Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”That's messed up. The fact that it was God's funny little joke and Isaac wasn't murdered doesn't really redeem the story.
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
I think this is so repugnant because it runs counter to humanity's deepest instinct, to love and care for our children. It's appalling to consider that abstract notions regarding the dictates of a probably nonexistent deity can over-ride this fundamental human impulse, to put the life and welfare of your child above all else.
I was musing on this after a recent case I saw in the ER. A young man, barely old enough to drink, well, went out and got drunk, as young men do. He was involved in a dispute of some sort involving drugs and was administered some street justice. He came in to me quite ill indeed. He had stab wounds to the chest and abdomen, as well as an actively bleeding deep cut to the left arm extending up over the deltoid and into zone 3 of the neck. The paramedics reported a large amount of blood loss at the scene, and his arm wound was still bleeding heavily on arrival.
The resuscitation went very well, considering the injuries. He was intubated and thoracostomied in a jiffy, and I tacked together that big arm wound in a temporizing fashion to stanch the blood loss. But clearly, he was going to need to get to the OR pretty soon. His hematocrit dropped dramatically after fluid resuscitation and he was showing signs of shock so we began to prepare for transfusion.
It was around that time that his parents showed up and informed us that the patient was a Jehovah's Witness and would not accept blood products under any circumstances. Even if that meant his death. They were adamant on this point even after I explained that we were not in hypothetical territory any more — that his injuries were quite life-threatening and the blood loss might be the factor that caused him to die. They were firm and well-prepared and even showed us a piece of paper signed by the patient, fairly recently, expressly refusing blood transfusions.
Now I will parenthetically note that this young man was not so observant a Jehovah's Witness that he wouldn't go out and get drunk and use drugs, so I wonder whether he would have been willing to rescind that refusal were it his own life on the line. But he couldn't speak for himself, so I was bound to obey the parents and his expressed wishes.
As it happened, he got lucky. He had a very rough course in the OR and post op. He definitely would have been at less risk and probably would have suffered less disability had he been transfused. Thanks to a very skilled OR team and our hospital's exceptional blood-conservation program, he pulled through.
The parallel between this case and the Genesis story is pretty apparent, I should think. They're both equally abhorrent. I'm more appalled by my experience, actually, since a) it really happened and wasn't some myth of dubious factual provenance and b) the parents who were willing to allow their son to die did so in the context of modern education, societal mores, and with all the tools of moderns medicine at their disposal. Yet they valued some abstract, imaginary fantasy of the afterlife and their idiosyncratic reading of scripture over the real, actual living, breathing son whom they had loved and nurtured for two decades. That's just sick, and it made me feel sick to be complicit in their withholding of care to their son.
Yes, I understand the legal and ethical obligations I am under as a physician, and I obeyed their wishes. But I do not respect them; in fact I hold them in the deepest contempt.