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Abraham's Faith

Imagine this scenario. A close friend comes to you and says that they have had a powerful religious experience. The Creator of the universe has audibly spoken to them, commending them for their strong faith. But the voice also made a request. It commanded your friend to take their 13-year-old son, tie him up, stab him in the heart and then burn his body as a sacrifice to the voice. Your friend soberly tells you that he intends to obey the voice. Do you a) congratulate your friend on his strong faith and offer to help carry the wood for the fire, or b) promptly call the police?

Now imagine the same scenario, but rather than a close friend in the present day, it's a stranger in the distant past. Rather than hearing your friend's firsthand account, you read about the story in a legend that has been passed down through the centuries. Do you think of this person who is willing to kill their own child as a hero or a villain?

Of course, I didn't invent this scenario, it comes straight out of the Bible. The story of Abraham and Isaac is told in Genesis 22. This is not some obscure passage that I'm taking out of context. Abraham is a central figure in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and all three religions include this story as evidence of Abraham's great faith. The Christian New Testament refers to this episode specifically when listing some exemplary displays of faith (Hebrews 11:17-19).

I wish the scenario I presented above was just hypothetical. Tragically, the members of some present-day religions are still asked to place their faith above the well-being of their children. A Jehovah's Witness stood on my front step and told me that if her own child needed a blood transfusion to live, she would rather let them die than to violate her religion's rules against transfusions. Like Abraham, she had faith that her god would raise the child from the dead.

The problem with faith is that, by definition, it's detached from reality. Abraham is considered a hero because he was willing to look past the consequences of his actions and focus on that voice in his head. The Witness at my door was also ready to downplay the consequences of her beliefs. It seems to me that making a decision based on faith is misguided at best. There is a better way.

Or, today's theists can hope that Doc Brown will have intervened and spared them the humiliation of trying to defend and spread a religion supposedly founded by a man who agreed to obey a disembodied voice by killing his son.

4 comments

Great read. Wish you posted more often.

I don’t know if you’ve read any Kierkegaard. I did when I was still a Christian and I still find him very useful in debates with Christians. Kierkegaard’s theology pointedly explores how inherently irrational (and deeply radical) the Christian position is. He wrote a book (Fear and Trembling) about that very question (Would you kill your son if God asked you to do it?) and he posits Abraham’s answer - “Abe said, where You want this killin’ done?” - (persuasively, I think) as the model of what it means have authentic faith. Most of what passed for “faith” in his time, he viewed as mere social convention, almost the antithesis for him of faith.


Seth [Visitor]  http://sethink.wordpress.com02/03/12 @ 19:50

And - we, as Christians, are even more outrageous than the story of Abraham. Abraham didn’t end up killing his son. But, we believe in a God who actually does kill his own Son - and that on behalf of people who hated his Son. Don’t stop at Abraham - go all the way to scandal of the the cross itself.

Soli Deo Gloria


John [Visitor]• 03/20/12 @ 16:29

Cool!


CEDA [Visitor]• 06/28/13 @ 08:09

“4.It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5. who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6. and who have fallen[c] away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Hebrews 6:4-8


Ross [Visitor]• 09/13/13 @ 22:29

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