Saturday, 5 August 2006.
By Pascal Fervor
Judaism and Christianity have one very important thing in common. They are life-affirming religions.
How do we know this? Before I start, let's be clear here. For the purposes of this essay, none of the following Bible stories need to be accepted as factual. For the sake of understanding what the message is, it all could be treated as legendary. What is of utmost importance to the creed is meant to be conveyed by this story, so it matters little whether it's factual or mythological. Ethos represented by mythos is long accepted practice. Should one choose to extend their skepticism right up to considering what the moral of a legendary story pretty clearly is, then the rest of the world ought rightly, logically, be skeptical of what gives rise to such skepticism.
Most of what we need to know about the common root of these two monotheistic religions comes from Genesis 22. This is the chapter wherein Abraham was asked to bring up to the place of sacrifice his son. This was not any son. This was the one for which Abraham and Sarah had prayed for a very long time. In seeking this child they had undergone many moments of doubt and ordeal and waited such a very long time that Sarah was 90 years old (Abe 99) when she gave birth.
What does God ask of Abraham? Bring up that son to the place of sacrifice. Child sacrifice was the rule and not the exception in the ancient world of Abraham's time. If not childlike innocence, it was virginal innocence. But we are assured that it was innocents who bore the brunt of these practices. There are other legendary stories which tell us that Abraham himself had survived a fiery ordeal to which he was sentenced by Nimrod. In attempting to rescue Abraham, Abraham's brother perished. From this obligation, Abraham took his brother's son Lot as his ward.
Again, none of this need be taken as anything but myth. Maybe this back-legend was created to help explain Abraham's inclinations. But in reality, such an explanation is not of itself necessary. All that is necessary is to understand that one man DID choose to break with established traditions. It is from this traditional break that the very best humanitarian ideals gained a chance to flourish. Many others have argued that human progress itself stems from this break. Interesting thoughts worth pursuing, but not now and not here.
Now I come to the essential part of the story. This is where Abraham starts a revolution for which the ancient world never forgave him or those who followed his creed. I think it is for the very same reasons that so much of the modern world has renewed that hatred. In fact, that's at the end of this essay, so you'll have to wait for it.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob tells Abraham “do not harm the lad.” Because Abraham didn't hold back what was most precious to him, God tells him that He now knows that Abraham is the right choice for starting the life affirming religions that He wishes to see spread across the earth.
What did these two have to endure to have proven their worthiness?
On the way up to the sacrifice, Isaac asks his father where the lamb is for the burnt offering. And Abraham tells Isaac that God will provide His own offering. Abraham doesn't deny that Isaac may be it, but their demeanor suggests they are determined to face up to this together. After all, any seven year old may easily elude a centenarian.
We already know from previous episodes that Abraham had harbored doubts before. He wound up suffering from the consequences derived from those doubts. So it seems that now he is past them. But the same cannot be said for Isaac. His mettle has yet to be tested. One may be forgiven for doubting that this was a happy time for him. He likely had doubts about his father just as Abraham and Sarah had once harbored them toward God and His promises.
When they get there (where the Dome of the Rock is sited today), Isaac is bound and placed on the alter. Other than a three day journey to get to the base of the mountain where they leave the servants behind, we are not told of how long this ordeal took to unfold. The passage in the bible is simply stated, without drama. But, knowing human nature and its shortcomings, surely every moment had to be excruciating for the father who so wanted this son. It seems fair to think it was arguably more so for the son. He had to be dedicated to follow the faith of his father. Isaac's proof was demonstrable in his self-offering. And certainly, demonstrably, this was to provide a pattern for all those who followed these two in spirit (though not always by blood).
The rest of the story is the part from which I have found particular meaning. What has troubled me for so long was how to make the connection to the modern world meaningful for my readers.
