Mary Bird explains the ‘post-evangelical’ perspective on the Bible, in 1852

From Chapter IX of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which Mary Bird exhibits a wanton disregard for the literal text of scripture and therefore must be reclassified as a “post-evangelical.”

The senator smiled, as if he rather liked the idea of considering himself a sacrifice to his country.

“Well,” said his wife, after the business of the teatable was getting rather slack, “and what have they been doing in the Senate?”

Now, it was a very unusual thing for gentle little Mrs. Bird ever to trouble her head with what was going on in the house of the state, very wisely considering that she had enough to do to mind her own. Mr. Bird, therefore, opened his eyes in surprise, and said, “Not very much of importance.”

“Eliza in Mary Bird’s Kitchen,” by Hammatt Billings for the 1853 edition of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“Well; but is it true that they have been passing a law forbidding people to give meat and drink to those poor colored folks that come along? I heard they were talking of some such law, but I didn’t think any Christian legislature would pass it!”

“Why, Mary, you are getting to be a politician, all at once.”

“No, nonsense! I wouldn’t give a fip for all your politics, generally, but I think this is something downright cruel and unchristian. I hope, my dear, no such law has been passed.”

“There has been a law passed forbidding people to help off the slaves that come over from Kentucky, my dear; so much of that thing has been done by these reckless Abolitionists, that our brethren in Kentucky are very strongly excited, and it seems necessary, and no more than Christian and kind, that something should be done by our state to quiet the excitement.”

“And what is the law? It don’t forbid us to shelter those poor creatures a night, does it, and to give ’em something comfortable to eat, and a few old clothes, and send them quietly about their business?”

“Why, yes, my dear; that would be aiding and abetting, you know.”

‚Ķ Mrs. Bird rose quickly, with very red cheeks, which quite improved her general appearance, and walked up to her husband, with quite a resolute air, and said, in a determined tone, “Now, John, I want to know if you think such a law as that is right and Christian?”

“You won’t shoot me, now, Mary, if I say I do!”

“I never could have thought it of you, John; you didn’t vote for it?”

“Even so, my fair politician.”

“You ought to be ashamed, John! Poor, homeless, houseless creatures! It’s a shameful, wicked, abominable law, and I’ll break it, for one, the first time I get a chance; and I hope I shall have a chance, I do! Things have got to a pretty pass, if a woman can’t give a warm supper and a bed to poor, starving creatures, just because they are slaves, and have been abused and oppressed all their lives, poor things!”

“But, Mary, just listen to me. Your feelings are all quite right, dear, and interesting, and I love you for them; but, then, dear, we mustn’t suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment; you must consider it’s a matter of private feeling, — there are great public interests involved, — there is such a state of public agitation rising, that we must put aside our private feelings.”

“Now, John, I don’t know anything about politics, but I can read my Bible; and there I see that I must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the desolate; and that Bible I mean to follow.

“But in cases where your doing so would involve a great public evil — ”

“Obeying God never brings on public evils. I know it can’t. It’s always safest, all round, to do as He bids us.”

“Now, listen to me, Mary, and I can state to you a very clear argument, to show — ”

“O, nonsense, John! — you can talk all night, but you wouldn’t do it. I put it to you, John, — would you now turn away a poor, shivering, hungry creature from your door, because he was a runaway? Would you, now?”

Mary Bird has clearly been reading too much Rob Bell or something. How else to explain her utter disdain for the many biblical texts condoning slavery? And if she’s so concerned about comforting the desolate, why does she so callously ignore the sincere agitation of “our brethren in Kentucky”?

By elevating her personal feelings and emotions above the literal words of sacred scripture she makes herself God. Typical post-evangelical arrogance. …

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  • AnonymousSam

    The more things change~

  • Jas-nDye

    For the Evangelical gatekeepers, those verses apply. But mostly for the pre-born.

    Everybody else gets charity. If they’re lucky. And maybe jump through certain hoops.

