On the Myth of Abraham and Democracy

By Dr. Masoud Kazemzadeh

Democracy is a relatively new system of government for humanity. Except for the brief existence of democracy in Greek city-states some 2,400 years ago, we have not seen the existence of democracy in any country. The rise of democracy can be traced to the process of enlightenment and the undermining of the absolutist ideas in Europe. The rise of Christianity in 3rd century Roman empire had destroyed any vestige of democratic and republican system of rule. Both the Holy Roman Empire and the subsequent monarchies were dictatorial. The only partial exception was the English in which the existence of a powerful and well-established landed feudal aristocracy was able since 1215 to restrain the absolute power of the king.

Democracy and freedom require many things. Obviously, a system of government in which the people freely elect all the leaders is of prime significance. In addition, there are mores, ethos and other values among the population that SUSTAINS democracy and freedom. In other words, there have been many instances of a democratic system having been established but the democratic system was not able to CONSOLIDATE.

One of the factors that functions as a foundation for the consolidation of democracy is the relationship between the people and the leadership. There are 2 main ethos.

1. Absolutism.

2. Pluralism.

1. Absolutist ethos is based on BLIND OBEDIENCE.

2. Pluralist ethos is based on human reason, relativity of truth, and the acceptance of diversity of perspectives.

1. When the people are socialized to blindly follow the leadership, the followers of the leader blindly follow leader A. Obviously, sooner or later leader A makes mistakes. The existence and prevalence of the ethos of BLIND OBEDIENCE gives rise to absolutist challengers to leader A. The opponent of leader A, called leader B claims that leader A had it all wrong. That if only people blindly followed him, then everything would be perfect. This is how one king, or religious leader replaced another in the past 2 thousand years in much of the world.

2. In the past 300 years, there has been the rise of enlightenment in Europe. The enlightenment embraced several ethos borrowed from ancient Greeks and Romans and the notion of human rights from the Kurush.

In this essay, I write MY views on the underlying myth of Abraham and how this myth has been the foundation of blind obedience for the past 2000 years giving rise to the absolutist systems of governance in Europe, and the Middle East.

In the Old Testament (Torah), there is the story of Abraham. Abraham could not have a child. So God gave Abraham a son. The son's name is Isaac. In the myth of Abraham, God to test the faith and fidelity of Abraham tells him to prove that Abraham loves and obey's God, Abraham has to cut the throat of his only son, Isaac. Then Abraham places his toddler son on a thing like a table and puts the sharp knife to cut the throat of his son. At the last second, God tells him to stop.

This myth from Jewish religion has been placed at the center of Islam. Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam. ALL the pilgrims have to go through and act step by step what Abraham had done. The pilgrim walk round the kaaba (the House of Abraham), (and some go to zam zam fountain which is another historical mythical place in Judaism and Islam). Then the pilgrims have to CUT THE THROAT OF A SHEEP in the manner that Abraham had to cut the throat of his only son.

A. WHAT is the goal (or moral, or purpose) of the myth of Abraham?
B. WHO benefits from propagating the myth of Abraham?
C. What sort of LEADERSHIP benefits from socializing the masses through this myth?


A. Those who write these myths initially were the Jewish rabbis. Obviously, this myth was soooooo useful and powerful tool for socializing the masses that both Christianity and Islam also adopted it. Islam in fact raised this myth to a central socializing story. Those who wrote this myth had a purpose. What is that PURPOSE or GOAL of the myth makers?

Clearly, the myth tells that individuals confront situations that they do no understand. They HAVE to BLINDLY OBEY those in the positions of POWER. Individuals may not understand the reasons why they are told to go to war and sacrifice their lives. The myth says that one should suspend his/her reason, love of children and BLINDLY OBEY the source of authority.

Obviously, Abraham could have used his brain and ask God for an explanation. Either God could give Abraham a good reason why he should cut the throat of his son. But here the GOAL of the myth of Abraham is to tell the people NOT to QUESTION those in authority.

Leaders find this myth sooooo useful that they still after 2000 year socialize the children with this myth.

Every totalitarian dictator in the Middle East loves this myth. Wether the king (the divine right of king in Iran mohebat-e Elahi), or religious leader claims that God has appointed him to rule over his flock.

ALL dictatorial leaders want their supporters to BLINDLY OBEY them. Whether it is Mohammad Reza Shah, Khomeini, Khamanehi (velayat motlagh faghih), or Massud Rajavi, they ask their supporters to obey them blindly and not to question their authority.

In conclusion these are the answers:

A. the moral (or the goal, or the purpose) of the myth is that BLIND OBEDIENCE is GOOD, questioning and skepticism, and using one's brain is BAD. Follow the LEADER, do not question the wisdom of the LEADER.

B. Those DICTATORIAL LEADERS who do not have reason and logic on their side benefit from this myth.

C. The DICTATORIAL leaders and those leaders who do not have logic on their side benefit from this myth.

In other words, absolute dictatorship, absolute truths, absolute morality, and blind obedience are values that go together. They are spokes in a wheel that keep the tire attacked to an absolute dictatorial ruler.

The myth of Abraham is embraced by those in power AND for those totalitarian leaders who want to replace one form of dictatorship with another form of dictatorship.

