Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The story of Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-13) is often lauded by Christians as a story of god's love and a foreshadowing of the upcoming crucifixion of Christ. Perhaps in another post I will address the absurd and immoral prospect of vicarious redemption (i.e. "scapegoating"), as a means of absolving moral responsibility for one's actions. But for now, I wish to discuss the immorality of a god asking someone to do something absolutely repulsive--to kill their own child.

In the case of Abraham and Isaac, god is defended by apologists in that he stopped Abraham from actually finishing the deed at the last minute. It was a test. God wanted to see if Abraham had enough faith to follow his commands implicitly and without question. Some Mormons will even claim that this was Abraham's purification by fire and that we will all undergo a similar "trial of faith" in our lives, and our eternal reward hangs on the outcome of this test.

But how can one say this was harmless simply because god backed down? Abraham still had to go through the inner turmoil of being ordered to kill the heir to his name (a big deal for ancient Jews). And what about Isaac? Depending on who you ask, Isaac was either a willing participant in this filthy blood sacrifice, and made the decision to die simply because his father said god told him to do so; or he was unwillingly bound by his trembling father, again, because god told him to do so. How can god be the ultimate moral authority if there is nothing he won't ask of you to prove your resolve?

In the end, physical harm was avoided, at least for Isaac, as an angel provided a ram to be sacrificed in his stead. And Christians call this love? How can this be a "crisis averted" if the aversion happened only after much of the psychological distress had already occurred? How is this a test of moral character? Obedience is not morality; it is submission.

In the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 4: 5-18) we have a similar account of god asking someone to do something immoral. Before Lehi and his family can finally depart for the Americas, he sends his sons back to Jerusalem to get the Brass plates from an evil man named Laban. Nephi, Lehi's favorite and most loyal son, finds Laban drunk in a street and the spirit of god, without any explanation whatsoever, tells him to kill Laban (1 Nephi 4:10). Naturally, Nephi hesitates and the spirit of god elaborates: "Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands." Again, no reason is given--just a command to obey god.

Well, in the following verses Nephi and the spirit of god discuss why Laban deserves to die. Allegedly, Laban had threatened to kill Nephi and his brothers, stole their property, and (here's the kicker) refused to obey god's commandments. Then we have one of the most immoral statements ever made in scripture. In verse 13, the spirit of god says, "Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief." (As an aside, please tell me why an all powerful god had to kill someone in the first place? Why didn't he allow for Nephi to simply steal the Brass plates and escape unharmed?)

Now, I know what you are saying: Nephi was operating under the assumption that god exists and is the ultimate moral authority and anything he says must necessarily be for the greater good. Here is the problem and why I say it is the most immoral thing in scripture. This sets a precedent for people who genuinely believe that god talks to them (i.e. any member of the Mormon Church), to do whatever god tells them, no matter how appalling it may seem on the surface. And anyone who believes this passage of scripture, forfeits the right to criticize those who do actually carry out these commands. Who are you to say they are mistaken?

Take the 2004 case of Deanna Laney. Claiming that god told her to kill two of her children, and acting on it--just like Nephi--she was sentenced to a maximum security asylum. That's right, according to the government, claiming that god told you do kill someone, regardless the reason, is a criminally insane action and is punished accordingly.

Even worse is the 2001 case of Andrea Yates, who not only claimed divine inspiration, but rationalized the murder of her five children as compassionate and morally justified. According to Yates, the children, still very young, were innocent in the eyes of god, and rather than risking the possibility of them sinning and becoming damned, killed them so they wouldn't go to hell--effectively sacrificing her own salvation for the eternal lives of her children (take that, Jesus). Based on her worldview, who can say this is immoral? To her this was the ultimate moral action.

These are extreme examples. But so are the stories of Abraham and Isaac, and Nephi and Laban. Not to mention the precedent they set for devout followers, who, to them, god is very real and can--and apparently will--ask anything of them. And anyone who claims faith in god, just as these women did, has no right to say they were mistaken, or that god would never ask someone to do such a thing (this would be like a person claiming to be Napoleon and saying all other Napoleons are crazy). According to your scriptures, it is entirely in god's nature to do so.

So, here is the question: Would you kill your own child if god asked you to?

Here is the Atheist Experience discussing this topic:

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Just wondering if you're familiar with Immanuel Kant's discussion of this point. Kant said that if any Being tells me to kill my child, that Being must not be God, must be a devil, perhaps pretending to be God. Kant doesn't question the truth of the story, but he did say that God shows up only at the end of it.