The day before yesterday Muslims all over the world commemorated the Eid al-Adha or Idul Adha. It’s a religious highlight about sacrifice in Islam. It originates from a story in Quran which also is in the other two monotheistic holy books. This commemoration is an important event to believers. And on top of that it’s socially sympathetic because everyone who can afford will sacrifice a goat, sheep of cow from which the poor benefit. It fits the great duty and tradition of alms. The President’s one ton Ongole cow also was such a contribution.
The news item sent me back to my youth. Because this specific episode was also in the holy book at home, the Bible.
Born in an orthodox Protestant family I of course had my daily shower of stories from the Old Testament. I loved them. I guess most little boys ( and little girls I assume) get carried away by this treasury of fascinating, exciting and scary tales . In a way it’s a pity the Bible is gathering dust in most households over here today. Because all the ingredients and genres of great literature are there. From farce to Shakespearean drama. Courage and treason, action and philosophy, sex and violence, romance and labour, solidarity and slavery. And, at least in the traditional Dutch translation of the “Statenbijbel“, it has been told in a magnificent style. No complaints here.
However some parts of the ancient tales are really over the top . Cruel and chilling. The one where Abraham is ready to prove his faith in and obedience to God is one of the worst. The patriarch gave in to the Lord’s demand to kill, sacrifice, his only son( Genesis 22: 1 -12). The fact a heavenly last minute intervention stopped the killing of Isaac just in time was insufficient relieve in my childish anguish.
Anyway the story’s horrendous content and message kept haunting my dreams which changed into nightmares. After all in retrospect this story is essentially similar to and equally alarming and distressing as the Milgram experiments on obedience to authority figures. I couldn’t get it out of my head: would my father ever consider sacrificing me, his only son, if the Lord - How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!( Romans 11:33)- would choose to test his faith too?
Loosing my religion later on had many causes. I trust the main one being my gradually growing critical mind. However that in it’s turn partly was brought about by this specific Biblical episode. While I learned about how misguiding the ancient religions of Maya and Teotihuacano were – they held ritual child sacrifices- what about this Abraham? It made me ask others and myself whether it made sense to put one’s faith in that kind of cruel set of values. And whether it could ever be justified to demand a father to act like a religious maniac.
It’s still beyond my comprehension why so many nice, kind, smart, empathic people I know and many many many more I don’t know, do seem to endorse their holy scripture lock, stock and barrel and don’t really seem to bother what it actually tells in the details. And why they apparently avoid to ask critical questions.
Religion and spirituality are inherent human qualities.They are something some us are generously endowed with and others much less. To which I bow with respect. However unconditionally and totally approving of ancient(holy) books regardless of it’s content, is beyond my comprehension. Why on earth should we ever voluntary switch off two other inherent human qualities, ratio and personal conscience?
No, Abraham to me didn’t pass the test, he utterly failed.