Father Abraham Had Many Psychoses

Sacrifice-of-Isaac-CaravaggioIt’s funny how you can read a story or watch a movie at two different times in your life and see it in two completely different lights each time.  The second time around, you notice things you never would have caught before.  I recently watched a favorite Bond movie and found myself saying, “Were his lines always this corny?  And was the action always this…cartoony?”  I also remember the first time I watched Mary Poppins again as a parent and thought to myself, “Okay, so it turns out Mary Poppins was actually kinda hot.”  Recently I surprised even myself with how differently I was affected by something previously familiar.  I followed a friend’s link to a gospelizing of the song “Royals” done by a couple of Pentecostal girls and had to cut it off when they started singing about being “covered in his blood.” It grossed me out, but then it struck me how readily I might have sung something similar a few years ago without any such revulsion.  What a difference a few years can make!

This happens with reading the Bible, too.  The other day I read the second chapter of James and realized that for many years I totally misread his argument about why Yahweh approved of Abraham.  I had always read that passage through the lens of Paul’s counter-argument which said that Abraham was declared righteous before he ever got circumcised, which would support Paul’s own idea that it was faith (and not “works”) which earned Yahweh’s favor.  I always read James’s argument as if he were saying it was in fact circumcision which made Abraham pleasing to God, but that’s not what he applauded.  No, James praised Abraham for his willingness to sacrifice his own son as an act of worship to Yahweh.  That is what he says made Abraham pleasing to God.  What struck me the other day about this interpretation was how quick Christians are to dismiss this story as an example of “Old Testament thinking.”  When confronted with the horrific brutality of both Yahweh and his people in the Bible, it has always been customary to explain it away by citing progressive revelation, as if such primitive thinking were not the foundation of the early Church’s profession of faith.  But it was.  Far from condemning Abraham’s belief that it’s ever okay to sacrifice your own child, James extols this act of Abraham as an example for all of us as if it were the quintessential act of worship which pleases God.  Reading this at my current stage in life, I see that it’s wrong on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin.

For this daunting task, I’ll call on my friend Brian, who blogs over at A Pasta Sea, to help me parse these things out.  He starts off by speaking to the heart of the matter:

I think this chapter strikes at the very core of exactly how the traditional expressions of the Abrahamic faiths are able to make otherwise good people do terrible things in the names of their gods.

Indeed it does.  In fact, as I re-read this story today I count at least five terrible discoveries about biblical faith which I never saw before because the eyes of faith remain blind to things like this.  I’ll let Brian’s blog elucidate each one of them since he does such a good job of articulating the issues.

1) Biblical morality is relativistic to the extreme.  Counter to the monotonous charge that atheists have no basis for moral reasoning, the story of Abraham being told to kill his son illustrates that if “whatever God says is good is good” then nothing can consistently be called “bad,” not even child sacrifice.

Another point that’s not typically dealt with by most expositors of this passage is that God has given opposing commands. He’s instructed Abraham to kill Isaac and then later commands him not to harm the boy. We can therefore conclude that any command of God might be countermanded. This presents a problem for any moral argument that makes God out to be the “objective standard” of what is right. Under this view, it was morally right for Abraham to desire to kill Isaac in obedience to the command of God and then three days later it was morally wrong. Not because the situation had changed, but simply because God said so.

People who hold to an Abrahamic faith without some seriously nuanced interpretation of this story cannot claim the moral high ground in any religious debate if for no other reason than for what this story illustrates about their god and their faith. When the ideal representation of your faith is someone who completely abandons reason, empathy, conscience and common sense in blind obedience to a supposed deity’s rather capricious-looking whims, you’ve lost the moral argument. Sorry. Thanks for playing.

How is having this kind of capricious, arbitrary, unsubstantiated and unverifiable nonsense as a basis for morality any better than some “subjective” or “relativistic” secular moral philosophy? Under morality that’s based on divine command, literally any act could be justified simply by believing that God commanded it; even acts that would appear to run counter to prior commands that God has given. This point cannot be emphasized enough. This is how you get good people to do bad things. This is how Christianity’s second greatest commandment, for all its good intentions and moral excellence, gets completely undermined by the greatest commandment.

2) Killing something is central to this religion. First and foremost, there’s the killing of Jesus, which the Bible says was necessary to appease God wrath.

Old Testament aside, to an outside observer, it’s pretty clear that human sacrifice is undeniably central to much of Christian theology, given that its most important figure is thought by many of its adherents to have been sacrificed to appease its god’s wrath. Try to nuance it all you want. It’s simply inescapable when the main symbol of a religion is the very instrument of death its founder was supposedly sacrificed upon. Call it what you want, but blood magic is all over the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments and is celebrated all over Christianity’s traditional hymnody (e.g. “Power in the Blood”, “Nothing but the Blood”, “Are You Washed in the Blood”, “The Blood Will Never Lose its Power”, etc.) and blood magic is either ritualistically performed or memorialized every time participants drink their shot of wine/grape juice or have a priest do it for them.

