September 21, 2020

Despite being a god, Jesus is unaccountably never able to speak for himself. For better or worse, he has his friends to defend his good name (in this case, it’s for worse). The seven points we’ve analyzed so far from Christian apologist Tom Gilson have been full of holes (part 1 here). Here are the final three.

[EDIT: Gilson wrote a second post in response. Find the link at the bottom of post 2.]

8. Bible slavery was nothing like American slavery

“Slavery was absolutely woven into the economy and culture of the day. It was nothing like southern chattel slavery, of course. If you’re thinking slavery in 1830s Alabama, you’re not thinking of slavery in first century Greco-Roman or Judaic culture.”

No, I’m thinking about slavery as sanctioned by God in the Old Testament. If morality isn’t relative, as Christian apologists insist, God’s rules about slavery should always be in vogue, whether given 3000 years ago or yesterday.

Let’s have a quiz. To compare biblical and American slavery, we’ll take Gilson’s claim as a challenge. I’ll paraphrase two slave laws. One is from Alabama from the 1830s and the other from the Old Testament. See if you can tell which is which.

Law 1: If, through abuse, a slave owner dismembers or kills a slave, that slave owner shall be punished as if he had committed the same offense on a free person.

Law 2: A slave owner is assumed to treat his property responsibly, and that includes beating as may be necessary. A beating shall be considered abuse only if the slave dies or is unable to return to work within two days.

(The sources of these two laws are given at the end of this post.*)

Gilson said, “[Slavery as prescribed in the Bible] was nothing like southern chattel slavery, of course.”

Wrong. American slavery and biblical slavery were pretty much identical. I make that comparison here.

If slavery improved in first-century Judea as compared to Old Testament times, I would like to see evidence that it was due to Judaism. “Well, yeah, they had slavery in Palestine, but it wasn’t that bad” is hardly a bold endorsement of God’s society on earth. I think it’s fair to insist on high moral standards for the Creator of the universe.

(This is where apologists will point to The Fall® and say that society’s problems are all mankind’s fault. (1) This argument fails, and (2) blaming it all on people is exactly what you’d say if you were stuck defending a god who didn’t exist.)

The god who spoke the universe into existence could probably find a solution to slavery. As usual, Christians have their god running from opportunities to show he exists.

9. You underestimate how entrenched slavery was

“[Slavery] was embedded in the social structure, so deep that you must realize there’s no way anyone could have just ended slavery. The Greeks, Romans, and Jews had no conception of widespread voluntary employment. There’s no chance that Jesus or anyone could have instituted it overnight. They’d have been slaughtered for trying.”

Remind me sometime to explain what “omnipotent” means.

God is (supposedly) magic. If God wanted slavery gone tomorrow, he could make that so.

And don’t tell me that slavery is part of God’s marvelous plan. Whatever God expects to achieve through abysmal living conditions, he could achieve with magic. And the existence of slavery has a straightforward natural explanation. The God hypothesis adds nothing.

What sounds more likely—God dictating the rules of slavery in the Old Testament and letting it persist through history or “God” being a human invention, just like all the other gods?

10. Jesus did end slavery, just not right away

“What was needed was a revolution of the heart, which [Jesus] led, and then the gradual development of economic and social structures to fill the place slavery had held. It resulted over time in the ending of slavery in Europe; and in fact, there is no place on earth where slavery was abolished except under the influence of Jesus Christ.”

There are more slaves today than ever! “Revolution of the Heart” might work as the title of a pop song, but it’s just handwaving to imagine it having changed the world. The Ten Commandments, purportedly from God himself, banned lying, stealing, or murder almost 3000 years ago. How did that revolution work out?

Why focus on just slaves in Europe when Jesus’s “revolution” was for the whole world? But let’s ignore that and focus on the claim that there are no slaves in Europe. The 2018 Global Slavery Index says that today there are more than 10,000 slaves each in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, and the Netherlands. And more than 100,000 in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK.

