Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gutting Your Kid for God

Could he be wrong? Did he dare question the words of Yahweh, his almighty and angry God, which had been conveyed so powerfully to him in the sacred writings and the voice? And the boy screamed and screamed.
No. He must do it. He held Isaac’s head down with his left hand and reached for the knife with his right. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, the writings said, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. He drew the knife up out of its scabbard and set it against the pulsing skin of Isaac’s screaming throat. And then, as he hesitated at dragging the blade against the flesh, his own flesh, he heard the loud and distinct voice of an angel.
—“Abraham’s Excellent Adventure,” available online and read by Seth Andrews on The Thinking Atheist podcast.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
—Matthew 7:12
Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio (1603)

Yesterday I heard the voice of God telling me to kill my young son, so I did. I grabbed him off the couch, tied him up, and hauled him outside, where I slashed his throat with a kitchen knife. Then I doused his little corpse with gasoline and set it on fire. I was obedient to God, and He was pleased with my obedience and sacrifice.

Of course I did nothing of the kind. But you were horrified to read the paragraph above, weren’t you? I am hesitant to leave even the obviously fictional obscenity of the words sitting there at the head of this essay, except that they make an important point. You and every other sane reader of this blog–from fundamentalist Christian to atheist–would unequivocally condemn any monster who actually carried out such an atrocity.

So why do so many Christians–perhaps you among them, gentle reader?–revere an ancient book that praises Abraham for his “faith” in being prepared to do much the same thing to his son?1 Why did hundreds of upstanding and decent believers sit and listen quietly to a Father’s Day sermon in my old church three years ago that made this outrage an example of how they should believe what they do not understand?

And I think, when there are people who dare to say that I don’t believe if I don’t understand–that I only am willing to accept and believe this which I can understand–I think they should read about Abraham. He did not understand. Or what do you think? Do you think that he understood? Do you think he saw plainly what was going to happen? No way. He didn’t. He had to take this leap of faith. He had to kind of shut down his thinking. He could not think. He could not use his carnal reason. Because what God asked of him was inhuman, was–if we say, in a human language–it was wrong. It was something nobody should do.2

It was something nobody should do, unless God tells you to do it. Then all bets are off, all sense of morality is erased. This is scary stuff. It is the kind of thinking, of non-thinking, that is bringing us beheadings in Syria and floggings and amputations in Saudi Arabia.

Hitch said it best.

My patience has long since run out for the mindset that has so thoroughly surrendered itself to fideism as to assert, “If you don’t understand, you believe.” But the slavish devotion to blind, unquestioning faith continues in my old church, as is evident from another sermon delivered just this past Father’s Day. (Why do these guys consider this an inspiring text for that occasion?) The business of Abraham being willing to gut his kid for God seemed to get the preacher quite emotional, not out of any sense of horror or moral indignation, but because

already in his heart, even though Abraham did not have to actually slay his son and offer him, Abraham had done it already in his heart. He was obedient in his heart, by faith. And that obedience of faith is required of us, dear brothers and sisters. It is not our way. It is not our mind, our plan, but may we always be tender to the voice of the spirit that speaks within us and speaks within God’s beloved congregation, as it does here even in our home congregation, our beloved home congregation, as it does here and elsewhere in God’s Kingdom. Let us be the brothers and sisters of Abraham and trust in God.3

No thank you, Mr. Preacher. I reject your “obedience of faith,” your praise of a willing child-killer, your cult-like devotion to some “beloved home congregation” that apparently could make any demand it wished of you, no matter how repugnant, and expect to be obeyed. I much prefer to rely on my own well-developed sense of morality, reinforced by a civilized (and secular) culture, that tells me, for very good reasons that have nothing to do with some Bronze-age behavior code or fear of damnation, that it is always wrong to harm children, no matter who you imagine is telling you to do so.4

And we unbelievers are supposedly the ones without a moral compass?


This is a timely subject, and not just because of the creepy association LLC preachers seem to make between child sacrifice and Father’s Day. My second short story based around a messy Bible tale is the subject of the June 23 episode of The Thinking Atheist podcast.”Today’s show is, simply, a reading of the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac,” says Seth’s intro on his site.”However, author Ed Suominen has fleshed out the story in alarming detail . . . and he has added a bizarre twist to the tale. How do most people feel about Abraham’s deed (or “almost deed”)? His faith? His character? And after they hear this version of the Old Testament account, will they feel any differently?”

I hope you enjoy listening to my story being read by the golden pipes of this veteran broadcaster as much as I did. You can hear it and our brief post-game discussion on the episode’s Thinking Atheist page, on BlogTalk Radio, or on iTunes. You can also read the story and a transcript of the interview on the website of Tellectual Press, my little indie publishing company that will be coming out with a book of these stories, The Bold Testament, sometime in late 2016.5


  1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval” (Heb. 11:1-2).”By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son” (Heb. 11:17, both NASB). 

  2. Jouku Haapsaari, sermon given in Rockford, MN on June 17, 2012 (14:30-18:00). 

  3. Keith Waaraniemi, sermon given in Minneapolis, MN on June 21, 2015 (35:17-36:10). 

  4. This same preacher also once said that, “as contrary as it is to our human mind, we see that believing people also had slaves,” that “God’s word did not give slaves of that time permission to flee their masters,” being “possessions, human possessions of people, and so by fleeing you were transgressing the law and the will of your master.” See my Moral Midgetry blog posting of October 27, 2014. The combination of authoritarianism and Bible-worship is a frightening one indeed. 

  5. Thanks to Tim Bos for the great title idea, and to Seth Andrews for permission to transcribe and print the interview.