Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dark Star on Christianity, slavery, and atheism

Commentor Dark Star took issue with my assertion that Christianity played a central role in the abolition of slavery:

Dark Star:
[Egnor] "We hold these truths to be self-evident... all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..."
[Dark Star] Of course this was written by the same people who codified the possession of one human by another into their Constitution (in the Enumeration, Importation, and Fugitive Slave clauses).
So Jefferson is your hero who writes letters to Danbury Baptists about "separation of church and state" when it comes to bashing Christianity, but Jefferson (a slave owner himself) recedes into anonymity as one of "the same people who codified the possession of one human by another..." when it comes to... bashing Christianity. Convenient how that works.

How about this formulation: would it then be fair to say that the principle of "separation of church and state" came from "the same people who codified the possession of one human by another"? The principle of "separation of church and state" came from slave owners who were hostile to orthodox Christianity? Maybe that's why the KKK-- who hated Catholicism hardly less than you do-- incorporated "separation of church and state" into their initiation oath. Ask about that at your next Klavern soiree.
 Where exactly in the Bible does it say one person shall not not own another? No, it has rules about slavery that clearly do NOT condemn it, instead you are enjoined to obey your masters.
The New Testament supersedes the Old Testament for Christians, so I won't  comment on Levitical codes, except to point out that Levitical codes were regulations on slavery which delineated the rights of slaves and the obligations of Jews who owned slaves. The codes were an advance in human rights, in much the same way that the Magna Carta was an advance in political liberty, not because it guaranteed liberty as we moderns understand it, but  because it limited a previously unlimited oppression. The Levitical codes limited slavery, and were revolutionary advances for human dignity, as was so much of the Jewish law.

Christ and His apostles and disciples were not 21st century political activists. The Lord showed a remarkable disinterest in politics-- "render unto Caesar...". He was interested in the dignity of the human soul, which shines through the Gospels. He taught a Kingdom in which there wasn't even the possibility of one man enslaving another. In fact, He taught that real dignity was in the willingness to be a slave to express love and to help others. He taught that in the slave-master relationship, it was the slave that had dignity.

"If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be the slave of the rest. The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people." (Matthew 20:26-28, CEV)

He turned the institution of slavery on its head. It was the slave who was great and just. Even God Himself was a slave of love who is willing to sacrifice to help others. God identified with slaves, not masters.

Neitzsche understood this. Neitzsche-- the archetypal modern atheist-- worshiped power. He derided Christianity as a "slave religion". He was right. He understood the Christian revolution, which was the ennoblement of sacrifice and humility, and he hated it.

Christ ripped the institution of slavery at its foundation, in an astonishing way that was much more radical and much more effective than any political protest. He didn't incite a Sparticus revolt, which would merely have ended with a mountain of corpses. He identified Himself--God-- with the slave, not with the master. He insisted that what was done to the least among us, was done to Him. He destroyed any coherent justification for oppression and chattel slavery by pointing out that God Himself was the slave. He ultimately ended slavery by a spiritual revolution, not a political one.

Man being man, the ultimate consequence of the Christian revolution would take centuries to work itself out. His spiritual revolution-- His Kingdom-- ripped up oppression by the roots, and is still at work. It is the central revolution of human history-- the only genuine radical revolution in human history. His revolution is the insistence on the inviolable dignity of man. That is one reason His enemies hate Him so.

The supposition that He should have condemned the political institution of slavery (or excessive taxation or war or deficit spending) in the Roman Empire betrays ignorance of Christ's message.

The Lord's agenda was spiritual, not political. His message of the incomparable worth of each human being changed the world. For the entire existence of homo sapiens-- tens of thousands of years of civilizations and hundreds of thousands of years of existence of the species-- slavery was as intrinsic and unexceptional to man as was the family unit and obtaining food and shelter. No one questioned chattel slavery as a significant moral issue. It was the consensus that some men were by nature slaves (Aristotle), and that slavery was simply part of the natural order.

For hundreds of thousands of years, humanity kept chattel slaves. Within a few hundred years of the spread of Christianity, slavery began to wane, in England, in France, in Scandanavia, and eventually throughout all of Christian Europe. In 1537 Pope Paul III issued Sublimus Dei, which banned Catholic participation in slavery in the New World (it was already extinguished in the Old World). Slavery continued in non-Catholic regions in the New World until it was ended by Christian abolitionists (Wilberforce) and by a Christian nation going to war against it.

The only parts of the world in which slavery survives into this century are some Muslim and pagan enclaves in Africa and Asia and in atheist countries (China, North Korea) in which political prisoners-- the one thing that atheist governments don't seem to produce a shortage of-- are used essentially as slaves.

The other kind of slavery today is sex slavery. As in all of history, Christian organizations are the mainstay in efforts to abolish it.

Can you name for me, Dark Star, the atheist organizations today that are devoted to ending modern slavery? Can you name for me any atheist-- from Democritus to Epicurus to Lucretius to Knutzen to de Sade to Marx to Lenin to Stalin to O'Hare to Mao to Pol Pot to Kim Jung Il to Dawkins-- who did anything of substance to end slavery? Where are atheists' great contributions to manumission? Christian organizations have been and are very active in legal challenges, political action, and even purchasing the freedom of slaves. Name the atheist organizations devoted to ending slavery.

Atheist legal action is restricted to censorship of prayers and removal of creches, when not facilitating the construction of gulags and Lubyankas.
If you are a Christian and you believe that Slavery is morally wrong then you are in exactly the same position I am in...
No, Dark Star we're not in the same position. Our positions differ radically.

