Saturday, June 14, 2008

God is Imaginary: #13 Take a Look at Slavery

Take a Look at Slavery

First off, it's interesting that with all of the verses they cited concerning slavery, they missed this one: Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ." I guess it just wasn't convenient to include in their diatribe.


In this passage God understands that people buy other people and, quite obviously, is comfortable with the concept. God wants slaves circumcised in the same way as non-slaves.

God is also quite aware that people do all sorts of things of which he disapproves. By analogy, we, as a society, wish that no one smoked. However, people do smoke, so we regulate it. God wishes there was no slavery. However, there were going to be slaves, so God regulates it. So why were there going to be slaves?

There were two major sources of slave for the Israelites: war and poverty (either at home or abroad). War in the Ancient Near East was incredibly brutal. If you captured enemy soldiers, you had very few options:

Option A: Slaughtering prisoners. I hope we can agree that slavery is a better option than massacring them.

Option B: Sell them down to the line. The Israelites, because of God's regulating of slavery, were the kindest slave owners around. Keeping the slaves themselves was the better option.

Option C: Sending them out into the wilderness, where they would die at the hands of bandits, of thirst, or simply be picked up by nomads and sold down the line. It's better than Option A in that you're not killing them directly, but it's the same or worse than option B, which is worse than keeping slaves themselves.

Option D: Sending them back to your enemies. This would seem all Geneva-convention-like, but there is a problem. War in the ANE was constant, as it says in 2 Samuel 11:1, "In the spring, when Kings go off to war..." There never was the end of hostilities, merely temporary ceasefires. Rearming your enemies in the midst of battle is none to bright. Returning their soldiers to them is suicide. Keeping their prisoners as slaves is a better option.

The second source of slaves is poverty. The Israelites were dirt poor, as was everyone at that time. If you lost your job you didn't sign up for unemployment. You starved. The freedom to leave was the freedom to die by the side of the road. Slavery, in the Israelite conception, was more like signing a 7-year contract than what we think of as slavery.

Now, the most important thing of the part above: God wants slaves circumcised. Circumcision was the mark of the covenant. To circumcise was, essentially, to adopt. Slaves were not a permanent underclass, but were made part of the community. It's as though American slave holders adopted all their slaves and made them heirs of their estate.


God again shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery and singles out slaves for special treatment.

The special treatment, once again, was their full adoption into the community. Oh how they were mistreated.


Here God describes how to become a slave for life, and shows that it is completely acceptable to separate slaves from their families. God also shows that he completely endorses the branding of slaves through mutilation.

How to become a slave for life: volunteer. Gee, that's bad. Forcing people against their will to work for you forever, er...

If I signed a three year army contract, and my wife signed a five year contract, at the end of three years I can get out, but my wife is stuck for two more years. Until her contract is up, she's stuck, because I signed a separate contract. Now, if we signed the contract together, we'd get out together. Funny how that works.

Branding slaves through mutilation? Had to get your hyperbole fix today? He pierced their ears. Millions of Americans are branded and mutilated of their own accord every day.


Not only does God condone slavery, but he is also completely comfortable with the concept of beating your slaves, as long as you don't kill them.

Note: many of your slaves are young men who were captured trying to kill you. Just because you captured them does not mean that they necessarily stop trying to kill you.


Not only does God condone slavery, but here God places a value on slaves -- 30 shekels of silver. Note that God is not sophisticated enough to understand the concept of inflation. It is now 3,000 years later, and a gored slave is still worth 30 shekels of silver according to God's word.

Note that God understands that the reasons for owning slaves disappear as you become wealthy. Note that he also understands the free market. At 30 shekels of silver there are no slaves for sale these days. By fixing the price, God makes slaves unavailable when desperate poverty does not make them the only choice.


Here God shows that the children of slaves are slaves themselves, and that he is completely happy with that concept.

And note from above that children go with their parents when their parents contract is up. This regulation actually protects children. A slave owner by this law was forced to care for the children of slaves, even though it wouldn't be profitable for him to do so.


Here God states where you may purchase your slaves, and clearly specifies that slaves are property to be bought, sold and handed down.

