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Arkansas Pol: “Why Didn’t Jesus or Paul Condemn Slavery?”

Jim Burroway

October 9th, 2012

Last May, Dan Savage got into all kinds of trouble for suggesting that the Bible didn’t just condone slavery, but also provided instructions on how Christians could own slaves correctly. Only a little more than five generations ago, about half of American Christians — “good Bible-believing Christians” — read those very same scriptures the same way. Today, very few Christians do, and the very idea of one man owning another person and that person’s spawn to do with whatever he pleases is an odious moral outrage to Bible-beleiving Christians — now that they have set aside those particular verses and concluded (even if they won’t admit to it out loud) that the Bible simply got it wrong on one of the most critical moral arguments our country has ever faced. And if Bible-believing Christians can do that when figuring out whether slavery is moral or not, they can do that with other topics — the morality of nationalism, racism, women’s rights, and, yes, gay rights — that the Bible also got wrong.

Of course, if you absolutely cannot accept the fact that the Bible got anything wrong, then it seems to me that you would have no other recourse but to agree with GOP Arkansas state Rep. Loy Mauch, who in 2003 penned this letter to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

Nowhere in the Holy Bible have I found a word of condemnation for the operation of slavery, Old or New Testament. If slavery was so bad, why didn’t Jesus, Paul or the prophets say something?

This country already lionizes Wehrmacht leaders. They go by the names of Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Custer, etc. These Marxists not only destroyed the Constitution they were sworn to uphold, but apostatized the word of God. Either these depraved infidels or the Constitution and Scriptures are in error. I’m more persuaded by the word of God.

It turns out that Mauch wrote several letters defending slavery and the Confederacy to the Democrat-Gazette, and in at least two of them he referred to the Bible to support his position, as did an extraordinary number of American Christians just 150 years ago. In 2009, he repeated himself here:

… If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861?

The South has always stood by the Constitution and limited government. When one attacks the Confederate Battle Flag, he is certainly denouncing these principles of government as well as Christianity.

This places Christians’ approach to the Bible in sharp relief: Either the slavery is a moral failing and the Bible got it wrong, or the Bible is always right, and therefore Mauch is right and anyone who disagrees with the Bible’s instructions on slavery is at least anti-Christian and possibly in league with Hitler and Stalin. Most Christians have accepted the former position — including the Southern Baptists — even if they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge what that means for the principle of Biblical inerrancy. But it is distressing to notice how often others find ways to agree with Mauch.

Comments

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Manheart
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

This goes to show that just because a Christian belief is “sincerely held” it is not–and should not be–above critique. Those good Christians of the 1700s and 1800s who owned slaves did so with clean, clear Christian consciences and with the Bible to back them up. Those who apposed the mixing of races in the 20th Century had “sincerely held” beliefs, too. In forty years the children and grand children of those shouting their “sincerely held” Bible-based beliefs that gay people just can’t marry, will wonder what in hell their forebears were thinking.

Sadly, since it looks like the President may well have thrown the election in his debate debacle, we may have to adjust our timeline out a few dozen years now; but the change will come. “Sincerely held” beliefs change all the time.

Matt Kennedy
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Most Christians, myself included, don’t believe that the Bible got the issue wrong, but that former/traditional (traditional prior to the past couple hundred years) interpretation of it was incorrect. Paul was very big on obedience to government even when that government did/encouraged bad things (really his only exception is if the government tried to force you to worship a different god). So Paul doesn’t attack the legal structure of slavery, but he does admonish Christians to treat people well and equally regardless of their station in society. The biggest proponents of abolition (i.e. William Wilberforce and the Clapton Circle) were strong Christians who used the Bible to to argue against slavery and demonstrate how the pro-slavery Biblical arguments were bad interpretations, not that the Bible was wrong on the subject.

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Jim,

“…now that they have set aside those particular verses and concluded (even if they won’t admit to it out loud) that the Bible simply got it wrong on one of the most critical moral arguments our country has ever faced.”

Be careful here. You are putting words in the mouths of people, including me.

This places Christians’ approach to the Bible in sharp relief: Either the slavery is a moral failing and the Bible got it wrong, or the Bible is always right, and therefore Mauch is right and anyone who disagrees with the Bible’s instructions on slavery is at least anti-Christian and possibly in league with Hitler and Stalin.

Because unlike every other issue on the planet, in this issue there must be only these two positions.

Ken
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

The US and the Roman Empire both had an institution called slavery, but they were entirely different. Slavery in the Roman Empire was a precursor of apprenticeship. Slaves lived in the master’s house, which was also a business, and had the same social status as the master. Slaves could earn money, enter into contracts, own property, and even own slaves. Slaves were generally freed at the age of 30. If the master was a Roman citizen, the slave became a citizen at that time. The master was legally obligated to set up the slave in business and was financially responsible for them for one year.

In Philemon, in the New Testament, Onesimus, a slave, exercised his legal right to flee to a friend of his master to ask the friend to mediate his dispute with the master. Paul took the slave’s side and really laid a guilt trip on Philemon. He did not ask for Onesimus’ freedom because that was going to happen in the very near future anyway.

Notice that Paul was in prison at the time. If that had been South Carolina in 1850, they would have slapped him in chains and we would never have heard from him since. It was the Roman Empire,

About the time that Onesimus was an old man, Paul’s letters were collected in Ephesus by the bishop, whose name was Onesimus, meaning the bishop was a former slave. If it was the same Onesimus, it would mean that Philemon is in the New Testament as an expression of his gratitude toward Paul.

In the Roman Empire, slavery actually served as a social and economic elevator. There were tremendous downsides to Roman slavery, but not nearly as many as there were to American slavery.

Unfortunately, American slave owners were as uninformed about ancient social institutions as Dan Savage is. Anyone can read the Anchor Bible Dictionary’s article on slavery and check the references to verify what I’m saying.

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

So Ken, are you arguing that the Biblical version of slavery was morally acceptable?

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Ryan,

Was indentured servitude morally acceptable? Is employment unacceptable?

Scripture takes a dim view on slavery (don’t accept Jim’s and Mauch’s take on it, do a concordance search). But that isn’t the point.

The Old Testament reports the laws of a country. But for the New Testament the question wasn’t “is slavery morally acceptable”. It also didn’t address whether monarchy, or socialism, or capitalism “was morally acceptable”. It simply addressed how you, the individual, are to live in the society you find yourself in.

And it said that slaves were to obey their masters and that masters were to treat slaves like their brothers. Not what social institutions should be allowed or banned, but how people were to treat each other.

That’s what makes Scripture relevant. It wasn’t written to dictate a “morally acceptable godly culture” but to advise how to live in the culture you live in.

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Manheart, I think a dozen years is low balling it considerably. If Obama loses, Romney will likely replace Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Scalia, all with much younger models. Equality will be entirely off the table for 30 years or more. History also shows that people often follow the President’s lead on social issues. For the next probably eight years we’ll have a President who will never mention us except in condemnation and opposition to our rights. This will absolutely have an effect on the general population’s opinion of us. Obama could still turn it around, of course. Fingers crossed.

Jim Burroway
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Ken, you said the same thing here, claiming that Roman slavery was merely a primitive form of apprenticeship. And you were called out on it then. Slaves weren’t apprentices so much as they were prisoners of war, where entire families were made slaves to the victorious Romans.

For more perspective on slavery in Roman Times, Timothy supplied these links:

http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/slaves_freemen.html

http://readingacts.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/slavery-in-the-first-century/

And yes, some were trained in clerical skills, for example, but that was only to increase their value as slaves, not for their edification:

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/284045?uid=3739552&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101251981971

And as I said then, I don’t think Spartacus was exactly leading a revolt for a 40 hr work week or better school supplies. Or because they weren’t getting invited to the best salons as part of that “social elevator” thing you mentioned.