  • AnonaMiss

    In case anyone wasn’t aware, there is currently a law forbidding giving aid to illegal immigrants, even leaving water out for them, in the desert along the US-Mexican border. People, including Tohono O’odham acting on their own reservation (and in accordance with the mandates of their flavor of Catholicism/traditional religion mix), have been jailed for violating this law.

    In contrast, there is a city ordinance in Tucson (which is near said border) which requires a set of businesses including gas stations & fast food to provide water to anyone who asks, free of charge, and without requiring any purchases (or ID). Because lawmakers rightly recognize that the Sonoran Desert is fucking hot, and letting someone suffer heatstroke just because they don’t have any money is not acceptable.

    Unless you’re a Mexican.

  • Katie

    ¬†The rule on water isn’t a city ordinance, its a state one.¬† Any business the sells beverages has to provide water free of charge, and an individual who refuses to provide water on request can, under certain circumstances be charged with reckless endangerment.

    As far as I know, providing water to people crossing the border isn’t and hasn’t been illegal per se, all of the prosecutions involved charging people who were leaving water out with littering.

    I’m not saying that the situation isn’t terrible, just correcting a few details.

  • dan

    “This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done–as I have always freely admitted I have done–in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right.”

    — John Brown

  • Rachel Held Evans

    Well this is weird. So I JUST, this very moment, read this very passage as I’m working my way through “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” by Noll….which has been profoundly eye-opening for me. The rhetorical devices used to support the “clearly biblical” case against abolition are painfully…shockingly…familiar. And I had to laugh when I got to this passage, having been told time and again by the Gospel Coalition, something to the effect of “Our feelings are all quite right, dear, and interesting, and I love you for them; but, then, dear, we mustn‚Äôt suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment.”¬†

    Thanks for posting this. 

  • Pete Enns

    Great book and an important idea: the crisis of slavery contributed to a crisis of the doctrine of Scripture as much as those nasty German biblical scholars and finding Babylonian creation myths on clay tablets. We need to start learning from our not too distant past.

  • Jessica_R

    And I’m very doubtful that the worst of the “let ’em die of thirst!” lot don’t then go by the Home Depot to pick up a few undocumented people waiting outside to take care of the lawn and gutters. Gotta keep the place up you know.

  • Mary

    “Your feelings are all quite right, dear, and interesting, and I love you for them; but, then, dear, we mustn‚Äôt suffer our feelings to run away with our judgment.”
    This is exactly what is wrong with the religious right. Cold-hearted bastards. They claim that the heart is evil and not to be trusted. I personally don’t trust anyone without a heart. That is what leads to evil.

  • Boze Herrington

    ¬†Wow. Perfect quote, Mary. That’s going on my Facebook.

  • summers-lad

    I’m sorry, but I disagree. Mary, unlike her husband,¬†was obeying the literal text of scripture. She was also obeying the spirit of the gospel. There is nothing in the Bible that requires anyone to own slaves, or to support “agitation of our brethren” in this context.

  • Nathaniel

    “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only
    when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of
    heart and reverence for the Lord.”

    Colossians 3:22 

  • Lori


    But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
    Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.  

    Colossians 3:25-4:1

  • Nathaniel

    ¬†Strike me as an odd duck, but I find “slavery” and “just and fair” to be contradictions in terms when used in the same sentence.

  • Lori

    You’re the one who said that slavery was just an accepted part of life at the time and the only thing necessary was some guidance on how to go about it. That’s guidance on how to go about it. Don’t punish your servant unfairly. Don’t threaten them (that’s in a different verse. Ephesians maybe). The gist seems to be treat your bondservant the way you would hope to be treated if you found yourself in that position. Unlike chattel slavery in the US, the masters being addressed in Colossians actually had reason to look at it that way.

