Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why Abraham is not the story to guide you

An open letter to my cousin – someone advised him to read Abraham to help him understand some of the difficult things going on in his life.

I disagree – Abraham has no lessons for us.

In times of trouble, Christians and Jews point to the stories of Abraham, Jonah, and other men who were severely tested by God, and draw parallels to our own troubles. God, it is said, has a plan for us, and sometimes our loving God knows that we need to suffer in order to be better people, or in the service of some greater good.

Abraham was ordered to kill his own son Isaac, surely the most precious thing a man has. What task could ever be harder than that? Abraham was surely as unhappy as a man could be, yet he knew that one must serve God's purpose, no matter what.

The modern interpretation tells us we should take comfort from this during our own times of trouble. We should obey God's will no matter what, and accept fate just as Abraham did. God has a plan for us, our unhappiness has a purpose, even if we can't fathom it.

That's the modern interpretation, but it's wrong.

The first mistake in this interpretation is that most modern Christians think that Abraham's God (or rather the God who was worshipped by the author of Genesis) is the same God that we worship today – all powerful, full of love, fatherly, and wise. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The ancients who told this story, and the biblical author who first wrote this story down, worshipped a completely different idea of God. They thought their god was a flesh-and-blood god, made of the same stuff as you and me, but with god-like powers. He was the God of Armies, not our Almighty god. Abraham's God was not a nice guy. Back in Abraham's time, warriors were brutal, death was commonplace, and God was believed to be sort of a super-warrior.

So the correct interpretation of Abraham and Isaac is that God was deliberately being cruel to Abraham, putting him to a very harsh test, just to prove to himself that Abraham was reliable. It was hardly more than a modern hazing or gang initiation rite. There was no kindness in God's actions, no great lesson for Abraham to learn.

The second mistake in the modern interpretation of Abraham is that it is part of the "slave mentality" of Christianity, a way to keep Christians in slave-like servitude to the church and the monarchies of the middle ages. People were taught that when your life is miserable, rather than rising up to change things, rather than fighting to make things better, we should accept our fate. It's God's will – after all, look at Abraham and the test God put him through. Whatever is wrong in our lives, just accept it as your fate, and be strong and loyal like Abraham, who didn't complain but just followed orders.

Cousin, the lesson to be learned from Abraham is that it sucks to have mean people in control of your life. Don't let them! If your life sucks, get out and make it better. If something is wrong, fix it. If someone is trying to manipulate your life, tell them to take a hike. If you're unhappy, find out why, and start making your life better.

And in addition to rejecting this slave mentality, we should also help our friends and family to become better people. We need to teach them to reject oppresion, to reject unhappiness, and to always fight to make things better.

Blind obedience is for the timid, the unhappy. To be genuinely fulfilled in life, you have to make it happen yourself.

You made a good start at the memorial service. Keep it up.


  1. Abraham teaches us to question what our father tells us we must do...

  2. Amazing post, keep up the good job !

  3. I get all the messages I need about fathers from watching 'The Simpsons'

  4. I love your post! My puppy was recently hit by a car and passed away. Someone told me that it's like the story of Abraham and that this was a test from God. I'm not religious at all and don't tell people what to believe but I do have the right to believe in what I want to believe. I believe in facts. I believe in science. I don't believe that we need to be pushed to follow a God who can be considered a bully based on the Abraham story. Great post again!


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