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RELIGION: Bible cited in support of slavery

Letter by David A. Lupher, Tacoma on March 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm with 27 Comments »
March 8, 2012 2:07 pm

According to the March 7 editorial, “Rick Santorum and the wall of church-state separation”: “Liberal secularists who think religious convictions have no place in politics should remember the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and the abolitionists, whose passion for social equality was often rooted in a profound sense of divine justice.”

Leaving aside the extent to which abolitionists had a “passion for social equality” (Abraham Lincoln, for one, certainly did not), I would point out that we “liberal secularists” do indeed remember the role of religious people (most notably “Nonconformists” like the Quakers) in the abolition movement in the U.S. (and, earlier, in Britain).

But we also remember the pro-slavery advocates’ fervent appeals to biblical authority and their perfectly correct assertion that the New Testament nowhere challenges the institution of slavery. Indeed, Paul writes: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, single-mindedly, as serving Christ” (Ephesians 6:5) — only one of many injunctions to slaves to rest content with their status.

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Leave a comment Comments → 27
  1. aislander says:

    Social equality? Equality under the law: sure. Equality of opportunity: certainly.

    But “social equality” sounds like something that would have to be enforced rather than protected…

  2. old_benjamin says:

    Neither does Paul condemn the cruel and oppressive Roman government under which he and his contemporaries lived. He was concerned with a different authority and citizenship – God’s and the Kindgdom of Heaven. It’s only quite recently that slavery has been condemned by the enlightended members of society. I cite our Founding Fathers, who certainly considered themselves liberal thinkers. Judging ancient cultures by modern standards is rarely prudent, fair, or useful.

  3. When people write things like, “Leaving aside the extent to which abolitionists had a “passion for social equality” (Abraham Lincoln, for one, certainly did not),” pretending to be historical authorities on famous figures like Abraham Lincoln, I am always suspicious of anything else they write, when they get Lincoln totally wrong.

    How do I know he is wrong about Lincoln? Because Frederick Douglass told us so. And Frederick Douglass actually knew Abraham Lincoln.

    Former slave who became an outspoken and the most famous Abolitionist of all time, Frederick “Douglass was convinced that Lincoln was the black man’s genuine friend. The President twice invited Douglass to the White House for private consultations on racial policies and also invited him to tea at the Lincolns’ summer cottage. Douglass discovered in these meetings “a deeper moral conviction against slavery than I had ever seen before in anything spoken or written by him.” Douglass also found that Lincoln in person had none of that “pride of race” he had earlier accused him of possessing. “In his company I was never in any way reminded of my humble origin, or of my unpopular color,” wrote Douglass. The President received him “just as you have seen one gentleman receive another.” Lincoln was “one of the very few Americans, who could entertain a negro and converse with him without in anywise reminding him of the unpopularity of his color.”


  4. bobcat1a says:

    You need to study Lincoln a little more in depth. His genuine humanity, expressed one on one with many different individuals, was far different from his expressed political philosophy which was definitely white supremacy. Those views did not prevent him from feeling compassion or admiration for individuals or recognizing their humanity.

  5. benjamin — funny how an “ancient culture” has managed to exert profound influence over today’s “judgement”. reason being that faith cannot,by definition, be refuted. faith itself requires belief in the impossible.

    fortunately, most humans are capable of independent thought; and thus rational observations generally will render faith obsolete.

    unfortunately, the GOP is indefinitely intertwined with biblical ignorance. ..

  6. Sonofwashington says:

    Agreed jellee – Faith is belief in the impossible and theology is an attempt to rationalize the irrational, which is impossible so that’s where faith comes in again.

  7. old_benjamin says:

    “Faith is belief in the impossible.”

    Well, if that’s your definition, so be it. It’s not mine, and it’s not that of many thoughtful people.

    It takes faith to be a scientist – faith that the “laws of nature” are rational and knowable, faith that one’s mind is capable of perceiving reality, even faith that there is an external world. One of the sub-disciplines of philosophy is “epistemology,” how we know and what we know. I suggest you check it out before you make galactically ignorant statements like “Faith is belief in the impossible.”

  8. old_benjamin says:

    “This most beautiful system [The Universe] could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” – Isaac Newton

    Son and jellee, when you two get famous, get back to me.

  9. old_benjamin, How can we agree on this issue, and still disagree on so many others? Your last two comments here are spot-on!

  10. old_benjamin says:

    muck, I’m, a theist and a Conservative. I believe in a Creator, personal responsibility, limited government, a strong national defense, and low taxes. That’s the short answer.

  11. Except for the “Conservative” part, I agree with all that as well. I consider myself an “Independent.”

  12. Spiderweb says:

    “It takes faith to be a scientist – faith that the “laws of nature” are rational and knowable”

    Wrong. The scientific method uses expiremental control and the results must be able to be reproduced, thus verified as not based on a particular scientists beliefs.

    Theories are based on empirical, reproduceable evidence, not faith, and unlike religious dogma, are subject to change based on new empirical evidence.

  13. old_benjamin says:

    Spider, think a little deeper. The “scientific” explanation for the diversity of life is Darwinian evolution. A fundamental process is survival of the fittest. Those organisms that are best suited to their environmen are the ones that survive. There is no requirement that those who discover the laws of the universe will survive. Why would you therefore assume you are capable of discovering anything? It is simply a matter of faith. Einstein said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. Darwin worried that, given his theory, there was no reason to believe it. Your faith in science is appropriate, but you are unaware of the many assumptions scientists make in order to do their work. You really need to look into the philosophy of science before you make dogmatic statements that are unsupportable

  14. o_b

    The empirical method requires the following assumptions:

    Existence has order
    This order is observable
    Observations of this orderly existance are repeatable because, well, existence is orderly and thus follows “laws”.

