Abraham, Abraham, Look At Your Choices

The society convened for the sixth time this semester to debate Resolved: Abraham should not have led Isaac to the slaughter.

Giving the affirmation keynote speeches were Mr. Joshua Weiner (COL ’15) of Illinois and, making his induction, Mr. Mac Dineen (COL ’15) of Florida.

Giving the negation keynote speeches were Mr. Victor Wang (NHS ’15) of Maryland and, making her induction, Ms. Tia Baheri (SFS ’16) of Iran.

Mr. Dineen asked the Society, rhetorically, what makes Abraham more than a “lowly murderer?” He acted in unyielding obedience. Abraham’s blind faith does not make his crime holy, but in fact worsens it. Mr. Dineen suggested that the Society apply the standard of this resolution to modern-day relationships. “Who here would unquestioningly draw the knife?” Ms. Baheri questioned the existence of a universal moral code that would condemn Abraham’s actions as murderous, suggesting instead that we are socialized to believe certain conceptions of right and wrong. God has earned Abraham’s trust, assuring Abraham that his selfless act was for a greater purpose. “Potential disappointment is central to a life worth living.”

Mr. Weiner congratulated the inductees, and began his speech by arguing that faith that cannot doubt is not worth having. Abraham had previously doubted and challenged God, specifically in defending the sin-ridden cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but would not defend his own son. Abraham gave up his morality and humanity in his blind obedience. Mr. Wang, too, congratulated Ms. Baheri and Mr. Dineen. He went on to contend that Abraham lived in a world without resources to know morality, a world before “morality” even existed as a set of socialized norms: all Abraham knew to guide him was God. Abraham’s faith grounded each decision he made, and it was reasonable for him to believe, based on his past encounters with the Lord, that God would guide him in the right direction.

As the floor speeches began, Mr. Daniel Kendrick likened Abraham’s mentality to those of modern-day jihadists. Following authority in violation of one’s rationality is uncivilized. Ms. Emily Coccia responded that it was unfair to compare God to the delusions of a jihadist, and that faith by nature is incomprehensible. Ms. Abby Grace pointed out that kinship is binding by nature, arguing that evolution ought to preceed any lofty proclamations of all-governing faith. Ms. Anna Hernick examined the Biblical story as an instructive piece of literature, an example of allowing faith to precede rationality out of trust in God’s covenant.

Mr. Taylor Willis argued that even the devoutly faithful must question God, as Abraham and Moses both had at times, and that this doubt is in fact religiously valuable. Ms. Amanda Wynter asserted that every day, each of us looks death in the face much as Abraham did, yet have the courage to go on. In this we are like Abraham. Ms. Ashley Burke (COL ’17) argued that notions of good and bad can be arbitrary, but the right to life is self-evident, as our founding fathers noted. Mr. Alejandro Perez-Reyes (COL ’17) contended that there are things human judgement cannot understand: who are we to pass moral judgement on Abraham, a man asked to commit an incomprehensible act by by an incomprehensible being, and commit it on faith alone?

Mr. Patrick Eisen (SFS ’17) argued that faith is a poisonous emotion that robs us of agency. “Had Abraham sacrificed his son, he would have died a very sad man.” Ms. Emeline Kong (COL ’17) argued that faith can be used to navigate relationships reasonably, thus is not incompatible with rationality. Vice President Pat Spagnuolo responded that you don’t have to know everything to be able to independently set certain bounds for how you live your life. Mr. Michael Mouch congratulated his mentee Mr. Dineen, and proceeded to list various historical and biblical examples of when standing up to authorities proved necessary.

Mr. Warren Wilson argued that reason grounded in faith is the ideal. Abraham ignored that reason and acted selfishly, ignoring Sarah’s and others’ love for Isaac besides his own.President Peter Prindiville posited that if you concede that there are things we do not know, then you can sympathize with Abraham’s circumstance. Mr. Jacob Arber began his speech in Hebrew, which he then translated to be Abraham’s verbatim promise to God: “I will do, and I will listen.” Who, Mr. Arber asked the Society, agrees to act before they even hear their instructions? Mr. Greg Miller argued that love involves sacrifice, and love for God must supersede love for one’s children. Ms. Colleen Wood contested that there is in fact something that comes before love for God, and that is love for one another and respect for relationships.

Upon return to the closing keynote speeches, Mr. Wang clarified that any moral lessons derived from biblical narratives after Abraham’s time were irrelevant – including the Ten Commandments – in that Abraham had no way of knowing what was to come. His faith took priority over all else, allowing him to surrender everything to God. Mr. Weiner argued that in giving everything to God Abraham turned a blind eye to everything, including his own agency. “Abraham lost himself in the three day journey up the mountain.” For a father who was defined by love for his son, sacrificing that son meant losing himself.

Ms. Baheri reiterated that the example set by this story is not of maliciousness but selflessness. Sacrifice necessitates letting reason fall to the wayside from time to time. Living in a world where people act illocigally, Ms. Baheri argued, is the price we pay for a world with lovingly selfless acts. Mr. Dineen opened by speaking directly to a member of the audience: “Father O’Brien, I just want to say, they made me argue this side.” Mr. Dineen, however, made the compelling case that Abraham’s grave transgression was his failure to even protest when asked to kill his son. He protested the deaths of thousands of sinners living in Sodom and Gomorrah, but not Isaac’s? “A kind, logical human being could not commit so terrible an act without even a moment of questioning” Ending on a personal and hypothetical note, Mr. Dineen remarked: “Devotion to God aside, I would not sacrifice my son even for all the stars in heaven.”

The Society voted 29 – 1 – 15 to affirm.


Madeleine M. Ringwald

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