Caught in the Middle

So the Pennslyvania House of Representatives declared 2012 the “Year of the Bible.” The Reps used this as an opportunity to explain just how gosh darn important the Bible is to this country.

Then some atheists decided to point out one of the major flaws in the Bible: its pervasive acceptance of slavery. They do this with the following billboard:

When Mark Shea at the National Catholic Register hears about this, he chastizes us atheists for expecting too much from the Bible:

One of the things grownups understand is that things like the epistle to the Colossians were not written by a wizard who could wave a wand and eradicate an institution that had existed absolutely everywhere the fallen human lived since the dawn of time. He was the messenger of a small, harrassed religious sect which possessed absolutely no political power in either the Roman empire to which he went, nor in the tiny Jewish country from which he hailed. His mission was not to be a second Spartacus, but to announce the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Much as normal people have always done, he worked within the granite “givens” of his culture.

We seem to be caught in the middle here. We could wish that Mr. Shea would skip over the atheists and talk directly to the people who are praising the Bible as the book from which all morality flows. He could explain to them that no, Paul had a very limited agenda and shouldn’t be relied upon to provide the foundation for American law. Somehow, that never happens.

As an aside, the Quakers were a “small, harassed religious sect which possessed absolutely no political power” during the 17 and 18th century, and yet they are considered the world’s first anti-slavery institution. (There were anti-slavery individuals before that, but the Quakers seem to be the first group.)

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  • Andrew Skegg

    Is Mark forgetting that Jesus was God and possessed magical powers? He could heal sick people, walk on water, turn water into wine, cure blindness with spit, cast demons into pigs, replace lost ears, and … oh yes, raise from the dead and absolve all of humanity of all their sins until the end of time. We should not forget the book says he will come back to annihilate the entire universe and judge everyone’s souls. Surely eradicating slavery is relatively simple?

    • Michael

      Yeah, I’m confused. I thought the whole point was that the Bible was “written by a wizard,” or at least inspired by one.

      • JohnMWhite

        Exactly what I was thinking. Certainly whenever it is dismissed by a secular culture as being irrelevant to lawmaking in the 21st Century, its supposed divine inspiration is trotted out as a reason it should be the backbone of all civilisation. It’s a crock, and the snide “grown ups understand” remark serves only to make Shea look both bitter and disingenuous.

  • Azel

    And even if he wasn’t out to eradicate slavery, he could at least have condemned it. Barring that, he should not have endorsed it…or were they too interested by saving our souls and gaining temporal power ?

  • dantresomi

    Good point about the Quakers.

    But you know, again, Christians are moving the goal post. Instead of saying “okay, you got us,” they come up with more excuses. Geez!

    • JohnMWhite

      They cannot help but come up with excuses because they know they are right. They act based on that presupposition, so will tie themselves in knots in order to justify their bible to themselves. It’s just a shame that more of them do not recognise that their mental efforts are so elaborate precisely because they are much better people than the bible wants them to be.

  • j medearis

    its Just another example of them picking and choosing want they want to follow from the bible. I don’t think they vast majority of the bible toting nut jobs have even read the whole thing. It’s like a software licensing agreement to them. They just scroll to the bottom and click ” I AGREE “

    • Len

      You mean you don’t read and deeply contemplate your software licensing agreements? I’m shocked.

  • dmantis

    This goes back to my earnest back and forth with John C in the “Is it getting wet in here?” post. I would be incredibly grateful if some born again Christian would provide me with a summary of things to take literally versus things that are only within the “granite” givens of the culture.

    When someone incessantly qoutes the bible as a response to every inquiry, then balks at you implying that they believe every word, you are somehow inferior or don’t know THE TRUTH.

    Playing chess with a pigeon….

    • trj

      Rule of thumb: if it’s morally reprehensible (divinely mandated genocide, condoning of slavery, punishing children for their father’s sins, killing children via bears, killing of all first-borns, dashing infants against rocks, etc), then it’s either metaphorical or “taken out of context”. If it’s nice and agreeable (love, peace, heavenly afterlife, etc) then it’s meant to be taken literally.