I believe that slavery is morally abhorrent because it violates God's law and degrades the dignity of both slave and master, who are made in God's image. I believe that all men are Created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights.

As an atheist, you deny objective morality. You deny that men were created at all. You deny that they are endowed by their Creator with any rights. You deny that there is a Source of moral law that is objective, that transcends human opinion.

Your metaphysics-- that moral law is a human invention-- is a basis for slavery and for every sort of injustice. If moral law is a human invention, and there is no God and no transcendent moral law and no ultimate accountability, then power is the final arbiter of human affairs.

Slavery is the last full measure, short of murder, of the power of one man over another. It is inherent to a materialistic understanding of man. It is antithetical to the Christian understanding of man.

More to come.


  1. @bach
    You're demonstrating your profound ignorance again...

    It is innate in you to always start a comment with an insult. Is this a trick to distract from the following series of lies?

    You are getting very good at this. Here is a statement with both a lie and an insult:

    Atheists believe in objective morality, but not your bizarre definition of it.

    Sorry, but you have been unmasked!

  2. I hadn't know about Sublimus Dei. Thanks for the post. If nothing else, it gave me something to look up.

    As for the point of the thing, the problem with atheist morals is that as soon as the measures they are trying to maximize change, the rules change, too. That is, if the goal is to maximize free exchange of ideas and intellectual progress, then slavery is probably a bad thing.

    If the goal is to maximize scientific research and intellectual progress, then what's the harm in a few hundred thousand bipedal lab animals? After all, their worth is only measured according to the metrics you value. It's not like they have any intrinsic value unless you say they do. Once you change your mind, all bets are off.

  3. Atheists believe in objective morality

    Atheist objective morality differs from one group to the next as the metrics which they are trying to maximize differ. You may have an objective morality, but it is not a universal one, nor can it ever be.

    You may be trying to encourage free exchange of ideas and scientific tests of hypotheses, but there are plenty of people who are trying to maximize getting drunk and getting laid. If they are atheists, they can have an objective morality based on that.

    As a Catholic, I can be trying to maximize getting drunk and getting laid, but the universal objective morality of the Church gives me parameters within which to do it: after Newcastle beats Manchester United for one and after marriage for another.


  4. Of course American Christians have been on both sides of the Slavery issue. Southern Christians where for it while Northern Christians where against it. The Southern Baptist Conventions was formed in 1845 to defend slavery. It’s an undeniable fact that at some point before the Civil war a substantial portion of American Christians supported slavery, and now none do.

    We should be happy that our morality is not fixed and is constantly debated, argued, and litigated, because the tide of history is toward more freedom and tolerance. What Christians claim to be a fixed God-given morality has changed to reflect this march towards more tolerance in an ever more interconnected and mutually dependent world.


  5. I can't argue for any other denomination and I'm sure I do a terrible job for my own, but Catholic morality and theology has indeed evolved considerably over the last 2000 years. As an aside, when scientific atheists claim they have reason and science and I don't, all I can say is, "Huh?" It is a fact of Catholic Catechism that if established science and theology ever contradict one another, theology must bend because God does not create contradictions.

    Yes, Catholic morality has evolved over the centuries. What has not changed are the fundamental foundations of that morality.

  6. Fascinating post, Mike.
    Excellent foundation for an argument, as well.
    As usual, we find ourselves in almost complete agreement. Certainly I agree with the general thrust that the only consistent anti-slavery movement - in terms of centuries - is the Christian one.
    Your sources must be first rate. You rightly illustrate how Christianity was then seen by barbarous pagan cultures, and is still seen today by our believing and unbelieving adversaries alike: Weak.
    We are portrayed as weak for honouring slaves as men, for revering the meek and gentle, for our mercy, charity, and for our chivalry.
    We are not portrayed as conquerors, but DEFILERS by the theocratic maniacs.
    Not as strong, oppressive and unrelenting - as on these posts - but rather as decadent and weak by the Communists.
    To them, we are undeserving of the moral power we hold. Strength and fear is the language of such cultures.
    I should add with regards to these hostile sentiments: I don't have to guess about this, I have it first hand. I have been lectured on these matters by the sworn enemy more than once. I do not need to embellish their sentiments. On the contrary: I hardly do them justice here.
    Paradoxically this perceived 'weakness' is one of our greatest strengths, and I believe a big part of what has given us this centuries long cultural lead - this exceptionalism.
    Very interesting read, Doc.

  7. Bachfiend points out that large numbers of people ignore the teaching of the Pope:

    "The pope might have banned the taking of indigenous slaves in the Americas in 1537, but that didn't stop Portugal and Spain from enthusiastically taking large numbers of African slaves for use in the Americas."

    Yep. You nailed it, Bachfiend. Lots of disobedient Christians out there. We are a bunch of hypocritical sinners. We know that. That's why we are Christians. We need help.

    Now tell us about your path to moral perfection. If you please.

  8. A great post Dr. Egnor! Logically and passionately argued.

  9. @Bach,
    "What makes you think that there's been human civilization for 'tens of thousands of years',"
    What do you suggest 5772? The doctor is being perfectly reasonable. The archaeological record clearly shows there was agrarian and sedentary civilizations to at least the 10th Millennia before Christ. Various finds in and around the Black Sea, Med, and Middle East are clear proof of this. Not only that we see every indication that these civilizations (much of them now under water, btw) reach back much further into antiquity than had been accepted by the academe.
    It is a fascinating time to be a student of that ever diminishing horizon known as 'prehistory'.

