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”.

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2 thoughts on “Abraham, Isaac, and Richard Branson

  1. The human sacrifice who is saved at the last minute by a god, who substitutes an animal in their place, seems to have been a common mytheme in the ancient world. See Euripides’ play “Iphigenia at Aulis.” The difference between the Greek and Jewish versions is that in the Greek versions, it is a human who demands the sacrifice but a good god who saves. The Jewish version, having only one god, makes it incomprehensible by having the god both demand the sacrifice and save the person from the sacrifice.

  2. Interesting, I hadn’t heard of that one. I remember a few years ago there was an incident in the Middle East where US soldiers were going to a meeting with some local Muslim leaders, and per tradition they were supposed to ritualistically sacrifice an animal before entering the home. So the soldiers obtained a goat to sacrifice, and were just about to kill it when… the Muslim leaders pulled an Isaac/Abraham and told them they didn’t have to kill it after all (and I can just imagine how hard it was for them not to laugh their asses off while telling them).

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