• Abraham’s Choice: A Test For Moral Grounding

    Abraham's Choice
    Abraham’s Choice

    A number of years ago, when I was doing the Dangerous Talk radio show on WCUR 91.7 FM in West Chester PA, I had a fundamentalist Christian preacher on. This particular preacher, who went by the name “Saint Stephen,” would travel to different Universities and tell everyone that they were not moral and that they going to Hell. There is nothing unusual there except for the fact that he would even preach this message to the other fundamentalists Christians.

    He came to the studio with his wife and two young sons, although he was the only one on the air. At one point in our conversation, he told me that there can be no morality without God. Saint Stephen, like so many other fundamentalist Christians, proudly pronounced that morality was grounded by God and that he followed God’s commands without question. This prompted me to ask him the ultimate “gotcha” question.

    Right outside the on-air studio in the next room, separated only by a glass window, was his wife watching over their young children as one sat in his stroller and the other ran around the hallway. “If God ordered you to kill one of your sons, would you do it without question?” I asked. All of a sudden, his wife peered into the window and staring at him waiting for him to answer and his older son froze in his tracks. A few seconds seemed like hours. Then he answered that God wouldn’t give that order. It would be contradictory to his nature or something such nonsense.

    I remember he looked like he had dodged a bullet with that answer, but I didn’t let him off the hook that easily. I reminded him about Genesis 22 in which God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. He smiled and laughed and said that Abraham didn’t actually kill Isaac because the angel stopped him. It was just a test.

    But again, I didn’t let up. I reminded him, “Abraham didn’t know it was a test and so the question stands, “What if God ordered you to kill your son. What if you heard the voice of God in your head and knew it was the Lord, your God. Maybe an angel will come down and stop you or maybe not. It wouldn’t be much of a test if you weren’t prepared in your heart of hearts to carry out God’s commands, would it? So the question stands, would you kill your son?”

    He looked at his wife and then at his son, now also up against the glass window of the studio, and then told me honestly that he didn’t know and that he would have to get back to me on that.

    Well, since then, some stuff happened and he never did get back to me… but I digress.

    My point is that this seemed to be a huge moral dilemma for him and it really shouldn’t have been. Not long ago, I 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. Am I right? It’s a no brainer. Remember, God’s whim is the very foundation of morality. Morality is grounded in God’s commands and so if God has commanded someone to kill their child, then obviously that must be the moral thing to do. Sacrificing a child to God is the only moral choice. God said so. Beside, God could always stop someone 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… God just allowed Job’s wife to have new kids. Because we all know that kids can just be replaced with new kids, right? LOL.

    Still, it isn’t like the child will be torture for all eternity or anything, I’m sure both Saint Stephen and Greg have raised good Christian children who have been indoctrinated and believe with 100% certainty that Jesus is their Lord and savior. 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 pretty much anyone else 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 that command might be, would be a no-brainer. The cognitive dissidence around an Abraham’s choice, is proves that we have a sense of morality apart from God’s commands.

    Writer’s Note: Portions of this article are from previously published material from this writer.

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    Category: Arguments Against ReligionAtheismfeaturedGodMoralityPhilosophyReligionsecularsecularism

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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.

    2 comments

    1. One of those all important ten commandments was an order from god NOT to kill? But, god also ordered the killing of an entire tribe of people – man, woman and child and even the livestock – except for the maidens who were to be used as desired.

      To follow which order is the moral path?

    2. What Alethea said was exactly the point where I finally realized the nonsense of all this: By first giving the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (I’m ready to give room for this to be interpreted as “you must not murder”, but to kill a whole tribe, kids and babies included, is still murder) and then ordering his followers to kill every living being in Jericho, God ordered them to commit a deadly sin, something that “good”/moral humans would not do unless ordered to.
      What kind of god would that be?

      Also note that there would have been an easy way out for God by expressing the commandment as “thou shalt not kill your neighbor” as it is the case with several other commandments – it’s fine to covet some else’s wife or house or whatever he has as long as it’s not your neighbor – these other commandments are “limited” to neighbors. But this one isn’t. You must not murder. Ever. Not anybody, friend or foe, neighbor or alien. But then, only a short time later, they appear at Jericho.

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