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The Problem with Slavery

By Wertbag ~ 

In the modern western world, most people would have no problem saying slavery in all its forms is evil. This is a non-controversial position to take, but one which runs counter to the laws of the bible. Due to this, apologists have had to find ways to justify slavery and condone the laws laid out in the bible. Really, at the point that your worldview puts you in the position of having to justify slavery, it should make you question that worldview.

The most common way this is done is by trying to claim that the slavery in the bible is purely indentured servitude, that is an employment contract where the person is temporarily put under the ownership of the person owed a debt so that the servant can work off that debt. The apologists will often try to paint this as a happy time of sunshine and rainbows, saying it could well be volunteer and the best thing for the servants. This line of argumentation ignores several glaring problems, firstly the bible outlines multiple types of slavery, including sex slaves, prisoners of war, chattel and indentured servitude. Secondly indentured servitude was often just as harsh as chattel slavery, with the owner having full rights to do whatever they deem necessary to work off that debt. This would often mean men would be sent to work in mines, quarries, row ships or plow fields, while women would usually be forced into prostitution. Indentured servitude was also not usually volunteer, with a failure to pay your debts meaning it could well be a court ordered punishment for your failure to pay. And thirdly, indentured servitude is banned by all western nations and by the UN as a form of slavery, so when we say we believe all forms of slavery is wrong, that includes indentured servitude.

Probably the clearest indication of the bibles support of slavery is the famous Exodus 21:20
"“Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.".
Clearly stating that a slave owner will receive no punishment for beating a slave as they are legal property. A couple of verses later it does clarify that you cannot permanently disfigure them "An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.", so you may beat them black and blue, give them a good whipping, as long as you don't permanently damage them. It is hard to take Christianity's claims that everyone has intrinsic value as we are all made in the image of God, while the bible gives us laws which are horrific by modern standards.

Sex slavery is more often avoided completely by apologists, or at best will get a "you aren't reading the context". However, a straightforward reading of the bible is clear and matches what was the norm in those ancient times.
Deuteronomy 21:10-14 "When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her."
The thing missing from this marriage is consent. Consent is a sadly recent development in human history, with women historically being given or sold to whoever their father's decide for them. They would have no choice in partner, no option to refuse and would be required to have sex with whoever was put in charge of them, saying no was not an option. This common view is highlighted in this bible passage, where the woman is forced to marry the soldier who killed her family, someone who she would never willingly wish to be with. It even clarifies that you cannot sell her as you have dishonored her, meaning taken her virginity and therefore made her undesirable to anyone else.

The bible clearly says to take virgin girls as plunder of war,
Numbers 31:17-18 "Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.".
Apologists will try to say this is saving the young ones from execution, so is a mercy, but it is clear that age is not the deciding factor as the little boys are to be killed. The verse states that it is their virgin status which saves them. Sex is the deciding factor.

Some apologists will point to the passage Exodus 21:16
"Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession"
as a sign that God doesn't like people taking slaves. However, the legal term kidnapping was to illegally take someone, especially an Israelite, against the law. It did not apply to legal slaves purchased from the nations around, taken in war or given that status by the courts. It is worth noting that in the American Southern states kidnapping was always illegal while the practice of slavery was ongoing. This is not unusual and not a reason to think that slavery was looked upon negatively.

Apologists will say it was Christians who ended slavery, ignoring the fact it was Christians who traded slaves, owned slaves and were the law makers who made it legal. Christianity ruled the world for a thousand years and never got around to banning slavery, it wasn't until after the enlightenment era that societies morals were changing towards our modern standards that Christianity began claiming those changes were theirs all along.

Originally posted in the Reasons for Disbelief thread on Ex-Christian.Net