Tag Archives: Bible

Does the Bible condone slavery?

Matt and Madeleine Flanagan have a wonderful post up to answer this thorny question. These guys are professional apologists, not amateurs, like me! They have footnotes in their post!

Your strategy

If someone asks you a question like this, there are two responses you need to make:

  1. Explain why the Bible does not condone slavery
  2. Ask the challenger why slavery is wrong, on their worldview

Let’s start with number 1.

Does the Bible condone slavery?

MandM’s response is based on the writings of John Locke in his “Second Treatise on Civil Government”. Locke based his argument on a reading of Exodus 21, where the rules of “slavery” are defined.Locke’s argument is that the definition of slavery in the Bible is not the same as the slavery of modern times.

MandM quotes Locke’s argument. Then they summarize it:

[1] If a person is a slave then that person is “under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases.”
[2] The institution referred to in scripture that people could sell themselves into, was not one where they were “under an absolute, arbitrary, despotical power.”

Then they explain some reasons why the indentured servitude in the Bible is not the same as slavery in the last few hundred years.

  • there was no kidnapping of an indentured servant, they served voluntarily in order to get rid of a debt
  • there was no racial component to indentured servitude
  • killing an indentured servant was a capital offense, striking one was illegal
  • indentured servitude was for 6 years, not for a lifetime
  • if the indentured servant fled from an abusive master, it was illegal to return teh servant to his master

References are provided for each of these points.

So the Biblical concept of “slavery” wasn’t what we mean as slavery when we look at British, Arab, or American slavery in history. Instead, the Bible is talking about indentured servitude.

What’s wrong with slavery, on atheism?

I think a more fundamental question that needs to be pressed on the atheist is whether slavery is wrong on their worldview. I’ve argued elsewhere that worldviews like atheism do not support the minimal requirements for rational morality.

Specifically, atheism does not ground:

1) Objective moral values: where is the standard?
2) Objective moral duties: to whom are moral duties owed?
3) Moral accountability: will I get caught if I am immoral?
4) Free will: are humans capable of free choice?
5) Ultimate significance: does it matter ultimately?

NEVER let atheists get away with making any moral statements, because even though an individual atheist might get lucky and act morally based on the objective moral law that God actually made, their actions are not rationally grounded by their worldview. Call them out!

This actually came out in the comments for MandM’s post, where John W. Loftus, a prominent lay-atheist, chimed in.

Here is a sample comment:

Rob says: (from Manawatu Christian Apologetics)

I presume John Loftus is a born-again atheist? If this is so, then upon what grounds would he criticize slavery at all?

If atheism is true truth, then I fail to see any possible ground that could provide a basis for outrage against moral evil, since moral evil cannot exist.

Indeed, if the universe is material only, then at what time did atoms create morality?

So John Loftus has to assume a Biblical morality to attack Biblical morality, but he would then be rejecting the basis for his indignation at slavery in the South, or any other slavery for that matter. He cannot logically have his cake and eat it too.

I can’t recommend this post and the comments enough. This is a great post and the comments are totally awesome, although you may find them difficult to understand. You will learn a lot from this post and exchange.

I am really impressed with MandM’s blog. Please pay them a visit and have a look yourself.

Related questions

You may be interested in similar challenges made by atheists that I answered in previous posts.

More questions here.

Why won’t Christians defend their faith in public?

UPDATE: The Pugnacious Irishman has linked to me! Thank you for the link Rich! EVERYONE: GO READ HIS POST RIGHT NOW!

UPDATE: Neil Simpson has a debate going on about whether faith is opposed to reason. 50+ comments so far.

Shout out: Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 helped me to make this post nicer. He’s much nicer than I am.

I would like to describe a situation that arises frequently that concerns me. The situation I describe below brings out a flaw I see in the way that rank-and-file Christians respond to criticisms of Christianity in the public square.

Here is the situation

Eve is busy programming away at her desk, rushing to check in her unit tests so she can spend her lunch hour reading the latest Stephenie Meyer horror novel, or looking through an Avon catalog. Suddenly Eve hears Alice talking to Bob on the other side of her cube. She stops typing to listen to the following unencrypted conversation.

Alice: I was watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel last night that said that the universe has always existed, so there is no God!

Bob: I was watching a documentary on PBS last night showing simulations of how the first life started on Earth! God didn’t do it!

Alice: I saw “Inherit the Spin” on the weekend! The only reason people oppose evolution is because of the Bible! Not because of science!

Bob: I’m going to see “The Va Dinci Code” this weekend! It says that the Gospels are unreliable and that Jesus didn’t even die on the cross!

Alice: I just bought the latest Dichard Rawkins book “Christians Should Be Fed to Lions and the Bible Should Be Burned”!

Bob: I will read that as soon as I finish Histopher Chritchens’ book “Why God is the Evilest, Stupidest Person in the World”!

Eve double-majored in business and computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology, and has an MBA from the London School of Economics. She has spent a ton of time, effort and money studying very difficult subjects for her job, and she even publishes research. She works full-time and runs her own business part-time, and earns about 200K per year. She lives in a huge house, drives a huge car, and goes on vacation abroad to all the best vacation spots.