      • JohnMWhite

        Good rule of thumb, but it gets complicated when ethics clash with bigotry. To most of us, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is morally reprehensible, but to a portion of the faithful, tolerance itself is an immoral act. Then we end up with the dizzying arguments about why it is loving for god to demand that homosexuals be shunned and stoned, or why a woman is allowed to be an elected representative and vote for laws that restrict the rights of others, while swearing blind that she herself is not fit to tell men what to do and so her entire gender should never be allowed to be clerics.

        • trj

          Second rule of thumb: when deciding what constitutes a moral baseline, consider that Christians who can’t live up to the Golden Rule, which their own religion teaches them, may not hold the most qualified opinions on morality.

    • John C

      We’re not playing chess D, rather each of us are merely reflecting the reality that we are most aware of. You are aware of yours, and I am aware of…His. And this is the gospel, that His kingdom comes (Thy kingdom come) in our ‘earth’ (consciousness/understanding) and thoroughly permeates/floods us with His heavenly (meaning spiritual) reality/illumination (John 8:12). As I have said before, I am no better than anyone else here, have only been foolish, trusting and childlike enough to believe and take Him UP on His offer some twenty seven years ago and with wonderful. life-portending consequences.

      I know what the verses mean because I know the Author’s heart so it’s not a matter of ‘cherry picking’ but rather ‘heart hearing’ and context.
      The cruel slave picture couldn’t be further from the truth (of His heart) but since there is no light in unbelief (Ps 36:9) those who paid for the billboard will continue to wander in the desert of human reasoning not seeing Him in the light of truth, the truth that ‘illumines our darkness’ (Ps 18:28).

      All my best, as usual.

      Ps…maybe an eagle, but never a pigeon, ;)

      • JohnMWhite

        If the slave picture couldn’t be farther from god’s heart, please explain why god felt no compunction to free slaves anywhere, ever, and why god issued explicit guidance not that slaves should not be kept, but in how they should be kept.

        Also, we’re all still waiting for that list of the parts of the bible that are to be taken literally and the parts that are to be seen as metaphorical.

        • jackleg

          “If the slave picture couldn’t be farther from god’s heart, please explain why god felt no compunction to free slaves anywhere, ever”

          Don’t forget about the second book in the Bible.

          Does it not count when God raises up a Wilberforce to change society? What did the term “bondservant” mean in 1st c. Colosse? How does that relate to the picture of an African American slave in 18th c. America? Who is the audience of the letter? What is the point the author is trying to make in making this apparently harsh statement? Is there a bigger picture view that might help to make sense of words that pinch our 21st c. ears?

          • Robster

            ‘Tis only harsh as per the bible’s message. Not at all a good foundation for morality.

          • JohnMWhite

            I did not forget about the second book of the bible. Arguing that god was all nicey nicey in the New Testament is intellectually lazy – it’s simply not true, and is merely appealing to a fictional persona cultivated by the popular stories of Jesus encouraging peace and love and not stoning people to death. And no, it does not count when god allegedly gets mortals to free slaves. If it counts for god when Wilberforce and Lincoln fight to free them, it counts just as much against god every single time a human being was held in bondage. God can’t take the credit for other people’s hard work if he won’t also take the blame for their failings.

            • Nox

              I think jackleg was referring to Exodus. The part where yhvh and Moses free the israelites in Egypt.

              Which conveniently ignores what the first book of the bible says about god’s role in the israelites becoming slaves in the first place, what the second book of the bible says about god hardening Pharoah’s heart so they would remain in bondage longer, what other parts of the Torah say about god giving his explicit blessing to the israelites taking slaves, the new testament quoting Jesus as speaking in a vaguely favorable way about slavery and comparing god to a slavemaster, or Paul speaking in support of slavery.

              Some of the major advocates of abolition were christian and some of them cited christian faith as their motive for wanting to see slavery ended. If we are to read history accurately, we should give christians at least that much.

              But it is fairly clear that it wasn’t actually christianity motivating them. They didn’t get the idea that all men are created equal from the bible. It reflects neither the bible or the previous christian doctrine (and as Vorjack mentioned, the quakers were kind of heretics anyway).

              It is the same thing we see John C doing right here on this thread. What is clearly stated right in the book is not what he wants to believe. He can’t bring himself to not believe the book, so it must say something else.

              All those parts that show god to be the barbaric, violent, small minded prick that christians don’t like to think of him as, are metaphorical to those readers who insist the god of the bible is a different character than the god in the bible.

