Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sacrifice and its Message

Ypp is a frequent reader and commenter at Gates of Vienna, and has contributed this meditation for the Christmas season on the nature and meaning of sacrifice.

Sacrifice and its message
by Ypp

It is a commonplace that Western civilization is based on Judeo-Christian values and the Classical heritage. Some also add the German and Celtic spirit. There have been many posts here about the second and third components; however, the first, Judeo-Christian, is usually less well-understood. In this essay, I am trying to rationalize the influence of Judeo-Christian ideas, as I understand them.

It was noted previously that though the pagan world was not devoid of ideas and inventions, those ideas were later abandoned due to general lack of interest within society. The same can be said about Muslim world, which inherited a good deal of the Roman Empire and its civilization, but finally degraded and became retarded.

I would guess that the lack of interest may be due to general lack of respect for human life and freedom. As the Russian writer Gogol once put it in his historical novel, it is not that the people had had no money to build and prosper, but that it was not a worthy effort because of a general lack of stability and prospects.

So what’s special about Judeo-Christian values? I want to analyze two most crucial events for Judaism and Christianity, which laid the basis of both religions.
- - - - - - - - -
For Judaism, it is the sacrifice of Abraham, the first Jew, of his beloved son, by God’s request. The point is that Abraham was going to kill his son, but God stopped him at the last moment. So, actually, there was no sacrifice. After that, Abraham traded some benefits from God for his descendants, which became the Jewish people. So the Jewish people began with the sacrifice, which did not happen. But because Abraham almost did it, and really suffered, he expiated some of the sins of his descendants.

I believe it is a powerful story which tells us that God does not want us to sacrifice our children; he wants us to live. Because, firstly, the sacrifice did not occur. Secondly, because our sins were expiated. If you ask, why did he need all that sacrifice at all, I believe that it’s because without sacrifice (which did not happen) there would be no story and no message.

This story essentially repeated itself with the sacrifice of Jesus, which gave birth to Christianity. Jesus died, but he was resurrected, which means that he actually did not die. He really suffered, but he did not die completely. Because Christians are children of Jesus, they receive the same benefits and the same message from Jesus as the Jews do from Abraham.

This message, as far as I know, is missing in other religions. In many philosophical systems, death is considered indistinguishable from life. Such a position can hardly encourage any development or respect for life and property.

I even dare to suggest that those atheists in the West, who refrain from having children, in fact sacrifice their children to what they probably believe is god. Whereas religious people know that this sacrifice is not required and not welcome.


xlbrl said...

The story of Abraham is evil. It is not a story that tells us God wants us to live, but that he will love us and permit us to live only as we obey. This is not the message of our mothers, or of Jesus.

It is easy to see how Judaism could spawn a mutant religion that would become Islam. The miracle is that Jews could reform Judiasm.
But the final step in reform of a polygamous desert religion is atheism. They have accomplished that.

Islamic apostates also generally become atheists.

What Jesus represented was a radical departure from Judiasm, enough to get him killed in three years of preaching to small crowds.
No doubt his life and message would not have been possible without the long history of Judiasm, but it would have been less possible still without the presence of the Greeks.

Dr Zen said...

Hi, I'm an atheist and I have three children. I haven't yet sacrificed any of them.

Christianity doesn't teach respect for property, btw. Quite the opposite. Jesus said you should rid yourself of your worldly goods. I expect you ignored that bit of the Bible though.

Francis W. Porretto said...

The whole theme is tied up with deep human fears about being eaten, and being starved. The story of Abraham and Isaac, the story of the manna in the desert, and the whole life of Christ, right up to His Sacrifice on the Cross, are statements of Divine Benevolence: God does not intend to eat his people, but to feed them.

And so we pray.

Henrik R Clausen said...

xlbrl, Judaism didn't spawn Islam. Islam is a strange blend of Arab paganism, Hanif religion, and obscure Jewish/Christian folk tales.

Muhammad 'borrowed' inspiration from what he would claim to be 'relevation' from various sources.

