Jesus vs. Slavery: Tom Gilson Responds

Jesus vs. Slavery: Tom Gilson Responds September 27, 2020

What does it mean that Jesus had the chance to end slavery (or at least make clear that it was wrong) but said nothing against it?

The last four posts have responded to a defense of Jesus’s stance on slavery written by Tom Gilson, senior editor with the Christian ministry The Stream (part 1 of those posts here). As my posts went out, Gilson wrote three posts in response (first one here).

Given that he spent some effort in responding, I feel obliged to reply. The TL;DR of his response was: “Bob didn’t respond to my book.”

Uh, yeah. My topic was Jesus and slavery, and I made that clear.

Is everyone confused yet? Let me untangle things by going back to his original post, “Christianity and Slavery: Does It Mean Jesus Isn’t Good After All?” In this post, he made three points.

  1. He has a new book out.
  2. He’s gotten some pushback to one of the key points in this new book, that “Jesus is extraordinarily good.” He phrases the skeptical response as, “Your case for the Gospels depends on Jesus’ superior ethical goodness, but he wasn’t that good after all. He never condemned slavery, for one thing.” Gilson then argues that Jesus actually did condemn slavery (if obliquely).
  3. He uses his argument to illustrate a debating pitfall to avoid: make a clear distinction between what Jesus did and what Christians did (or do). If Christians were immoral or hypocritical, that does nothing to tarnish the reputation of Jesus.

Hey, did you hear that Tom Gilson has a new book?

I made clear in my first post in response that I was responding to point #2, the defense of Jesus’s position on slavery. But repeatedly in his three response posts Gilson complained that I didn’t do what I made clear I wasn’t doing.

Bob Seidensticker really ought to read Too Good to be False.

If [Seidensticker] wants to mount a serious critique he ought to at least find out what he’s critiquing—meaning the book, of course.

Bob Seidensticker doesn’t care to understand what he critiques. I hope he reads my book more seriously than that.

It’s almost as if he thinks he’s hammering in my thesis that Jesus is too good to be false. He hasn’t.

Too Good to be False is the title of the book, not the totality of its argument.

He thinks he’s attacking my book’s argument, when he doesn’t even know it.

I can’t tell him here what that whole argument is. It took a book to write it, and that’s where he’ll find it.

They’re going to have to read the book before they try to answer.

This isn’t the argument; therefore if you answer this without reading the book, you’re not answering the argument.

I’ve been looking forward to a serious atheistic challenge to the book’s argument. I’m still waiting.

Apologies for that slog, but now you get a sense of what I’ve been wading through. I understand the need to flog a new book, but this was over the top. The last thing I want to do now is read Gilson’s book.

Gilson did include some points relevant to his argument that Jesus attacked slavery. Let’s take a look.

Violent God

Gilson said:

I won’t waste time following him on tangents like God’s supposed violence in the Old Testament. His view of God’s violence is based on his missing the essential differences between God and man with respect to life, death, justice, eternity, and judgment.

Can “essential differences” be rephrased as “God’s ways are not our ways”? If that’s the case, I wonder then how Abraham could’ve haggled God down on how many righteous people would save Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23–32) or how Moses convinced God to relent in his desire to destroy the backsliding Israelites (Exodus 32:9–14). Obviously, they shared a moral understanding that was within a human’s grasp.

If we discard that and suppose that God’s moral approach is “do as I say, not as I do” so that the morality that constrains us doesn’t constrain God, what moral rules does God follow? Or does God have no moral standards beyond “might makes right” or “whatever God does is correct by definition”?

Let’s now consider God’s attitude toward life and death. I wonder if Gilson thinks the way William Lane Craig does when he said: “God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative.”

Love it! I want a piece of that religion. (But so much for life with God having meaning.)

Let me push back against God’s prerogative. If I give you a piece of artwork, I can’t later decide to take it back. And if God has given someone life, it’s no longer his to take back.

The judge of Christianity’s claims about God for me will continue to be me. Isn’t that the highest respect an atheist can give to a religious claim?

Continue in part 2.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery,
I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.
― Abraham Lincoln

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Image from Dev Asangbam (free-use license)
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