I just checked my e-mail today, and apparently someone who has read my blog has decided that I should challenge you because you’re “smug” (as they put it in their e-mail to me).
Actually, I started reading your website and it seems that, despite my theism and your atheism, we both share a passion for critical thought, rationality, and intellectualism.
I’m consistently frustrated by the lack of “vertical thinking” (as Sven Berkerts would have put it) amongst people of religion. After reading your hate mail section I was reminded of this sad fact one more painful time.
Although I think many of your ideas are ill-informed (no offense, but we are more-or-less diametrically opposed when it comes to our presuppositions and philosophical viewpoints, after all), I would like to link to your blog from my own if you don’t mind. Actually, even if you mind I’m going to link to it anyway. :)
Perhaps we could share some reasoned debate sometime.
Oh, my blog is exposingatheism.blogspot.com
Unfortunately, some of my writing has been a little low-brow in the past, but since school has started I haven’t had much time to write. Also, for a while I thought it would be entertaining to insult people which, as it turns out, doesn’t work so well. I also let myself get a little frustrated by some of the “bottom of the barrel” atheists I had been dealing with at the time, which ended up being reflected in some of my writing.
The below item is from a comment by this same poster to a previous post.
I have some questions for my Christian readers regarding the morality of slavery.
I’d be happy to answer them. Normally I don’t participate in online apologetics, but I am attempting to help out with apologetics at my local church to help educate and edify the congregation, so this should be a good reason to bend the rules.
The Bible is not anti-slavery, and in fact has instructions for the moral treatment of slaves. I understand that this, as most theists have explained it to me, is because although slavery is wrong it was so ingrained in society that God could not have demanded its elimination at that point in history, and instead gave instructions to mitigate the damage it did.
That’s usually what you’ll hear from someone who doesn’t have an answer, and isn’t willing to admit that they doesn’t [sic] have an answer.
Slavery was indeed eventually pretty much wiped out, and Christians sometimes point out that Christianity was behind much of the anti-slavery movement.
I’m going to go ahead and accept this for the sake of argument.
Indeed, many Christians were involved in abolition. Of course, many people who considered themselves Christian were involved in promoting, and participating in, slavery. So we have to be even-handed about this and look at what the core principles and values of biblical Christianity are. If the bible promotes slavery (that is slavery along the lines of historical American slavery), then its wrong on that issue. No “ifs” “ands”, or “buts”.
But at the same time God condemned homosexuality (at least male homosexuality) rather unambiguously. A great many Bible believers think that God destroyed a whole city because homosexuality was rampant. We don’t hear about widespread destruction raining down on slaveholders (unless the slaves in question were God’s chosen people, who were themselves slave owners).
This is slightly off the mark. I’m not trying to be offensive, I just want to make sure that we’re not arguing past each other.
The slavery imposed on the Israelites by the Egyptians, if its historical, is almost exactly parallel with the horrors of American slavery. That is to say, the slavery imposed on the Israelites was unambiguously immoral. You’ll get no argument from me there.
Though to say, “The Egyptians were punished for enslaving the Israelites”, is far too shallow. For now, it doesn’t matter.
The question we’re left with is: Why didn’t God punish the Israelites for their practice of slavery? Or, why did God allow slavery within the Israelite society at all?
Before I get to that, we have one more matter to deal with. Although a synonym for homosexuality, sodomy, is named after the city of Sodom, it appears that its either loosely based upon the request of the denizens to have homosexual sex with the angels who visit Lot, or we have another “Oninism” sort of deal.
What I mean by that is that the story of Onin (in Genesis, if my memory is intact) who was killed supposedly for “masturbating” by not impregnating his deceased brother’s wife, was taken completely out of context. Once a large dose of imagination was added in the mix, we got a new synonym for masturbation: “Oninism”. That’s despite the fact that the story of Onin has nothing to do with masturbation.
In this case, based on the textual data we have, to say the city was destroyed simply because of homosexuality would be jumping way too far to reach a desired conclusion (well, desirable for some theologians for some ungodly reason).
In fact, in light of God’s other judgments around that time, it would seem to be implied that the moral problems of Sodom and Gomorrah were more severe than tradition would have us believe.
Sorry, I’m rambling on, but I like to make sure that we’re looking at the Bible in the proper ‘light’, so to speak.
With all of this in mind, I’ll move on to answering your questions.
1) If homosexuality had been rampant among the Israelites (as slavery was), do you think God would have let it go for the time being for pragmatic reasons, or is it such a big sin that it had to be eliminated?
It would have had to be eliminated, I would think. For God to allow His chosen people to make a mockery of His created order within those circumstances would seem, to me, to be beyond reasonable.
2) After Jesus, some 1,800 years passed before slavery as a government institution was eliminated. Doesn’t this imply that, even if God is anti-slavery, it isn’t a big priority?
Its hard to say what you mean by this. If I’m not mistaken, governmentally institutionalized slavery hasn’t been completely eliminated.
However, whether or not that’s true, I’d like to stick to the core problem.
Was the slavery of the Israelites comparable to American-style slavery? Because if it is, I don’t think there is any sort of pragmatic reasoning one could use to get the Bible out of the mire of such a problem.
I’m not the most learned on this subject, because I haven’t been able to read primary, scholarly sources on the issue. Instead I’ve had to rely on secondary sources which have plumbed the scholarly details on this issue.
The answer to the question seems to be a solid: “No.” Israelite slavery is not comparable to American-style slavery. There were penalties for harming slaves (which were exactly parallel to penalties for harming freemen, despite what you might have heard from certain atheists). Furthermore, slavery of that kind was more of an “occupation”, or a job. That may seem counter-intuitive since we’ve learned to associate strong negative emotions with the word ‘slavery’, but it still seems to be the case.