One was the Hanif religion of Yemen, who had Al-Rahman and Ar-Rahim as main deities - a fact reflected in the opening of each Sura except the 9th.

Another was the traditional Arab paganism, worshipping Allah and other idols. Muhammad had rejected and ridiculed that religion through 8 years in Mecca, but was eventually bribed by sex, power and money to worship Allah. An incitent suitably known as 'The Satanic Verses', the defining characteristic of Satanism being materialism in all its excesses.

Later, when Muhammad was beaten out of Mecca (presumably for more stupid behavior), he started paying the Jews to read him tales from the Talmud, which were then incorporated into his 'Quran' to give it a semblence of holiness.

If people quote selectively and out of context, the Quran thus resembles Judaism at points. But historically and theologically, the connection is superficial.

Sources: Al-Tabari Vol. 6-7; the Quran.

X said...

xlbr, you have the abraham story quite backwards. Reading it makes it obvious that God was testing Abraham's faith in his commands but there's an implication of an expectation for Abraham to say "why?" He didn't, which God obviously found good, but if the story was truly as you say it is then God wouldn't have stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son.

If you read it in couple with the earlier story of the fall of Sodom this becomes much clearer. God was wiling to let Abraham bargain him all the way down to just ten and just one person as a reason to save the city. He was waiting for Abraham to say "Lot is there" or to say "Why would a just god destroy a city on a whim?" or something like that. Abraham actually failed that test. He didn't have the faith to intercede on behalf of the city and so it was destroyed.

God doesn't demand unquestioning faith. If he did he'd be no better than mohammed's moon god.

Dr Zen, your superficial reading of the scriptures would seem that way but the truth of the matter is not so simple. I assume you're talking about the rich young man Jesus spoke to? OR if not, something similar. In the case of the rich young man the story goes that Jesus met him, and he asked what he must do to be saved. Jesus told him to follow the law and the man replied that he did. This pleased Jesus, and so he wanted to see how much further the man would be willing to go in his faith. He was not willing to give up his entire life for Jesus, but he was already saved.

Or to take another example, of Annanias and his wife Saphira. Most people read this as "not giving all your goods to god will kill you" but that isn't true. Annanias lied about how much he had. If he'd said "I will give this much, and keep this much for myself" to the others, he would have been fine. His sin was in lying, in saying that what he had given was all he had.

And the parable of the talents surely proves that God wants us to prosper and that our property is our own.

Afonso Henriques said...

"It was noted previously that though the pagan world was not devoid of ideas and inventions, THOSE IDEAS WERE LATER ABANDONED DUE TO GENERAL LACK OF INTERESST WITHIN SOCIETY. The same can be said about Muslim world, which inherited a good deal of the Roman Empire and its civilization, but finally degraded and became retarded.

I truly do not understand this. I know it's Christmas but, does someone care to elaborate?

Creepy thread...


"God doesn't demand unquestioning faith. If he did he'd be no better than mohammed's moon god."

(before, you said:)

"Reading it makes it obvious that God was testing Abraham's faith in his commands but there's an implication of an expectation for Abraham to say "why?" He didn't, which God obviously found good"

Islamism, Judaism, The Old Testemant... All Semitic desert things...

I am with Xlbr on this...


Between, I think the Judeo-Christian part of our Civilisation is purely Christian. The Judeo comes from an identification of Christian Europeans with the holly land and the ancestors of Jesus.
And then we have Einstein and other Jews who gave great contributes to European Civilisation, but I wouldn't say much of European Civilisation is "Judeo". It's only the "Judeo" that had to come with Christianity, not more.
And Jesus did not born on December the 25th... It's another holyday that we celeberate today and it is rather Pagan, Roman if you like.

X said...

Afonso... you need to read properly.

"Reading it makes it obvious that God was testing Abraham's faith in his commands but there's an implication of an expectation for Abraham to say "why?" He didn't, which God obviously found good, but if the story was truly as you say it is then God wouldn't have stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son."