Remember that slaves are almost contractual works in ancient Israel. Since an Israelite could only own a slave for a short period of time, the potential profit they would accrue is far less than that which any other society would. Thus the Israelites would be underbid in the international slave market, unless there was a glut on the market, in which case the foreign slaves, whose lives were harsh enough anyway, would be mistreated and starved more than usual. When things were really, really bad for foreign slaves, the Israelites were able to buy them, which would improve the slaves' lives. Buying foreign slaves seems like a humanitarian act.


Here Jesus shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery. Jesus heals the slave without any thought of freeing the slave or admonishing the slave's owner.

Read the verse in Galatians at the beginning of the post. Christ is in the process of freeing slaves. Just because Abraham Lincoln didn't pull a John Browne at the earliest opportunity didn't mean he wasn't trying to free slaves.


Here God shows that he is in complete acceptance of a slave's position, and encourages slaves to work hard.

If you read more than this verse, this rule is for Christian slaves. Their intent in obeying was to set themselves apart from the other slaves. Eventually, their master would notice, and perhaps ask, why this slave was different from all the others, and then they could share their faith with him. Christianity spread like wildfire through the slaves of the Roman world--within 20 years Caesar's personal slaves were Christian--and spread upwards through society from the slaves. Let me ask you, would a religion that was so gung ho about slavery really be adopted so readily by slaves?


You, as a rational human being, know that slavery is wrong. You know it.

Yes. I also know that it is wrong to lie. I know it. I also know that it is wrong to betray an innocent man. If the Gestapo came to my house looking for Jews, I would lie to them. I would do that which I know is wrong because the alternative is doing that which I know is worse. Slavery in ancient Israel, as we've seen above, was the least bad option available, was regulated to keep it that way, and was eliminated, due to the fixed price of slaves, whenever it was not necessary.


Understanding the Rationalizations

Kudos to them for this section. It only fails in their false dichotomy of a conclusion. Otherwise, they have struck what I consider a mortal blow against all who compromise. As the Good Book says in Revelation 3:16, "But because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

According to Jesus, the Old Testament is alive and well. According to Isaiah 40:8, "the word of our God stands forever." The notion that these old testament verses no longer apply is completely untrue according to the Bible.

Perfect.


In that case, the obvious question to ask yourself is this: If the Bible has been corrupted, how can we possibly know which parts of the Bible came from God and which parts were inserted by primitive men? You have absolutely no way to know.

Exactly. Islam has the "Satanic Verses" which Salman Rushdie drew attention to. Islam falls on this account.


If part of the Bible came from God and part came from primitive men, you do not know which is which. You do not know if Jesus really is resurrected, or if that's just a make-believe story inserted by primitive men. How do you know if God wrote the Ten Commandments or not? If any part of the Bible has been polluted by primitive men, you have to reject the whole thing. There is no way to know who wrote what, so the entire book is invalid.

Which is why I stand on the veracity of all Scripture. As soon as a Christian compromises on that fact, he has lost.

Back to Fifty Reasons.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Dominus Sit Illuminatio Mea said...

[i]You, as a rational human being, know that slavery is wrong. You know it. That is why every single developed nation in the world has made slavery completely illegal.[/i]

As ethical arguments go, this one is philosophically quite disappointing. It really seems to be nothing more than a conclusion, made no more valid by repetition. The argument seems to amount to this: thus and so must be true because (1)I [i]know[/i] it must be true and (2) All nations which I choose to defined as developed presently concur with me and (3) all people who are rational agree with me. But what about the millions throughout history who [i]practiced[/i] slavery? They can't be written off as irrational, unless rationality is defined to include repudiation of slavery, which would be brazenly question-begging. Yet the existence of legions of slave holders throughout history cuts against both (2) and (3), because it demonstrates that not [i]all[/i] rational people concur with the proposition (contra 3), and that historically, acceptance of the proposition is actually quite idiosyncratic (contra 2). The argument is left only with a claim that slouches toward solipsism: "the proposition must be true because I think so."