    "let alone that for all of human civilization and for all of the 'hundreds of thousands of years' of human existence there's been chattel slavery?"
    Bach, bach, bach.... tsk tsk.
    One can safely assume the pre sedentary civilizations were nomadic and territorial. Conflicts over resources are a human reality. They do not go away when you reduce populations. In PLAIN English for the casual reader: Mankind has always made war and taken prisoners of war.
    What happened to prisoners in these most ancient conflicts? We can only imagine.
    One easy assumption, considering the behaviour of modern stone age tribes and those of recently conquered regions, is SLAVERY. Captives are sold into slavery in our most primitive cultures.
    So IF man has existed, and thus warred over herds, springs, orchards, river-ways, reed-beds, fishing, and arable etc etc land for tens and hundreds of thousands of years - then there was a slave industry for that time too.

    "It is Communists who put prisoners into work camps, not atheists."
    Your logic: It was Roman Inquisitors (lawyers) who tortured 'witches' and 'heretics' prior to their 'court', not Christians.

    "Atheists believe in objective morality"
    I thought Atheism was not an ideology, rather simply a non-belief? Seems there is more to this 'Atheism' than that, after all! Pray tell: What is this morality, and from what authority does it stem that makes it universally objective?

    Is this comic relief?
    "Christians were taking slaves long before Christopher Columbus went to the Americas."
    Surely you do not think you're educating anyone with this comment? SO???!!!

    "Christians were taking Muslim slaves and vice versa for hundreds of years."
    There were no Muslims for the first six centuries of Christianity, and when there was - they launched into a massive 800 year long conquest into CHRISTIAN lands. To portray that invasion as a give and take is revisionism. It would be akin to accusing the Aztec Confederation of invading Spain to take slaves. It also ignores the dramatically different orthodoxy/rules of each religion with regards to taking slaves.

    "The English aversion to slavery was largely due to their being victims of Berber raiders attacking coastal English villages for the purpose of taking slaves."
    The pragmatic arguments that won down slavery had a far more ethnocentric ring - as most 18th and early 19th century stuff did. The true, altruistic reasons and the figures who held those views were wholly religious.
    As for the Britons, our aversion to slavery dates back to a time when Berbers ancestors where still trading slaves in the eastern med basin and the tongue of North Africa was Greek dialect.
    Perhaps even before.
    It is an ancient tribal dislike.
    Perhaps that is why it was one of the very first regions to adopt Christianity?

  10. Perhaps even before.**
    To qualify: I am referring to phoenician trading ports in Iberia (near modern Cadiz) that may well have been active in the tin/slave trade from the British Isles.

  11. Ten comments subsequent to my original comment 'supporting' Michael's argument.

    If they're support, I'd hate to see critical comments.

    Michael was attempting to play down the role of Christianity in slavery, by his claim that humans have had slavery for all of their hundreds of thousands of years of existence on Earth, and for the tens of thousands of years of human civilization, which in itself is ignorant. Humans have had civilization for 10,000 years at the most.

    Of course, slavery has evolved over time. Slavery in Biblical times had a different form to what Michael means, more akin to indentured servitude.

    But it was Christianity which came up with the really horrible form of plantation slavery in the 16th century, with the abduction of millions of Africans to toil on sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations, with no promise of eventual freedom and slavery for their descendants too. And the cruel idea that slaves were just chattel and families could be split if financially rewarding.

    Christianity was responsible for the horrible plantation slavery, so it's only right and proper that they should have eliminated it, though with a lot of resistance from Christians.

    It's rather ironic that David and KT Cat have noted that Christian morality has evolved over time. What does that do to Michael's claim that morality is 'objective' (ie god given)? It actually means that humans are thinking out their moral code for themselves.

    Besides his use of 'objective' not being found in any dictionary, and would be regarded as definitely wrong in all other situations. If Michael for example developed a radical new surgical procedure and claimed that he had 'objective' evidence supporting it (ie god told him the night before it was the way to go), he'd lose the practicing rights at his hospital almost immediately.

  12. @bach

    What is your alternative to Christianity, bach?

    Is it that the human race was naturally selected and evolved from random events over millions of years in a purposeless universe that pop itself into existence?

    Is it that the genomic difference between us and the most advanced primates is only 2 percent and that qualifies us as primate plus?

    Is it that our own existence is an accident and we better enjoy it to the fullest while it last because when it’s over it’s over?

    And if we must take the best out of our lives, what about all those who may or can interfere with our desires. Does survival of the fittest give us permission to get rid of these party poopers?

    Please tell me what kind of morality I can follow if Christianity is wishful thinking?

  13. Christianity was responsible for the horrible plantation slavery, so it's only right and proper that they should have eliminated it, though with a lot of resistance from Christians.

    I had always read that the arguments in favor of slavery were both economic and biological. I don't recall there being much in the way of religious thinking on this, save as some kind of excuse-making. Even those excuses were based on biological thought at the time. Darwin himself saw Africans as a subordinate race. Admittedly his work came after the importation of slaves, but his logic wasn't exactly fresh and new.

    "Christianity was responsible for plantation slavery" is quite a leap. You'll have to make dots a bit closer.

  14. You know, @bach, the place you can make an excellent claim for religion being the driving force behind slavery is the Aztecs. They were out there capturing slaves for human sacrifices left and right.

  15. " Slavery .... is antithetical to the Christian understanding of man."

    Yep, that's why most American homes have contain a manual for the proper care of slaves, which includes chapters for the slaves on how they should respect their masters.