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Paul certainly wasn’t shy about declaring homosexuality morally unacceptable, Timothy. Your view of Scripture as something that does not dictate morality is a viewpoint I have to say I’ve literally never encountered before.

Jim Burroway
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy,

Neither the Old nor New Testament figures were shy about calling out what was considered morally wrong (the woman at the well springs immediately to mind) regardless of what the power structures held to be acceptable. I recall that more than a few tables at the Temple were overturned on that account, and someone got into serious trouble in the ensuing fallout. The Gospel wasn’t a guidebook on how to go along and get along in a fallen world, but a commission to change it, by deed and example. And it was not exactly a peaceful example. — “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and set man against his father, etc.”

And yet, no matter where or how you slice it, when it comes to slavery, no tables were overturned, no masters were admonished and told to set their captives free — something else they could have been done in “the culture they lived in” — and nobody was challenged against each other over what we now know of as one of many great humanitarian evils of civilizations. Instead, the Bible becomes quite shy, painfully shy, remarkably shy — and downright polite over one man owning another.

I have a great deal of respect for Christianity and for many Christians. But I don’t see it as any great disrespect to point out that the Bible got it wrong here. But then I come from a faith background which, however conservative it was, was never invested in Biblical inerrancy. (It found other ways to augment Scripture to condemn homosexuality, for example.) It was simply no big woop to say that Slavery was considered okay then but we now know that it was and is morally evil.

And actually, nobody else (well, almost nobody else) finds it difficult to say that slavery was and is a great moral evil, even if they don’t want to admit the implications of that conclusion.

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Jim,

I simply do not argue with those who view the scripture in terms of literalism and like it’s some list of rules about what is acceptable or not, be they right-wing christians or atheists or agnostics.

We aren’t speaking the same language, not reading Scripture the same way, and not responding to context, culture, and history in the same manner.

If you want to find a few collected words that endorse ANY opinion or position, you can. I just won’t be playing along.

So please don’t tell me what I’ve “set aside” or what I believe about the rightness or wrongness of Scripture. You are wrong. And it is a strawman argument. And it is offensive.

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Oh, as for the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), please clarify what is called out as “morally wrong”. Not only didn’t that spring immediately to my mind, when I went to look, I found no declarations of moral wrong.

And you may need to refresh my memory on the commission to change the legal institutions of society.

bls
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Neither the Old nor New Testament figures were shy about calling out what was considered morally wrong (the woman at the well springs immediately to mind) regardless of what the power structures held to be acceptable. I recall that more than a few tables at the Temple were overturned on that account, and someone got into serious trouble in the ensuing fallout.

First of all: Paul wasn’t writing “the Bible,” he was writing pastoral letters to various small churches as members of an often-persecuted sect. I can’t really see why a “condemnation of slavery” would come up at all, since he was usually writing people to resolve particular church disputes? Many of the early Christians were slaves themselves, which leads me to –

Point #2: Spartacus (as you already mentioned). The Roman Empire was spectacularly good at killing people in the most vicious possible ways – as it had killed Christ. I can’t think of any reason at all why Paul would want to encourage rebellion in the churches in the face of this; Paul was quite concerned especially about “the weaker members” of the groups.

However, as somebody mentioned above – Paul did, in Philemon, “lay a guilt trip” on a slaveholder, and he did, in 1 Corinthians, suggest that slaves that could buy or otherwise obtain their freedom do so. He also famously wrote that “There is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave nor free in Christ Jesus.” Which was pretty radical, I’d say, for the time.

But I just can’t see why he’d openly condemn slavery – because it just wasn’t what he was up to.

As for the OT? Well, at least Jewish law attempted to put some rules in place about how to treat slaves – in stark contrast to the rogue and very vicious American version thousands of years later (hundreds of years after the Enlightenment, too, and the Protestant Reformation). Perhaps those rules, too, were an improvement on what had gone before and what was in the cultures all around.

Not to say, I’m sure, that there weren’t many vicious slaveholders who ignored the rules – or that all the rules were just, either.

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, you acknowledge that for some (I would argue all, or very nearly all who believe in it), the Bible is a moral guide that dictates what is and is not morally acceptable. So I don’t think it’s exactly a Straw Man argument to point that out. I have to admit, I’m a bit stunned. I’ve never heard your viewpoint expressed before. I wonder how many others share it?

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

bls, Paul’s letters are in the Bible, therefore they are the unassailable word of God, according to those who believe the Bible is true. I have to say, the argument “Biblical slavery wasn’t nearly as bad as American slavery” is a pretty piss-poor one. The fact is, the Bible (both New and Old Testament) is filled to the brim with moral judgments and guidance and still couldn’t bring itself to condemn slavery.

bls
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

(I mean, Paul’s people weren’t Prophets or Messiahs; they were ordinary human beings, believers in Christ – and they were his responsibility, as he saw it, I think.

So I think he’d be awfully careful with making trouble for them with the Romans – and of course, he was writing to them, not about them, anyway….)

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Ryan,

Sure there are Christians who look for does and don’ts in Scripture. There are whole denominations that do.

But they certainly are not the totality of Christendom and even most of those who tend in that direction believe that the totality of Scripture is more important than one scripture.

Unfortunately, in today’s culture, the people who publicly debate Scripture tend to be either those who are looking for ways to prove it wrong and those who are looking for proof that it is literally TRUE in every single word. So you have literalists on both sides screaming at each other that either “the Bible endorses slavery” or “evolution is a lie of Satan”.

Meanwhile back at church, most Christians are looking for ways in which it can benefit and inform their lives. And while it guides their moral decisions, it it more the concepts of scripture than the “this is okay” and “this is banned” that matters.

Usually the people quoting “thou shalt not” are either shalt-notting someone else (not themselves) or attacking someone else’s religion.

Palmer
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Yes, Jim, do remember that only Mr. Kincaid is allowed to express offensive opinions.

All the rest of us must tip-toe around his sacred cows and kowtow to his opinions.

No matter how broad the brush he uses, not matter how nasty the comment only he is permitted to be offensive.

bls
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

bls, Paul’s letters are in the Bible, therefore they are the unassailable word of God, according to those who believe the Bible is true.

And I should speak to those people on their terms because….?

I have to say, the argument “Biblical slavery wasn’t nearly as bad as American slavery” is a pretty piss-poor one. The fact is, the Bible (both New and Old Testament) is filled to the brim with moral judgments and guidance and still couldn’t bring itself to condemn slavery.

Ryan, the Bible is full of all kinds of crazy stuff: kings harvesting the foreskins of their enemies; prostitutes being hacked into pieces and sent to the heads of 12 families; brothers being sold into slavery; God destroying the world because all humanity was evil. If your point is that we should take all that as “moral judgments and guidance” – just as the nutty anti-gay crowd does – then help yourself. I’m not very interested.

And, BTW: Human beings are descended from apes, you know. I don’t think John Adams fits in, quite, in 1500 BC.

P.S. The American Constitution couldn’t bring itself to condemn slavery, either. Does that invalidate the whole thing, too?

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

I didn’t say that I thought the majority of believers were Biblical literalists. Obviously, the majority of Christians pick and choose what parts of the Bible they believe, or “believe that the totality of Scripture is more important than one scripture”, as you put it.
I said I thought the majority of believers look to the Bible as their guide to what is and is not morally acceptable. I think that is plainly true. And you don’t have to be a literalist to do that.

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Palmer,

How odd that you think my comments are “nasty” or that only I am allowed offensive comments. After this and this and this and this and this and this, your whining about not being allowed to be offensive sound like lunacy.

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

I guess I’ve completely lost track of what your point is, bls. We seem to be arguing the same thing, more or less; that the Bible is a very poor moral guide. Is that an accurate description of what you’re saying?

