The Confederacy: A Christian Theocracy

I’ve been perusing an issue of CSA News, the newsletter of a Kansas creationist group, written by a charming fellow named Tom Willis who believes that supporters of evolution should be denied the right to vote. Willis also says that “the facts warrant the violent expulsion of all evolutionists from civilized society” and apparently sees nothing strange about believing that evolution inspired both socialism and predatory capitalism, as well as both right-wing fascism and left-wing communism. But there’s a different evil he attributes to evolution that I want to talk about today.

[Evolution] was also a major justification in the defense of slavery in the 1800′s against Christian opponents.

Yes, he really says this. One would think Mr. Willis might have noticed that the places where slavery was most prominent were also the places where evolution historically and still today has encountered the greatest resistance. Evidently, he expects us to believe those slaveholding Southern states had an abrupt change of heart after the Civil War and went from being fervent supporters of evolution to staunch opponents virtually overnight.

But never mind that. Against Mr. Willis’ ludicrous claim that defenders of slavery were motivated by evolution, let’s see what justifications were actually invoked by the slaveholding Confederate States of America.

Ed Brayton cites the famous “Cornerstone Speech”, delivered by CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens, who said that abolitionists “were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal”:

With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system… It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of his ordinances, or to question them. For his own purposes, he has made one race to differ from another, as he has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”

I would add the following sentiment from the CSA’s President, Jefferson Davis, who said that slavery

was established by decree of Almighty God… it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation… it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.

The CSA as a country took these sentiments to heart, which is why they made their official motto “Deo vindice” – “God is our defender”. Notably, their motto was not “Darwin vindice“. The Confederate constitution, unlike the U.S. Constitution, also directly invoked the blessings of God.

These views carried down to the Confederate military officers who led the battle for secession. The Confederate general Leonidas Polk was a bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Louisiana. Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a fervent Presbyterian whose nickname was “Deacon Jackson”. Supposedly, both Jackson and Confederate general William Rosecrans were hesitant to fight on Sundays [actually, Rosecrans was a Union general —Ed.]. Polk also baptized two other Confederate generals, John Bell Hood and Joseph Johnston, who converted during the war.

Robert E. Lee himself, commander of the Confederate army, was a devout believer who at one point served as president of the Rockridge Bible Society, of which Stonewall Jackson was also a member. Lee’s views on slavery are more complicated than some of his fellow Confederates, but insofar as he considered it an evil, he apparently considered it an evil to whites, not blacks, and thought that blacks were “immeasurably better off” enslaved in America than free in Africa.

The Confederacy as a whole was extremely religious. The Confederate army experienced a massive religious revival in 1863, about which CSA army chaplain John William Jones wrote a book called Christ in the Camp which estimates that over 150,000 soldiers were converted. (No corresponding wave of abolitionist sentiment seems to have arisen.) Confederate soldier John Dooley wrote a letter home that said:

Perhaps this is the night for prayer meeting, for the parsons, taking advantage of this period of calm, are indefatigable in their efforts to draw the soldiers together to sing psalms and assist at prayer. Hundreds and thousands respond to their call and the woods resound for miles around with the unscientific but earnest music of the rough veterans of Lee’s army. In doleful contrast to the more enlivening notes of the initiated, the chorus of the ‘Mourners’ may often be recognized; for conversions among the non-religious members of the army of Lee are of daily occurrence, and when they establish themselves upon the ‘Mourners Bench’, it is evident to all how deep and loud is their repentance. There is something very solemn in these immense choruses of earnest voices, and there are, I am sure, hundreds of these honest soldiers truly sincere in believing that they are offering their most acceptable service to God.

Only in delusional fantasies like those of Tom Willis was the Confederacy led by evolutionists. In reality, the CSA was a deeply religious if not theocratic nation. It based its defense of slavery on Christianity and a no doubt widespread and sincere belief in God. One supposes that creationists, who are practiced at rejecting vast amounts of evidence as a matter of course, may have trained themselves to ignore all this in an effort to substitute their preferred version of reality.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Justin

    And don’t forget that On the Origin of Species was published in 1859 and slavery abolished (at least in the US) in 1865.

    Just how many generations of slaveowners even heard of Charles Darwin? Even if you are talking merely about slavery in the US (and not throughout world history) the number isn’t that large.

    BTW, I have been a fan of your site for a while. Excellent job!

  • Aethertrekker

    Excellent post. Robert Ingersoll was one evolutionist who supported the abolition of slavery.

  • gboo

    Confederate general William Rosecrans

    Rosecrans was Federal. Where did you do your research? Is the glorious English language your native tongue?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    He wasn’t the only one. In fact, Susan Jacoby points out the freethinkers were the most important voices at the forefront of equal rights for slaves and for women all during that time period.

    Freethinkers

  • Polly

    “Stonewall” Jackson et. al. weren’t REAL Christians(TM). duh.

    When I look at the Civil War I tend to focus on the states’ rights issue and the economic imperatives that drove the institution of slavery and consequently drove the religions justifications for it.

    Nevertheless, the fact that religion abetted rather than hindered institutionalized slavery demostrates how, if not corrupt in and of itself (and it certainly is IMO), the Bible’s words lend themselves quite naturally to any evil purpose. Especially when it involves the abuse by the authorities which are established by god everyhwere to do his will.

