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The Slavery Problem
Posted: 17 January 2007 05:57 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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So I just finished reading Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

I am one of the first people to say that Christians have hurt the cause and image of Christ over the centuries.  And while an apology doesn't cut the horrible atrocities that were caused under "Christian" leadership, it's all I can really do. 

There was one thing that really bugged me about something Harris had said and I just had to write about it.  Harris was talking about Slavery and how the Bible both the Old and the New Testament encouraged slavery, and how a Christians really have no argument against slavery because their book is cool with it.

Now yes the OT does give prescriptions for Slavery.  And Yes the NT does talk about slavery, but there is something that I think Harris as well as most Atheist have in common, they ignore context.  Sadly many Christians ignore context as well so they misunderstand what the Bible is saying, and they miss-apply the text entirely, and Harris gives one such example on this slavery thing.

In the age of the OT slavery was very common.  Most, if not all cultures had some form of slavery.  Slaves were acquired through military conquest, lack of ability to pay of debts, and things like that.  So for the Law to have a passage that talks about how to treat slaves would be a decent thing to do.  There is also something that Harris ignores all together called the Year of Jubilee, where by all debts are forgiven and all slaves are freed and property is returned to the family ownership.  Show me one culture on earth that had anything like that at the time.

Now I am not saying that I'm down with slavery, but everyone was then.  I agree with Harris that Slavery is horrendous and I am glad that the US has abolished slavery.  But we need to look at the Geo-Political and Social Context of the passage first. 

Context is King!

Harris then goes to show how the New Testament endorses slavery from the words of Paul(Ephesians 6:5 1 Timothy 6:1-4).  Harris uses these passages to justify that Slavery is encouraged in the NT.  Clearly he is looking for ammo and this is the best he could come up with.  No where in the NT does it say, "Go Get Slaves, they're the best!"  that's what Harris makes it sound like, but he is grossly taking this out of context. 

Again during the NT era slavery was still very common.  And many slaves were coming to faith in Christ.  Paul was writing to slaves to tell them not ot rebel against their masters, and thus cause discord and give the non-believers reason to hate Jesus.  Instead Paul is encouraging slaves to love their masters.  To serve them and to show their masters that they are serving someone higher still.  Paul was not endorsing slavery, he was not saying that Slaves should be kept! 

If you look to another passage of Paul's writings, he even encourages a slave to be released.  Read Philemon and judge for yourself if Paul was all about slavery.

I just had to post on this.  I'm a Bible guy and this is some gross miss-use of context by Harris.  I don't want to insult his intelligence but I'm surprised that he would miss this.

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Posted: 17 January 2007 06:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Monasteries in Europe were the last to end having slaves. Private land-owners freed their slaves way before, since they regarded it more financially beneficial to have indentured peasants/serfs rather than slaves.

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Posted: 17 January 2007 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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[quote author=“jdeuman”]So I just finished reading Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

I am one of the first people to say that Christians have hurt the cause and image of Christ over the centuries.  And while an apology doesn’t cut the horrible atrocities that were caused under “Christian” leadership, it’s all I can really do. 

There was one thing that really bugged me about something Harris had said and I just had to write about it.  Harris was talking about Slavery and how the Bible both the Old and the New Testament encouraged slavery, and how a Christians really have no argument against slavery because their book is cool with it.

Now yes the OT does give prescriptions for Slavery.  And Yes the NT does talk about slavery, but there is something that I think Harris as well as most Atheist have in common, they ignore context.  Sadly many Christians ignore context as well so they misunderstand what the Bible is saying, and they miss-apply the text entirely, and Harris gives one such example on this slavery thing.

In the age of the OT slavery was very common.  Most, if not all cultures had some form of slavery.  Slaves were acquired through military conquest, lack of ability to pay of debts, and things like that.  So for the Law to have a passage that talks about how to treat slaves would be a decent thing to do.  There is also something that Harris ignores all together called the Year of Jubilee, where by all debts are forgiven and all slaves are freed and property is returned to the family ownership.  Show me one culture on earth that had anything like that at the time.