Abraham has Isaac bound on the alter. He has the knife extended in his hand prepared to slit his son's throat. Abraham receives the Godly message. The message is not only to stop what he thinks he has no other choice to do. But he is directed to where the ram that the Lord has selected has been hidden. It was off-camera, caught by its horns in a thicket. It was there all along, but it just was not easy to find. Abraham's faith was rewarded. Isaac's faith in his father and his father's faith stood well for him.Once again, it matters little if this story is all or partly true. What matters is the essence of the creed it represents.
In all the crises that come to threaten you, have faith that a solution will be found short of taking innocent human life.The ram you need is there somewhere, wanting to come out, but caught up by circumstances unforeseen.
This creed seems to anticipate the dilemma we find ourselves in today: the fear of overpopulation.
Postmodern thinking heavily focuses on that fear. This is exhibited by it frequently seeking and then widely publicizing the worst case forecasts of ramifications stemming from that fear. E.g., global warming, ozone layer depletion, water shortage, waste management, pest control, etc. By emphasing worst cases, the social engineer may know he's abusing his strongest persuasive tool for overcoming the public's resistance to change, but justifies it by rationalizing that the ends justify the means. By fanning fears of those incompletely schooled or none in the complexities of the various phenomena makes them deaf to those closest to them who have enough education to see the illogic but who don't see or who discount the effectiveness of the ploy.
Nevertheless, repeated applications of extreme pessimism coupled with wide and repeated disseminations has brought about serious distortions to institutions we established in our progress to greatness. Were music to accompany each of these inroads, you'd hear an instrument like a slide flute shifting from a vibrant major chord to a sad minor.
For these institutions were founded to sustain our commitments to personal liberty in pursuit of happiness, and most of all, to all the marvelous wonders that only human life can appreciate. We dedicated them, typically: to foster and preserve human life, to identify and advance the best so the public would benefit from superior influences in all fields, to inculcate morality and to encourage procreation so as to involve the greatest number with the on-going thread of life.
But now, with a postmodernism incipiently taking control we typically see our institutions discourage procreative sex, teach that all morality is relative, hinder the best in many fields from attaining positions of influence, degrade rigorous public health practices such as quarantines and judicious application of antibiotics, and increasingly refuse to differentiate between aggressors and defenders. In short, our institutions are being directed on precisely the course "Progressive" leaders would chart once they were unalterably convinced that population has no other solution but life reduction.
The preferred method is the passive aggression typically exemplified by so many world leaders. For instance, look for the U.N. to claim moral authority to be guardian of the lives of the world's downtrodden, and then watch it adopt a non-interference stance toward almost any murdering agent that may arise. Look for them to consistently equate violence initiators with those reacting in their own defense.
I suspect the same fears -- but more local -- abounded in Abraham's time. I cannot prove it. However, simply consider what we've discovered in the archeology of the Mayans. It is certain they didn't have a rebellious Abraham to save a portion of that civilization from the devastating practices its fears institutionalized.
I think it is easy to see that the root of the Judeo-Christian creed means to preserve optimism about life. It prods us to keep looking for solutions for what I suspect has been a worry from time immemorial. It fosters that belief most assuredly to stave off the pessimism which leads to what it long considered unconscionable events.
Nowadays, unconscionable events our culture once reviled and consistently held up as proof of how much better we have it here, seems to go on daily (Zimbabwe, Sudan) without most of us noticing. And how has our once moral voice been silenced? Vicious stalkers prowl for any moral voice raised in protest. Then they quickly descend to drown it out with shrieks or, where sound has no effect, to scar the messenger with a plethora of unfounded calumnies. On one hand we are assailed by those who deny we have any right or reason to lead resistive forces against evil, while on the other hand, there are others ever-ready to upbraid us, shouting that it's offensive to ridicule the rest of the world for doing not one thing to stop the atrocities.
