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Abraham, Kant, Kierkegaard, God, Faith, and Morality

Reflect on the following passage from the Bible:

"It happened some time later that God put Abraham to the test. 'Abraham, Abraham!' he called. 'Here I am,' he replied. God said, 'Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you.' Early next morning Abraham saddled his donkey and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place which God had indicated to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, 'Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I are going over there; we shall worship and then come back to you.' Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. 'Father?' he said. 'Yes, my son,' he replied. 'Look,' he said, 'here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?' Abraham replied, 'My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.' And the two of them went on together. When they arrived at the place which God had indicated to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven. 'Abraham, Abraham!' he said. 'Here I am,' he replied. 'Do not raise your hand against the boy,' the angel said. 'Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your own beloved son.' Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. Abraham called this place 'Yahweh provides', and hence the saying today: 'On the mountain Yahweh provides.' The angel of Yahweh called Abraham a second time from heaven. 'I swear by my own self, Yahweh declares, that because you have done this, because you have not refused me your own beloved son, I will shower blessings on you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All nations on earth will bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed my command'" (Gen 22:1-18).

(A) In the parable of Abraham and Issac, it seems as if Godâ??s command that Abraham should kill his only son as a sacrifice seems to go against reason and morality. Can God ask us to do things that go against reason and morality? Which takes precedence, Godâ??s command or reason?

(B) Augustine prescribes that ethical good is contained in aligning our will with the will of God. Explain how your answer in (A) affects the way that you feel about this aspect of Augustine's ethical theory. Do you agree, or disagree? Why?

(C) Both Plato and Aristotle believe that ethics consists in exercising reason in action, rather than relying upon desire or emotion. Presumably, this would also include faith. Show how your answer in (A) affects the way you feel about this aspect of Plato and Aristotle's ethical theory. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Solution Preview

(A) In the parable of Abraham and Issac, it seems as if God's command that Abraham should kill his only son as a sacrifice seems to go against reason and morality. Can God ask us to do things that go against reason and morality? Which takes precedence, God's command or reason?
(It depends on whether one believes in God or not. Also it depends on how strong such a belief is.) According to most philosophers, what makes us human is not that we believe in God but rather that we are rational. Aristotle famously defined the human being as a rational animal. So we are human before we are believers. This is why every religion has a history, that is, it has a beginning which can be traced to human beings as founders. In other words, human beings had existed as rational beings for thousands of years before some of them started believing in God. Understood in this way, the existence of God depends on human reason and not the other way round. For some human beings, God is the answer to their questions of where we are from and why we are here and why the universe is here, and where we are going, etc. These are questions that depend on human reasoning. This puts reason ahead of God's command. So, the concept of God and God's command can be seen as a special use of human reason. Other animals that are not as rational as human beings have no notion of God or of his commands whatsoever. Also most human beings who do not belong to the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), or who are not religious at all, do not think that God's command comes ...

Solution Summary

This post discusses the relationship between faith and morality. Faith is understood here as the command of God. Which should come first: reason or faith? The post explains why reason should come first.

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