Furthermore, there’s the daily metaphorical “crucifixion” of the human personality which evidently this deity requires.

It’s fitting that human sacrifice plays such a central role in Christianity. When certain Christian doctrines are taken seriously – doctrines that proclaim an individual’s depravity, uncleanness, corrupt reason, unworthiness of anything good, worthiness of eternal torture and utter inability to do anything about those things apart from the divine intervention that only comes when one blindly surrenders in faith – it leads to exactly that. It leads to the sacrifice of one’s own humanity.

I am told it’s not bad to be human.  But then I’m told the essence of worship is to die—to sacrifice myself in one way or another.  How can people not see the glaring inconsistency of this?  And besides, if even Christians don’t take seriously the challenge to take up their cross, why should anyone else?

3) Wherever the Bible seems to present God in a repulsively negative light, you can just make stuff up to sanitize the story and people will uncritically eat it up.  The writer of Hebrews struggled with this at some level, and he suggested (rather ad hoc, I might add) that Abraham must have figured Yahweh would just bring Isaac back from the dead.  Which he knows because…um…because…uh…

Second, Isaac was to be a whole burnt offering, meaning after Abraham slaughtered Isaac, he was supposed to burn him. The smoke from burnt offerings was to rise up to heaven and be a pleasing aroma. This would point to the totality of the sacrifice and the rising up of the essence of whatever it was toward heaven. There’s not going to be a body, bones or anything else left to be “raised” and the writer of Hebrews doesn’t seem to pay any heed to that little detail….I’m merely pointing out that it would be incredibly unnatural for Abraham to conclude that a pile of ashes would be raised back to life. Such a belief would require a highly developed theology that’s completely foreign to the Old Testament and unprecedented in any Biblical example of resurrection…and most importantly, there is no mention in the text of Genesis itself that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead…The writer of Hebrews is either offering this resurrection belief up as his own supposition or is repeating some other tradition, but it’s nowhere in the text of Genesis.

In fact, there is nothing at all in the entire Old Testament that would give us any indication whatsoever that people in Abraham’s day even had a kind of bodily resurrection theology at all. It’s not until Daniel 12 (after coming in contact with Persian/Zoroastrian theology) that we even find a clear, overt reference to the idea of a bodily resurrection from the dead following the lapse of any time…

Is the writer of Hebrews using responsible principles for biblical interpretation here? Can we just make stuff up now, and that’s cool? I guess people have been doing it for centuries, so why not, huh?

4) If you can find enough poetic symbolism in a story or passage, you can drown out any cognitive dissonance or moral revulsion caused by the story itself.  It’s like covering the stench of a recently-used restroom with a liberal spraying of floral-scented Lysol.

When I was a Christian I used to play up the comparisons of the story of the sacrifice of Isaac to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I would point out how God, like Abraham, was going to sacrifice his son, only he was actually going to go through with it. I’d point out things like Isaac carrying the wood and Jesus carrying his cross. I’d point out how the Temple was probably built on this same mountain and how all the sacrifices performed in the Temple were pointing to Jesus. I was always sure to point out how Abraham’s response to Isaac that, “God will provide for himself the lamb” was a profound prophetic allusion to Jesus Christ.

Question begging aside, this was astounding confirmation for me as a Christian and, like all the other things I seized upon to strengthen my faith, completely glossed over just how obviously screwed-up this story is on its face.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.  The supposed “child sacrifice” of Jesus doesn’t validate the command of Abraham to kill his own son.  The execution of an itinerant Jewish preacher was a tragic overreach of a heavy-handed Roman empire, not a divinely-appointed sacrifice to perform an act of “blood magic.”  Finding a parallel to that awful injustice doesn’t nullify the horrific nature of what the Bible suggests Yahweh wanted Abraham to do.  Which leads me to my fifth and final point:

5) Abraham wasn’t praised because he didn’t kill his son; he was praised because he was going to.  It wasn’t the sparing of Isaac which made Abraham the ultimate model for devotion to Yahweh; it was his willingness to do absolutely anything—even kill his son—that won him the prime spot on the Hall of Faithful.  Brian puts it bluntly:

It is astonishing and baffling to me that this act of Abraham’s is so highly regarded in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This “test” would better serve as a means of weeding out psychopaths who unquestioningly obey the voices in their heads, rather than as a way to show how much someone fears God or how much faith they have. Instead, this is supposed to be the epitome of faith and the act which actually justified Abraham. I’m sorry, but if a deity comes to me in a dream, vision, physical manifestation or through some sort of esoteric sensation and communicates to me that he or she wants me to slaughter my son and burn him on an altar, I’m going to assume I’m either crazy, hallucinating, having a nightmare, on a hidden camera show or speaking to an evil spirit. In any case, I’m going to tell that deity to piss off. I would hope that any other sane, loving father would do the same.

