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And this is where it gets really tricky. Because I do have enormous problems with the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac, and my current view doesn't differ that much from the view I had when I wrote this damning parody of it in 1985.

 

First thing to mention is that we had a different teacher for RE in our third year. I won't name her but I've been told she's a lovely person by many people. To me, however, she always came across as rather strict and humourless, and I couldn't help wanting to tell the truth about how I felt about these stories, how I saw them - not just to wind her up or see how she'd react, but because I thought it was very important to tell the story from my own point of view, to tell the true story as it appeared to me, not as I was supposed to tell it.

 

OK, so let's start with the story - it derives from Genesis 22, in which, apparently, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham agrees, and just as he is about to do so, God intervenes and says "No, don't kill him - I was just testing your faith. Sacrifice a ram to me instead." And sure enough a ram appeared in the bushes, Isaac was released and they sacrificed the ram instead.

 

Now, it doesn't take much imagination - especially after seeing my comic strip on the left - to realise that I would find such a story absolutely appalling. The teacher gave me a B for some reason (why not a D of an F?) and says "Make sure you finish up making the right point. This doesn't do that."

 

Naturally, I understood what the "right" point was supposed to be, at least according to the teacher and the standard Christian interpretation of this Old Testament story. The "right" point was that Isaac was spared because Abraham had the good sense to obey God, and that therefore it was only a test of Abraham's faith. And because he had passed the test, he and his descendants would be rewarded by special magic favours from this God. Oh yes - I understood what the "right" point was. I just didn't agree with it. I didn't agree with Abraham for not putting up more resistance - indeed, I found him weak and unlikable, since he didn't even try to stick up for his son, and just did what this disembodied voice in his head told him to do without question. That's the kind of person who, if we found him trying to stab and/or burn his own son today, would definitely be branded a dangerous schizophrenic and locked up.

 

Even more so, presuming he actually did exist (and the point of the Bible is presumably to suggest that he really does), I really didn't like this 'God' fellow. All my life I'd been told that this God was the utmost expression of love, that he was the greatest, most flawless being you could possibly imagine, and here he was acting like some kind of thuggish ganglord, blackmailing his subjects into obedience with threats and false commands which he removes at the last minute, just to keep you on your toes and show you who's boss. Just like the same God who gives Moses the Ten Commandments, he's a bully, a "jealous God" who promises punishment to the children and grandchildren of those who do not like him, but promises love to "a thousand generations" of those who obey him. I felt that, in the real world, this is the sort of person we'd be warned to stay away from. And that his promise, to harm those who didn't like him while protecting those who did, was not only the sort of thing a gangster might say as part of a protection racket, but a quick glance at this and this might suggest that it didn't necessarily turn out to be true.

 

Please don't misunderstand me here. I am aware that my 13 year old self was attacking one of the sacred texts of various different monotheistic religions and that, by sticking up for him, I am therefore opening myself up to attack on various fronts. None of which I welcome. But I want to say this - I don't care about this story as much as all that. I don't judge whole cultures based on their formative legends, or think differently of anyone because some of the stories in their ancient books don't conform to modern norms of etiquette. I mean, look at me - even though I was left by my parents to choose my own religion, I still have reason to believe I may have been conceived during a ritual to Horus, so I've no standpoint from which to throw stones. The point is, as a non-religious person, this story has nothing to do with me - I shouldn't have been studying it in the first place, unless it was part of a series of lessons comparing different religions with each other. And I definitely shouldn't have been told what the "right" point of it was, and punished for not conforming to this narrow point of view. The thing is - I believe people should be free to believe what they choose to believe, without fear of persecution - AND THAT INCLUDES ME.

 

As a further retort to the teacher (and it was over 30 years ago so I really should let it go), there's quite a lot of scholarly dispute over what the "right" point really is at the end of this story. There are disputes over what the story really is. And quite right too - the versions of these stories we have are translations of translations of copies of copies, the originals no doubt written long after the events described actually took  place. There's plenty of room to dispute the truth of what is being told here, and plenty of room to interpret them in one's own way.

