Having never even stepped on church grounds, besides for a wedding, this is the first time I have heard of the story of Abraham and Isaac, let alone having read it. After reading the passage I must confess that I was quite surprised and confused. My initial reaction was that of many questions. Why does Abraham obey God What kind of sick test is this Why should anyone be this scared of God that they would be driven to kill their only son What would the consequence have been had Abraham said no With these questions bearing on my mind I moved on to Adams' "Abraham's Dilemma." Adams' chapter on this situation provided insight on some of my questions while also enlightening me with some very interesting arguments. Here I will summarize the story of Abraham and Isaac, which appears in Genesis 22.
God decides to test Abraham so He commands him to take his only son to a mountain that He tells him about and proceed to burn him as a sacrifice. Abraham without question gathers wood and brings his son to the place God tells him about. Making his son carry the wood of which he would be burnt on they set off to the mountain where the sacrifice was to be held. During their walk Isaac asks his father where the lamb was that they were going to sacrifice and Abraham responds by telling him that God would supply the lamb for them. Once they had reached the place of offering Abraham ties his son to the altar and seizes the knife of which he is going to use to kill his son. At that moment an angel of God speaks to Abraham and tells him to stop because he had proved his fear of God.
Then out of the brush Abraham finds a ram to burn for the offering instead. After the sacrifice they leave the mountain and Abraham names it "On the mountain of the lord God will provide." And because Abraham was willing to kill his only son, God was going to reward him and his offspring greatly. To try and understand why Abraham obeyed Go we must first try to understand what Abraham's thoughts were. Adams I feel does a great job at finding three main points in which Abraham believes: (1) If God commands me to do something, it is not morally wrong for me to do it. (2) God commands me to kill my son. (3) It is morally wrong for me to kill my son.
Now the challenge is to figure out which belief we must reject. It is obvious that you cannot keep all three because of the inconsistency it raises. But it is not obvious to which belief we want to reject. I believe ideally, if it were possible, we can reject the first two. But if we are to go along with Adams' chapter then we will reject each one, doing so one by one.
Adams starts out by stating that the easiest way and most popular way of rejecting the first belief is that "what is morally wrong is eternally and necessarily wrong, and would therefore still be wrong, and certainly not obligatory, even if God commanded it (and never forbade it) " (Adams, p. 27). I personally find this statement absolutely correct. Whether I truly practice this is another case altogether. This type of attitude leads to the "do as I say and not as I do" type of reasoning. It is not to say that I would do something as terrible as kill my son, but maybe that I will tell a lie to a person if the context of the situation would bring me to tell that lie.
You must also understand that my moral beliefs are formed by the beliefs of my parents and own experiences and not based by any type of religious guidelines. Adams disagrees that anything wrong is eternally and necessarily wrong. He disagrees with it because it is conflicting with his own divine command theory concerning obligation, where if anything God declares is wrong is wrong, then anything that God doesn't say is wrong is not and never will be wrong. Adams doesn't want to take on this argument, instead he wants to deal with the fact that God does command something wrong and whether or not disobeying that command would be wrong. So lets assume that God does command something evil, Adams then says that he does not believe that if you obeyed that command it would be wrong or bad assuming that the goodness of God were the basis of this command..