Monday, November 16, 2015

The Logic of Christianity 7: SCANDALIZED (Paris 2015--Was Abraham a Killer?)

Which of the top three world religions best represents the God of Abraham?
As I was in the process of writing this post, at least 129 innocent people were being executed in Paris, in the name of the God of Abraham. Shouting “Allahu Akbar!” eight Muslim extremists, in a coordinated attack, bombed and shot Parisians and tourists who variously were dining, enjoying a concert, and attending a sporting event. Were these 129 victims soldiers who had attacked Islam? No. Were they particularly guilty of some heinous sin or crime? No. Just like the 3000 victims of the 9-11 Muslim extremist terrorist attacks in the United States, they were innocent bystanders. Just last month, a Russian plane, returning 224 vacationers from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt were possibly bombed out of the sky. These passengers were, again, innocent bystanders, despite the fact that the Russian military itself had entered into armed conflict in Syria. The “Islamic State” claimed responsibility for these deaths. What kind of religion encourages, celebrates, approves of, or even quietly condones the killing of innocents? The Hebrew word for Hell is Gē Hinnom (the Valley of Hinnom), the name of an area outside of Jerusalem where apostate Israelites had sacrificed their innocent children to the false god Molech.
Due to this SCANDALOUS practice of killing children, Gē Hinnom became a name that forever after was considered cursed. Hell in both Judaism and Christianity is referred to as the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna, in the Greek New Testament). So detestable was the thought of killing innocent children! I observe in my book PSYCHOTIC ENTELECHY:
“Like Judaism and Christianity, Mohammed proclaimed the God of Abraham the true God and opposed sins such as murder and adultery. Like Christianity, Mohammed proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, the son of the virgin Mary. . . . Like the Catholic Church and many conservative Protestant churches, Islam opposes the practice of abortion” (p.3). A few pages later in the same book, I comment: “Darwinistic views devalued the lives of members of some races and the victims of some illnesses. Amoral pragmatic philosophies have paved the way for abortion and the infanticide of baby girls in Communist China” (p. 8). In recent months, Americans have been SCANDALIZED by the revelation of Planned Parenthood officials and doctors who have allegedly been harvesting fetuses and aborted baby parts for sale and profit. It is SCANDALOUS to kill these innocent unborn children, in the first place, but even more SCANDALOUS to attempt to profit from this butchery. On pages 72-79 of PSYCHOTIC ENTELECHY, I analyze the abortion debate from most major philosophic perspectives. On page 76, I observe: “Roman Catholicism, Islam, Evangelical Protestants, and some Jewish groups sense danger in the materialist, naturalist, and humanist abortion entelechies. Sheler [in U. S. News and World Report March 9, 1992, page 54] observes: ‘[T]he Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical Protestants have been highly visible in opposing abortion.’ The Islamic world has also been a strong opponent of abortion on a global scale as have Orthodox Jews. Without a strong alliance between Islam and the Catholic Church, abortion would be much more rampant world-wide than it currently is. Discussing basic Jewish and Christian morality, a very early Christian text, the Didache, states: ‘Thou shalt do no murder . . . thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.’”
If Islam opposes the SCANDALOUS killing of innocent unborn children through abortion, what is it in the Islamic religion that would make Islamic extremists believe the God of Abraham would approve of them spilling the innocent blood in Paris on Friday the 13th of November 2015 or the innocent blood in the United States on 9/11/2001? We need only to consider the actions of Abraham--the common spiritual ancestor of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—to catch a glimpse of the God of Abraham.
The year was 1967--the year I graduated from Easton High School, in Easton, IL. The movie “The Bible…In the Beginning” had been released in the preceding year, but it had just now arrived at my local theater. It was directed by the famous film director John Huston, who received 15 Oscar nominations and 2 actual Oscars in his film directing career. I supported the movie by buying tickets and attending the screening. I recall an incident that occurred while I was watching the movie in the theater. It clearly made an impression on me, since I have remembered the incident all these years! George C. Scott, who portrayed Abraham in the film, was (unbeknownst to his screen son, Isaac) taking Isaac up Mount Moriah (the mountain later to become the Temple Mount in the days of King Solomon) because God had commanded him to sacrifice his son. Abraham required Isaac to carry the wood for the burnt offering, just as Jesus (2000 years later) was required to carry the wooden cross upon which he was to be crucified. Abraham bound Isaac and laid him upon the wood to which he would soon set fire, to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Some audience members sitting in the row behind me at the theater were aghast! They were SCANDALIZED by the pending event. I heard them saying to one another statements such as: “How could any good God require such a thing!” “I can’t believe in a God who would ask a man to kill his own son!” I realized that the audience members saying this were not familiar with the biblical account. I turned around and suggested, “Just keep watching. It’s not going to end the way you think.” In the biblical account (and the film), after Abraham had raised his knife to slay his son, the angel of God spoke to Abraham, telling him not to kill his son. God, instead, provided a ram whose horns had been caught in the bushes for Abraham to sacrifice, rather than to kill his only son. God was pleased with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, however, despite the fact that God would not actually ask him to do such a thing. For any Jew (as it was for those sitting behind me at the movie theater), human sacrifice was SCANDALOUS!
