There are regular “God told me to do it” stories in the news. For the purposes of this discussion I am creating a fictional one. It may seem too long to read but I think it is necessary as the points raised by it are important.
Richard is an Evangelical pastor who comes home from Sunday services to dinner with his wife and 12-year old son. They live an idyllic life in a small rural Christian community. They are financially well off and loved by their family, friends and neighbors who all hold Richard in high regard.
After dinner he decides to walk along the river bank to the town hall where he will conduct the choir in preparation for the upcoming Easter celebrations. His son begs to come along and Richard is delighted to see the keen interest he takes in the affairs of the Church. They grin to each other knowing this means that they can bring the fishing tackle along and stop on the way back for an hour or two. His wife pretends not to understand their secret smile. She is happy as it means a few hours to herself so she can get ready for the weekly Bible study class which she loves to host.
An hour later Richard walks into the town hall and announces that God had appeared to him and demanded that he sacrifice his son to prove his love and dedication to Him. He seems very calm, even serene, as he relates the story to his parishioners.
As he walked along the banks of the river the early spring sun reflected a face upon the water.
“It is I. Richard, your Lord and Master” boomed a voice that seemed to sound from all directions. The face rose from the water and started to rise up towards the sky. “I command you to sacrifice your son so that he can join me in Heaven this very day. Do this for me and the riches of the next life will be assured for you too.”
The police soon found the smouldering wooden pyre and the burnt remains of the boy. The autopsy revealed he had been stabbed once through the heart with a fishing knife. Richard cooperated fully with their investigation. He seemed not to grasp the reality of what he had done. At least not as they expected he should have. Richard maintained his serenity throughout and never denied what he had done. He even said he was privileged to be visited in person by the God he so loved and was happy that his son was now in Heaven.
He is sent for psychiatric evaluation but “passes” the tests that three experienced professional doctors carry out. He seems completely sane and rational to them. He has no criminal record, no history of mental illness and none ever reported in his extend family. He seems to be the same “Richard” to all that know him, expect that he seems even happier than normal to them. He is also given two independently supervised lie detector tests and all his answers are reported as being truthfully answered.
I would say that Richard may indeed genuinely believe that he was actually visited by his God. He is devoid of any signs of remorse which leads many of those that know him to consider that he is speaking the truth. But I would say that Richard suffered a violent psychotic delusional episode. I think many Christians would agree with me.
However I would suggest his breakdown was induced by years of continuous fundamentalist religious indoctrination. His mental breakdown and irrational actions were a direct result of his faith in God. Christians cannot agree with me on this point. They must allow for the possibility that Richard is telling the truth.
If you are a Christian then please tell me why I am wrong to say that you must make such an allowance. You must agree that it could be possible that God really did appear to Richard and command him to kill his son.