    That manual is called "The Holy Bible." And as the economic impact of the "slavery issue" began to really divide America in the early 1800s, and as the primarily Southern slaveholders realized they had to get more extreme in their subjugation of black slaves, this manual became a key instrument in their justification of slavery.

    It is also interesting to note that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints use passages from that same slavery manual (The Holy Bible) to enslave their women today - women who are treated as property and given from one man to another as it pleases the reigning prophet.

    Finally, as an added convenience, the Holy Bible also serves as a manual for genocide, rape, plural marriage, and child abuse.

    "Christian Values" as you put them are a subjective societal construct, specific to a subset of humanity at this point in human history, and guaranteed to change as social norms change. Yes, religious people have done good things. So have secular people. Every human virtue can be found in both religious and secular people as can every human depravity.

    But let's be honest and clear - there is not a single form of human injustice that hasn't been performed in the name of Christ and/or justified by passages in the Bible.

    I'm by no means saying religious people are bad, I'm merely pointing out that Christian hands are no cleaner than Hindu hands, Muslim hands or secular hands.

    And I do find it so very fitting that you stand on your soap box hurling hatred at anyone who dares to doubt God or criticize the Catholic church. I have to say that your words make me picture a ranting Hitler more than a compassionate Jesus.

  16. @Bach,
    "Christianity was responsible for the horrible plantation slavery, so it's only right and proper that they should have eliminated it, though with a lot of resistance from Christians."

    Neither plantation style crops nor slavery are inventions of Christianity.

    Herein lies the issue that is being desperately avoided :
    Christianity OPPOSES slavery by doctrine while the Atheists have NO DOCTRINE save the 'survivors survive' and 'shit happens'.
    NONE. Zero. ZILCH.
    And that opens a VERY big door!

  17. CrusadeRex,

    Nope. 'Survivors survive' and 'shit happens' aren't doctrines of atheists. You're making up straw men again.

  18. If the Pope banned it and Christians continued with it, doesn't that indicate that the dominant considerations were not religious?

  19. @bach:

    [No one has put forward an argument as to why Christianity wasn't responsible for the most odious form of slavery; plantation slavery, which was developed by the Portuguese and Spanish Christians in the 16th century,...]

    Are you saying that Christianity bears responsibility for all cultural changes that occur on its watch?

    If you wish to attribute plantation slavery to Christianity, you must attribute modern science, Western law, art, literature and music to Christianity.

    In fact, there is a strong connection between European science, art, etc and Christianity.

    Slavery, on the other hand, was eradicated in Christian lands very early after the rise of Christianity, although slavery was practiced in some colonies for some centuries. It was finally ended after persistent efforts (by Christians-- Wilberforce, etc).

    Christian culture is the first major world culture to end slavery.

    If you blame Christianity for plantation slavery, you must acknowledge the responsibility of Christianity for other unique expressions of European culture-- modern science, etc.

    Is that really an argument you want to make?

  20. @bach:

    So Christianity is responsible for the bad stuff, not the good stuff.


  21. @bach and KW:

    Good. So you admit that the metaphysical viewpoint that characterizes a society bears significant responsibility for the acts of that society.

    Let's talk about Communism.

  22. Stop it, CrusadeREX - stop avoiding the truth.

    What faith do you think the people of the South - the people trying to form their own country to protect their right to slavery - what religion do you think they were? Muslim?

    Ever hear of a little organization called the Southern Baptist Convention? Go look up why it was formed.

    And while you're at it, go look up what groups in the United States TODAY support a return to white ownership of blacks. You'll find two significant groups: the KKK and Christian Reconstructionists. And you'll also find that the conservative LDS communities in places like Colorado City, AZ and Bountiful, BC, condone and practice female slavery.

    Look up the teachings of R.J. Rushdoony, then go look up the connection between him and the Discovery Institute. I know Michael is a DI supporter, CrusadeREX, are you? I wonder how it feels to be ideologically aligned with people who support slavery TODAY.

    Then I refer you back to your own Bible for extensive lessons on how to properly manage your slaves.

    It is you who are cherrypicking which Christians you want to count as Christians.

    Did most Christians oppose slavery by 1860, yes. Was the slave trade operating at that time almost entirely established by Christians? Yes. Were the people fighting and dying for the right to own slaves Christian? Yes. Are the U.S. organizations that support slavery today Christian? Yes.

    You can't say Christians stopped slavery without admitting Christians initiated and supported slavery for centuries and some still do today.

    Does Christianity have more slave blood on its hands than any other faith EVER? Very probably. It's an interesting question, now that Michael has been pounding the slavery drum.

    Be a man and face the truth. Christianity can be and is used to support slavery just as easily as it is used to fight it. You know this is true, so just stand up and admit it.

  23. Michael said: "Let's talk about Communism."

    Yes, now that we've established that Christians hold a vast portion of the blame for slavery, let's change the subject.

  24. If the Christians were responsible for slavery, why did the slaves become Christians and stay Christian after the Emancipation?

  25. @RickK, I guess I don't understand. Are you suggesting that slavery was first and foremost a religious affair and not an economic one? It seems much more reasonable and supportable from the literature of the time that slavery was first a method to obtain cheap manual labor and that the religious justifications of it were mere rationalizations based on perceived biological inferiority.

    With the Aztecs, you've got a pretty good comparison of a religious community that publicly enslaved people for religious reasons. There doesn't seem to be a strong correlation between the Aztec culture and the Antebellum South.

  26. Finally, as an added convenience, the Holy Bible also serves as a manual for genocide, rape, plural marriage, and child abuse.