    I’m sure abolitionists used the Bible as a reference, too but, I recall a lot more talk about the Constitution and natural ideas of justice coming frome their side. Maybe that’s my own bias.

    I find it amazing that Canaanites were assumed to be black when they were most likely Mediterranean people who were racially no different from god’s “Chosen People.” (I wonder if it’s that same stigma that influences Xians’ minds today regarding the Palestinians, metaphorically?)

  • Matt M.

    Regarding the religious beliefs of Southerners, those developed partly as a way to justify slavery. Historian Mark Cobb’s great book Away Down South covers Southern identity from the colonial period to recent times. In the beginning the North was the most religious, but circuit riders and other preachers began moving South before the Civil War. One of the reasons preachers were so successful in the South is they gave moral legitimacy to slave holding.

    Evolution never figured into it unless you count social darwinism among wealthy whites during The New South era where Jim Crow was the rule. After Reconstruction society begins to divide along class lines rather than race, along with the rise of labor unions. However wealthy whites shift the discussion along racial lines to kill the rising labor movement.

  • http://www.theinfinityprogram.com Kevin

    “You [the American South] suck. Seriously, you do. You can’t even admit that you were on the wrong side of the Civil War. You use out-of-context quotes to smear Lincoln endlessly, and you spout voluminous bullshit about how you seceded over all kinds of reasons other than slavery, even though any idiot can read the Southern Declarations of Secession and see that you did secede over slavery. The Texas Declaration repeatedly attacked the abolitionists and praised slavery as ‘Divine Law‘, for fuck’s sake. And Mississippi’s Declaration said ‘Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery–the greatest material interest of the world.‘ How can you Southerners move forward if you insist on lying about your past? Hell, even the Germans admit to their past evils….”— Michael Wong, “1-Minute Blurbs About Everything” (2007)

    Emphasis added.

  • TimJ

    Excellent and informative post, as usual. At the risk of beating a dead horse…I guess the North were using iron chariots? (Sorry..it just seems this iron chariot thing is too funny pass up at times. Or maybe I haven’t finished my coffee yet :) ).

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    TimJ, the North did not have iron chariots, but they did have a lot more railroads, which presumably were made from iron, so they had the 19th century equivalent.

    The thing is, Darwin’s Origin of the Species did not even come out until 1859, and even then it takes a while for the ideas to be disseminated. The infamous Dred Scott decision preceded it by two years.

    Tom Willis is an Idiot with a capital I!

  • Brad

    Willis’ article ends with this very telling statement:

    I have no expectations that such a proposal will ever be implemented, for the simple reason that delusion is ordained by God to reign until Christ returns.

    And there’s also an ad at the very end which says:

    Real Scientists Just Say NO!

    Wow. I think this quote from Michael Savage applies here: “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”

  • Polly

    …I guess the North were using iron chariots?

    Hehehe…Nice.

  • Joffan

    Thanks Tommykey – I was just thinking that the timing was all wrong, and that an insignificant number of people would have read and understood the Origin of Species by the time of the Civil War.

  • Anony

    “There was little immediate attention to this announcement of the theory; after the paper was published in the August journal of the society, it was reprinted in several magazines and there were some reviews and letters, but the president of the Linnean remarked in May 1859 that the year had not been marked by any revolutionary discoveries.”

    Somehow, the confederates got wind of it when it hadn’t even made it in many scientific circles, realized that it had merit and systematically incorporated it into their ideology in a matter of….um months? The states began secession on March 4, 1961. Well that date isn’t really relevant since slavery had been defended far longer than that. The fact is though that the public’s knowledge of Darwin’s ideas was about as profound as the modern public’s understanding of string theory.

  • durandal_1707

    There’s also the simple fact that On the Origin of Species was published in 1859 – just six years before slavery was abolished in the U.S. If Darwinian evolution was evoked as a defense of the then-legal practice of slavery, it only could have been used for the last six years of an institution that had been legal in North America for over two centuries. How could it be a “major justification”? Clearly there had been other well-established rationales (economic, racial and religious) used by slavery proponents to fend off abolition, if evolution was used at all as a justification it would merely be supplementary to those other arguments. And, for good measure, suppose the newfangled theory of evolution did actually supplant those other arguments as a foundational argument for slavery: if so, it obviously wasn’t very effective or persuasive as six years later the practice of slavery was abolished.

    But I don’t think we need to go that far. All we need to do is ask for some proof that slavery apologists of the 19th century invoked Darwin in their rhetoric. And then we can watch Mr. Willis and his fellow anti-”evolutionists” give the run-around as to why they can’t find one quote but how they still feel justified to keep making outright libelous statements.

    In the meantime, here’s an interesting statement from slavery apologist Benjamin Palmer’s “Thanksgiving Sermon”:

    Last of all, in this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and religion. The abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic.

  • velkyn

    well, we all know that the facts mean nothing to many many Christians and other believers. This idiot is just one more in the chain.

  • Silence

    I’m thinking that rather than evolution itself, a more logical and factually correct idea to actually make that proposition even remotely believable is that of scientific rascism. It was a somewhat popular idea to justify the treatment and even the continuation of slavery, citing usually ostensibly scientific findings in an attempt to de-humanize the perceptions of the intended group of people [in this case, the African American's]. And while I’m sure ideas of evolution came up as more scientific backing for this type of rascism, I’m fairly certain the examples presented were pre-Darwinian and were drastically different, both in theory and in ethical reasoning from modern accepted evolutionary theory. So its not very much of a defense to be using anyway, eh?

