Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fear and Trembling, Woody Allen Style

These guys at Penguin Classics come up with such wonderful covers. The painting on the cover illustrates the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac which Kierkegaard uses to define his notion of faith (I haven't read the book but I have read about it). In the story "God" asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac. Abraham, like a true believer that he is, promptly agrees to do so. At the last minute however, he gets some signal from "God" about the "test", spares the kid and sacrifices a ram instead. This is one example of, what in philosophy is called, "the teleological suspension of the ethical", which in normal language means that, the morality of an act is decided independent of its "purpose" or goal. Also faith requires a belief in the absurd and a leap beyond the bounds of reason.

This story is also used as an argument against the idea that morality is derived from the authority of the divine (and the subsequent argument that atheists are Godless nihilists) because the only sensible reaction to the story would be that God can never ask anyone to sacrifice his own son! In that case God himself is bound by moral laws which supercedes his own existence and authority and is, as a result, no different from us mortals when it comes to deciding what is right and what is wrong. Another example of this comes from Plato in the famous Euthyphro's dilemma.

Okay, too much of boring and dry talk. The following is something I found on internet. It is Woody Allen's take on the story. Not sure if it is the whole story or just an excerpt. Anyway, it is quite funny (I am also trying to imagine how Woody Allen would have uttered these dialogues!).

And Abraham awoke in the middle of the night and said to his only son, Isaac, "I have had a dream where the voice of the Lord sayeth that I must sacrifice my only son, so put your pants on." And Isaac trembled and said, "So what did you say? I mean when He brought this whole thing up?"

"What am I going to say?" Abraham said. "I'm standing there at two A.M. I'm in my underwear with the Creator of the Universe. Should I argue?"

"Well, did he say why he wants me sacrificed?" Isaac asked his father.

But Abraham said, "The faithful do not question. Now let's go because I have a heavy day tomorrow."

And Sarah who heard Abraham's plan grew vexed and said, "How doth thou know it was the Lord and not, say, thy friend who loveth practical jokes, for the Lord hateth practical jokes and whosoever shall pull one shall be delivered into the hands of his enemies whether they pay the delivery charge or not." And Abraham answered, "Because I know it was the Lord. It was a deep, resonant voice, well modulated, and nobody in the desert can get a rumble in it like that."

And Sarah said, "And thou art willing to carry out this senseless act?" But Abraham told her, "Frankly yes, for to question the Lord's word is one of the worst things a person can do, particularly with the economy in the state it's in."

And so he took Isaac to a certain place and prepared to sacrifice him but at the last minute the Lord stayed Abraham's hand and said, "How could thou doest such a thing?"

And Abraham said, "But thou said ---"

"Never mind what I said," the Lord spake. "Doth thou listen to every crazy idea that comes thy way?" And Abraham grew ashamed. "Er - not really … no."

"I jokingly suggest thou sacrifice Isaac and thou immediately runs out to do it."

And Abraham fell to his knees, "See, I never know when you're kidding."

And the Lord thundered, "No sense of humor. I can't believe it."

"But doth this not prove I love thee, that I was willing to donate mine only son on thy whim?"

And the Lord said, "It proves that some men will follow any order no matter how asinine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modulated voice."

And with that, the Lord bid Abraham get some rest and check with him tomorrow.

(Woody Allen. Without Feathers)

1 comment:

Ed Darrell said...

I remembered the story being longer than that. Is that the full text?