Eve thinks she is a Christian. She has attended church since childhood, her husband is a church elder and she sings in the church choir. She reads the Bible and prays. She gives money to the poor. She teaches Sunday school to children.  She has even read all of the Narnia novels three times!

But even though God is being maligned in Alice and Bob’s conversation, Eve is not going to stand up to defend God’s reputation to them, (or even to her own children, who are both committed atheists).

Why won’t Eve stand?

I am wondering if anyone can explain to me why it is that most church Christians are not able or not willing to make a public defense when God’s reputation is called into question. It seems to me that there are two bad effects that follow from Eve’s unwillingness to stand up and invite Alice and Bob to lunch so that she can address their questions and concerns.

1) God’s reputation is being trashed by Alice and Bob on the basis of lies they’ve swallowed from pop culture. These lies about God’s existence and character could be easily corrected with a minimal amount of study, which Eve is capable of.  If someone said similar lies about her husband or children, she would speak up, but she won’t speak up for God.

2) Alice and Bob are bound for Hell unless someone cares enough to correct their mistaken beliefs, which, along with their sinfulness, is what is keeping them from a relationship with God that would go on in Heaven. If Eve’s husband or children were mistakenly about to drink poison thinking it was Aspirin, then Eve would speak up. But to save her co-workers from Hell, she won’t speak up.

Eve is capable of studying to defend the faith, because of her great success in other areas where so much time and effort were required to master difficult material. So why has she not applied herself to answering public challenges to her Christian faith from her professors, teachers, actors, the media, politicians, scientists, historians, etc.?

It seems to me that if she did spend some time studying, and then made her defense to her co-workers, then two things would follow:

D1) Eve would be demonstrating her love for God and her friendship with God by protecting his reputation when it is called into question by unbelievers in public settings. That’s what friends do – if Eve wanted to be God’s friend, she would care that no one believed lies about him and told lies about him in public settings.

D2) Eve would be demonstrating her love for her neighbor if she was able to correct some of these false beliefs, such as that the universe is eternal, or that a historical case cannot be made for the resurrection, or that evil is not compatible with theism. It’s important for Alice and Bob to know that Christianity is not stupid.

So why is it that Eve is able to go to church for 20 years, sing in the choir, read the Bible, read the Narnia stories, pray on her knees, and yet still be unwilling to do the best thing for God and the best thing for her neighbor?

Questions for my readers

Can anyone help me to understand why Christians are willing to accept this? Why is this not being addressed by churches?

Do you have an experience where a Christian group stifled apologetics? Tell me about that, and why do you think they would do that, in view of the situation I outlined above? My experience is that atheists (as much as I tease them) are FAR more interested in apologetics than church Christians. Why is that?

My answers

My answers to these problems are given in the following previous posts.

In general:

Also, this debate I blogged about before talks about postmodernism and relativism, which has infected the church and has an impact on this question of whether we will study and defend our beliefs in public. I highly recommend giving it a listen – you will learn something about how we got to this point.

Disclaimer:

I want to clear that this is a problem for male and female Christians. I have seen it manifested by equal numbers of men and women in leadership roles. I picked these names because there is a running gag in computer network security where these names are used to describe the actors. Eve is the eavesdropping hacker, get it?

Debate: Must morality be grounded by God?

“Unbelievable”, is a show broadcast every Saturday in the UK. Every week, they feature a debate between a Christian and a non-Christian. The debate this week was on the moral argument, which argues that meaningful morality, including free will, human rights, moral rules, moral obligations, and moral significance, must be grounded in God.

THIS IS A MUST-LISTEN.

The debate starts a bit into the podcast, after they review audience reactions to last week and preview the next week’s topic.

Here is the link to the podcast. (MP3 audio)

If you have trouble with that link, try here instead.

The atheist Paul Orton argues this:

  • no moral absolutes
  • morality is a set evolved conventions
  • the set varies by time and place

The Christian David Robertson argues this:

  • morality is meaningless unless there are moral absolutes
  • cultural relativism doesn’t rationally ground moral judgments
  • the Bible does not teach that slavery is good

One of the best parts of the debate is when David contrasts H.G. Wells, an atheistic socialist who embraced socialism and fascism as a natural extension of his atheism, and a Christian, William Wilberforce who spent over two decades of his life trying to free the slaves in the UK.

This debate can be seen as an illustration of the thesis that I advanced in my series of posts on atheism and morality, in which I argued that atheism does not ground the minimal requirements for rational morality.

Further resources

This page contains a link to an excellent lecture on the ontological foundations of rational morality, as well as a number of debates between Christians and atheists on whether morality is rationally grounded by the worldview of atheism. And you can find some other apologetics posts here, including an article on whether the the moral statements of atheists are even intelligible, on atheism.

The best book ever written on this topic is Greg Koukl and Francis J. Beckwith’s “Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air“. You can see Greg deliver a lecture about relativism to an audience of students and faculty at UCLA (MP3 audio here). If you want to read something free on the web that explains the problems with moral relativism, which is the view of morality that is grounded by atheism, look here.