Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: The Milgram Experiment

Just when you thought it couldn't get any sicker, there's Genesis 22.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then 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.”
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded 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. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 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.”
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. 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,[c] because you have obeyed me.”
19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.
 At least the idea behind this is obvious: Abraham is blessed because he demonstrates absolute obedience to God. The first problem with this is that people hear God saying all sorts of things to them. Recently God told a woman to put her baby in the microwave, so she did. So surely God will bless her and make her descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. God commanded Oral Roberts to tell people that God had commanded them to send him money. God commanded Joseph Kony to kidnap children and make them into sex slaves and soldiers who attacked villages and maimed their inhabitants with machetes.  God commands a whole lot of white American Christians to murder people, and obviously I could go on endlessly.

Murdering your son is wrong. If God commands you to do it, tell God to fuck off.

A couple of other points about this. I've already discussed the number of stars in the sky and grains of sand on the seashore in relation to the number of Abraham's descendants. Fortunately we haven't gotten close to either of those numbers yet. Abraham actually has two sons, as we know, but I suppose at this point Ishmael has been disowned and doesn't count.

The NIV, as is its wont, covers up a problem by giving us the English translation of The Lord Will Provide. The Hebrew is Jehovahjireh, but Abraham does not know that Jehovah is God's secret name. Exodus 6:3: "And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them." Later, the Rabbis would conclude that God's name can never be written or spoken, and that it must be presented without the vowels, YWHW. So Genesis is blasphemous.


Don Quixote said...

There is a fascinating take on the Abraham/Isaac story in Dan Simmons's "Hyperion"/"Endymion" tetralogy, wherein it turns out that Abraham is actually testing god! The names are different, but the Abraham figure (Sol) decides to "go through" with sacrificing his only daughter, Rachel, in what is actually a cosmic game of "chicken." If god really wants Sol to go all the way and kill his daughter, he won't actually do it ... but god doesn't know that (I know, god's omniscience is therefore nonexistent). This is how Sol tests god to see if he's worth having as a god or not, and when the sacrifice is provided in Rachel's stead, he knows god is worthy.

Mark said...

Reminds me of a question on, which asked what you would do if god asked you to kill your son. My answer was in four parts.
!. I would say since I have no son, and god would know that, you must not be god.
2. If I had a son god would know I wouldn't kill him, so he wouldn't bother asking, so you must not be god.
3. God would not ask me to kill my son.
4. There is no god.

Cervantes said...

Yes, the Hyperion tetralogy is a powerful work of literature. I read that someone was trying to make a movie of it but I think that is impossible. Anyway Simmons is very interested in religion, and his take on it rewards your attention.