Data on France says that most of its slaves are prostitutes, with domestic work being the second largest category. Additionally, France annually imports $15 billion in products at risk of being produced by forced labor. Germany has similar numbers—90% of its slaves are prostitutes and $30 billion in imports are possibly produced by forced labor.

Gilson tells us that it pleased God to handle this humanitarian crisis in a gradual manner. No need to rush in headlong and eliminate vast amounts of human suffering all at once, right? Jesus couldn’t just end slavery but had to work through William Wilberforce (a Christian) to end the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 and slavery itself in 1833.

And Jesus also worked through France’s very atheistic Revolutionary government to end slavery there in 1794. And haphazardly through other countries throughout history, I guess. (How frustrating it must be to be omnipotent and yet constrained by inept humans.)

Who’s responsible—Christians or Christianity?

It is maddening to find Christian apologists who claim their god can do anything but then must explain how God stepped back when any of us with that power would’ve stepped up. They tap dance away from the fact that whatever they claim God did is more easily explained by it coming about naturally or due to human action.

Now consider his final claim, “There is no place on earth where slavery was abolished except under the influence of Jesus Christ.” One Greek scholar said in the fourth century BCE, “God has left all men free; Nature has made nobody a slave.” Where in the Bible does Jesus say something like that? Stoicism was a school of philosophy founded in Greece about a century later. Abolition of slavery was not a tenet, but they got a lot closer than Christianity did, and three centuries earlier. Gilson will point out that the Stoics had no principles rejecting slavery, but then neither does Christianity.

Gilson’s error is in conflating the actions of people who happened to follow Jesus and the principles of Jesus. Did Christians eliminate slavery in Europe? Not exclusively, but largely. Was that because they were Christian? I await the evidence that atheists couldn’t have done the same thing.

And let’s be clear that simply making a Bible-y argument doesn’t count. I have made arguments aimed at Christians supported with Bible verses, and I’m an atheist. I need to see a convincing argument that these Christians from centuries past wouldn’t have been abolitionists if they hadn’t been Christians. If they were simply expressing human morality, remember that atheists can be good people, too.

Not only did Christianity not end slavery quickly (as one would expect if the anti-slavery case made by Jesus were as strong as Gilson claims it was), it even supported it. In 1205, the pope authorized the slavery of Jews “because they crucified the Lord.” A decree from the pope in 1452 allowed the king of Portugal to enslave Arabs and pagans and then take their land and property. And in 1866, the pope sent instructions to a Roman Catholic authority in Ethiopia that said, in part, “Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law.”

If Jesus missed the boat, he had company. Christianity looks to be people all the way down.

Concluded in part 4.

Unreflective Comment of the Day:
Why would people in America
want to embrace the religion of the slavers?
— Pat Robertson (on Muslims)

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__________________

*Law 1 is from the 1833 Alabama law code: “Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person.”

Law 2 is from Exodus 21:20–21: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

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Image from Kirill Pershin (free-use license)
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April 30, 2018

I’d like to respond to two posts about biblical slavery from Jim Wallace of the Cold Case Christianity blog. I’ve argued several times before against Wallace (here, here, and here).

Let me begin with a positive comment on his “Four Differences Between New Testament Servitude and New World Slavery.” Many Christian apologies for biblical slavery avoid the most unpleasant passages in the Bible, such as the part about slavery for life in Leviticus 25:44–6, but Wallace’s list of relevant Bible verses is fairly complete.

That’s a good start, but he argues toward an odd conclusion:

The New Testament Servitude of the Ancient Near East had little in common with the New World Slavery of our American ancestors.

Wallace tries unsuccessfully to distinguish slavery as it was practiced in the Old Testament from that practiced in the Thirteen Colonies and then the United States (I’ll call this “America”). Let’s take a look at his four claims.

“1. A Difference In the Motive Behind Slavery.”

Wallace tells us that slavery in America was for the economic gain of the masters, while in ancient Israel, “the primary motive for slavery was often the economic relief of the servant.”

First, let’s disentangle the different kinds of slavery. In America there were two kinds. An indentured servant was typically a European who came to America to work for another European. Masters paid for their servants’ passage, and they provided food, clothes, and training. In return, the servants were typically obliged to work for four to five years. Roughly half of the European immigrants to the Thirteen Colonies came as indentured servants.

