Oh, Abraham! Confounder of children.
I sat in the car after Mass while my dad went into the store to get a Sunday paper and a box of doughnuts. This was usually my favorite part of Sunday; the Sunday funnies, the doughnuts, hanging out with my dad. I would emerge into the sunlight from the dark, fragrant cathedral with the weight of sitting still for two whole hours lifted from my body.
But this Sunday, the weight lingered...
So... Abraham was going to kill Isaac?
Yes, but God didn't let him.
But he was going to?
And that was the right thing to do?
Yes, but God was never going to let him actually kill Isaac. It was just a test.
To see if he would?
And it was right that he would?
Yes, because nothing is more important than God. If God tells you to do something, you do it!
Even if God tells you to kill your son?
Yes, but God wouldn't tell you to do something bad. He never actually told Abraham to kill Isaac.
But it was a test to see if he would?
And he passed the test?
Because he would kill his son?
Yes, but that's not the point. God was never going to let him kill Isaac.
But that very much was the point for me.
Looking at the story now, as an atheist, I can pick it apart in all kinds of ways. If God is all-knowing, why would he need to test Abraham to begin with?
But as an eight-year-old child who firmly believed that there was a God and a Heaven and a Hell, this story was life-altering.
I knew that killing Isaac was wrong. That being willing to kill Isaac was wrong. And sitting in that car alone, I saw hell-fire and burning and the wrath of Almighty God, but I resolved that I would never be willing to kill Isaac, no matter what. That was when I first began to consciously part ways with God.
This really gets to core of how individuals differentiate right from wrong, regardless of religion or culture or time period.
Most people will do what they're told.
Some people will not follow an order they know is wrong, no matter who gives it.
Most people need to know that someone is in charge in order for the universe to make sense to them. They need authority, they need order, they need rules. That authority can be God, a monarch, Science, Capitalism, Pope Francis, Charles Manson; so long as there is a system in place and someone is in charge, they can sleep at night knowing that there is order in the world.
And then there are the people whose moral code transcends any authority. These people are in the minority.
Chaos doesn't phase me. I don't need order.
Maybe we are energy beings, more than the sum of our parts, maybe our time in this physical existence is part of a grander scheme that we cannot even fathom.
Or maybe we are an accidental coagulation of polymer chains languishing on a meaningless piece of rock hurling through a vast vacuum of space for no reason at all.
Either way, I will still never be willing to kill Isaac.