Sunday, August 03, 2014

Would a secular case against slavery have been persuasive? I doubt it!

Another critical question is whether we could have ever come upon the idea that slavery is wrong if Paul's point had not been made. People became slaves historically because of military defeat. Slaves were the spoils of battle. On a polytheistic view, if you lose a war, your god was defeated by the other country's god, and so they had the right to treat you as human refuse. Paul says that the slave has to be treated in certain ways because you and the slave are both creatures of the same God, and God plays no favorites. 

But what if we had gone from a polytheistic view to the view that we weren't created at all, but were spat up by evolution. Wouldn't it be natural to think that a country who had just won a war was the country that was "selected for," as if were, and could do what it wanted to do with the people of the country that lost? It's a dog eat dog world, and natural selection supports those who can enslave others and get them to do hard labor. Did the free people of Egypt build the Pyramids? How did ships cross the Mediterranean sea. Could you have gotten a galley full of rowers with volunteer labor? Could a convincing case against exploitation have been made without the kind of theological appeal that Paul makes? 

Of course, nowadays we all hate slavery (though believe me, it's still around!) But it came naturally for a lot of people to treat it as perfectly acceptable. We all imagine that if we had been in, say, the antebellum South, we would have seen through the detestable practice. But the moral force of the abolitionist arguments came from their Christianity. It did not come from secular humanism.

25 comments:

Aragorn said...

The problem with subjunctive historical speculations like this is that we really wouldn't know. Each side of this argument can marshall all the evidence but at the end of the day, we still won't know what would have happened. What's incontrovertible is that the Christian scriptures implicitly AND explicitly endorses slavery. There's no getting around that.

B. Prokop said...

"There's no getting around that."

Really? That's news to the entire Christian-based-and-motivated abolition movement. I guess these Bible-soaked activists just didn't have your powers of perception to understand the one book they read every single day and had practically memorized.

The only "incontrovertible" thing here is that you have no idea what you're talking about.

Aragorn said...

I have no idea what I'm talking about? Hysterical!

Aragorn said...

They cherry-picked scripture using their own sense of morality and ignored those pesky things the God of the Bible approved of - not an issue of a lack of perception.

B. Prokop said...

"They cherry-picked scripture"

And you're not?

mattghg said...

Yes, you have no idea what you're talking about.

Crude said...

Aragorn hails from the 'If I just say it's a fact, that makes it a fact, la la la I'm not listening now la la la' school of argumentation.

An incontrovertible fact is that "Christianity" challenged the prevailing secular morality with regards to slavery - and won. Biblical teaching and Christian thought went against slavery.

Another incontrovertible fact: 'secular morality' is utterly malleable, to the point where it's utterly trivial to *justify* slavery on secular grounds. Right now, it's not quite fashionable to do so. If the mood of the time changes, so too will 'secular morality'. Which is precisely why, in various 'secular' nations and capacities, slavery still exists.

Here's a joke. What do you call it when slavery is illegal for 100 years, then illegal for 100 years, then legal for fifty years, etc, and the cycle repeats for a millenia?

Secular moral progress.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, Please do some study of the slavery question, for instance please read this information: http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2007/02/rational-response-to-film-amazing-grace.html

One Evangelical scholar at Wheaton wrote the book, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. He added that he was in tears reading how vociferously slavery was defended by Christians during that period.

In fact no major denomination in the U.S. declared slavery to be a sin. At most they split over whether or not a minister ought to own slaves. But slavery itself was Bible based in so far as the major denominations in the U.S. were concerned. Neither does the Bible say anywhere that slavery is a sin.

And for every itinerant preacher like Wesley who denounced slavery there were ten George Whitefield's who defended it as a relative blessing.

Meanwhile in the anti-slavery side were a very wide range of people, not just Christians, but deists and freethinkers. And the first book written by a freed slave in Britain recounted the horrors they experienced first hand, which gave many people their first close up view of just how horrendous the institution as practiced back then was.




Crude said...

He added that he was in tears reading how vociferously slavery was defended by Christians during that period.

Did he also mention how overjoyed he was at how vociferously slavery was condemned by Christian abolitionists? His tears, if he was at all reliably informed, would have had to be not at 'Christians' but 'some Christians'. And, if they were of a concerned to him, also 'some freethinkers' and 'some atheists' and 'some deists'.