  • http://www.synapticplastic.blogspot.com InTheImageOfDNA

    In his concluding paragraph, Willis states: “But, of course, I myself, am not deluded.”

    And he doth protest too much.

  • Samuel Skinner

    Dang, durandal got it first! There was a belief that black people were created seperately by God, but most Southerners didn’t us it because it conflicted with biblical literalism.

    Is there any defense of slavery that has not invoked “divine order”? Unless you have a society that is extremely callous you can’t get away with “it means we don’t have to work” for long.

  • http://www.synapticplastic.blogspot.com InTheImageOfDNA

    Wow. I did some browsing of CSA’s website and found this:

    http://www.csama.org/csanews/nws200809.pdf

    Some snippets:

    ” -Since evolutionists are liars and most do not really believe
    evolution we could employ truth serum or water-boarding
    to obtain confessions of evolution rejection. But, this
    should, at most, result in parole, because, like Muslims,
    evolutionist religion permits them to lie if there is any benefit
    to them.

    – An Evolutionist Colony in Antarctica could be a promising
    option. Of course inspections would be required to prevent
    too much progress. They might invent gunpowder.

    – A colony on Mars would prevent gunpowder from harming
    anyone but their own kind, in the unlikely event they turned
    out to be intelligent enough to invent it.”

    This guy is a self-parody. I’m just surprised he isn’t spelling Darwin’s theory “evilution.”

  • lpetrich

    And defending slavery wasn’t just rhetoric — Southern-state politicians made a big issue about protection of slavery, pushing the Fugitive Slave Act and forcing the free-state politicians to make various free-state/slave-state compromises. The Fugitive Slave Act was especially galling, because some free northern-state blacks were kidnapped and sent southward on the pretext that they were escaped slaves.

    And the churches? Susan Jacoby describes how many of the Northern ones were unwilling to commit to rejection of slavery, not wanting to disrupt ties with their Southern counterparts or some other such excuses. But when the Civil War started, those churches became jingoistically pro-Union.

  • TimJ

    Polly, Thank you, thank you. I’m here every Friday, try the fish! Tommykey, you make an excellent point. It has been argued that one key factor in the Northern win was more developed industrialization, which of course includes railroads.

    Part of the background information that I can see behind the original is that the Bible is more or less (overly simplistic terms in my quickie off the top of my head analysis, of course. But I think there is a kernel of truth in what I’m suggesting.) a Rorschach test of morality. It is such a hodge podge set of conflicting moral suggestions (or commands) that one sees whatever one wants to see and is consistent with their own set of preexisting morals (effectively ignoring the rest). Plus morality has evolved over time (slavery is pretty much condemned these days, and rightly so — see Dawkin’s argument about the changing zeitgeist) and one can pick out the bits of the Bible which support what we would consider superior (more effective at helping people be happy?) morals as well. There were some Christian abolitionist groups as well (though it escapes me at the moment what specific parts of the Bible they used to “support” their claims). The danger, of course, is that it is too easy see only what one wants to see (supporting many outrageous and/or immoral claims) and claim absolute authority beyond the reach of reason and evidence. But of course, I’m preaching to the choir here. :)

    Well, back to work..I wrote quickly so, hopefully at least some of it will make sense. :)

  • Polly

    “Evolutionists on Mars?”
    Whoa wait a minute. Are we being taken in by a parody?
    This has got Poe’s Law written all over it.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    A few comments:

    gboo:

    Rosecrans was Federal. Where did you do your research? Is the glorious English language your native tongue?

    You’re right, that was my error. Rosecrans was indeed a Union general, not a Confederate. I believe the rest of the piece stands as adequate evidence both of my point and of my fluency in the English language.

    Tommykey:

    The thing is, Darwin’s Origin of the Species did not even come out until 1859, and even then it takes a while for the ideas to be disseminated. The infamous Dred Scott decision preceded it by two years.

    Heh. An excellent point; that reminds me of the creationists who’ve claimed that Origin of Species (which was published in 1859) was a great influence on The Communist Manifesto (which was published in 1848). Evidently, Darwin’s nefarious powers included the invention of a functioning time machine.

    Polly:

    I’m sure abolitionists used the Bible as a reference, too but, I recall a lot more talk about the Constitution and natural ideas of justice coming frome their side. Maybe that’s my own bias.

    No, I think you’re right. The Bible contains many, many clear endorsements and approvals of slavery, but few if any verses that could even potentially be read as a negation of it. It’s no surprise that anti-abolitionists quoted it so often – it was their weapon in that struggle.

    “Evolutionists on Mars?”
    Whoa wait a minute. Are we being taken in by a parody?
    This has got Poe’s Law written all over it.

    Bizarre as Willis’ ravings sound, I assure you that he’s for real. He was one of the principal architects of a creationism flare-up in Kansas in 1999, when the state board of education temporarily eliminated evolution from its curriculum.

  • Alex Weaver

    Actually, I think the only verses in the Bible that could be quoted to support abolitionist arguments are the “love thy neighbor as thyself” ones.