The other kind, of course, was chattel slavery where the slave and any children were owned for their lives and were property that could be bought or sold. Here, Americans enslaved non-Europeans, typically from West Africa.

The Bible documents the very same practices: Hebrews owning Hebrew slaves for roughly six years (indentured servitude) and Hebrews owning non-Hebrews for life (chattel slavery).

Let’s return to Wallace’s characterization of Hebrew slavery. He’s right that slavery as an institution in America benefitted the masters. Obviously, the same was true in Old Testament Israel—why else would it have lasted? It wasn’t an obligation that Hebrew masters took on reluctantly, only as a service to the community. Wallace gives Old Testament (OT) slavery a pro-servant spin, but the verse he cites (Lev. 25:35–7) is not about slaves.

Wallace is also right that OT slavery addressed financial issues. Ditto American indentured servitude. He’s not off to a good start in making a distinction between American indentured servitude and OT slavery of fellow Hebrews.

“2. A Difference As to How People Entered Into Slavery.”

Wallace finds several different types of indentured servants in the OT and imagines that these illustrate important differences when compared with American indentured servants.

  • “Voluntary Temporary Indentured Hebrew Servants.” These were just like American indentured servants.
  • “Voluntary Permanent Hebrew Servants.” Suppose one indentured servant married another. What do you do if the man has completed his term, but his wife and children must remain with the master? If you’re thinking that the Bible recommends the master compassionately permit the wife and children to leave as well, you’re giving the Bible too much credit. No, the Bible says that the man could opt to remain, but only as a permanent slave. I know of no parallel with the American concept of indentured servitude (which is not a plus for the biblical position).
  • “Involuntary Hebrew and Gentile Criminals in Restitution.” Thieves must make restitution for their crimes. If they can’t, they will be sold as slaves. Perhaps there were cases like this in America.
  • “Permanent Pagan Servants.” These are slaves for life taken from surrounding tribes and from the non-Hebrews living in Israel. Wallace tries to dilute this by arguing that Israelites still couldn’t kidnap and sell people into slavery (Exodus 21:16), but the NET Bible says that this refers only to the kidnapping of fellow Israelites and selling them into slavery (like Joseph, sold by his brothers).

The trick here is to make sure that you understand what kind of slavery a particular Bible passage is referring to. In these categories, American and OT slavery are matched step for step.

“3. A Difference In How People Were Treated Once They Were Slaves.”

Wallace says, “Slaves were treated humanely and their treatment was regulated by Biblical law.”

  • The Bible dictates that slaves could rest on the Sabbath and celebrate religious holidays, and slaves could adopt their masters’ religion. Conditions in America were similar, and Christianity was an important tool in keeping slaves in line.
  • The Bible holds masters accountable for fair treatment of slaves. For example, beating is allowed but only up to a point. Conditions in American were similar. For example, the 1739 South Carolina code limited the number of hours that slaves could be made to work and fined anyone who killed a slave £700. The 1833 Alabama law code dictated, “Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person.”

“4. A Difference In How People Freed Themselves From Slavery.”

Wallace argues that there were more ways for OT slaves to free themselves than in America.

  • Someone could pay the debt of an indentured servant, or they could do it themselves.
  • The indentured servant could complete his term of service.
  • A slave could be freed if injured from a beating (it’s unclear which kind of slave this refers to).

How is this different from conditions in America? In addition, slaves in America sometimes bought their freedom, which the Bible doesn’t address.

Let me again give Jim Wallace credit for giving a fairly thorough list of Bible verses on the subject at hand. But Jim, tell me the truth. Are you a Poe? You let the Bible speak for itself, and it does: it documents a 2500-year-old version of American slavery. The two are almost identical, point by point.

That’s why it’s hard to understand Wallace’s conclusion:

While it is clear that the ancient Israelites did possess slaves, it is also clear the reason for their possession, the manner in which they were treated, and the manner in which they could be released was very different from the institution of slavery in more recent times in Europe and America. . . .  It is unfair to say that the God of the Bible supports the institution of slavery as we understand it in more modern times. That version of slavery had little in common with the version of servitude in Biblical times.