    None of which adds up to a command to have bondservants. Obviously it also doesn’t add up to a command not to have them. This is basically academic to me since I don’t believe the Bible is authoritative in any sense. My point is simply that, as with many things, the Bible is not nearly as clear on the issue of slavery as most people would like it to be (in one way or the other). This is one of many topics that IMO makes it very hard to justify a claim that the Bible is the last word in morality, handed down by inspiration from a being in possession of The Truth for all time.

  • Foelhe

    Can’t help but feel like you’re missing the point here.

    Slavery isn’t explicitly condoned in the bible, no, but the way slaves are supposed to behave is. Nathaniel already quoted the rule “Slaves, obey your masters”. Runaway slaves are disobeying their masters, so runaway slaves are disobeying the literal text of scripture. Not Mary.

    But that’s really pretty irrelevant. The point Mary’s making is that if you are a Christian, you must act as a Christian, which means you don’t ignore people’s suffering because you don’t approve of their behavior. It doesn’t matter if the person is a run-away slave, an illegal immigrant or someone planning to get an abortion. Debating the theology of how wrong they are is not the point – if you won’t feed the hungry, clothe the naked or comfort the desolate, you aren’t doing your Christian duty.

  • Mary

    “Slavery isn’t explicitly condoned in the bible”

    Wrong: “However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who
    live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners,
    including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your
    property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may
    treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must
    never be treated this way”. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

    “Debating the theology of how wrong they are is not the point – if you won’t feed the hungry, clothe the naked or comfort the desolate, you aren’t doing your Christian duty.”

    I agree partly with that, as far as how to treat others as a Christian duty. But it disturbs me that many Christians want to pretend that the Bible doesn’t say what it¬†explicitly does say.

    Here is what the OT says about how to treat slaves:

     When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the
    slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave
    survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own
    property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

    Granted the NT seems to be more progressive in its’ instructions on how both master and slave should behave, but still the bible explicitly condones slavery and this was why it was so hard to eradicate slavery in the U.S.

  • Nathaniel

    ¬†While you’re right, I said that the Bible doesn’t condone slavery because all the lines condoning it are in the Jewish Bible, and often Christians simply dismiss such rules as irrelevant to Christianity.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If Levitical rules about gay sex are in effect, why are Levitical rules about slavery (or cotton-poly fabric and bacon cheeseburgers) not in effect?

  • Nathaniel

    ¬†As Fred has articulated in previous posts, it relies on a conveniently narrow reading of a particular passage where Paul gets a vision of a table laden with non kosher food, with God telling him that nothing he sees is unclean in the sight of God. Someone like Fred interprets that to mean that no one is seen as unworthy by God. A homophobe restricts it to God specifically saying, “Bacon is totes okay now.”¬†

  • Jim Roberts

    Nathaniel, that’s hardly the only place where we’re told that there is neither Greek nor Jew, and when Fred applies that reading (which really seems to be the most accurate), it’s specifically to repudiate the homophobe.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Someone like Fred interprets that to mean that no one is seen as unworthy by God. A homophobe restricts it to God specifically saying, “Bacon is totes okay now.”

    Which doesn’t explain the cotton-poly fabric. Cloth of mixed fibers is strictly forbidden by Leviticus and it wasn’t among the heap of non-kosher food.

  • Tricksterson

    “and often Christians simply dismis such rules as irrelevant to Christianity except where convenient to their prejudices”

    There, fixed that.

  • Mary

    “While you’re right, I said that the Bible doesn’t condone slavery because all the lines condoning it are in the Jewish Bible, and often Christians simply dismiss such rules as irrelevant to Christianity. ”

    Well, there is the problem in a nutshell. Christians don’t care what the OT says, UNLESS they pull something out of it to support their point of view.¬† This is a very dangerous thing to do because anybody can come along and convince people that something is right because “it’s in the Bible.”¬†During the days of slavery¬†in the U.S. most Christians thought it was right and never thought to question it because their theological leaders said it was o.k.