I even expanded on this point. Cherry-picking my comment to prove your point is dishonest. If God had truly demanded unquestioning, unthinking obedience he would have never even bothered listening to Abraham's intercession on behalf of Sodom, nor would he have forgiven any of the prophets when they strayed, nor the entire nation of Israel when they turned to the golden cvalf at the foot of mount sinai, nor would he have sent his son to redeem us. God wanted Abraham to question his command. Whilst Abraham's faith was pleasing to God, his apparent willingness to blindly follow a command that was contradictory to everything God had said to him up that point, whilst it demonstrated faith, also demonstrated foolishness, and God had to physically restrain Abraham in order to teach him that lesson.

Christians have got this passage wrong, saying it calls for unquestioning obedience. The jews have it right. Jews will argue with god. They know that unquestioning obedience has its place and that there are times you have to turn around and say "Come on, god, what are you asking?" The passage that says for every thing there is a season means for every thing. Including unquestioning faith.

Czechmade said...

"He really suffered, but he did not die completely."

He died even before he died - completely. "Lama sabachtani? Why did you abandone me?" Was his last sign of life.

It makes sense - this way he accompanied the most misfortunate creature on earth on his miserable journey. God entered the darkest place.

Note that Mohammed kept crucifying people...pure blasphemy.

Jesus taking universal humiliation on him versus Mohammed trying to humiliate the whole world.

We do not notice when we get abandoned by God, he did. The pain was adaquate. The primordial or postordial pain?

Czechmade said...


I agree - the intersection of Hellenistic and Judaistic worlds was decisive in many points.

Judaism is originally independent of our mindset. Embedded in ME traditions, it is probably a revised reader´s digest from ME we are not trained to sense.

From Judaistic point of view Christianity abrogates a lot, it is a threat. It is little bit strange to put it simply in one term as Judeo-Christian.

Similarly so for the term "Graeco-Roman". The Roman style of rule and enslaving of the Greek scholars abrogated most of the refreshing Greek traditions.

As for judaism I have no idea how much Roman stuff was wrongly or rightly imbibed in the Christianity much later (???).

Note also that for the Jews the Persian Zoroastrian rule was much preferable to the Christian Byzantine rule. Should we be more sensitive and start speaking of Judeo-Persian civilization? Why not?

The islamic non-sense does not view the Old testament and even the New testament as "many books" (see some catholic questionary). There are many authors and views included. We are ahl-al-kutoob (plural:books) not ahl-al-kitab (singular people of the "book").

Funny. New book-boys/cow-boys got it all wrong.

nimbus said...

Archonix: Thank you for your observations! You solved a dilemma I'd been having for a while. I have a friend who is very anti-Christian, very anti-God, period. He used the story of Abraham and Isaac to ask me if this is the kind of God I wanted? A God who demanded unquestioning submission, even to commit acts at odds with all His commands and common sense goodness? The kind of God who wanted a "slave people"? He went on to elaborate that this "slave mentality" as evidenced in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac was the cornerstone of His choice of a people and of a religion, and that all of Judaism and Christianity was built upon this corruption. He likened it to the guards at the death camps who were "only following orders". At the time, I really could not answer him, his argument made sense, but it didn't feel right.

When I look at your comments, what I get is this: God was looking around to found a chosen people, through whom His prophets could speak, and His Son could be born. He was looking for some specific characteristics. He found these characteristics in Abraham, who had the chutzpah to actually challenge and question God (the story of the bargaining with God regarding Sodom and Gomorrah). THAT story is the cornerstone of the new people. THAT is what God was looking for...not blind obedience. Abraham then went on to the "second interview", so to speak, regarding the sacrifice of Isaac, however he failed that test, so that God had to intervene. Nonetheless, God still found Abraham suitable enough, and the we know the rest of the story.

In other words, the story of Abraham actually challenging God re Sodom/Gomorrah is foundational to the rest of the bible. Your comments, Archonix?

xlbrl said...