  • http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com/ Robert Madewell

    Willis is conducting “Creationist Safaris”. Some of them are astronomy safaris. He’s actually not that far from me (200 miles). Maybe, I’ll drop in on one of the astronomy safaris.

  • TimJ

    Ah..well that explains my inability to think of any anti-slavery verses. I mean it has been quite a few years since reading the Bible and still seem able to out-quote many Christians on it. But I couldn’t think of any actual even minor suggestions against slavery.

  • Jennifer A. Burdoo

    One of my favorite scenes in the movie “Gettysburg” features Confederate Brigadier Armistead, a devout Christian, mentioning Darwin favorably to other commanders who disagree with him.

    IIRC, there was a religious awakening all across the country in the years before the Civil War, in the North as well as in the South — particularly the Shaker phenomenon. Union troops baptized each other as frequently as the Rebels did — although, on the other hand, they had more Jews in their ranks and were even the first army to field official Jewish chaplains. The Union was generally more secular, however, which fed (and still feeds) into the inferiority complex of so-called “oppressed” Xians. They think it’s hard being a Christian in the United States? Try being an atheist sometime.

  • Leum

    The argument that arguments for slavery didn’t stem from Christianity comes from the general trend of exceptionalism. The apologist isn’t arguing that Christianity isn’t pro-slavery, QED Christians didn’t use the Bible to support slavery; he or she is arguing that slavery is bad, Christianity is good, QED Christianity wasn’t used to defend slavery.

    The tendency to count the hits and ignore the misses really irks me, in part because it’s so blatant. You can’t call someone out on a logical fallacy if he or she proudly admits it. Once someone argues outright that there can be, by definition, no argument against Christianity based on the bad behavior of Christians, but that the good behavior of Christians is evidence for the truth of the faith, all you can really do is walk away. Christianity has been, once again, safely rescued from the perils of evidence-based thinking.

  • Alex Weaver

    The argument that arguments for slavery didn’t stem from Christianity comes from the general trend of exceptionalism. The apologist isn’t arguing that Christianity isn’t pro-slavery, QED Christians didn’t use the Bible to support slavery; he or she is arguing that slavery is bad, Christianity is good, QED Christianity wasn’t used to defend slavery.

    …which, to me at least, is a mindset that belongs in the same category as “division by zero.” Thanks for reminding us of this; it’s too easy to forget. x.x

  • mikespeir

    Actually, this is the strongest statement in the Bible against slavery:

    1Co 7:21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.

    That’s it. Are you a slave? Don’t sweat it. However, if you can find a way to get free, do it.

    Some people point to the book of Philemon. But whether “Paul” is telling Philemon to actually free Onesimus is disputed.

    I will give Paul this. I don’t think he liked the institution of slavery. I’ll even grant partial credit to the argument that he didn’t see it as his mission so much to make the world a better place as to get people ready for the next. (I only give that credit because of the way he sincerely thought, not because I agree.) So, no, I wouldn’t have expected to see him leading abolitionist demonstrations through the streets of Rome. What makes him look bad is that he didn’t even condemn slavery to his own converts. Nowhere in any of his extant writings does he say anything resembling, “Slavery is wrong, wrong, wrong!” He might not have expected to sway the rulers of Rome, but why didn’t his “superior” Christian morality drive him to at least teach his followers how immoral it is?

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    And the “love thy neighbor” line isn’t anti-slavery per se, just anti-taking-your-neighbor-as-a-slave, with a very narrow definition of who is your neighbor and who isn’t.

  • Leum

    What makes him look bad is that he didn’t even condemn slavery to his own converts. Nowhere in any of his extant writings does he say anything resembling, “Slavery is wrong, wrong, wrong!” He might not have expected to sway the rulers of Rome, but why didn’t his “superior” Christian morality drive him to at least teach his followers how immoral it is?

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know how many early Christians would have owned slaves? My understanding is that most converts were not particularly wealthy, so maybe not enough Christians owned slaves for it to be worthwhile for Paul to condemn it.

  • mikespeir

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know how many early Christians would have owned slaves? My understanding is that most converts were not particularly wealthy, so maybe not enough Christians owned slaves for it to be worthwhile for Paul to condemn it.

    I can’t answer that specifically; however, I will point again to Philemon, who apparently was wealthy. It’s possible that in verses 15 & 16 Paul is telling him to free Onesimus. (Although the “more than a slave” may imply that Paul meant Onesimus to return to Philemon as not just a slave, but also as a Christian brother. Otherwise, why would Onesimus be returning at all?) The thing for sure here, though, is that Paul made no blanket condemnation of slavery in that little epistle. (Or anywhere else.) That’s curious in light of the supposition that Christian morality is superior.

  • mike

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know how many early Christians would have owned slaves? My understanding is that most converts were not particularly wealthy, so maybe not enough Christians owned slaves for it to be worthwhile for Paul to condemn it.

    Doesn’t the NT condemn plenty of other things that most early Christians weren’t doing?

  • MS Quixote

    1 Timothy 1:10 clearly denunciates slavery.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    You’re going to need a little more than that, Quixote. According to Strong’s, the word used in that passage means one of two things: one who unjustly enslaves free men (i.e., a kidnapper), or one who steals the slaves of others and resells them. It’s not a condemnation of slavery in general, only of people who fail to follow the established rules for slavery.

