Abraham, Isaac, and Richard Branson

A few years ago on Richard Branson’s reality show “The Rebel Billionaire” (which was basically the same concept as The Apprentice), there was an episode where the “challenge” was for the contestants to get into a capsule that would be dropped off a huge waterfall into the raging waters below. It was explained that the stunt would be conducted as safely as possible, but the safety of the contestants could not be guaranteed, and other people who tried the stunt before had suffered serious injuries.

There were two contestants remaining, and after much deliberation one decided he would do it and the other declined. The one who accepted then got into the capsule, they strapped him in tight, they did the countdown, and… nothing.

It turned out to be a test to see who would blindly obey idiotic orders, and the one who accepted the challenge failed; Richard Branson then emerged to tell the contestant who refused that he was the winner of the show.

Well only recently, after I found out that Richard Branson is an atheist and I thought back on that episode, did I realize the obvious parallel to (and inversion of) the Biblical story of Isaac and Abraham.

In that story, God issued a “challenge” for Abraham to tie up his son, place him upon an altar, and ritualistically slaughter him (after which, per Jewish tradition, he was to drain his blood, skin and dismember the corpse, and slowly burn the remains to ash). Abraham willingly accepted, tied up his son, placed him upon the altar, and was about to deal the fatal blow when… it turned out to be a test to see if he would blindly obey an idiotic order. And by doing so, Abraham passed the test, thereby showing that God—unlike Richard Branson—does want followers who will blindly obey even the most evil and idiotic orders imaginable.

Of course, as I alluded to with my previous post, I can’t truly fault Abraham for accepting the challenge, even had he been allowed to follow through with it. If “God” is real and he personally gives you an order, I can’t blame anyone for doing anything that is asked, no matter how evil, simply due to the sheer magnitude of the potential repercussions.

Again the problem is not with the actions of the followers per-se; the problem is with the belief in an almighty creator of the universe which not only exists, but has desires, can communicate those desires, and will inflict harm on you greater than you can possibly imagine if you fail to fulfill those desires. Taken to its logical conclusion, that initial premise effectively makes any action perfectly logical, if not morally justified… provided that it fulfills the desires of “God”.

Could you really refuse to worship an “Evil God”?

I sometimes hear other atheists say they would refuse to worship the Christian God, even if he were real, because they would refuse to worship such an evil being.

That’s an admirable position, but I honestly doubt whether anyone could truly make such a choice. If “God” were to manifest himself in an undeniable way, could anyone truly turn down the rewards of Heaven and subject themselves to infinite torment in Hell, strictly out of principle?

Maybe, but I honestly can’t say I could, and I can’t blame anyone else who couldn’t either.

Consider that when someone has a gun to your head, you can’t be held to the same ethical standards as if you were simply doing something on your own volition. And the threat of “Hell” is essentially a gun with infinite capacity to inflict INFINITE harm and suffering, pointed directly at your head.

For that reason I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t do ANYTHING to avoid such a punishment (if I believed it existed) no matter how morally abhorrent that action may otherwise be. Even something as detestable as worshipping an evil being.

Good thing there’s no reason whatsoever to believe that such a being exists.