    The reason why¬†Christians should be concerned about this is that history repeats itself. We need to be vigilant that something like this never happens again. There is a war going on from the conservative camp that wants to oppress minorities, women, and gays.¬† All based in “biblical truth.” So the OT is not “irrelevant to Christianity” as many people believe.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Oh yeah. How many times has it been metaphorically said, “Oh, that’s the Old Testament! You can totally ignore* it!”

    (* except for convenient cases where we can beat people over the head with verses that reinforce existing social and cultural prejudices against disfavored groups)

    Gah, but that really, really annoys me.

  • Foelhe

    Sorry, I stand corrected. Other people have been arguing the theology here, but I don’t know enough about it to have an informed opinion. The point I’m trying to make is that if someone’s at your door who desperately needs help, and you decide not to help them because they don’t deserve it, you’re being a terrible neighbor.

  • Foelhe

    Let me put that differently. If you’re a Christian, you’re called to be generous, so if you can only be generous if you approve of the person who needs help, you’re not doing a very good job of it.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I wasn’t aware that supposedly univeral comandments depended on social disapproval or not.

  • Foelhe

    Wow, I’m making a total hash of this conversation.

    Some fundamentalist Christians will act kindly until you do something they don’t approve of. Then any compassion they’ve been showing suddenly dries up.

    If you know anything about the NT, you know Jesus tells you to treat everyone with compassion and respect. Which means these Christians aren’t doing their Christ-ordained duty.

    So no, universal commands don’t depend on social disapproval. Which is the point I’m trying to make, but apparently I’m doing a piss-poor job of it.

  • summers-lad

    Foelhe, I think you’ve got it right and your argument is clear enough to me at least. Fundamentalist or not, we are all prone to having our compassion dry up in some circumstances, which is a challenge to each of us to do better.

    In reply to AnonymousSam, there is a change of tone between OT and NT, but there are also many tones within the OT (and to some extent within the NT). I am persuaded that the most Christian way to read the Bible is not as though it all has equal validity but as an unfolding relationship between God and humankind which reaches its ultimate peak in Christ. Therefore Christ is the key to the rest of it.

    And so while the debates about the rightness or wrongness of slavery, and the cultural context of it, are relevant, Mary’s stance in the original quote gets to the¬†heart of the matter.¬†

  • Mary

    I am sorry if I was too harsh on you. I happen to agree with what you said about being kind to others without making judgments about their “worthiness.” I was just correcting you on one point only because¬†many Christians (not necessarily you) have their blinders on as far as what the bible actually says about slavery.¬†A lot of people have never read the OT and so do not know¬†what it¬†says about a great deal of things,¬†unless their pastors bring¬†them up in¬†sermons. Naturally the pastors are reluctant to bring up the uncomfortable parts of the bible.¬†

  • Foelhe

    Oh no, not at all. I have a bad habit of getting hyper-focused when I debate with people, so I sometimes agree with things I shouldn’t because I’m arguing on another point. I’m certainly not perfect, and I’m not at all bothered if you correct me when I’m wrong.

  • Xulon

    I have recently thought that the reason America has never repented of its racism is because it never wants to repent of slavery. Now, with the corporatocracy moving us backwards in the direction of feudal/slavery economy, that refusal is coming full circle.

  • Jerimijo

    The greatest most important piece of American literature ever written.

  • Ursula L

    “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only¬†
    when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of¬†heart and reverence for the Lord.”
    Colossians 3:22 

    That’s an instruction to slaves, on how to behave in a bad situation. ¬†It is not an instruction to slave owners or anyone seeing a hungry, cold person, who may or may not be an escaped slave.

  • Nathaniel

    Summers-lad asserted “There is nothing in the Bible that requires anyone to own slaves.” I was offering some counter evidence to that assertion.

  • Ursula L

    Summers-lad asserted “There is nothing in the Bible that requires anyone to own slaves.” I was offering some counter evidence to that assertion.

