The Dangerous Example of Abr@ham and Is@ac

The point:

The lesson of Abr’ham & Is’ac has surely opened the door to countless acts of unjustified violence that could have been prevented had that lesson not been presented as one extoling blind faith as a virtue.

Caravaggio's 'The Sacrifice of Isaac'

The rant that goes with it:

Let’s start by clearing the air on the issue of belief: For the sake of this article, belief or non-belief is not the issue.  Neither is whether or not the details of the story of The Binding of Isaac are true in whole or in part.  What matters is how the story is percieved as a morality tale and why that matters.  Please keep this in mind as you read on…

Regardless of your belief as to whether or not Abr’ham was actually directed by the FSM to kill his son Is’ac, I will assume that most believers and all non-believers most likely agree that AT LEAST the vast majority of people who hear voices instructing them to commit acts that offend their sense of right & wrong are mentally ill and as such, celebrating Abr’ham’s actions only prevents people from applying critical thinking skills to independently determine whether or not they should indeed kill their family whenever a disembodied voice tells them to do so.

Even if one believes in a superbieng that could possibly be (immorally) testing your allegiance by telling you to commit acts that are offensive to your natural sense of right and wrong, we cannot dismiss the notion that that there are many schizophrenics out there who are hearing similar voices saying similar things.  Even if as many as 1% of these are part of some divine test, this would mean that 99% of those hearing such voices are not part of such test and therefore more likely be from either  internal psychosis, external “3rd parties” using that person’s faith to influence them or any number of other non-supernatural sources (or, if you believe the Scientologists and others like them, supernatural sources of destructive intent).  Those other 99% could result – have resulted – in the death of innocent people for no reason whatsoever except for the fact that the killers were either psychotic or being manipulated.

Indeed this story illustrates the concept of blind faith being rewarded, however this is not a good thing.  Such a lesson discourages people from critical thinking and instead encourages them to succumb to authority by telling them that they will be rewarded for doing whatever they are told in spite of the apparent (real) immorality of the instruction.

So, how are we to independently sort the right message from the wrong?  One can avoid the problem completely by merely ignoring those voices in your head that you know not to be your own.  As this would be extremely difficult to do, at least don’t listen to them without having your skeptical toolbox open, for unless you are a sociopath, your “god”dar should be able to tell you when those voices are telling you to do something that is reprehensible.

Imagine a voice from nowhere has just told you to do something that goes against everything that you believe to be “good”, what are you going to do?  Consider what is more likely:

  1. This being that I trust to make sure that I only do good is instructing me to do something that not only I consider to be wrong, but flies in the face of everything that this same being has taught to be good, OR,
  2. I am insane and these voices are coming from inside my head, or at least it is NOT the voice of the superbeing that it says it is.

Schizophrenics (I have an uncle who is an anti-social schizophrenic, so our family has some experience with this) hear such voices.  Those who are fortunate enough to be diagnosed and treated (unlike my uncle, such as John Nash of “A Beautiful Mind” fame) are able to understand that these voices are not real and they learn to question them as part of their means of coping and integrating with society.  As pleasant as some of these voices might be, reliance on demonstrably wrong facts has a high probability of resulting in disaster somewhere down the road.

The story of Is’ac and Abr’ham is celebrated as being one where Abr’ham’s decision (to put faith in the voice and commit a morally wrong act just for the sake of demonstrating allegiance to an authority) is something to be REWARDED.  This only teaches those people who need the most help to shut out those voices that (a) they should instead embrace those voices and (b) the more ghastly the instruction they give, the more essential it is to carry it out.  These people are being told directly to set aside the few internal (Critical Thinking) tools that they have to sort out their issues and instead give in to them (an Argument from Authority, albeit imagined one).  It is this sort of lesson that makes it so difficult to interfere with a potentially dangerous mentally-deranged person before he commits a horrible act.  Furthermore, it open the door for a cult leader to take advantage of the faithful to give over their freewill to him at the expense of their families and relationships and in more extreme cases, such as Jonestown and the Manson Family, kill themselves and/or others.

As such, the celebration of the story of Is’ac and Abr’ham as a lesson for what TO do has a very real body count.  And yet, one of the world’s most influential faith systems has an annual three day holiday that continues to celebrate Abr’ham’s actions as virtuous and to be a positive lesson for all.

Blindly following voices in your head that tell you to do reprehensible things is NOT a virtue.  Applying your critical thinking skills is truly virtuous.  In fact, even if you have indeed been contacted by some being whose authority transcends the laws of man (or truly believe that to be the case), if he tells you to kill your son without some reasonable justification for it, tell him to go f**k himself and instead follow your evolved social mind.  Perhaps that might be the answer He was testing for after all.

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