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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Wish I Was This Angry About Slavery in the Bible

Bible opened to the first chapter of Leviticus. Image source.
I've recently discovered Steve Shives's youtube channel and I've been watching a ton of his "An Atheist Reads" videos, where he reads through various Christian apologetics books and discusses them from an atheist perspective. (I very much recommend his series on The Case for Christ to anyone who used to be an apologetics nerd, like me.)

Currently I'm watching his series on the book "Keeping Your Kids on God's Side," by Natasha Crain, and I just have to share this video where he talks about the chapter "Does the Bible Support Slavery?" (It starts at 30:51 in this video.)


Basically, Crain's book says it's true that the bible talks about slavery, and God places restrictions on owning one's fellow Israelites as slaves, so it's more like indentured servitude or arranged marriages, BUT Leviticus says it's fine to enslave foreign people. For life. Which sounds very similar to what modern Americans think of when we hear the word "slavery." Chattel slavery.

And those of us who are familiar with apologetics books can predict where it goes from here- Crain says even though the bible allows slavery, OBVIOUSLY it doesn't REALLY mean God was fine with it, because the bible says people are all made in God's image. And, this line: "God did allow foreign slaves to be held indefinitely, but we know too little about this particular group to understand why a distinction may have been made." Like get out your apologetics bingo cards and check off "God must have had a reason" and "blaming God's victims."

(Seriously, I am SO NOT HERE for this biblical victim-blaming crap. "Oh, surely this person that God killed for some seemingly illogical reason MUST HAVE BEEN terribly sinful and bad, somehow, even though the bible doesn't really say how, because we KNOW that SURELY God could not have done something BAD." We learn in church to do apologetics this way, and then we go out and argue on facebook "Oh surely this unarmed black man must have been dangerous and threatening somehow, because surely a police officer wouldn't have just murdered him for no good reason, here let's search through his past and invent reasons that he was a bad person." It's the same damn thing. How are white Christians going to believe #BlackLivesMatter when they believe it was right for God to kill Uzzah for touching the damn ark? How can we recognize police brutality for the injustice that it is when we're taught from childhood to excuse divine brutality?)

Anyway, that's an overview of Crain's position on slavery in her book, and Shives is just NOT HAVING IT. He correctly calls it out as disgusting immoral bullshit. Some quotes from him:
I don't know how anyone who believes the Old Testament is the true Word of God could possibly continue to honor and worship and follow that God after learning that according to his own Scripture he participated in the slave trade.
...
Why is this even remotely acceptable to people? How is this not a much bigger deal than it is? If the moral question at hand is 'is it morally acceptable to own another human being as property?' and your God's answer to that question is supposedly 'yes, sometimes', how is that not an immediate and permanent deal-breaker?
...
Here's what really turns my stomach about this- and this is one of the most repugnant things I've ever read in an apologetics book- I know lots of Christians sort of quietly accept that the Bible condones slavery ... they mostly just try to ignore it and focus on the part of their faith that makes them happy, the part of their faith that doesn't deeply trouble them, and maybe that's not honest, maybe that's not brave, maybe that does contribute some harm to the world. But at least people who deal with it that way aren't guilty of proactively defending fucking slavery. Natasha Crain acknowledges that according to the Bible her God condones slavery and she says she's a little uncomfortable with it, but then she starts making excuses.
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The word 'abomination' appears 76 times in the King James Bible. God's law declares lots of things to be abominations. Eating fish. Eating things that creep upon the earth. Making graven images. As it says in Proverbs, 'A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies and he that soweth discord among brethren,' all abominations to God. Adultery. Homosexuality. Cross-dressing. All abominations unto the Lord, and specifically identified as such in Scripture. Not things that we are left to conclude 'don't meet God's ideal.' Not things with which we must grapple in order to try and surmise what God's feelings are about them. Things which are explicitly identified as abominations unto God. Not among them: slavery.

Never condemned. Never called an abomination. Enabled. Regulated. Not merely tolerated but recommended, encouraged. 'Your slaves shall be your possession, take them as an inheritance for your children,' so sayeth the Word of God. And how does Natasha Crain respond? As only an apologist can, as only someone willing to suspend her humanity and morality in the name of obedience can. She makes excuses. She minimizes. She states outright falsehoods, contradicted by passages from the Bible she quotes herself. She says we can be confident in saying God never supported slavery, three pages after reproducing the passage from Leviticus that says 'buy heathens and strangers as slaves, treat them as property, pass them down to your children, they shall be your slaves forever.'

And she writes this to parents in a book framed as telling them how to talk to their children about these things.

If you excuse slavery- even if only in the context of the long-ago and faraway land of the Bible- if you excuse slavery, and you advise parents on how they can excuse it to their children, don't you dare presume to lecture me or anyone else on morality. And don't expect me to accept your slave-trading God as benevolent, much less as the transcendent standard of good which we all must recognize. I respect no so-called 'standard of good' that allows for the enslavement of other people. 'Oh we don't know very much about those non-Hebrews, maybe God had a good reason for condoning chattel slavery for them.' I don't consider that an exception. I don't consider that an acceptable excuse. I don't consider any standard of good that allows that, much less commands it, to be any such thing. And I have no use for anyone who goes to such lengths as Natasha Crain does to defend a God such as that.
That'll preach.

And as I watch this video, I'm shocked and angry, because of this question: Why was I never this upset about slavery in the bible?

I'm angry because the church taught me everything God did in the bible is by definition good and right. And so when we read about divinely-commanded human rights violations in the bible, we never said "holy crap this is terrible"- instead it was "well maybe this looks bad but we have to believe it wasn't actually bad, of course God must have had a good reason."

It's not possible to do all three of these at the same time. Pick two:
  1. Believe in inerrancy
  2. Read the whole bible
  3. Have a heart
I'm angry because when I read the bible, I never said "this is horrible- no I will not worship this god." Apologetics seared my conscience, with a ****ing hot iron.

And then they said all kinds of lies about atheists. "Atheists don't have morals." "Atheists don't value human life." "We have objective morality and they don't." Eff all of that. If "slavery is fine when God says it's fine" isn't "moral relativism" then I don't know what is.

Inerrancy and apologetics are about convincing good Christians that sometimes slavery is okay and sometimes genocide is okay. I was a good kid; I read the apologetics books and felt no sympathy for the children of Jericho when God ordered them to be massacred. That's why good, godly students of the bible do.

It's disgusting.

I'm angry. I'm angry because I've never been angry about slavery in the bible.

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Related: Abraham's Slaves

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