Now I am not saying that I’m down with slavery, but everyone was then.  I agree with Harris that Slavery is horrendous and I am glad that the US has abolished slavery.  But we need to look at the Geo-Political and Social Context of the passage first. 

Context is King!

Harris then goes to show how the New Testament endorses slavery from the words of Paul(Ephesians 6:5 1 Timothy 6:1-4).  Harris uses these passages to justify that Slavery is encouraged in the NT.  Clearly he is looking for ammo and this is the best he could come up with.  No where in the NT does it say, “Go Get Slaves, they’re the best!”  that’s what Harris makes it sound like, but he is grossly taking this out of context. 

Again during the NT era slavery was still very common.  And many slaves were coming to faith in Christ.  Paul was writing to slaves to tell them not ot rebel against their masters, and thus cause discord and give the non-believers reason to hate Jesus.  Instead Paul is encouraging slaves to love their masters.  To serve them and to show their masters that they are serving someone higher still.  Paul was not endorsing slavery, he was not saying that Slaves should be kept! 

If you look to another passage of Paul’s writings, he even encourages a slave to be released.  Read Philemon and judge for yourself if Paul was all about slavery.

I just had to post on this.  I’m a Bible guy and this is some gross miss-use of context by Harris.  I don’t want to insult his intelligence but I’m surprised that he would miss this.

If the Bible is the word of a divine, good, loving god it would state that you should not have slaves (and all other atrocities that are in the bible). This would have saved mankind a lot of pain. Not to mention all the lost “souls”
The “context” excuse doesn’t really apply (and that is exactly what Sam Harris tries to explain) because again if the bible is gods word then why would it be so specific to one era and could not be applied to future times. Maybe God needs to send an update or follow up. How about the revised edition completely updated with foreword by the “Holy Spirit”

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Posted: 17 January 2007 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“Iron_Tool”][quote author=“jdeuman”]So I just finished reading Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris.

I am one of the first people to say that Christians have hurt the cause and image of Christ over the centuries.  And while an apology doesn’t cut the horrible atrocities that were caused under “Christian” leadership, it’s all I can really do. 

There was one thing that really bugged me about something Harris had said and I just had to write about it.  Harris was talking about Slavery and how the Bible both the Old and the New Testament encouraged slavery, and how a Christians really have no argument against slavery because their book is cool with it.

Now yes the OT does give prescriptions for Slavery.  And Yes the NT does talk about slavery, but there is something that I think Harris as well as most Atheist have in common, they ignore context.  Sadly many Christians ignore context as well so they misunderstand what the Bible is saying, and they miss-apply the text entirely, and Harris gives one such example on this slavery thing.

In the age of the OT slavery was very common.  Most, if not all cultures had some form of slavery.  Slaves were acquired through military conquest, lack of ability to pay of debts, and things like that.  So for the Law to have a passage that talks about how to treat slaves would be a decent thing to do.  There is also something that Harris ignores all together called the Year of Jubilee, where by all debts are forgiven and all slaves are freed and property is returned to the family ownership.  Show me one culture on earth that had anything like that at the time.

Now I am not saying that I’m down with slavery, but everyone was then.  I agree with Harris that Slavery is horrendous and I am glad that the US has abolished slavery.  But we need to look at the Geo-Political and Social Context of the passage first. 

Context is King!

Harris then goes to show how the New Testament endorses slavery from the words of Paul(Ephesians 6:5 1 Timothy 6:1-4).  Harris uses these passages to justify that Slavery is encouraged in the NT.  Clearly he is looking for ammo and this is the best he could come up with.  No where in the NT does it say, “Go Get Slaves, they’re the best!”  that’s what Harris makes it sound like, but he is grossly taking this out of context. 

