The Israelites’ capricious destroyer god turned from the universal flood and the tower of Babel, to focus on one couple, appearing to Avram seven times and making of him a few incredible asks. Catholics are programmed to see Avram/Abraham as a model and example of faith and trust—despite his cowardice, acting out, doubts, lies, and his intent to murder his own son. In this episode, Father Jayme shifts attention to the saintliness of Sarai/Sarah, who suffered her husband’s antics, visions, and seeming psychotic breaks. He concludes: “She put up with a lot more from her husband than many of us would ever tolerate!” Father Jayme shares the saga of Avram’s/Abraham’s seven theophanies, through the apocryphal stories of Sarah’s death and burial. He draws parallels to older Ugaritic tales of the child born to the elderly Danil and his barren wife, Kirta, and he addresses Søren Kierkegaard’s work, Fear & Trembling, which explored the ethical implications of Abraham’s actions. Father Jayme cites the many etiological explanations found in the saga of Sarah and Abraham, noting how these patriarchal legends bolstered the Davidic kingdom’s desire to expand its territory outside the tribes of Israel, to the tribes that purportedly descended from Isaac’s seven stepbrothers. This episode concludes with apocryphal stories concerning the idolatry of Avram’s father, Terach, and Father Daniel Helminiak’s unpacking of the “sin of Sodom.”
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[Becky & Terry Ann 0:03]
Welcome to “Extraordinary Catholics,” a podcast for—you guessed it—extraordinary Catholics! In a world with over a billion ordinary Catholics, the Good Samaritans of Vatican-free Catholicism are truly extraordinary, seeking to model Jesus’ inclusive spirit and his discipleship of equals. Like Roman Catholicism, Inclusive Catholicism possesses valid lines of apostolic succession and shares valid sacraments. One in every ten adult Americans self-identifies as a former Roman Catholic. If we were to band together, we would form the second-largest religion in America. In Mexico, over 1,000 Roman Catholics leave the church every single day. To learn more about Inclusive Catholicism, please visit www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith, and join our extraordinary Catholics Facebook group. And now, meet the host of Extraordinary Catholics, the pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church, the only inclusive Catholic community in Austin, Texas: Father Jayme Mathias!
[Father Jayme Mathias 1:20]
Welcome, extraordinary Catholics! I am Father Jayme Mathias, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.
We thank the special saints who helped make this episode possible:
* Corey Hurt Montiel of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Bishop Theodore Feldman of the Sanctuary of Divine Providence in Birmingham, Alabama;
* Bishop Jerry Brohl of the Independent Roman Catholic Church in Wyandotte, Michigan;
* Bishop John Gregory Von Folmar of Solomon’s Porch in Phoenix, Arizona, part of the Convergent Christian Communion;
* Reverend Canon MichaelAngelo D’Arrigo of Agape Fellowship in Atlanta, Georgia, part of the Convergent Christian Communion;
* Very Reverend Ben Jansen of the Congregation of the Servants Minor in San Diego, California, part of the Progressive Catholic Church International;
* Bishop Jeffrey Montoya of the Church of Christ the Healer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin;
* Jordan Dickenson and Heather Lucas of Holy Family Catholic Church in Austin, Texas;
* Luke Jensen in Farmers Branch, Texas;
* Father Scott Carter of the Pilgrim Chapel of Contemplative Conscience in Ashland, Oregon, part of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch;
* Archbishop Richard Roy of the National Catholic Church of American in Albany, New York;
* Father Jonathan Jones of the Progressive Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina; and
* Father Frank Bellino of St. Michael’s Catholic Parish in San Antonio, Texas, part of the Unified Old Catholic Church;
Looking to earn your wings? Visit dwy.io/podcast to join the list of saints who are stepping up to sponsor future episodes.
Can I ask you a favor? Will you prayerfully consider sharing a quick rating and or review of this podcast? You are a saint!
And now, let’s continue our exploration of the theological foundations of Inclusive Catholicism!
Gods of Destruction
Be careful about disdainfully judging other religions, even those that seem somewhat primitive—because we possess various primitive elements in our own Judeo-Christian religion! In Genesis 1, for instance, we saw God the Creator, a god of life. Then in the universal flood story of Genesis 6-9, we see God the destroyer, a god who brings about death and destruction.