No, the God of the Bible supported a form of slavery basically indistinguishable from that practiced in America.

The United States didn’t get its founding principles from the Bible—principles such as democracy, secular government, separation of powers, and a limited executive; freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly; protection from self-incrimination and double jeopardy; speedy and public trial, trial by jury, and the right to confront witnesses; and no cruel and unusual punishment.

But one trait that it got almost identical to the biblical version was slavery.

To be concluded in part 2.

This government of God was tried in the U.S.
when slavery was regarded as a divine institution.
The pulpit of that day
defended the buying and selling of women and babies.
The mouths of the slave-traders
were filled with passages of Scripture,
defending and upholding traffic in human flesh.
Robert Green Ingersoll

.

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 8/25/14.)

Image via Cesar Rojas Iribarren, CC license

 

June 1, 2016

The history of the abolition movement in the West isn’t complete without William Wilberforce. His drive was instrumental in abolishing in Britain the slave trade in 1807 and then slavery itself in 1833. There’s much more to the story than just Wilberforce, of course, but the story wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging his work.

What does a central figure look like?

Martin Luther King has a similar position within the U.S. civil rights movement. The story doesn’t begin and end with him, of course, but the story wouldn’t be complete without noting his substantial contribution.

Or Gutenberg in publishing. Or Einstein in physics. Or Shakespeare in English literature. Or Charlemagne in the history of Europe. Perhaps their fields would now look to us roughly the same without them; perhaps others would’ve stepped in. No matter—these great leaders were central figures in their fields. You can’t explain the facts of the history of their fields without them. A history book without these figures would have holes, like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.

Who gave the “I have a dream” speech? How did the Slave Trade Act get through Parliament with so much opposition? Who developed the theory of relativity? Did the printing press just poof into existence?

There aren’t partisans here, with some historians of science acknowledging Einstein (or Darwin or Newton) and others saying that these figures never existed. Historians might rate their importance differently, but that they were important isn’t questioned.

How does God fit in?

Now that we know what a central figure looks like, consider God, the central figure in reality. He’s behind life, the universe, and everything. No historical figure so dominates their field as God dominates reality—or so we’re told.

Imagine God removed from reality, like the story of abolition without Wilberforce, or an Einstein-less history of physics. Beyond a superficial summary, we simply can’t explain abolition without Wilberforce or the history of physics without Einstein. So what of reality can no longer be explained without God?

Nothing!

Admittedly, we have riddles at the frontier of science. How did abiogenesis happen? What caused the Big Bang? What causes consciousness? But surely the Christian’s argument is more than, “Science doesn’t have all the answers, therefore God.” And, of course, Christianity doesn’t have any better answers. It can wrap a scientific puzzle with “God did it,” but that explains nothing. Science continues to deliver while Christianity continues to not deliver, but even if science delivered no more, that would say nothing about God’s existence.

Hot water

Have you heard about the recipe for making boiling water? First put a pot of water on a hot stove, then stir with a magic spoon (just once, clockwise), and then wait for the water to boil.

God is the magic spoon. He’s not necessary. He only complicates the explanation. Invoke Occam’s Razor and drop both the magic spoon and God.

The problem with quotes on the internet 
is that it is hard to verify their authenticity.
— Abraham Lincoln

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 5/13/13.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

August 25, 2014

biblical slaveryI’d like to respond to two recent posts on slavery in the Bible from Jim Wallace of the Cold Case Christianity blog. I’ve argued several times before with Wallace (here, here, and here).

Let me begin with a positive comment on his “Four Differences Between New Testament Servitude and New World Slavery.” Many Christian apologies for biblical slavery avoid the most unpleasant passages in the Bible, such as the part about slavery for life (Lev. 25:44–6), but Wallace’s list of relevant Bible verses is fairly complete.

That’s a good start, but he argues toward an odd conclusion:

The New Testament Servitude of the Ancient Near East had little in common with the New World Slavery of our American ancestors.

