Killing Your Son

In his response to Pascal’s wager, which we discussed earlier, Richard Carrier objects to the story of Abraham and Isaac:

For example, in the bible Abraham discards humanity and morality upon God’s command to kill his son Isaac, and God rewards him for placing loyalty above morality. That is probably evil–a good god would expect Abraham to forego fear and loyalty and place compassion first and refuse to commit an evil act, and would reward him for that, not for compliance.

Sometimes people will respond to such episodes by saying that all things belong to God, and therefore he cannot be blamed for killing anyone, or for ordering others to kill. But this response is not to the point: if you hear a voice that seems to be from God, and which tells you to kill your son (or anyone else for that matter), you should assume that you are insane, hallucinating, or in some other way deceived, rather than assuming that God in fact wants you to kill someone. In this sense, Carrier’s complaint is valid.

In any case, it is very likely that one of the main points of the account is that sacrificing one’s children is bad, and that God does not wish it. In this sense, the biblical author is likely in agreement with Carrier, but it does not bother him to tell the story in this fashion regardless. This is perhaps for argumentative purposes: those who would sacrifice children would perhaps argue, “God is the greatest of all, and worthy of the greatest of sacrifices, such as our children, rather than mere beasts.” There would seem to be something lacking in the response, “We care about our children too much to do that, so God will have to put up with something less.” Instead, the biblical author responds that we would be willing to give up our children, if God wanted that, but that he does not want it.

In other words, Carrier takes the account too literally to understand the point of it, even when it is in agreement with him.

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