The First World War: Slaying Half the Seed of Europe
Stephen Hicks’ website recently linked to an LSS Guest Newsletter, “Sacrificial Heroics” (Carol Delaney). Based on the Newsletter, he created his own post, adding an image and commentary. We have reproduced Hicks’ post below. The original post on Hicks’ website appears here.

In her essay, Delaney quotes Wilfred Owen’s famous poem, “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young.” When Abraham is about to offer the ram as a substitute sacrifice, he decides not to do so, but instead slays his son—“And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”
The Sacrifice of Isaac
Kim Baxter
Video of Stephen Hicks lecturing
on, "Faith: The Story of Abraham"
Click here to watch the video.
Kim Baxter
Sacrificing sons — justifying war in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — Stephen Hicks, Ph.D.

December 16, 2016

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.

Delaney argues:

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 if 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).