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I sincerely want to thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response. I have given what you said very careful consideration, and I hope you will do the same for me. I have read your reply several times and I have found the following points to be your major topics of discussion:
1.) Slavery was a common practice throughout the ancient world, often required of lower classes to recover debts, correct undisciplined behavior, and so on.
2.) Slaves were not treated as poorly as we might think, the Bible tells us we should treat our slaves with kindness and be devoted to their welfare.
3.) Jesus was a prophet, not a politician. Therefore, it was not Jesus’ job to right all the political wrongs of the time period.
4.) Slavery is a judicial matter. Jesus did not abolish the moral law, but he did absolve us from Old Testament practices, such as sacrificial, dietary, and judicial laws.
Before we go any further, I would like to make two assumptions upon which I think we can both agree. First, I assume you agree with the 13th Amendment, which outlaws slavery within the United States. Throughout your response I have not found anything to indicate you actually believe slavery to be a morally justifiable practice. Therefore, despite the fact you are a Christian-theist and I am an atheist, I hope we can both come together and agree the practice of slavery is indeed immoral.
Second, I assume being a Christian that you believe morality is fixed, absolute, and prescribed by God. Most Christians argue that if morality is not absolute then it would be free to change with the changing whims of society, making morality completely arbitrary. No one believes morality is arbitrary, including atheists. For the time being I hope we can both agree that there exists such a thing as moral absolutes, which dictate an unwavering standard of behavior that all people must follow at all times.
With that said, throughout this discussion I would like you to keep in mind we are not debating whether slavery was pervasive in the ancient world, if some slave masters were kinder than others, whether Jesus was a prophet and not a politician, and so on, because on all of these issues I completely agree. However, the true issue at hand is whether or not the practice of slavery itself can be viewed as “moral”. If slavery is immoral, we must investigate whether the Bible makes similar attempts to counteract the practice of slavery as it does with other immoral acts such as adultery, stealing, lying, and so on.
Point #1: Slavery was commonly used as a tool.
Throughout the course of reading you response I found myself repeatedly asking one question, “Is slavery moral?” You went to great lengths to demonstrate how slavery was used as a tool to help people get out of debt or resolve social issues like laziness, in addition to providing extensive evidence the practice of enslavement was common throughout the ancient world. But does that give you, or anyone else, grounds upon which to declare slavery to be a “moral practice”? I should hope not. If you agree that slavery is immoral, what difference would it make how pervasive the practice or in what fashion slavery was used?
Instead of slavery, what if men and women throughout the ancient world used sex as a tool to recover their debts? Would that make the act of premarital sex, or even adultery, any less immoral? Not according to a Christian world-view. Therefore, why do you make such arbitrary concessions when it comes to the practice of slavery? Again, it does not matter in what manner slavery was used or how much it was ingrained in everyday life, for we have agreed that God defines morality according to fixed absolutes. Therefore, if something is immoral, it is ALWAYS immoral. This is a matter of being consistent in our understanding of moral principles. Without consistency morality becomes meaningless.
Point #2: Slaves were not treated poorly.
Again, I found myself asking the same question in response to this claim, “Is slavery moral?” If you agree that enslaving someone is not a moral practice, then what difference would it make how the slaves were treated? I will refer to my previous analogy of prostitution. What if we could guarantee prostitutes would only be treated with utmost respect in a controlled setting with security, monthly blood screenings, and so on? In fact, we could even legalize prostitution, creating an environment where the only parties involved would be consenting adults, and prostitutes have full control over the men they choose to be their clients.
What does the fact that women are being treated kindly by their brothels have to say about the morality of prostitution? If prostitution is immoral, then it is ALWAYS immoral — no matter how much we regulate it, limit it, or how well we treat its participants. Likewise, if slavery is immoral, then it is ALWAYS immoral — no matter how a plantation treats the slaves or what reason they had for enslaving them, there is no justification that can be given to explain away the enslavement of a class or race of people. Even if you, as a slave master, were the kindest slave master in the history of humankind, it would do nothing to legitimize the practice of slavery. You could be the nicest crack dealer in the world as well, but it would not excuse the fact you directly profit from the exploitation of other human beings.
