Saturday, June 21, 2008

God is Imaginary: #13 Take a Look at Slavery: Rebuttal

This post is a rebuttal to Noumenon's comment on the original post. Noumenon's comments are in italics. My original text is in block quotes.

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.)

Fewer instances than you would think. David killed 2/3 of his prisoners in one instance, but for the most part, it depended on who they were fighting. When they were fighting those whom God had set apart for destruction, prisoners simply weren't taken. I'm sure that one will be in their later comments, so I won't take it further here. Otherwise, they did take prisoners and, with a few exceptions like the one above, did not slaughter them.

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.

With regards to the Old Testament civil law, God frequently created practical restrictions. See Matthew 19:8 "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."

The eating of pork has a very particular function. Eating is a unifying event in almost every culture. One eats with friends and family. The restriction on pork achieved God's practical end, that is, the segregation of the Israelites, by restricting a common social vector. If you can't even have a slice of bread with your neighbor because of the pig fat used in it, odds are you're not going to be fast friends with your neighbor.

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.

I don't think it's a "crap moral standard." As Luke 12:48 states, "For everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Should I not, with all the advantages I have, be held to a higher standard than one who does not have those advantages? I can remain fully honest in my dealings with little to no ill effects. Being fully honest in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union was an easy way to have your family go hungry. Honesty bears a minuscule cost for me, to be judged evenly for my honesty is to mock the burdens placed on those for whom it bears a real cost.

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.

The appeal to those who are enslaved has continued throughout the history of Christianity. Not just the early days, example: Negro Spirituals.

(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.

Given that the Romans were starving, crucifying, slaughtering in arenas, etc., for the first couple hundred years, this is somewhere between implausible and ludicrous. However, I won't deny that it could have been used in later years, when Christianity was the dominant influence.

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.

This is a false analogy. The Spanish "baptism" didn't change the social status of those they baptized. Example: the Inca king was given the choice of being burned alive as a pagan, or strangled as a Christian. After the term of servitude was up, the slave would be freed, and have the same status as any Israelite. Even today, in Latin America, there is social stratification based on how Indian or Spanish your ancestors were.

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."

This was tongue in cheek. They made an inane economic argument, I responded with an inane economic argument. You don't out inane me. :-) The price for slaves is fixed in Leviticus 27.

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 terrorism "slaves who want to kill you"!

Every bad guy ever put on trial for murder claims it was self defense. Does that mean that self defense does not happen, just because it is the standard bad guy line? All it means is that the burden of proof for self defense is necessarily higher. Given that the Israelites were commanded over and over not to mistreat their slaves ("for you yourselves were slaves in Egypt"), one can be quite confident that this was taken into account.

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

Take a look at the whole picture and it's hard to say that "they never mention anything about..." Slavery in ancient Israel was a short-term affair, created of necessity, not prejudice. Even the necessity was reduced by the laws concerning gleanings--so there would be food available for the poor and dispossessed, to keep them out of slavery. Every seven years the slaves were freed. Every fifty years all property sold was returned, so there would not be a permanent underclass of impoverished slaves. They were commanded not to mistreat them, and not to permanently enslave them--both of which they did, and were mentioned by God through the prophets as a reasons for their punishment.

Back to Fifty Reasons.



Blogger Noumenon said...

After the term of servitude was up, the slave would be freed, and have the same status as any Israelite.

This got me reading several pages like this and this that explain a lot more. I definitely find the argument "The slavery God supports is not the same as what we'd call 'slavery' today" more convincing than "The slavery God supports is OK because it could've been worse."

I'm willing to call the argument there. Anyone who wants to indict Old Testament God for supporting slavery first has to establish that Old Testament slavery was actually a bad thing. So it's not a no-brainer any more.

Below is all the crap I wrote while I was in the process of coming to this conclusion.


When they were fighting those whom God had set apart for destruction, prisoners simply weren't taken.

That was what I was referring to. God's "no prisoners" policy shows that while you might think, "I hope we can agree that slavery is a better option than massacring them," God is really indifferent between the two options. So he must have allowed it for other reasons.

The restriction on pork achieved God's practical end, that is, the segregation of the Israelites, by restricting a common social vector.

OK, I phrased it as though "not eating pork" was what God really cared about. So let's say 'avoiding miscegenation' is what God really cared about. Then what I was saying is, God cared about 'avoiding miscegenation' enough that he made a rule with no loopholes for practicality, but not enough about avoiding slavery.

Or maybe the pork rule does have exceptions for practicality, since Canaanites probably ate clean animals too. Restricting Israel to locusts and honey would have been the most effective.

I don't think it's a "crap moral standard."

I do. "Turn the other cheek" = moral standard. "I wish you'd turn the other cheek, but your hearts are hard so the new rule is 'at least don't slap them any harder than they slapped you'" = crap moral standard. Your real defense should be that this ain't meant to be a moral standard, just a civil standard.

The appeal to those who are enslaved has continued throughout the history of Christianity. Not just the early days, example: Negro Spirituals.

The first Google link for "slave religions" says

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Christianity had made little or no in-roads among blacks for fear that they might take literally such narratives as the Exodus. But as this "crisis of fear" spread across the South, suddenly rather impressive efforts were made to address the "needs" of the souls of black folk. These were well organized evangelistic endeavors, particularly in those areas with large plantations. Congregations stepped up their appeals, and refined their approaches to African-Americans. Preachers and planters alike urged them to fill the gallerys, and special seating that was set aside for these honored guests. Some owners were even motivated to build "praise houses" on their land, and recruited black preachers to proclaim the Lord's name (as long--of course--as a white foreman was present to monitor things so that they did not get out of hand). Large slaveholders like the Rev. Charles Colcock Jones worked to comprise a Christian primer for slaves to instill teachings that were designed as a response to the portents of revolution, and to serve as preventive measures to any insurrection.

...the religion of modern blacks represents a relatively modern development that dates back to the last several decades before slavery was brought to an end.

I must have been projecting when I thought it would work this way in Rome, because you're right that Rome was all about the persecution (at least later on). Wikipedia says Romans did believe in using native religions to uphold the social order, but they viewed Christianity as a departure from traditions that consequently harmed the social order instead of reinforcing it. So they opposed it.

6:55 AM  

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