Other ancient religions had similar gods of destruction. Hinduism has its Trimūrti, its triple deity of supreme divinity, of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. And Shiva is the destroyer, a fierce, destructive deity. Shiva’s wife, Kali, is the goddess of death and destruction, determined to destroy the universe—until she saw the damage she had done and realized that she had gone too far. In Greek mythology, Perses was the titan of destruction. His very name came from a Greek root, perthō, meaning “volcanic destruction.” And, closer to our Israelite ancestors, the Mesopotamian god Nergal, worshipped by Akkadians, Assyrians and Babylonians, was a solar deity sometimes identified with Shamash. Nergal was associated with the scorching noontime sun and the summer solstice, bringing the destruction of the summer dead season.
Fitting with that tradition, we have our own destroyer god: Yahweh Sabaoth, “the Lord God of hosts,” as the Roman Catholic Church now sings in its “Holy, Holy,” who will later be portrayed as “the God of the armies.”
One of the challenges we had with our nascent monotheism was figuring out who to blame for some of the crazy things we see in this world. Who caused that flood [Gen. 6-9]? God is in control of all things, right? So, it must have been God! Why did that man have homicidal thoughts and attempt to murder his own son [Gen. 22]? God only knows—but maybe God had something to do with it? So, let’s address up front the title of this episode.
Abraham: Hardly the Portrait of a Saint
As Catholics, we’ve been programmed to think that Abraham, a key figure in the Hebrew scriptures, is a tremendous model of faith and trust: leaving his homeland, trusting the incredible thought that he, in his old age and with a barren wife, would father a nation numbering like the stars in the sky or the sands on the seashore (Gen. 22:17), and yes, even being willing to sacrifice the only son born by his wife, Sarah (Gen. 22). In patriarchal, androcentric (or male-centered) societies, male protagonists are always painted as heroes.
In many ways, though, the man we’ll explore today hardly resembles the portrait of a saint, of a model or example for Catholics and Christians today.
A model of trust and faith? Abraham twice gave into doubt and cowardice, twice lying about his relationship with his beautiful wife, and exposing her to be raped by other men who would literally kill to have her. Of the first incident, Jack Miles, in his book, God: A Biography, writes: “Avram gives his wife to Pharaoh to act out his displeasure with the Lord, against the Lord’s wishes Avram is giving offspring to Pharaoh by giving Sarai to Pharaoh.” “To act out his displeasure with the Lord”? It sounds more juvenile than just, more sad than saintly, more egregious than exemplary.
Abraham, a model of faith? Thinking that his wife would never bear him a child, Abraham turned to his wife’s Egyptians servant girl, Hagar, to bear him a child (Gen. 16:1-4). Then, in an episode that can only be explained today as some kind of psychotic break, Abraham nearly succeeds in murdering his own son (Gen. 22:10). In many ways, it seems Abraham was a twisted man.
Don’t get me wrong: We’ll cut him some slack, since there’s no evidence that Abraham knew of God’s dealings with the couple at Eden, with the universal flood, or with the tower in Babel.
Sarah: The Real Heroine
But the real hero—or, in this case, the real heroine—is his wife, Sarah, who suffered him and his antics. I often tell wives and mothers that, due to their love and sacrifices, they are saints. Sarah was an absolute saint, she put up with a lot more from her husband than many of us would ever tolerate!
A Twisted God?
To refer to Abraham’s god as twisted may be an overstatement, but we certainly find in Genesis a capricious god of destruction, a god who purportedly punished the entire human species with labor pains, with the need to work and wear clothes, and, in the Catholic tradition, with “original sin,” simply due to a single action by two mythic personalities, a god who purportedly destroyed the entire human race (except for eight people) and all the animals on earth (except those who fit aboard their boat), a god who toppled towers and confused people, and who really led on Abraham, eventually demanding that Abraham murder his son.
Avram's First Three Theophanies
Follow this exhausting tale, which I share from the perspective of Sarah (or Sarai, before her name change), and imagine that her husband shared with her of the visions that he was purportedly having of his god over the course of years.
We know that numbers in the Hebrew scriptures are often exaggerated and symbolic. So, here’s another instance of the number seven. [In this account, we refer to Abraham’s earlier name as “Avram,” a transliteration of his Hebrew name, rather than as Abram, to distinguish it more easily from the later “Abraham.”]
One. When Sarai is some 65 years old, Avram’s god tells him, “Go to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation” (Gen.12:1-3). So, Avram and Sarai moved to Shechem.
Two. Avram's god appears to him a second time, promising currently-occupied land to him and his offspring (Gen. 12:7). Avram and Sarai move again, Avram builds an altar to this god, then he offers Sarai as a concubine in Pharaoh’s house (Gen. 12:7-23)!
Three. Avram parts ways with his nephew, Lot, and Avram’s god again promises Avram land and offspring (Gen. 13:14-17). And Avram and Sarai pick up and move again.