However, let’s not be so naïve as to assume every Jew or Christian treated their slaves like members of the family. Although we find several passages in the Bible that tell Christians to be kind to slaves and remain devoted to their welfare, there are just as many passages that allude to the cruel and unjust nature of slavery. Never mind Paul’s attempt to REGULATE slavery by writing letters to the Ephesians instructing them on, as you put it, “how slaves and masters should get along”. The mere fact this immoral act was allowed to continue in ANY fashion demonstrates the apostles’ and Jesus’ inhumane indifference to the suffering of millions of innocent people. What if something like bestiality were just as pervasive as slavery, don’t you think Paul would have stood in direct opposition to its practice?
With such potential for abuse, Jesus and the apostles could have been much more vocal in their opposition to this horribly cruel, vile practice. However, we cannot use the old adage of, hindsight is 20/20, because God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and most importantly omniscient. If Jesus/God knows the future then he would have surely foreseen all the pain and suffering at the hands of the American and European slave trades, and how the very same passages Jesus and the apostles were writing at that moment in time would be used to justify one of the most horrendous evils ever perpetrated upon the Earth. Therefore, instead of remaining ambiguous on this subject and even using slavery to illustrate parables, why didn’t Jesus come right out and condemn slavery directly, making no bones about it — slavery is wrong and we should not do it. At the very least slavery would NOT have been justifiable through Scripture. Jesus Christ could have easily addressed this issue on numerous occasions, and only He, as the Son of God, was in the unique position to do so.
You asked, “Would you prefer Paul to have advised these men [slaves] to possibility risk their lives by revolting or possibly be subjected to severe punishment under the pagan Roman law… Christianity was a new RELIGION (or fulfillment of Judaism) that looked forward to a redeemed world to come; not a political system to right all the wrongs.”
Why would Paul have advised the SLAVES to do anything? Why couldn’t Paul advise the slave MASTERS, who retained all the power? Or better yet, simply speak out against slavery as being the moral injustice that it was! Are you really attempting to suggest Jesus’ and Paul’s hands were completely tied with regard to speaking out against the issue of slavery?
Essentially, what you are asking is if I expect Christianity to stand up for what is right and just, despite slavery being a common practice? Or if Paul should have spoken out against slavery because it is fundamentally immoral, despite whether or not an anti-slavery position was unpopular for its time? The short answer is, “Yes!” Is having Jesus and the apostles stand up for what is morally right and championing the rights of an unjustly persecuted class of people too great an expectation? Now you might be thinking, “How do we even know slavery was so ‘unjust’ in the first place?” Let’s take a look in 1 Peter 2:
“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
(1 Peter 2:18-21)
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest apostles, tells slaves to submit to their masters, even “those who are harsh”. Peter actually uses the words “unjust suffering”. We can plainly see that Peter, in full conscience, KNOWS the act of slavery is unjust and that it causes suffering! Peter even compares the unjust suffering of slaves to the unjust suffering of Christ, and that such suffering is holy in the eyes of God. There is no attempt to speak out against slavery here, quite the contrary. To say that slavery was merely an accepted part of life and no one was able to speak in direct opposition to this vile practice is just like saying something equally absurd, like: “Because the ancient world widely accepted prostitution and adultery, Christianity could not have taken a firm stance against them, because it was merely an upstart religion with no political affiliation.”
An objective moral truth is true no matter what time period you happen to live in. Do you remember my point about moral consistency? If slavery is objectively wrong in the present, then it must have been objectively wrong in the past, according to our previously agreed upon standard of God’s fixed moral absolutes. If slavery was indeed viewed as an injustice to Peter, Jesus, or any of the other apostles (as is clearly the case), and they did not say or do anything to rectify this matter, then they are just as morally accountable as the slave masters. That’s called aiding and abetting — you cannot know someone is responsible for a crime and say nothing or withhold information from the police.
As you previously stated, Jesus is certainly vocal about his opinions on adultery and murder. In fact, Jesus goes so far as to equate lust with adultery and hate with murder. With such opinionated, conservative views on these two issues, why the apathetic indifference to the issue of slavery? And this brings me to the next point:
Point #3: Jesus was a prophet, not a politician.
Again, I find myself asking the same question (and here more than ever), “Is slavery moral?” Jesus was indeed a prophet, allegedly one of the most acclaimed moral teachers in all of recorded history. Therefore, why the eerie silence with regard to the moral issue of slavery?
You said, “Jesus is not recorded as directly addressing the topic by name. However, just because it was not recorded does not mean that He never talked about it.”