              All those parts which order adherence to a set of restrictive, inconvenient, or impossible commandments, are of course metaphorical. I mean who’s just gonna not eat bacon? Of course god had to mean something else.

              When this phenomenon extends to its (il)logical extreme you get John C. The whole book is a private coded message to him. The book can say whatever he wants it to say, and it doesn’t matter what the book says (here’s a fun exercise: look up any of the bible verses that John C randomly puts in his post. They’re not just misquotes. Most are completely unrelated).

              On a larger scale we can see this same phenomenon playing out in the series of schisms in protestant churches over the last 500 years leading to the myriad denominations of christianity today (“F*ck you guys, I’ll just start my own church”).

              Today, anyone can start their own church if they can get enough followers. Taken with the inevitable fact that everyone believes their beliefs are the right ones (why else would they believe them), you get thousands of one true churches and a religious landscape dominated by megachurches drawing huge crowds by peddling a vague, nationalistic, feel good form of christianity.

              As a way to find truth it is obviously self defeating. As a way to insulate beliefs, it is retardedly ingenious. All the fun of believing whatever sh*t you feel like, but with the added benefit of calling it the word of god.

              This is as close as you’re gonna get to that actual list dmantis. (1) The parts they currently want to read as literal will be read as literal. (2) The parts they currently want to read as metaphorical will be read as metaphorical.

              The silly part is, some of the bible is almost certainly not meant to be taken literally. There are psalms and poems and fables throughout (also several stories that make no godd*mn sense as actual events, and perfect sense as illustrations of some obscure tenet of judaism). Textual analysis can give us somewhat of a list of what parts should be read literally and which should not. But most christians avoid such methods, as they might threaten to shift the scriptural support for key christian doctrines into metaphorical territory.

            • John C

              God is Spirit (Jn 4:24) and so His words and stories are spiritually discerned (1st Cor 2:14). When I read a textbook or a manual of some sort, I read it from a literal, topical, plain perspective with that part of my being because that is the means by which it is understood but when I read scripture, because ‘the letter kills but the Spirit gives life’ (2nd Cor 3:6) I read and hear it from a ‘whole’ different aspect of my being, ie the heart or spirit realm where we are ‘joined together as one’ (1st Cor 6:17).

              When you walk into a dark room its natural to reach for the light switch if you wanna light up the room. You are that room, your inner man or consciousness is that which is waiting to be illumined but you (still) refuse to hit the Light switch. Jesus said ‘he who follows Me (not religion or any man made religious system) will NOT walk in darkness’ John 8:12 & John 1:4&5).

              Those OT stories of slavery? What if ‘they’ are you and you don’t know it, friend? What if you are in ‘Egypt’ right now? And what if they really are spiritually discerned (since God is Spirit) and by skimming the top with the textbook-reading mindset, you end up with completely false conclusions about God…like these?

              I’ve loved you guys all this time and nothing will ever change that. Whether you believe Me or not, I will still love you because that’s who I AM and I’ve loved you with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3) from before the creation of the world (John 17:24). I AM not like you think I AM, I AM who I say that I AM and I AM LOVE. (1st Jn 4:16)

              You are outrageously loved. Its your job to be outrageously loved, did you know that?

              I’ll make you a deal. How about an extended John C break? Its Easter, its early April still. I’ll hop off the forum until June (it will be tough being apart from you guys for the next two months but I’ll keep my word) if you’ll only hear these true words from My heart. Don’t watch the video, not my style, just hear the words, hear Love’s true words and heart for you starting at 1:15. But someone has to tell me what he He says at 4:27-33 then I’m outta here for a long while, I promise. Deal?

              Love you guys (and gals) so much. JC


            • Jabster

              Excellent news … it says I will love you outrageously now off you go and see you again in June!

              Now where’s the champers?

            • JohnMWhite

              @Nox – I see, I figured the ‘second book’ meant the New Testament, since that seems to be the excuse so many Christians throw around when challenged on the barbarity of their god “he’s nice later, so it does not count!”. Exodus would make sense, though it is of course a fictional story as the Hebrews were not held in bondage by the Egyptians as far as history or archaeology has been able to discover, and even if it were true, it’s not as if it does god any favours to show him sitting on his hands for so long then deciding at some arbitrary point that his people, and only his people, should be freed from slavery, even while explaining to them how they should keep slaves themselves. Also I agree that many Christians were a big part of the abolitionist movement, but as you say, it wasn’t as if they were getting their reasons to oppose slavery from the bible. The trouble is that many Christians are just plain better people than their god.