I have a theory that the correlation between how seriously you take the Bible and how much credence you give it falls in line with the normal bell curve.


People who aren’t very religious can be dismissive of the crazy stories in the Bible because…come on, have you ever thought how reading these stories would strike you as an outsider?  As you become more serious about Bible study, however, you will likely do as most do and begin to exercise your imagination until these tall tales begin to seem like they may have actually happened.  Thanks to Hollywood’s recent rediscovery that Christians spend money, the entertainment industry is about to become flooded with full-length films featuring every biblical tale you ever wanted to see (and probably already have, except now it’ll have better special effects).  It remains to be seen whether this much-lauded nod to biblical faith will help or hurt its credibility, and either way the peddlers of religious stuff will get richer off of it.

But there comes a point at which you have to suspend rationality or else you can start to take the Bible too seriously.  Once you try and see these stories as truly happening, putting yourself into these situation and imagining how these things would play out in real life, the Bible starts to make less and less sense.  If you take the Bible as seriously as some people do, you just may end up doing what many of us have done and conclude that these stories aren’t just unbelievable, they’re psychologically disturbing and morally reprehensible.  The faithful will continue to gloss over its warts and deformities by reveling in poetically appealing parallels and symbolic foreshadowing, never grasping how easily these things can be reverse-engineered by superstitious people with powerful collective imaginations.  But take it seriously enough, and you just might come to reject the whole thing, and be better off for it, I might add.


To see more of Brian’s writing visit his blog here.

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32 Responses to Father Abraham Had Many Psychoses

  1. D'Ma says:

    Aye-aye-aye….the story of Abraham and Isaac. It always bothered me that God would even ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. And that Abraham would go along with it! That’s some real love right there.

    But for every question I had about it there was always a ready answer. For me it was doing the mental gymnastics this way: God was testing Abraham just to see if he’d be willing to do anything for him. Abraham knew all the while that God would provide some other sacrifice because how else was Abraham going to become a great nation if he killed the only son in his lineage? God wanted to know that Abraham would do it even if God didn’t ultimately expect him to follow through with it. I was thoroughly relieved when it finally dawned on me that all these Old Testament stories were fiction, allegory, whatever. I’m not sure how the Christian God is any different than any of the other blood thirsty gods out there.

    • I think the Christian way of viewing this story deliberately ignores the circumstances surrounding the story and focuses only on Abraham. Asking for such an immense sacrifice from Abraham was supposed to prove his ultimate faith in God, and for this test to work Abraham could NOT have known that God was going to change his mind. He could have hoped so, but there was no way he could have known. He went to that mountain with the express intent of murdering his child on the command of God, reason be damned. That kind of surrender is the epitome of Christian faith, something that Kierkegaard references in “Fear and Trembling” (if my memory serves me correctly). Of course the moment we look at anything but Abraham in that story and see that (the loving) God actually demanded the murder and immolation of a child, it starts to lose its sweetness, and God begins to look more like a really deranged, insecure partner.

      Also, saying that “God wanted to know that Abraham would do it even if God didn’t ultimately expect him to follow through with it” seems contradictory. If Abraham was going to do it, he was going to do it. If he wasn’t, then he already failed the test before he stepped out of his home.

      • Ruth says:

        I’m in complete agreement. For Abraham to have either known God would “provide the sacrifice”, or for him to be unwilling to follow through, would ultimately be either no test, or a gigantic failing on Abraham’s part.

        That was my way of dealing with these passages when I wanted nothing more than to believe them. I tried to sterilize the gruesome parts. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that either this God is a murdering tyrant who throws temper tantrums or he doesn’t exist.

        I don’t believe he exists, but if he does that god isn’t worthy of worship.

      • Ruth says:

        When I was a died in the wool believer, which took some undoing – believe me, I also looked at these passages as a foretelling of the gospel. I believed the Bible to be one coherent book that all pointed toward the cross.

        I believed the stories were intertwined and that Abraham was a portrayal of God and Isaac a portrayal of Jesus and this story was a foretelling of the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and God sacrificing his only son for the sins of the world.

        There, quite literally, was no part of the Old Testament, in my view, that did not point to the New.

        Now all I see is that the God of the Bible is no different than any other blood thirsty, imaginary god.