I am not in a position to assume anything about any historical figures, especially one living 2,000 years ago. Are you? Therefore, if Jesus’ true views on slavery were not recorded, then the point is moot. But we are not discussing the POSSIBILITY of Jesus having said something. Sure, Jesus could have talked about the immorality of slavery, just as easily as he could have flown to the moon and back. However, we are not discussing hypothetical scenarios, we are discussing the written record and the very real implications the record had on the suffering of countless millions of men, women, and children at the hands of Christian slave masters.
You said, “Jesus was concerned with our eternal destination. Not how well life goes in this world.”
Then wouldn’t performing an immoral act such as slavery lead one down a road to eternal damnation? Was the irrevocable damage to the immortal souls of Christian slave masters of no concern to Jesus Christ? What could be worse than slavery? For so many people, slavery was a fate much worse than death.
I was fortunate in my undergraduate studies to have taken intensive American history and African American literature courses, where I was exposed to a lot of historical literature that I otherwise would have never found on my own. I remember how the works of former slaves from the 19th Century impressed upon me the magnitude of what many human beings were forced to endure throughout the course of their lives. Slaves were treated like animals that needed to be tamed and their spirits broken, much like the domestication process of a wild animal. In fact, the same methods of dehumanization we used by the Nazis in concentration camps during World War II.
I am not sure how familiar you are with American literature of this nature, but from reading your response I do not get a sense that you truly appreciate what these slaves went through. In reading the works of Fredrick Douglass, his fear and desperation are palpable in his recounting of the extreme brutality and senseless acts of violence daily visited upon him and his fellow slaves as their spirits where shattered. Douglass describes slaves being treated no better than livestock, and in many instances far, far worse. But to add insult to injury, after receiving their beating the slaves would be often treated to readings from Scripture. This just further demonstrates that justification for these horrendous acts was derived from Scripture itself, or at the very least, the people perpetrating these crimes against humanity were devout believers in the Christian God and adamantly adhered to Scripture.
Now, I can already hear you interjecting with, “But how people misused the Bible is not the Bible’s fault!” And although that might be true, it would only be the case if the Bible actually bothered speaking in direct opposition to slavery. If Jesus perceived slavery to be immoral, then as the Son of God he had a unique position of authority to champion the rights of the helpless. It does not matter if “He did not come as a politician”, slavery is a moral issue and Jesus is well-known for his moral instruction. So why weren’t he and the apostles proselytizing against slavery and denying slave masters access to heaven for engaging in this practice? Because Jesus did not want the religion to become politicized? Is that honestly what you believe? If that is true and Jesus had the ear of every Christian slave master throughout time, but would rather let millions suffer under the oppression of slavery because he “did not come to change the world politically”, then Jesus was far from the moral teacher Christians make him out to be and Christian morality is essentially bankrupt.
However, you keep pursuing the notion that slavery was somehow this massive political issue during the 1st Century CE. Slavery was a social injustice, not a political issue to be debated or voted upon — a fact that is curiously overlooked unless the slaves in question happen to be God’s “Chosen People”. God went to such lengths to free the Hebrews from bondage that He kills every first born child in Egypt, from princes to livestock.
“All the firstborn sons will die in every family in Egypt, from the oldest son of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, to the oldest son of his lowliest servant girl who grinds the flour. Even the firstborn of all the livestock will die.”
At least we can give God credit for being consistent, or rather indiscriminate, when it comes to acts of infanticide. But are we really to believe that somehow God cannot maintain consistency with his views on slavery? God certainly did not view Hebrew liberty from Egyptian bondage as a “political” issue that should remain untouched and allowed to be resolved on its own. God viewed the enslavement of his Chosen People to be wrong, which is the same as calling it immoral. Morality essentially deals with the distinction between right and wrong behavior, and God wanted His people liberated from the practice of forced labor under the Egyptians.
If we are all God’s children, why shouldn’t all people enjoy the same rights? Christ came to unite all people under that message. No longer were the Jews God’s Chosen People, because Christianity was a religion for everyone, Jew and gentile alike. So why didn’t God completely outlaw the practice of slavery in Exodus, instead of merely regulating its practice in Leviticus? Furthermore, why was God’s position on slavery regarding the Hebrews in Exodus not extended to slaves found in the Gospels? Perhaps could it be due to the fact when the roles were reversed the Hebrews were the ones benefitting from forced labor? Perhaps could it be due to the fact Jesus did not want to “rock the boat” with his new Christian converts by speaking out against the injustices of slavery? Is that what is passing for morality these days? So long as enough people profit or that it doesn’t rattle too many cages, we’ll just accept anything, no matter how horrendous the social injustice might be?
