Newsflash, Abraham

I’ve never understood that story. If a voice in your head tells you to kill your son, it’s not honorable to obey the voice.

It means (1) you’re mentally ill for hearing the voice and (2) you’re murderous for trying to carry it out.


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  • Rai

    I’ve never posted here before, but thought it might be a good story to mention. During my deconversion my brother, already an atheist, asked our Roman Catholic father: “If you heard a voice in your head saying it was God, telling you to kill your children, would you kill us?”

    He said yes.

    • Theory_of_I

      Welcome Rai-

      Whoa! That’s one weighty head-smack! Instant de-conversion there! Damn…

  • Kodie

    It’s only ok because it was in the bible, and had a happy ending. It’s never ok if it’s someone you hear about on the news. It’s kind of strange how every single Christian knows for sure anyone who heard voices, as long as they tell you to kill or sacrifice, are certainly not from god, but if the voices tell you to do nearly anything else, it is certainly from god and you have to listen and obey. I’ve never heard any Christian (although some must exist!) say that the person was hallucinating voices, they just affirm the voices the person heard couldn’t possibly be from god. You know, evil?

    Come to think of it, I don’t know how they still end up blaming the person, blaming any of us. If you believe in god and the devil, and you process the events of the day according to this, how is it anyone’s fault for becoming possessed by an evil entity controlling their thoughts and actions? Yes, sometimes they attempt at exorcism, which is not the same as good mental healing, of course, but the whole package of free will but god’s will but demon possession, overlapping, easily believing in a pious Abraham doing just what god asked even though it’s hard to do, but Andrea Yates was an evil person, and all us unsaved people are choosing freely not to worship an obvious god because we want to sin AND god has not willed us to know him, and also not in complete control of ourselves because obviously we are in possession, which we can neither will ourselves out of, nor has the omnipotent god pried the devil out of us.

    That’s just so fucked up! And yet they will listen to voices as long as those voices don’t tell them to drive their car into the side of a mountain with our kids aboard.

    • vasaroti

      I believe Yates was diagnosed with depression and psychosis. Her mental illness was acted out in a horrifying way, but I still couldn’t call her evil. If she’d been raised in a less violent tradition, perhaps the voices in her head might not have suggested such violence.

      • Kodie

        It was also my understanding at the time that her religious beliefs, and those of her husband, prevented her from an early diagnosis. The belief that if you’re Christian you’re good, and if you’re bad, you’re either not a true Christian, or have been possessed by evil… people often don’t get the help they need when they need it because superstitious beliefs are unchallengeable. I just remember having arguments at the time online, with people I knew to be Christian but educated in real colleges and not back-asswards creationists, either, and they were still just ignorant that she could actually be sick, while religious beliefs impede knowledge and acknowledgement and very quick to judge people whose mental health was not considered in lieu of evil. It still makes me angry that she did that, but people in that state of mind are not going to be the best at assessing voices they hear. These things happen once in a while and we’re not getting any better as a society at treating the problem before it becomes violent and homicidal, or suicidal. To blame someone for being selfish and evil, instead of having humanity and compassion (which is naturally difficult to do after the fact) makes religious beliefs dangerous; the whole persecution thing and being protected from valid criticism, is just shut up so next time anything bad happens, it’s not the Christian web of lies, it’s the fault of evil and evil people. So blind and dangerous.

        • Kodie

          I might even add that I think they actually love when these things happen, as it evidences for them the existence of evil and validates their faith even more. They make it seem like they would rather it never happen, but they have to have fulfilled prophesies and a reason to reinforce their beliefs – that it is good to have them, and that this is what happens when people don’t.

        • Noelle

          Yates had previously diagnosed severe depression and psychosis that worsened with each pregnancy. Her physicians recommended she stop getting pregnant. Her particular brand of religion and particular brand of controlling husband prevented her from obtaining the necessary treatment and encouraged her to keep having kids. That was a disaster that should’ve never happened. The news reports from years later said she was very distraught after getting on anti-psychotics and realizing what she’d done.

          If the hallucinations in your head tell you to hurt yourself or others, that’s some serious shit going on right there. Of course, the trick is to know you are hallucinating.

