As I have argued in the previous post “The Familiar Faces of Faith”, contrary to Wittgenstein who remarked that “Religion as madness is a madness springing from irreligiousness.” (“Religion als Wahnsinn ist Wahnsinn aus Irreligiosität ” in Culture and Value), the truth is that religion as madness, or religious madness, is a madness which springs from religiousness itself, the inherently conflicted, tormented, and inwardly and outwardly violent striving to be truly religious.
I will repeat here my main criticism of Wittgenstein’s remark: “In fact, not only is Wittgenstein’s suggestion that irreligiousness is the cause of religious madness implausible, it is also a piece of baloney because it contradicts an obvious truth! It is obvious that if we have a case of religion as madness, or religious madness, or religiousness gone mad, it must have something essentially to do with religiousness. Otherwise, it would simply be madness and not particularly a case of religious madness. So, in its very nature, religion as madness, or religious madness, must have its roots in religiousness.”
I am very far from suggesting or implying that it was Caravaggio’s intention to do so (But it is correct to say that he wanted to communicate a truth about the violence of Abraham’s action. Representations of acts of violence are an integral part of his art, and, perhaps, have something to do with his temperamental propensity for violence.), but nothing shows this truth better than his masterpiece The Sacrifice of Isaac.
The self-inflicted torment, springing squarely from his religious madness, in the visage of a father determined to savagely sacrifice his beloved son should give us more than a pause for reflection on religious madness.
And I am not really impressed with the intervening Angel. He is no paragon of compassion since he points to the equally innocent ram as the alternative sacrificial victim!