  • Leum

    MS Quixote, I’m not so sure. It denounces slave traders or enslavers, but not the practice itself. The New American Standard Version* and a few other translations translate the word as kidnappers, and quite a few translations list one (slave trader or kidnapper), then have a footnote stating the other as an alternate translation.

    *I don’t know how reputable the NASV is, it’s just the first translation I found that disagreed with the translation of slave traders or enslavers.

    Note: I just counted and some version of “translate” occurs six times in my post. I need another word.

  • MS Quixote

    Strong’s says:

    1) a slave-dealer, kidnapper, man-stealer

    a) of one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery

    b) of one who steals the slaves of others and sells them

    To say that slavery is the unjust reduction of free men is a condemnation of the practice.

    However, I concur that if b) is the correct sense underlying 1 Tim 1:10, your point that I would need more is valid. b) is a pretty hard sell, though…

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    To say that slavery is the unjust reduction of free men is a condemnation of the practice.

    That’s incorrect. Many ancient societies, including those that followed the Bible, had rules defining the circumstances under which people could be sold into slavery – i.e., they were captured as prisoners of war, or had a debt they couldn’t pay back. Given that understanding, this verse would not be a condemnation of slavery in general, but simply of people who broke the rules by kidnapping free men and selling them into slavery under circumstances other than those the law allowed.

  • MS Quixote

    This verse would not be a condemnation of slavery in general, but simply of people who broke the rules by kidnapping free men and selling them into slavery under circumstances other than those the law allowed.

    I understand your statement better now, and have great respect for the historical/grammatical method. But if we take sense a), we are still agreeing that Paul condemns slavery outside the rules. This is prima facie evidence of his dislike for slavery in general, as buttressed by the Philemon passage.

    I don’t know of any evidence in the text of the NT to support the conclusion that this is a condemnation of people breaking the rules of slavery. It seems inferred from the historical context alone. Why should I believe it is what Paul had in mind over the clearer, direct meaning of the words on the page?

    Let me get in the disclaimer that I am embarrassed by your OP. I detest Christian theocracy. It leads to slavery in many cases, and no honest Christian can deny that the Bible has been used for ill purposes. As you should know by now, I am as ardent in my suport of removing the church from politics as you guys are. Your OP is an excellent case in point.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    But if we take sense a), we are still agreeing that Paul condemns slavery outside the rules. This is prima facie evidence of his dislike for slavery in general, as buttressed by the Philemon passage.

    Well, first of all, let me interject that the evidence is fairly strong that the Pastoral epistles weren’t written by Paul.

    But set that aside for the moment. Whoever the author of 1 Timothy was, it seems clear that he wasn’t bothered by the idea of slavery in general. Here’s an indicative passage from chapter 6, verses 1-2:

    Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.

    These are not the words of an ardent abolitionist. On the contrary, he says that for slaves to disrespect their masters is equivalent to defaming God. He conspicuously does not say that Christian slave owners should free their slaves, but rather, urges those slaves to work all the harder to obey their master’s will.

  • MS Quixote

    EM,

    Setting aside the claim that Paul is not the author of the pastoral epistles, I pretty much agree with everything you have written. Spartacus is not the vision of the NT, nor is marching, protesting, or political involvement.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    This is prima facie evidence of his dislike for slavery in general, as buttressed by the Philemon passage.

    Or maybe it is evidence that he’s a rules-followin’ sort of guy (if he wrote it).

  • mikespeir

    1 Timothy 1:10 clearly denunciates slavery.

    No, this isn’t at all a clear condemnation of slavery. It’s a condemnation of kidnapping. Now, we can guess and assume that, among kidnapping for other reasons, kidnapping for the purpose enslaving someone would be covered under the general prohibition of this verse. But it certainly doesn’t condemn slavery, per se.

    Furthermore, the point I and others here have made takes quite a hunk out of the armor of this defense of biblical morality. Why would “Paul” condemn the taking of slaves but nowhere condemn the owning of slaves? Enslaving is evil but owning slaves is not? I can only imagine the kind of tortured reasoning that would be required to make that believable!

  • MS Quixote

    Now, we can guess and assume that

    There’s no conjecture involved here. The Greek has the clear meaning of slavery in some sense. The argument is whether it is “slavery by the rules” as EM argues, or a more direct condemnation. To y’all’s credit, I hadn’t been exposed previously to that argument, so last night was time well spent.

    To suppose that it is kidnapping in the modern sense is to fall victim to the 400 year old English of the KJV, as recapitulated in the NASV as pointed out by Leum.

    Enslaving is evil but owning slaves is not?

    My point exactly. Beware the argument from silence :)

    I can only imagine the kind of tortured reasoning that would be required to make that believable!

    C’mon Mike, you’re better than this :)

    Or maybe it is evidence that he’s a rules-followin’ sort of guy

    He’s a rules followin’ guy for sure, my friend.

    Again, thanks to all for the stimulating exercise. Why is it again that I have to attend the atheist website to get rational discourse? Now, I have to go deal with the giant tree Ike placed on top of my house. I’ll check back later….

  • mikespeir

    My point exactly. Beware the argument from silence :)

    You mystify me, MS! How does this help your case? Is it not perfectly reasonable to expect Paul to have made a moral point in opposition to ownership of slaves? Why didn’t he? On the contrary, as Ebon pointed out, Paul emphatically played into the slaveholders’ hands by telling slaves tey must obey their masters.