              @JohnC – you did not really answer the question, again. At best you gave a handful of unrelated quotes that you have applied some secret metaphorical meaning to. Are we to take it that every part of the bible is actually a metaphor? And why are you running away until June? Would Jesus run away from being tested with some people not allowing him to dodge a simple question every time he opens his mouth?

            • Kodie

              Evasion tactics, by John C:

              1. Typical Christian weak shit – don’t hound me, it’s a holiday!

              2. Typical Christian weak shit – Jesus loves you! All I’m tryin’ to say.

              3. Typical Christian weak shit – I’m not admitting that I’m backed into a corner – I’m too busy to post for a certain time period.

            • Kodie

              When you walk into a dark room its natural to reach for the light switch if you wanna light up the room. You are that room, your inner man or consciousness is that which is waiting to be illumined but you (still) refuse to hit the Light switch. Jesus said ‘he who follows Me (not religion or any man made religious system) will NOT walk in darkness’ John 8:12 & John 1:4&5).

              We’re not so much refusing to turn on the switch, as your bible instructs you to parrot, because we’re not actually in the dark. Despite your convictions, you are not the living example of someone who is illuminated by truth so much as living in a fantasy world. Your childlike metaphors and wishes come true for you because you’re the one who is limited. Like these children in a1970s Tootsie Roll ad.

              Now, imagine being locked in a cell with that playing over and over and over, because that’s what reading your posts all these years has been like.

      • Kodie

        I know what the verses mean because I know the Author’s heart so it’s not a matter of ‘cherry picking’ but rather ‘heart hearing’ and context.

        I know you’re too childlike to understand this, but that’s an example of cherry-picking. Other religious beliefs that differ from yours know the author’s “heart” too, and they have trusted childlike also, and whatever context they prefer, is also what they may call “heart-hearing.” Your belief is not special or any more accurate context than any other. Your reasons for believing it are not different than any other. That’s what cherry-picking is. You only think you have “the way” because it’s what feels nice to believe. Nice, because you are childlike, and gullible, and believe anything in fantasy-land is nice. You deny the hardness of the literal words if you can make it not so terrible, make it mean something extra-special and meaningful. You make this up, you decide to interpret it this way. There’s still no Jesus. That’s just a metaphor too. There’s no god, that’s just a metaphor as well. There’s no light inside you, that’s just another metaphor. There is no indwelling, that’s your own imagination, the metaphor factory.

        • trj

          that’s your own imagination, the metaphor factory.

          Another memorable quote from Kodie.

        • John C

          Love ya dearest Kodie but I’m going with Papa over you every time! (nothing personal, mind you ;) All the best!

          • JohnMWhite

            Are we ever going to get that list?

            • John C

              Yes, it starts at Mark 8:22-26. When you too are ‘made to look up’ then you will see ‘every man clearly’ including yourself.

            • Jabster

              I never get over the breathtaking arrogance of people who claim to know what the Bible means … only you either have the intellect or have been given the insight by their god to understand the true meaning. The again when you believe that the entire Universe was created by an entity for you and this entity also has an interest in communicating with you personally then what do you expect?

            • JohnMWhite

              This is not a list of what’s metaphorical and what’s literal in the bible, John C. It’s a story of Jesus healing one blind man. Are you ever going to provide what is asked of you or are you just going to hide behind mystical hand waving and tortured metaphors?

            • Jabster

              “Are you ever going to provide what is asked of you …”

              Unless the request is to act like a complete idiot then then answer is going to be no.

            • JohnMWhite

              Let’s not be rude and drive him away, I am genuinely interested in getting this out of him. He seems so sure of which bits are real and which bits are poetry, he must have the answer key somewhere.

            • Kodie

              Sorry, John can’t be driven away. It’s not possible to be “too rude” in any way, he keeps on the same track and he never goes away. I have never seen him answer a question as if he understands the question.