Basing an argument on the assertion that "all rational people know that it's true" is poor form, especially when the assertion turns out to be false. The proposition that slavery (as defined as compulsory unpaid labor) is per se immoral strikes me as extraordinarily difficult to establish. On the other hand, I have no doubt that forcing someone to work for you against their will is ethically wrong (it strikes me as a violation of the fifth commandment, which is good enough for me, since I accept the normative validity of the decalogue). However, even if slavery is established as prima facie immoral, it likely could be justified, as an alternative to death, in the case of capture during war or conviction for a capital crime. This is essentially the "greater includes the lessor" argument that you make in the post; it's a good argument and you make it compellingly.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

1) Who says God has a problem with just slaughtering prisoners? See, the rest of the OT. (Don't spend too much time refuting this one, it's just a knee jerk.)

2) If this issue really mattered to God, would he let practicality intervene? Did God say, "Sure, I think eating the pork is wrong, but I understand the economics of prehistoric times . Not being able to eat pork can frequently mean entire families might starve. That's why instead I've given you all these special rules for preparing pork so that you will be eating it in the least sinful way compared to all your neighbor peoples." He didn't say that. He drew that line. No pork was important to him.

3) What kind of crap moral standard is "I would like you to be as nice as you can afford, plus a tiny bit nicer than your neighbors." Whereas just from the ill luck that you were born in the 20th century, expectations for you is total sanctification. e.g., no adultery whatsoever, where the Chosen People got free concubines.

The Israelites were dirt poor, as was everyone at that time.

The Israelites were dirt poorer than most. As many of the Israelites themselves would agree, being a slave in Egypt could be nicer than being an Israelite.

Let me ask you, would a religion that was so gung ho about slavery really be adopted so readily by slaves?

(possible reason #1)
Another appeal of Christianity was the prophesied Second Coming of Christ. This was meant to be an imminent event arriving very soon. A slave could easily imagine this as their way to personal liberty.
(possible reason #2)
I kind of doubt the Romans had this much influence, but if there was a religion that told their slaves to be better slaves they would have spread it on purpose. Banana's manager asked her to write a book report on The Fred Factor, which explains how to be the best damn servant to your 20th century overlords that you can be (first chapter here). That's what I'm really thinking about.

God wants slaves circumcised in the same way as non-slaves.

There's a big difference between being circumcised by your family and being circumcised as a captive by force. It's like the Spaniards baptizing the Indians. How accepting of them.

Note that God understands that the reasons for owning slaves disappear as you become wealthy. Note that he also understands the free market. At 30 shekels of silver there are no slaves for sale these days. By fixing the price, God makes slaves unavailable when desperate poverty does not make them the only choice.

You are finding rationalizations, "I found a reason for it, therefore that was God's reason." It's especially bad in this case because the 30 gold is not to pay for a slave, but to expunge guilt for your bull goring a slave. So your argument becomes "Note that God understands that the reasons for not goring slaves disappear as you become wealthy... By fixing the price, God makes goring slaves available whenever desperate poverty doesn't make not goring them your only choice."

Note: many of your slaves are young men who were captured trying to kill you. Just because you captured them does not mean that they necessarily stop trying to kill you.

The Guantanamo defense! It's OK to beat all your innocent slaves because otherwise the slaves who want to kill you won't get beaten! My opponents claim that the policy as written mentions nothing about guilt, and allows for beating slaves simply on the grounds that they are property, but they are soft on <strike>terrorism</strike> "slaves who want to kill you"!

I started this post with "I'll make this quick and unconvincing," but I got a lot less quick and a lot more convinced.

Basically, arguing "I allowed something bad (slavery) as an alternative to something worse" is a defense for someone who couldn't do any better. God makes the rules. It's like defending the Boxing Rules Association for allowing metal-studded gloves by saying, "Well, look at the alternative -- they'd be using knives!"

And then when they never mention anything about "We'd like to see metal-studded gloves phased out," or "Please don't use the metal-studded gloves on children," you say, "Well clearly the metal-studded gloves were designed so children would find them sparkly, and with them ratings would go up and the boxers could afford to quit boxing!" Pah.

10:54 AM  

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