Another view on slavery and the Bible

When I discussed slavery and the Bible a few weeks ago, I tried to deal with the various responses that I might hear from people who believe that the Bible is inerrant. Apparently there was one that I didn't think of, but I heard it today. I was talking with someone who believes that most of the Bible is the inspired word of God and I asked him what he thinks about the passages that condoned slavery. He said that he didn't see anything wrong with slavery because the Bible doesn't condemn it. I pressed him on this to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding. He confirmed that he sees nothing inherently wrong with owning another human, punishing him or her with beatings and using them for forced labor. He said that he is not racist and that he doesn't want to be a slave or own a slave now, but if the legality of slavery was put to a vote, he wouldn't bother to go to the polls to vote for or against it.

Plus one point for being consistent with his belief that the Bible is God's word. Minus one million points for moral reprehensibility.

Dean Kamen's work on prosthetics


(via Signal vs Noise)

Good quote

I came across a quote that pretty well sums up my current view of religion:

What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. - Christopher Hitchens

Which is very similar to

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. - Carl Sagan

So, if people want to accept an idea that has no proof behind it, fine, that's their right. But if they ask me why I don't accept it, I feel no obligation to attempt to disprove their idea. The burden of proof is on the person asserting something. I don't assert that there is no god, but I live my life without a belief in god. If you want to assert something with no proof, feel free, but don't expect me to take your belief seriously. I am just as likely to dismiss your belief as your are to dismiss someone's belief in fairies, astrology or unicorns. Perhaps that seems disrespectful. Why does religion deserve more respect than any other unproven idea?

To be fair, if I assert something without proof (as I'm sure do), I don't think I have a right to expect my ideas to be respected and taken seriously, either. They can be and often are dismissed. It's fun to discuss unproven ideas, but anyone asserting an unproven idea should remember that the burden of proof is on them.

Buy a car, get a free gun

US car dealer in free gun offer - That dealership is in Butler, MO, 10 miles south of here.

My garden digger

Four nights ago my garden was dug up. I looked at it in the morning and all the seeds I had planted were mixed up and it was clear that a dog had been digging in my garden. It was probably looking for one of the many moles that roams my yard. I smoothed the dirt back out, but didn't replant anything. The next night it was dug up again. And the next night. So, I borrowed an outdoor light from my dad, set up my video camera in the window and installed some motion-sensor/recording software on Sara's MacBook (EvoCam). Once I found out which of the neighborhood dogs was destroying my work, I would be able to print off a picture and take it to the owner to ask that they keep their dog out of my yard. Well, my setup worked, but the culprit was not what I expected:


That looks like a fox to me. I live in the middle of a town of about 2,000. I've seen a fox wandering the streets in the last year, but I never was able to catch it on film. Now the mystery is solved, but I don't know what I can do about it. I wonder if the local animal control office has an email address.

Is God Imaginary?

God Is Imaginary is a site that offers 50 simple proofs that the Christian God is not real. The articles are good and should give any Christian plenty to think about, but I'm not sure how I feel about their use of the word "proof." I think that many varieties of Christian faith today have been winnowed down over the years so that they're almost impossible to disprove.

Early on in the Christian myth God is someone who can walk, talk and wrestle with a human. Then he withdrew to Heaven, that place up in the sky. The story has Jesus going to Heaven by way of the clouds and promising to return by the same path. We've taken rockets beyond the clouds and the atmosphere and we don't see a gold-plated kingdom floating up there. We see only the vacuum of space. But now God and Heaven have moved to "another dimension" or "outside of space and time."

Another example of this can be found in prayer. The stories say that humans used to talk directly to God and he talked back. Then he only communicated through prophets. Early in the Christian era (and among some denominations today) it was thought that any believer could do miracles and expect answers to prayers. But today, most liberal Christians admit that they don't expect prayers to be answered as the Bible promises. Or, if they refuse to admit that, then they're quick to excuse God for not giving them what they ask for. Some go so far as to downplay prayers that ask for something in favor of seeing prayer as an act that conveys a spiritual benefit to the person praying. Early Christians and modern fundamentalists would see this as a very weak and non-Biblical view of prayer.

So, in my opinion, today's Christians can choose to divorce themselves from historical Christianity or they can divorce themselves from reality.

Prayer is something that can be tested. The Bible promises that prayers will be answered.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
- Mark 11:24

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
- John 14:14

Yet study after study has shown that prayer has no supernatural effect. When you pray for something, it's no more likely to happen than if you didn't pray. Many Christians, aware of this fact, are careful to not pray for anything unless there's a decent chance that it will happen anyway. When it does, they rejoice in the power of prayer. When it doesn't, well, that was just God's will.

This video makes the case that prayer is just another superstition:


But what about liberal Christians who admit that the passages I quoted above are not inerrant or at the very least don't mean what they seem to mean? Perhaps they value intercessory prayer for the calming effect it has on all involved and the social connections that it creates. Knowing that others are thinking about you and praying for you can have a real subconscious effect on a person. Studies on the efficacy of prayer have to control for these factors by making sure that patients don't know whether they're being prayed for or not. Why would we want to spoil the effect by pointing out that prayer actually has no supernatural effect? Preventing stories like this one is one reason. And I think we can get all the social and psychological benefits of prayer using completely rational methods.

If you're a believer, then what convinces you that God is not imaginary? Is your belief subject to falsification? If so, what evidence would prove to you that God is not real? If not, then can you claim that your beliefs are any more rational than Islam, FSM or Scientology?

590 Mushrooms

It's been a good year for mushroom hunting. My dad, his friend Kevin and I went out Saturday morning and found about 590 of them in 3 hours. They both said that it was the best year they can ever remember. In the picture it's (left to right) Kevin, me and my dad, Jim.