        • I understand where you’re coming from. I recently started questioning elements of my faith and the answers have not been very inspiring. I can attest to believing the story of Abraham was an allegory for God with Isaac as Jesus. It is a comparison I heard too many times growing up, though in my circles it was often used as proof that the story wasn’t a real account of events, but was the author’s way of foreshadowing God’s own sacrifice of his son for the rest of mankind.

  2. Gra*ma Banana says:

    I’ve thought about it and it seems to me that the Abraham/Isaac allegory was just sexy enough to get everyone’s attention, (a trick used in a lot of movies). Sacrifice, blood, burning bushes, talking snakes, all the stuff that movies (sci-fi and fantasy especially) rely on to get people to watch. I guess the ‘authors’ of the bible were only trying to get people to pay attention (and pay admission) so they could get Yaweh’s approval for entry into ‘heaven’. This is so ‘effed’ up on so many levels. There is the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” then there is the story about sacrifice ‘because God says so’. This is enough to make someone go totally insane. So glad I quit believing when I was seventeen. High School was confusing enough for me.

  3. Lion IRC says:

    Abraham did NOT sacrifice his son. He knew God would provide the sacrifice.
    Abraham also knew that his descendants would go on to be more numerous than he could count.
    It’s easy to be obedient to God when you trust Him completely.

    • First of all, let me be clear. I don’t believe this story really happened at all because Abraham is more legend than anything else at this point. But if we suppose for a moment that the story really happened, you have to see that Abraham had to be willing to go through with it or else he would not pass the test. He had to be willing to plunge the knife into his son, and then as Brian said, go on to offer his son as a burnt offering, reducing his son to a pile of ashes.

    • OverlappingMagisteria says:

      The problem is that killing Isaac was considered the “morally correct” thing to do in the story. The fact that God interrupts in the last moment does not change that. It was, at the time, right for Abe to kill his son.

      Also, your interpretation that that Abraham knew that God would intervene neuters the entire point of the story. It is supposed to be a test of Abraham’s loyalty. The test doesn’t really work if God is essentially saying “Hey Abe, I want you to (*wink* *wink*) ‘kill’ your son. But don’t worry you’re not really gonna do it.” What kind of test of faith is that?

    • wills says:

      REALLY Lion? If I told my young son to ‘sacrifice’ his puppy – as he loved the puppy more than me/test of obedience – Right to the point of him tearfully burning his puppy alive – You’d call Child Protective Services (for good reason)! What kind of ‘ethical system’ does your god have? EVERY other religion is FULL of BLOOD sacrifices – what makes yours so special? And my christian friends get upset when I ask ‘Why is a Creator – who can make a universe 13.6 Billion Years old – CONCERNED about the foreskin on my DICK?” They squirm at the language, but it’s YOUR god who brought this up! BLOOD, PENIS skin OBSESSION, Virgins-Virgins-VIRGINS etc…Does THIS crap sound like any kind of god to you? Or maybe – just maybe: Some Bronze Age CONTROL FREAKS?!? Blood? Foreskins? Virgins? Wow – just WOW!

  4. Xylemicarious says:

    I was never really religious, though I sought religion for a period in my life. When I first read this story though (when I was 13 or so), any thought that I could believe in/worship the Christian god went out the window. It seemed obvious to me that if there were a god, and he asked me to do something like this, I would refuse. And then god would praise my refusal, because I didn’t turn on my own morality just because someone/something told me to.
    I can put it into words a little more clearly now, I think: Morality is the EXACT OPPOSITE of letting others tell you what to do without question. It is questioning and thinking about what you and what consequences that will have as much as you possibly can, and then acting accordingly.

    tl;dr: If god told me to sacrifice my child, I would tell god to go fuck himself/herself/itself.

    • Gra*ma Banana says:

      Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told.
      Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.
      – H.L. Mencken.
      I totally agree with the last sentence.

  5. Tim Wolf says:

    The book of James was a key component in my de-conversion. My background is Baptist and “Baptist-like” churches where I was always taught that James’ teachings support the teachings of Paul if you “understand” the book of James. But the more I studied it, the less I was able to reconcile James with Paul. I spent some time taking graduate courses through a conservative seminary and had even planned to write a thesis about this conflict. I’m guessing my thesis would not have been well-received, but I never made it that far. It was around that time of deep biblical study that I truly started to question the bible and my faith. My “extimony” is on exchristian.net. I think the bell curve could also state “How seriously you study the bible”. Because if one studies the bible deeply from cover to cover with even a shred of critical thinking; it becomes very difficult to believe it as literal truth. And for the Christians reading this, I would refer you to one of my favorite memes. The meme is a photo of a woman who looks to be in agony from a migraine while stating “Tried to preach the Bible to atheists. Found out they know the Bible better than I do.”