    Not everything that looks like a fallacy is. Sometimes silence can be louder than a gong. An argument from silence can be fallacious–if silence can reasonably be expected. But Paul is notoriously noisy about what he thinks is right and wrong. I simply would not expect anyone who sees slave holding as the atrocity we do today to have no negative comment about the institution–especially when he has a reputation for blatantly pointing out what he believes to be right and wrong. I am more than justified in supposing that silence implies that Paul didn’t see it as the evil we do; ergo, his morality was inferior to our own, at least as regards slavery.

    C’mon Mike, you’re better than this :)

    Is that an argument? If so, please condescend to this feeble mind and explain how.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    He’s a rules followin’ guy for sure, my friend.

    And, there don’t seem to be rules pre-established against slavery in any other book in the OT or NT that Paul would be following.

  • MS Quixote

    You mystify me, MS!

    Puzzlin’ you is the nature of my game. Don’t know if you’re old enough to get that one, but couldn’t refuse it. How does it help my case? It doesn’t much, but your statement “Enslaving is evil but owning slaves is not?” implies that people who know that enslaving is evil–1 Tim 1:10–also follow through with the conclusion that owning them is evil as well.

    I don’t think the argument from silence is a strict logical fallacy; it’s simply one of the weakest forms of argumentation because it requires too much assumption. In addition, it leaves the arguer open to rhetorical moves such as this one:

    “especially when he has a reputation for blatantly pointing out what he believes to be right and wrong.”

    I guess since he didn’t point out that it was right, we can assume he didn’t believe it was….

    I am more than justified in supposing that silence implies that Paul didn’t see it as the evil we do;

    The only thing I can agree that you are justified in supposing is that he is not the equivalent of a modern day activist or a 19th century abolitionist. He certainly did not provide you with the material from EM’s OP, for example. The rest is speculation based on the fact that he did not challenge the status quo or lobby for societal change for the institution, at least politically.

    Is that an argument?

    No. It’s an unsubstantiated conclusion. Mike, you’re smart enough and argue well enough that you don’t need to resort to insults to emphsaize your points.

  • mikespeir

    MS,

    BTW, I turn 53 in a few days. Apparently, it takes more than age.

    I don’t think the argument from silence is a strict logical fallacy; it’s simply one of the weakest forms of argumentation because it requires too much assumption.

    It often does require some assumption. On the other hand, I believe I’ve supported my assumption well enough.

    The only thing I can agree that you are justified in supposing is that he is not the equivalent of a modern day activist or a 19th century abolitionist. He certainly did not provide you with the material from EM’s OP, for example. The rest is speculation based on the fact that he did not challenge the status quo or lobby for societal change for the institution, at least politically.

    I dealt with that above. Again, I wouldn’t have expected Paul to be an activist against slavery in the modern sense. But he lectured his churches constantly about morality. Apparently, slavery wasn’t abhorrent enough to him to warrant such a lecture.

    Mike, you’re smart enough and argue well enough that you don’t need to resort to insults to emphsaize your points.

    The line of yours that I quoted, which incited the comment above, seemed insulting to me. My reply to it, not an insult itself, was my way of pointing that out.

  • MS Quixote

    And, there don’t seem to be rules pre-established against slavery in any other book in the OT or NT that Paul would be following.

    I think Leviticus 25:39-43 would be a good example.

  • ComplexStuff

    I believe Tom Willis has muddied the waters (one suspects purposefully) in order to equate modern-day Evolutionsists with mid-19th century anthropologists.

    Unfortunately Ebonmuse, I don’t think you’ve only responded in kind. Indeed, I think your answer merely swings the pendulum back the other way by trying to argue that the whole CSA opposition to emancipation was based on religious beliefs. It is also a willful misrepresentation of not only the other party’s arguments, but also the facts.

    The many confused strands of both sides’ arguments need to be more thoroughly picked apart.

    Willis begin by stating, amongst many other mis-interpretations and outright mis-truths, that: “[Evolution] was also a major justification in the defense of slavery in the 1800′s against Christian opponents.”

    Noooooo…
    It is true that one of the (many) justifications for slavery was the idea of the savage (in this context this would be interpreted as ‘black’) man requiring the civilizing control of the civilized (‘white’) man.

    It true that this idea of the savage was an Enlightenment (i.e. secular) one, although the theory of natural justice (that everone has a natural place in the world, some rightly and naturally beneath others) is attributable to Plato.

    It is also true that the first anti-slavery organization was founded by Christians (Quakers in 1783 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery).

    Sadly, from there Mr Willis appears to have put 2 and 2 together and got 5…

    As Polly rightly, I believe, pointed out above, “economic imperatives [...] drove the institution of slavery”. There were supporters of slavery that used Christianity to justify their position just as there were supporters of slavery that used secular ideas to justify it. They all made their decisions first and then looked for a way to defend them.

    Ebonmuse, your arguments are good as far as they go but, to mind, miss the above point and thus fall into the same fallacious pit as Willis’. The predominantly Christian CSA co-opted biblical verses to justify themselves after the fact. Although there doesn’t appear to be any condemnation of slavery per se in the Bible, I don’t believe the CSA based their support of slavery solely biblical teachings as you assert at the end of your piece. You confuse the excuse for the belief (which in reality is immaterial as it played, no role in shaping the belief) with the basis of the belief. Had the CSA been predominantly secular I’m sure they’d have found ample justification for their anti-abolishionist beliefs in theories of natural justice. The CSA’s main reason for opposing emancipation was the fact that the Confederate States’ economies wer based almost exclusively on their plantations, which need slaves.