Wallace tries unsuccessfully to distinguish slavery as it was practiced in the Old Testament from that practiced in the 13 Colonies and then the United States (I’ll call this “America”). Let’s take a look at his four claims.

“1. A Difference In the Motive Behind Slavery.” We read that slavery in America was for the economic gain of the masters, while in ancient Israel, “the primary motive for slavery was often the economic relief of the servant.”

First, let’s disentangle the different kinds of slavery. In America there were two kinds. An indentured servant was typically a European who came to America to work for another European. Masters paid for their servants’ passage, and they provided food, clothes, and training. In return, the servants were typically obliged to work for four to five years (terms varied). Roughly half of the European immigrants to the 13 colonies came as indentured servants.

The other kind, of course, was chattel slavery where the slave and any children were owned for their lives and were property that could be bought or sold. Here, Americans enslaved non-Europeans, typically from West Africa.

The Bible documents the same practices: Hebrews owning Hebrew slaves for roughly six years (indentured servitude) and Hebrews owning non-Hebrews for life (chattel slavery).

Let’s return to Wallace’s characterization of Hebrew slavery. He’s right that slavery as an institution in America benefitted the masters. Obviously, the same was true in Old Testament Israel—why else would it have lasted? It wasn’t an obligation that Hebrew masters took on reluctantly, only as a service to the community. Wallace gives OT (Old Testament) slavery a pro-servant spin, but the verse he cites (Lev. 25:35–7) is not about slaves.

Wallace is also right that OT slavery addressed financial issues. Ditto American indentured servitude. He’s not off to a good start in making a distinction between American indentured servitude and OT slavery of fellow Hebrews.

“2. A Difference As to How People Entered Into Slavery.” Wallace finds several different types of indentured servants in the OT and imagines that these illustrate important differences when compared with American indentured servants.

  • “Voluntary Temporary Indentured Hebrew Servants.” These were just like American indentured servants.
  • “Voluntary Permanent Hebrew Servants.” Suppose one indentured servant married another. What do you do if the man has completed his term, but his wife and children must remain with the master? If you’re thinking that the Bible recommends the master compassionately permit the wife and children to leave as well, you’re giving the Bible too much credit. No, the Bible says that the man could opt to remain, but only as a permanent slave. I know of no parallel with the American concept of indentured servitude (which is not a plus for the biblical position).
  • “Involuntary Hebrew and Gentile Criminals in Restitution.” Thieves must make restitution for their crimes. If they can’t, they will be sold as slaves. I imagine there were cases like this in America.
  • “Permanent Pagan Servants.” These are slaves for life taken from surrounding tribes and from the non-Hebrews living in Israel. Wallace tries to dilute this by arguing that Israelites still couldn’t kidnap and sell people into slavery (Ex. 21:16), but the NET Bible says that this refers only to the kidnapping of fellow Israelites and selling them into slavery (like Joseph, sold by his brothers). The trick here is to make sure that you understand what kind of slavery a particular Bible passage is referring to.

Here again, American and OT slavery are matched step for step.

“3. A Difference In How People Were Treated Once They Were Slaves.” Wallace says, “Slaves were treated humanely and their treatment was regulated by Biblical law.”

  • The Bible dictates that slaves could rest on the Sabbath and celebrate religious holidays. Slaves could adopt their masters’ religion. Conditions in America were similar, and Christianity was an important tool in keeping slaves in line.
  • The Bible holds masters accountable for fair treatment of slaves. For example, beating is allowed but only up to a point. Conditions in American were similar: the 1739 South Carolina code limited the number of hours that slaves could be made to work and fined anyone who killed a slave £700. The 1833 Alabama law code dictated, “Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person.”

“4. A Difference In How People Freed Themselves From Slavery.” Wallace argues that there were more ways for OT slaves to free themselves than in America.

  • Someone could pay the debt of an indentured servant, or they could do it themselves.
  • The indentured servant could complete his term of service.
  • Slave could be freed if injured from a beating (it’s unclear which kind of slave this refers to).