    And that quote does nothing to require someone to own slaves.  

    The letter was written in a society where slavery existed. ¬†And slave owners are always ¬†justifiably terrified that slaves will organize and revolt, demanding their freedom and taking bloody revenge for the abuse they’ve suffered.

    That instruction seems, to me, to be a cover-your-ass bit to be clear that while Christian slave-owners are to treat their slaves with the equality of a sibling, Christians as a group are not organizing a slave rebellion.  Because they knew the bloody fate of Sparticus and his rebellion. 

  • Nathaniel

    ¬†If there isn’t a requirement in the Bible to own slaves, it’s in the same way there isn’t a requirement to own refrigerators. As you point out, slavery was an accepted fact of life. I’ve yet to see any convincing evidence that an anti slavery reading of the bible actually comes from the text and not from the person reading it.

  • Ross

    ¬†No.¬† YOu’re making the same category error as “The bible teaches us that the sun goes around the earth.” There are passages on what to do if you are a slave, and there are passages on what to do if you are a slave-owner, but there are not passages saying “If you aren’t a slave-owner, you should go and get you some slaves, because slave-owning is good,” nor are there passages saying “What you definitely don’t want to do is abolish slavery as an institution, because slavery is totes awesome.”

  • Nathaniel

     Which is my point. Slavery was in the same moral category as owning a dog. Something that could done with condemnation or commendment.  Just with a few instructions for proper care and feeding.

  • Jim Roberts

    … So, you’ve never read Philemon, then?

    Paul, writing to a slave-owner to whom he is returning a slave. With this letter, incidentally:

    I am sending him‚ÄĒwho is my very heart‚ÄĒback to you.¬†I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.¬†But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.¬†Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever‚ÄĒ¬†no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

  • Nathaniel

    ¬†Being asked to voluntarily free one slave is different than forbidding it. Thomas Jefferson ended up freeing one or two of his vast numbers of slaves, but that didn’t stop the slave trade.

  • Jim Roberts

    Well, no. So, in order for you to accept that the Bible has anything to say against slavery, it would need to say,¬†Zebediah 4:3, “Slavery is bad”?

    There are a lot of things it doesn’t say are bad. Spousal abuse, for instance. Heck, child abuse. The purpose of Scripture, particularly the New Testament, isn’t to serve as a list of rules to abide by, but instead it very strongly leans toward teaching a person how they ought to live. This is also said quite frequently by our host. When you look to the Bible as a rulebook, you’re always going to be disappointed because when it does that, it’s always speaking in a cultural context, and it’s one that only a psychopath would find laudable.

    If, instead, you look at Philemon, and Galatians, and Ephesians, and James, you’ll find a¬†text that speaks of freedom. Of freeing others and being free yourself, and living in service to your fellow man.

  • Dave

    I can’t speak for Nathaniel, but for my own part: if I am to treat a text as having something singularly important to teach me about how to morally understand the world (which my culture frequently insists that I should do with the Bible, which is frequently presented as differentially an artifact of an omniscient and omnipotent Creator that lays out Its Plan for my existence), then I expect that text to be consistent in its opposition to bad things and its support of good things.

    If, instead, it opposes bad things in some places and implicitly supports the same bad things in other places, that seems to me a good reason not to treat the text as a singularly important source of moral understanding.

    Personally, I endorse deriving my moral understanding from my experience of the world and from the reported experiences of others. Which includes texts of all sorts.

    Of course, having done so, I can then return to a favorite text and search within it for support for that moral
    understanding. I can absolutely find that in the Bible. This is sometimes a useful exercise for rhetorical or didactic purposes.

    The same is true of Lord of the Rings, and Winnie-the-Pooh, and a million other texts.

  • Nathaniel

     We come from very similar positions then when it comes to ethics. The point of my postings is pointing out that the Bible fails to be a reliable source for ethical behavior.