2. What sort of ethos is compatible with freedom and democracy.

Freedom is always for those who think differently. Freedom is the ability to say and write something that those in power do not like to hear. Freedom rests on the foundation of doubt and skepticism. We are seldom certain of what the truth is, therefore we should allow ALL perspectives to be heard. Progress is always achieved when someone said things that had not been said before. Out knowledge is relative. There are very few things that are absolutely true. No one knows the absolute truth. We all have to use our brain to evaluate what we are told. We have to use REASON, LOVE, LOGIC, evidence before we accept to do this thing or that thing.

Democracy means that the particular person in power is there temporarily until the people change him/her with another person. Democracy is a system in which the power is in the hands of the people. In a democracy, there is no such a thing as leadership for life or for a historical period. Democracy is a not a perfect system of government, because there is no such a thing as perfect system of government. We are all human beings and we ALL have made mistakes and WILL make mistakes in the future. There is no panacea. We could only gradually muddle through. Through trial and error, we gradually learn what works and what does not. As situations and circumstances change, the older solutions become useless and the process of finding better solutions starts again.

We could and should try to make our situation better. We could not bring absolute harmony and absolute solutions. Those who think that they have the lock on absolute truth are simply mistaken.

If we want to see freedom and democracy in Iran, we should move away from BLIND OBEDIENCE (of the Shah, Khamanehi, Massud Rajavi). We should move away from absolute morality, absolute truths.

This is not to say that we are not absolutely certain of anything. No the absolute relativism of the post-modernists is wrong. We do know absolutely that the earth is not flat. We do know that killing an innocent child is wrong. Not all explanations are equally valid. There are good and bad explanations.

However, the criteria for judging is our mind, our rationality, our science, our logic. A bit of skepticism is good. A whole lot of reason is imperative.

In conclusion, what sort of ethos is coterminous with freedom and democracy? We should reject BLIND OBEDIENCE, we should reject ABSOLUTE morality.

Obviously, there is a need for leadership. The DEMOCRATIC leadership is 100% different than a DICTATORIAL leadership. A democratic leadership is OPEN to CRITICISM. A DICTATORIAL leadership closes off the avenues of criticism. A democratic leadership is open to a plurality of views and there is a REAL competition for leadership positions at ALL levels. A dictatorial leader selects and promotes those in the party which are yes men and women and chaploos.

Our history is full of one dictatorial group and person opposing another dictatorial ruler. If we are to break this cycle of one dictator replacing another dictator, we need to change the ethos and values that give rise to dictatorial and totalitarian leadership and goosfand-like supporters. We have to learn to use our brain. We have to learn to stand up for the rights of those with whom we differ. We have to stand up to ALL dictatorial groups and leaders.

Democracy is not replacing one dictatorial leader whom we hate with one dictatorial leader whom we like. Democracy is a system in which the PEOPLE FREELY choose the leaders in frequent intervals. Democracy presupposes freedom of all parties, individuals, to freely compete for all positions of power. Freedom of thought presupposes that all parties are allowed to compete unhindered. It is the people who after hearing and listening to all sides may vote for any one that they want.

BLIND OBEDIENCE is the enemy of free thought. BLIND OBEDIENCE is the enemy of reason. BLIND OBEDIENCE to any leader is supporting a dictator. BLIND OBEDIENCE is the father of totalitarianism and dictatorship. It is no accident that Stalin had suppressed many of the works of Marx. Once a group of French workers who had read the Communist Manifesto went to Marx and gave him a list of 10 or so positions and proposed to him that they were establishing a party with the ideology of "MARXISM." Karl Marx looked at the 10 demands that were accurately taken out of Communist Manifesto. He thought for a second or two, and replied: "j'n se pas Marxist." [I am not a Marxist]. For Marx, liberation was not a bunch of people following a set platform and following a leader. For Marx, socialism was a society where the workers themselves would rule the society. Marx may have been wrong in assuming that the workers themselves through un-mediated role of the politicians and leaders could directly control the means of production and the running of the society. But Marx was right in the sense that placing him [Marx] as the sole ruler of a society would not be liberation, for workers were replacing one overlord (the capitalist) with another overlord. Liberation may occurs when the people themselves run their lives. Marx had assumed that it could be done without the mediation of a democratic state. In hindsight, we see that democracy could exist although through a REPRESENTATIVE SYSTEM.

The actual history of the world has illustrated that if we want to develop politically, economically, socially, we have to open our eyes and learn from the achievements and failures of others. If we do not want to replace one form of dictatorship with another, we have to have the courage to stand up to all those who demand BLIND OBEDIENCE. We have to use our mind, and ask for logical explanations. We have to ask for freedom and democracy inside political parties as well as outside political parties.

Democracy requires that we accept the rights of others to hold different views, perspectives, analysis and tactics. The acceptance of plurality of views is a requirement of democracy. We should avoid character assassinations of those merely because they hold a different perspective than one's own. Democracy is based on the agreement that political differences be resolved peacefully and through going to the people for THEIR votes. This as I mentioned earlier requires respect for the freedom of others to hold opposing viewpoints and ideologies.

see a discussion of this topic here.