590 Mushrooms

We filled up our bags and were still finding them, so dad and I each tied our jackets into bags and left with them half full. Dad found one spot where 20 were growing within a foot or two of each other and 10 or 15 of them were actually touching. We scooped the dirt up around those and brought them back together.

I mowed my yard yesterday and found 3 more there. Not enough to bother with frying, but I chopped them, sautéed them in some butter and scrambled them into my eggs tonight. There are some more pictures in my photo gallery.

Slavery and the Bible

The BibleI have a question for my friends and readers who consider the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. Some of my friends are Christians, but they're willing to admit that at least parts of the Bible are not inerrant. You guys are off the hook for today. Those of you who say that the Bible is inerrant should really think about this question and leave a comment (or email me) with your take on the subject. Here's the question.

Why does the Bible condone slavery?

I have asked this question to a few believers and I have yet to hear a good explanation. Here are a few of the things I have heard.

"The slavery mentioned in the Bible is not like the slavery practiced in pre-Civil War United States." The first difference they point out is that Biblical slavery was based on economic class rather than on ethnicity. I'm not sure why it would be preferable to turn a person into property because they are poor rather than because they are a of different race, but more importantly, that's just incorrect.

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 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. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

Leviticus 25:44-46

Sounds to me like some slavery condoned in the Bible was based on ethnicity. There was a version of slavery for Hebrew people that was less harsh. It included freedom after seven years (with some exceptions). But the rules for enslaving foreigners were different.

The second part of that explanation is that slavery in Biblical times was less harsh.

If a man beats his male or female slave with a club and the slave dies as a result, the owner must be punished. But if the slave recovers within a day or two, then the owner shall not be punished, since the slave is his property.

Exodus 21:20-21 (NIV)

This sounds pretty similar to US law. There were cases of slave owners being executed for killing their own slaves. Actually, I think the Biblical version of the rule is worse. It says that if you beat the slave and he dies right away, you're to be punished (not necessarily executed -- apparently killing a slave is not as grave an offense as adultery, homosexuality or breaking the Sabbath). If you beat the slave and he dies from those injuries, but he takes more than two days to die, then you're fine. The English Standard Version translates the passage a little more clearly:

When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.

Exodus 21:20-21 (ESV)

This guy lived more than 2 days after his beating, so it would have been ok under OT law.So, when people explain Biblical slavery by saying that it really wasn't all that bad, then they either don't know what the Bible says or they have a strange idea of what "not that bad" means.

"The Bible records real history and tells about all sorts of bad things that people did. Just because it mentions that Israelites held slaves doesn't mean that it was condoned." The two passages I quoted above come from laws that were supposedly received directly from God and they certainly condone slavery. If you think that the Bible is telling the truth when it claims that these laws came from God, then this explanation won't get you anywhere.

"Slavery was common back then. These laws actually made Israel more civilized than surrounding countries." If the God of the universe, a morally perfect being, was going to give laws to a tribe of people, wouldn't he set his sights a little higher than this? Why not just ban slavery? Besides, this smacks of moral relativism, which goes against the idea of a timeless moral standard from God. Christians can explain away some of the awful things in the Old Testament by pointing out that they were overturned in the New Testament. That's not the case with slavery.

"The abolition movement was led by Christians." This is true, but irrelevant to the question about why the Bible condones slavery. Many Christians, especially Quakers and Catholics, fought against slavery, but what religion were the people who fought for slavery? Christian, of course. For example:

[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.

Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.

Jefferson Davis at his home c.1885The Southern Baptist Convention is one of the largest denominations in the country. It was formed because in 1845 a group of southern churches broke off from the Baptist church when it made a rule requiring missionaries to not own slaves. The SBC didn't officially reverse its position on slavery until 1995.

Christians should be proud of the fact that some of their number fought against slavery. They should keep in mind that plenty of the Christians at the time thought that the Bible condoned slavery.

"We don't understand God's ways, but we need to trust him." People generally only resort to this explanation after trying some of the others and failing. These Christians want to believe that the Bible is inerrant and God is loving and just. When they come face to face with a passage that makes it impossible to hold both of those beliefs simultaneously, they either change their thinking or they punt. Once I hear this answer I know to move on. The discussion is over. This idea could be used to justify any belief. It's dangerous.

I know of only one explanation that makes sense. "The Bible condones slavery because it is set a human documents created by a primitive culture. The laws quoted above were not received from God." If someone knows of a better explanation, I'd like to hear it.

PS. If you'd like to learn some trivia about slavery in the Bible (and you like sarcasm), then try taking this quiz.

What if

The BibleHere's a thought experiment. What would happen if some authoritative Christian body, such as the Episcopal Church, came out with a new version of the Bible with the worst of the bad stuff removed? There would be some backlash, of course. But what if the redactions were limited to a short list of indefensible verses? Let's say the new version left out Leviticus 25:44-46. Would Christians protest this new version? Would they fight to have the slavery-condoning verses included? If you are a Christian, would you refuse to use a Bible that excluded those verses?

I have follow-up questions, but I would like to see what people think about the initial question before I bring them out.

Quick poll

I'd like to take a quick poll. Please leave a comment with your answers to these questions:

1. Who is your first choice of McCain, Clinton and Obama?
2. If it's Obama vs McCain, who will you vote for?
3. If it's Clinton vs McCain, who will you vote for?

Feel free to elaborate, but try to also give a simple answer to those three questions. If your answer is "I won't bother to vote," then say so.

My hypothesis is that Obama can get almost all of Clinton's supporters if he gets the nomination, but Clinton will get a much smaller percentage of Obama supporters if she somehow wins the nomination. My answers are

1. Obama
2. Obama
3. Clinton, but with much less enthusiasm

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