The right to not be beaten, to not work without pay, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are human rights that all humans must be free to enjoy. The Declaration of Independence labels these as God-given rights, but as we can see that is certainly not the case. God never extends these rights to slaves, and neither did the Founding Fathers. Christian men used the Bible as motivation and justification to enslave an entire RACE of people. The words that Jesus spoke, and the apostles took down with pen, were of incalculable significance and Jesus completely dropped the ball on the issue of slavery. We are not talking about politics or social reform, we are talking about establishing a moral and ethical code of conduct that would ring throughout the centuries to come. Jesus knew his teachings would be written down and learned from, yet STILL made no attempt to circumvent the injustices perpetrated under slavery. If slavery is immoral now, then slavery was immoral in the past, unless I am missing something and morality is completely arbitrary.
You said, “Secondly, He [Jesus] did indirectly address it [slavery] in the gospel account of Matthew, chapter 7:12, as well as Luke 6:31 in a parallel passage: ‘Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ (Matthew 7:12) ‘And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.’ (Luke 6:31)”.
Yikes! I don’t think it’s possible for you to have found a more ambiguous verse regarding the very clear issue of slavery. You went on to cite Luke 12:42-48, but you simply dismissed it as a parable and nothing more. Although it is a parable, for once Jesus himself directly speaks about the well-known practice of viciously beating slaves, and yet again, denies himself the opportunity to condemn these actions. Notice how the parable is not regarding the immoral practice of slavery itself, but rather, Jesus is using the practice of slavery to form an analogy between a slave master (God) horrendously punishing his servants (us) for not being ready upon his return.
42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
47 “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
If Jesus was against slavery wouldn’t it have made better sense to equate the practice of slavery with hell, and by not following God’s Word the sinners are like slaves, toiling away their existence with no hope of escape? Then Jesus could have stated something like, “Liberation from slavery is similar to salvation through Christ. All men deserve to be free and thus all men deserve their heavenly rewards, which can only be obtained by liberating themselves from slavery to sin.”
Do you see? It took me two minutes to come up with an infinitely more applicable parable than Jesus. So why didn’t Jesus say something to that affect? Because Jesus IS excusing the practice of slavery. Jesus is claiming GOD will do unto US what MASTERS do to their SLAVES. If God is within his limits to punish us for not following His Word, then why aren’t slave masters equally as justified? If that were not the case, and slave masters do not have the right to beat their slaves, then this parable would not make any sense.
What if instead of slavery Jesus used a parable of a pimp and her prostitute? “Prostitutes that are not prepared when their pimps unexpectedly call on them will be severely beaten, so too will you be punished if unprepared for the Lord’s return.” Does this parable make ANY sense to you? Of course not!
Why would Jesus make reference to a blatantly immoral act in order to demonstrate a holy message? You first need to have a frame of reference in order for a parable to be applicable. If Jesus believes slavery is immoral, then referencing the act of beating one’s slaves in positive affirmation of the plans he has made for us would be a complete contradiction! Come on man, that’s simple logic. However, we have many more passages regarding the unjust practice of slavery to choose from, which are neither ambiguous nor in parable form. For instance, take 1 Timothy 6:
“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.”
(1 Timothy 6:1-2)
In the above passage we find very descriptive language regarding slavery, “All those who are under the YOKE of slavery…”. We see that slaves are treated as chattel — human animals to be placed under a “yoke” and made to work and serve their masters. In fact, if you’re the unfortunate slave of a Christian slave master you are commanded to serve them even better. How do you expect slaves belonging to Christian masters to ever get out of bondage? What would you have told an American slave master that used this passage to justify fighting the Civil War to retain the right to his slaves? How could you possibly convince him otherwise? Nowhere are concessions made for slaves of Christian masters to become free men. In fact, this passage appears to explicitly speak out against slaves ever obtaining their freedom!
Now, I realize this passage also states the slave masters are “devoted to the welfare of their slaves”, but we have already discussed this issue in Point #2. It does not matter if some slave masters looked after the welfare of their slaves or not, this passage clearly justifies a practice we have already determined to be unjust. If you want to justify the immoral act of slavery simply upon the grounds of how slaves were treated, then let’s justify prostitution by how well we treat prostitutes. Consistency is essential with regard to morality. If we cannot be consistent in our understanding of moral issues, then morality is not fixed, it is not absolute, and right and wrong are completely arbitrary.
