By Andy Norman

The biblical story of Abraham and Isaac poses a crucial test for believers.  If God commanded you, as he did Abraham, to slaughter your own son, would you do it? If, like Abraham, you’d plunge a knife into his chest, then congratulations!  You’ve passed the test! Your faith is true, your priorities correct, and you understand the kind of unquestioning devotion that God demands of us. That, presumably, is the moral of the story: unthinking obedience above all.

The story pits devotion to God against basic moral decency and celebrates the subjugation of the latter to the former. This speaks volumes about the value system at the heart of the so-called “Abrahamic” faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So what if you have to traumatize your son, or even kill him, to win God’s favor? The former is temporary, the latter is forever. What’s a child’s life worth, next to eternal salvation? The Bible’s answer is clear: not much.

In fairness to the adherents of the Abrahamic faiths, most would fail God’s test. They don’t allow the official priorities of their faith to derange their value systems so completely. For this, we can thank goodness. (No, really: copycat expressions of Abrahamic devotion would presumably be much more common were it not for our innate, and evolved, sense of goodness.) Of course, those of us with a functioning moral compass are apt to regard Abraham as having failed a basic test of moral decency. Celebrate Abraham for traumatizing his son? Now that’s crazy, not to mention morally abhorrent! The Abraham story is a litmus test for us, too.

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