How is this different from conditions in America? In addition, slaves in America sometimes bought their freedom, which the Bible doesn’t address.

Let me again give Jim Wallace credit for giving a fairly thorough list of Bible verses on the subject at hand. But Jim, tell me the truth. Are you a Poe? You let the Bible speak for itself, and it does: it documents a 2500-year-old version of American slavery. The two are almost identical, point by point.

That’s why it’s hard to understand Wallace’s conclusion:

While it is clear that the ancient Israelites did possess slaves, it is also clear the reason for their possession, the manner in which they were treated, and the manner in which they could be released was very different from the institution of slavery in more recent times in Europe and America. … It is unfair to say that the God of the Bible supports the institution of slavery as we understand it in more modern times. That version of slavery had little in common with the version of servitude in Biblical times.

No, the God of the Bible supported a form of slavery basically indistinguishable from that practiced in America.

The United States didn’t get much of its founding principles from the Bible—principles such as democracy, secular government, separation of powers, and a limited executive; freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly; protection from self-incrimination and double jeopardy; speedy and public trial, trial by jury, and the right to confront witnesses; no cruel and unusual punishment; and no slavery—but one trait that it got almost identical to the biblical version was slavery.

This discussion is concluded in Part 2.

This government of God was tried in the U.S.
when slavery was regarded as a divine institution.
The pulpit of that day
defended the buying and selling of women and babies.
The mouths of the slave-traders
were filled with passages of Scripture,
defending and upholding traffic in human flesh.
Robert Green Ingersoll

Photo credit: Travis Forsyth

June 27, 2014

Old Testament Bible slaveryLet’s continue this critique of an apologetics.com podcast that responded to Dan Savage’s claim that the Bible is “radically pro-slavery.” Italicized arguments are my paraphrases of arguments from the podcast. (Part 1 here.)

4. The Bible rejects slavery. “Slavery” in the Bible is simply not the same thing as slavery in the United States. For example, consider Ex. 21:16:

Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

See? A rejection of slavery, right there in the Bible.

Nope. This refers just to Jews kidnapping Jews to be sold in other countries—see the NET Bible comment on this verse. The Bible makes a clear distinction between Jews as slaves and members of other tribes as slaves.

Why is the atheist educating the Christians about their own holy book? Don’t they read it? Don’t they know about these two aspects of biblical slavery?

5. Biblical slavery was NOT American slavery. “We have a very different view here of what slavery was [comparing American slavery with biblical slavery] and you can see that it’s heavily regulated.”

Yes, slavery was regulated, just like commerce. And, like commerce, slavery was kosher from God’s standpoint.

And yes, Africans enslaved in America was different than Jews enslaved by Jews. We’ll get to that.

On the podcast, Brooks read the rules for treating Jewish slaves from Exodus 21:2–8. A Jewish slave must be freed after six years; any wife or children that came with him would be free to go, but if the master buys him a wife, she remains behind; if the slave can’t bear to leave his wife, he can remain if he promises to be a slave for life; there are special rules for how to sell your daughter into slavery; and so on.

This is rather like indentured servitude used in the American colonies, the contract by which someone would be transported to the New World in return for five or so years of work. These were European servants working for European masters.

The Bible defines two kinds of slave

But, incredibly, the discussion didn’t address the elephant in the room: the biblical rules for non-Jewish slavery. This conversation went on for an hour, so it’s not like they didn’t have time. Are they really unaware of this? Or was this a deliberate deception on their part, a wager on the ignorance of their audience?

Well, if they won’t discuss it, I’ll be happy to. Let’s wallow in the Bible’s radically pro-slavery message.

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites [harshly]. (Lev. 25:44–46)

This doesn’t look like indentured servitude, Toto. Indeed, this looks very much like the slavery for life (chattel slavery) in America that the speakers were so frantic to distance themselves from. The Jews treated the folks from their own tribe better than “those people” from other tribes. Sound familiar?