“The American Constitution couldn’t bring itself to condemn slavery, either. Does that invalidate the whole thing, too?”

No, but it demonstrates that the Constitution is fallible and so were those who wrote it. Just like the Bible. Unlike the Bible however, the Constitution allows for course-correction.

I don’t get your John Adams reference, exactly, but just to be a nit-picky internet asshole, I’ll point out that we didn’t descend from apes. Apes still exist. Apes, chimps, monkeys, and us all descended from a common ancestor that is long extinct.

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

No, Ryan,

That isn’t even close to what I’m saying.

What I’m saying is that if you go verse-mining, you can find anything you want. You can find support for your prejudices or examples of just how horrible the Bible is. You can find verses that, if taken literally, do not conform to science.

The greatest tool for haters on both ends is literalism.

But I’m not a literalist. So what I find in Scripture is challenging and astonishing and revolutionary (still) and a guide that I really wish I could live up to.

It holds the mindset that commands us to do irrational things like oppose genocide (even though there are examples in the book) to oppose slavery (even though some early Christians were slaves) to treat the homophobic right-wing the way I want to be treated (even though many in the culture I live in and the community I write to all tell me that I should hate them and disregard their humanity). ‘

If I were to go verse-mining, I could defend all of the above. But when you read it as a cohesive whole, the “errors” begin to make sense.

Once I no longer had to KNOW whether the bible ENDORSES slavery or not – once a verse no longer sat on its own – suddenly the chapter before provides context, suddenly the history of the people who first read the letters become important, suddenly the message that seemed to be one thing when the verse was lifted out of its setting and put on display turned out to be something quite different.

We live in a bumper sticker and sound bite culture. We don’t want to listen to a debate, we only want that one quote we can use. We don’t want to know what a person believes, we just want to know their party or their church affiliation and then that tells us everything we want to know. We don’t want thought, we want tick-box answers.

The Bible wasn’t written by people who had a deadline or who were constricted to 140 characters. And when we try to push our expectations on it, we only come away absolutely sure we know what that nasty ol book says about slavery or whatever, and we invariably get it wrong.

That’s how I believe and that’s how I approach Scripture. And if someone else wants to read it like a rule-book and are looking for an index to tell them “is slavery in the good or bad column” I don’t even know how to answer that. It makes no sense to me.

So I’ll let them figure that out on their own. But don’t tell me that I think the Bible is a poor moral guide or that I think it is errant on some scripture. That’s an easy answer for you to put me in a box, but I’m not in that box.

Palmer
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

No, Kincaid, I just find your writing boring and your behavior boorish.

You constantly demand that the rest of us respect your opinions yet you have no compunction about obeying that same stricture.

And you certainly don’t like being called out form your “opinions”, do you?

You insist on not having “an echo chamber” yet never seem to concede that the opinions of others, especially in matters of “faith” might have validity.

Can’t wait to see your next knee-jerk defense of your behavior.

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy, in my second post I was addressing bls, not you. Maybe I shouldn’t double post. It gets confusing. I didn’t say you thought the bible was a very poor moral guide. As I’ve already stated, I think the majority (VAST majority) of Christians look to the Bible to tell them what is and is not morally acceptable. You obviously don’t feel that way. I guess this conversation is going in circles at this point, so I’ll just back out now. :)

Ryan
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

@Palmer, I probably disagree with Timothy about 90% of the time, but the links he provided prove beyond all doubt that you’re the rude one, here. If you hate him so much, why engage at all?

Palmer
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Because he needs to be shown that he is not universally admired.

He has shown callous, cruel behavior and yet cannot acknowledge that he might be in the wrong.

Remember the Barney Frank episode, or his take down of Ryan idol?

I don’t pretend to be unbiased,never have when it comes to Mr. Kincaid, but he sanctimoniously pontificates about religion and the rest of us are expected to either lap it up or accord it a respect that it doesn’t deserve.

You can either respect my opinions or not, you can agree with them, or not, but accord Kincaid the same scrutiny.

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Ryan,

Ooops, I guess I answered the wrong one.

But I still think we are talking past each other a little bit. THat’s probably my error. Let me try again.

Yes, I think that Christians absolutely look to the Bible for what is and what is not morally acceptable. And absolutely some do verse-mining to get there.

And, when it comes to “the great unwashed masses”, most probably believe what their church tells them is or is not moral. BUT, and here’s where I think we still are not in sync, the big rule (love your neighbor) plays more into their sense of morality. That’s how you end up with so many people supporting our community even if their church doesn’t (and we see that a lot with Catholic politicians and voters).

For those who really study and think about Scripture, they balance verses against concepts and discover a truth behind what might otherwise seem to be a contradiction.

(My personal favorite is the creation story. If you read it literally, you end up like wackadoodle Mauch – ranting about some number of years. But if you see the number of days as allegorical, then you can marvel at how closely the story mirror evolution in concept and even mostly in order. It’s really amazing – and, to me, it’s pretty close to how I would explain evolution to a nomadic tribe thousands of years ago.)

I hope that makes more sense. If not, then I guess I just am not up to explaining it very well today.

Jim Burroway
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Palmer,

We get it that you have some very strong opinions. But there is a difference between voicing opinions and arguing strongly against other people who hold contrary opinions on the one hand, and engaging in ad hominen attacks on the other.

I will give you the opportunity to reframe your arguments to address the ideas expressed, and not what you perceive to be the character flaws of the person expressing them. The latter is the very definition of an ad hominen attack. You entered this thread with an ad hominen, and you have persisted in that behavior. And then you protested, “You can either respect my opinions or not,” even though you never actually offered a single solitary opinion in this thread — except that Timothy is “callous, cruel, … sanctimonious,” etc., which is not the topic of this thread.

Ad hominens are against our Comments Policy, and any further occurrences will be moderated out.

JCF
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

“This places Christians’ approach to the Bible in sharp relief: Either…”

Come now, that’s the Fundamental Christians (I prefer “Christianists”) POV, that “Either/Or”.

Plenty of Christians like myself take the Bible “Seriously, Not Literally”.

The PROCLAMATION of the Gospel (the Good News), “GOD SAVES” is what matters.

Not CHANGING *human* moral standards found therein.

The Bible, in its texts, doesn’t condemn slavery. But its proclamation, “Proclaim liberty to all the inhabitants”, does.

Similarly, the Bible doesn’t (as the Christianists note) endorse same-sex marriage.

But the Gospel ETHIC, “in Christ, there is no male or female…it is not good for [a human] to live alone”, does.

Please, no more false dichotomies here.

Palmer
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Jim, a quick question, have you held Mr. Kincaid to these standards?

Jim Burroway
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Oh, as for the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), please clarify what is called out as “morally wrong”.

I guess I read Jesus’s dig at her five husbands and the man who is not her husband differently than you do.

And you may need to refresh my memory on the commission to change the legal institutions of society.

Well, of course the Great Commission was to make everyone disciples and to obey everything that they were taught. It just seems to me however that if “all nations” are made disciples of Christ, and those disciples were to obey everything that they were taught, then you might expect to see some modifications to the institutions of those nations.

But one of the things those disciples were not taught was that it was wrong to own other people. And I’m not even talking about the abolition of slavery as an institution, although I think we can agree that the institution of slavery is morally evil. I’m talking about another person individually owning another individual. I also think we can agree that for a Christian to claim ownership of another person individually is morally evil regardless of whether an institution for it exists or not.

But that’s not what we see in Scripture. The Old Testament has people owning slaves all over the place, although it is certainly lamentable whenever the Israelites were enslaved. Or when Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. But there, the problem wasn’t slavery itself but who was enslaved. As long as it wasn’t Israelites being enslaved, everything was honkey-dorey. Israelites, too, could own slaves, as long as they came “from the nations around you” or were “the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country.” They could “become your property” as “slaves for life.”

