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Old 06-13-2007, 07:18 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Was Abraham insane?

The story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son to obey God's command is the foundational standard set for unswerving faith in God.

But looked at psychologically, what Abraham was willing to do would get him quickly locked up in modern society for extreme child abuse and attempted murder. Abraham would be put in prison today for many years or put in a mental institution. Yet this man is the model of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim piety.

What do you think?
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Old 06-13-2007, 07:44 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

I have my own interpretation of the story, but I'm going to hold hoping bb responds first.

BTW, welcome to the CR Forums, post-abrahamic. You have an interesting avatar name. Would be interested in why you came up with it.
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Old 06-13-2007, 08:20 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

I think..... i think... i think this is the Deja Vu thread!! Maybe not... no pagans and no prophets to be seen!!!

Hmm.. would'nt be allowed today you are right.
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Old 06-13-2007, 08:51 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

I am having a strange sense of deja vue.........oops wrong thread ...........apologies will go look for Deja vue thread.
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Old 06-13-2007, 09:02 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

In the Jewish tradition it's called the akedah, the "binding" of Isaac and not the sacrifice because the point is he wasn't sacrificed. A ram was instead. Recently I wrote a drash suggesting Isaac as representative of the inner child, with the ram being the animal nature that acts on instinct alone. In that midrashic sense then it's about setting limitations on the hold our imagination and playfulness has on reality, but not destroying it, and not confusing the animalistic parts of ourselves for our inner child.

I think if Abraham existed he probably was a little crazy, and thank G!d, because it's the crazies who create change in the world. But I don't think this thing is craziness. Child sacrifice wasn't uncommon and Abraham acted in accord with the practices of the day. If anything this is an event that speaks against child sacrifice by saying that it's not what G!d wants.

But really, it seems unlikely to me this story is about an historical Abraham. It seems more like something later authors would have created as a polemic against child sacrifice. Perhaps in an earlier version of the story there really was a sacrifice.

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Old 06-13-2007, 11:08 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

I found from the writings of the early Saints:

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Among other things, of which it would take too long time to mention the whole, Abraham was tempted about the offering up of his well-beloved son Isaac, to prove his pious obedience, and so make it known to the world, not to God. Now every temptation is not blame-worthy; it may even be praise-worthy, because it furnishes probation. And, for the most part, the human mind cannot attain to self-knowledge otherwise than by making trial of its powers through temptation, by some kind of experimental and not merely verbal self-interrogation; when, if it has acknowledged the gift of God, it is pious, and is consolidated by steadfast grace and not puffed up by vain boasting. Of course Abraham could never believe that God delighted in human sacrifices; yet when the divine commandment thundered, it was to be obeyed, not disputed. Yet Abraham is worthy of praise, because he all along believed that his son, on being offered up, would rise again; for God had said to him, when he was unwilling to fulfill his wife's pleasure by casting out the bond maid and her son, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called."
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Old 06-13-2007, 11:45 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

Thank you for your opinions.

For myself, I think the whole story expresses mental illness both in Abraham's willingness to murder his own son for presumably a voice in his head, and in the god who told Abraham to do such a thing and then says, "No, I was only kidding!" Either way, you have child abuse and mental cruelty to the extreme.

This set the tone for Abrahamic religionists to put their religious ideas ahead of everything else, including morality.
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Old 06-15-2007, 10:49 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

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Originally Posted by post-abrahamic View Post
This set the tone for Abrahamic religionists to put their religious ideas ahead of everything else, including morality.
i have to say i don't care for your tone. the fact is that the akedah is one of the most recondite and mysterious parts of the bible. many of us struggle with abraham's actions, because on a literalist level, we cannot imagine a situation in which we might act similarly and this is not that surprising. you should understand that abraham's monotheism was defining itself in terms of religious norms at the time, which commonly required human sacrifice of the firstborn son. what G!D does here, on another level, is to set up the expectation of "religion" and then completely subvert it by saying "hey, you're expecting your new god to ask you to sacrifice your firstborn, like normal, but at the last moment I'm going to pull the rug out from under that and make you understand that it isn't "business as usual" from now on."

for myself, it only began to make any sense once i understood the mystical aspects of what he did. by suppressing his natural feelings of compassion and parental protection, he in effect forced G!D to "compensate", thus releasing a Divine "flow" of compassion into the cosmos.

applying the standards of modern psychology to the bible is actually a fairly fruitless exercise. psychology is barely a science as it is and a completely inadequate tool for biblical exegesis. by attempting to shoehorn sacred history into categories of "mental illness" or "child abuse" quite simply doesn't make any kind of sense.