    RickK, I'm assuming that you've attempted to understand the text through conversations with Rabbinical scholars. What did they have to say?

  27. K T Cat - Of course slavery is economic, except where it is believed to be a divine right. Christian Reconstructions and fundamentalist sects of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints believe in their divine right to enslave inferior parts of humanity.

    This is truth, yes?

    What I'm saying about Christianity is that its hands are just as covered in slave blood as any other faith, and Michael's assertions that Christians are somehow morally superior to everyone else on the subject of slavery is only a defensible argument if you pick CERTAIN Christians during CERTAIN periods of history.

    Do you understand?

    As for "Rabbinical scholars" - no, I read the book. How did God deal with men, women, children and infants that displeased him during the time of Noah? What is the lesson we are to take from Paul's return of the slave to his master? What are we really to take from the story of Abraham's willingness to kill his son, or God's torture of Job and the murder of Job's children just so God can win a bet with Satan? What are we to take from the fact that Abraham, Saul, David, Esau and other prophets of your religion all had multiple wives?

    Have you actually read the Bible? Or do you only believe what people tell you about it? Is that why you're asking me what scholars I've talked to?

    If you really must have a scholar's point of view, may I suggest you start with a James A. Gray Distinguished Scholar of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - an expert fluent in Aramaic and Greek. His name is Professor Bart Ehrman, and he has several book on Biblical interpretation.

  28. RickK:

    "As for "Rabbinical scholars" - no, I read the book. How did God deal with men, women, children and infants that displeased him during the time of Noah?..."

    To what moral code do you appeal? If atheism is true,there are no moral codes, aside from our subjective opinions. We're just meat robots, without souls, without transcendent purpose. Our personal moral opinions are just chemical reactions.

    On what basis do you assert that your opinion about slavery is more true than that of a slave-owner?

    You can't appeal to transcendent values-- truth, compassion, respect for rights. In your ideology,it's just matter in motion. Purposeless. Shit happens, survivors survive.

  29. As for "Rabbinical scholars" - no, I read the book.

    I tried that with Algebraic Topology and wile I understood the words, I couldn't really make heads or tails of it. Sometimes you need help if you want to truly grasp the concepts.

    As for equality for slavery guilt, you'll need to define some metrics before you can establish equality. Given the Christianity-based work of William Wilberforce and the subsequent resulting efforts of the Royal Navy, that equality would be a difficult thing to prove if you used just any old set of metrics. I would think you'd have to work pretty hard to find just the right set.

    As for my own interaction with scholars, I had a dear friend who was a rabbi and I discovered that things are much deeper than you might first suspect. Then again, brilliant and wise people have been noodling over the Jewish faith for thousands of years, so it's not entirely unexpected.

  30. Michael - so you're saying I can't say anything about the involvement of current and past Christians in slavery because I'm an atheist? I'm not allowed a voice in your debate because I didn't invent a deity to attach my morals to?

    And what is YOUR basis for morality? God doesn't visit you directly, does he? Do you hear voices? Or do you take your morality from the teachings of scripture?

    If scripture and the church is your source of morality, then my challenge is perfectly valid. The Bible has been used to support slavery for longer than it has been used to fight it.

    Whatever innate characteristic that guides you to cherry pick the "nicer" lessons of the Bible and ignore the genocide, slavery, rape, murder and other horrors of the Bible - that is the same innate characteristic that guides ME.

    You and I actually get our morality from the same place. You just choose to use the idea of "God" to caulk the gaps in your understanding. As time passes, the gaps filled by "God" have steadily dwindled. Now our understanding of origin of human morality is improving as well, and the space available for your pliable deity are continuing to shrink.

    But of course, none of that changes the fact that, while many abolitionists were Christians, so were a very great many of the implementors of slavery, the defenders of slavery, and the proponents of slavery today.

  31. K T Cat - I'm sure your rabbi friend would be very interesting to talk to. It's unfortunate that his influence hasn't put you in a position to debate this topic yourself. After all, YOU are the Christian and I am the atheist. It is YOUR world view, not mine, that is based on this one book - the Holy Bible.

    So why is it that I can ask a string of simple questions about YOUR holy book that you are unable to address directly?

    Do you want me to quote you chapter and verse of slavery in the Bible so you can go look them up? Do you want me to give you the verses that the FLDS uses to defend plural marriage, child rape and the enslavement of women today? Do you want to hazard a guess about the religious faith of the Spanish and Portuguese men who established the Atlantic and Mediterranean slave trade?

    Or do you just want to be truthful and admit that it was about time Christians worked to abolish slavery after profiting from it for so long. Michael doesn't seem to want to make that admission, but maybe you're a more honest person. Are you?

  32. So why is it that I can ask a string of simple questions about YOUR holy book that you are unable to address directly?

    Your questions lack depth. You're not trying to understand, you're trying to trap and shout and insult. I know practically nothing about Buddhism, but if someone showed me passages from some Buddhist text that discussed slavery or pedophilia, I would not rush about shouting that Buddhists were pedophiles. I would know from their behavior that there was more to the topic than met the eye.

    I guess the real problem is that I have a much deeper understanding of my faith (Catholicism) than you do and you're debating as if you know more. You're not trying to learn at all.

    Going back to the algebraic topology example, I would not throw challenges in the face of my math professor; it would be uncouth.

  33. KT said: "Going back to the algebraic topology example, I would not throw challenges in the face of my math professor; it would be uncouth."

    Standing up to lies and injustice is not uncouth - it is the duty of any moral person, KT.

