Debate

How to respond to an atheist who complains about slavery in the Bible

I often hear atheists going on and on about how the Bible has this evil and that evil. Their favorite one seems to be slavery. Here are three things I say to atheists when they push this objection.

The Bible and slavery

First, you should explain to them what the Bible actually says about slavery. And then tell them about the person responsible for stopping slavery in the UK: a devout evangelical named William Wilberforce.

Here’s an article that works.

Excerpt:

We should compare Hebrew debt-servanthood (many translations render this “slavery”) more fairly to apprentice-like positions to pay off debts — much like the indentured servitude during America’s founding when people worked for approximately 7 years to pay off the debt for their passage to the New World. Then they became free.

In most cases, servanthood was more like a live-inemployee, temporarily embedded within the employer’s household. Even today, teams trade sports players to another team that has an owner, and these players belong to a franchise. This language hardly suggests slavery, but rather a formal contractual agreement to be fulfilled — like in the Old Testament.3

Atheism and moral judgments

Second, inform them that moral values are not rationally grounded on atheism. In an accidental universe, there is no way we ought to be. There is no design for humans that we have to comply with. There are no objective human rights, like the right to liberty (that would block slavery) or the right to life (that would block abortion). Although you may find that most atheists act nicely, the ones who really understand what atheism means and live it out consistently are not so nice.

Famous atheist Richard Dawkins has previously written this:

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

(“God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American, November, 1995, p. 85)

When atheists like Dawkins talk about morality, you have to understand that they are pretending. To them, morality is just about personal preferences and cultural conventions. They just think that questions of right and wrong are arbitrary. Things that are wrong in one time and place are right in another. Every view is as right as any other, depending on the time and place. That’s atheist morality.

What’s worse than slavery? Abortion!

Third, you should ask the atheist what he has done to oppose abortion. Abortion is worse than slavery, so if they are sincere in thinking that slavery is wrong, then they ought to think that abortion is wrong even more. So ask them what they’ve done to oppose the practice of abortion. That will tell you how sincere they are about slavery.

Here’s atheist Richard Dawkins explaining what he’s done to stop abortion:

That’s right. The head atheist supports killing born children.

12 thoughts on “How to respond to an atheist who complains about slavery in the Bible”

  1. Yes, you are right in that the “slavery” that the bible espouses was completely different from chattel slavery as it was practiced later in many places. Again, what makes the old testament remarkable is that it places limits on the treatment of slaves that did not exist in other societies at the time. We see this time and time again. An eye for an eye sounds like a horrible practice to us today, but compared to the disproportional retribution often practiced during OT times, it was actually a huge improvement.

    The other thing a lot of people miss when talking about OT slavery is context. There were not very many prison, and even then prison were very horrible places. So you options for dealing with a lawbreaker or enemy combatant were to throw them in prison, kill them, or take them as a slave. There were no better options, and of those 3 options, slavery under a Hebrew master was the best possible option.

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    1. All the people passing judgment today compare what the bible teaches to what the bible achieved today. They want things to be instantaneous.

      Its the same thing with the secular left and third world countries. They don’t want organic self-made success through trade. They want foreign aid, and keep the corrupt leadership intact. But that wealth is all pissed away and gone in a minute. What works is making improvements in law and culture, and sending money through trade. Then the country has sustainable prosperity.

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  2. “That’s right. The head atheist supports killing born children.”

    Just like the pagan Romans. In fact, they could not believe that Christians in the early Church did not practice infanticide of newly born children like they did. They attributed this practice of not murdering the newly born to “superstition.” Well, they are sort of right. We believe in a God Who will avenge innocent blood. Completely. (Pro-aborts and practitioners of abortion, please take note – you shall reap what you sow.
    Forever. And you deserve every bit of it too.)

    On the subject of slavery, I always produce this quote:

    “Having for most of my life believed that our acceptance of equality–racial, class, gender–was the result of the overthrow of past superstitions and prejudice by reason, I was perplexed: why had the fight against slavery, and the concern for aboriginal peoples, been so overwhelmingly the province of religious? … Hume, Voltaire, and Kant saw the African–the non-European, generally–as beyond the category of human to which the European belonged; race concerned them (particularly Kant) only to the extent that it could show the superiority of the European. It was not the philosophies of Paris or Edinburgh or East Prussia who fought slavery, but the evangelical Christians and Quakers who drew their inspiration not from philosophy but from ‘superstitious religion’. It was from the Evangelical Revival that the loudest claims for what we now call racial equality came.” — historian Robert Kenny

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  3. Isn’t this just the “tu quoque” fallacy? “Well, atheists do some pretty outrageous stuff, too, y’know!”

