Last month, I wrote about slavery and the Bible’s embarrassing (though historically understandable, if we assume there was no divine revelation behind it) endorsement of that vile practice. Today, slavery is widely recognized as the evil it is, and though it still exists in some forms, it lingers only in the shadows, not in the light of mainstream acceptance. Today religious people of all stripes reject slavery, and do their best to gloss over or explain away the unchanged scripture that still supports it.
However, that opposition to slavery is not universal. What baffles me is that, despite abundant historical evidence that slavery is a great crime and a demeaning and degrading state which no human should have to suffer, there are still some theists whose highest aspiration in life is to be property – to be enslaved.
The religious desire to be enslaved cuts across denominations. In Roman Catholicism, there are monastic orders such as the self-proclaimed “Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary“. Some Christian merchandise sites advertise t-shirts that proclaim their wearer “Property of Jesus“. Christians congregate in online groups with titles like “Owned by Jesus“. Jehovah’s Witnesses, meanwhile, hope to become one of the only 144,000 “faithful and discreet slaves” who will be admitted to Heaven (the rest will enjoy eternal life on a recreated Earth, which is apparently sort of an overflow box for Heaven). The Christian magazine Brio has an extended article titled Bought, Branded, Bonded in which the author compares herself to a slave on the auction block, one who is so grateful to be purchased and owned that she would refuse to be set free even if given the opportunity:
I don’t own my life any more. I willingly accept His purchase. He’s the Master. I’m merely the slave. But I love Him so much, I’m saying YES to being branded and bonded to Him forever.
This cringing, self-negating submission has its roots in the Bible itself. Paul in Romans 1:1 refers to himself as the “bond-slave” (Greek doulos, which the KJV translates as “servant”) of Jesus Christ. This same word is used repeatedly by the authors of the New Testament epistles to describe themselves.
This should not be too surprising. Religion, after all, was invented in large part to justify inequalities such as these, to pacify slaves by telling them that their unhappy state was God’s will to which they should gladly submit. (The Bible states clearly that any liberation it offers is for the next life only, and for now slaves should continue to obey their masters.) It is so effective at this that even when the original inequality is ended, the religious justification for it persists, leading modern believers to actually wish for a return to the brutal conditions of the past. The modern Christians who are pining for slavery, if transported back a few hundred years, would almost certainly find kindred spirits in the Christians who told the real slaves of those eras to be grateful and accept their lot.
My flesh crawls every time I read quotes like the above. It takes a seriously warped set of values to seek to exchange freedom and independence for obedience and servility. That entire arrangement is a relic of a past, savage era; it has always served as an apologetic for evil and tyranny, and we should be glad to see it swept away. Human beings cannot be owned, and we are not possessions to be bought or sold or traded around.
But as much as I would not want to be a slave, even less would I want to be anyone’s master, not even a kind and benevolent master. Rather than have people cower and cringe on their knees, I would help them to stand on their own two feet. And in place of the degrading, demeaning worldview that encourages people to think of themselves as property, bought and branded like cattle, I would offer them this advice: You are a human being, a free creature of inherent dignity and worth. You have the ability to choose for yourself and make your own way through life. Your shackles are of your own making, and you can discard them at any time. Trust in yourself, and you will find a life that is far more liberating and wonderful.