    But let's talk about what you find "uncouth". Help me understand - have I used bad language? Have I devolved to name calling? Have I, like Michael has done in the past, called anyone an "asshole"? Read back through Michael's blog posts, then read my comments with an objective eye. Is my language more polemical than his?

    Or have I simply asked questions that you and Michael choose not to answer? Is that uncouth? I refuse to let Michael to go unchallenged as he spews hatred and falsehoods about atheists and cherry picks his Christian history. Is that uncouth?

    KT said: "You're not trying to learn at all."

    I've given example after example from history and from current day religions, where exactly am I failing to learn?

    Just because I continue to disagree with you doesn't mean I'm failing to learn, KT.

    Finally, you said my questions "lack depth".

    If asking a question like "What are we really to take from the story of Abraham's willingness to kill his son?" lacks depth, then it should be easy for you to answer.

    If your next door neighbor took a knife to his son's throat because God told him to do it, would you interpret his actions to be a lesson in the power of great faith? God told Ron Lafferty to murder his brother's wife and baby daughter, and he did (with the help of another brother). What moral lesson should I take from that, KT? What lesson do you take?

    If that question lacks depth, then take a little time and explain to me why

    But if the best you can do is call me uncouth and pawn me off on your rabbi friend - that says to me your understanding of your own faith "lacks depth".

  34. Oh good, I don't have to answer CrusadeRex. Rick has done it for me. I agree with everything he's written.

    Michael makes much of Wilberforce as a Christian in ending slavery. Of course, most of Wilberforce's political campaigning was directed against the slave trade, not slavery.

    Admittedly, the slave trade was incredibly cruel in the way the slaves were packed like sardines below deck during the crossing of the Atlantic, so campaigning against it was to be admired. However, it was only towards the end of his life that Wilberforce exerted his influence against slavery in the British Empire.

  35. Leave it to an atheist to chastise William Wilberforce for insufficient vigor in opposing slavery.

    If Wilberforce were an atheist, rather than a devout Christian, atheists wouldn't shut up about his virtue.

  36. @RickK, you know far less about my faith than I do, yet you seek to lecture me about it. That's uncouth.

    Adjective: Lacking good manners, refinement, or grace. Lacking sophistication or delicacy.

    I like to stay involved in the Church in a variety of ways (mregnor, I highly recommend Cursillo) and the Bible passages you want to throw in my face bear no resemblance at all to what we do or who we are. That's uncouth as in "lacking in sophistication". If you were really interested in learning, you'd ask better questions.

    Seriously, you want me to discuss Catholic views on slavery with you while you hurl chapter and verse at me? Really?

  37. @RickK - If I were you and I wanted to learn, one question I might ask would be, "How does you faith inform your decisions in life? Can you give concrete examples of how this works?"

    Just a suggestion.

  38. Michael,

    I didn't bring up Wilberforce to chastise him. I brought up Wilberforce to demonstrate your ignorance of history. Is that clear enough for you?

    From a practical point of view, Wilberforce going after the slave trade rather than slavery was very sensible. Since Britain had command of the seas, stopping slave ships was much easier than trying to stamp out slavery in multiple regions of the world.

    Eventually, in 1833, slavery was banned in the British Empire. Other Christian countries took much longer to follow suit. Brazil didn't ban it until around 1888. Brazil was so late to ban slavery that 10,000 Confederates thought that they could continue slavery in Amazonia after the defeat of the South in the Civil War.

  39. @bach:

    [I didn't bring up Wilberforce to chastise him.]

    Of course you did. That was your exact intent, to discredit him to advance your argument.

    You tried to discredit him for one reason: he was a Christian, and you hate Christianity and will try anything you can think of to discredit it, without regard for truth.

    That includes accusing William Wilberforce of being insufficiently anti-slavery.

    Why make your bigotry so obvious?

  40. Michael,

    No, I wasn't criticizing Wilberforce. I was criticizing you for being so ignorant about history. Whenever you mentioned Wilberforce, I kept thinking 'slave trade', not 'slavery'. You make so many ridiculous statements, one doesn't know where to start. I'd let your comment about Wilberforce campaigning against slavery slide, but enough was enough. Go back and reread my first comment about Wilberforce. I wrote that campaigning against the slave trade was to be admired. Do you think that is discrediting him?

  41. @bach:

    I know a great deal about Wilberforce. He detested slavery in all of its forms. He was a pragmatic legislator, and he campaigned against the slave trade specifically because it was enforcable by the British Navy and it was something that could be realistically accomplished. He also knew that it would discredit the institution to slavery and ultimately lead to banning all slavery in the Brisish Empire, which it did.

    You criticized the man probably most responsible for the banning of slavery by England as being insufficiently anti-slavery, and you did so simply because he was a Christian and you wanted to denigrate his accomplishments because you hate his faith.

  42. @egnor:
    "You criticized the man probably most responsible for the banning of slavery by England as being insufficiently anti-slavery, and you did so simply because he was a Christian and you wanted to denigrate his accomplishments because you hate his faith."

    'Probably. Most responsible.'
    He wasnt trying to criticize the man, he was just making the point of banning slave TRADE, which is different than the slavery system. They did it in the U.S., then just used slaves that were already there, instead of paying top dollar for the imported slaves from Africa.

    And egnor, you are quick to say this one hates christianity, or this guy does, but it's so very obvious that you hate atheists. You have an axe to grind it seems, and this blog is evidence enough.

  43. Michael,

    What makes you think I hate Christianity? I just think that it's wrong, like all religions.

