I don’t want to sound like an idiot, but sometimes there’s no help. Where has Susan Neiman been all my life? Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist describes and links to this video (Session 6) of the Princeton-based author of Evil in Modern Thought speaking at last year’s “Beyond Belief” conference.
She retells two Bible stories about Abraham, arguably the Ur-figure of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all three. First (Genesis 18), Sodom and Gomorrah, where Abraham tells God it would be wrong to destroy the entire city of Sodom, and bargains the deity down until He agrees to spare it if He can find just ten righteous men. Second (Genesis 22), the story in which God orders Abraham to take his only son and sacrifice him on the mountain and Abraham obeys right up to the critical point where God intervenes and it turns out he was just testing.
The important division in the world today, Neiman argues, is not between believers and nonbelievers. The division is between those who follow the heroic Abraham of the Sodom and Gomorrah episode, who knows when God is about to do wrong and tells him so in fear and trembling, and those who follow the obedient Abraham of the second story, who does whatever he’s told whether it makes sense or not. To put it another way, one kind of belief in God requires you to make sense of the world; the other kind requires you to give up on sense itself.