Again during the NT era slavery was still very common.  And many slaves were coming to faith in Christ.  Paul was writing to slaves to tell them not ot rebel against their masters, and thus cause discord and give the non-believers reason to hate Jesus.  Instead Paul is encouraging slaves to love their masters.  To serve them and to show their masters that they are serving someone higher still.  Paul was not endorsing slavery, he was not saying that Slaves should be kept! 

If you look to another passage of Paul’s writings, he even encourages a slave to be released.  Read Philemon and judge for yourself if Paul was all about slavery.

I just had to post on this.  I’m a Bible guy and this is some gross miss-use of context by Harris.  I don’t want to insult his intelligence but I’m surprised that he would miss this.

If the Bible is the word of a divine, good, loving god it would state that you should not have slaves (and all other atrocities that are in the bible). This would have saved mankind a lot of pain. Not to mention all the lost “souls”
The “context” excuse doesn’t really apply (and that is exactly what Sam Harris tries to explain) because again if the bible is gods word then why would it be so specific to one era and could not be applied to future times. Maybe God needs to send an update or follow up. How about the revised edition completely updated with foreword by the “Holy Spirit”

This is anachronistic.  Everything has to be considered with respect to time, place, and people.  It is a major error in thinking to project our present day sensibilities onto ancient peoples.  I recall experiencing this error once when an idealistic young philosopher was giving a talk and being extremely critical of Greek and Roman civilization because they were slave societies.  I asked her if it would have been better if they had never existed and she responded with gusto that it would be better if we still lived in the caves rather than have evolved through a period that condoned slavery. 

Having said that, we also have to consider the bible, koran, torah, and all other religious books from the same perspective of time, place, and people.  Indeed, some religions (Zoroastranism, Bahia come to mind) specifically teach that each era needs a new messenger and a new message.  Indeed, with the speed of development today, each generation has to discover the divine in its own language.

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Posted: 17 January 2007 11:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Read Susan Jacobies “Freethinkers: a History of a Secular Nation” to learn about how many religions throughout the US used the bible to fight the abolishist movement.

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Posted: 17 January 2007 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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This is anachronistic. Everything has to be considered with respect to time, place, and people.

You are avoiding my question. I doesn’t make sense (like so many things in the bible) that “God’s word” as Christians always put it, only applies to a specific era. It also doesn’t make it less cruel and atrocious (even for those times or any time for that matter).

:evil:

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Posted: 17 January 2007 01:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“jdeuman”]Again during the NT era slavery was still very common.  And many slaves were coming to faith in Christ.  Paul was writing to slaves to tell them not ot rebel against their masters, and thus cause discord and give the non-believers reason to hate Jesus.  Instead Paul is encouraging slaves to love their masters.  To serve them and to show their masters that they are serving someone higher still.  Paul was not endorsing slavery, he was not saying that Slaves should be kept! 

If you look to another passage of Paul’s writings, he even encourages a slave to be released.  Read Philemon and judge for yourself if Paul was all about slavery.

I have to wonder, if the Bible didn’t condone slavery then why did the New International Version substitute the word “slave” for “servent” in Ephesians 6:5 ? The King James Version was originally written in 1611 when slavery and servitude were both common and they chose the word “servant”. This fits with your argument that Paul was speaking about the servant/master relationship and not specifically endorsing slavery. Yet when the NIV was written in 1965, during the height of the civil rights movement, they purposefully changed the word to “slave” and thereby changing the meaning of the whole verse. If Paul was not endorsing slavery then why not stick with the word “servant”?

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“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” - Voltaire

“Rational arguments do not work on religious people, otherwise there would be no religious people.”—Dr. House

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Posted: 17 January 2007 02:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Iron_tool’s point is very well taken.  Christians are always using the “context” excuse for the bible, when if it was really the word of an all-knowing god it would be correct when it makes statements about the real world.  Instead, it is wrong most of the time.

If it were really the word of god, it would say things like “Thou shalt not travel faster than the speed of light,” or “Mars is a planet.” or “The earth goes around the sun,” etc..  Instead, it reflects the cosmology of the early Babylonians, from whom the Hebrews copied their origin myth and enshrined it in Genesis.