    Yes, Willis makes some dumb arguments, and you are right to refute them. But you proceed to far in trying to blame everything on Christianity and end up in an equally unsustainable position.

  • ComplexStuff

    *Apologies for all the spelling mistakes above*

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    That the rules in Leviticus are much more accommodating for fellow Jews is nothing new, but they don’t say not to take or hold slaves.

  • Leum

    Sorry Quixote, but I don’t buy that. Leviticus 25:39-43 forbids the enslavement of fellow Israelites, not enslavement in general. However, Deuteronomy 23:15-16 does seem to at least partially condemn slavery, so you may have a point.

    Out of curiosity, does it really matter to you if the Bible condemns slavery? I mean, you are clearly opposed to it, so what difference does it make to you? Would, for example, an explicit approval of slavery by Paul make you pro-slavery, incline you to disbelieve the Epistles (or NT in general), or have no effect on you?

  • MS Quixote

    Apparently, it takes more than age.

    I guess so. It takes a familiarity with the Rolling Stones. BTW-happy birthday.

    The line of yours that I quoted, which incited the comment above, seemed insulting to me. My reply to it, not an insult itself, was my way of pointing that out.

    If I said anything that is insulting, I apologize. It’s just not necessary to call someone’s reasoning tortured to advance an argument, and often it achieves the opposite.

  • MS Quixote

    Out of curiosity, does it really matter to you if the Bible condemns slavery? I mean, you are clearly opposed to it, so what difference does it make to you? Would, for example, an explicit approval of slavery by Paul make you pro-slavery, incline you to disbelieve the Epistles (or NT in general), or have no effect on you?

    Leum,

    I have several reasons for being here. One is to learn atheism from atheists, rather than from a Christian Polemic. In order to do this, I believe I have to feel the weight of your arguments in their strongest and most persuasive forms–and not just to throw up objections to them, but to absorb and understand them to the extent that I could argue them forcefully myself. You guys seldom disappoint. Cases in point would be the nuance that EM added to 1 Tim 1:10 last night, or Mike’s strong point about Paul’s constant lecturing.

    Yes, an explicit approval of slavery would cause me trouble with the NT. I assume you folks are fairly intellectually honest. Your reading of the NT seems to reveal to you an approval of slavery or at least an acceptance of it; hence, you find fault with it. I figure I would feel the same with the same understanding of the text.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    ComplexStuff:

    As Polly rightly, I believe, pointed out above, “economic imperatives [...] drove the institution of slavery”. There were supporters of slavery that used Christianity to justify their position just as there were supporters of slavery that used secular ideas to justify it. They all made their decisions first and then looked for a way to defend them.

    I don’t doubt that, but I think it’s orthogonal to my point.

    Yes, it’s certainly true that economic factors were the primary underlying motivation for slavery. Obviously, the South didn’t read the Bible, decide it commanded the institution of slavery, and then set out to capture some slaves. As you say, they used the Bible to justify the institution of slavery because their economy depended on it.

    But what’s notable is that they did use the Bible as a defense of the practice. Their religious beliefs, which I have no doubt were deeply felt and sincere, did not persuade them that slavery was a moral evil outweighing whatever economic benefit it offered. On the contrary, those beliefs reinforced their conviction in the justice and rightness of slavery, providing a way to justify the practice both to themselves and to others.

    This historical fact is twofold support of the arguments that I and other atheists have been making: first, that religious texts and tradition often endorse terrible evils; and second, that evils which are defended in this way are far more tenacious and hard to root out than those given any other justification.

  • http://brian.carnell.com/ Brian Carnell

    A number of comments said evolution could not have had much influence on the slavery argument since Origin of Species wasn’t printed until 1859 and slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, just 6 years later.

    That argument simply won’t hold, however, as evolution as an idea has a long history that precedes Darwin. Darwin’s genius wasn’t conceiving of the idea of evolution, but rather for providing a scientific grounding for evolution in the idea of natural selection.

    Lamarck is generally credited without outlining the first systematic theory of evolution, and he did so in public lectures in 1800 and published his theory a few years later. Other thinkers before Lamarck had pondered/advocated the idea of some sort of evolutionary process dictated by natural laws rather than special creation.

  • ComplexStuff

    Ebonmuse,

    Yes, I agree, it was wrong that many Christians used the Bible as an excuse for their support of slavery. But, it is still important to maintain the distinction between excuses and bases of beliefs. So on your point that: “religious texts and tradition often endorse terrible evils”, I would still object: it’s true that they can be used almost post facto to justify belief that the evil was right, but in the next 2000 years I suspect secular texts and traditions will be likewise misused. You could interpret the Bible (or for comparison, Plato’s Republic) to defend almost anything you like. The fault wouldn’t lie in the text but in the reading of it.

    As for your point that: “evils which are defended in this way are far more tenacious and hard to root out than those given any other justification”. I, regrettably must agree. But perhaps that is because any attack on the evil can then be framed as an attack on the faith (as appears to happen frequently in the Muslim world at the mo).