  • trj

    The Abraham story is purely descriptive; we’re never told what Abraham thinks about God’s command. But he was willing to carry it out. Maybe out of trust in God, maybe out of plain fear of the consequences if he didn’t. It doesn’t really matter – the important thing is he obeyed God, which to a god-fearing Christian is the most important thing you can do, trumping anything else Christianity teaches. Treat others as you would like to be treated, show forgiveness and compassion, whatever – if God tells you otherwise you can forget about all those vaunted decrees. You must obey God at all times. It’s the one commandment that really counts when you get down to it. And the one that is used to excuse even the most heinous acts of God or his followers. Genocide? No problem, God commands it, so just go ahead.

    Of course, if someone did the same thing as Abraham today, the Christians would claim the perpetrator was possessed by evil demons or mentally ill or some such. God would never tell someone to kill their own child!

    Except he did. And he was extremely pleased that Abraham obeyed.

  • L.Long

    The story of Abraham & Son is a perfect example of the purity of HYPOCRISY of all the abrahamic religions. The buyBull says so so it is true but if my neighbor does it it is false.

  • Julie42

    I remember when I began to doubt Christianity, this story really started to bother me. My youth group would have Q & A nights every now and then and we were supposed to write down questions on a note card. I wrote something about how this story seems so immoral and that it doesn’t seem right for God to test someone that way.
    The next week, my youth group leader answered questions like “Is kissing okay?” and “Can I listen to music with swear words?” and somehow, mine never came up…
    That was the moment that I realized that these people really don’t have any answers.

  • Rich Wilson

    Oh no, no, no. That is not the correct answer.

  • Bender

    I wished some christian explained me why their supposedly omniscient god would need a test in the first place.

    • Kodie

      Why an omnipotent god spoke to people and told them what to do to please him. Unlike most of the bible, I’m pretty sure I read this one – Abraham and Sarah were not “blessed” with children until they were very old, they kept asking and asking, but god didn’t see fit. So the omniscient god kind of suspected they’d be terrible parents, right, and finally giving them a chance, they were. Now you’ve got your son, I changed my mind, I want him back. Abraham, prove you don’t know better than I do what a terrible parent you are. I always thought it was still a baby though. The picture up there is a teen or young man, so Abraham was, like, 100 by then. If your god told you (because hypothetically he exists and talks to people) to kill your son, your only son that you prayed for many years and waited and waited, because turns out he’s Hitler, would you do it?

      • trj

        God doesn’t seem to care about parenting skills anywhere in the Bible. Anyway, the fact that Abraham was willing to kill his own son pretty effectively demonstrates him to be a lousy parent, I’d say.

    • Rich Wilson

      The explanation I’ve most commonly heard was that it was really a lesson in not taking human sacrifice. Since God in the end told Abraham NOT to kill Isaac, it means God doesn’t want us to sacrifice our kids. We have to obey God no matter what, but killing the kids isn’t on God’s todo list.

      That’s the argument, anyway.

      This is a great documentary (“In God We Trust?”), in which they ask that question of various people, and get a number of “yes”s. If you haven’t seen it, do watch it. Some really great moments in facepalming

  • Theist Perspective

    This question easily slips into the category of meaningless questions. “If an all-powerful God couldn’t do X…” or “If an all-knowing God didn’t know Y…” or “If an all-good God did something bad…”

    If voices in your head asked you to kill your children, then the correct answer is “No”. If an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good God asked you to kill your children and it isn’t a test, then the correct answer is “Yes”. It’s nothing to do with religion or belief, but simple logic. Either it is possible for an all-good God to ask you to do this, or it isn’t possible. If it isn’t possible, then the question is meaningless. If it is possible (and it is not a test), then doing it must somehow result in a “greater good”. A similar example: “A train will run down a baby if it continues. You can change the track, but you know if you do something even worse will happen. Do you change the track?”

    If the question highlights anything, it is the danger in belief of an all-good God who punishes eternally. But from a logic perspective, if an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God asked you to kill your children, and it isn’t a test or an hallucination or a brain tumor, then the correct answer has to be “Yes”. And that’s logic, not faith or strength of belief.

    • Noelle

      Logic puzzles are fine and dandy if you like that sort of thing. Dead children are not.

      • Theist Perspective

        As long as this is recognized as an emotional argument rather than a logical one.