Neither does the Bible say anywhere that slavery is a sin.

The Bible doesn't say that many things that are obviously sins, are sins. And slavery, particularly slavery as practiced during the Civil War, was clearly sinful on count after count.

And for every itinerant preacher like Wesley who denounced slavery there were ten George Whitefield's who defended it as a relative blessing.

This suggestion of the proportions is flat-out dishonest, as is the talk of 'relative blessing'. To say that X is less horrible than Y is not to endorse X as true.

The fact that there were people abusing Christian teaching for secular interests is neither new nor noteworthy.

Meanwhile in the anti-slavery side were a very wide range of people, not just Christians, but deists and freethinkers.

The pro-slavery side has had a very wide range of people, including atheists, secularists and free-thinkers. Slavery is a secular institution with secular goals and interests - that should be of no surprise to anyone.

Secular thought on the issue of slavery largely followed after public sentiment, which in turn was primarily influenced by Christian thought in the west. There have been no discoveries of this or that reasoning which makes "secular morality" eternally incompatible with slavery, precisely because "secular morality" is forever able to be re-invented, even on the spot, to suit desires and whims.

Dave Duffy said...

"Meanwhile in the anti-slavery side were a very wide range of people, not just Christians, but deists and freethinkers."

Hi Ed,

Can you give some examples of the deists and freethinkers who opposed slavery outside the Christian West? Also, are there some examples of the first-person writings of slaves outside the Christian West that we can examine?

I'm asking because I honestly don't know.

Victor Reppert said...

And how is the Darwinian argument against slavery supposed to go?

W.LindsayWheeler said...

Orthodox, Traditional Christianity has never condemned slavery. The abolitionist movement came out of the progressive Christianity, mostly the Methodists.

If Christianity is based on the Deposit of Faith, nowhere does the Deposit of Faith condemn slavery. Slavery is an institution that even the Bible condones. There are two forms of slavery in the Bible, indentured servitude of a specific time and permanent slavery. The permanent type condoned by the Bible was of foreigners. Israelites could not be pressed into permanent slavery.

Slavery is an institution and is NOT morally wrong. It will never be. That is the Traditional Christian viewpoint. Nowhere in the Ecumenical Councils is slavery condemned. It is quite the opposite, it is protected. People who advocated that slaves run away from their master are anathemitized. That is the Rule of Christianity.

You may not like slavery or engage in it, that is your perogative. But you can't teach that slavery is wrong. You can not add to the Bible.

St. Paul's letter to Philmon is about returning a runaway slave to his master. End of story!

Dave Duffy said...

When someone ends a comment with "End of story!" does that mean they don't want to have a conversation?

W.LindsayWheeler said...

What you want to argue with the consistent teaching of the Church?

Do you argue with Truth?

What?

The Church Fathers spoke. St. Paul spoke.

Causa finita.

Are you going to argue against 2+2=4?

Hugo said...

Well Victor, looks like I have to post this video once again. You should watch it...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk7gKixqVNU

Crude said...

'Again'? You know, Hugo, it's not as if people can't watch that video and find the reasoning non-compelling, or even full of holes. You're not exactly dealing with people who have never encountered this whole 'secular morality' phenomenon before.

It's not impressive.

Victor Reppert said...

Every day in every way we're getting better and better? I am not so sure.
(My reaction to the video). I think in many ways we are getting worse. One step forward and two steps back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTHCwU9rUdY

Mike Dunster said...

I thought the current consensus was that the pyramids had not been built by slaves?

teleological blog said...

And for every itinerant preacher like Wesley who denounced slavery there were ten George Whitefield's who defended it as a relative blessing.

A 10:1 ratio? This statement reveals Babinski's bigotry against Christianity and his inability for rational objective thinking pertaining to Christianity. There were many Christians who vociferously objected to slavery based on the teachings of the Bible. Richard Baxter, William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, Benjamin Rush, William Garrison, John Brown, Henry Beecher to name a few. Now let's see Babinski give a list of 70 prominent Christians who defended American slavery based on the Biblical Text.

