The Old Testament Abraham and Isaac story is a favorite among both Judeo and Christian believers accepting it as a story describing and venerating the virtue of Faith as a theological virtue with a capital “F”. It is a simple but an effective authoritative story: God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in worship to God; Abraham takes Isaac to a sacrificial altar ready for the killing; but, just as the fatal blow is about to be struck, a messenger from God stops Abraham saying “now I know you fear God”; in his son’s place, Abraham sacrifices a ram instead of Isaac — lucky ram. Abraham and his children go on to be the founding family of the Jewish religion and nation directly and eventually Christianity indirectly. Even the Christian existentialist Kierkegaard considered Abraham a “Knight of Faith”. It is a very aesthetically pleasing story but morality has the moral backwards. Blindly following authority, especially the authority of a god or even the voice of God that by definition can kill you if you disobey is not Faith but rational self-interest. The true test of Faith and even of faith in the integrity of a godless authority is the ability and option to reject its commands and yet trust that in the end the authority will still be fair and mercifully good.
I do not want to deconstruct the story of Abraham and Isaac. As sophisticated as deconstruction sounds, the result is always predictable: deconstructive interpretation is used to argue all authority uses storytelling to justify and demand blind allegiance to those who control the story telling warranting social justice struggle to overcome this authority with the new authority and the new storytelling called ethics of those doing the deconstruction — however this new storytelling is somehow exempt from this same critique. No, rather the nihilist option is to take the story at face value as the words of this story would be used and are useful in present culture — or really in any post-Enlightenment culture: a dude hears the voice of God telling him to kill his son and does it. Or, almost does it but is stopped by the voice of an angel. Would anyone see this dude as a Knight of Faith venerating God? Doubt it. Regardless of whether or not the dude actually heard these voices, except among religious fanatics, we would see him as a murderer or attempted murderer warranting either criminal punishment or civil commitment to a psychiatric institution. Gradually, our enlightened society has created a more benevolent version of God who does not need sacrificial rams to stroke Their ego — or at least no more than One. So, why is the Abraham/Isaac story still a significant storytelling tradition in present culture?
It is so not only for Christian existentialist writers such as Kierkegaard but even for the post-modern atheist likes of a Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas who wrote considerable contemplations on its meaning — though as usual, I cannot make any sense of what they wrote but also as usual it always ends up with the usual pontificating on the need to see the Self in the Other and a conclusion requiring ethics to overcome ontology; that is, they repeat the simple poetic aesthetics of the Beatitudes in multiple pages of convoluted verbiage apparently advocating having Christian virtues without the Christ all of which avoid at all cost mentioning the Beatitudes. Of course, Kierkegaard was not a connoisseur of clarity either. Both Derrida and Levinas and the like ignore the fact that the ontology of ethics is simply the morality of the powerful which they must ignore in order to achieve the desired poetic aesthetics — something which Kierkegaard at least has the consistency not to do. In their storytelling, Abraham is replaced by the Self, Issac by the Other, and God becomes the Good as they define it in any particular situation. In short they love the grossly out-of-date story of Abraham and Isaac because Abraham does what is expected of him by authority: say yes to its demands. Regardless of how much verbiage they write to hide it, unlike Kierkegaard who honestly admitted his goal, ultimately their goal is to preach and achieve the same blind allegiance to their voices as Abraham gave to his voices.
Let us take the story of Abraham and Isaac at face value as a nihilist would and not as it can be deconstructed and not through some hero/knight or other leadership or ethical worshiping story because as nihilists we need no leaders nor do we need ethics. From the perspective of nihilism as a morality, what does this story mean in the present and in any foreseeable future for post-modern humanity? Nihilism as a morality opposes and struggles against any delusions of meaning for life. It means that if you hear God demanding you kill your son or daughter or even a fricken ram purely as a sign of faith in God as life’s meaning, tell God to go screw Themselves. Do not do it. Do not try to rationalize doing it or not doing it. Rationality can provide a reason to do anything or not do anything depending on whether you want to do it or not do it and on whether you are looking hard enough for a rationalization. Except for gods, everyone really wants God to exist. If you hear the voice of God, you really want it to be the voice of God. If the voice of God tells you to kill your child, you will want to kill your child and rationally the thing to do is to kill your child. After all, it is the voice of God! It would be irrational perhaps insane to rebel against the voice of an infinite omnipotent Power. So, you must be irrational and say no. By obeying God’s command you would be justifying this arbitrary and random demand as a Leap to Faith (as Kierkegaard argued) and give it meaning. Life has no meaning. Nothing you do will change that. As Dostoevsky asked, does the salvation of millions give meaning to the suffering of an innocent child? No. Say no to a voice that wants to create such meaning: this no is the Leap to Faith of a true nihilist and their God.
Faith as a virtue with a capital “F” for a nihilist is based not on the ethics of authority nor on any ethics but on Acceptance of authority as it is: an arbitrary and random power with no meaning other than power as an end-in-itself. As a nihilist, you have a moral obligation to oppose any delusion of meaning in life because such opposition is what gives your life the only meaning it has and thus morally you must oppose the voice of authority even if it is authority with a capital “A”.
Is it imaginable for God arbitrarily and randomly to ask a believer to kill their own child for no reason other than a show of power? Sure, why not? God is God, can do whatever He, She, It wants to do — if you do not kill the child, God might do it on Their own. Whatever. There are infinite possibilities as to what may be in the mind of God or of the gods and Fates. However, is it also imaginable for you to say “no”? Sure, it is. A Leap to Faith is to say no, not yes. Killing for a reason is not Faith, it is reason. Not killing for a reason is also not Faith, it is reason. There is virtue in being reasonable and there is virtue in being faithful to an authority we believe has pragmatically sound intentions or good intentions, however this is not Faith. If there is a God, Their intentions are Their existential acts. With God, logic by necessity goes from the universal to the existential without being an Existential Fallacy. Virtue based beliefs of good intentions by God ignore the reality that God’s intentions are by necessity also acts; such beliefs are a denial of the nature of God not a Leap to Faith in the nature of God. If there is a God, there will be knowledge and acceptance of your nature as you are and were destined to be and not judgment of your life based on how the likes of Kierkegaard, Derrida, Levinas, or anyone else say you ought to be. You must give God the same respect as you expect from God — thus, just as you expect God to say “no” to any arbitrary and random demands for the death of an innocent, you must expect of yourself to say “no” to the death of an innocent when arbitrarily and randomly demanded by God. What happens next, is a matter of Faith.
How does this story apply to the faith demanded by the earthly gods of authority — varying from the power of law to the power of ethics superseding ontology as demanded by Derrida, Levinas, and the Other worshipers of Rule Following either liberal or conservative, Marxist or libertarian, and so forth? It does not. The Abraham/Isaac story deals with theological Faith in God not with faith toward earthly gods regardless of how much contemplation is wasted on pretending it has something to do with either ontology or ethics. F–k them. Faith in an earthly god is purely a small “f” and pragmatic. If these gods demand you kill your child thus by definition making this killing ethical and you believe there is good reason warranting such killing, do it as your moral choice and suffer the consequences; if not, do not do it as your moral choice and suffer the consequences. There is no moral obligation to comply with the authority of ethics or with any authority. Acceptance of authority with a small “a” is a matter of pragmatics. Obviously, if the authority has the power to imprison or kill you unless you comply with their authority, the moral balance is in their favor; but this does not mean you have to like it and give such balance moral acceptance — wait for the opportunity to struggle and defeat their authority. If you have the moral power to say “no” to any ethics or morality and by doing so create your own morality — what happens next is in the hands of the Fates and is a matter of Faith.