            • Jabster

              John C has been playing the same record over and over and over again for two years or so. It may change slightly but it’s still basically the same old hand waving, not answering questions (he himself admitted that he didn’t really read replies to his posts), not reading posts that he’s replying to but instead looking for the keywords so he can post his ‘message’ and of course the sheer arrogance that only he truly understands the Bible (he has also stated that he believes that non-believers are a difference species).

              Personally I would love to seem him piss off as the only purpose he serves here is as a reminder to just how stupid religion can make a person and John C is very, very, very religious.

          • Bill

            “Are you ever going to provide what is asked of you or are you just going to hide behind mystical hand waving and tortured metaphors?”

            He’ll do this, but he will also thoroughly enjoy watching us get aggravated with his hand waving. He’s after the reaction.

          • dgtmantis

            How does genocide sound to your “heart hearing”?

            How does rape sound?

            How does sacrificing children sound?

            How does stoning to death as a punishment for minor transgression sound?

            Custador said it best, arguing with John is like punching smoke.

            • trj

              Those are all beautiful metaphors for … well, something or other. I mean, it makes perfect sense for the Bible to sell its positive message using something extremely negative, right? ‘Cause that’s how metaphors work.

      • Ken

        This is just so pathetically self-serving. Slaves are exactly that, property to be used, not members of the extended patrician family. And if God and his son didn’t have the power to do away with slavery, then he wasn’t exactly all-powerful, or even that kind, loving or just. Sorta like all those apostles Jesus collected then just dumped to let Paul take over the business. This was a plan?

        I’m glad you feel happy following a religion that tells you exactly what you want to hear, but that’s not what I see in the Bible. I think that’s cause I’ve read all of it, and it just doesn’t hang together, even as a work of fiction. It doesn’t even agree with itself.

  • j medearis

    No len ….I have faith….lol

    • UrsaMinor

      Faith? We’ll have to take you at your word on that.

      A grasp of the function of the “Reply” button and how it helps keep threads readable? Definitely not.

      • trj

        Come on, Ursa, we’ve all done that.

      • Jer

        I think you missed some sarcasm there.

  • L.Long

    Its nice to know that one group of xtians that cant seem to stand living with the rest of us was against slavery. But if they were it was ‘Despite’ what the buyBull says, not because of what it says. Because as many have already said gawd sure loves to have people keep slaves especially female ones.

  • UrsaMinor


    Moi? I never do that.

    • trj

      Ha, I did consider replying to you out-of-thread myself. It was the obvious joke.

  • Vander Goten

    Personnaly, I have no problem with the fact that the author of the letter to the Colossians (a man of his time), whoever he was, was accepting slavery 2000 years ago. Possibly the author was thinking Christ would abolish slavory at the end of time, without the need for men to intervene. Maybe there were already rich converts who had slaves. Maybe also the author was thinking that christianity would be more prosecuted if it had fighted against slavery, which was one of the essential institutions of the Empire. Whatever the cause, I agree with you that Evangelists, who believe God revealed this text, must have problems wih this kind of verse.

    • dgtmantis


      So a slave during Colossians is just shit out of luck?!?! Thats absurd on its face when considering the supposedly unchallengable morality of ‘the good book’. Slaves are meant to endure torture, rape and subjugation….but hey, you’ll get your payoff when JC decides to come back in his own sweet time.

      Also, why does it matter if there were rich converts who had slaves? Is this to imply that the early christian movement was somehow beholden to certain benefactors that had to be protected lest they withdraw their support? While it is not completely unbelievable, it is highly unlikely given the fact that the slavery issue predated the letters to begin with.

      Besides, Christ was not on the best of terms with the rich when he was alive anyway. There is ample scholarly research on the socialist undertones of the gospels.

      The simplest answer is still the best: slavery wasn’t a big issue because the authors didn’t mind it. Therefore, why should they write anything negative about it. However, this does call into question the entire edifice of John’s ‘puppy dogs and hearts with ears’ view of the bible.

      • Ken

        Well, one thing to keep in mind is that Paul wrote these passages, and his agenda was definitely not the same as the apostles. Just attaching the name “Jesus” to an argument does not make Paul’s opinions official — unless you are an Evangelical. Then you’ll believe absolutely any fantasy spin, as long as somebody can attach an unrelated Bible verse to it.