So naturally those who try to make an effort where we arguably have a strategic reason to do so (the Middle East) are condemned certainly by those who think life-saving efforts are counter-productive. But we also are condemned by those who have so embraced pacifism they refuse to see that pacifism would allow murder to go on unchecked. So many death heads have piled up in the shadow of pacifists who tirelessly build obstacles for those who would confront aggressors, that most assuredly such pacifists will find they are granted the saint-hood they so richly deserve – but by hell.
And one thing is certain. When you believe that there is nothing you can do, you won't look for a solution. And the tragedy of that is you won't ever see the ram awaiting you.
In Thomas Malthus' time, he predicted widespread death by famine to be 50 years in the future. But a few years later, the ram of the agricultural revolution convinced even him his was wrong. About a century and half later, Paul Ehrlich was predicting even worse in only 20 years. And then the ram came again.
So what is this ram? Wherefore does it spring? Is it Abraham's God in action? Certainly the faithful think so, and are dutifully grateful to Him for the rest of us. But there is a natural explanation too. Our ram is the one that is ever emergent from human ingenuity and man's will to survive.
But the "scientific" thinking going back to Malthus' time never really went away. That is, there are those who use science and math to justify their own limited thinking. They have worked diligently to convince all of mankind. And much of mankind has come to believe it too. Too many scoff at technology, saying it cannot always solve the problem. What I find so ludicrous in these pessimists' thinking, is they think of their considerations as paramount. Their fear that man's ingenuity must eventually give out is daily reflected in policies and actions of, in my opinion, far too may institutions. They don't believe we'll ever conquer outer space and the planets and find relief for large populations. They don't believe we'll ever achieve fusion that would permit us to convert anything we have in abundance to anything else for which we are running short. And then there are the haters of humanity who constantly buzz in the ears of all these pessimists. Those who would be optimists are constantly being indoctrinated into becoming pessimists like our "greatest" thinkers. I am convinced this is a major reason that the �intelligent� world works tirelessly to belittle and eliminate the influence of Judeo-Christian ethics.
Meanwhile, to those who follow Abrahamic creeds, or the others who have adopted the optimistic view he helped create, the proof of your faith is that you do not deliberately take innocent human life. And the sacrifice of each new generation is to dedicate themselves to doing all that they can do to protect innocents. No matter whether it's God gifted or by nature given, human intelligence is humanity's greatest resource. A second gift, though I fear too many have been encouraged into believing it's a shortcoming, is humility. You are not God. This humility comes with understanding that one is not the source of his own intelligence. Humility should help prevent the overly bright from thinking they are like God. It unfortunately rarely appears in those who need that gift the most.
And from all that is derived what major wars have already been fought over and worse ones may yet be fought. That no man, and no lesser god, has the right to decide who may live and who may die in the same manner that herds of animals are kept in check.
The difference between a life affirming religion and all the other belief systems is this central message.
Our secular world has been indoctrinating the whole globe with the notion that the world is endangered by it being burdened by too many people. It does not see that human intelligence is our greatest resource. It sees greater and lesser lights. It decides who is better and who is worse. Its influence has redirected society's concerns: from discouraging people from harming themselves and others into encouraging the human to explore wherever he feels inclined; it tries to belittle or obscure histories that warn of consequences from poor or risky choices. It shrugs at NAMBLA and is angered by the Boy Scouts. It decides who should be saved and who should not be. It decides whom to come to the aid of and whom should be abandoned. Who is innocent and who is not becomes one of being deemed so by those who play god, not by anything unthreatening the subjugated creature chooses to do or not do. Those who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob clearly pose an obstacle to those who don't believe that such a God exists. “Since no such God exists, who will do the providing? No. NO. Stand aside. Let us brilliant ones, unencumbered by an outdated morality, take on the role of God. Someone must!”
These two messages are incompatible.
There will be conflict over this. It has already begun.
I hope I have made clear where the conflict appears to me to be. Dear reader, it is best to know which side you stand with. It should be obvious that one side isn't taking prisoners.
Part two to this essay can be found here: God Asked Abraham to OFFER Isaac, Nothing More
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