What Isaac and MJ Have in Common

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One of the fascinating things about the Bible, especially the book of Genesis, is the way that family dynamics play out in families that are blessed by God. In short, the vast majority of the parents in the Bible, from Adam and Eve on down to Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, etc.–ALL of them do a remarkably bad job of raising well adjusted children. I can think of exactly two examples of a parents who don’t seem to do anything wrong in all of Tanakh, and they are Moses’s mother, who has to give him up lest he die, and the Shunamite woman. What happens to her kid? He dies. Awesome.

These are families that have God on their side, and yet, the parenting strategies espoused by Tanakh are almost universally horrifying. And a lot of what’s done poorly seems to happen that way because of religious pressures. There’s this sense of trying to do God’s will, or trying to look like one is doing God’s will, and ultimately, that backfires for almost every family in the Bible.

I was thinking about all of this in the context of contemporary publicity and media, where ideas and videos go viral, and celebrities’ whole lives are on display. What if Abraham’s fame bled out across the world immediately, via youtube videos, tweets, and blogs of those whom he had welcomed to his tent in the Middle East? What if he had been subject to paparazzi, had been asked to come onto talk shows, and encouraged to design his own line of tunics? Even if he did all of this for the greater good, making sure to emphasize God’s part in his success, and always encouraging people to look past idols and towards God, you can imagine that the inherent circus-quality of his life would take a toll on his relationship with his kids. By constantly emphasizing a successful relationship with God, and publicizing it enormously, and especially by framing his child as his successor in the movement, he would be setting up an incredibly dangerous precedent.

According to the Tanakh, Abraham didn’t even need the push from paparazzi to create a dangerous and fraught dynamic with his son, but you can imagine how much worse it would have been if the whole world was somehow watching, judging, and assuming. What we see, over and over in the Bible, is men (occasionally women, but mainly men) who get so caught up in their religious zeal that they forget to really demonstrate love to their kids. And the result is kids who are religious zealots and emotional cripples.

I started thinking about this today in conjunction with, strangely enough, Michael Jackson, and the following incredibly profound discussion how his life was ruined by his father, and by his relationship to the media. There is something about looking toward the thing that our parents looked toward, to the same degree that they look towards it, that dooms us. In MJ’s case it was media. In Isaac’s case it was God.

These products of completely dysfunctional families still went on to staggering achievements, but they die still somehow crippled by this obsession with either pleasing God, or pleasing cameras.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of pleasing God, something that I spend quite a lot of time considering, and trying to obey in some way. And there’s something to be said with pleasing cameras, too. Great artistic achievement is like nothing else. But, it seems to me, if you focus entirely on either one of those, at the expense of the rest of your life, you not only curse yourself, you curse the generations that learn from your modeled behavior.

Posted on July 17, 2009

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One thought on “What Isaac and MJ Have in Common

  1. dlevy

    Joseph wasn’t a man without faults, but given that his kids are treated as the premiere examples of properly reared children, I think we can firmly place him in the “good parent” category.

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