Point #4: Slavery was a judicial matter.
Again, I must ask the same question, “Is slavery moral?” Do we not make laws with regard to moral issues? We certainly have laws against cold-blooded murder, which I will safely assume we can both agree is immoral as well as illegal. Why then do you continue to make concessions for slavery on this point? Even if Jesus came back to abolish the sacrificial, dietary, and judicial laws of the Nation of Israel, he would still be bound to the moral law. Therefore, if slavery is immoral, then Jesus was dutifully bound to speak in opposition to it, regardless if this position was unpopular at the time. I hate to keep repeating myself, but every one of your points on slavery appears to directly conflict with the view that slavery is an immoral practice, now and throughout history.
You quoted the apologist Matthew Anderson, who I will re-quote here:
“In giving laws to regulate slavery, God is not saying it is a good thing. In fact, by giving laws about it at all, He is plainly stating it is a bad thing. We don’t make laws to limit or regulate good things. After all, you won’t find laws that tell us it is wrong to be too healthy or that if water is too clean we have to add pollution to it. Therefore, the fact slavery is included in the regulations of the Old Testament at all assumes that it is a bad thing which needs regulation to prevent the damage from being too great.”
Anderson states, “We don’t make laws to limit or regulate good things.” Yes we do. Driving is certainly a “good thing”, but it can be hazardous if you do not go a proper speed, if someone gets behind the wheel that is intoxicated, or if someone does not have proper training. That is why we have laws against speeding, drunk driving, and a minimum age to obtain a legal permit to drive a motor vehicle. Safe food is also certainly a “good thing”, but improperly handled food can become hazardous to one’s health. Therefore, the FDA was assigned to monitor and regulate food processing companies, ensuring they adhere to the laws that dictate proper packaging and handling of food. This is also the reason we have health inspections in restaurants.
Laws develop in response to a need — laws are not ALWAYS there to limit “bad things”. We make laws to ensure safety when driving a car or handling food, not because these actions are inherently wrong. Anderson’s analogy that we don’t have laws against being too healthy or against water being too clean is sophomoric at best, and demonstrates a total lack of understanding why laws exist in the first place.
Limitations were placed on slavery not because the act itself was wrong in the Hebrews’ eyes, but rather, to regulate the practice so it was not hazardous to the Hebrews engaging in it. As I will demonstrate, all concessions in the Torah on the practice of slavery are only given to Hebrews, but foreign-born slaves never have any rights. You cited Exodus 21:16, which states anyone that kidnaps someone will be put to death. Yes, this was obviously a valuable law at the time, preventing bandits from kidnapping people and ransoming or selling them. But this passage does not, as you say, show “Moses banned slave traders”, for this passage is addressing kidnappers. You must look to Leviticus to find specific laws regarding the slave trade, where Moses gives very specific stipulations by which to obtain “kosher” slaves. Keep in mind, the book of Leviticus comes AFTER Exodus.
“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 from 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 ruthlessly.”
There is no kidnapping going on here. These slaves are legally purchased from other nations or from foreign tribes living within Israel. How these slaves arrived on the auction block is no concern under Hebrew law, for these are foreigners. This passage is the most difficult for theists to explain, because it ticks every single one of the boxes under the definition of slavery. Slaves are to be “inherited property” that can be passed down to one’s children. We are directly told how to obtain new slaves, as the are to “come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.” The passage also stipulates we have the authority to “rule over” slaves, meaning they are controlled by a master and forced to do his bidding without any promise of reimbursement.
Does this passage appear to place regulations on slavery because, as Matthew Anderson claims, “the fact slavery is included in the regulations of the Old Testament at all assumes that it is a bad thing”? Leviticus is not trying to regulate the injustices of slavery, quite the contrary — it is promoting the practice while focusing the injustices of slavery onto people belonging to outside nations. Essentially what Leviticus 25 is telling us is that you can have slaves, just buy them from the nations around you. But if you happen to have Israelite slaves, do not be cruel to them.
As we can plainly see, slaves taken from “the nations around you” and “temporary residents living among you and members from their clans born in your country” have no rights as human beings. Indeed, the Bible clarifies this point on several occasions. As you previously mentioned, it was common throughout the ancient world for people to sell themselves into slavery. In fact, under Draconian Law, established in Athens in the 7th Century BCE, those who could not pay off debts were to become slaves. Eventually the unjust practice of selling human beings into slavery in order to settle a debt was abolished in the 6th Century BCE by the great reformer Solon, but many other nations continued this practice, including the Jews and then Christians.
“‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.”
In every instance the practice of slavery is mentioned throughout Mosaic Law preference is ALWAYS given to “fellow Israelites”. We see a similar passage in Exodus 21, which you introduce by saying, “Obviously, many passages are used in the Old Testament by yourself and others to try and suggest that the Old Testament condones harsh slavery. But read one of these in context.” Indeed, let’s analyze this passage within the proper context:
“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever”
You said, “Regarding Exodus 21:4, if the bondservant is willing to walk away from his wife or kids (who were already bondservants to the master to begin with) then it is his own fault. It is not the master’s responsibility to forgive her debt, though it certainly does not forbid him to do so if he pleases.”
You are completely misinterpreting this passage! Nowhere does it imply the woman provided to the Hebrew servant his a “bondservant” as well. The passage clearly states the woman “BELONGS” to the master, a.k.a. she is his slave. Exodus does not claim she is a Hebrew woman that is engaging in her six years of servitude to pay off a debt, otherwise she could go free with her husband after her time is up! Exactly what would be preventing her from leaving with her husband and all of her children if she was not a permanent slave of her master? After six years the Hebrew MALE servant can go free, but the master is not going to give up his property just because the male servant has sired children with her.
You said, “if the bondservant is willing to walk away from his wife or kids… then it is his own fault”.
No it’s not, because this is tantamount to blackmail! The Hebrew servant has one of two options, to give up his wife and children so he can be free or remain with his wife and children and continue being a “slave”. The passage clearly states if the servant says “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free” and “his master shall pierce his ear with an awl”, thus forever branding him a slave. Although there is a way out of bondage for the Hebrew servant, if he chooses “love” over freedom, then he and his entire family are slaves “FOREVER”. No stipulations are given to the woman, because either she is a woman that does not have rights, she is not a Hebrew and thus the law does not apply to her, or she is the property of her master and is never allowed to go free. Whatever the case may be, the Bible is very clear about what happens to the children born of this union.
We see that children born to a Hebrew bondservant are not extended the same rights as their father under Mosaic law. The rights of the slave master trumps those of the children born to a member of the Nation of Israel, due to the simple fact of where the bondservant is at the time of his children’s conception. These children are not considered citizens of the Nation, not even by birth! Children born of a bondservant, who at the time is merely paying off a debt, are to suffer as slaves for the rest of their lives.
Essentially what is taking place is the Torah is giving the slave master the right to breed more slaves. But to make matters worse, the father is blackmailed with the love for his children. If he is a cold-hearted bastard, then sure he can go free. But if he does the right thing and stays with his family, the Torah allows the slave master to profit by gaining an additional male slave. HOW is this moral? How can any moral society or a just God turn a blind eye to this level of injustice, let alone make laws to enforce it?!
The only time slavery is ever mentioned with any leniency is in reference to OTHER JEWS. However, the Torah is very clear when it comes to slaves that are captured from other nations. Foreign-born slaves NEVER have any rights and once placed in bondage they are to remain “SLAVES FOR LIFE”. If you feel I am in error, I challenge you to cite a single passage that specifically references NON-ISRAELITE slaves and the manner by which they can be legally freed from servitude.
Although no such passages exist, even if they did it would not matter, because, as we have already determined throughout the course of this discussion, slavery is immoral. Just because you might find a passage the gives stipulations for how one might obtain their freedom, that does not excuse the fact an immoral practice is being allowed to go on in the first place, no matter how tightly regulated it might be.
You said, “The Judicial laws are what governed and regulated the practice of selling oneself into servitude to pay a debt, or having bondservants. Therefore, these laws do not command Christians in modern times to do such a thing as even have bondservants. These were the rules for the nation of Israel; they indeed are all addressed to Israel. Not Americans in the 21st century.”
Even though slavery was regulated by judicial laws, that does not absolve its moral implications. Jesus absolved many Hebrew judicial laws regarding murder, does that mean murder is no longer immoral? Although Christians of the 16th-19th Centuries were not bound to the judicial laws regulating slavery in the Old Testament, they were perfectly within their rights to create NEW laws, and that’s exactly what they did. The fact Jesus never directly spoke in opposition to slavery meant, as far as the Christians of the 16th-19th Centuries were concerned, slavery was perfectly acceptable within Christianity.