Blessed by the Priest of Another God, then a Covenant with Yahweh
Four. Avram’s god appears to him a fourth time, promising him offspring and land. Avram accepts a blessing from a priest, Melchizedek, in the name of ʾĒl ʿElyōn, “God Most High” (Gen. 14:19 & 22), “Creator of heaven and earth” (Gen. 14:20 & 22). Note that this appears to be the name of another god, not Yahweh.
Avram battles four kings, then has a vision in which his god says, “Fear not, Avram. I am a shield to you. Your reward shall be very great” (Gen. 15:1). Wait, did you catch that? The battle is already won, and now Avram’s god is taking credit for Avram’s victory!
Finally, during this fourth theophany, we hear Avram’s first words in scriptures, as he tells his god: “Divine Lord, what use are your gifts? I am childless, and a slave in my household will inherit all that belongs to me.” (Gen. 15:2).
Avram’s god tells him that of Avram’s descendants will number like the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:5), and Avram’s god makes a covenant with Avram, apparently appearing in the form of a smoking pot and a blazing torch among the carcasses of animals (Gen. 15:17), a remnant of the ancient Mari ritual of slaughtering a donkey to seal a covenant—something we see echoed in the slaughter of the calf in Jeremiah 34:18-19. This sacrifice is a symbol of Avram’s submission to the curse of becoming like the divided animal should he break this covenant.
What a cruel joke, though: By this time Sarai has heard Avram say four times that she, an old, sterile woman, will be fertile—all the while knowing that, in her words, “The Lord has kept me from having children” (Gen. 16:2). To satisfy her old man’s thirst for children, though, Sarai, now some 75 years old, suggests that Avram sleep with her slave and build a family through her (Gen. 16:2).
The Twisted Origins of Circumcision
Five. 13 more years pass, and Sarai is now some 89 years old, and Avram is 99—and Sarai is really shaking her head at the message that Avram is now receiving from his god: Not only are they to be known by new names, Abraham and Sarah, but Abraham (his new name) has the idea that this god demands the surrender of the foreskin of his penis, as well as the foreskins of every male in his household and every male descendant yet to be born to him and Sarah (Gen. 17:10-14). A twisted thought by a twisted man, about his twisted god—but we also see how this fits with other stories of the destroyer god in Genesis.
We, of course, recognize that this story is an etiological explanation for the Israelite practice of circumcision, the way in which the Israelites were to be “holy” or set apart from other peoples, a preventative practice by a defeated people in an era when the foreskins of the conquered, humiliated men were carried back to foreign rulers as trophies of victory and as part of the spoils of war.
Sarah: "A Greater Prophet than Abraham"
Six. After Abraham laughs (Gen. 17:17) and performs the humiliating deed of the conquered (Gen. 17:23-27), Abraham’s god comes to him in the form of three people, suggesting for the sixth time that Sarah will give birth to a child (Gen. 18:2-10). The author tells us: "Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing, so Sarah laughed" (Gen. 18:11-12).
Presuming Abraham shared his previous visions with Sarah, this is the sixth time she’s hearing this. So, I like to imagine Sarah rolling her eyes yet again at her husband, who did not understand human biology.
Judith Antonelli, however, notes how Sarah was more harshly rebuked for her laughter than Abraham was for his. Antonelli shares two factors that make Sarah’s laugh more excusable than Abraham’s: (1) A greater leap of faith was required of Sarah, who had passed menopause, than of Abraham, since men can father children in old age. (2) Whereas Abraham heard the news directly from God, Sarah heard it from three men, whom she did not know were divine messengers. But Antonelli also indulges us with a possible reason for the rebuke of Sarah. She writes: “In Judaism, the greater a person is, the more responsible he or she is for acting properly. A scholar is held much more accountable for a minor transgression than the average person. Hence, it is precisely because Sarah’s situation required more faith that she was held more accountable. Because she was a greater prophet than Abraham, she should have known better.”
