Giving the moon the finger

It seems whenever the question of slavery and the Bible comes up, everybody starts to get their fundie on. Even people usually far-removed from the fundamentalist and evangelical subcultures start using some of its more dubious tools — like the vivisection-by-concordance approach to Bible study. Yes, concordances are helpful, and this can be a fruitful approach, but only if studying the index is not seen as the equivalent of, or a substitute for, reading the book.

In this case, actually, you'd be better served by reading the Table of Contents than by reading the index: "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Num …"

Wait, what was that second one?

Right, Exodus. The title of that book is the first and last biblical word on the subject of slavery.

Exodus definitively establishes the motif and the trajectory. Liberation starts here. But it does not end here.

The Exodus story provides refrains that echo all through scripture: "You were once slaves in Egypt," "the Lord brought you out of slavery in Egypt." This refrain is the basis for much that follows in the law and the prophets. You were once slaves in Egypt, so we're going to practice liberation every Sabbath year and every Jubilee. You were once slaves in Egypt, so breaking every yoke is what religion is all about. And further along this trajectory, You were once slaves in Egypt but I brought you out, so you're going to love your neighbor and even love your enemies.

The Exodus is, to borrow an image from Buddhism, a finger pointing at the moon. Measuring the length and the limits of that finger misses the, well, point. Woolman and Wilberforce understood this. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this. Bob Marley understood this.

So if you've an interest in this subject — what the Bible says about slavery — you need to do more than study the finger. You need to look where it's pointing.

  • 15% Super Chicken

    The other 15% is my psychic baggage.

  • indifferent children

    also, i’m pretty sure that almost any religion that was around during ancient times involves a god that, at one point at least, tacitly allowed slavery. i don’t think this is a very good reason to be atheist.
    I think that something of value comes from showing at least a toleration of slavery in the Bible, not that one should become an atheist, but that one *can be* both an atheist and a moral person. There are too many fundamentalists (not on this forum, but in the wild) who say that Scripture is the only source of morality. If these people find slavery to be immoral, and admit that the Bible does not ban slavery, then it means that they have found an extra-scriptural source for their moral stance. If they can do this, then it must be possible for atheists to also be moral.

  • Fraser

    Fascinating discussion.
    Ako has a point that legal banning of slavery may only eliminate the practice in name only. After the Civil War, some communities tried requiring all African-Americans to deposit labor contracts with a work registry; the contracts could then be sold (with renewal at the owners option) at which point the laborers would be bound to work for their employers indefinitely, but as nominally free people, they didn’t have to be fed or housed the way slave owners had to.

  • nieciedo

    I think that something of value comes from showing at least a toleration of slavery in the Bible, not that one should become an atheist, but that one *can be* both an atheist and a moral person. There are too many fundamentalists (not on this forum, but in the wild) who say that Scripture is the only source of morality. If these people find slavery to be immoral, and admit that the Bible does not ban slavery, then it means that they have found an extra-scriptural source for their moral stance. If they can do this, then it must be possible for atheists to also be moral.
    That is true, although another likely result is that the fundamentalist will reconsider his or her opinion on slavery.
    Ultimately, what DOES make something moral or immoral? We each pick something that we consider the highest good and base our decisions on that. Joe could say that the Bible tolerates slavery, so slavery is not immoral. Sue could say that she considers life the highest good, so she opposes abortion and euthanasia but also war and supports gun control and animal rights. She also then considers that slavery could be moral so long as the owner does not kill the slave or otherwise cause his death. Pete could believe that the Aryan race is the highest good and that anything that benefits the Aryan race is moral. Since the slave labor of inferior races benefits the Aryan race, it is moral.

  • Jesurgislac

    nieciedo: Sue could say that she considers life the highest good, so she opposes abortion
    Only if she was very stupid or very evil or both.
    But other than that, yes: bigots never self-identify as bigots, because the opinions they hold about (black people) (women) (gay people) (Jews) are always self-evidently correct opinions, not bigoted opinions…


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