A UU Pagan & a Muslim walk into an Irish pub

January 29, 2015 at 2:54 am 5 comments

So, a couple of days ago my partner and I were discussing an article he had just read, written by a Muslim critiquing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. More on that another day!

I made some comment about my accepting attitude towards Muslims, and he challenged this by bringing up an incident he witnessed in which I offended a Muslim co-worker/friend of mine. I found this rather ironic, considering that we’d just established that offending Muslims (intentionally or unintentionally) is not the same as hating or excluding them. Still, Little Miss Amateur Interfaith Diplomat has been racking her brain trying to remember what this was and recalled today that it was something about the story in which God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to him, and then at the last minute, a lamb shows up as a substitute sacrifice. If I recall correctly, I brought this up after noting that fairy tales in their original forms were not what we’d consider appropriate reading material for children, but then children back in Ye Olden Days were not protected from “Scary Adult Stuff” in the way that they are now. I then noted the similar irony to the popular belief that the Bible is this nice kid-friendly book, the Abraham & Isaac story being a prime example of Great Ways to Traumatize Kids. Children’s Bibles typically include this story, along with Noah’s Ark, Creation and “the Fall” etc. (To be fair, we also need kid-friendly versions of Greek and Norse myths…) Anyhow, being a mom to 3 sons, and a Muslim my co-worker was taken aback to hear me speak ill of this story, she thought it was a nice one about having faith in God (which is how all 3 of the Abrahamic faiths typically view it) I can’t remember if I said much more, but I did decide it was wisest to let it go, and agree to disagree so no further offense would take place, especially since we were there to entertain the guests on the tour at an Irish pub, and more light-hearted conversation would certainly be preferable!

Thing is, even if it was somehow an appropriate situation for discussing, I’m not sure if there is really a way to explain without horribly offending Muslims, Christians and Jews alike how this story conflicts with my basic theological, philosophical and ethical principles. (And I’m sure some of y’all struggle with this one yourselves!) I have trouble imagining this story being used in a UU Religious Education setting (yes, Biblical material *is* included in our curriculum, along with material from lots of other religions!)

Some Christians approach this story by trying to connect it with God giving up his only son, Jesus in sacrifice instead of humanity- but Abraham doesn’t give up his son, as a lamb is sent as a replacement. This sort of “See, this old Jewish story *really* supports the Whole Jesus Thing!” is why I tend to prefer looking at Jewish interpretations of Jewish texts, with more than one viewpoint.

It’s also looked at as- in the Bad Old Days of idol-worship, people sacrificed babies, but now that the One True God has come along, we know better than to do that! According to this Biblical scholar, human sacrifice was a widespread but rare practice in the ancient Near East, including in Israel.

In the Qur’an, the son being sacrifice is Ishmael but the basic “Have faith in God” message is the same. Is this supposed to be more about obeying God, no matter what, even if what God asks seems crazy or impossible? Or is it about trusting that God will provide, even if a situation seems hopeless? Both are recurring themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I’ve also heard claims that God doesn’t test or tempt people. (Just blame Satan instead, right?) Wait, are you reading the same book as me? Job? Joseph? Moses and all his buddies? Really, following this advice in the modern world could result in a lot of Bad Things- homelessness, unemployment, alienating most of your friends and family. Having your kid taken away after you threaten to sacrifice him or her.

Now I was raised Methodist, and we were taught that it was ok to interpret the Bible for yourself, and use strange Satan-influenced things like…(gasp) critical thinking skills. And it was mostly about Jesus, and his ethical teachings, not so much his death and God screwing with people’s heads. But still, I was like, what the heck do I do with this book that everyone says is so important? What does it mean? It was no wonder that I got into mythology and fantasy, and no one was claiming that those things had All The Answers, and yet I found deeper truths there, of a more poetic and less literal nature.

It’s funny that I still can go on about this, when none of this really matters to my religion, but still these stories pervade my culture, my memory. They are part of our heritage as Unitarian Universalists and we do talk about them even if we view them as less authoritative. They’ll be made into books, movies (hopefully not by Walden Media, please God!) again and again. Our kids will hear about them from *somewhere* and ask, and I will probably just end up saying- God acts like a jerk in the Bible. A Lot. Like a boss who makes arbitrary orders that don’t make sense.  Just don’t say anything about this to Grandma..


Entry filed under: Christianity, Theology. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Approaching the Runes Wrestling with God(s)

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ubenmaat  |  January 30, 2015 at 1:00 am

    “It was no wonder that I got into mythology and fantasy,”

    You already were. That’s what the Bible is. Religious texts are metaphor, not history. They aren’t meant to be taken as literal fact (despite what the Fundamentalists may tell you).

    • 2. caelesti  |  February 17, 2015 at 12:34 am

      Right! And that’s what I realized as I read more mythology- and you see the similarities especially in Near Eastern mythology. It’s like finding the missing pieces.

  • 3. Amanda  |  January 30, 2015 at 8:05 am

    “It’s also looked at as- in the Bad Old Days of idol-worship, people sacrificed babies, but now that the One True God has come along, we know better than to do that! ”

    That’s how my Jewish friend explained it to me. He said God was testing Abraham, and Abraham *failed the test*.

    I guess Abraham was supposed to say, “Oh hell no I’m not sacrificing my son!” but he had not yet gotten over his filthy pagan ways with the human sacrifices and thought deities asking you to kill your children was totally normal. When God saw him raise the knife, he was like, “woah, I didn’t think you’d actually do it!” and gave him the lamb instead, to show that the One True God isn’t into human sacrifices.

    Also, my Jewish friend objects to how Christians portray Issac as a baby in that scene. In Jewish tradition, he was already a teenager/young man and consented to the sacrifice.

    One thing I do like about Judaism is Jews believe humans are allowed to argue with God, and sometimes God even takes our opinions into consideration and changes his mind.

    • 4. caelesti  |  February 17, 2015 at 12:37 am

      Wow! Didn’t know that. Yes, there are many ways we can learn from Judaism I think.

      • 5. Amanda  |  February 21, 2015 at 1:38 am

        Mind you, this is only the point of view of one Jewish person filtered through his pagan friend here, but after knowing him for a few years, my opinion is that, of the Abrahamic big three, Judaism seems the most reasonable.

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