  6. Garrett Glass says:

    In Leviticus 18, known as part of the Holiness Code, God instructs the Israelites to stop sacrificing their children to the Canaanite god Molech. Molech had the head of a bull, similar to Baal, and a giant iron statue was made of him that also served as a furnace. Children were thrown inside the statue, and their screams were so horrific as they burned to death that the priests had musicians on hand to drown out the sounds of their suffering. This commandment does not mean God was against human sacrifice. In fact, quite the contrary. You can see the real intention of God when you line up all the rest of Leviticus 18 with the commandment against sacrifices to Molech: men may not sleep with their mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, men may not sleep with men as they would with a woman, men may not sleep with beasts.

    It has been said by anthropologists that ancient tribal and nomadic communities like the Israelites had two overwhelming preoccupations: how to find food, and how to keep the birth rate up so that the community would not die out (this was very difficult considering infant mortality was around 40%). The entirety of Leviticus 18 is not about sex or the morality of certain sex acts. It is not about what we call today homosexuality, which God seems to have no problem with elsewhere (David and Jonathan). Nor was it about the evils of human sacrifice, which the Abraham/Isaac story shows was otherwise pleasing to Yahweh. It was entirely about propagation of the species. Man’s first obligation is to impregnate women as often as he can, and have multiple wives in order to do so. Man must avoid both the communal strife and the malformed babies caused by having sex with family members. He must not waste his seed by having anal sex with other men (notice how modern day Christians ignore the vital clause in this commandment: a man may not sleep with another man AS HE WOULD WITH A WOMAN, Men having sex with other men is not in itself wrong, nor is lesbianism). In Genesis 38, Onan is instructed by his father Judah to go into Tamar, his widowed and childless sister-in-law, to have sex with her. Onan cannot refuse the order, but when he has sex with Tamar he “spills his seed” rather than risk impregnating her. Yahweh sees this, is very angry, and strikes down Onan dead for this sin. Spilling your seed – doing that which does not propagate the species – is the terrible sin in Leviticus 18.

    Human sacrifice is nowhere near as grave a sin as failing to beget the progeny who Abraham is told will number “like the stars in the sky”. In fact, human sacrifice is not a sin at all, though it is discouraged for population growth reasons. Yahweh says over and over he is a jealous god and there can be no other gods before him. If an ancient Israelite is going to make a human sacrifice, it better be to Yahweh, and not to some rival god like Molech, and it better be when Yahweh demands it. Even then, he will send an angel to countermand the order, because otherwise Abraham will not have all the progeny he has been promised by God. The Abraham/Isaac tale has to be interpreted given the social and survival conditions of Israelite society at the time.

  7. Karl says:

    This text takes a rather self-obfuscated view of the “will of God” in that no effort is taken to understand that will. Granted scripture says we cannot fully understand, but we must try.

    Here’s my base effort.

    1. it was a test. Murder/sacrifice not intended.
    2. Sacrifice is central. Offerings included bread and grain. No blood shed there. 2.1 the killing of Jesus was not required so much as the willingness of Jesus to allow himself to be crucified. I see no problem in the self-sacrifice of abandoning my selfish desires to be a better father/husband/brother to those in my life I hold higher than myself. Call that sickness if you will. I know some do.
    3. Abraham says God will provide the sacrifice. He is holding something back, right, but resurrection is not hinted at here. Who’s to say God can’t resurrect someone who is immolated? Granted some in power in the church have said that for thousands of years, but people are fallible – even those wielding religious authority.
    4. I can’t really argue. This analysis both seems to deny any supernatural direction in the affairs detailed in scripture and impugn the supernatural deity for supposedly horrific attitudes – a stance only possible under the main effort to intentionally avoid looking at the context and intention of said all-powerful force.
    5. Again, this avoids looking at context. Yahweh in this story is not some voice that cropped up in the middle of the night and told Abraham “go slaughter your beloved only child.” The man had a long relationship with God through visitation by his emissaries – angels, the promise of a son, the miraculous fulfillment of that promise to a couple way past the child-bearing age (despite some selfish, human attempts to achieve the promise with Haggar). When this voice spoke, there was not doubt in his mind with whom he was speaking.

    In sum, I disagree with the notion that people who trust the Bible correspond with those who don’t take it too seriously. (seriously enough?)

    I take it very seriously, though I don’t claim to have all the answers or explanations. I do believe and have seen that in totality, it points to a series of stories, parables, directives and commands to take ones self less seriously, treat others more humanely and share the love of God with the world (not murder, the inquisition, holy wars or any of those failings of human religious leaders).