 

I decided to interpret this one through an idiosyncratic, contemporary lens, as usual. Again, I give Abraham a dripping nose to suggest he is always ill and therefore flawed. I also show his wife Sarah to be a very old lady (she was apparently over 100 when this story took place, which stretches credibility and, since Abraham is meant to be much younger, it wouldn't be the kind of relationship we'd necessarily approve of these days.

 

Finally, when Isaac - poor Isaac - gets his reprieve, it reminded me so much of the candid camera stunts from TV show Game for a Laugh that I couldn't help but use it as a punchline. The whole story played like a cruel joke to me, and that there was indeed a "right point" to be made - that a child had been traumatised by his father, who in turn preferred the threat of some over-demanding supreme being (or at least one who pretended to be supreme in order to frighten his victims into submission) over the welfare of his son - and this seemed to me like serious child abuse. It seemed to me like the "right point" was that no matter what, Isaac should not have been treated this way. It's not the sort of thing any decent modern society would sanction, and were we to hear of it happening anywhere in the world now, we would all vociferously condemn it.

 

Naturally, I ended up having a steaming row with the teacher at the front of the classroom, not just about this but about other re-imaginings of Bible stories I wrote throughout the year, and though I refused to apologize for what I had done, believing it a valid interpretation of the story as told to me, I eventually did give in and started to behave myself a little better. Which is a shame because when I look back at all my schoolbooks, this is the one point where I finally seemed to get the tone and structure of satire right, managing to make a humorous alternative point about a story we were just supposed to take as Gospel truth.

 

Strange phrase that, isn't it? The Gospel Truth? When it's meant to mean "the undeniable, honest truth" and yet it is named after the only part of the canonical Bible written by four different authors, who purport to tell the same story, but from four wildly different points of view. The idea of the Gospel Truth, therefore, should remind us that truth is pretty much subjective, and is open to many different interpretations. In the same way I wouldn't like to live under a totalitarian Government, I don't like being told that there is only one way to tell a story.

 

I utterly respect that different cultures are totally valid unless their laws tell them that they must strive to wipe out all other cultures. I'm not going to make any pronouncements about whether the Bible says this or whether either Jews or Christians could be accused of such things. I tend to think that people brought up in certain cultures tend only to follow certain traditions in order to feel fellowship within a group and are just as likely to question their sacred texts as I might be. But I do have to say, I don't like being told by anyone from any culture that their unlikely-sounding story with a dodgy moral has only one correct interpretation and is immune from criticism, especially when the criticism has a humorous intent. That, to me, sounds too much like being unnecessarily defensive, and goes some way towards backing up the bullying and child abuse I see in this story.

 

That's why I see this cartoon as one of the best things I ever did at school, and am eternally proud of my defiance of the teacher who tried to make me apologize for writing it. I am not prone to attacking religion for its own sake - but tie me down and force me to write about it from your point of view, and I'll surely empathise with the other character in the story who is similarly being tied down and coerced.

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Paul Under Roman Arrest (May 7th, 1985)
Apeth (frum Ota Sbees)
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JJ Willybonker
1984
Learning Skruplokian
A guide for travellers
1984
Man of the Future
A scientific illustration
1984
Never Take Sweets
From a Stranger
Mar 26, 1985
Paul Under Roman Arrest
(Rewritten by an idiot)
May 7, 1985
A Roman Centurion with the face of a pig packs one of Christianity's founding figures in a tiny box and leaves him in the hands of Royal Mail - that happened in the Bible, didn't it?
Gary Le Strange relaxing in the Comedy Store
JJ Willybonker - I'd be proud to have a name like that and even prouder to write an unfinished book about him
Learning Skruplokian - a genuine guidebook I actually finished, so visitors to the planet Skruplos could communicate with the locals
Man of the Future - a biological examination
An 11-page epic about an acid trip written by a 13-year-old who's never taken drugs