Sunday, November 27, 2016

Of Right and Wrong

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.


Julie said...

"If God is all-knowing, why would he need to test Abraham to begin with?" Exactly! That is it in one interrogative sentence. Seriously. Logic, people. It is much harder to be an atheist. A few years ago, one of my 8th graders was graduating from the Episcopal school where I taught and she attended many years. It is the tradition at this school to give the 8th graders Bibles at their graduation with each Bible inscribed by a teacher who has a connection with the student. This student was an atheist, so I felt a connection with her and chose to sign her Bible and wrote about what this blog is saying so succinctly: it's harder to be an atheist. It is so easy to have a moral authority such as the one presented in the Bible, but morality can also be found with deep examination, brutal honesty, and vivacious empathy.

Heather Annastasia said...

And to help a child choose the harder path, just by showing your support, is the most amazing thing any of us could hope to do in this world.

I think that all the harder paths are going to dim in the coming years. My heart aches for all those kids; the questioners, the LGBTQ, the brown, the ginger, the oddballs, the loners.

We can't let that light die, Julie.

We can't.

Byronik said...

I like to imagine what the conversation must've been like between Isaac and Abraham on the way back down the mountain

Heather Annastasia said...

I imagine it went a bit like the one in this post. "You're missing the point, Isaac! God was never going to let me kill you."

I don't imagine there were any father-son fishing trips after that.

Jorge Kahwagi said...

God is all-knowing Of Right and Wrong
Jorge Kahwagi Macari

Heather Annastasia said...

You know, speaking of the all-knowing God; I was watching an episode of Westworld (the HBO series), where a robot character thinks he has a one-up on his creator: he thinks that he has a proverbial gun to his creator's head. The robot finds out that he never had the ability to pull the trigger and asks the creator, "why did you play along if you already knew what was going to happen?"

The "test" of the robot reminded me a lot of the Abraham and Isaac story.

In the show, the answer to the question of the creator playing along even though he already knows what's going to happen, is the robot has to find out for himself what he will do when he is tested.