(A rebuttal to the essay Defending the Bible’s Position on Slavery)
Anyone who feels that the bible should be held in a high regard must eventually come to a difficult decision in regards to the bible's stance on slavery; either the bible is wrong and should not be followed (at least in this one respect), or there's nothing immoral about slavery (at least, the types of slavery condoned by the bible) because the bible says so. Since it's undeniable that the bible promotes slavery, these are really the only two possibilities. Many Christians, perhaps not surprisingly, will go to great lengths to avoid addressing this dilemma as to keep from committing to one side or the other, but it might come as a surprise to you to learn that buried deep within all its meandering, this essay does actually end up committing to a side. And if you think for a nanosecond that it ends up coming to the conclusion that the bible is in error about something, then you must not know sleazy Christian apologists very well. As awful as it is, the conclusion reached by this article is that the slavery in the bible is OK, and that the bible has done a good thing by giving instructions on how such slavery should be carried out. If you don't believe me, then scroll down and read the part labeled "conclusion" (paragraph 90), in which the essay says:
"The fact is, certain types of “slavery” not only are permissible, but sometimes necessary to the well-being of a society at large."
This sentence is of course accompanied by sentences that follow it in an attempt to justify it; sentences that I'm sure apologetic Christians would be quick to call me out on for not including, insisting that my leaving them out has resulted in the quote being taken out of context. So let me just go ahead and post the rest of the paragraph:
"...For the biblical stance on slavery to be condemned as unjust, it must be established that the specific regulations of slavery described in the text are immoral and unfair. However, when closely scrutinized, the biblical stance on slavery aligns itself with true justice. All regulations found therein were established for the just treatment of all parties involved. Many times, slavery as regulated in the Old Testament was a mutually beneficial relationship between servant and master, similar to an employee/employer relationship. Furthermore, slavery often was a substitute for the death penalty—which certain nations deserved. Debt accumulation caused many free persons to sell their labor and become slaves."
And now allow me to explore the justifications for such a conclusion and demonstrate how weak they are.
It isn't until paragraphs 11 and 12 that this conclusion that slavery is sometimes a good thing begins to rear its perplexing head.
"And, they [those who attack the bible] argue, since all slavery is morally wrong, the Bible must not be the product of a loving God. However, those who take such a position fail to consider that certain types of slavery are not morally wrong."
You're not hallucinating. This essay is trying to make the point that some types of slavery are morally acceptable. It goes on to elaborate upon this by saying that imprisonment and peonage (forcing people to work in order to pay off debt) are "technically" forms of slavery and that if they're OK, then it must be that not all slavery is bad. Without dwelling on the points however that imprisonment is NOT a type of slavery but in fact something entirely different and that many people would object to peonage as even being moral, there's a much bigger problem that the author of this essay faces, which is that EVEN IF such practices are morally acceptable, that doesn't mean that the types of slavery specifically promoted in the bible qualify as imprisonment, peonage, or any other type of "morally acceptable slavery". And a quick glance at a passage like Leviticus 25:44-46 proves that the bible is talking about something much different; namely, one man having the right to own another man (or woman or child) based on race or nationality.
"44 Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 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. 46 You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly."
Feel free to look up the surrounding quotes to see if they add some sort of missing context that could possibly make sense of such a barbaric mentality (I assure you, they don't). Then feel free to light your bible on fire and throw it in the toilet, because only a lunatic could deny how immoral this passage is. And the fact of the matter is, regardless of how necessary it is that we have ways to imprison criminals and deal with debt, the verses above have nothing to do with either of those. Rather, it's straight up race-based (or at best, nation-based) slavery.
So what does the essay mention about this sort of slavery, which is so prevalent throughout the bible? Well, as it happens, the essay does in fact address this verse (in paragraph 18), but only briefly, by saying "We must keep in mind that on occasion it was an alternative to the massacre of enemy populations in wartime and the starvation of the poor during famine".
Does this cut it for you though? Do you agree that it's OK to enslave people from other countries as long as they were going to be massacred or starve to death anyway? That doesn't really do it for me, and I can only imagine that you're left every bit as dissatisfied and sickened as I am. These are the depths though that Christian apologists must sink to in order to give the illusion that the bible's not so bad.