Yahweh's Toying Cruelty & Abraham's Aggressive Sarcasm
What follows is, in the words of Jack Miles, “a kind of toying cruelty for the Lord to take Abraham into his confidence about the judgment to be rendered on the unrighteousness of Sodom and Gomorrah.” Confronting his destroyer god, and seemingly at the verge of another psychotic break, Abraham matches tone with tone. Jack Miles writes, “Mortal, fallen man, in a moment when Almighty God stands poised to destroy, should fall back, not step forward. Abraham comes forward and addresses the Lord with aggressive, sarcastic, insinuating flattery of his own, all playing off the Lord’s invidious introduction of righteousness as a condition of Abraham’s potency.” The story continues with Abraham confronting his destroyer god: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike! Far be it from you! Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:23-25). Jack Miles notes how Abraham’s words drip of sarcasm. Abraham has no loyalty to Sodom; he previously renounced all claims the Sodom (Gen. 14:22-23). Too often we read the story as Abraham’s pious pleading or bargaining for the sake of innocent people. Jack Miles writes, “The point of the dialogue is to show the depth of Abraham’s resentment of the broken promise of fertility and his contempt of what seems an eleventh-hour attempt on God’s part to abrogate the promise. Abraham is saying to the Lord, in effect, ‘You say you will, but will you? And when you don’t, your excuse will be, will it not, some defect in my righteousness?’ Abraham’s politeness to the God at whom he and his wife have just laughed is deliberately excessive: ‘Far be it from you to do such a thing. Far be it from you!’”
A short story made shorter, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. Let’s come back to that.
Stunningly, as Jack Miles points out, that demonstration of destructive divine power is followed by yet another instance of Abraham’s doubts and lack of trust in God. What follows? Abraham lies yet again, saying that Sarah is his sister, such that King Abimelech covets her (Gen. 20:2). Are you sitting down? Are you ready for God’s response?
The Destroyer God Demands Death
Seven. Since we’re speaking of symbolic numbers, the seventh and last time that Abraham’s destroyer god will speak to him is some years after Isaac, his only son with Sarah, is weaned. Abraham understood this god of destruction to ask that he offer his only son as a burnt sacrifice (Gen. 22:2).
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard writes, “The promise of Abraham’s seed was only a whim, a fleeting thought of the Lord’s, which Abraham himself must now eradicate. Yes, Abraham would indeed take leave of Isaac, but it was he that was to remain. Death would divide them, but Isaac was to be its victim. The old man was not to lay his hand upon Isaac in blessing, but, weary of life, was to lay it upon him in violence.”
We’ll never know for sure whether Abraham was really ready to go through with the murderous act, but we have no indication that he wouldn’t.
What we do see is his continued pattern of serial lying. He tells his attendants, “Stay here with the donkey. I and the boy will go over there, where we will worship (Gen. 22:5). Do we really believe that Abraham was going over there to worship? He also tells his attendants, “Then the boy and I will return to you” (Gen. 22:5). Do we really believe that he intended to return with the boy over whom he would soon raise his dagger (Gen. 22:10)? Hardly.
With that twisted story, we come to the end of the Abraham saga. As Jack Miles notes, “When God declares that Abraham has passed the test, and, for the seventh and final time, promises him abundant offspring, it is as much God who concedes defeat as Abraham. In the self-love of Abraham, clinging as he does by bluff and ruse to his own bruised and defining power to create, God may well see an image of God’s self. From this point on, as God and Abraham are linked not just by a covenant, but also at a deeper level, by a truce, a subtle but profound change comes over their relationship.”
The Death & Burial of Sarah
And with that, Sarah, who suffered so much at the hands of her twisted husband and his twisted god, dies at the age of 127 (Gen. 23:1). Sarah is the only woman in the bible for whom we have an age at death and the details of her burial. Abraham ibn Ezra’s Sefer haYashar says that she was buried like a queen, and the Baba Batra shares the beautiful image of her burial beside Abraham who, “lies sleeping in the arms of Sarah, [while] she is looking fondly at his head.”
Sarah was a mother for some 37 years of her life, and some texts suggests that Isaac was hardly a young child at the time when Abraham believed he was asked to kill his son, so I’m personally fond of the story told by Rabbi Ḥayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar, perhaps the most prominent Moroccan rabbi of the early 18th century. In his commentary on the Torah, Or ha-Ḥayyim, he is not bashful about asserting that the cause of Sarah’s death was the literally mortifying news of her husband’s attempted sacrifice of their son. Antonelli writes, “When Sarah heard that Isaac had been taken to be sacrificed, she died of shock. ‘Her soul flew from her,’ says Rabbi Rashi. According to this view, she never learned that her son was still alive. Another version, however, says that Isaac returned home, and Sarah asked him where he had been. When he told her what happened, Sarah screamed six times—which is why there are six tekiahs [six blasts] when the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah—and then died.”