    I have seen that in my own growth and maturity – when I “die” to personal, insignificant moral failings that have no victim but myself, I have found strength to be a better person to all those in my life – including strangers and those who don’t share my beliefs.

    • “1. it was a test. Murder/sacrifice not intended.”

      But that’s exactly what he was “told” to do. Only a demonstration of a willingness to go through with it would constitute passing the test. Which was exactly the point of #1.

      “2. Sacrifice is central. Offerings included bread and grain. No blood shed there.”

      Which is why God only asked for Abraham to offer bread and grain. And he only required that Jesus make him a sandwich for the forgiveness of our sins. LOL

      “3. Abraham says God will provide the sacrifice.”

      Right. Isaac. If what you’re suggesting is that Abraham was under the impression that he wouldn’t have to kill his son, then this whole story becomes a sham and is a meaningless gesture.

      “4. This analysis both seems to deny any supernatural direction in the affairs detailed in scripture and impugn the supernatural deity for supposedly horrific attitudes”

      A friend once said the distaste which non-believers have for the biblical character Yahweh is akin to a literary criticism more than a personal dislike. I dislike Jar-Jar Binks. Doesn’t mean I think he’s real. Just means I’m a bit insulted by how poorly he was conceived as a character. I think my distaste for him would become much greater if people I loved (and most of my employers) began ordering their lives after the wishes of Jar-Jar.

      “5. Yahweh in this story is not some voice that cropped up in the middle of the night and told Abraham “go slaughter your beloved only child.”

      But…that’s EXACTLY what it was, from my perspective.

      “In sum, I disagree with the notion that people who trust the Bible correspond with those who don’t take it too seriously. (seriously enough?)”

      You seem to misunderstand the nuance of the bell curve, then. I would say there is a critical mass of seriousness after which trust in the book begins to decline. For example, have you ever tried picturing representatives of every living species on the planet being crammed onto a single boat? Or have you ever pictured what would look like for kids to be fleeing a town being torched by fire from the sky only to have their mother’s hand turn to salt in their own hands, quite suddenly? Have you ever tried picturing that in real life? It becomes absurd. Why salt? These are primitive tales.

      “…it points to…directives and commands to take ones self less seriously, treat others more humanely and share the love of God with the world”

      That depends entirely on which parts of the book you honor and which ones you deprecate. The New Testament features the eternal torture of millions thrown into their punishment against their will. Do you feel it lessens the horror to imagine it’s only metaphorical torture?

    • D'Ma says:

      “2. Sacrifice is central. Offerings included bread and grain. No blood shed there.”

      Are you suggesting that bread and grain are all that were offered? Or only that bread and grain were part of what was an acceptable sacrifice/offering? Furthermore, weren’t sacrifice and offerings two different things?

    • Your third point really underscores what godless is trying to say in this post. What God was going to do after Isaac’s death is irrelevant. Abraham could have hoped that God would resurrect Isaac. He could have hoped that God would stop the sacrifice. He could have even hoped that God would give him another son later in life. None of that changes the fact that in the moment, Abraham was completely willing to kill and burn his only child, and he completely believed that this was the right thing to do. God could well have gone on to NOT save/resurrect Isaac, and murdering him would still have been the right thing to do. The story is pretty chilling when you stop to think about it.

  8. joba says:

    Another thing God got wrong. Genisis 22:17 I will give you as many desendants as there are stars in the sky… There are billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars. Rabbits couldn’t fulfill that phrophesy.

    • David says:

      Except that the existence of those billions of stars and galaxies wasn’t known in biblical times. They knew only of the stars visible to the naked eye, which is about 6,000. Sights like the Milky Way weren’t known to consist of stars. That makes Abraham’s progeny fairly paltry, I think.

      • Actually, if you read the rest of the verse (Gen. 22:17) it says, “…or as the sands on the seashore.” So unless you wanna argue that Abraham would estimate there are only a few thousand grains of sand on the shore, I’d say the point still stands for anyone trying to be super literal about this. People way nerdier than me have calculated there are about 7.5 quintillion grains of sand on the earth (see link below) and even if you just limited your count to the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, I read elsewhere that there are about 8 billion grains of sand per cubic meter of beach, so from where one person stands on a beach they can see more grains of sand than there have been people since the beginnings of the planet.


      • joba says:

        You prove my point. The authors of the bible had no idea their were that many stars, but if god did indeed make the stars he would of known the exact number. So why would he tell Abraham he would have as many desendants if god knew it was a physical imposabilty.