Morally, it has the same problem.  As Dawkins so ably points out in “God Delusion,” morals change over time, as the human condition changes.  Trying to impose a 4,000 year-old moral system upon 21st century man does not work, and leads instead to much Christian angst. 

Bible man, you can keep on cherry-picking for the rest of your life, if you like, if it makes you think you are holy, just don’t try and sell it as a way we should all try to live.

Of course the bible reflects the times in which it was written, it was written by men of those times.  Don’t you get that?  Don’t you see the problem with that?

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Posted: 17 January 2007 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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I never know what to say to self proclaimed bible guys (The poster said “i’m a Bible Guy.” when they select their biblical references to advance their argument or detract from another’s. It just seems such folly. I’m sure that the poster feels he has made a great point, but the purposeful blindness that is apparent in the post is, as always to me, disheartening.  I have explored discussions like these in the past with people who profess faith in this or that god, and even with some who have made a name for themselves - and probably a dollar or two (there goes the cynic again) - and they just can’t penetrate the logic barrier.  This one is no exception.

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Posted: 17 January 2007 04:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“Iron_Tool”]

This is anachronistic. Everything has to be considered with respect to time, place, and people.

You are avoiding my question. I doesn’t make sense (like so many things in the bible) that “God’s word” as Christians always put it, only applies to a specific era. It also doesn’t make it less cruel and atrocious (even for those times or any time for that matter).

:evil:

However Christians might interpret the bible, the actual fact is that God’s word when conveyed to human beings is only intelligible in the language and with respect to the cultural mileau of the time and place.  In analogy, we tell children that they must not play with matches.  But when they grow up, matches become a useful thing under the right conditions.  The problem with religions is that they crystalize around what was originally a temporary formulation of a teaching designed for a specific time and place and then claim that it is a universal truth.  The teaching may well be a temporal image of a universal truth, but because it is expressed in human language and cultural symbolism, people look at the container rather than understanding that what is important is the content.

Note that it makes no difference in the above whether you believe in God (however you might interpret that term) or not.  One could equally well point to the way that philosophical and ideological systems that might originally have had developmental potential become turned into dogma.  One of the best exponents of how this process operates was Idries Shah, a web search on his name will yield much of interest.

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Posted: 18 January 2007 01:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Why are we looking to the Bible to be a book of science?  That’s not it’s purpose.  Obviously traveling faster than the speed of light was not an issue that the Jews wandering in the desert faced every day. 

Look I’m not for slavery, but if you are going to try to use the Bible to argue against the Bible, look at it the context, and the purpose of the Book.  Science is great and I’m glad that we know more today than we did even 100 years ago, but science really doesn’t solve the problems of morals, or evil.  Just because you are in the 21st century doesn’t mean that you have everything figured out either.  People will look back at us in 2,000 years and say how backwards we were on this or that, so don’t get comfortable on science.

I guess I just don’t have a problem reading the Bible and seeing principles for life that apply today.  I’m glad I’ve only had sex with one woman, my wife.  I’m glad that I pray to God. I’m glad that I go to church.  I’m glad.  And you know I’ve doubted, I’ve wondered.  But time and again God shows up in my life in some unexplainable way and I just can’t help but believe it.

Obviously slavery isn’t a problem for us today so we can clearly ignore it.  Is lust something we deal with?  Is Murder? Stealing? Jealousy?  Yes!  You may call it cherry picking to read those passages about slavery and just say, I’m glad that’s over, but science hasn’t cured the other problems, the 21st century hasn’t figured out how to get people to stop cheating on their wives.  The 21st century hasn’t figured out a way to get people to stop killing each other. 

So when science develops a pill or a cure for sin then you can say I’m cherry picking.  But until then I’m going to trust the God who still shows up.