Scholarly Stances on this Saga
Now in the 21st century, we recognize that the patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith, our ancestors in the faith, were less likely historical figures from the Middle Bronze Age, about whom people wrote some 1,000 to 1,500 years after their supposed existence. As Paulist Father Lawrence Boadt states, “Scholarly attitudes toward the historicity of the patriarchal stories in Genesis vary. Many conservative scholars, Jewish and Christian, regard the stories as fully accurate. Other scholars regard the stories as part of an assumed Israelites epic, somewhat like the Iliad and the Odyssey of the Greeks and, more pertinent, the pre-1200 B.C. Canaanite stories about Kirta and Danel in Ugaritic. A third group of scholars views the stories of Genesis 12-50, as family and tribal sagas acted out by individual characters. Finally, a few scholars view the ancestral stories as largely retrojection into antiquity by writers in the post-exilic period who were intent on creating edifying stories for an exiled population.”
Danel and Kirta were the Abraham and Sarah equivalents in the much older Ugaritic Legend of Aqhat: They were married for a long time and unable to give birth—the barren wife motif that we hear repeated throughout the Hebrew scriptures. In that story, Danel-the-powerful is sulking over not having a son, as Baal intercedes to El, the bull god worshipped by Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20. After receiving the promise of a son, Danel’s face lights up, and he laughs (think Genesis 17:17).
We also now see the original outline of the Yahwist source, made clear by Father Boadt, which has been expanded by additions from the Elohist and Priestly writers. The Yahwist is evident in the frequent use of the name Yahweh, the Elohist hints at Abraham as a prophetic figure and repeats the “fear not” theme, and the Priestly hand is evident in the major covenant scenes, which lack conversation between God and Abraham and refer to God as the solemn El Shaddai, the God of majesty.
Father Boadt notes that “the patriarchal traditions of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have often been called legends, half-historical, half-entertaining stories of the past.” He notes the preference of biblical scholars to refer to these patriarchal stories as sagas. He writes, “Sagas are heroic tales about the ancestors of a well-known family. They give luster to the family or clan today by telling of the adventures of one or more of its great great grandfathers or grandmothers of long ago. They often have colorful features, building up the fearless hero almost bigger than real life, and they share some of the characteristics of the epic style: long and very elaborate poems about great heroes who affected the whole course of the nation. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, fall into this type of literature.” Sagas are also passed on orally, which was likely the case with these stories for generations before they were written down during the exile.
Fear & Trembling
At age 30, Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote an entire book, Fear and Trembling, on the twisted story of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Kierkegaard tell four different versions of the story, none of which make Abraham the father of our faith.
First, Kierkegaard imagines Abraham feigning to be an idolater, so that his son Isaac would not lose faith in the crazy god that called for his sacrifice. Kierkegaard writes, “Abraham caught Isaac by the chest, threw him to the ground, and said, ‘Foolish boy, do you believe that I am your father? I am an idolater! Do you believe this is God’s command? No, it is my desire!’ But, below his breath, Abraham said to himself, ‘Lord in heaven, I thank thee. It is, after all, better that he believes that I am a monster, than that he lose faith in thee.”
In the second scenario, Kierkegaard imagines Abraham’s bitterness toward God. He writes, “Silently, Abraham arranged the firewood bound Isaac. Silently, he drew the knife. And then he saw the ram that God had appointed. He sacrifice that and returned home. From that day on, Abraham became old. He could not forget that God demanded this of him. Isaac throve as before, but Abraham’s eye was darkened. He saw joy no more.”
In the third scenario, God did not stop Abraham, and Abraham later begged God’s forgiveness for his willingness to kill his son. Kierkegaard writes, “Abraham found no peace. He could not comprehend that it was a sin to have been willing to sacrifice to God the best he owned; that for which he would many a time have gladly laid down his own life; and, if it was a sin, if he had not so loved Isaac, then he could not understand that it could be forgiven; for what sin was more terrible?”
And, in the fourth scenario, Isaac lost his faith in such a god that would demand his father to do what he was about to do. Kierkegaard, often mistakenly credited for the phrase “leap of faith,” struggled to understand faith. Faith is not immense resignation. Resignation doesn’t require faith. Faith paradoxically sets a single individual above a universal norm. Think of anti-vaxxers who place their supposed disbelief in vaccines, over the common good of eradicating a pandemic. Kierkegaard writes, “The particular stands in an absolute relation to the absolute”—which is absurd!
More concretely, the universal norm is “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). A particular? Kierkegaard proposes, “When the soothsayer performs his sad task and proclaims that the deity demands a young girl as a sacrifice, then it is with heroism that the father has to make that sacrifice.” But would faith ever allow us to suspend ethics? Kierkegaard clearly states, “There can be no question of a teleological suspension of the ethical itself.” For Kierkegaard, there is no salvation for the tragic, misguided “hero” who chooses the particular over the universal. Yet we have this fantastical idea that this tragic “hero” could somehow be a noble knight of faith in shining armor—that I could be heroic for my resistance to a vaccine that could quickly bring an end to a pandemic! It makes no sense. The ethical is the universal, Kierkegaard concluded.