    This is God we’re talking about. He’s perfect. Sure, let’s say that atheists advocate for immoral things. We already knew they were imperfect. But when God permits slavery, that’s a reflection on him that has nothing to do with atheists.

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    1. What DOES have a reflection on atheists is that when it comes to battling legalized human rights atrocities like brutal chattel slavery, the Holocaust, or now child sacrifice in the womb, atheists are (with exceedingly rare exceptions) nowhere to be found. There’s a reason for that: doing battle against TRUE human rights atrocities that are legalized involves risk to life and limb and liberty, and for the atheist, he believes that if he loses his life in this world, he is in for “the long sleep.” Sitting in prison for righteousness, if the atheist could even discover that, is likewise, for the atheist, a “waste” of a “good” life. He does not get any do overs.

      I was a good example of that. Even as a liberal atheist I knew that killing babies in the womb was reprehensible beyond belief. (Everyone actually knows this, a child knows this, but many suppress this obvious truth.) I spoke up against abortion exactly once in my atheist years: a few years after Roe when it was brought up with family. I never spoke up against it again until I became a Christian 27 years later when it hit me square between the eyes that it was far worse than “reprehensible,” it is satanic. I’ve nearly lost my life once for witnessing for the unborn and I have been threatened many times, but it is not a big deal because this life is so incredibly short compared with Eternity, which will be joyful for me and (literally) Hell for those who try to kill me or who even so much as support abortion.

      And that’s why Harriet Tubman, William Still, Thomas Garrett, Corrie ten Boom, Irena Sendler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor Niemoller, etc stood up to wickedness in their eras. Those weren’t atheists. The best that atheists can do is to follow man’s law, which, by definition, puts them on the wrong side of any legalized human rights atrocity. There are rare exceptions of course. But, if you know this life is the short life, and there is another to come, then it’s much easier to risk it for “the least among us.”

      (This also explains why communism, ie, Hell on earth, and atheism are intertwined, BTW.)

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      1. “Even as a liberal atheist I knew that killing babies in the womb was reprehensible beyond belief.”

        On Day 1, it’s just a cell. After 9 months, it’s a baby. We can quibble over where the line is draw, after which killing the fetus is immoral, but it’s not day 1.

        Gestation is a spectrum of personhood.

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        1. That’s ridiculous and totally unscientific, but you are proving my point: atheists are only as moral as the law says that they should be. You were nowhere to be found when Black people were denied personhood, and you are likewise nowhere to be found when unborn babies are denied personhood. In fact, you do so yourself.

          Even abortionists and death camp commandants admit that they are killing human beings:

          I actually think it should be less about denying the reality of those images and more about acknowledging, that, Yeah that’s kind of true, so given that we actually see the fetus the same way, and given that we might actually both agree that there’s violence in here. Let’s just give them [pro-lifers] all, ‘It’s violence. It’s a person. It’s killing. “Let’s just give them all that. And then the more compelling question is, why is this the most important thing I can do with my life? … I don’t think it needs to be about correcting facts; I think it needs to be about moving the conversation to a different place. —“Dr” Lisa Harris of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, at a NAF conference, April 2014

          We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current –“Doktor” Warren Hern, author of Abortion Practice, the medical text that teaches abortion procedures, at a Planned Parenthood conference

          I think we have deluded ourselves into believing that people don’t know that abortion is killing. So any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus. —- Faye Wattleton, former President of Planned Parenthood, MS Magazine in 1997 (“Speaking Frankly,” May/June 1997).

          Nobody wants to perform abortions after ten weeks because by then you see the features of the baby, hands, feet. It’s really barbaric. Abortions are very draining, exhausting, and heartrending. There are a lot of tears. … I do them because I take the attitude that women are going to terminate babies and deserve the same kind of treatment as women who carry babies … I’ve done a couple thousand, and it turned into a significant financial boon, but I also feel I’ve provided an important service. The only way I can do an abortion is to consider only the woman as my patient and block out the baby. —John Pekkanen. M.D.: Doctors Talk About Themselves (Delcorte Press: New York, 1988) 90-91

          It is morally and ethically wrong to do abortions without acknowledging what it means to do them. I performed abortions, I have had an abortion and I am in favor of women having abortions when we choose to do so. But we should never disregard the fact that being pregnant means there is a baby growing inside of a woman, a baby whose life is ended. We ought not to pretend this is not happening. —Abortionist, Judith Arcana “Feminist Politics and Abortion in the US” Pro-Choice Forum (Psychology and Reproductive Choice) Sponsored by The Society for the Psychology of Women.

