Abraham, Isaac, and the Anthropocene

David Breeden
Aug 1 · 2 min read
Photo by Benjamin Grull on Unsplash

What is true faith? The archetypal story of faith in the big-three monotheisms is recorded in Genesis, chapter 22, verses 1–9. In those verses, God is reported saying:

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

A little background: Abraham, who is considered the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, had one problem that patriarchs just can’t have: he and his wife Sarah didn’t have any children. However, as will happen in such stories, a miracle occurred — despite basic biology, Sarah had a child, Isaac. (After some messy business with Hagar. A story for another day.)

Thus was Abraham on his way to patriarch. Then came the message related above — kill your son. What’s a poor patriarch to do? Abraham chopped some wood, sharpened his knife, and headed into the desert.

True faith.

Genesis relates that an angel stopped Abraham at the last moment, saying,

Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.

In the face of global climate change, the religious right is following Abraham’s playbook. They have taken the planet, our only planet, the planet that we love, out into the desert. True believers have the knife poised at the planet’s throat. They are quite prepared to show their deep faith by ignoring reality.

Who will send an angel?

True believers are prepared to sacrifice humanity for an illusion. Isaac is as good as dead.

I don’t know what could be the naturalistic explanation for what is reported in Genesis as a last-moment angel (if the story has any basis in reality at all). Whatever the explanation, here in the Anthropocene, we need an angel to show up. Bad.

A central idea in Humanism is that human beings must solve human problems — we human beings must be our own angels. This is the biggest danger to life on the planet. We have allies on the religious left. Time to get our wings on.



David Breeden

Written by

Poet, translator, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page amazon.com/author/davidbreeden

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