Jesus vs. Slavery: Tom Gilson Responds (3 of 3)

Jesus vs. Slavery: Tom Gilson Responds (3 of 3) October 1, 2020

Did Jesus make a clear anti-slavery statement? Christian apologist Tom Gilson says yes (part 1).

I disagree. Let’s wrap up with Gilson’s attempt to show my logical errors and some concluding remarks.

My errors brought to light

Gilson tried to expose my logical errors. Let C = the claim “Jesus was the Son of God whose primary mission on earth was to die for our sins and reconcile us to God.” My “huge” error, Gilson tells us, is

  1. Assume C is false.
  2. Conclude C is false.

In other words, I’m charged with circular reasoning.

Nope. I do conclude that Jesus wasn’t a god, and my argument is this entire blog. But I’m pretty much on board with the various reasons Christians give for Jesus’s visit to earth, according to the Bible. So no, no circular reasoning.

I am confused, though. The idea of Jesus coming to earth “to die for our sins and reconcile us to God” is popular, so I’ll accept that. But then what does that do to Gilson’s reference to “[Jesus’s] mission of revolution at the level of the heart”? He needs to get his own story straight before scolding me for not understanding Jesus’s mission. Those two missions don’t sound synonymous.

And if Gilson is saying that Jesus’s “primary mission was to . . . reconcile us to God,” it sounds like he’s agreeing with me. He’s saying that Jesus had more important matters to deal with than attacking slavery. Fine—then stop saying that he attacked slavery.

[Jesus] proved by demonstration that all persons are of equal worth. He taught love for all.

Jesus did hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors. But he also emphasized that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). He dismissed non-Jews as dogs (Matt. 15:26) and pigs (Matt. 7:6). The social hierarchy was clear in Jesus’s mind.

[Teaching love for all] was insurrection enough on its own to get himself executed for it.

Huh? Do you really not know why Jesus was executed? All four gospels agree on few things, but they all report that the accusation against Jesus was written on the cross: “King of the Jews.” Setting yourself up in opposition to Rome’s king—that was insurrection.

Still, he didn’t use the word slavery, though, so, hey, “How good was he?”

Dismiss the sarcasm, and Gilson is on target here. The Son of Man was given an easy pitch, and he swung and missed. Gilson wants to dismiss that as unimportant, but what does it mean that Jesus gets a trivial moral test wrong? This is how outsiders test Christianity’s claims. Jesus can’t be a god and get “Is slavery morally okay?” wrong.

Summary points

Gilson tries to summarize my fourth post with two points. That sounds like an easy job since my arguments are simple, but he fails. Is it that hard to read an atheist without bias?

1. A lot of Christians have either misunderstood or failed to follow Jesus’ teachings.

Here, Gilson throws imperfect Christians under the bus, but this isn’t my point. I argued that an objective, unbiased reading of the Bible gives far more support for the slave-owner than the abolitionist.

2. Jesus didn’t use the word “slavery,” so therefore he wasn’t against it.

Does Gilson actually think this is an accurate summary, or is this a deliberate strawman? My position is simply that slavery is a test of Christian claims for Jesus. Is Jesus an omni-benevolent being? Then surely he would make at least a tiny fraction of his message a clear rejection of slavery. The Golden Rule, a vague condemnation of greed, or rules of sexual morality aren’t the same thing.

To state the obvious, I will be the judge of this test. Gilson always has the fallback that Jesus’s lack of an obvious anti-slavery message might make some sort of sense in God’s mind, but then his argument degrades to, “Sure, I realize that Jesus appears to not be particularly benevolent, but—who knows?—maybe we just can’t understand.” (More on what this argument imposes on the Christian here.)

Let’s take a step back

Why is this hard?

I’m kidding of course—I know why it’s hard. By addressing the slavery question, Gilson shows that he understands that it’s an Achilles heel. He’s a product of Western morality, and he’s surely as horrified by slavery as any of us. But the best he can come up with is weak arguments like, “The principles Jesus taught cut every leg out from under slavery” when the simple and obvious explanation is that Jesus was just an ordinary person (or literary figure) of his time who couldn’t imagine a society where slavery was both dispensable and dispensed with.

Jesus sounds like a product of his time. His story isn’t that of a timeless god sharing wisdom with no expiration date. He was just another prophet or mythological god-man like countless others from the Ancient Near East. If he were an omni-benevolent god, he’d sound like it.

If you’re just going to go with “Well, his ideas lived on,”
I’ll put Jesus behind Archimedes, Socrates, Euclid,
Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Pasteur, Einstein,
Fleming, and Bohr in that regard.
All of their ideas are current today
and of great value in modern society,
whereas Jesus espoused monarchy, slavery,
and 2nd-class status for women.
— commenter Richard S. Russell

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Image from Kevin Jarrett (free-use license)
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