  9. Joseph Clem says:

    After reading the article and some of the replies, maybe a few who come to this website can see how utterly impossible it is to try to use Biblical truth to debate unbelievers. Until unbelievers repent and enter into the kingdom of God via the truth of John 3, you will never be able to argue/reason with unbelievers who father Abraham was, what he did, and why he did it. Only then will unbelievers understand the truth of Gen 22:5 where Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and WE (both Abraham & Isaac) will worship and return to you.”

    • It’s equally impossible to have an intelligent discussion with someone who, once their powers of logic fail, fall back on: “Well you have to be a different sort of person to understand what I’m saying.” If your final answer is that you speak a language we cannot hear, then we have no basis for communication. I wonder why you would even take the time to read a blog like this, much less comment. I lack the proper abilities to even understand what you just said. Maybe it was just pearls for the benefit of *your people* and not for the swine such as myself.

      But since you brought it up, your emphasis on the word WE fails to acknowledge that the pronoun doesn’t appear in the second part of the sentence (despite what the English translation you’re using seems to say). Literally translated, the verse says, “And Abraham said to his young men, Stay here with the donkey; and I and the boy will go over there and worship, and come again to you.” It could perhaps be argued that the return of both of them is implied, but it’s still not as obvious as you make it sound, which considerably softens the blow of your proud announcement that you understand the Bible better than I do (because you have something I don’t). Brian’s point still stands, that resurrection from a burnt pile of ashes would have made little sense to someone in Abraham’s day.

      IF we were to grant that both Abraham and Yahweh knew the boy wouldn’t be harmed, then this entire test was meaningless. Abraham wasn’t asked to give up anything at all. His great act of faith would then be that he killed an animal.

      • Kornbread says:

        I agree with Clem, LOL. You need to use smaller words and reasoning.
        You stated sarcastically to Clem that …

        “I lack the proper abilities to even understand what you just said. Maybe it was just pearls for the benefit of *your people* and not for the swine such as myself.”

        The problem actually is that you are too smart for your own good :). It occurs to you that Clem actually lacks the proper abilities to understand what you’re saying or get where you are “coming from.” Your probably right. The problem is how many “Clems” there are: non-skeptical Christians. The bell shaped curve is cute but not-accurate. I believe it may have an enormous spike over the line to the right then a ridiculous decent to the right. I’m talking a negative slope of 0.00001.That’s how few true atheists (that know the bible) there are. The vast majority of people who know the bible in and out believe in it’s words, largely accept the cannon, and trust that the stories contained are all present for a reason – rather than chance (what you believe). I digress.

        That tiny fraction on the right of the graph (rejecting the gospel by taking it too seriously) is as separatist as these bible-thumping evangelical Christians are. The problem with using “big words” is the amount of people you can influence is limited. Atheists need to come up with a schematic of teaching misled, ill-informed, God-fearing ignorant Christians that God doesn’t exist. As education decreases the more mystical thinking people are. The reverse studies have been done as well. How can you convince the masses (over 90% of earth’s population without college degrees) that there is no God. Good luck. God will win every time. Atheists are limited to talking “sense” into billions of irrational ignorant sheeple. “Hope” exists in these sheeple: an issue that atheism could never possibly address. The “crutch of the masses” is there for a reason. This leads to a positive feedback loop where only intelligent people can become atheist and truly live a “free” life. Where you may think its freedom and try to “save” your friends from the “evil” that is God: ubiquitously justifying atheism is an utterly enormous task. Stated another way: atheism is through the narrow gate and wide is the path to destructive religion. I commend you for taking that stand as you have with this blog. Your opinion is that billions of people are abandoning common sense, science, philosophy, history, reason, and logic to believe in fairy tales and stories. I personally do not abandon those things and I exist. The point is…as long as reasonably intelligent, skeptical, appropriately kempt, and decently altruistic people believe in God, atheism will never really catch on. Being a sheep doesn’t sound that bad when you look at atheists’ mountain.

        • Kornbread,

          If I understand the essence of your point, you are saying that I should aim lower and talk down to people instead of talking up, because most people would be incapable of understanding what I’m saying. I’m not sure I follow why this is a good idea. I tend to expect better things from people, contrary to your baseless contention that atheism could never address “hope.” I guess I *hope* for better things from people. Perhaps you feel I’m expecting too much.

          “It occurs to you that Clem actually lacks the proper abilities to understand what you’re saying…”

          I’m not sure where you’re getting the presumption, especially since it was Clem who said *I’m* the one who can’t understand what *he’s* saying. You must have the two of us confused. I am making no such pronouncements about him or you, so give me little more credit than that. Like I said, I always hope for better things from people.

          “I believe it may have an enormous spike over the line to the right then a ridiculous decent to the right. I’m talking a negative slope of 0.00001.”