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Old 06-15-2007, 12:30 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

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Originally Posted by post-abrahamic View Post
Thank you for your opinions.

For myself, I think the whole story expresses mental illness both in Abraham's willingness to murder his own son for presumably a voice in his head, and in the god who told Abraham to do such a thing and then says, "No, I was only kidding!" Either way, you have child abuse and mental cruelty to the extreme.

This set the tone for Abrahamic religionists to put their religious ideas ahead of everything else, including morality.
Hello, everyone. This is perhaps one of the most interesting topics anyone has introduced for discussion so far. Abraham "sacrificing" his son!!!

I think as 21st-century citizens, most of us are going to puke at the kind of thing Abraham decides to do in his efforts to honour God. Laying your son on an altar, killing and burning him. Alarm bells start ringing. Child abuse.

When I read this story as a child, it was in the Picture Bible, which showed Isaac as a grown-man (possibly a teenager, 17 or 18), rather than a little boy. That depiction has stayed with me, so I actually went to have a look in Genesis to see if there was anything said on Isaac's age at the time. "Child abuse" is still possible on teenagers, particularly if it started in childhood. Due to the adult-depiction of Isaac, I never really saw it as something bad.

The alarm bells are apparently still ringing, but I thought rather than state the obvious with regards to 21st-century thinking (child abuse), I'd like to describe what it might mean if we put this act in a different context.

First I think I might drop a warning. There might be a few controversial views here, but I just thought we might put things in context.

I believe the issue here is not solely about decency, dignity or morality, but also about beliefs about decency, dignity and morality.

I think it's important to note that Abraham was not immersed in a modern, 21st-century culture. His conscience therefore, cannot be evaluated against "modern values," because modern values didn't exist at the time, and Abraham can't be accused of violating concepts upheld by modern values. Modern values didn't exist, and because Abraham could not have violated them due to their non-existence, nor did he violate the concepts that modern values uphold.

Modern values aren't "moral absolutes" but are more like "signposts" that highlight behaviours that should be encouraged and discouraged. That is where values come from -- it is an emphasis on what is to be encouraged and discouraged. "Child abuse" is a label we use to describe something we consider abhorrent because we don't want so-called "child abuse" in our society. It's a threat to the overall welfare and dignity of our 21st-century society. If this behaviour was not discouraged, it might go on unchecked. Think about what our "21st-century dream" might amount to. We'd have people building altars to God and burning their kids on them.

I don't see "modern values" as universal. Modern values simply highlight encouraged and discouraged behaviour in individuals in modern society. When a person goes against "modern values" their beliefs are seen as a "disease." They are disturbed people with defective minds. Their conscience has been extinguished.

But is it really right or reasonable to classify people who go against the "norm" in their way of thinking as "mentally diseased?" What do we say about gays, lesbians and homosexuals? Are they diseased and disturbed? People who practice "witchcraft"? Are people into religion disturbed? The track record of Abrahamic faiths hasn't been that pretty. Some would say that alignment with Abrahamic faiths is an unhealthy pursuit. But my faith isn't illegal. I am allowed to go to church. Moreover, not all of society thinks religion is a disease. Not everyone thinks I'm a diseased person just because I'm an adherent of a particular religion. Were the Chinese "diseased" because they bent and bound their women's feet into little stumps?

Modern values versus supposedly warped concepts? To me it's just ideology. It's like the Ideology of Race. The white man thought he was superior to all other cultures just because a group of people with a particular skin colour created an infrastructure/social system that developed theories of science that came to be adopted worldwide in the 21st-century. The white man has since reformed and humbled himself.