You went on to say, “Even though the law given may not apply to us directly, we can draw principles out of them because God never changes. At least not the Biblical God.”
Exactly! The laws regarding slavery were not given to us directly, but these laws clearly demonstrate slavery is an acceptable practice so long as the proper regulations are in place. Great! So modern-day Christians can make new laws and go right on keeping slaves. Do you not see a problem with this logic? When something is immoral it does not matter how you regulate it. If, as you claim, “God never changes” then the act of slavery should have never been allowed to occur in the first place, or we should still have slavery today. The fact that slavery was widely practiced throughout the ancient world by Jews and Christians alike, but is currently an outlawed practice today, suggests a serious disconnect in the theistic understanding of morality.
You stated, “I would get into the fact that it was the Bible and a Christian conscience that led to the fight against forced slavery in the States. But we can argue that another time.”
No, you certainly do not want to go down that road. I could write volumes on that subject and I would be happy to do so. There is no question that Christians helped runaway slaves and championed the abolition of slavery, but still many more Christians sacrificed their own lives to ensure their right to own slaves. The dividing line between those for and against abolition was not drawn upon religious grounds. However, the justification to keep slaves in the first place was a matter deep-seated in Christian theology.
You said, “The only known places on earth at the moment where slavery exists are either atheistic communist countries, or Muslim countries. It is just a fact, but I will not bother trying to back it up. I do believe that it is very easy to find that out for yourself.”
I quickly want to point out that being an atheist is completely non-informative with regard to morality. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in religion/God. However, atheists are certainly free to derive beliefs from other political or philosophical systems. Communists have an entirely different set of political and moral goals than socialists, fascists, humanists, and so on. Although none of these belief systems are based in religion, they still impart their followers with a variety of motivations and desires. If one political group of atheists believe it’s ok to have slaves, then they are basing that belief on something entirely different than from where I derived my morality. This is the essential difference between atheism and theism.
There is no church of atheism and there is no religious tome or set of dogmatic beliefs. In fact, the term “atheist” is meaningless, because you do not define someone by what they do NOT believe. The fact you do not engage in the pastime of collecting stamps does not make you a non-stamp collector, anymore than me not believing in religion makes me an atheist. Atheism is a label theists place on those who do not follow theistic philosophies, and for convenience sake most atheists go along, myself included. However, if you are going to attempt to label any atheist make sure you do so according to what they actually believe. I was pleased to see you make the distinction that “atheistic communist” societies were the ones that have slavery. I do not know if what you say about communists is true, but if it is, I would condemn them just as harshly. As for my personal beliefs, if I had to give myself a label the closest philosophy I can identify with would be that of Secular Humanism. Remember, atheism is non-informative and it is meaningless to define someone according to what they do not believe.
Unfortunately, this response has become longer than I intended, and in order to give myself room for a conclusion, I will not be addressing any further points you’ve made about slavery with the same level of attention. But please do not think I am unable to adequately address your points because I have opted not to address them. For example, you discuss several stories of Biblical figures who were at one time slaves, how brutally or leniently Hebrews were allowed to beat their slaves, how females could be sold into servitude with permission of their fathers, how slavery was needed because many people were lazy or lacked discipline, and perhaps a few others. For any additional claims I am unable to directly address, all one must do is revert back to the same question, “Is slavery moral?”
Ultimately, the Biblical rules and laws regulating slavery do not matter, because slavery was, and always has been, an immoral act. As we have seen, the Bible only attempts to regulate slavery and focus the injustices on foreign-born slaves. Neither Mosaic Law nor Jesus Christ make any attempt to outlaw the practice all together. Even at the time of Christ there were Christians slave masters, a practice Christians throughout the world presumably engaged in until secular laws were able to eradicate the practice entirely, or at least until 1865 in the United States.
Although you claim slavery was a judicial matter that Jesus Christ served to abolish, slavery was also a matter of morality, thus Jesus was bound to uphold the moral law. If there is indeed such a thing as a fix standard of absolute morality, then Jesus did not live up to his role as a moral teacher. It is clear from Jesus’ teachings and sermons that he was far more concerned about suppressing our natural instinct to mate (lust), than he was in suppressing the immoral act of profiting from the inhumane exploitation of millions of men, women, and children across the world and throughout time.