  • The_L1985

    ¬†But there is also a big difference between the Bible and Winnie-the-Pooh that you’re ignoring.¬† Namely, the Bible was written by literally dozens of people, as lots of different books, whereas Winnie-the-Pooh is one book, written by one man, A.A. Milne.

    I tend to be less troubled by different authors contradicting each other than by one author contradicting himself/herself.

  • Dave

    Can you clarify in what sense I’m ignoring that difference? Because I don’t think I am, although I agree that that difference is not relevant to the point I was making.

  • Foelhe

    Are we… reading different translations of Philemon?

    Paul says that Onesimus is like a son to him, and asks Philemon to welcome him as a brother in the Lord. He also explicitly calls this a favor, says that he “did not want to do anything without your consent”, and makes no moral arguments for releasing Onesimus or anyone else.

    I’m trying to remember that Paul was a product of his era. Maybe in his day this letter would be a bold stance. But I’m can’t quite read this as anti-slavery.

  • Jim Roberts

    Difficult to read it as condoning it, at the least. And, so far as moral arguments go, Paul doesn’t make it as explicit as I’d like, but he repeatedly talks about freedom and being in chains himself, and about what he could do if Onesimus was freed to help him. I’d like it better if it actually came out and said, “Look, Onesimus is a good egg and you ought to release him so he can help more people.” It’s rather unPaul of him not to say this, but maybe this is how he wrote when he wrote to an audience of one.

    To everyone else who said that the Bible has passages that contain questionable ethical advice, I unreservedly agree.

  • Ross

    It’s also worthwhile to remember that Paul, who had absolutely no legal authority, preferred to guilt-trip Philemon into freeing Onesimus, rather than advising Onesimus to spend the rest of his life on the run from the law.

  • Foelhe

    The chains might be part of the problem I’m having here. Paul describes himself as being in chains to duty/God, and it’s hard for me to call that a bad thing, or to think Philemon would see that as a bad thing. I guess you can make the argument that Onesimus is in chains to God as well, as a Christian, and shouldn’t be in chains to anyone else, but if you want to get that argument you have to get there yourself, because Paul doesn’t mention it.

    I dunno. I’m no theologian (as always) so I might be missing the obvious here, but this doesn’t really seem to condone or reject slavery. Paul requested one person be freed, whether because he was a personal friend or because they were brothers in spirit. I don’t think it follows that Paul though all slavery should stop. He might have, you can follow the logic, but he doesn’t say as such, and I’m not sure whether he meant Philemon to get to that point on his own.

  • AndrewSshi

    But the unspoken issue that we’re talking about is, of course, teh ghey. The theological conservative would argue that¬† the New Testament gives commands about how to treat slavery, but they’re not positive commands to practice slavery. They are instead commands for how people who already own slaves should treat them and how slaves should act, but they only apply to those Christians who own slaves. In contrast (the theological conservative would argue), Romans 1:26-7 is a positive statement about the badness of gay sex rather than a set of commands on how to treat an institution that already exists. (Of course Paul isn’t really talking about pair-bonded gay sex, but that’s another story…)

  • Nathaniel

    ¬†In that case, I’d always like to ask those people in a sweet tone how far they’ve gotten on paying off their college loans.

  • AndrewSshi

    (Speaking of sex and money, I’ve actually seen people–evangelical libertarians, shockingly–argue that the Old Testament commands on social justice were part of the old Law that was abrogated in the New Testament…)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    You mean the same parts that tell them to keep trashing QUILTBAG people as the spiritual successors of Sodom and Gomorrah?

  • olsonam

    ¬†The best antislavery text that’s specifically about slaves and not something like the golden rule that incorporates slavery is the book of Philemon which Fred did a whole post about:

  • smrnda

    ¬† Nice that people can be Christians and slave-owners at the same time, and some ‘equality’ you can get from that.¬† ‘slave owners, be nice’ and ‘slaves, shut up and obey’ aren’t really equal, reciprocal obligations.