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Posted: 18 January 2007 04:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Jdeuman:

Here’s my problem:

You obviously have no problem that as a species we have gotten over slavery. We all consider it to be evil, despite that it is condoned and encouraged in the bible.

Why is it then that you can’t come to the same conclusions about other social topics? Why must you fight against rights for homosexuals? Because the bible says its wrong? Why must you oppose live saving research, because the bible says we have souls?

You cherry pick you battles, and you cause pain and suffering for many people because of it.

How can you allow this?

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Posted: 18 January 2007 05:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“jdeuman”]Is lust something we deal with?  Is Murder? Stealing? Jealousy?  Yes!  You may call it cherry picking to read those passages about slavery and just say, I’m glad that’s over, but science hasn’t cured the other problems, the 21st century hasn’t figured out how to get people to stop cheating on their wives.  The 21st century hasn’t figured out a way to get people to stop killing each other. 

So when science develops a pill or a cure for sin then you can say I’m cherry picking.  But until then I’m going to trust the God who still shows up.

You’re right. Science has not solved the problems of morality, but neither has the Bible, and at least science does not claim to have answers to such questions. America’s faith in gods is extremely high, around 90%. If it is then true that faith in god brings happiness and morality, then why is it that the most atheistic societies in the world are the healthiest in terms of life expectancy, literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rates, and infant mortality? Does faith in god really lead to morality? Even if it did, it would make no religion more or less true than any other.

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Posted: 18 January 2007 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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JDeuman:

Let me address your points :

Why are we looking to the Bible to be a book of science? That’s not it’s purpose. Obviously traveling faster than the speed of light was not an issue that the Jews wandering in the desert faced every day.

....hmmmm rolleyes  but they were concerned about a false story on how the world was “created” in 6 days. I’m not saying the bible is a science book but if this the word of an “all-knowing god” then he must have forgotten how the world came to be (well it’s been 4.5 billion years ago…) and a few other “scientific” statements the bible makes.

Just because you are in the 21st century doesn’t mean that you have everything figured out either. People will look back at us in 2,000 years and say how backwards we were on this or that, so don’t get comfortable on science.

The only way how people 2000 years from now will look back at us and think we were backwards will be BECAUSE of Science. Or do you think that if we stop now and credit all the gaps to a “Creator” that there will be any advancement that will justify a statement like the one you make?
Look, if it wouldn’t have been for the dark ages and the people taking the bible literally some of the scientific achivements and discoveries could have been made maybe 500-1000 years earlier.

I guess I just don’t have a problem reading the Bible and seeing principles for life that apply today. I’m glad I’ve only had sex with one woman, my wife. I’m glad that I pray to God. I’m glad that I go to church. I’m glad. And you know I’ve doubted, I’ve wondered. But time and again God shows up in my life in some unexplainable way and I just can’t help but believe it.

Well, you don’t need the bible to have morals and to learn the principles for life. Nobody says that you will be a bad person if you stop reading the bible or stop going to church. Look at the people in Japan for example. Most of them do not follow the bible and yet they have morals and principles just as we do.
And why do you think God shows up in your life? or would answer your prayers?

Is lust something we deal with? Is Murder? Stealing? Jealousy? Yes! You may call it cherry picking to read those passages about slavery and just say, I’m glad that’s over, but science hasn’t cured the other problems, the 21st century hasn’t figured out how to get people to stop cheating on their wives. The 21st century hasn’t figured out a way to get people to stop killing each other.

Science is not a religion that tell mankind how to live or be a better person. Therefor science is not in need of developing a pill that prevents people of doing bad and wrong things (but they will try to understand it). But obviously Religion hasn’t prevented bad/wrong things either, quite the opposite even.

So when science develops a pill or a cure for sin then you can say I’m cherry picking. But until then I’m going to trust the God who still shows up.