And those attitudes, mostly, carry over into the New Testament, as I know you are well aware. Except where the OT prohibited Israelites from owning Israelites, Paul is perfectly fine with Christians owning Christians. Sure, Christians were to treat their slaves kindly and not threaten them, but they were still slaves — property, often for life, subject to the whims and consciences of their masters.

And so when Paul wrote to Philemon, a slaveholding bishop, about Philemon’s slave Onesimus who had fled Philemon and became Paul’s helper, (“Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” — a telling passage since usefulness was how slaves’ worths were measured, and Onesimus, whose name means “useful,” was, well, useful as a slave) Paul did appear to ask Philemon to set Onesimus free (“Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever —- no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. … So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.”), but again, not because there was anything wrong with owning slaves or even with owning Christian slaves, but that Paul would like to see Philemon no longer owning this slave.

Paul was pretty clear that Christian leaders should not be seen eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols because that might lead people “with a weak conscience” into sin. But Christians owning slaves generally? That was okay, as long as they weren’t cruel to their slaves but without regard for the example that might set for those “with a weak conscience.”

That was what the disciples were taught. The Bible was, as I said before, not just shy on the topic, but downright polite and solicitous.

I’m glad that taking an expansive, holistic reading of Scripture can lead people, including yourself and a very large number of other Christians, to conclusions which go beyond the literal text of Scripture, and that doing so can lead people to understand that slavery is morally wrong (and that the world was not created in six days — and by the way, the Genesis creation story was and still is one of my favorites in Scripture as well.) But my point remains: In order to arrive at the positions that you and so many other have arrived at, there was a recognition that the meaning of the greater text means that some parts of it are deficient. Or, in some cases, just plain wrong. In slavery, it is just plain wrong, just as it is about man lying with another man as with a woman.

Otherwise, we would have to go back to the position that it was and is alright for Christians to own other people, even other Christians, just as long as certain niceties are observed. And nobody should divorce “except for sexual immorality.”

Richard Rush
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

As I read through these comments, the one thing I keep thinking is,
“Thank God I’m an atheist.”

Jonathan Justice
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Now that folks have gotten all riled about the badness of the Bible, it is time to notice that Mr. Mauch is using his claims to Christianity to decorate the more obviously problematical consideration that he is an unrepentant Southernist who greatly regrets the outcome of the 1860 Presidential Election and the subsequent failure of Southern arms to win the conflict which followed. It is one thing to admire certain aspects of the various cultures of the former Confederate States and wish that our national culture would emulate them, it is quite another to pretend that the Confederacy was legally and morally superior to the people who won the war.

The South made and lost the war because its leaders (and journalists) deeply misunderstood the situation that had grown up around them. The Constitutionalist and Christian window dressing Mauch hauls out was widely available in 1860.

It had very little to do with what happened. Cotton, “King Cotton”, very much like today’s oil industry, created a world wide delusion of wealth and power hovering over those in the industry. The Indian Rebellion of 1859 (The Sepoy Mutiny that gave us The Black Hole of Calcutta) cut off much of the Indian cotton fiber that had been shipped to England, driving up the price of the American cotton they could still buy. Certain Americans felt even richer and more powerful as a result. Many of these same people were thus particularly upset that all those Yankees handed the Election to the Lincoln side of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates and a bunch of Republican upstarts intent upon awful things like public education, internal improvements, and an eventual end to slavery. Bathed in the assurance that their wealth, might, and finesse would quickly triumph over whatever the uncouth liberal Yankees could muster, they led their states into Secession and ruin.

No small part of that ruin was that the war had two unintended consequences that helped to keep the South in the poverty it had greatly intensified: British India ramped up cotton production, driving the price down. War production in the North drove a massive industrialization, making the Yankees richer than ever. In the stagnant decades that followed, way too many Southern white people comforted themselves with the denialist narrative offered by Southernism. That some still do is a measure of just how much damage the leadership of the 1850’s and 1860’s did.

Dante
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

How, exactly, is slavery permissible under ‘love your neighbor as yourself’?

I realize that atheism is a prejudice, and atheists need to cherry-pick the Bible for ammunition as much as homophobes do, but when the core Law articulated by Christ forbids any injustice whatsoever, to claim the Bible does not condemn slavery is dishonest.

Further, could someone point me to the defining texts for atheism that condemn slavery? And the text for atheism that condemns homophobia, rape, sexual predation, stealing, murder . . .

Atheism has no articulated condemnation of any wrong doing whatsoever. To judge Christianity failing to explicitly condemn slavery when atheism does not explicitly condemn any wrong doing of any kind – is obscene.

Timothy Kincaid
October 9th, 2012 | LINK

Richard

Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Well then thank Darwin I’m a… wait, no, that just sounds stupid.

;)

Jim Burroway
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Dante,

Who is the atheist claiming the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery?

And there is no limit to the number of Christians and Biblical scholars who point out that there are a number of unreconcilable differences and contradictions in Scripture. So, yes, it is possible for Jesus to say “Love your neighbor as yourself” and for Paul to describe the correct way for Christians to own slaves. In fact, it could be argued that “love your neighbor” describes how to do so if your neighbor happens to be your slave. Not that I can do that, but I suppose it can be done. My question instead would be if Paul really embraced the “Love your neighbor” principle, then how could he possibly have failed to admonish all Christian slave holders to free their slaves? He didn’t.

There is no condemnation anywhere of slavery. I know that is exceptionally uncomfortable, but I’m surprised that pointing this out is so controversial. It’s something I’ve noticed virtually all my literate life, and I find impossible to miss. Possible to explain perhaps, but impossible to miss.

Timothy Kincaid
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Jim,

Wow!

It never occurred to you that Jesus neither rebuked, condemned, nor told the woman she was sinning? Or that the primary point of this story is that Jesus went to the social outcast, the “loose woman”, the person who worshiped at the wrong place, the woman he wasn’t even supposed to talk to, and THERE to HER he revealed his mission?

This wasn’t about calling out moral disapproval, this was about God choosing the “unworthy sinner” to be his chosen messenger. It was the opposite of how you saw it.

“…and obey everything they were taught”??

Seriously??

If there is one thing the early church DID NOT do was obey. It was best known for disagreeing. Loudly.

And what was the message that they were to take to the world? That God no longer required the Law of Sin and Death. Paul could eat meat offered to idols; Peter could throw out the dietary law; new converts didn’t have to become circumcised. And they could (and did) argue about each new step with no one obeying anyone else.

I truly am amazed. And I totally get why you would have no use for the Bible as you imagine it to be. But you seem to share the same view of Scripture as Mould, a restricted obsessive narrowly defined extremely literalist and totally out of context one.

In today’s society we can question whether slavery is, itself, moral. At that time it wasn’t an issue. The Bible neither condemns or condones slavery any more than it condemns or condones homes not built according to code. It wasn’t a matter of right or wrong, it just was. It always had been. It was like arguing the morality of the sun rising in the East. What mattered was how you, the person, responded.

(And, by the way, it is not morally acceptable to build substandard housing. Even though most people in the Bible lived that way.)

A Christian message to abolish slavery would have meant the immediate end of Christianity (and probably have led to increased tensions with Jews as Christianity was seen as a Jewish cult). But Paul’s constant insistence that slaves and freemen were MORALLY equal and that your slave held the same status as your son or your brother (can you own your brother?) and Paul’s endless references to himself as a slave to Christ is a far cry from your skewed reading.

Finally, who was Paul’s audience? To whom was he writing?

