February 17, 2004

THE ROOTS OF HORROR: Worth A Thousand Words

Before proceeding to Part II of my series, "The Roots of Horror" (here is the introduction), look at this Rembrandt painting. Click on it, so that you can see the large version. Study it carefully, and ask yourself some questions.

Note carefully how Abraham's hand is placed over Isaac's face, covering it completely. What does the painting project about Abraham's feelings for his son? What does it project about Isaac's attitude toward his father? Does it project anything about Isaac's feelings at all? Is Isaac an actual person -- or merely a sacrificial object? What are Abraham's priorities, when faced with an incomprehensible demand from God that he kill his son? Does he appear willing to question God's cruel demand in any way at all? Does he seem to have any regret about having to kill Isaac?

I'll be back later with much more about the story of Abraham, and about its connection to many of the world's horrors, as well as to a number of the public justifications for our current foreign policy, including the war with Iraq. It is notable that certain commentators are willing to defend that war publicly on grounds such as: Well, we had "to do something," or that it was a war we "should" have pursued simply because we could, as if no other reason is necessary for killing (of both our own soldiers and of innocent Iraqis) not required by the genuine demands of our self-defense, to say nothing of the fact that it has distorted our economy for decades to come and created greater dangers for us than existed before.

And the fact that such obviously empty and unconvincing arguments do not cause widespread outrage and condemnation is one indication of how the underlying tragedy affects our society much more deeply and in a much broader way than is reflected only in foreign policy.

One final observation about the painting for now: it is also notable that the painting's title is "The Sacrifice of Abraham." In fact, that is almost always how the story is referred to. But it isn't Abraham who is about to be killed. However, Isaac as a fully-realized human being, a human being worthy and deserving of care, respect and love -- and from his father, above all -- doesn't genuinely exist in the painting, in the Biblical story, or in the world's memory. And thus, horrors are unleashed upon the world.