Much is made in the Old Testament of how God rescued the Jews from slavery in Egypt, but slavery was a terrible burden only when applied to us. When it’s applied to them, that’s a very different story. In fact, the Jews enslaved the tribe of the Gibeonites as soon as they returned to Canaan after the exodus from Egypt (Joshua 9:23).

More biblical demands for slavery:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. (Deut. 20:10–11)

You could argue that slavery is better than being killed, which the following verses make clear is the alternative. Indeed, the hosts make points like this—slavery is better than dying, slavery is the merciful alternative, Old Testament rules were kinder than those in some neighboring countries, and so on.

But I gotta wonder—is this is the best that can be said about the greatest moral document in history, that it wasn’t as bad as the morality in surrounding countries? This is the best an omniscient, omni-benevolent God can do?

Speaking of forced labor, this is how King Solomon worked his famous mines (1 Kings 9:20–22).

Then there’s the category of sex slaves (or sex workers or concubines or whatever):

Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. (Num. 31:17–18; see also Deut. 21:11)

And no slave manual would be complete without a rule for how to beat slaves correctly:

If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. (Ex. 21:20–21)

Again, this sounds very much like slavery in America. These biblical laws sound similar to the laws governing the practice of slavery in America. Some of these also protected slaves. For example, the 1739 South Carolina code fined someone who killed a slave £700 and limited the number of hours that slaves could be made to work. The 1833 Alabama law code dictated, “Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person.”

Despite the hosts’ protestations to the contrary, American slavery and biblical slavery were quite similar institutions.

Concluded in Part 3.

He that will not reason is a bigot; 
he that cannot reason is a fool; 
he that dares not reason is a slave.
— William Drummond

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 6/9/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

May 13, 2013

The history of the abolition movement in the West isn’t complete without William Wilberforce. His drive was instrumental in abolishing in Britain the slave trade in 1807 and then slavery itself in 1833. There’s much more to the story than just Wilberforce, of course, but the story wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging his work.

Martin Luther King has a similar position within the U.S. civil rights movement. The story doesn’t begin and end with him, of course, but the story wouldn’t be complete without noting his substantial contribution.

Or Gutenberg in publishing. Or Einstein in physics. Or Shakespeare in English literature. Or Charlemagne in the history of Europe. Perhaps their fields would now look to us roughly the same without them; perhaps others would’ve stepped in. No matter—these great leaders were central figures in their fields. You can’t explain the facts of the history of their fields without them. A history book without these figures would have holes, like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing.

Wait—how did the Slave Trade Act get through Parliament with so much opposition? Who gave the “I have a dream” speech? Who developed the theory of relativity? Did the printing press just poof into existence?

There aren’t partisans here, with some historians of science acknowledging Einstein (or Darwin or Newton) and others saying that these figures never existed. Historians might rate their importance differently, but that they were important isn’t questioned.

Now that we know what a central figure looks like, consider God, the central figure in reality. He’s behind life, the universe, and everything. No historical figure so dominates their field as God dominates reality—or so we’re told.

Imagine God removed from reality, like the story of abolition without Wilberforce, or an Einstein-less history of physics. Beyond a superficial summary, we simply can’t explain abolition without Wilberforce or the history of physics without Einstein. So what of reality can no longer be explained without God?

Nothing!

Admittedly, we have riddles at the frontier of science. How did abiogenesis happen? What caused the Big Bang? What causes consciousness? But surely the Christian’s argument is more than, “Science doesn’t have all the answers, therefore God.” And, of course, Christianity doesn’t have any better answers. It can repackage a scientific puzzle with “God did it,” but that explains nothing. Science continues to deliver while Christianity continues to not deliver, but even if science delivered no more, that would say nothing about God’s existence.

Have you heard about the recipe for making boiling water? First put a pot of water on a hot stove, then stir with a magic spoon (just once, clockwise), and then wait for the water to boil.

God is the magic spoon. He’s not necessary. He only complicates the explanation.

Invoke Occam’s Razor and drop both the magic spoon and God.

The problem with quotes on the internet
is that it is hard to verify their authenticity.
— Abraham Lincoln

Photo credit: Will Culpepper

June 9, 2012

Slavery and the Bible--doesn't make God look very good(See Part 1 of this discussion.)