While there were some wealthy benefactors among the converts, most were the poor or slaves. Christianity was a slave religion. Paul’s message resonated not because he endorsed slavery but because he preached equality. Even that famous “slaves obey your masters” verse is not how it’s quoted. It’s Paul telling slaves that they are to give a full day’s work BUT not because they were owned by a human (and if they could get out of slavery to do so) but to work as though they worked for God. It stands the whole idea on its head. It said to obey not because of some morality of their position but for God.

Jim, I think you are looking with biased eyes. (And I’m sure I am as well). I guess we’ll just disagree.

And as for “some parts are deficient”… That is just flat wrong. Allegory is not deficient. The totality of NT preaching on slavery – which was always about equality even if society and law placed you in different stations – is glorious, not deficient.

Jim, when I say ‘totality’, I think you hear ‘some parts good, some parts bad’. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that you have to read in context and recognition of culture.

In closing, let me give you a parallel. We live in a nation in which gay couples mostly have no rights. In Illinois, however, there are Civil unions.

Because we live in this culture we know that this is a step in the right direction and that those who voted for CUs are our allies. We don’t see such a vote as “condoning second class citizenship”

But take this vote out of context and move forward 50 years. Someone unfamiliar with the time might say, “how could those evil bastards vote that gay people are second class!!??”

In a world in which slavery – or some variation – had existed for all of history and in which a Freeman’s status might well be lower and which evolved from a point in which not being part of a household likely meant starvation and death, the morality if slavery was not so clear cut as we posit. Is servitude more morally objectionable than starvation? The lines were fuzzier then and slavery was not so based in racial hatred or dehumanization.

Of course I believe that owning another person is horrific. We also agree that the conditions of employment in this country as recently as 80 years or so ago are morally unacceptable (though there were plenty who were lined up to take them). And some day, in some time when labor is less human driven, the idea of employing another human and controlling what they did for eight hours a day may also seem inhumane and objectively immoral. We have to look at context. And we have to look at whether the movement was towards or away from inhumanity.

And in that time Paul insisted that a slave was EQUAL to an owner. That was revolutionary. And I’m quite sure that some objected that those crazy upstart Christians are trying to destroy the tradition of the fine institution of slavery.

But I guess we won’t see eye to eye on this. And that’s okay. But what is NOT okay is putting words in my mouth or imagining what I must believe.

Jim Burroway
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

I don’t think a simple message that Christians cannot morally own other human beings would have meant the end of Christianity. Saying Christians cant own slaves is a very different thing from saying the state should abolish slavery.

Besides, they had plenty of other messages that could very well have meant the end of Christianity during the Roman persecutions, you know, all that talk about idols and false gods which went directly against the state religion.

I guess we will have to disagree. But before we end this on your point that somehow it is my myopic view of what the Bible says which is distorting what Christianity has stood for, let me remind you that this reading was very widely accepted within mainstream Christianity for much of its first nineteen centuries of existence. And that was not an aberration of a frail sect trying to keep from going extinct.

Rev. Loush
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

the bible gave instructions on how to treat people in every situation. it neither supported nor condemned slavery directly most of the time. slavery in many different forms existed during biblical times. slavery as we understand it, and also working off debts called indentured servitude later on, and also those who willingly became servants called bond servants. however having said this Yashua did absolutely condemn slavery if you listen to his teachings. one of his biggest teaching was what has come to be known as the golden rule; “Treat others as you would want to be treated”. also there is a spiritual law which he said was one of the two most important; “Love your neighbor as you love your self”. why other people can’t understand that these teachings are a clear condemnation of treating other people badly in any way, i will never know. it is a mystery beyond my understanding that for all the condemnation of my religion, people never take time to actually read the bible or the teachings of Christ. most of the time people quote out of the old testament, but i as a christian am not bound to the old testament. what saddens me most is that today people try to misuse scripture to condone hate, evil, and abuse of others. clearly they know nothing about Christ or his teachings! as a gay christian minister it is deeply troubling how anti-gay the country is becoming, but it is also troubling how anti-religious this country is becoming. i hope that one day this nation will remember one of the most important principles it was founded upon; freedom!

Ben in Oakland
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Richard, I have to say, I’m totally with you. To me, the question is: why don’t we do away with the authority of these ancient, edited, redacted, translated and mistranslated, and frequently misused texts, and treat each other according to the simplest ideas: be a nice person, be compassionate, treat others well, try not to harm others, try to make the world a better place, and most important of all…

MIND YOUR OWN GODDAM AND GODDAMNING BUSINESS, NOT OTHER PEOPLE’S!!!!

Dante, it is offensive to say that atheism is a prejudice. It’s not. I really don’t care what you believe, just don’t insist that I must believe it, too, or you’ll hurt me. If you understood why you reject every religious teaching but your own, you’d understand why I reject yours as well.

Atheism is not a belief about god, it’s a belief about religion. Atheism has nothing to say about morality because atheism is simply a lack of belief in god or gods. It’s not a philosophy or a system of belief, and certainly not a system of morality. There are good atheists– me, for example– and bad atheists– Mao, for example. Mao didn’t kill millions because he was an atheist, he killed them because he was an asshole who believed he should have dominion over others– do what I say or I’ll hurt you. He embraced a system of belief that was dangerous to human health and happiness.

Here is this atheists system of morality, and it answers every single moral argument in this thread. Courtesy of the great goddess, Mammy Yokum:

Good is better than evil because it’s nicer.

You really don’t need much more than that.

Richard Rush
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Rev. Loush mentions the golden rule: “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” And while it probably comes closer than anything to being the most useful universal guideline, I can easily imagine people bending and twisting it to fit their wants and needs while still believing they are in conformance. So, maybe the Bible is best interpreted as saying, “Treat slaves as you would want to be treated if you were a slave.”

bls
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

I guess I’ve completely lost track of what your point is, bls. We seem to be arguing the same thing, more or less; that the Bible is a very poor moral guide. Is that an accurate description of what you’re saying?

Hi Ryan –

What I’m saying is that I think there is tons of stuff in the Bible that has nothing to do with morality at all. But to answer this particular question of yours, I’ll just say what I’ve heard elsewhere: in some parts of the Bible, the morality seems impossibly good, and in other parts it seems impossibly bad. And I think that has to do with perception, and the differences between the Bronze Age and now.

The parts in there that are good are very, very good; the Psalms, for instance – and those are some of the oldest things in there – are full of praise for God as “defender of the oppressed” and “protector of widows and orphans.” Actually, there’s lots and lots of that stuff all throughout the entire book; it’s a major, major theme. Some of the things the anti-gay crowd fixates on are minor, almost throwaway themes; sex (for intance) is nowhere near a central concern of the text. Obviously, they are “picking and choosing” with the whole “one man and one woman” thing; every single big player in the Old Testament was a polygamist, sometimes many, many times over.

I’ll also say this, quietly: I don’t think we can judge those people by our standards – thus, I don’t think it makes sense to say that “the Bible got it wrong.” I think that’s a category error.

Slavery, for instance, was practiced everywhere in the ancient world; in some places it was terribly cruel, and in others – as under Jewish law – rules were put in place to eliminate that kind of cruelty. The thing to remember, I think, is that their lives were nothing like ours. There were famines and droughts; starvation was a real concern as it is not, today, for any of us. As I understand it, it was pretty common for very, very poor people, or people who had debts they couldn’t pay, to sell themselves into slavery or servitude, sometimes for a limited time. Is that wrong, when you’re perhaps facing starvation? I’m sorry, but I just can’t really see how, under those conditions – which is, perhaps, why the Bible never condemned slavery per se. Instead, the Jews tried to regulate it to eliminate abuses. (And I agree, they did not always do the right thing!) So, to be incredibly controversial, I’m sure: I don’t think it’s always wrong for a person to own another person. Conditions matter. (Slavery of the American sort is always wrong, however.)

