. It is in this sense I can internalize the idea of “sacrifice”.
Virginia Stephenson 08-31-09