The theology extends beyond the physical. That is why I think it's understandable for people to believe sacrificing people like that is ok. It doesn't violate the innocence of a child if he/she understands the significance of it and if their soul is actually going somewhere meaningful and the act is worthwhile. Many of the Aztecs going up onto the altars to be sacrificed actually welcomed it.

I can understand how one might respond. The kid is being duped. Fooled by superstitious nonsense. There is no afterlife. The kid's innocence is being betrayed and violated because the beliefs motivating the act might not be true. If it's true it's ok, but if it's not true there is nothing we can do about it. We might be wrong in telling these people they believe in a lie. What if it's true? We just have to let those who believe what they believe to go on believing what they believe because the reality they see is important to them. I think it'd be rather arrogant to impose our perceptions of reality on someone else.

That is not to say I wouldn't discourage the behaviour. I would discourage it in a 21st-century environment, but in anything other than a 21st-century environment, I would probably accept that some cultural beliefs or world views can't be changed, or that my perception of reality is limited in scope.

That said, I wouldn't have stopped Abraham (going back in time) from doing it back then, though I would have stopped him today (him coming to the future). It was a different reality back then. And yes, I believe reality is subjective. Meaning is subjective. I don't believe people's deeds should be measured by "universal standards" and "absolute values." Deeds should be evaluated according to the reality one sees.

This kind of "child abuse," where a person sacrifices their kids on altars in an effort to honour God, is usually authorised by an established religion. The daily sacrifice of 100 people by the Aztecs, for example, was authorised by an established religion. But Abraham wasn't a follower of an established religion. There was no church or synagogue. It wasn't something systematically authorised by a religious establishment. We can reasonably say that someone who does this because they are systematically instructed to by a religious establishment to do so might be mentally disturbed, but what of someone who does it because it was something prompted from a personal relationship with God?

Ok, it's possible that Abraham, though not following instructions from a religious establishment, and not being systematically instructed to sacrifice his son might then have had hallucinations in which he was told to do so. But as adherents of the Abrahamic faiths, we also appreciate the possibility that there is a realm beyond the physical -- something supernatural.

Here I would like to make a distinction between superstitious beliefs and an open-minded search for God. Superstitious beliefs are systematically confined to a logical framework and an individual acting under superstitious beliefs acts as one systematically manipulated by that logic. Abraham either had an open-minded, personal relationship with God, contemplating and speculating about what He wanted, ready to listen; or he could have been someone systematically bound and manipulated by superstitious logic.

Several points here. Let's assume, from the evidence given in Genesis:

1) Abraham was acting independently (apart from being instructed by God), and was not receiving instructions from a priest. His actions were not systematically authorised by a religious establishment.
2) Abraham had a personal, open-minded relationship with God. His actions were not inspired by manipulative, superstitious logic.

Possible alternative situation(s):

1) There was a priest around that was not documented in Genesis. Abraham was not instructed by God to perform the act, but by a priest.
2) Abraham was acting under superstitions
3) Abraham invented his own religion and this was part of it
4) Abraham was mentally disturbed
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Old 06-15-2007, 02:18 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

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Originally Posted by bananabrain View Post
for myself, it only began to make any sense once i understood the mystical aspects of what he did. by suppressing his natural feelings of compassion and parental protection, he in effect forced G!D to "compensate", thus releasing a Divine "flow" of compassion into the cosmos.
Namaste BB,

Yes the layers of the bible, there is the historical context of human sacrifice prior to, and the lesson being learned by following the request of G-d...

And your point on the mystical leads to my thoughts on the metaphysical.

Put your offspring into the fire... Metaphysically our sons and daughters can represent ideas... How many times have we had an idea that we loved and new would work/benefit...yet were convinced by others to drop it, to not proceed, to put it in the fire?

Who did we allow to represent G-d in his case? (put no gods before me) Where did the divine inspiration (idea, offspring) come from in the first place (isn't all from G-d?)

I think I've performed the metaphysical implications of this sacrifice in my physical life many a time. When I didn't listen to G-d who provided me with the right path. Abraham listened throughout...he followed the direction of G-d right upto and including NOT sacrificing his son/idea. But he allowed himself to challenge all the notions in the process.