But basically, I think people are looking to the Bible for the wrong thing. It’s not about “right or wrong” according to present-day standards; you have to take conditions into account. Buddhism never condemned slavery, either (although Buddhists were forbidden to be slave traders); there must be a reason for this and I’m trying to understand what it could be.

The thing about the apes is this: human beings came out of the jungle. We’re animals – and yet over time, we have created moral codes by which to live. It just doesn’t happen overnight; there have to be stages of progress.

Thanks for the evolution pointer, though! It doesn’t make as much impact to say “We evolved from an common ancestor,” I didn’t think… ;-)

bls
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

I would also point that there are quite a number of Old and New Testament passages that lead quite naturally to the abolition of slavery – at least of the cruel, involuntary sort.

For instance, Jesus quotes Isaiah when he’s reading from a temple scroll: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” That’s one of the first things he says, in fact.

Then there’s Paul’s writing, as above: “There is no Jew nor Greek, no male nor female, no slave nor free for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” And his request that the slave Onesimus be released – and his encouragement to those that could afford it buy their freedom.

All of those things together can, I think, easily help explain why Quakers were the main players in the U.S. abolitionist movement in the 17th Century, and why Christians were the driving force behind the same movement in England.

So I don’t agree that the Bible can’t be course-corrected, either. In fact it’s been course-corrected numerous times, via German Higher Criticism, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, women’s ordination, and now with the gay issue, which is changing things again.

The Lauderdale
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

“The thing to remember, I think, is that their lives were nothing like ours. There were famines and droughts; starvation was a real concern as it is not, today, for any of us.”

…say what?

As for the Biblical approach to the Bible, as expressed in Old Testament chapters like Deuteronomy or in the New Testament letters from Paul, one could argue that it is neutral in respect to slavery. Another could argue that That Is The Problem. To work a rough analogy (very rough) one could say the Bible’s approach to slavery is comparable to that of a bystander to a hanging, who never says that (s)he is for or against the hanging but comments on the proper way to tie a noose. The rest are left to draw their own inferences.

Yes, I think the Bible got it wrong, and I don’t mind saying that. Its sundry authors bore witness to a horrific practice that they failed to condemn. Didn’t recognize that it was wrong because it was normal by the mores of the time? That doesn’t change the fact that it was.

bls
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Gee, I Googled “U.S. Famine,” but I’m not really coming up with anything.

(Although there is a Pravda story about hunger during the Great Depression….)

The Lauderdale
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

“Gee, I Googled “U.S. Famine,” but I’m not really coming up with anything.”

Since when is “the U.S.” the world – or even, for that matter, the sole readership of this blog?

I do like what you said in the post immediately above mine, though. It’s a more generous interpretation of scripture.

bls
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

I said “us,” not “the world” – meaning, the people on this thread.

Is anybody here starving? I’ll be happy to change my post, if so. But I meant “famine” – as in, no food, at all, and no prospects of getting any. Nobody on this thread, I suspect strongly, has ever been under that threat or anything like it.

If I’m wrong, I’ll certainly amend my post to “nobody in the U.S. or most of the rest of the West.” In fact, consider it amended now; the point is really the same….

Steve
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Once again we see that Christianity does nothing but warp people’s sense of morality and reality itself.

Rev. Loush
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

i could say the same about atheism…i have been physically accosted because i refused to convert to atheism! despite what other people think, atheism seems to be a religion every bit as warped as every other religion seems to be! and yes i do consider it a religion because religion comes from the word religio meaning to link back to source or origin; therefor any belief about how the universe came to be…be it scientific or spiritual in nature is a religious belief. i find it both sad and funny that this all goes back to arguing about religion instead of talking about what this is really about; how people treat each other! and as we can see from this thread it is usually with negativity instead of love, acceptance, and tolerance! this is nothing new…mankind has always treated each other badly, we just have better technology to do it with, and are more aware of it because of historical perspective and better faster ways of sharing news. it is sad to think that people will always be this way. i truly don’t care what others do or don’t believe, that is inbetween them and their soul; i do care how people behave, and sadly it is usually badly.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Ken said “In Philemon, in the New Testament, Onesimus, a slave, exercised his legal right to flee to a friend of his master to ask the friend to mediate his dispute with the master. Paul took the slave’s side and really laid a guilt trip on Philemon. He did not ask for Onesimus’ freedom because that was going to happen in the very near future anyway.”.

Christians some times refer to Philemon to falsely claim this somehow repudiates Paul’s clear condoning of slavery in other passages. Onesimus had no legal right to flee. In Philemon Paul tries to gently persuade Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom of his own free will. Paul does not come out and order Philemon to do so by exercising his authority as an apostle of the christ character because he cannot outright call for Onesimus’s freedom without violating Roman law. “In the ancient world slavery was regarded as a legitimate and necessary segment of the social order, and . . . severe laws punished those who interfered with the rights of slave-owners.” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 1973 ed., p.1453.) And Paul himself had written that everyone is subject to the governing authorities, because their authority comes from God, and violating the state’s laws is tantamount to opposing God’s own commandments. (Romans 13:1-2)

It is clear that Paul wasn’t advocating breaking the laws of slavery, he was simply hoping Philemon would relinquish his rights of ownership willingly because Paul had a soft spot for Onesimus as he had become a christian. Paul wasn’t opposing slavery, he was asking for an exception to it for someone he cared about just as a mother might advocate that her thief son not be put in jail although she generally speaking supports laws against theft. Paul’s letter was asking for nepotism, he was not in anyway opposing slavery as an institution.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy said “And while it guides their moral decisions, it it more the concepts of scripture than the “this is okay” and “this is banned” that matters.”.

The concepts of scripture derive directly from statements that “this is okay” and “this is banned”. The problem with your philosophy is that there is no consistent way to distinguish which concepts should be taken from the specifics. Other than that one wishes it to be so, on what consistent basis does one say “love your neighbour” supercedes “You can sell your daughter into slavery.”? As we know is often the case people frequently carry contradictory beliefs in their mind and the bible was written by people, not a god.

Timothy said “What I’m saying is that if you go verse-mining, you can find anything you want. You can find support for your prejudices or examples of just how horrible the Bible is. You can find verses that, if taken literally, do not conform to science.”.

That is precisely what discredits the claim that the bible is in anyway derived from or is associated with an all knowing, all powerful loving and just god. A perfect all knowing god would have known all the terrible disputes that would arrise from this version of the bible and instead written it without contradictions, errors, and advocation of all manner of immoral behavior. The work of a god would be drastically unlike anything any human has ever written, full of knowledge humans couldn’t have known at the time, in perfect conformity to science, geography, and history, a work of stunning beauty and prose far above anything any human has ever or could ever produce. Instead the bible reads just like you’d expect a work of bronze age bigots to read, full of xenophobia, acts of a monstrously immoral god, full of contradictions, errors and absurdly primitive believes about how the world and universe works. Some will say the bible wasn’t written by their god, but merely inspired by him and therefore it has errors. But given the terrible wars, disputes and hatred that stems from such errors it isn’t conceivable that a perfect, all knowing, loving and just god would have left this important taskt to be largely messed up by fallible humans.

Timothy said “(My personal favorite is the creation story. If you read it literally, you end up like wackadoodle Mauch – ranting about some number of years. But if you see the number of days as allegorical, then you can marvel at how closely the story mirror evolution in concept and even mostly in order. It’s really amazing – and, to me, it’s pretty close to how I would explain evolution to a nomadic tribe thousands of years ago.)”.