An especially aggravating conclusion reached by this sort of faulty logic can be found in paragraph 40:
"What about the children of those wicked men and women? Must they become slaves as well, suffering for their parents’ evil actions? First, let us acknowledge that, even today, children often suffer because of their parents’ poor decisions. Consider the sad and pitiful plight of a child whose father is an alcoholic or child abuser. That child will suffer physically, emotionally, and financially. Even in modern times, the children who are born in poverty or cruelty often remain slaves of those elements their entire lives."
The author is arguing that because some children are born to alcoholics or poor families, that that makes it OK to enslave children. That's what the above translates to. It is every bit a logically flawed as maintaining that some children are born handicapped, therefore it's OK for doctors to sever other children's spinal cords. -- I have trouble believing that anyone reading the essay could be taken in by such bad logic, which is why I think the author held off until paragraph 40 to say something so stupid, because he knew that hardly anyone would still be reading his indirect, meandering essay by that point.
It actually gets worse from there though. The paragraph goes on to say:
"Would it be better for that child to grow up in a country where the slave laws protected him or her, or would it be better for the child to have to “pass through the fire to Molech”?" (The phrase "pass through the fire of Molech" is a reference to human sacrifice.)
"When nations were conquered by the Israelites, what was to happen to the nations’ children who remained alive? They could be left to die on their own, or they could be given homes, food, and jobs. Which of the two options is more humane?"
Again, how could anyone's logic be this flawed? The author is arguing that it's OK to enslave children from nations that have been destroyed because enslaving them is better than allowing them to die on their own or be sacrificed. Has it seriously not occurred to him that it would be an even BETTER option for the Israelites just to take care of them, and not put them to work? I'm sure it did occur to him, but he's not in the business of offering good ideas, but rather, in the business of doing whatever he can to make his client (the bible) not look like a bad guy. This is what's so wrong with apologetics. It's essentially no better than twisting the facts in a court case to keep a murderer out of jail.
In addition to making light of enslaving children on the grounds that it's not as bad as sacrificing children, the author seems to also think it's OK to compare the bible to other ancient religions and point out that since those are worse, that the bible is good. An example of this can be seen in paragraph 65:
"The text states that the eyes and teeth of slaves should not be knocked out or destroyed. However, the nations around the Israelites did not adhere to any such standards."
and also in paragraph 61, in which the author comments on genesis 21:20-21 ("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."), saying that:
"This [genesis 21:20-21] was a protective right granted to slaves that they should not be beaten to death! If that seems like a small blessing to us, let it be remembered that under the system in vogue all over the pagan world of that era, and extending down even till apostolical times, the Roman Law, in force all over the world, provided as a penalty against slaves, even for trivial and unintentional violations, that shame of the whole pagan world “flagellis ad mortem” (beaten to death), a penalty usually inflicted in the presence of all the other slaves of a master."
If the wording is confusing, allow me to translate. The author is saying that because other nations and religions of the time punished their slaves by beating them to death and removing their eyes or teeth, that the bible is progressive for the time. And that may be true. Be that as it may though, it's not progressive enough to indicate that it was dictated by a god and it sure as hell isn't progressive enough to be used in modern day society. If these were really the words of a god, then that god would be less advanced and more barbaric than every single human being that I know.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg. This essay's too long for me to be able to reply to every bad point that it makes, but let me attempt to tackle a few.
"Add to this the fact that kidnapping a man and selling him as a slave was a crime punishable by death, as noted in Exodus 21:16: “He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” Certainly, any parallel to slavery in early America can be easily refuted."
Part of the bible's charm, and what it no doubt owes a lot of its success to, is that it contradicts itself left and right. This makes it the perfect tool to justify any situation. If a society makes use of slavery, then it can justify its ways with bible quotes. Then, if later, it becomes a society that no longer practices slavery, it can justify its NEW ways with other bible quotes. Indeed, this is exactly what America has done over the past century and a half. And more precise ambiguity further allows it to bend and meet any nuances it needs to. For example, in the verse above, it says that he who kidnaps and sells a man will be put to death, but such a verse could easily be countered by a slave owner who doesn't recognize blacks or other races as actually being "men". And this is another major problem with the bible, that it's very unclear and easy to interpret in different ways. That's bad in and of itself. If a god really did dictate the bible, he didn't do a very good job at making it clear.
