Via the Library of Social Science a fascinating essay by anthropologist Carol Delaney (professor emerita, Stanford University), “Sacrificial Heroics: The Story of Abraham and its Use in the Justification of War” (pdf), which is an extended meditation on the meaning of Abraham’s willingness to kill his son because God asked.
The story has been used to justify war, especially when the war is seen as ‘holy’ or against an evil one. All three religious traditions have drawn upon it for this purpose.
For don’t forget: Abraham was willing to go through with it — that is the symbol of his faith.
Delaney then notes that Abrahamic faith is still very much with us:
* Jewish: “Renowned Talmudic scholar, Adin Steinsaltz ‘tells us that if we accept the fatherhood of
God, we must obey His every command. This vision is compelling enough to elicit the consent
of hundreds of millions of men and women of all nations and religions who are able, on faith
alone, to accept as the voice of God a command to sacrifice their sons.'”
* Islamic: “During an earlier phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mrs. [Yasser] Arafat was quoted in the
New York Times as saying: ‘If I had a son, there would be no greater honor than to sacrifice him
for the Palestinian cause.'”
* Christian: “President [George W.] Bush reads every morning from a devotional, inspirational book by a
19th century minister, Oswald Chambers, who praises ‘Abraham for preparing to slay his son at
God’s command without … conferring with flesh and blood.’”
So a hard question even in our semi-secular times: How much of war is driven by religious-virtue signaling — to oneself, to others, or to God — that one is willing to make sacrifices?
Here again is “Sacrificial Heroics: The Story of Abraham and its Use in the Justification of War” (pdf).
Søren Kierkegaard, “A Panegyric Upon Abraham,” from Fear and Trembling (1843).