This is a good example of why when you try to tell me you know so much more about ancient languages, biblical history, context, and blah, blah your interpretation of the bible is better than mine I can only scoff. The creation story does not at all mention the central feature of the theory of evolution, that gradual changes to a species over time due to natural selection lead to one species becoming another. It simply isn’t in there and it is absurd to claim the creation story “mirrors” the concept of evolution. When you’re willing to use such tortured logic here, why would anyone assume, as you ask us to do, that you are a consistent and rational interpreter of any part of the bible in your repeated claims that its words do not mean what a plain reading shows?

Dante said “How, exactly, is slavery permissible under ‘love your neighbor as yourself’? I realize that atheism is a prejudice, and atheists need to cherry-pick the Bible for ammunition as much as homophobes do, but when the core Law articulated by Christ forbids any injustice whatsoever, to claim the Bible does not condemn slavery is dishonest. Further, could someone point me to the defining texts for atheism that condemn slavery? And the text for atheism that condemns homophobia, rape, sexual predation, stealing, murder . Atheism has no articulated condemnation of any wrong doing whatsoever. To judge Christianity failing to explicitly condemn slavery when atheism does not explicitly condemn any wrong doing of any kind – is obscene.”.

Humans, who wrote the bible, often believe contradictory things. Slavery is permissible under “love your neighbour as yourself” just as people believe gays have equal rights because everyone has the right to marry someone of the opposite sex. Atheism is not a prejudice, religion is. Atheism is a belief one derives after observing the evidence for a god (none), it is by defintion not a “pre-judging”. Religion on the other hand decides god exists and the bible is true without considering the evidence and by ignoring the evidence thus religion is by definition a prejudice. Of course atheism atheism doesn’t condenm any wrongdoings, atheism isn’t a philosophy, its just a state of belieiving gods don’t exist. No advocation or condemnation of any particular behavior springs from that. The only sense atheism can be considered morally superior to religion is in the sense that it doesn’t demand belief in falsehoods.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy said “And what was the message that they were to take to the world? That God no longer required the Law of Sin and Death. Paul could eat meat offered to idols; Peter could throw out the dietary law; new converts didn’t have to become circumcised.”.

Nowhere in the bible does it say “God no longer required the Law of Sin and Death.” Nowhere in the bible is there a list of laws that were aplicable before the new Testament and revoked after the new Testment. This is one of the most profound and frequently repeated dishonesties of christian teaching about the bible. The truth is Jesus said the exact opposite of the christian claim that the new testament means many laws in the old testament no longer apply:

Matthew 5:18
“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”

Luke 16:17
“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

Timothy said “And as for “some parts are deficient”… That is just flat wrong. Allegory is not deficient.”.

Of course allegory can be deficient. When an allegory is based on immorality being called good or not being called evil it is necessarily as deficient as the ideas its based on. Take the parable of the talents (Luke 19:22-27) Jesus says that God takes what is not rightly his, and reaps what he didn’t sow. The parable ends with the words: “bring them [those who preferred not to be ruled by him] hither, and slay them before me.”. One has to torture logic (or as Timothy might say “read carefully”) to take a meaning away from that parable other than that If you don’t want to be ruled by Jesus you should be slain..

Timothy said “And in that time Paul insisted that a slave was EQUAL to an owner. That was revolutionary.”.

No more revolutionary than anti-gays claiming they love gays and gays have equal rights because everyone has the right to marry someone of the opposite sex. Paul’s disingenous insistence that a slave was equal to an owner is just as sincere as the anti-gays claims that gays have equal rights.

Loush said “Yashua did absolutely condemn slavery if you listen to his teachings. one of his biggest teaching was what has come to be known as the golden rule; “Treat others as you would want to be treated”. also there is a spiritual law which he said was one of the two most important; “Love your neighbor as you love your self”. why other people can’t understand that these teachings are a clear condemnation of treating other people badly in any way, i will never know.”.

Yeshua most certainly DID NOT condemn slavery, there is no such passage in the bible, in fact he sanctioned it throughout the bible. The bible is loaded with contradictions and there is no objective justification for saying one contradictory statement is to be taken over another

Bls said “As I understand it, it was pretty common for very, very poor people, or people who had debts they couldn’t pay, to sell themselves into slavery or servitude, sometimes for a limited time. Is that wrong, when you’re perhaps facing starvation? I’m sorry, but I just can’t really see how, under those conditions – which is, perhaps, why the Bible never condemned slavery per se.”.

One again, like Ken you are dishonestly claiming that all slavery in the bible was of this type when that was most certainly not the case. Slaves were frequently taken as prisoners of war, bought and sold, their offspring sold seperately from them and so on. God said it was okay to beat your slave to death if he didn’t die immediately but lived for a couple of days after the beating. It may not have been wrong to sell yourself into slavery if you were starving, but the aforementioned type of slavery was obviously wrong and the christian god’s failure to condemn it was unforgivable.

Bls said “I would also point that there are quite a number of Old and New Testament passages that lead quite naturally to the abolition of slavery – at least of the cruel, involuntary sort.”.

There are no passages in the bible that call directly for the abolition of any sort of slavery, in fact quite the opposite, there are many passages sanctioning the practice of slavery.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Loush said “despite what other people think, atheism seems to be a religion every bit as warped as every other religion seems to be! and yes i do consider it a religion because religion comes from the word religio meaning to link back to source or origin; therefor any belief about how the universe came to be…be it scientific or spiritual in nature is a religious belief.”.

Nonsense. A religion has a set of practices and moral code that goes along with it, there is no moral code or practices that go along with atheism. A religious belief is a belief that involves an acceptance of the supernatura. By definition atheism is not a religious believe, it is a believe about religion.

Its telling that relgious people think one of the best ways to insult atheism is to falsely claim its a religion. This is the only reason religious people make this disonest claim, they don’t actually believe atheism is a religion but they think its too good of an insult to pass up.

tristram
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

Timothy Kincaid
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy said, “yawn”.

Timothy Kincaid
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

tristram,

Exaclty 427, but only if they are cherubim doing the waltz. Seraphim take up more room and the tango complicates matters.

Oh, and if Bristol Palin is in the room, the angels refuse to dance. As dancers who really care about the art, they are protesting the “vote off far better dancers cuz Bristol luvs Jesus” tragedy.

Priya Lynn
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

Palmer said “Jim, a quick question, have you held Mr. Kincaid to these standards?”

Timothy said, “yawn”.

I posted that in response to one of your comments once – it was promptly deleted.

Caryn LeMur
October 10th, 2012 | LINK

At one time, I pondered a similar ‘missed opportunity’ by Jesus: the Son of God forgot to condemn the concept of foreign military rule by bloody conquest… instead, He commended the faith of the Centurion… and even worse, He healed the Roman-owned slave without condemning the institution of slavery. [Matt 8]

For a time, I really wondered.

Then, one day, it hit me – there was this historical record of Jesus living ‘oblivious’ to lifestyles, institutions, and/or caste systems… and treating all the people with the fullness of mercy and with impartiality.

As a bisexual and transsexual, and as a believer, I then took refuge within this concept. I love the Jesus that sees me as equal to everyone… that is willing to commend my faith when others say a Christian transsexual lives in sin… or is deceived by Satan… or can have no faith that Jesus will commend.

When someone states that bisexualism is ‘sexual confusion’ or ‘sexual brokeness’, and therefore I am lesser than they… Jesus is willing to come to my house, and commend my faith in Him.

When I am among church-people, and they learn that I once presented as if a ‘man’ and now live as if a ‘woman’ – there is a caste system that may be invoked. It is often an unofficial caste system among the women of the church (though occassionally very official – with denouncement by the male pastors…ouch).

I am suddenly a lesser-believer among the church-people… my love is discounted… my contributions ignored or rebuffed… perhaps I even become an ‘untouchable’ as husbands warn their wives to not speak to me again… but not to Jesus.