    My point was that, in your original article, you appeared to overstep the mark between excuses and bases and that by doing so you gave ammo to apologists who would accuse you of the same kind of fanaticism of which you accuse them.

    Must close by saying that, by and large, I find your articles very well argued.

  • Leum

    Brian Carnell:

    Yes, theories similar to Darwin’s theory of evolution via natural selection were proposed, but most of the arguments about evolution being used to support slavery explicitly argue that principles like survival of the fittest and other specifically Darwinian mechanisms were used to support slavery. The argument isn’t that evolution removes morality, but that evolution via natural selection creates a particular morality that is pro-slavery.

    Not only that, but generally the arguments are made by people who call us “Darwinists,” so I see no reason not to take them at their word and assume they are referring to Darwinian evolution as outlined in The Origin of Species.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I would add that most pre-Darwinian evolutionary ideas, such as Lamarck’s, supported the idea of a “great chain of being”. It’s not hard to see how that false notion could be – and was – put to use by racists, who argued that white men were at a higher stage of development than other races. It was Charles Darwin who demolished this idea, since it is a fundamental tenet of evolutionary theory that no living thing is more highly evolved than any other. All human beings are members of the same species, and we are just one branch on the vast tree of life, not the crowning achievement of creation.

    ComplexStuff;

    You could interpret the Bible (or for comparison, Plato’s Republic) to defend almost anything you like. The fault wouldn’t lie in the text but in the reading of it.

    I really think that, in this case, you’re letting the Bible off too lightly. No “interpretation” is necessary to make the text endorse slavery – the text does endorse slavery, explicitly and repeatedly. It’s certainly possible that Southern slaveowners could have used a different text to justify the practice, but I would argue that it’s no accident they chose the Bible. It gave clear permission for slave ownership, and moreover, it presented this as the will of God himself. Certainly an irrational person can find justification in almost any text to support his beliefs, but to the degree that the text itself cooperates in that interpretation, it is itself culpable.

  • lpetrich

    As to the Bible vs. Plato’s Republic, we don’t have lots of militant Platonists running around waving Plato’s Dialogues at us and claiming that they are Absolute, Final Truth and and wanting Platonism to be a de facto state religion, if not a de jure one.

    In any case, despite the rather totalitarian and quasi-theocratic nature of his Republic, one has to admire Plato for having the guts to:

    1. Criticize his society’s religion as full of bad examples. After seeing excuse after excuse after excuse for the Bible, that is SO refreshing.

    2. Be honest enough to call his Republic’s religion a “royal lie”. Most people nowadays who claim that some religion is useful to believe in without being true are not nearly as honest as Plato and various other Greco-Roman writers.

  • ComplexStuff

    At Ipetrich:

    Despite his honesty, Plato was still advocating a lie to control the masses.

    As to your first point, he didn’t want to end religion, merely censor it for the furtherance of his own (dressed up at the Republic’s) ideals.

    Neither trait is admirable. The guy was a genius, but his ideas were often abhorrent. He was, I believe, the first advocate of eugenics – babies deemed weak would be left to die in his Republic. How many others (the church included) have taken ideas that were originally Platonic and used them to justify great evils?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I find it amusing that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, in their correspondence, ridiculed Plato and found it incredible that his name had achieved such authority.

    Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s Republic. I am wrong however in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading thro’ the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this? How the soi-disant Christian world indeed should have done it, is a piece of historical curiosity. But how could the Roman good sense do it?

  • bipolar2

    ** we pay a heavy price for supernaturalism **

    Slavery doesn’t get abolished out of humanitarian or religious concerns. Only after slavery becomes uneconomic does it disappear.

    Slavery on the other hand does not appear when cultures are not sufficiently able to produce economic surpluses.

    When the economic value of slavery disappears or such value never emerges, then meagre notions residing in ethics, and less so in religion can have some influence.

    It’s very hard to get rid of idealist ideology in American academic thought — but, you might at least read some of Marvin Harris to get a sense of his view, cultural materialism. (To differentiate it from dialectical materialism of Marx.) I’d suggest “Cannibals and Kings” (1977).

    You might look at “Atheist Manifesto” (2006) by Michel Onfray. He approaches the tenaciously presupposed idealism (the “collective dream work” as Harris calls it) of sociological and anthropological theory, but from a philosophical perspective.

    In this cultural backwater we’re so far from a post-supernaturalist worldview that nausea sets in. Millions of American fat-heads gorging on junk-food faith. It may be only by “good fortune” that the US rejects a dogmatic dominionist, Sarah Palin, as a stand-in the presidency.

    If the managerial irrationality of the Bush regime had not finally broken down in near economic collapse, the US might have capitulated to ultra-right xian religio-ideology. How easy it will be to create a Gulag Archipelago here.

    bipolar2 ©2008

  • Ryan

    Wow. I think this quote from Michael Savage applies here: “I reject your reality and substitute my own.”

    Brad, you mean ADAM Savage, the Mythbuster, not MICHAEL Savage, the raging moron conservative talk show host.

  • R.L. Stratford

    Nobody has yet commented that Charles Darwin himself, with all his family, was an ardent opponent of slavery, and denounced it in ‘The Voyage of the Beagle’, saying that he thanked God that he would never again visit a slave-country.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X