    Why not just say you can’t be a Christian and own slaves?

  • Tricksterson

    Because to a person of Paul’s era doing away with slavery would make about as much sense as proposing that people should walk on their hands instead of their feet.¬† Freeing slave was done but the concept of slavery itself was considered a law of nature.

  • B

    More than that, Paul thought that the Kingdom of God was going to be coming in his lifetime, and that when that happened there would no longer be slave or free.¬† So why worry about trying to end slavery (which frankly would have been impossible — the number of slaves in the Roman Empire at that time was HUGE — I read something like 1/3 of the entire population) when Jesus was about to come back and do it for us?

    Of course by the time the Pastoral letters were written they’d figured out that the end wasn’t nigh after all, and were also returning to something much more like mainstream Roman cultural values.

  • Ursula L

    Why not just say you can’t be a Christian and own slaves?

    My take on it is that many of the early Christians were looking for a far more radical reorganization of society than merely ending slavery. ¬†The¬†gospels¬†and letters describe all sorts of social experiments – holding property in common (rejecting the massive inequality of wealth at the time), voluntary¬†celibacy¬†(in a context where there wasn’t a good conceptual framework of consent), treating everyone with the equality of sibling (in a social context that was deeply heirarchical, from emperor down to slave and beggar.) ¬†Different Christian groups took different focuses.But it was all very experimental and socially radical. ¬†The best modern analogy that I can think of is a cross between a hippie commune and a Hutterite colony – the¬†religiosity¬†of the Hutterites but the radicalism and¬†experimentation¬†of the hippies.What does it even mean to be a slave, or a slave-owner, when both are part of a community that holds all property in common? ¬†What kind of property is a slave, as a member of a community where he has an equal share in ownership, and equal status as a believer? ¬†

    Merely saying that a Christian can’t own slaves doesn’t go nearly far enough for what they were trying for. ¬†Elsewhere they discuss not merely freeing a slave but accepting the slave with the equality of brother – recognizing that mere freedom does not do enough to address the injustice of slavery, and freeing a slave, with no other resources, is not sufficiently radical for what early Christian groups were trying for. ¬†

    A slave (presumably not owned by a Christian, who would be sharing property in common with the slave-Christian and with whom there would be the equality of brotherhood) being told to obey their masters is another aspect of Christian responsibility for others Рrecognizing that if Christian slaves rebelled from non-Christian owners, not only would they be killed and tortured, but many other slaves around them would be killed as the uprising was suppressed as well, and non-slave Christians would also be targets.  

    Unless the Christian slave was in a position where trying for personal freedom would not harm other people also being oppressed, then concern for others being oppressed becomes another form of radical love – even in the worst oppression, caring for the welfare of others, being willing to lay down one’s life and freedom to protect others. ¬†

  • Jim Roberts

    It’s worth mentioning, too, that the earliest texts of Christianity were written for a marginalized religion that was mostly in the backwater areas of the Roman Empire – written for the oppressed, not the oppressor, by and in large.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    ¬†It’s worth mentioning that the earliest texts of Christianity were
    written for a marginalized religion that was mostly in the backwater
    areas of the Roman Empire – written for the oppressed, not the
    oppressor, by and in large. Thanks.

    Which is why I think becoming the state religion of the Holy Roman Empire was the wost thing to ever happen to Christianity.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    People are saying Sandy Hook was a fraud.

    What on Earth are they putting in the freakin’ water over there?

  • Lori

    People have been saying Sandy Hook was a fraud since about 15 minutes after the story broke. The shooting at the theater in Aurora was also a fraud. For a certain segment of the Right wing everything that they don’t like and which is inconvenient to their preferred policies (in this case gun control) is a false flag operation. Every. Thing.

    Every country has its own typical form of homegrown nutter and the illogical, paranoid conspiracy whacko is ours.

