I’ve had this post in my drafts for a couple of years. It just so happens to be the topic that inspired this blog in the first place, which is why I’ve felt the pressure to make my thoughts clear and hard-hitting. But, I’ve waited long enough…
If humans are so advanced, why does it still exist–even in supposedly more-developed countries? And why didn’t God tell the ancient Jews that slavery is bad–always bad–when he had the chance? (The Eleventh Commandment ought to have been “Let all the slaves go free now,” right?)
I’ve been dragging my feet on publishing mostly because I don’t have many concrete conclusions to offer.
I just have a series of evolving questions, and I’ve been accused of slipping away from difficult discussions when I don’t take a firm stand on either black or white.
But, isn’t it possible to answer questions with more questions? Didn’t Socrates use that method? Wouldn’t you rather wrestle with these things along with me, than read my declarative statements on the subject?
With that, here’s the Slavery Post:
Anyone who REALLY wants to know what the Bible says about slavery will Google “Evil Bible dot com,” for the scoop.
A few basic explanations about how slavery in the Bible was different from what we know today can be found on gotquestions.org.
“The Bible does not specifically condemn the practice of slavery. It gives instructions on how slaves should be treated (Deuteronomy 15:12-15; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 4:1), but does not outlaw slavery altogether. Many see this as the Bible condoning all forms of slavery.”
But, a critical thinker has to ask themselves: what did slavery look like in the Old Testament? Are we talking about kidnapping, beating, and breeding people based on race hatred? No, no, no, and no.
Another helpful resource is Godandscience.org. The site looks terrible. But the content is good:
“…although there are rules about slavery in the Bible, those rules exist to protect the slave. Injuring or killing slaves was punishable – up to death of the offending party.1 Hebrews were commanded not to make their slave work on the Sabbath,2 slander a slave,3 have sex with another man’s slave,4 or return an escaped slave.5 A Hebrew was not to enslave his fellow countryman, even if he owed him money, but was to have him work as a hired worker, and he was to be released in 7 years…”
So, if the topic of slavery has been covered well by others, what else do I have to contribute?
Well, I still need to put my signature spin on it. I still need to do something surprising and a maybe a little half-baked–like suggesting that the biblical version of slavery is a lot like parenthood.
“YOU THINK OF YOUR KIDS AS SLAVES, AMANDA?!?!”
Well, no. I’d never even considered the connection until this week. And even then, I didn’t think in terms of my own children for very long.
You see, I’m young enough that the topic of “parenthood” still makes me picture MYSELF as the child and MY PARENTS as the authority figures… So, when someone said to me this week “I wouldn’t want to be a slave,” I immediately thought, “I knew lots of kids in high school who couldn’t wait to escape from their parents house, too…”
But wouldn’t your preference depend entirely on the master/parent?
I mean, can I think of a situation in which being forced to obey could work out for my benefit…like, if I’m being fed and clothed and loved in exchange for my obedience?
Yes. I can think of my own childhood.
I’ve written before that the culture of parenthood is changing. A growing number of people in the proverbial village paint a picture of the Parent-Child relationship as cruel and authoritarian. (Presumably, authoritarianism is always bad.) While religious Fundamentalists are criticized for their belief that children belong to God, the secular Fundamentalists insist that children belong to “society.”
Thus, the “old way” of viewing families as a unit, with different functioning parts, is going out of style–while some choose to think of family members as struggling competitors, each fighting for their share of power and control.
Of course, that’s a true picture of some families.
However, to tear apart the entire institution and attempt to re-write the parent-child roles only throws out the baby with the bathwater. While it’s understandable that someone who grew up in an abusive home would be tempted to argue, “I’d never want to be someone’s child!” they must ignore all the children who have had loving experiences inside families that function well.
The difference between an authoritarian relationship that works and an authoritarian relationship that doesn’t is a matter of religious doctrine:
We need to realize we are selfish creatures with selfish motives for things, and we need to check ourselves constantly. If we’re in a position of authority, we need to treat those in our care with gentleness. If we’re in a position of subservience, we need to treat our masters with respect and grace. And everyone must treat others as they want to be treated, regardless of the role fate has assigned to them.
That’s the kind of village everyone wants to live in.
Now, I hate to be the one who ruins a good analogy by over-explaining it. So I have a few questions to ask instead:
Can you imagine a time period or culture where people sold themselves as bond servants?(Leviticus 25:39-42) What about a time period or culture where some slaves asked to stay, even after their contract was up? (Deuteronomy 15:16) What are some reasons they’d do that?
In what ways are Old Testament “slavery” and New Testament “slavery” different? In what ways is the slavery of the Bible similar to contract work? Are there any ways that biblical slavery can be compared with adoption/parenthood?
What do you imagine would/will happen if our culture decides we must emancipate all children the way we’ve emancipated all slaves. (And, for reference, the historian Jim Downs argues that thousands of black former-slaves starved or died of diseases in the United States, after being freed.)
And, finally, how should I answer the question “Are you against slavery–yes or no?” In other words, would you conclude from this blog post that I’m pro-slavery?
What are your thoughts? (Leave them in the comments.)