“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.” Exodus 21:2
This post is the twenty-fourth in a series that addresses a list of “40 harmful effects of Christianity” that originated on the American Atheists Facebook page and has since made its way around the internet. In this post, I examine the following “harmful effect” from the list:
Harmful Effect #24: Slavery condoned by religious texts.
Although the author(s) of the list does not give an example of one, there are indeed (Christian) religious texts that condone slavery. However, it cannot be granted that the existence of such texts constitute a “harmful effect of Christianity.” It simply cannot be granted that such texts condone slavery in a way that is consistent a biblical Christian ethic. This is because chattel slavery and the “slavery” which was regulated under the Old Testament civil law are two different institutions. The author(s) of this list, then, relies on drawing a false equivalence to make his point. Furthermore, he ignores that liberating nature of Christianity presented in the New Testament.
In the modern western world, slavery is most often understood along the lines of 19th century American chattel slavery. Under that system, human beings who were involuntarily pressed into or born into slavery could be bought and sold like cattle. Slaves had little, if any, rights. Furthermore, eligibility for slavery was race-based and limited to those (blacks) who were members of races deemed racially inferior by the prevailing (and faulty) anthropological science of the day. This kind of slavery can be differentiated by the system of slavery presented in the Old Testament. The latter system more closely resembled a form of indentured servitude. “Slaves,” in the Old Testament sense, were people who could voluntarily sell their labor to members of their own race in exchange for room and board. This form of slavery did not take on a form of involuntary permanence but rather with limited to six years. Those slaves wishing to remain in the service of their master for a longer term chose to do so of their own volition. It’s true that there have been certain errant theologians who have tried to justify chattel slavery by referring to the existence of slavery in the Old Testament, however, these theologians, in drawing a false equivalence, defied rather than proclaimed a biblical Christian ethic. To the contrary, historic activists such as William Wilberforce sought to abolish slavery in accordance with their Christian convictions. Christianity does not condone chattel slavery; it actually repudiates it. At the same time, Christianity values honest work and giving a leg up to the less fortunate. The indentured servitude “slavery” system of the Old Testament is representative of these values. Furthermore, Christianity transcends the race, class, and gender limitations of a pagan society. Writing to Christians who lived in the ancient Roman Empire, a society in which chattel slavery was condoned and practiced, the Apostle Paul proclaimed, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
If you haven’t found freedom in Christ from sin and worldly suffering, you should place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ today; in doing so you will be reconciled to God and free from the bonds of sin and death.
In my next post in this series, I’ll address the following:
Harmful Effect #25: Children traumatized by vivid stories of eternal burning and torture to ensure that they’ll be too frightened to even question religion.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.
“eligibility for slavery was race-based ”
“This form of slavery did not take on a form of involuntary permanence but rather with limited to six years.”
Who are you to question what God condoned? Or do you just not know your Bible?
Lev 25:44 44 As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the *pagan nations* that are around you. 45 Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. 46 You may even *bequeath them* to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as *permanent* slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.
I’m not questioning at all what God condoned.
I’m stating that the case has not been made that the slavery condoned in the Old Testament is a “harmful effect of Christianity.”
With regards to slaves taken from sojourning non-Israelites, the slavery (which could last beyond 6 years) was not race-based in the sense that non Hebrews were deemed racially inferior. Their eligibility of such servitude was a matter of not being a part of God’s elect people to whom the Promised Land was given.
Again, no case has been made that this is “harmful”.
Furthermore, since these are regulations of Old Testament Israel civil society, they are not binding on civil governments today; so, there’s no legitimate Christian case to be made for allowing slavery using this text as support.