The Catholic tradition has long recognized collective wisdom: that we are much smarter and much greater than I will ever be. In the Catholic tradition, we pray as a community, and those leading us in prayer use the first-person plural: “We ask this through Christ our Lord.” Yet we have this intriguing phenomenon in the English-speaking world, where ours is the only language in the whole, entire world that capitalizes the first person singular—“I.” What a statement that makes: that I, a particular, might somehow be more important than you or us or her or him or them, or any universal.
Kirkegaard suggests a turn toward collective wisdom. He bends Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son back to a story told by Aristotle in his Politics, Book 5, section 1304: An auger (a fortune teller) tells the groom that divine wrath will visit him if he goes ahead with his marriage. What do you do with this information? Or, what do you do when you think God is telling you to murder your child? You don’t remain silent. You tell someone! Ethics requires us to speak. Your faith and the messages you receive from the apparitions of your gods are not a private matter. They are public property. Kirkegaard says “There is no secret writing that only the hero can read.” We must be careful about private revelations. The Catholic tradition affirms this, which is why it is so extremely careful not to give credence to apparitions and private messages from God or Jesus or Mary that might lift any single individual higher than any universal. The challenge: Individualistic forms of religious faith can be dangerously irrational!
Claire Carlisle, the author of Kierkegaard: A Guide for the Complex, notes that Kierkegaard was not like Martin Luther, who praised Abraham for his uncritical obedience, his blind faith in God. She concludes, “Kierkegaard’s point in Fear and Trembling is not to recommend blind faith in God, but to unsettle his readers’ blind faith in themselves. That is to say, he seeks to challenge their complacent assumptions that they are Christians. Only when this assumption was abandoned, he thought, could people embark on the task of becoming a Christian.”
That is profound. A lot of Catholics in this world assume that they are catholic, that they are Christian, despite the fact that their words and actions bear no resemblance to Christ’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Simply bearing the name “catholic,” though, doesn’t make us followers of Christ—especially if we are hateful Christians, erecting barriers between people and/or between people and their God. As extraordinary Catholics, we need to take seriously our need not to merely “talk the talk,” to flap our lips and say that we are Christian, but to “walk the walk” and, to cite an apocryphal phrase attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, to proclaim the gospel, even without words.
Just as the saga of Adam and Eve served as an etiological explanation for so many things, we pause to note that the saga of Sarah and Abraham was also an etiological explanation for many things:
* The reason Jews were asked to pay tithes (Gen. 14:20);
* The reason that the protagonist of this saga was known by two different names: as Avraham by the Amorites and inland tribes, and as Avram by the tribes that inhabited the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea (Gen. 17:5);
* The reason Jewish males were circumcised (Gen. 17:9-14);
* The origin of the strange salt formations around the Dead Sea (Gen. 19:26);
* The reason that the Moabites and Amorites, who were so repugnant to us, seemed so much like us (Gen. 19:36-38).
The saga of Sarah and Abraham was extremely important in light of the Davidic kingdom’s interest in explaining how even those who didn’t descend from Israel do share a common ancestor in Israel's grandfather, Abraham—and thus could peacefully coexist as part of an expanded kingdom that included more tribes than those that descended from Jacob. That’s right: All those other people that we now wanted to welcome to our kingdom, they didn’t descend from Israel; instead, they descended from Israel’s seven (a symbolic number) stepbrothers (yes, all boys; recall the preference of males over females in a nascent patriarchal world). Those tribes that we now wanted as our allies, if not as our subjects, descended from Abraham’s sons Ishmael, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah.
Other Possible Explorations
There are all sorts of other stories about Sarah and Abraham, but, because they fall outside the scope of our exploration of the theological foundations of Inclusive Catholicism, I’ll let you research them. They include:
* The assertion that developed over time of Sarah and Abraham being monotheists (believing in one God), rather than as the henotheists, as they appear to be in the Hebrew scriptures;
* The several sources that link Avram, a Chaldean, to the science of astronomy for which the Chaldeans were famous;
* The apocryphal stories of Abraham being saved from fire, since ‘ur is the Hebrew word for “fire”;
* The Midrash tradition that suggests that Sarai, whose very name means “princess,” was a Babylonian princess and priestess, who, like Zillah, was made to drink mashkeh akarot, which may have contributed to her inability to bear children. For a greatly-expanded, non-biblical view of Sarah, read Judith Antonelli’s chapter on Sarah in her work, In the image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah.
