I recently did a little post responding to some infidels who commented on a post by James Anderson:
An unbeliever (Neil Godfrey) attempted to critique my post:
He's an ex-cult member (Armstrongism) who was raised Methodist. He's so blinded by his reflexive animosity towards Scripture that he sees things that aren't there. In my experience, unbelievers who used to be cult-members are especially hard to reach. The cult is their standard of comparison. They judge Christianity by their former cult. That's the filter. They just can't get that out of their system. They associate Christianity in general with their cult. Their experience as former cult-members nearly sears them for life–although there are a few salutary exceptions.
Yes, slavery is not wrong at all if the system is run by “good people”, no doubt the Christians.
1. In my post I didn't say or imply that slavery is not wrong at all if the system is run by "good people." Godfrey pulled that out of thin air.
One problem is that you can't generalize about the morality of "slavery" inasmuch as there are different kinds of "slavery"–a point I made in my original post. In the OT, there are roughly three kinds of slavery, or ways to become a slave:
i) If you fall into debt, and you can't repay your debts, you can temporarily become an indentured servant. You owe money. You have an obligation to repay it. I don't think that's even prima facie wrong.
ii) If you (a soldier) attack another country, and you lose, you may be enslaved by the winner. That's a calculated risk when you fight another country. If you lose, you have a lot to lose. If a country attacks Israel, and the aggressor loses, there are three logical alternatives:
a) The winner may summarily excute the losers. Put all the enemy combatants to the sword. Is that preferable to enslavement? Would the enemy combatant rather be executed?
I don't think critics of OT ethics regard that as a morally preferable alternative.
b) The losers could be repatriated. Let the enemy combatants go home.
The obvious problem with that alternative is that it gives them a chance to regroup and fight you another day. Some of your own soldiers were already killed when you had to repel the attack. Are you going to let the enemy have a second chance at defeating you? Every time they attack you, some of your soldiers die defending the homeland. Every subsequent attack weakens your defenses.
It's easy for infidels behind the safety of their keyboard to feign disapproval, but as a practical matter, that's not a viable option.
c) By process of elimination, that leaves enslavement. In addition, that's a deterrent to aggressors. They know that if they lose, they will be enslaved. So that's a disincentive to their attacking you in the first place.
As with (i), I don't think that's even prima facie wrong.
iii) Then there's human trafficking. Unlike (i-ii), that's evil. However, Israel didn't create that situation, and Israel was in no position to abolish human trafficking outside its borders. It couldn't very well pass a law banning other countries from human trafficking. How would that be enforced? The offending countries would ignore the law.
So the question at issue is how to react given the status quo. You need to distinguish between an evil situation, and how to act in an evil situation.
Suppose you're in a Nazi concentration camp. That's an evil situation. But you didn't create that situation. You didn't choose to be there.
The challenge is how to act ethically in an unethical situation. You still have moral obligations, even though the framework is immoral. How should prisoners treat other prisoners?
Or say you're a prison guard at a Nazi concentration camp. You didn't volunteer for that role. You were assigned to the job by your military superiors. If you refuse, you will be shot.
What do you do in that situation? Even if you can't avoid being a prison guard, there's a moral continuum. A range of ethical options. You can be sadistic. Abuse your position. Brutalize the inmates.
Or you can try to be fair. Be compassionate. Do the best you can in that situation.
The ANE slave trade existed outside Israel. There's nothing Israel could do to prevent it. But if an Israelite purchased a foreign slave, the slave would be better off with a Jewish master than a pagan master. It's not a good situation. Rather, it's a choice between bad and worse.
iv) Moreover, I wasn't discussing a system run by Christians. The context was the ANE. Does Godfrey think there were Christians in the 2nd millennium BC? The frame of reference was ancient Israel. The Mosaic law. Godfrey's inference about a system run by Christians is blatantly fallacious.
Indeed, the implication is that slavery is a good way to treat people who have been guilty of “misconduct”.
i) Notice Godfrey doesn't attempt to demonstrate that that's the implication of what I said.
I didn't suggest that's a "good way" to treat people. The question is whether it's morally permissible. Shooting a mugger who pulls a knife on you isn't a good way to treat the mugger. But it's morally permissible.
ii) And, yes, if another country attacks ancient Israel, the aggressor is guilty of misconduct. As such, the losing side forfeits the right to freedom. By waging unjust war against Israel, you may lose your freedom.
The Bible’s laws on slavery were designed to “mitigate evil”.
Another example of Godfrey jumping to conclusions. I didn't say that Biblical laws on slavery were designed to mitigate evil. Rather, I said "Some laws simply seek to mitigate evil." That's not a statement about Biblical laws on slavery in general. I don't think indentured service is evil to begin with. Likewise, I don't think enslaving enemy combatants (who wage a war of unjust aggression) is evil to begin with.
By contrast, the purchase of foreign slaves does mitigate (rather than eliminate) evil. It's not an ideal solution. But there was no ideal solution at that time and place. Israel couldn't dictate to other countries that they must emancipate their slaves.
Godfrey is one of those simple-minded critics who doesn't stop to consider the moral complexities of a situation. Doesn't pause to consider the viable alternatives in that situation. He just takes potshots.
Of course. No-one was allowed to beat a slave so severely that he actually died within a day or two of the flogging (Exodus 21:21).
Unfortunately for Godfrey, I anticipated that objection:
Here are some other posts on OT slavery:
The downside of slavery is that “in a fallen world” there is a certain “imprudence” to give non-Christians such powers over another.
Yet another example of Godfrey seeing things that aren't there. Did I say or suggest that it was imprudent to give "non-Christians" such powers over another? No. What I actually said was: "in a fallen world it's generally imprudent to give one person that much power over another."
He's so blinded by his unreasoning animus that he projects things onto the text that were never said or implied.
My statement didn't restrict the principle to non-Christians. It was entirely general.
The worst that can happen, it seems, is that such masters might stop the slave worshiping God.
Once again, he simply imputes that to the text. One the problems with bondage is that a slave must do whatever the master tells him to do rather than what God tells him to do. It's not about worship in particular. Rather, it's about our duty to obey God in all things.
And what sort of god does the Triablogue author lament the slaves are unable to worship?
God is allowed to commit barbaric and genocidal acts because he is God. Only God can kill a baby to punish a parent or snuff out whole populations. Only God can do such things and still be Good and worthy of our worship so that we all willingly submit ourselves to him as his slaves.
Of course, that's a stock objection I've fielded on many occasions.