Thursday, August 11, 2011

ABRAHAM : FATHER OF FAITHFUL ?... date unknown

The story of Abraham, so central to the Biblical story, may be anchored in a real historical person or not . Either way it became a powerful mythic tale that has spawned three great world  religions and shaped the collective psyches of both the East and West for three millennia.  We likely have been profoundly affected by the way Abraham’s story has been interpreted.  Judaism  and Christianity  are usually taught to idolize Abraham as 'Father Of The Faithful'   because of his ‘trust and obedience’ to an outer Sacred  voice. Look further and ask yourself , “What do you really think of his character?”   What would you think of  the  moral judgment and behavior of someone today   if you read they behaved as Abraham did in the most emphasized  incidents of his life?  Abraham’s big test is not just his willingness  to kill his son at the whim of what seemed 'the external voice of God'.  The test is: Will he question that ‘seemingly  outer voice’  and listen further  for a more morally superior  inner voice of god, found in the deepest center of his own humanity?
Abraham Willing To Kill Son Isaac

Abraham, in my estimation,  failed the test because he failed to be a protecting  father to his two sons.  To cover his own shame he  abandoned  his son Ishmael and his mother Hagar(Abraham’s forced  mistress).  He gave them some  food and a donkey and sent them away. Why? Because what seemed like the ‘outer voice of God’  gave him permission to. This would get him imprisoned today and rightfully so.  The other son he was willing to traumatize and kill. Why ? Because the same ‘outer voice’ told him to. In reading Old Testament stories it is so important to keep in mind that we are reading an ancient people’s collective mythical experience of ‘their god-image.’ This should never be taken as the eternal reflection of the ‘ ultimate God’  of us all.  The gnostic Christians, who were persecuted and destroyed by the more powerful Christian establishment that had formed  by the time the New Testament canon was established,(The canon is the books that were finally included in the Bible  through the political structure of the 4th century  institutional church.), had a different- and I think more discerning-  interpretation on the Abraham story. But this voice was all but hushed by the time the canon was established. That  voice can now be partially heard through  some of their works being discovered  in recent decades in dry Egyptian caves.(A wonderful resource for this information is Elaine Pagel's  The Gnostic Gospels.)

The best  we can tell, Abraham  did not stand strong to question and dispute the  "outer voice of god” that required him to be willing to make a human sacrifice of his son, Isaac.  (I like to think the ‘angel holding his arm and ram being caught in the thicket ‘ that relieved Abraham’s  required violence against his son is a way the story says that Abraham did come to his senses and disobey to the ‘violent voice’ that had possessed his better moral judgment.) We should be saddened by such weakness of heart and mind. No wonder that his sons, one abandoned and  the other traumatized by his father's  willingness to murder him, came to hate each other. The two sons’ present day descendants are the  Jews and  Arabs who  demonstrate perhaps the most dangerous religious struggle of modern history.  Because of how this story  was interpreted these two cultures  have never been given  world community support  to own these horrible  Abrahamic wounds and to acknowledge the  parental neglect the story has  left them both to carry to this very day.

To accept and internalize the story as usually interpreted gives Sacred  approval to human violence, pictures God as violent,  makes violence something to be  expected and accepted in actual human activity and life. Our present societies display this deeply seated , and 'God approved', violence in our daily news broadcasts. Such religiously internalized stories, not questioned,  desensitize us to violence and abuse  and prevent such images of God as  seen in Jesus of Nazareth from  actually being our consciously  driven moral principle. Christians in essence  are not able to be as genuinely Christian as they wish  in their morality  and Jews are disconnected from the humane and loving  images of God that are in their Sacred  writings.

Later Abraham is pictured  courageously pleading to God to spare the people of  Sodom  and the 'god image changes' to a 'more moral God'   and grants Abraham's desire. To the sons  this would be like the  father being wonderful to other people  but his own sons  receiving  no such place of great value in their father's  heart.  He did not come to either of their defense when they were most vulnerable, perhaps the single most important function of a human father.  Why did he not  have the same concern and courage for his innocent sons  to challenge ‘the voice’ that kept him from  being a faithful  father?  Perhaps the story shows that  Abraham had developed spiritually enough in older age to realize that these ‘voices and god images’, that  we can understand now come from the Collective Unconscious, are not to be blindly accepted and acted upon without the ego engaging them and questioning what they are up to. Abraham failed the test that would have truly led him to greater self-hood  and being an example of the easily missed spiritual/moral  path we are all challenged to follow in one  way or another. 

Ironically, it’s been often acknowledged in Bible classes that Abraham  was ‘not perfect’ but all that is pointed to is his lying to authorities to save Sarah’s and his own life.  That may have actually been a correct and noble moral decision. But the orthodox religious traditions totally  ignore his obvious and horrible failure to be a good human father  to his two boys.  This so clearly demonstrates, in a practical way, how one must look for the ‘truer god image’ within him/herself than the one that is usually first presented to us in formal religion.  This also demonstrates how these important myths our religions have inherited can still be used positively to guide and mature us spiritually, but only if we are willing to engage and question them with our human ego consciousness, and not enter them with our brains, intuition and imagination turned off. This same kind of  interpretation work can be applied with mind/heart-opening results to the Adam and Eve story and all the important mythic stories  the Bible places before us. This is the kind of spiritual work that can truly result in postmodern humans experiencing the most basic meaning of ‘repentance.’ According to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, ‘repentance’ means the spiritual epiphany of ‘seeing differently afterward’. It is when we are moved emotionally and mentally to our depths for we ‘now see’ something , such as the story of Abraham,  in a drastically different way than we did before.  A way that  has a permanent and profound impact on how we handle  the  moral and religious issues that face us. We may sometimes experience a complete 180 degree ‘turn around’ in some religious/moral   perceptions. One never forgets such spiritual learning moments. We can pray that such ‘repentance’  be a far more common experience in  religious life of our day.

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