    In my world 3 is “a few” assumptions, not “many”.

    You may try to discredit science by suggesting that those assumptions are, by definition unprovable, therefore “faith-based” but that really doesn’t bolster religion by attempting to downgrade science as being as reliant upon unprovable suppositions (btw – science has three assumptions, religions have WAY more)

    BTW – Neither Newton nor Einstein did anything of scientific importance once they got heavy into the religious parts of their later lives.

  15. old_benjamin says:

    bB, the empirical method assumes that there is an external universe and that it is knowable. Neither proposition is provable by the scientific method.

    I don’t denigrate science. I simply point out that it can’t pull itself up by its own bootstraps.

    It’s odd that you denigrate two of the greats of science. Surely they did enough. I don’t think there is evidence to indicate they were handicapped by religious ruminations. Need I mention other greats in the world of science who were also men of faith? It is a matter of history that the Judaeo-Christian ethic did much to foster scientific discovery in the West.

  16. I don’t denigrate them. I just know their biographies. A statement of fact is not denigration. Neither of them were productive in science when they became focused upon metaphysical realms.

  17. It is a matter of history that the Judaeo-Christian ethic did much to foster scientific discovery in the West.


    The Age of Reason was a repudiation of the kind of Dark Ages superstition that held the majority of believers in ignorance and limited the intellectual curiosity of the few to debates about how many angels could dance upon the head of a pin.

  18. old_benjamin says:

    And your evidence that they focused on the metaphysical to the detriment of their scientific work is?

    Progress in science is dependent on the belief that the universe operates according to fixed laws. Those in the Judaeo-Christian tradition believe in a Supreme Being that created the universe and extablised the laws whereby it functions. If one doesn’t have that faith, it is pointless to try to pursue scientific endeavor.

    I’m afraid your knowledge of history is quite incomplete. I include this quote and this link for your edification.

    “How was it that the Christian faith aided the scientific approach of many of the original thinkers of those times and enabled them to break with the preconceptions of the past? In his 1925 lectures, Alfred North Whitehead had said that Christianity is the mother of science because of “the medieval insistence on the rationality of God”. Because of the confidence of the early scientists in this rationality, they had an “inexpungable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope.”


  19. LornaDoone says:

    I think we’ve witness how well “personal responsibility” works when a class of people seek to create a substandard society for another class.

    I’ll take government oversight, thank you. Slavery makes for good mythical stories, but those who really lived it aren’t impressed.

  20. o-b

    It doesn’t surprise me that you would link “Exploring Christianity” to share your understanding of science and history.

    And Alfred North Whitehead…..not really a notable philosopher, except for those – like you – who find something in his work that supports your biases.

  21. old_benjamin says:

    Lame bB, exceedingly lame. You don’t even bother to provide support for your own loopy assertions. In future don’t waste my time.

  22. I don’t force you to read my posts.

  23. If you believe that conversing with people who do not agree with everything you believe is a waste of time – why are you here?

    Citing a philosopher, any philosopher, as evidence of history is a stretch by anyone’s way of measuring things.

    You are here: History >> Age of Reason

    Age of Reason – What was the Age of Reason?
    The Age of Reason was an eighteenth-century movement which followed hard after the mysticism, religion, and superstition of the Middle Ages. The Age of Reason represented a genesis in the way man viewed himself, the pursuit of knowledge, and the universe. In this time period, man’s previously held concepts of conduct and thought could now be challenged verbally and in written form; fears of being labeled a heretic or being burned at the stake were done away with. This was the beginning of an open society where individuals were free to pursue individual happiness and liberty. Politically and socially, the imperial concepts of the medieval world were abandoned


    There is some truth to the belief held by Protestant writers that the Age of Reason was brought about, in part, by the Protestant movement but to claim that religion was responsible for it – rather than a loosening of religion’s superstitious grip on the world – has it rather bassackwards.

    Again – don’t read this if you think that challenges to your beliefs are a waste of your time, and don’t blame me for your choice to read it.

  24. old_benjamin says:

    What is a waste of time is conversing with people who dismiss an argument based on who made it–which is what you did above.

    It appears you didn’t even read the link I posted before dismissing it based on the name of the site. The article stands on its merits–not the reputation of Whitehead, whose intellect greatly exceeds your own.

    Stop it with the transparent sophistry.

  25. Skyliner says:

    If Christianity had been an abolitionist movement, Paul could be faulted for not having challenged the institution of slavery, but Christianity was not an abolitionist movement, and Paul was simply a pastor guiding both slaves and slave owners in their Christian lives. Paul’s admonitions to be content were not given to slaves alone but to all Christians, and they were calls to be spiritually content in all circumstances rather than complacent in any particular circumstance.

  26. “BTW – Neither Newton nor Einstein did anything of scientific importance once they got heavy into the religious parts of their later lives.”

    Face it, bBoy, you got busted again for presumptuous thinking. Do not pretend that you didn’t leap to the conclusion that you did.

  27. Does it really suprise anyone that spiritual maturity would result in a greater interest in the Creator rather than in the creation?

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