          I have angry feelings at myself for feeling good about grasping the calvaria [head], for feeling good about doing a technically good procedure that destroys a fetus, kills a baby. —abortionist Diane M. Gianelli, “Abortion Providers Share Inner Conflicts,” American Medical News, July 12, 1993

          “Late term abortionist Dr. Leroy Carhart, who does abortions through the third trimester, told reporter Hilary Andersson of the BBC that he believes he is killing babies. Here is the transcript:

          Carhart: To the fetus is makes no difference whether it’s born or not born. The baby has no input in this, as far as I’m concerned.

          Hilary Andersson: But it’s interesting that you use the word baby because a lot of abortionists won’t use that. They’ll use the term fetus because they don’t want to acknowledge that there’s a life.

          Carhart: I- I think that it is a baby and I tell our- I use it with the patients.

          Hilary Andersson: And you don’t have a problem with killing a baby?

          Carhart: (Pause) I have no problem if it’s in the mother’s uterus.”: – ClinicQuotes

          Abortionist Dr. Jeanne St. Amour, in response to a question about why it’s so difficult for women to make the abortion decision:

          “If it was a pencil, it’s not a problem. It’s because we know what is a child, it is a problem, how a child will change a woman’s life.”

          Quoted by Ann Collins The Big Evasion: Abortion, the Issue That Won’t Go Away (Toronto, Ontario: Lester & Orpen Dennys Publishers, 1985) 114

          “[A]bortion is life and death and I think for me it’s about providers saying, “Yes, we end lives here,” and being okay with that … I had a woman wake up in the recovery room and say, “I just killed my baby.” And I said to her, “You did, and that’s okay.” And just, being okay, to say that…. That’s what I feel we’re doing here. And I’m okay with that.”

          Lisa A. Martin, PhD, Jane A. Hassinger, MSW, Michelle Debbink, MD, PhD, Lisa H. Harris, MD, PhD “Dangertalk: Voices of abortion providers” Social Science & Medicine 184 (2017) 75-83

          I would likewise give you all of the medical references proving the humanity of the unborn, but your problem isn’t that you won’t accept the science. Your problem is that you are so steeped in sin, that you can justify ANY immorality.

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  4. “First, you should explain to them what the Bible actually says about slavery.”

    OK, here you go: “44 Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life” (Lev. 25:44-46)

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  5. Whenever I talk to atheists who bring up this issue, I turn the discussion to the value of human beings if philosophical naturalism is true. If what ultimately grounds human rights and morality is what the government says and approved by the culture, then there is nothing wrong with any form of slavery. We can call it “progress” that many nations no longer practice slavery, but that’s just chronological snobbery.
    On atheism, morality is simply an aid to survival, but nothing more. If what aids my survival is enslaving other people, that is perfectly fine as long as the government and my neighbors don’t oppose it.
    I used to have an atheist co-worker who said without flinching, “something is only wrong if you get caught.” If naturalism is true, he is correct. Many atheists like Michael Ruse have plainly stated that universal object morality is illusory. I guess we Christians can be thankful that many internet atheists buy that Illusion and live their lives as if there is a universal for all time object morality by which to judge the Bible and Christians.

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  6. It’s even the boldness with which he said he would be in favor of infanticide. Atheist who have made up their minds to live without God will one day stand before this same God. It’s how they support evil and try to paint the bible black as if they can try that with the Quran. They should try it with Muslims and speak against their God or the Quran and see how the Muslim folks will react.

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  7. Well, Bob’s comment disappeared, but he wrote:

    “No, I’m only as moral as I say I should be.”

    And Hitler and Stalin and Mao said the same thing.

    “Since we’re all the same species and have been raised in similar environments, our moral sense is similar.”

    (See previous response.) Not even close. I knew that killing babies was wrong when I was a teenage atheist. You don’t know it as an adult.

    “Well, I wasn’t born yet, if that’s what you mean.”

    English must be your second language. It’s clear that I was referring to atheists not ending any human rights atrocity.

    “I just responded to this in my previous comment.”

    Right, and I just proved in my previous comment that you side with moral monsters (abortionists) on child sacrifice.

    “A single cell isn’t a baby.”

    Abortions aren’t performed at the single cell stage. Regardless, a single cell human being IS a human being. That’s science. :-)

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