There is no such thing as “sin”. Sin is something that is there to scare people into believing. And Science’s cure for that is eduacation and not accepting something as “God-given” or basing your life on “Faith”

[ Edited: 18 January 2007 09:44 AM by ]
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Posted: 18 January 2007 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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This is anachronistic. Everything has to be considered with respect to time, place, and people. It is a major error in thinking to project our present day sensibilities onto ancient peoples.

The “relativity argument” breaks down when we consider the alleged author of the Bible. 

The Word of God should be expected to be timeless and universal.  Our petty cultural paradigms should mean nothing to a Being of this magnitude.  Either the Bible IS the Word of God or it ISN’T.  There’s no “sorta kinda Word of God”.  There’s no “that was then, this is now” either when it comes to divine revelation. 

 

That said, Nature’s God does condemn slavery and the proof is in how nature rejects it:

(With this link, please scroll down to “Nature’s God and Slavery”)
 

The case can easily be made that slavery, tyranny and other forms of social injustice are artificial systems that work against nature and Nature’s God.  They can only be sustained through fear and the wasted industry of those who guard against their inevitable overthrow.  The proof is not only seen in how humans will struggle to gain their freedom but also in the inefficiency of slave-based and tyrannical societies. 

American history provides an example.  By the time of the civil war, the free-labor capitalistic North outstripped the South and its slave-based economy in GNP by 3 to 1.  Even more revealing is that once slavery was abolished (February 3, 1870 with the passage of the 15th Amendment), the entire American economy enjoyed explosive growth.  Its GNP increased at a rate of 1.6% per year, becoming the fastest growing economy in the world at that time. 

The Times Atlas of World History reports of that era, “The greatest growth occurred from 1877 to 1892, when American factories tripled their output.  By 1890, the United States was the world’s leading industrial power.”

It’s amazing what can happen when the indomitable human spirit is harnessed instead of being fought against or repressed. 

It doesn’t take a doctorate in sociology to understand why slave economies are so inefficient.  Slaves only have negative reinforcement to work, being unable to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, and can thereby be expected to do only what is necessary to avoid the wrath of their overseers.  The overseers don’t produce any wealth.  An entire group of people is required by such a system just to make the workers work.  The slave owners aren’t productive either, since they don’t need to be.  The fear and strife are expensive to society as well, destroying a share of what it manages to produce. 

Slavery, tyranny and systems of social injustice do not just offend our innate sense of compassion, a guide provided by our Creator, but they are also clearly unnatural, inefficient systems that destroy our potential.  The tyrant can use fear for periods of time to cow the downtrodden but the human spirit always overcomes in the end.  Freedom and social justice are like water seeking its own level.  The process is as natural as it is inevitable.

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Posted: 18 January 2007 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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[quote author=“NobleSavage”]

This is anachronistic. Everything has to be considered with respect to time, place, and people. It is a major error in thinking to project our present day sensibilities onto ancient peoples.

The “relativity argument” breaks down when we consider the alleged author of the Bible. 

The Word of God should be expected to be timeless and universal.  Our petty cultural paradigms should mean nothing to a Being of this magnitude.  Either the Bible IS the Word of God or it ISN’T.  There’s no “sorta kinda Word of God”.  There’s no “that was then, this is now” either when it comes to divine revelation. 

The Word of God may be timeless and universal, but we are not.  We are culture bound creatures who are only able to hear within the bounds of our current potential so God, assuming that God speaks to us at all, can only provide us with what we are able to understand at a given time in history.  Suppose, as an analogy, that we consider quantum mechanics as a direct divine revelation, transmitted to across Einstein, Planck, Bohr, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and Dirac as “prophets.”  One could say, well the word of God is timeless and universal, so why didn’t God transmit quantum theory to Euclid or Archimedes?  Well, they would not have understood it at all.  The transmission for them was elementary geometry and the physics of static bodies (with a hint of calculus).  That they could understand and it provided, in the fullness of time, a stepping stone to quantum mechanics, which itself is likely a stepping stone to something else.  Likewise, the moral development of humanity is evolving and requires attention to time, place, and circumstance.

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