The New Testament agrees with the account as described in the Old Testament (Hebrews 11:17 and James 2:21). While the Koran does not state explicitly that it was Isaac who was about to be sacrificed by Abraham, it does agree that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son: "O my son! I have seen in a vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: now see what is thy view!" (The son) said: "O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills, one of the steadfast!" (37:102) While Muhammad Ghoniem & M S M Saifullah ( provide the argument that, even in the Koran, the son to whom Abraham was speaking in the Koranic account was actually Isaac, the much more common tradition among Muslims is that the son to be sacrificed was Ishmael, Abraham’s son through Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar. Ishmael is considered to be a prophet in Islam and is thought to be a progenitor of Mohammed. The Koranic account does not include the biblical detail that the sacrificial victim was to be replaced with a ram, but it suggests that Abraham’s son is to be replaced with a “great sacrifice (Zibhin azeem).” Actually, I agree with Mohammed’s assessment that God would be replacing Abraham’s son with a great sacrifice, but who/what is this “great sacrifice”? How did the story of God commanding Abraham to commit human sacrifice (even if subsequently rescinded) become so significant in the religions of Israel, Islam, and Christianity? If the God of Abraham is the one who made the universe and creates and sustains all life, how can He ask someone to kill another innocent human being, let alone his own son? This seems SCANDALOUS! What is the significance of this Abrahamic sacrificial command? In my previous post, I presented the logical argument that the God who created and animates the universe in logical fashion (and whose own nature as a logical communicator argues consistently with the assertion that He) is the God of Abraham. This is the conclusion of the world’s three largest religions, but the question now arises: Which of these three religions best represents this God of Abraham? JUDAISM correctly makes the claim that it is the OLDEST of the three religions. There is certainly some validity to the argument that, as the first religion to identify the God of Abraham as the one true God, Judaism’s representation of that God deserves our attention. My master’s degree (in Hebrew) was taken at the feet of an internationally-respected Jewish scholar at Indiana University: Dr. Henry A. Fischel. I gained a great deal of insight concerning the God of Abraham from my Hebrew and Aramaic language studies of the Old Testament and the Jewish literature that was produced after the Old Testament period—in times much closer to New Testament times. My master’s thesis, Anamartetous Fallen Angels, which serves as the basis for much of my blog series, posted on this website, entitled “ANGELS & DEMONS,” supplies many insights into the nature of the God of Abraham derived from primarily Jewish/Hebrew sources. That master’s thesis was approved in writing not only by Dr. Fischel, but also by Christian scholar Dr. Paul Sampley and Islamic scholar Dr. Wadie Jwaideh. As it turns out, there is considerable agreement among the three religions in terms of angelology and other theological matters. Indeed, Christianity does not challenge the Jewish assertion that the Hebrew scriptures, which the Jews refer to as Tanach and the Christians refer to as the Old Testament, are supremely reliable accounts of the interactions of the God of Abraham with the Jewish people (in addition to various individuals living prior to the formation of the Jewish culture). Islam’s holy scriptures, the Koran (or Qur’an), likewise pay homage to both Christians and Jews as being “people of the Book” (presumably, alluding to the essential genuineness of the Christian and Hebrew scriptures). While Christians and Jews are in general agreement regarding the make-up and reliability of the Old Testament/Tanach, Muslims are less-enthusiastically supportive, suggesting that certain passages in the Old Testament (“the Book,” as the Koran refers to it) have become corrupted, over the years. On page 70 of Psychotic Entelechy, I phrase it this way: “Christians and Jews do not believe that the Koran is a collection of divine revelations, just as ‘Muslims believe that . . . Jewish and Christian scriptures have been corrupted and are no longer reliable, or are superseded by the Qur’an, and hence no longer necessary.’” Thus, most Muslims claim that it was actually Ishmael, rather than Isaac, who was the object of Abraham’s intended sacrifice.
From the time of Moses, the principle of killing a lamb as a substitute for losing the life of a child is reinforced. Rather than have the death angel take the lives of the first-born males of the Israelites as happened in the final plague upon Egypt, God told the Israelites to kill a lamb and smear its blood on each doorpost. The death angel would then “Pass Over” the household, leaving the first-born Israelite male from that family alive. To this day, Jews celebrate the Passover feast.
