Religious believers love to claim that God is the only possible source for morality. While I have made it clear in a previous article that God does not ground morality at all and that the true source of morality is human empathy and compassion, many religious believers still hold on to their dogmatic view. Not to worry, I have developed a test to see which one of us is correct.
The test is basically Abraham’s Choice. In the biblical story, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of Abraham’s faith. Will Abraham kill his own son to please his Lord? Yes, he would have except that an angel came down and told Abraham at the last minute that he no longer had to “sacrifice” his son and that it was just a test of faith.
Many years ago, I asked my Christian friend Saint Stephen about what he would do if God had commanded him to sacrifice his child. It made for fantastic radio given that his wife and kids were listening in the next room and the walls of our studio were made of glass. He told me that he had to get back to me on that one. Since then, shit happened and he never had the opportunity to get back to me… but I digress.
It seems that this question was a huge moral dilemma for him and it really shouldn’t have been. I recently asked this same question to my Christian friend Greg and he kept refusing to answer. But I don’t really see why it is such a tough question for him either.
Of course he should kill his kid. God is the only source of morality and God has commanded him to kill his kid. Sacrificing his child to God must be morally good. God said so. Beside, God could always stop him at the last minute or has my friend Greg pointed out, God could even bring his child back to life like he did Job’s kids… oh wait, bad example.
Still, it isn’t like his child will be torture for all eternity or anything, I’m sure his child has been indoctrinated and believes with 100% certainty that Jesus is Lord. This is good news because after my Christian friends sacrifice their respective children, their children get to go to Heaven to live in bliss for all eternity. My Christian friends will see their respective children again real soon (relatively speaking).
On the other hand, if I am correct and the true source of morality isn’t God, but is instead human empathy and compassion, then it would be morally wrong to kill a child as a sacrifice to a deity or for pretty much any other reason. It doesn’t matter if God commands it or not, it would be morally wrong.
Now here is the rub. The very fact that Christians hesitate on this question is evidence that morality really is about human empathy and compassion even if the Christian ends up making the wrong moral choice (as sadly a few might). We have a moral intuition based on our human empathy and compassion that killing children or anyone for that matter is morally wrong in most cases. When Christians debate this issue in their mind, they have to make a choice against what we know to be moral. They have to weigh their love of their deity against what they know to be moral.
In other words, even if they choose their deity, they have conceded that it was a difficult choice worthy of inner debate and conflict. Why? Christians don’t want to obey God if God commands them to kill their kid. They still might obey God and that would be horrific, but part of them knows that it would be horrific and that is my point. If God commands it and he is the true source of morality, the thought of obeying God’s command no matter what it is shouldn’t be horrific at all.