  • Tricksterson

    Oy to the fucking vey

  • Matri

    It reads to me more like one of those right-wing “Obama wants to taeks our guns, oh noes!” that has been coming up ever since he was elected four years ago.

    There’s even a facebook posting going around that says he’s ordered the military to shoot anyone who doesn’t turn in their guns.

    *sighs* Some days, I just want to leave this planet.

  • AnonymousSam

    For that matter, Jim Garrow started the rumor that Obama now requires that military officials take an oath that they would fire on unarmed citizens in order to keep their jobs.

    Curiously, few people seem inclined to report on this story.

  • Katie

    I’m not sure, but it seems that, of late, every tragedy gets its own conspiracy theory.¬† I do not like this trend.¬†

  • misanthropy_jones

    Once you have convinced yourself that members of any group, slaves or gays or ‘illegals’, are the Others, it becomes easy to ignore Christ’s commandments to care for and about them.

  • Launcifer

    I imagine that it was ever thus: why else would that Jesus fella have felt the need to come up with the parable of the Good Samaritan, after all?

  • Ross

    ¬†Yeah. It’s ashame Jesus gave such a concise, unambiguous, carefully exclusive answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” thus making it easy to identify which people you can exclude.

  • Grey Seer

    Invisible Neutrino:

    It is rather bizarre, isn’t it? As far as I can tell, the general pattern seems to be reversing cause and effect. Namely, in the wake of a horrific disaster wherein numerous small children were gunned down by a madman with an assault rifle, certain important and influential figures decided that maybe they should put some rules into effect that would restrict the ability to madmen to acquire assault rifles.

    (Note that I use the term ‘madman’ here in a loose fashion. It is not my intention to indicate that mentally ill people are all dangerous and need to be watched, because that is unfair and untrue. Rather, it reflects my belief that there must be something fundamentally wrong in the mind of a man who would turn an assault rifle on innocent children.)

    Anyway, this is the cause and effect – Sandy Hook being the cause, the possible new legislation being the effect. Certain people, however, have convinced themselves that the legislation is in fact the cause, and that because the nefarious Powers-That-Be wanted to restrict gun ownership, they clearly arranged for a horrific shooting to give evidence and backing to their cause. Because that clearly makes FAR more sense.

  • Madhabmatics

    For those who have missed it, Alabama is doing a knee-jerk gun-liberalization thing that has just about every sheriff in the state freaking out.

    tl;dr private property is sacrosanct unless you don’t want people carrying guns on it, in which case you are bad, and a policeman responding to the call can get fined something ridiculous up to $10,000 for violating ARE GUN RIGHTS

  • Madhabmatics

    “‚ÄúMy goal is to work on a legislation bill that‚Äôs good for the citizens
    and protect the Second Amendment, not get in an arguing match over
    details that we may or may not agree on,‚ÄĚ said Beason, who added that
    the purpose of the bill would be to clarify what is in stated law.”

    yo who cares what this law does as long as people can see me talking about it.

  • Registered Runaway

    I wrote a piece several months ago about what I learned from George and Mr. Wilson’s confrontation earlier in the book. It was a big eye opener for me.

  • AnonymousSam

    A lot of the older writings don’t seem to focus much on treatment of others as being motivated by compassion, compared to how much they emphasize following the law because God will smite you dead otherwise. I suspect outlawing slavery was the last thing on the writers’ minds in the Old Testament, and by the time of the New Testament, slavery was that much more ingrained within society and even those who were uncomfortable with it had little room to object. They probably saw no way of eliminating it without causing the economy to collapse, so all they could do was remind the readers that compassion should be extended to all people, regardless of their roles.

    Hmm. To carry my armchair theology a little further, I notice that there seems to be a change of tone between Old and New — the authors of the Old seem to speak from positions of power and authority more often than those of the New. That might be a contributing factor as well.

    But I could be completely wrong.