(To add a side note: After I first wrote this critique, it was pointed out to me that this verse doesn't actually contradict the other pro-slavery verses and is itself very pro-slavery. It's not against owning human beings, but simply against stealing human beings (who already belong to someone else). Since the bible treats slaves as property, it's not surprising that there would be laws against theft of that property.)
"Jesus and the apostles didn’t go on an anti-slavery crusade, because doing so would have been futile and a hindrance to their primary mission. The priority of Jesus was the provision of salvation. For the apostles it was the proclamation of the gospel. But both Jesus and the apostles undermined the basis for slavery by making it clear that God equally loves rich and poor, free and slave, male and female."
Allowing slaves to join a cult isn't anti-slavery, it's just a good way to help the cult grow. And there's nothing worthwhile about "salvation" because there's no such thing as heaven or hell. So what Jesus wasted his life doing (assuming he even actually existed) wasn't good. It would have been a much better mission for him and his apostles just to have focused on slavery or bettering the world in some other way. And this goes for modern day people to. We have real problems in our country and on the rest of the planet, and "spreading salvation" doesn't actually help anything.
"Who has the right to determine when slavery can be imposed on a certain person or group of people? The answer, of course, is God."
It's dangerous any time there's a person who thinks they're allowed to do anything as long as a voice in their head tells them it's OK, and it's easy to see how such logic has probably led to all sorts of bad things throughout history, but a more important I want to make is that morality is bigger than any god that might potentially exists. Slavery is immoral. End of story. If there's a god who says slavery is OK, then that doesn't actually mean that slavery is moral because the god says so, rather, it simply means that a god who says that is wrong. We need to get away from this idea that morals are dependent upon the whims of a god, and begin to wake up to the fact that morals are not negotiable. And I think that anybody who maintains that morals can be reduced to whatever a god dictates should be recognized as morally imbalanced.
As a final point, I'd like to explore the idea that just because a god instructs a slave owner on how to beat his slaves, that that doesn't mean that he necessarily condones it. This is of course utter bullshit, but the author tries to make this point in paragraph 84, attempting to distract from the issue of slavery with other less extreme examples:
"Furthermore, it is a false notion that God condones something just because He mentions it without an immediate condemnation of it in the surrounding verses. Skeptics point to verses like 1 Peter 2:8 and Ephesians 6:5, and then insist that God condones abusive slavery because He instructs servants to be obedient to their masters. But, let us analyze that line of thinking. In Matthew 5:39, Christ instructed His listeners: “Do not resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” Because Jesus told His listeners to be kind and turn the other cheek, does that mean that He condones the actions of the one who did the slapping? Absolutely not! Or what about the fact that Paul, through divine inspiration, instructed his readers to be subject to civil governments and to pay taxes to those governments. Was Paul condoning all practices of all governments to whom his readers would be subject and pay taxes? Certainly not. God never has condoned such unjustified behavior on the part of any individual or group."
Should Jesus have instructed his listeners to be nice to evil people? And should Paul have instructed his readers to pay taxes to such governments? I can't really say, because I don't know enough of the details, but I DO know that it is immoral in itself to instruct someone to go along with immorality and that the only question we should be concerning ourselves with here is "should god be instructing people on how to beat their slaves?" (the answer to which is of course "No!").
To put this logic in perspective, imagine for a moment if god, or Jesus, or Paul had told the citizens of Nazi Germany not to protect or hide Jews and to go along with whatever the Nazi laws said. Would this be acceptable? Would that really be the sort of thing that it would be OK for a god to instruct citizens to go along with? I don't think so, and I'm sure you don't either. Similarly, it is unacceptable for a god to condone, promote, or give instructions in regard to slavery.
The bible is disgusting, and we owe it to ourselves to recognize it as such. If you are still on the fence about the moral value of the bible, please go beyond this essay and the rebuttal I've written and check out for yourself what the bible has to say. It is pretty much a guarantee that if the slavery doesn't turn you off, then the misogyny and bigotry will. So, if you haven't already committed yourself to this book like how others have, then it's not too late for you to keep from becoming a cornered apologist burdened with the unfavorable task of trying to pass the foulness of the bible off as insight. Now's your chance. Get out while you can!