So when G-d gives us an idea....it may be a good idea not to let anyone else take it away from us...and it may be a good idea to test it, to proceed as if and see where it takes us...before we commit ourselves...
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Old 06-16-2007, 08:32 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

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Originally Posted by bananabrain View Post
what G!D does here, on another level, is to set up the expectation of "religion" and then completely subvert it by saying "hey, you're expecting your new god to ask you to sacrifice your firstborn, like normal, but at the last moment I'm going to pull the rug out from under that and make you understand that it isn't "business as usual" from now on."
Never quite thought of it that way....

I have always thought that God would have wanted to see if Abraham would go ahead and kill and sacrifice his son......as a "test of faith."

Maybe yes, indeed God was planning to stop him in the end, because showing one's faith and devotion that way wasn't necessary. God had his reservations, but was willing to exploit cultural beliefs and use them to test his faith. There was an element of uncertainty there. God was taking advantage of Abraham's ignorance.....of Himself.

What I mean is, I thought of it as a test of faith, it was not done with the intention of saying, "I am a different God."

Or maybe it was both? A test of faith as well as a way of conveying God's own attitude to ritual sacrifice as part of the unfolding relationship between Abraham and God?

Abraham had never known what this God could require of him as one of His people. Does he want me to sacrifice my son as with other gods? The rules were clear for other gods (obviously because their religions were man-made and systematically enforced). But with this God who created heaven and earth, a God with no temple at the time, no priesthood to tell people how to worship Him, this invisible God with no human, established authority around, there was a question of what to expect.

This was a chance for God to make an impression...to answer an important question of theology. Make known, reveal and demonstrate something of Himself....particularly His attitude to ritual sacrifice.

Of course, later on, ritual sacrifice is indeed ordained as part of a religion, but not with humans.

And still later we discover that the ritual sacrifice is symbolic of something else.....not the sacrifice of something physical, but something spiritual....the soul.....which is still a ritual sacrifice nonetheless, but doesn't involve real flesh and blood.

and that has evolved.....into what we now know as modern Judaism, Christianity and Islam......each with their own way of conceptualising ritual sacrifice of the soul rather than something physical.

That came some time after our collective relationship with God matured....for us to understand how to move on from rituals involving the physical to rituals involving the spiritual.

Of course, some "rituals" (sins and good deeds) in life will always somehow involve the body and not just the mind -- ie. murder, sex, expression of hatred by grievous bodily harm, expression of love and devotion (hugging, smiling, laughing, etc.).

Lying is a "ritual" that does involve the body....chemical changes in the blood....eye movements......changes in blood pressure.....wrinkles on the forehead. When someone lies they give off signals. Expression of deceit. Hard to detect but it's there. If your body is a temple, the temple is desecrated by the fact that an act of unholiness and vile character is being expressed -- and a ritual is an expression of vile character. It's the manifestation and realisation of something vile, a vice that lurks in the heart revealed.

Man may not see it, but God can see it. He can detect the scum that defiles the temple, after all, He created and designed the temple. He knows how it's been built. Any structural flaws? He can diagnose them. Is there a disease or plague? He'll find it.

Note: By rituals I'm not referring to "traditional rituals" like ceremonies (ie. Sin Offering, Atonement, etc.) -- but "everyday life rituals" that can be regarded as acts of holiness or unholiness.
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Old 06-17-2007, 10:19 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

I'm sure a few thousand years from now, people will look back on us and think we were insane for a number of reasons, not least continued destruction of our planet's natural habitats and resources.
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Old 06-17-2007, 10:43 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

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I'm sure a few thousand years from now, people will look back on us and think we were insane for a number of reasons, not least continued destruction of our planet's natural habitats and resources.
I'm wondering who might be around to be doing this thinking?

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Old 06-17-2007, 03:13 PM   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

Snoopy,

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I'm wondering who might be around to be doing this thinking?
Mutant cockroaches.

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Old 06-17-2007, 04:53 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Was Abraham insane?

hearing voices telling his to kill his son? no, he wasn't mentally ill...?
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