        • Kodie

          I already asked this a couple posts up, but you are saying logically a conclusion if you take the premise that god exists and god has all these qualities. If you take the premise that god exists and has all these qualities, then you would also have to suppose that a person definitely knows that they are hearing from this god, and can clearly distinguish the voice of god from a hidden recording or speaker, or in their own thoughts or misheard lyrics or playing a recording backwards. I think the answer is still “No.” Until god is proved to exist and what he sounds like, everyone who says they hear god is mistaken and may need treatment. In your “logic” puzzle, a lot of things have to be supposed to know this god is real, none of which are in reality known, and his voice could not be imitated by talented voice actors or autotune or any other equipment. When you are supposing a premise for your logic problem, of course we could imagine something, but it supposes a lot of other loose ends that are not neatly supposed. Unless a common experience like “god is a dollar” – and how to define a dollar, everyone knows what a dollar looks like or what it is, so when you say god is, it’s not something only a few people have heard. Or “if you had superpowers” or “if crystal ball tells the future” or “if you were Phil Connors”. Why does this premise have to be god, if the voice of god would logically have to be more than just a voice, but one that could always, and never mistakenly, be known as certainly god and not a voice in one’s head? And wouldn’t some people still be hallucinating and convinced it’s god anyway? Basically, you’re saying everyone hears god so a psychotic person must not be psychotic, and apply their actions as relying on some future doom they are called on to prevent, so it’s all cool.

          • Theist Perspective

            I agree that if you don’t know that it is God that is asking you, then the answer is “No”. In that case, the pictograph should read, “Abraham, if you hear a voice telling you to kill your kid and you don’t know whether it is God or not, then the answer is ‘No’.” It’s never presented that way, though. I think that is already covered by, “You talking to God is prayer. God talking to you is schizophrenia.”

            • trj

              If you want to rely on logic games, you should consider that there is no possible way, logically, for anyone to verify that the voice (or visible entity or whatever) asking you to kill your son is God, or for that matter a benevolent God. No matter how convincing it seems, you cannot rule out that your mind is deluded. And even allowing for the existence of God, it is trivial for an omnipotent non-benevolent god to pretend to be benevolent. You cannot possibly know God’s motives with certainty. It’s a logical fact which no believer wants to dwell on.

              Since you can’t be certain of the reasons and motives, and seeing the stakes are another human’s life, the only moral option is therefore to refuse. Abraham should have said no. As logic goes that is the moral solution – or at least it is until divine threats start entering the game.

            • Jabster

              … or maybe it should read if your god commands you to kill your own child then the answer is yes.

              A god of love indeed!

            • Sunny Day

              Why does god need a starship?

            • Kodie

              There is no way to know.

            • Noelle

              Not all hallucinations are schizophrenia.

            • The Other Weirdo

              Should we just eliminate all these mental gymnastics and affirm, unequivocally, that if you hear in your head, “X, this is God, I want you to kill your children,” the answer should always be “FUCK OFF, HOMIE DON’T PLAY THAT!”? And then get yourself to the nearest qualified mental health practitioner.

        • Elemenope

          The logic of the moral calculus involved is heavily dependent upon perspective. After all, morality is rooted in persons, and is an attempt to valuate the rightness of an act for that actor. An act that is right from the perspective of one type of entity is not necessarily right from the perspective of another, and there is no reasonable way to say that one type of entity’s moral preferences override another regardless of their relative ontological status.

          It is always wrong for a human father to sacrifice his human son in a religious ritual, regardless of whether or not a omni-cubed deity opines otherwise. Even if that deity is capable of acting, from that deity’s perspective, in a perfectly good way, there is no guarantee that that perspective will be correct (or even, really, meaningful) for any other entity, and in fact the deity’s thrice-omni status renders him incapable of making even an argument along the lines that their experience of the universe is similar enough that the moral judgments of one should be adoptable by the other.

          The deity is stuck, then, enforcing edicts that can only be justified ad baculum, which oddly enough is exactly what is found in most Western religious texts. Nobody can win that argument only because such a deity is omnipotent and can ignore the perspectives of other morally sensible entities with impunity.

  • Ken

    Its amazing how the holy are so quick to toss everyone ELSE under the bus.