Why do Christians and Muslims not simply accede to the superiority of Judaism as the best representation of the God of Abraham? From CHRISTIANITY’S perspective, the Hebrew Scriptures were incomplete. That is, a major portion of these scriptures pointed to a future revelation of the God of Abraham in history. Jews, to this very day, understand that their scriptures promised the coming of a MESSIAH (Hebrew) or CHRIST (Greek). Islam is not the only one of the three religions that sensed that the killing of a ram was not a sufficient substitute for the sacrifice of Abraham’s son. Not only does the Koran suggest that Abraham’s son is to be replaced with a “great sacrifice,” even the Hebrew Scriptures recognize the ineffectiveness of animal sacrifices. David, in Psalm 69:31 suggests that God prefers songs of praise to the sacrifice of animals. Isaiah 1:11 states: "The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” (NIV). In a passage taken by the New Testament to be a prophecy concerning Jesus’ crucifixion, Isaiah 59:3-7 states: “3He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (NIV).
The Gospel of John describes a moment in which the statements of Jesus SCANDALIZED many of his fellow Jews. The substance of Jesus’ statements have to do with human sacrifice. This was considered SCANDALOUS by many of his countrymen. John 6:48-66 records the SCANDALOUS comments: “48I am the bread of life.49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 52Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. . . . 60On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? . . . 66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (NIV). While some commentators suggest that what SCANDALIZED the crowds was a claim to be divine on Jesus’ part, I think it is clear that the SCANDALOUS nature of this account is that it proposes a human sacrifice. Just as Isaac had just turned 13 years of age at the time of Abraham’s test (and, hence, was considered “innocent” by Jewish culture, having just then arrived at the age for Bar Mitzvah—the age of accountability), Jesus, as it is contended by Christians was also “innocent.” He had lived more than 30 years, but was not guilty of any sin. Therefore, Jesus would qualify as an appropriate substitute for Isaac. He was offering himself as a HUMAN SACRIFICE. That was the part that was SCANDALOUS. Just as Jews had, for years, consumed the meat of the animal sacrifice they had offered for their sins, Jesus SCANDALIZED his countrymen by inviting them to consume his flesh and blood. No human in history has ever actually eaten Jesus’ flesh, nor had any of his disciples in the time John wrote his account. Therefore, John could not have understood Jesus’ words to be taken strictly literally.
(Actually, Catholics come close to taking his words literally, in their doctrine of Transubstantiation. They posit that the bread and wine of Communion literally are transubstantiated into Jesus’ actual flesh and blood at the moment they are consumed in the Eucharist. However, the Catholic Church fails to take into account the fact that the Gospel of John, in which this account occurs, is the ONLY ONE OF THE FOUR GOSPELS that does NOT present Jesus as instituting the Lord’s Supper! More on this point, momentarily.)
Yet, in a definite sense, Jesus’ words were to be taken literally! Jesus was literally going to become a human sacrifice. His blood was literally going to be poured out. His flesh was literally going to be killed. Like Isaac, he literally carried the wood on which he would be killed to the mountain. There is no Abrahamic substitute of a ram for his son, here—even though Jesus was quite literally a “son of Abraham,” as traced by the beginning of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:2, and confirmed in Luke 3:34. The major logical point John has been making throughout his gospel is that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29, 36). The reason John does not present Jesus as celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples and introducing the Lord’s Supper, is because John is following a different Jewish calendar, according to which Jesus was killed at precisely the time Jews kill the Passover Lamb. He could not, therefore, eat the Passover meal (according to John’s calendar), because he was dead by the time it would have been consumed (the evening after it was killed). There is no substitute of a Passover Lamb, here; Jesus IS LITERALLY THE HUMAN PASSOVER LAMB. But, unlike the animal sacrifices which had no free will to offer their lives and unlike even Isaac who was bound by Abraham, and therefore coerced into becoming a potential sacrifice, Jesus VOLUNTARILY offered his own body and blood to be sacrificed. No one took his life; he gave it freely. John 10:18 presents Jesus’ words: “18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (NIV). This is the logic of Christianity. It meets the Koranic suggestion that Abraham’s son is to be replaced with a “great sacrifice.” It encompasses Isaiah’s view that God has “no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.” It further presents Jesus as Isaiah’s suffering servant who was led to the slaughter like a lamb. It explains logically Isaiah’s thesis that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” In my next post, I will discuss the logic of why Jesus’ sacrifice was the perfect substitutionary sacrifice.