Slavery was pragmatic in the sense that it gave the poorest people among the Israelites a way to take care of themselves. However, it was not anywhere near as exploitative as American slavery was.
It certainly wasn’t the ideal situation, but as God put it in Deuteronomy 15:4-5 it was sin that led to poverty, which led to a need for some people to be dependent upon others for their well-being.
However, the attitude of American-style slavery, and Israelite slavery (in fact, much of the Ancient Near East slavery), is almost completely antonymous. For instance, the motive of ANE (ancient near east) slavery – such as that of the Israelites – was a voluntary means of making onesself dependent in order to ensure one’s well-being (as I’ve stated). Whereas, with American-style slaver, the motivation was exploitative. Because of this difference in motivation alone (as well as the master-slave relationship, which in our past was impersonal and inhumane) makes up the vast difference between the slavery we all know and hate, and the slavery of the Israelites (as well as much of the ANE).
I hope that clears it up. As one final note, it worth it to take stock of the fact that “ebed” (the Hebrew word for slave) had a much broader meaning that “slave” does for us. For instance, a free person who served the king in a rather “cumfy” occupation, would still be considered the ‘ebed’ of the king.
We should keep all of these facts in mind when considering such a sensitive subject. While its easy to get lost in what we’ve learned of our own history, and then project that into the past, I think that based on the social data, its possible to make the case that God was not immoral for allowing ‘slavery’ of this kind within Israelite society.
3) If you don’t think that a practicing homosexual can go to Heaven, do you think that a practicing slave owner can go to heaven?
I never, EVER, make any judgments about who will or will not go to heaven.
Or at least I try not to. :)
4) The big question (to me): do you personally feel that slave owning is not as onerous as homosexuality?
Well, I think that based on everything I’ve said, the obvious answer to this question would seem to be, “What kind of slavery do you mean?”
I’m honestly looking for answers to these questions from practicing Christians. Thank you for your help!
No problem! I appreciate your sincerety, as well as your open and honest inquiry. All-to-often, people get caught up in the emotion of the philosophical issue, and they let that cloud rational inquiry (by people I mean Christians and atheists).
Perhaps you don’t find my answer satisfying, and if you don’t then I would only ask that you reciprocate my “help” by helping me out. I want to do a series on slavery at my church (hopefully teaching it, if not then writing the outline of the class), so let me know where my reasoning is lacking.
I don’t have the time to go as in-depth on such a sensitive issue here as I would like, so keep that in mind.
I appreciate your writing to me and am glad that you don’t find me “smug”. Though I have little formal training in philosophy or religion, I am definitely interested in critical thought. I think that both theists and atheists should examine their beliefs critically, but unlike some atheists I think it’s possible to be both a critical thinker and a theist.
I’m not offended by your statement that some of my ideas are ill informed. If I’m acting on incorrect information, I certainly want to know. You say that we are more-or-less diametrically opposed in presuppositions and philosophy, but it’s possible that we have more in common than you might think. I would be interested to investigate this further. (And certainly I don’t mind you linking to my blog from yours.)
I took a look at some of your blog and I see what you mean about your old writing compared to your new writing. Don’t worry about it. I’ve “gone off the deep end” when dealing with bottom-of-the-barrel atheists myself.
You also replied to my post about slavery and homosexuality, which I appreciate. I would like to discuss this further, since it is something I would like to learn more about.
You responded to my statement that the Bible is not anti slavery because people were not ready to eliminate slavery by saying, “That’s usually what you’ll hear from someone who doesn’t have an answer, and isn’t willing to admit that they doesn’t [sic] have an answer.” This surprised me a bit, since some fairly significant apologists (Gregory Koukl is my current favorite) seem to go with this mode of argument. I am pleased that you disagree, because I would like to see a more compelling response.
Regarding Sodom, you may have gotten the impression that I think the sin of Sodom was homosexuality because “Sodom” is the root of the word “sodomy.” But this is not the case. You are (obviously) correct about the common misstatement of the sin of Onin, but to me the Bible seems to say pretty clearly that the sin of Sodom was homosexual sex. It’s been a while since I last read the Bible, but from what I remember references to the sin of Sodom often refer to a sin of the flesh, and homosexual sex was (if I remember correctly) listed in Leviticus as punishable by death. I’d like to hear more from you on this subject, if you are interested.
Getting back to slavery, you talk about two kinds of slavery — following your lead, I’ll them “ANE” and “American” slavery for the purposes of discussion. You say that ANE (Israelite) slavery was more like an occupation and gave poor people a way to take care of themselves. Are you implying that slavery among the Israelites was voluntary? I had to look this one up, but doesn’t Leviticus 25:39 specifically say that an Israelite who sells himself because he is poor is not to be considered a slave? And didn’t the Israelites make slaves of non-Israelites in the lands they captured? I’d appreciate some clarification on this.
Also, I believe that the Bible specifically says that slaves are property, and that it is permissible to beat a slave, so long as the slave is not killed or injured for a long term. This sounds pretty bad to me, no matter how well the slaves were treated otherwise.
None of this is to say that American slavery wasn’t worse. It was certainly much easier to be freed from slavery in Israel than it was in America.
You talk about American slavery being exploitative in a way that ANE slavery was not. But if the Israelites did indeed make their conquered enemies slaves, isn’t that similar to American slavery, so far as exploitation goes?
Now, let me bring this back to my original comparison between slavery and homosexuality in the Bible. If there are “good” and “bad” types of slavery, then might there be “good” and “bad” types of homosexuality? For example, it is pretty clear that sodomy is condemned in the Bible, but if a male couple is in love, treats themselves as partners, and avoids committing that particular sin, do you think that would be moral from a Christian perspective?
Thanks for sharing this with me and my readers. I look forward to your response!