Your points may be good, yet what I hear in Abraham are not the designs of God but the pettiness of men. I heard in your reponse that God was pleased to hear Jews arguing with him. It strikes me rather that Jews had just created God in their own image. Three Jews, four opinions. Now the same intellect is taking down God as a straw man and making man the creator.
I feel myself to be on safe ground in saying I've practically no idea what God is up to, but it is easy to recognize man's work.

My link from Judaism to Islam was too direct. I meant to say the Jews were accustomed to prophets coming out of the desert perhaps twice a century. There was much revelation and fuss each time. Some things stuck, much didn't. But it was expected.
The caravan raider had his models, as his prey had their expectations. Light the match.

X said...

Nimbus, one of the constant themes throughout the bible is the idea of patience. From the very first sin to the very last pages of Revelation, there is a theme of God requiring patience from his followers. To some people this idea of patience and obedience can seem to be the same thing but they aren't.

Israel constantly failed this test. They were impatient and stiff-necked, as the scriptures put it. They were impatient at the foot of the mountain when waiting for God's law, and impatient for the messiah to come to the point of attempting to create their own in the Macabeean dynasty. Lack of patience caused them to demand a King outside of God's timing, and so they got Saul. Saul was impatient and sacrificed to God when he should have waited for Samuel and so caused a great defeat for his forces.

Obedience and patience are often seen as very similar things because obedience very often requires a great deal of patience. But, obedience is not the sole message of the scriptures. We humans are rarely very patient yet we are exhorted to be patient and longsuffering - that is, to wait for the right moment to act. I can almost believe that, if Abraham had gone to where God had commanded and then simply waited for God, he would have had the truth revealed to him without having to traumatise poor little Isaac.

As for questioning, we are told to test everything against the scriptures. That is, we must question that which we believe is from God by testing against what he has previously said. It's hard for us to accept but God does occasionally throw a curve ball, just as the very best teachers will occasionally ask a trick question to see if you're actually learning rather than reciting by rote. God wants us to learn and grow in our faith, not merely be obedient slave robots. A robot can't love, nor can it receive love, and the love of God is another of the major threads woven throughout the scriptures.

To summarise, we must be patient and wait for God. Obedience to God is necessary, but it must be based on the fullest possible understanding of Who and What God truly is, which requires that we constantly test things we believe are from God against the scriptures. And, we must be willing to wait patiently for God to confirm what he has said, and not set off on wild whims believing we are acting on God's will.

Afonso Henriques said...

Ok Graham, now you are making sense.

u.l. said...

'I would guess that the lack of interest may be due to general lack of respect for human life and freedom.'

There is a crucial difference here between Judeo-Christian values and other religions and philosophical systems. In the very first chapter of the Bible man is described as being made in the image of God. Therefore, every person has intrinsic value independent of his/her status, education, money etc. Also, though God told Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit, the freedom of choice was still Adam's, including the freedom to make the wrong choice. So right from the beginning the Bible establishes the value of the every individual and his freedom to make a choice.

Czechmade said...

"God told Adam"....

In majority meanings in Old Testament Adam means "humanity". That is why they refer in New Testament to Jesus as "Son of man" - to specify he was an individual (necessary in Hebrew), in the Greek it becomes redundant to say "son of man" - "hyos tou anthropou".

We know Adam well from our galleries, but it is partly wrong.

The stolen islamic quote from Hebrew about "When you kill one man, you kill humanity...." must be a very nice pun in original Hebrew, something Herakleitus would applaud.

X said...

Going right back to the start, regarding something xlbr said: the rabinical judaism of today is not the temple religion of Israel at the time of Christ and is as radical a departure from it as christianity. Judaism and Christianity are both actually attempts to adapt to the loss of the temple as a place of worship and sacrifice. Judaism simply dispensed with the temple and began re-interpreting scripture to fit with the status of the jews as a people without a homeland. Christianity replaced the sacrificial system with one final sacrifice, by the son of god, in order to make the same adaptation. Both movements started before the temple was destroyed largely in anticipation of that destruction, which was fairly obviously on its way by the time Jesus was crucified. The Romans had moved in, turning Israel from a border trade state into a vassal and severing their alliance with the persians; independence movements were flourishing and there was already talk of civil war. The expectation of the messiah was of a liberator, a military figure, and one of the candidates was, oddly enough, the man named Bar Abbas, "the son of god", whom the jewish leadership demanded be released to them.