    I believe in giving credit where credit is due. At school, more than 40 years ago, the history of slavery was taught, and Wilberforce always (according to my increasingly unreliable memory) came up as being involved with the banning of the slave trade, not slavery, which is the reason why I always thought 'slave trade' not 'slavery' when you mentioned Wilberforce. Eventually, I decided to check my memory ...

    If you reread my first comment on Wilberforce, you'll see I wrote that banning the slave trade was to be admired. How is that denigrating Wilberforce?

    Agreed. Christianity has given the world a lot of very good things. Medieval cathedrals for one. Glorious religious music, such as that of Bach. I'm not keen on the large scale religious paintings (I personally prefer impressionist and abstract art).

    I do take issue with your claim that modern science was due to Christianity. I think it was despite Christianity or in addition to Christianity. The Islamic world could have developed modern science, but they were badly impacted by the Mongol invasion under Ghenghis Khan, which captured the centre of Islamic thought in Baghdad. China also could have developed modern science; it was the richest most technologically advanced country. But it sent out enormous fleets, discovered that it was so far ahead of all accessible regions of the world from which I could only get raw materials (which it didn't need), so it just withdrew and stagnated technologically, because it didn't feel the need.

    Europe on the other hand consisted of a large number of fractious independent states. If one country didn't attempt to progress, then another would. Spain and Portugal had the motivation to explore and develop the technology to do so because they wanted to usurp the Spice Trade from the Muslims.

    Slavery and the slave trade was just the inevitable consequence of that.

  44. @bach:

    The centrality of Christian theology to the scientific revolution is obvious and is widely accepted by historians (e.g. Rodney Stark).

    Christianity teaches that God is rational (Logos), created man in His image, and wants man to explore and tame nature. It teaches that there is objective truth, and that God is separate from nature, and that nature is not capricious. The very concept of "miracle"-- very much a Judeo-Christian concept-- implies that most of nature is not miraculous, but predictable.

    You excuses for the lack of modern science emerging from Islamic and Chinese culture are risible.

    Fact the fact that Christianity was and remains essential to modern science.

  45. Michael,

    Try a thought experiment. Put Christianity in China, China in the Middle East and Islam in Western Europe in the world around 700 CE and then rerun history with the various plagues and Mongol invasions happening at the same time and with the same results, and tell me that the result would have been the same. That the region of the world with Christianity would have developed modern science.

    I don't think so.

    I don't recognize Rodney Stark as a credible historian, but I'll have a further look and give my opinion.

  46. Michael,

    Rodney Stark? Nope, not an historian. A sociologist, which must rank up there with economics as 'science'. He has written extensively on Christianity. Some of his books are available as Kindle editions, so I'll look at at least the beginning of some (I read 'Eco-Fads' based on one of your previous threads on environmentalism, it wasn't bad, actually had some merit, disagreed with some things, agreed with others).

  47. KT said: " If I were you and I wanted to learn, one question I might ask would be, "How does you faith inform your decisions in life? Can you give concrete examples of how this works?"

    Ahh, but see - your personal life interests me little. What I'm trying to understand is what separates your Christianity from the Christianity espoused by slave holders? What makes your interpretation of God's word different than Ron and Dan Lafferty's interpretation of God's word? What makes your defense of your faith different from the bishops who burned people for printing or reading the Bible in English? What makes your Christianity different from that practiced by the French, Italian, German, Austrian and Polish Christians who murdered ~10 million people before and during WW II?

    See, my contention is that morality comes from something deeper than the Bible. My contention is that people can be good or evil regardless of their religious convictions. My contention is that major evils typically start with blind faith in a dogma, and that any form of worship sets the stage for great evil.

    So by understanding what separates "good" Christians from "bad" Christians, by understanding what causes you, KT, to choose certain Biblical passages and to ignore others, we get closer to what morality REALLY is and where morality REALLY comes from.

    Any honest attempt to understand past evils and prevent future evils must look beyond "my dogma is better than your dogma", and ask deeper questions.

    Do you agree?

  48. RickK:

    I agree.

    But you misunderstand Christianity. Christianity is not the rote conformity to biblical rules. That was Pharisaic Judaism, which Christ excoriated and early Christianity explicitly repudiated.

    Christianity is a relationship, a movement of the heart. It is a spiritual change.

    One of the deepest problems with atheism is that it intrinsically denies objective moral law. It strips existence of meaning and purpose, which is much more destructive even than slavish adherence to Levitical rules.

  49. Michael,

    Cripes, from where do you get your definition of 'objective' to mean 'god given'. Cite some references.

    I noted previously that if you developed a radical new surgical procedure and claimed to hove objective evidence (ie god told you the previous night that it was the way to go) supporting its use, you'd lose your visiting privileges at your hospital immediately, until you had a psychiatric consultation.

    Atheists do recognize objective moral law. Just not your bizarre version of it.

    And what did Jesus mean with 'Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say until you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass, from the law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach man so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven'. (Matthew 5:17-20 KJV)

  50. Michael said: "One of the deepest problems with atheism is that it intrinsically denies objective moral law. It strips existence of meaning and purpose..."

    *tired sigh*

    No matter how many times you repeat this, it will never make sense.

    First, the fact that we feel that moral codes are the creations of human society and are not handed down by divine beings is (1) no single majority of the human race believes in the same version of a deity; (2) people who believe in the same deity adopt different moral codes; (3) people who believe in no deity live perfectly social, "moral" lives - treating others with respect and instilling values in their children; (4) the morals handed down by scripture are vastly different than the morals you follow today. If they weren't relative to the societal norms of the age, these moral codes would never change and we'd still be stoning women to death.