Anthony, I want to commend you on a well-researched response, although I feel you lost sight of the argument at times. You demonstrated that slavery was pervasive throughout the ancient world — a practice that served many purposes — but I was never in disagreement with that notion. However, you failed to address these issues within the context of slavery’s morality. Admittedly, I am glad I am not in your position, forced to defend and excuse the blatant injustices found in my sacred text. The fact such atrocities as slavery, rape, child murder, and genocide are found in the Bible is a very big blow to theistic morality. However, in one of our previous conversations you stated, “And I hate to tell you this, but when God acts, it doesn’t matter what He does, because He is just and right.”
I was extremely surprised to find you write this, especially after you claimed to be so well-versed in the arguments of famous apologists, such as William Lane Craig. Essentially what we are discussing is the Euthyphro Dilemma, which can be paraphrased as follows: “Is moral goodness commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?” When you say “it doesn’t matter what He [God] does, because He is just and right” you are arguing for the latter half of the Euthyphro Dilemma, which implies that theistic morality is completely arbitrary. Craig spends a considerable amount of time arguing against this very notion!
Statements like the one above are responsible for my skepticism of theistic morality, especially that of Christianity. The fact you can sit there with a straight face and tell me that slavery was a judicial matter or that Jesus was not a politician shows me you have much to learn about morality and the philosophy of ethics. Numerous times throughout this discussion you’ve made massive concessions for slavery, while failing to be consistent in your understanding that God’s moral standard is absolute.
But if acts of infanticide, genocide, rape, murder, and slavery can be explained away by saying “God can do whatever he wants”, then theistic morality must truly have no meaning. If God is by nature “just and right”, then it would be against his very nature to inflict such horribly cruel injustices, or at the very least he must restrain himself upon moral principle. However, throughout the Bible we see God’s unbridled fury, jealously, and rage — inflicting incalculable harm on both his followers as well as non-believers.
As a medical student, and soon-to-be physician, I am bound to the oath of “Do no harm.” This doctrine underlies everything I do. My ethical code of conduct is essential in every one of my interactions with patients as well as my peers. Therefore, when I read about moral injustices in the Bible I find it abhorrent and in total opposition to everything I hold dear. Under Secular Humanism such Biblical atrocities as slavery would never be allowed to occur, let alone have laws made to regulate it!
In your closing statement you claim God is a merciful God that made many concessions for slaves and that “Nowhere does it command the masters that they must keep their slaves for a fixed amount of time.” That is a blatant falsehood. I have repeatedly shown throughout my discussion that the only concessions the Torah makes for slaves are with regard to HEBREW bondservants. Foreign-born slaves are to remain “slaves for LIFE” (Leviticus 25:39-43). Furthermore, in Exodus 21:2-6 if the Hebrew bondservant allows himself to be blackmailed and stays with his wife and children, who permanently belong to their slave master, the bondservant “shall serve him FOREVER”. Anthony, you cited these very same passages in your response. I have trouble believing you did not notice the terms “for life” and “forever”.
1 Peter 2:18-21 tells us that slaves suffer unjustly and 1 Timothy 6:1-2 shows us that slaves should serve their Christian masters even better, making no room for them to escape bondage. The only evidence you can provide in opposition to slavery are extremely ambiguous verses that do not mention slavery by name. However, when Jesus and the apostles DO mention slavery directly, it is NEVER in opposition or condemnation. But the final nail in the coffin is that the Bible allows and even regulates slavery. If slavery is immoral then it does not matter how well the Bible regulates it, because it still means the Bible is promoting/regulating an immoral practice. You can make whatever regulations you want to prostitution, bestiality, or illicit drug use — it still would not change the fact these practices are inherently immoral.
I understand most Christians simply ignore the Biblical atrocities and only read about the good parts that make them feel warm and fuzzy inside, but THAT “is simply not intellectually honest”. If you truly want to get to know God you must accept the Bible in its entirety, not simply cherry pick passages you find acceptable. I do not feel we should have to make excuses for God, thus the sheer amount of immoral acts the Bible permits/regulates forces me to constantly question the Bible’s integrity and authenticity. If I am to be honest with myself and follow a consistent code of moral and ethical conduct, questions about slavery, rape, infanticide, and genocide that are contained in the pages of the Holy Bible must be accounted for. Either we accept these acts as being in accordance with the will of God and thereby concede morality to be arbitrary, or we reject these acts as being immoral and by proxy reject the Bible itself.