When Jesus promised them spiritual freedom and the fulfilment of the law, Israel were enraged. Their lack of patience was their undoing again as they rebelled against their Roman oppressors. But, as I said, some saw this coming from a long way off and by the time the temple was destroyed, the foundations of rabinical judaism were already well established. Jews were spread so far that they could no longer be reasonably expected to travel to the temple for the passover feast, nor even send representatives. They had to adapt, and this adaptation is what grew into modern judaism and allowed them to easily find a way around the destruction of the temple.

But neither the Judaism of today, nor the Israelite temple system, are the source of Islam. Islam cannot have grown out of judaism. The scriptures celebrate life, and love, and beauty. They teach patience and trust. Islam celebrates death, hides beauty, despises patience, and teaches its followers to lie and cheat and murder to get what they want. What they desire. When David desired Bathsheba and played his tricks to get her he was punished. He acted like the pagans surrounding Israel, who sacrificed their firstborn to their gods, and so God took his firstborn by Bathsheba. When Mohammed desired and took the wife of one of his commanders, his god changed the rules to let him do so. If Islam grew out of Judaism then it's as a vicious inversion of everything that the God of Israel stood for.

Czechmade said...


"the rabinical judaism of today is not the temple religion of Israel at the time of Christ and is as radical a departure from it as christianity".

Rabinical judaism was established in a little village - not only was the Temple destroyed, the Jews were also driven out of Jerusalem. The Priestly Aristocracy was destroyed and average Jews were blessed with the task to keep up the Judaism without the centralized priestly class.

One more test for the Jews was the story of Bar Kochba - the "Son of the Star". This warrior was about to fulfill the Jewish expectations in a much more dignified manner than Jesus - simply fighting his way to final vicory. By the grace of God he lost his struggle.
(Irony off)

It shows clearly that the expectations of the Jews focused on a Messiah were much more secular from our point of view. We have a problem - we want a spiritual leader - not a rambo dealing with political and other power issues. This little detail makes us probably more Christian until today - in spite of the fact we are mostly atheists.

Thinking in this way/direction we are also more Hindu than Jewish: In India the more you get distanced from the politics and secual powers the more you are spiritual! In India deserts were not that usual until islam made its inroads - the saints went to the jungle - "vanavaasee" - the "inhabitants of the forest" were the leading buddhist monks or hindu saints!
The Buddhists were the natural neighbours of the Bysantine Christian Empire and until now we do not know whether this institution was rsponsible or not for our monastery culture.

Hahahaha , is our Hindu/Buddhist/Christian heritage that great or not?

We are the people lead to distinguish clearly between the secular and the divine!

Or did the Jews do something which overcomes our mental/intellectual capacities? My house will be occupied by US Western Jewry and ex-Russian Israeli Jewry soon. I promise I keep digging in this matter not feeling shy to bore in our Hebrew/Aramaic oil fields.

Czechmade said...


one more Portuguese sitting in the bar here disclaiming your claims about Galicia! I am amazed you are so untypical. That means your Ukrainian projections fail as well.

As much as I like you, you become a Portuguese minority in your own land. I keep checking your views.

Afonso Henriques said...

Czechmade, I don't understand what you say, but yes, I am very untypical. A minority inside three or four minorities. That's why I usually speak for myself only and warn when I am quoting the "public opinion".

About Galiza, which claims? Of course Galiza is Portuguese, or if not, it is Portugal that is "Galician" or "Galego". But the truth is that Galiza has never been Portuguese.
I don't know what claims you're talking about but one has to be pretty ignorant to not see the conection Galiza-Portugal and the disconection Galiza-Spain.