Let’s continue this critique of a podcast titled “Sex, Lies & Leviticus” from apologetics.com that responded to Dan Savage’s criticism of the Bible. Italicized arguments are my paraphrases from the podcast.

“Slavery” in the Bible is simply not the same thing as slavery in the United States. For example, consider Ex. 21:16:

Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

See? A rejection of slavery, right there in the Bible.

Nope. This refers just to Jews kidnapping Jews—see the NET Bible comment on this verse. The Bible makes a clear distinction between (1) Jews as slaves and (2) members of other tribes as slaves.

(Why is the atheist educating the Christians about their own book? Don’t they know about these two aspects of biblical slavery?)

“We have a very different view here of what slavery was [comparing American slavery with biblical slavery] and you can see that it’s heavily regulated.”

Yes, slavery was regulated, just like commerce. And, like commerce, slavery was kosher from God’s standpoint.

And yes, Africans enslaved in America was different than Jews enslaved by Jews (but we’ll get to that).

On the podcast, Brooks read the rules for treating Jewish slaves from Exodus 21:2–8. A Jewish slave must be freed after six years; any wife or children that came with him would be free to go, but if the master buys him a wife, she remains behind; if the slave can’t bear to part with his wife, he can remain if he promises to be a slave for life; there are special rules for how to sell your daughter into slavery; and so on.

This is rather like indentured servitude used in the American colonies, the contract by which someone would be transported to the New World in return for five or so years of work. These were European servants working for European masters.

But, incredibly, the discussion didn’t address the elephant in the room: the biblical rules for non-Jewish slavery. This conversation went on for an hour, so it’s not like they didn’t have time. Are they really unaware of this? Or was this a deliberate deception on their part, a wager on the ignorance of their audience?

Well, if they won’t discuss it, I’ll be happy to. Let’s wallow in the Bible’s radically pro-slavery message.

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites [harshly]. (Lev. 25:44–46)

This doesn’t look like indentured servitude, Toto. Indeed, this looks very much like the slavery for life (chattel slavery) in America that the speakers were so frantic to distance themselves from. The Jews treated the folks from their own tribe better than “those people” from other tribes. Sound familiar?

Much is made in the Old Testament of how God rescued the Jews from slavery in Egypt, but slavery was a terrible burden only when applied to us. When it’s applied to them, that’s a very different story. In fact, the Jews enslaved the tribe of the Gibeonites as soon as they returned to Canaan after the exodus from Egypt (Joshua 9:23).

More biblical advice on slavery:

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. (Deut. 20:10–11)

You could argue that slavery is better than being killed, which the following verses make clear is the alternative. Indeed, the hosts make points like this—slavery is better than dying, slavery is the merciful alternative, Old Testament rules were kinder than those in some neighboring countries, and so on.

But I gotta wonder—is this is the best that can be said about the greatest moral document in history, that it wasn’t as bad as the morality in surrounding countries? This is the best an omniscient, omni-benevolent God can do?

Speaking of forced labor, this is how King Solomon worked his famous mines (1 Kings 9:20–22).

Then there’s the category of sex slaves (or sex workers or concubines or whatever):

Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. (Num. 31:17–18; see also Deut. 21:11)

And no slave manual would be complete without a rule for how to beat slaves correctly:

If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. (Ex. 21:20–21)

Again, this sounds very much like slavery in America. These biblical laws sound similar to the laws governing the practice of slavery in America. Some of these also protected slaves. For example, the 1739 South Carolina code fined someone who killed a slave £700 and limited the number of hours that slaves could be made to work. The 1833 Alabama law code dictated, “Any person who shall maliciously dismember or deprive a slave of life, shall suffer such punishment as would be inflicted in case the like offence had been committed on a free white person.”

Despite the hosts’ protestations to the contrary, American slavery and biblical slavery were quite similar institutions.

Continue reading: Part 3

He that will not reason is a bigot;
he that cannot reason is a fool;
he that dares not reason is a slave.
— William Drummond

Photo credit: Wikimedia


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