    Also, it does not follow logically that a human-originated morality "strips existence of meaning and purpose".

    As for meaning and purpose - no matter how long you stand on your soapbox and beat your chest that an atheist cannot have a meaningful life, I will continue to have a very meaningful life. My family just had tea with a fellow atheist and his family. It makes me chuckle when I think what he would say if I told him about the crazy conservative Catholic who has judged us and decided our lives lack meaning. But we have much better things to talk about.

    You are fond of calling other people bigots, while you rail against a strawman caricature of atheists that bears no resemblence to reality. I think you should use 2012 to get better aquainted with your mirror.

    Happy New Year!

  51. And Happy New Year to you as well, RickK.

    Atheists' lives have as much meaning as Christians' lives. But some of the meaning is objective- created by Another- even if the atheist won't acknowledge it.

  52. Yep, there's always the fallback argument: "God is there and giving you your morality even if you don't believe it."

    That of course is a shallow, cop-out argument - the morality debate equivalent of "Oh Yeah? Says you!".

    Of course my explanation - a combination of evolution and societal differences - explains morality and has the added benefit of explaining:

    - why Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Chinese, Neanderthals and all those other people that lived before the Israelites invented Yahweh also lived meaningful lives; and
    - why we see moral codes practiced and enforced among non-human primates.

    But hey, if the evidence supported your religion, you wouldn't need faith, would you?

  53. RickK:

    Actually, materialism can't explain intentionality at all, and that includes morality. Materialism/atheism fails on a much larger scale than just objective morality.

    If there is no God, then nothing is really right or wrong in itself. It's all just human opinion. What makes your opinion on anti-semitism any better than Hitler's opinion, if human beings are the only source of moral law? How do you define "better", without using circular arguments?

    You could say that respect for Jews is better than killing Jews because it's better to treat people well. But then one could ask: why is treating people well better than not treating people well?

    And you could make up some evolutionary fairy tale-- altruism helps survival or some such. But I could ask: why is helping survival "better" in a moral sense, rather than just a brute fact?

    If atheism/materialism are true, things aren't really better or worse in any meaningful way. They just are.

    Atheism is a boys' philosophy. It isn't even coherent.

  54. Bachfiend claims: "It's rather ironic that David and KT Cat have noted that Christian morality has evolved over time..."

    I did no such thing!!! I merely pointed out that many (most!) Christians do not live up to their ideals.

    That being said, it is not the moral code, but human understanding of it which has evolved. And in the process of this evolution, the 'eye for an eye' justice and the rules concerning the treatment of captive females (slaves!) which are to be found in the Torah were an IMPROVEMENT over contemporary practice.

  55. RickK asserts:

    "What utter rot. From Paul of Tarsus telling people to return escaped slaves to their masters, to the subjugation of the natives of South America, to the Portuguese slave trade, to the papal bull Dum Diversas, to the use of the Bible to explain to Southern US blacks why God wants them to be slaves - Christianity has perpetuated slavery for nearly 2000 years.

    Look back 200 years, and you will find that a MUCH higher percentage of secular people and deists were anti-slavery than the percentage of Christians. Yes, in recent years some abolitionists were Christians. But the stain of slavery is indelibly burned into the Christian religion."

    First. Paul did not endorse slavery. He did not pronounce approval and issue instructions for it's perpetuation. He issued instructions for the way Christians should conduct themselves in the society of the time. Didn't you note that he said the master and the slave were 'brothers in Christ'? Didn't you note that he said that all were equal in the sight of God? Christians were directed to other concerns which were understood to be of far greater importance than political reform.

    In the second place, you misunderstand the historical context of 'Dum Diversas'. The year 1452 was the year before the Turks took Constantinople. All of Christendom was at war with Islam. The document is merely the blessing of the Pope on war measures to resist the invasion of Muslim enemies.

    The 'stain of slavery' as you put it is indelibly burned into the human race. It was an evil practiced always and everywhere until our culture, informed by our Christian faith, took actions to suppress it. It still exists in the world, you know. Practiced by Muslims.

  56. From RickK:

    "As for meaning and purpose - no matter how long you stand on your soapbox and beat your chest that an atheist cannot have a meaningful life, I will continue to have a very meaningful life. My family just had tea with a fellow atheist and his family. It makes me chuckle when I think what he would say if I told him about the crazy conservative Catholic who has judged us and decided our lives lack meaning. But we have much better things to talk about."

    Rick. We are not saying that your life has no meaning. We are saying that the cosmology you believe and teach contradicts the claim that your life has meaning.

  57. I don't know if anyone is reading this anymore, but I would like to add my two cents.

    It seems like we are not defining "Christianity" very well when we are trying to determine if Christianity is to blame for slavery. Please consider my definition. Christianity consists of an individual who reads and ponders the teachings of Jesus and His disciples and strives (and sometimes fails!) to apply those teachings in his life. If this is the definition of Christianity then I have a very hard time believing that Christianity is supportive of slavery. Instead, Christianity would work to secure the freedom of slaves

    But what Bachfiend seems to be talking about is "cultural Christianity." A person may belong to the culture of Christianity without having actually read and attempted to apply the teachings of Jesus. This individual would be most suseptible to the teachings of slavery-apologists who use passages of the bible to support the institution of slavery. They would hear the propaganda and say, "See, even the bible allows it. It must be okay!" But this individual has not really thought about the teachings of Jesus in the way that the author of this blog has.