Ethics / Ideology / Mythology / Philosophy / Politics / Religion

Original Sin

File:Michelangelo Caravaggio 023.jpg

It was not Adam who commited the original sin; it was Abraham.

In the story, Abraham is not cutting Isaac’s throat, but instead, he is cutting out his own hart, killing his own humanity. He chooses to be the ancestor of a big people and sacrifices his empathy, his compassion, his love in return.

In the story, Abraham is ordered by his god to sacrifice his son. He obeys and is stopped only in the last moment by the intervention of an angel. In the Abrahamic religions sharing this story, Abraham is seen as righteous because of his obedience in this situation. According to this story, righteousness is viewed as based on obedience to the orders of God. Whatever his god orders Abraham to do is viewed as right, no matter how cruel, how unethical, appalling, inhumane and immoral it might actually be. In my view, the right thing for Abraham to do in this story would have been to oppose the order and turn his back on this god. Defining his god’s will as the highest ethical good is the problem here. This is, in my oppinion, the original sin.

If somebody believes that a certain action is good because it is the will of his god (I am using the mail form “his” here because in these matters, we are talking predominantly about males), no matter how appalling it might be, he may commit all kinds of atrocities and still believe – or even worse: believe because of that – that he is a moral person.

Again and again in the history of these religions, we can see this Abrahamic spirit. It is the basis of countless examples of atrocities committed “in the name of God”. You can see it every day in the news right now. The perverse idea that morality lies in doing God’s will has left a bloody trail in history.

And of course, the willingness to take such a position makes the believer suitable to be used as a tool of power as well as a victim of power, in the hands of those kings, prophets, priests, imams, khalifs, popes, preachers, religious party leaders etc. who claimed and claim to know the “will of God”.

We are back to the point where people are slaughtered for reasons of religion (married to power), based on the idea that “God’s will” is the highest value. But if the story of Abraham and Isaac would be happening today, Abraham would be taken to court and might end up in a psychiatric ward if not in a prison. People should better put him where he belongs.

(The picture, showing a detail from Caravaggio’s “Sacrifice of Isaac”, is from


10 thoughts on “Original Sin

  1. Listening to someone like William Lane Craig defend Divine Command Morality in debates is really almost painful. Not only is there no logic to the defense (“Do this because: God”), but it also makes hash of the logic of any claim that we need god or religion to provide foundation for any morality at all.

    “God has determined the good we must do.
    God has determined that we must not kill, killing is not good.
    God has determined (in the present case, Abraham) that you must kill your son.
    Do it because: God.”

    It’s not simply that the the latter two premises do not follow from the former two; nor even that the latter strictly contradict the former. The problem is that the presumed moral ground of the latter has nothing to do with that of the former. The first two claims indicate that we would know what is good because god has defined this for us; the second two claims indicate that any knowledge of good is irrelevant, our actions are dictated at god’s whim.

    It’s odd to call this a ‘monotheism,’ a belief in one god, since god is clearly not only schizophrenic but schizogenic. It’s no surprise that Christians and Jews are everywhere wracked with guilt and desperately seeking to placate this angry daddy figure by trying to live through double binds of ‘good actions’ and ‘god’s will’ which are clearly not the same. (Muslims actually have it a little easier, because unlike YHWH and Jesus, Allah makes little pretense that he is not whimsical, and he is a more strident in his commands.).

  2. A great and timely post! Your opinion should spread across the land. May I be honest?
    Of course I am thinking of ISIS and all fanatical religious driven terror groups in our world today. They are as horrid as The KKK, the Spanish Inquisition and etc.
    Thank you! _Resa

  3. Your take on Abraham is something I’ve always believed. Killing the son you love…insane. This reminds me of the Leonard Cohen song, “The Story Of Isaac,”

    The door it opened slowly,
    My father he came in,
    I was nine years old.
    And he stood so tall above me,
    His blue eyes they were shining
    And his voice was very cold.
    He said, “I’ve had a vision
    And you know I’m strong and holy,
    I must do what I’ve been told.”
    So he started up the mountain,
    I was running, he was walking,
    And his axe was made of gold.

    Well, the trees they got much smaller,
    The lake a lady’s mirror,
    We stopped to drink some wine.
    Then he threw the bottle over.
    Broke a minute later
    And he put his hand on mine.
    Thought I saw an eagle
    But it might have been a vulture,
    I never could decide.
    Then my father built an altar,
    He looked once behind his shoulder,
    He knew I would not hide.

    You who build these altars now
    To sacrifice these children,
    You must not do it anymore.
    A scheme is not a vision
    And you never have been tempted
    By a demon or a god.
    You who stand above them now,
    Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
    You were not there before,
    When I lay upon a mountain
    And my father’s hand was trembling
    With the beauty of the word.

    And if you call me brother now,
    Forgive me if I inquire,
    “just according to whose plan?”
    When it all comes down to dust
    I will kill you if I must,
    I will help you if I can.
    When it all comes down to dust
    I will help you if I must,
    I will kill you if I can.
    And mercy on our uniform,
    Man of peace or man of war,
    The peacock spreads his fan.

  4. I used to torture my poor mother with this story. I believe this was in middle school…after reading the story of Abraham I kept asking her if she’d kill me if God ordered her to. She eventually had to have a talk with her preacher because I’d rattled her so. What a horrible little brat I was!

    Have you read Kierkegaard’s take on this story? Essentially he tries to explain Christianity as a leap of faith, one that must take place in contradiction to reason. That’s exhibited in the very foundation of Christianity—God as Jesus, as flesh and blood.

    I’m sure a lot of Christians will disagree with Kierkegaard.

    I prefer Kant’s interpretation of the story:

    “If God should really speak to man, man could still never know that it was God speaking. It is quite impossible for man to apprehend the infinite by his senses, distinguish it from sensible beings, and recognize it as such. But in some cases man can be sure the voice he hears is not God’s. For if the voice commands him to do something contrary to moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider it an illusion.”

  5. It was a lecture about Kirkegaard that drew my intention to this story. However, not only Christians will disagree with him. If I understand him rightly (and I have not read his works) he decides for faith. I decide against it.
    That Kant citation is intersting (and more agreeable to me). Where exactly did he write this?

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