The fact to the matter is that outside of Christianity and especially from the freethinkers, there is no moral foundation for them to be against slavery or for their support of any other ethical value. In an atheistic framework there is no difference between the death of a human being from a monkey, snake, catfish or a virus. We are nothing more than a subgroup of catarrhines made of nothing more than the meaningless collection of star dust like everything else. This is the basis of atheistic freethinking. Although freethinkers and atheists would like to deny it but Charles Darwin himself was a racist who sees the negro as inferior and will eventually be exterminated. Atheism is in no position to lecture Christians on morality when they have given us the Soviet Union and Mao's China, based on their atheistic freethinking have collectively killed over 80 million people.

Even if there were some freethinkers who were against slavery because they couldn't completely blot out the moral conscience that God has placed in their hearts that is not the same as having a defensible moral foundation based on an atheistic worldview.

Greg said...

Vic you made a good argument which unfortunately got overlooked about naturalism having no grounds for condemning slavery or instituting a universalist moral ethic.

Without having a worldview which can ground universal human worth, one doesn't really have a moral reason to condemn slavery. All the secularist can do is point out the fact that the Bible says things which make modern people uncomfortable, but this hardly makes it unworthy of being God's word.

I think we give a bit too much credence to our modern moral sensibilities when we rush headlong into praising the motives of the abolition movement and uncritically condemning the very Christian antebellum South. It is pure propaganda which tells you every slave-owner beat his slaves and that all slaves had miserable lives. Many had decent lives, many were emancipated, and many more were led to Christ because of their godly masters.

Simply put, it is complicated. Involuntary servitude, while not the ideal economic system, has existed throughout human history. If Paul were to condemn it, should he also condemn other socio-economic systems which have flaws? Paul's message transcends whatever era and system we are in; we are to obey those in authority and those in authority are not to exploit their power over their fellow image-bearers since God is sovereign over all.

Hugo said...

Victor said:
Every day in every way we're getting better and better? I am not so sure.
(My reaction to the video). I think in many ways we are getting worse. One step forward and two steps back.


What a cynical view of the world you have; quite sad. There are certainly 'some' things that are getting worse, but overall technology and knowledge has allowed human beings to be freer, safer, live longer and generally happier. It often seems worse only because we get to know more about what's going on; we are less naive. But note that the video does start with a negative note about hoe it does feel like 'reason' is not the main driver of change in many cases.

B. Prokop said...

"What a cynical view of the world you have; quite sad."

Neither cynical nor sad - simply open-eyed and not swayed by an ideological requirement that we overlook anything that may contradict the "progress" narrative.

Hugo said...

I think it's not open-eyed to claim that things are generally getting worse than generally getting better. As I said, of course there are things that are getting worse, but it's very cynical in my opinion to claim that overall things are getting worse, especially if you look at the very long-term, in term of centuries. Longer lifespan, better access to education, information, transportation, fewer children dying, wars cause much less damage per capita, many killer diseases are extinct, gender/race/sexual orientation equality progresses. And of course the best one: people, including believers, are not blindly following their regional religions as much ;-)

Sorry to be optimistic! Take care Mr. Prokop, it was nice to meet you online.

B. Prokop said...

Longer lifespan - Only for the privileged few. Most of the world's 7 billion and counting have not seen any appreciable increase.

better access to education - Can't argue there's more education today, but in many parts of the world that's just more opportunity for state indoctrination

information - I realize I am using the internet to write this, but I firmly believe that that very invention will prove to be the death of true knowledge for humanity.

transportation - And this is an improvement how? Paving over our farmlands, urban sprawl, endless commutes, cars destroying our once-beautiful cities and making them pedestrian no-go zones, etc., etc.

fewer children dying - As long as you don't count the unborn.

wars cause much less damage per capita - Please. The Congo, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Darfur, Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia, Gaza, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, East Timor... how can you say this?

many killer diseases are extinct - True.

gender/race/sexual orientation equality progresses - Not everyone thinks this is a Good Thing.

And of course the best one: people, including believers, are not blindly following their regional religions as much - I see. As in, gnus like Linton, et.al., not blindly following their cult leaders, fawning for their autographs, hanging on their every word, and unquestioningly defending them when they make outrageous statements about child abuse.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"Can't argue there's more education today, but in many parts of the world that's just more opportunity for state indoctrination"

One can get, for example, a fairly good glimpse of what an educated woman in a well-to-do household would read in Jane Austen's 18th century. Are we better off?