The Idolatry of Avram's Father, Terach
The one strand of stories that we might focus on here is the series of stories told over time of Avram separating from his father, Terach, due to the fact that, “[Terach and his brother] served other gods” (Jos. 24:2). Ancient stories suggested that Terach was an idol worshiper, a manufacturer and/or seller of idols, or, in one story, a priest of idolatry. The Genesis Rabbah [38:13] contains a great apocryphal story of a young Avram putting a stick in the hand of his father’s largest idol, then smashing the rest of the idols. When his father asked what happened, the young Avram replied, “One idol said, 'Let me be the first to eat.' And another said, 'No, let me be the first to eat.' Then the biggest one took a stick and broke the others.” Avram’s father angrily responded, “Why are you mocking me? Do these idols know anything?” And the wise, young Avram replied, “Cannot your ears hear the words coming from your own mouth?” Abraham ibn Ezra’s Sefer haYashar tells the same apocryphal story, substituting a hatchet for the stick, thus creating an even more violent smashing of idols.
The Book of Jubilees contains the part of the story, though, that is pertinent to Inclusive Catholics: “And Avram separated from his father, so that he might not worship the idols with him. And it came to pass that Avram said to his father, ‘Oh, father,’ and [Terach] said, ‘Yes, my son.’ And [Avram] said, ‘What help or advantages do we have from these idols before which you worship and bow down? For there is no spirit in them because they are mute, and they are an error of the mind.’ And his father said to him, ‘I also know that, my son, but what shall I do to the people who have ordered me to serve before the idols? If I speak to them truthfully, they will kill me because they themselves are attached to the idols.’”
I suspect it’s fair to say that many of us who separated ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church did so because of that church’s “idols.” For far too long, Roman Catholic hierarchs have set up various “idols,” hoping that unconsulted laity will “toe the party line.”
* Rather than encourage responsibility in the face of unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases, they have preached, “Thou shalt not use artificial means of birth control.” How irrespondible! Fortunately, according to The Washington Post, 98% of Roman Catholic women do.
* Rather than preach, “There is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28), they preach, “The church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful” (Ordinatio sacerdotalis, 4). Yeah, far from "definitive," we all know, except for Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists and Mormons.
* Rather than preach “Love your neighbor” (Mk. 12:31 & 12:33, Mt. 5:43, 19:19 & 22:39; Lk. 10:27, Gal. 5:14, Rom. 13:9, Jam. 2:8), they have ironically preached that homosexuality is, “intrinsically disordered” (CCC, 2357), contributing to homophobia, discrimination, and even death. “Intrinsically disordered”? How many Roman Catholic bishops really believe that about themselves?
* And now, while most Roman Catholic clergy are loving and far from ignorant, others would lead the faithful to believe that there are no valid sacraments outside the idolatrous structures and strictures of their own church, poisoning the minds of people against Inclusive Catholicism. It’s absolute craziness.
Most Roman Catholic priests I know recognize the fragile nature of these Roman Catholic “idols,” but they also know, in the words of Avram’s father, Terach: “If I speak to them truthfully, they will kill me because they themselves are attached to the idols.” If you question the “idols,” you’re sticking out your neck; you’re placing a target on your back. If you smash the “idols,” like the wise, young Avram, you are absolutely villainized by a system that demands that you fall in line with Terach. To paraphrase Avram’s father, Terach, in that great apocryphal story of the Book of Jubilees: “If you speak truthfully to those who possess twisted theologies, they will kill you.”
Jesus, the Truth (Jn. 14:6), spoke the truth (Jn. 18:23), and they crucified Him. We should expect no less for our faithful embrace of Jesus’ discipleship of equals and his gospel message of inclusive love, mercy and forgiveness. Paul spoke the truth, and Paul was martyred. We should expect no less if we embrace the radically-inclusive vision that he shared in his Letter to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). That’s a phrase that takes on deep new meaning in the Inclusive Catholic movement!
Isaac Newton observed: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Our efforts, our struggles for unity, that “[we] might all might be one” (Jn. 17:21), will be opposed.
The Sin of Sodom
We said we’d come back to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. After Abraham had his sixth vision of his god, he traveled with his god—now in the form of two men—to Sodom. They were holed up at Lot’s house when the men of the town knocked on the door, asking, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we can ‘know’ them” (Gen. 19:5). “To know” is, of course, a biblical euphemism for sex, which is why some translations say, “Bring them out to us, so that we can have sex with them!” Jack Miles summarizes: “The men of Lot’s town have demanded access to God’s genitals, just as, in the circumcision episode, God demanded access to Abraham’s genitals.”