          As a math teacher I feel obligated to tell you that a slope that close to zero would be a horizontal line. If you meant to indicate a steep slope, then you need a number much higher than 1, not approaching zero. I also teach English and you use several apostrophes as if they indicate plurality, which is a pet peeve of mine. You also misspell the words “descent” and “canon.” A cannon is what pirates shoot cannonballs out of.

          “The vast majority of people who know the bible in and out believe in it’s words, largely accept the cannon, and trust that the stories contained are all present for a reason – rather than chance (what you believe).”

          Tell me more about what I believe. LOL. What does that even mean? The stories are there by chance? Are you referring to a general metaphysical belief in chance as opposed to intelligent design or something? I’m not sure I know what it is you are saying I believe.

          “Atheists need to come up with a schematic of teaching misled, ill-informed, God-fearing ignorant Christians that God doesn’t exist.”

          Or…I could throw myself down a steep hill. One with a steep negative slope ;) One thing I learned quickly over the last few years is that some people are too closed off to new ideas and ways of thinking to even merit much conversation. Not saying anything about their intelligence…just saying they’re closed off. I always start off each new conversation hoping (there it is again) that *this person* will not be one of those. I’m too often disappointed, yes. But I know better now than to invest a great deal of time appealing to someone who believes that reason and logic and evidence are “of the devil.”

          “The ‘crutch of the masses’ is there for a reason. This leads to a positive feedback loop where only intelligent people can become atheist.”

          So what you’re saying this that the smarter people get, the more likely they are to become non-believers? Do I have that right? And are you suggesting I quit speaking of non-belief because people who aren’t as smart wouldn’t agree with me?

          “ubiquitously justifying atheism is an utterly enormous task.”

          Why would I need to “justify” not-believing in something that doesn’t exist? I primarily write to people who have already wrestled with (or are still currently wrestling with) the issues that I’ve dealt with. That’s just how writing works. People who have not come from where I’ve come from won’t get as much from what I write. (shrug)

          “The point is…as long as reasonably intelligent, skeptical, appropriately kempt, and decently altruistic people believe in God, atheism will never really catch on.”

          Well, what if atheists bathe, too? Checkmate! LOL

          • Ron Martin says:

            You write wonderfully and with such clarity! I find myself re-reading your words.
            What a rare breath of fresh air! Thanks for being motivated enough to speak up.

  10. Gra*ma Banana says:

    Joseph Clem: “Until unbelievers repent and enter into the kingdom of God via the truth of John 3, you will never be able to argue/reason with unbelievers who father Abraham was, what he did, and why he did it.” Closed minded and snarky.

    Kornbread: “Being a sheep doesn’t sound that bad when you look at atheists’ mountain.” Defeatist and snarky.

    Instead of scoring points this way, maybe a bit more civility is in order. I like to read everyone’s objections but comments that attack aren’t helpful.

  11. Katie says:

    What you are discussing in point one is often referred to as Euthyphro’s Dilemma: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euthyphro_dilemma

    You’ve probably heard of it before, but I’ll say that the one point that– when I bring it up to Christians –is clearly something they’d never thought of before is this “dilemma.” I usually just say: “Is something good because god calls it good or is goodness an inherent quality that remains unchanged over time. Likewise, is something bad or evil . . . ?” Most Christians have the exact same response: Hmmmm, interesting. I’d never thought through that before. Let me think about it. The first possibility indicates no objective reality (or no way of determining it); the second exposes god to judgement.

  12. Pingback: Link Love (2014-01-21) | Becky's Kaleidoscope

  13. It’s funny that I’m reading this only shortly after writing on how words lose their meaning if we take God to be the final arbiter on what is moral and what is not.(http://letterstomydistantfather.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/on-words-and-their-meanings/). For all the flak that non-believers get for moral relativism, it seems Christianity is rife with more changing positions than some atheistic moral codes. It is very difficult to claim that there is an absolute morality when the very source of that morality changes his prescriptions at will, and often changes them to the complete opposite of his prior commands. Once upon a time it was perfectly okay to march into a certain land (Canaan) and commit genocide and slavery, as commanded by the same God that sent us Christ. Today, not so much.

  14. Andrew Davis says:

    Isn’t it strange, that God who is Purely Good, would order Abraham to Kill his innocent son, Isaac?
    Would our loving Father, God, play a “Trick” like this on His loyal servant?
    Could it be that God NEVER told Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

    All of these questions are answered in this Teaching:

    • The Common Understanding of this record
    • Why is this “Test” Questionable?
    • Did God Tempt Abraham?
    • Burnt Offering vs. Sacrifice
    • Satan’s Deception
    • Not the first time Abraham Miscomprehended
    • How old was Isaac?
    • Other Important things to Note

    -Andrew Davis

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