Jesus was/is ‘oblivious’ to the caste system. He would heal my diseases as equally as He did for a Jewish leper, a disciple’s mother-in-law, a Roman-owned slave, or the many demon-possessed. [also in Matt 8]

I recognize I am sharing a personal insight. And ‘oblivious’ may not be the best choice of terms to describe the impartiality of Jesus.

Yet, I take refuge in the historical account of His impartiality. Jesus did not condemn the Roman military conquest system; He did not condemn slavery. Jesus focused on a person’s faith in Him, and then treated all with impartiality.

If Jesus was ‘oblivious’ to those obvious ‘immoral institutions’, how much more does He not condemn my lifestyle, my mindset, my orientation, or my transgenderism? Instead, this same Jesus comes to my house, and commends my faith.

Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

Désirée
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

I find it funny that the argument here began because one person offered a dichotomy: the bible is inerrant *or* the bible got it wrong, and another person comes in and says “those aren’t the only options. those are the only options only if biblical inerrancy is the only possibility, but if you believe the bible is mostly right, but not always literally accurate, then there are other options.” The person saying this then goes on to say that it is the literalists who can verse-mine the bible to make it say whatever they want and that is wrong! but those who don’t believe in its inerrancy can read the whole thing and make it say whatever they want because well, because they can since the words don’t mean what they literal say, but what they should mean, based on whoever is interpreting it.

So who gets to decide what the bible says about anything? The people who point to the literal words (which often contridict) or the people who claim they are using “context” to justify saying the message is something other than what the literal words say?

Bottom line: this is a stupid argument. Anyone can make the bible say anything they want with whatever justification they wish to use. Of course, the interpretationists are in the great position of being non falsifiable. No matter what is found that contridicts their claim, they can just say “it is being interpreted wrong” and voila! they can go on believing whatever it is they wanted to believe to begin with. To my mind, that makes it a rather useless book of moral instruction (or not moral instruction as Timothy would mistakenly have us believe (Timothy seems unclear on what constitutes “morality”).

Timothy Kincaid
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

Carlyn,

Perhaps you know this, but the person healed was the Centurian’s pais, a term that often had sexual connotations. It must have been challenging to those who first read the text and saw Jesus not only treat the Roman as human rather than oppressor but then heal his boytoy.

Ben in Oakland
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

Tristram, any engineer or reasonably intelligent atheist could answer your question.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

As many as there is room for.

Priya Lynn
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

The number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin is obviously zero.

Caryn LeMur
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

Timothy: yes, I had heard about the term ‘pais’ a couple years back. Thank you for the reminder.

The more I have studied Jesus’ apparent unwillingness to influence the non-believing culture, lifestyles, and institutions, the more I have noticed His immense impartiality.

I offer that Jesus did influence the religious culture (removing the moneychangers in the temple); He reversed the emphasis on religious lifestyles to an emphasis on heart-styles; and He reduced the institution from a great assembly/throng to ‘two gathered in my name’ being sufficient.

Jesus, in my opinion, may have spoken about same-sex attraction and/or same-sex marriage… but the authors of the Gospels wanted to include the shocking stuff – when confronted about marriage, He emphasized ‘one man, one woman, God ‘joining’ them together, and marriage for life’. He even insisted that if a man marries a divorced woman, that man lives in adultery.

And then, Jesus did not change the non-believers’ culture. Jesus changed the believer’s culture.

If Jesus is my example to follow, then I must make room for non-believers to live outside of the four principles.

I tend to believe that I have the option, within the church, to request that men married to divorced women not be in leadership or mentorship positions… but I do not have that option available to me concerning the non-believing community. [I decline the option even within the church, for mercy must triumph over judgment.]

This is why I rejoice that Jesus did not condemn slavery or applaud democracy, for that matter. The ‘Bible got it right’, in my opinion. There really is separation of church and state, per the example of Jesus. The church can indeed have a more ‘strict’ set of rules [if it wishes to live by rules, rather than principles]… but the church-people need to see a Jesus that did not extend His righteousness into any branch of non-believing government.

Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

Priya Lynn
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

Caryn said “The more I have studied Jesus’ apparent unwillingness to influence the non-believing culture, lifestyles, and institutions, the more I have noticed His immense impartiality.”.

“I love you and if you don’t love me back I’ll torture you eternally.” is not in any way impartiality.

Blake
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

“there is no moral code or practices that go along with atheism”

That just simply means we who are inclined to adopt moral codes adopt other moral codes. As an Atheist my own moral code is a lot closer the Catholic moral code than most Atheists would probably be comfortable with. For example I don’t believe in divorce. I’m a bit of a zealot on that front. But my adoption of Catholic principals does not immediately trample other principals because I am not Catholic and not identifying myself by those principals. So my opposition to divorce from my Catholic-informed background is trumped in the public discourse by my love of liberty via what I view as a generic American moral code; parts of which I’ve also adopted. You’ll always find me defending Liberty (or at least thinking I am); you’ll never find me supporting the outlawing of divorce.

Lack of Christian faith also allows one to see that Jesus is an inherently contradictory figure because the authors of the Gospels are unique individuals with unique desires for telling the story of Jesus to appeal to unique constituents. Note too that they’re all telling second hand stories decades (& sometimes centuries as in John) after he may or may not have walked the earth. And that there are many more Gospels than those four included in the Bible.

I see this inherent contradictory nature as a strength of Christianity because there can be NO one correct interpretation. Thus it’s malleability allows it to spread to each person on their own terms and to adopt various parts of the local culture(voodoo beliefs get incorporated in the Caribbean; Polytheistic gods as Saints in the classical Mediterranean). There can be many and are many valid interpretations of Christianity. Each equally valid and with its own legitimate support found inherently within the religion. Each contradicted by other understandings and each subject to scriptural criticism. Unlike, in say, Mormonism or Islam where the writings have direct ties to the founding profits and sometimes include their actual words.

I was reminded by a foreigner not too long ago that Americans are argumentative & intolerant. And we are. But surely through Christianity we have an opportunity to overcome our basic argumentative nature. Can you not accept that contradiction is a part of life when it manifests itself so obviously in your religion? Isn’t the myriad ways in which Christians “legitimately” express their faith proof enough that ONE set of ideas can never govern our free-nation? ie Isn’t our various and myriad Christianities poof enough that the best form of government is one that prizes Liberty of thought, conscious, & action? But it seems that Christians rarely grasp this basic truth. Why does the idea that Liberty in governance is what is important to Christianity in the context of said governance not obvious to many Christians? Is it all the “My Christianity is the Right Christianity” arguments Christians have been having since the birth of your religion?

Not that I have a right to tell any of you what to believe. I just wanted to respond to what Priya said (which I also think is true) and also thought I could offer an outsiders perspective. To me it’s more evidence of the human capacity for self-deceit in that people are able to hold their Christian convictions as proof of a universal morality when they are all obviously and objectively, contradictory even from the perspective of their own religion.

Priya Lynn
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

Blake said “I see this inherent contradictory nature as a strength of Christianity because there can be NO one correct interpretation. Thus it’s malleability allows it to spread to each person on their own terms and to adopt various parts of the local culture(voodoo beliefs get incorporated in the Caribbean; Polytheistic gods as Saints in the classical Mediterranean). There can be many and are many valid interpretations of Christianity. Each equally valid and with its own legitimate support found inherently within the religion.”.

The contradictory nature may accomodate different cultures and beliefs, but this is a failing, not a strength as contradictory moral codes lead to unnecessary conflict.

Priya Lynn
October 11th, 2012 | LINK

To minimize unnecessary conflict I recomment a morality based on the concept of harm. Do whatever you want but harm no one. Thus, whether divorce should be allowed or not depends on which way is less harmful to the greatest number of people.

Navelgazer
October 19th, 2012 | LINK

Be asheamed of yourself Sir!

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