About Ukraine.
I am not a Russophobe. I have reasons to believe that the Rusian Nation has reborn under the ruins of Communism. Russia is a great European power that is imune to many of the deseases of the West. I also am a fan of Putin and wanted to see everyone who is governed aproving their governors as Russians aprove Putin. Russia is an European Nation/Power which is not particularly ashame of being European, in fact, they would like to be a little more European.

I am also somewhat of a Nationalist. And I do not like failed States, especially when those failed States are the fifth biggest State in Europe.

Ukraine is a failed State. Ukraine is not a Nation. Ukraine has, however, been connected to the "Rus" Nation and as such, I see Eastern and Southern Ukraine as part of the Rus Nation. That, Belarus and Russia (and why not Transnistra?) should unite. I don't see what is wrong with that.

"That means your Ukrainian projections fail as well."

You remember me of an Ukrainian living in Mozambique, Jest nas Wielu is his nickname. He says: "Yes, we Ukrainians are very united and anti Russian. Of course we have people who vote in the Party of Regions but it is not significative."

He forgets to mention that the Party was the most voted in Ukraine with more than 30% of the votes and a majority in the Southern and Eastern regions, which have been Traditionally Russian and where Russian language is dominant. And where the motor of Uraine is: Dontsk, Dnepropetrovsk, Kirkov, Odessa. And it's door to the Black Sea: Crimea.

Of course, we will have a hard time in agreeing over the East due to the following reasons:

1) I am an extremely Western European, so extremely that I live 15 to 20 minutes from here and the Romans called us OESTREMINIS (meaning the people of the end of the Wrst or the extreme West). The implication of that is that I am imune to what happens to Eastern Europe.
2) You are a Statist, I am a Nationalist. While your loyalties go to existing States (I don't know why) mine loyalties tend to go to communities of peoples attached by Geography, Genetics, Culture, History and Way of Life, among others. I also happen to believe that no State should be multicultural and that States are legitimous and function bettet if their people identifies with one another.
3) You are an Eastern European heavily influenced by Central European "Germanic" "ways". I bet the other Eastern Europeans look to you as a central European. And because you Nation is somewhat more atractive than the ones to the East of you, at least to my eyes, you apear to have develop a certain disdan in relation to Eastern Europeans. That means that a rising Russia will look to you as an "Asianisation" of Europe.
4) You are a multiculturalist because you probabily have never seen the damages of multiculturalism. It really does cut both ways. No one benifits from it in a normal society.
5) You probabily lived under Communism, and as such, you will not tolerate ex-KGB people having great power.
6) You do believe the West is morally superior. I almost believe you believe the UN and the EU should be reformulated.

... but I think we can achieve an agreement over Galiza. What claims are that you are talking about? Really, let's kill some ghosts!

Czechmade said...

Very post-democratic ideas/ideals.
Good night, ex-European.

Afonso Henriques said...

Come on Czechmade!
What have I said in relation to democracy? What, of what I said, is not democratic?

Man, Europe does not equal democracy. And do not take me wrong, I like most of your comments, but that's why I speak of Europe while you speak of "West".

Have a good night, and a happy new year because I don't know if I will return to Gates this year...

Unknown said...

Its me Ypp. Sorry, Google is too authoritarian and screwed, so that I cannot post under my name

I am really sorry that nobody here got the idea. All people repeat the same: god needs slaves. Thats the only message modern materialist can get from that story. Because he believes that he can do whatever he wants without limitations. And that god needs that he obeys, behaves and brush his teeth. He, materialist, is so smart that he can choose what he likes and do whatever he wants.

I really wonder how people quit to understand themselves. Sacrificing children has long been a tradition. Are we made of a different material now? Completely reprogrammed? How, I wonder? What this story tells, is that god did not want Abraham to sacrifice his son. How else could he make same message? He could say: now Abraham, dont sacrifice your son, instead I'll give you free medical insurance, or what? Just think, what else should god have said.