This, of course, has become a “clobber passage” against the LGBTQIA+ community, with the interpretation that Sodom was destroyed for the Sodomites’ desire for homogenital sex. In his book, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, Father Daniel Helminiak writes, “The story of Sodom is probably the most famous Bible passage that deals with homosexuality, or at least is said to deal with it. Since about the 12th century, this story has been commonly taken to condemn homosexuality. The very word ‘sodomite’ was taken to refer to someone who engages in anal sex, and the sin of Sodom was taken to be male homogenital acts. So, supposedly God condemned and punished the citizens of Sodom, the Sodomites, for homogenital activity. A cardinal rule of Lot’s society was to offer hospitality to travelers. The same rule is a traditional part of Semitic and Arabic cultures. This rule was so strict that no one might harm even an enemy who had been offered shelter for the night. So, doing what was right, following God’s law as he understood it, Lot refused to expose his guests to the abuse of the men of Sodom. To do so would have violated the law of sacred hospitality. If, in addition, the Sodomites did want sex with the town visitors, the offense against them would have been multiplied, for forcing sex on men was a way of humiliating them. During war, for example, besides raping the women and slaughtering the children, the victors would often also ‘sodomize’ the defeated soldiers. The idea was to insult the men by treating them like women. So, what was the sin of Sodom? Abuse and offense against strangers. Insult to the traveler. Inhospitality to the needy. That is the point of the story understood in its own historical context. When male-male rape becomes part of the story, the additional offense is sexual abuse. The story of Sodom is no more about sex than it is about pounding on someone’s front door. In the story of Sodom, both the sex and the pounding [on the door] are incidental to the main point of the story. The point is abuse and assault in whatever form they take.”
Helminiak notes that Judges 19 tells a similar story of wicked men of the town of Gibeah knocking on the door of a man hosting a Levite, and saying, “Bring him out to us, so that we can have sex with him” (Jdg. 19:22). Gibeah was not destroyed, but the Levite’s concubine was raped and murdered (Jdg. 19:25-26). Helminiak writes, “Clearly, the story of the Levite’s concubine is indifferent to homosexuality or heterosexuality, as is the story of Sodom. A man or a woman would serve as equally-valid sex objects, and rape in either case was equally heinous. Sexual orientation is not the point. In fact, neither is the sex. In both stories, the sexual assault only serves to highlight the wickedness of the townspeople. The people of Gibeah and of Sodom are condemned for their meanness, cruelty and abuse.”
Ezekiel 16:49 also makes clear the sin of Sodom without a mention of homogenitality. Ezekiel writes, “This was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned. They did not help the poor and the needy.”
Wisdom 19:13 similarly says of the Sodomites: “They justly suffered for their wicked deeds, since they had exhibited such bitter hatred to strangers.”
Even Jesus spoke of Sodom: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town” (Mt. 10:14-15). The moral of that story: Don’t reject God’s messengers, as Sodom and Gomorrah did through their sin of inhospitality!
I encourage you to read Father Daniel Helminiak’s book, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, and to arm yourself with responses to the “clobber passages” that people prooftext from the Bible, to put others down. Helminiak concludes that the real “sodomites” today are those committing such atrocities. He writes, “There is a sad irony about the story of Sodom when understood in its own historical setting. People oppose and abuse homosexual men and women for being different, odd, strange, or, as they say, ‘queer.’ Lesbian women and gay men are just not allowed to fit in. They are made to be outsiders, foreigners in our society. They are disowned by their families, separated from their children, fired from their jobs, evicted from apartments and neighborhoods, insulted by public figures, denounced from the pulpit, vilified on religious radio and TV, and then beaten in the school and killed on the streets and in the backwoods of our nation. All this is done in the name of religion and supposed Judeo-Christian morality. Such wickedness is the very sin of which the people of Sodom were guilty. Such cruelty is what the Bible truly condemns over and over again. So, those who oppress homosexuals, because of the supposed sin of Sodom, may themselves be the real ‘sodomites’ as the Bible understands it.”
Wow, that’s a heavy note to end on. Thank God for expressions of Inclusive Catholicism in our world!
Ordinary Catholics may step into the shoes of the Sodomites and use such scriptural passages to cruelly oppress others. Let’s not be ordinary Catholics.
Let’s be…extraordinary Catholics!
[Terry Ann & Becky]
Thank you for joining us for Extraordinary Catholics podcast with Father Jayme Mathias! Check out our directory of over 2,000 Inclusive Catholic clergy at www.ExtraordinaryCatholics.faith. Have an extraordinary day!