Abraham: Abusive Parent to Isaac?
Why was Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac, and should he be considered an abusive parent?
The question of why Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac goes directly to the question of how morals came about. Jews and Christians take their moral foundations from the Bible so it is hard to fault Abraham for being willing to sacrifice his son before he was told what was right and wrong by God and before the Ten Commandments were even dictated. Even so the idea of killing one’s own son is so horrifying to us today that is hard to imagine how anyone, in any time period could not be wrong in doing so.
The fact that Abraham’s hand trembled when he moved his knife towards Isaac shows he deeply loved the boy, yet he didn’t hesitate in the task God put before him. The only explanation for his actions is that his devotion to God was stronger than any connection he could have with another human, even his son. I don’t think he can be considered an abusive parent for those actions in a time period without a legal system that forbad such actions. Not because a law makes something right or wrong but because among the Israelites there was no well-developed set of morals that could be compared to what God said. Today Abraham would have been jailed for those actions. Some murderers have claimed that they killed because God told them to, yet no effort has been made to validate their claims. Instead they have been locked up or executed (I think we can safely ignore the charges of animal cruelty in this example). I don’t think this contradicts the argument that our legal system was formed out of a Judeo-Christian moral foundation. It simply shows that because of our separation of church and state and more developed ideas on morality, some which actually come later in the Bible, those actions should now be considered criminal.
If we analyze this part of Genesis by treating it as a myth we can ignore the question of what kind of father Abraham and ask the question of why it was put in the Bible. The Old Testament tells the history of the Ancient Israelites and it also teaches a set of morals and traditions. The ancient Israelites lived in a time when human sacrifices were practiced in many other surrounding cultures. This story teaches that this type of sacrifice is not what the Hebrew God wants. I see that as a step forward in developing a unique set of morals among the Israelites. The story also teaches that a truly pious man will do anything God requires and that God may set up situations to test people.
Some philosophical schools of thought have tried to look at morality without God. A classic question in existentialism is what would have happened if Moses had come down from Mt. Sinai and instead of bring the Ten Commandments he had said that God told him that the people should come up with their own system of morals. Would there be anarchy or would people be able to come up with their own system of morals without the help of God? I feel the second statement is because I think people are born with a fairly rational mind that intrinsically knows right from wrong.
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