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Letter to an Atheist by Michael Patrick Leahy
Posted: 13 April 2007 09:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 76 ]  
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Sorry, Mr. Leahy, I can’t let this most recent post pass unchallenged. 

You acknowledge in your posting that:

“There are plenty of passages, especially in the Old Testament, with comments on slavery, and some with specific guidelines of conduct for masters and slaves who find themselves in a master-slave relationship.”

—And from this you challenge Arildno to show you a passage that proves the Bible endorses slavery?!  Sir, are you serious? 

The fact that the Bible states “specific guidelines of conduct for masters and slaves who find themselves in a master-slave relationship” can be interpreted in no other way than as an implicit endorsement of slavery.  The mere fact that the Bible does not EXPRESSLY say so is utterly irrelevant.  The fact that the Bible DOES contain guidelines for managing slavery IS more than sufficient to infer endorsement.  Indeed, if the Bible were doing anything less than endorsing slavery, it would have no need for language governing slavery.  Such governing language is antithetical to any other viewpoint than endorsement. 

Moreover, if your larger assertion were correct (that the Bible is anti-slavery), one would expect to find an explicit prohibition of slavery somewhere within its pages.  And we can safely agree that the Bible has never shown any reluctance to prohibit a given activity.  I will refer you to Leviticus for a litany of such prohibitions (most of which punishable by death). 

To conclude that the Bible does not endorse slavery because it merely contains language governing the subject is among the most fallacious and indefensible arguments I’ve encountered in a very long time.  And it is unworthy of an intellect such as yours.  You don’t have to concede every point we try to make in our arguments against faith.  But to attempt to draw a conclusion such as this based on such fundamentally flawed reasoning is utterly irrational.  People will debate these matters with you only so long as you appear to possess some capacity of reason, and more importantly, some credibility.  To refuse to acknowledge the Bible’s implicit endorsement of slavery, which is patently apparent in the black-letter of the Bible itself, is to sacrifice your credibility in an effort to win every argument.  Sometimes it’s better to simply concede a point, acknowledge that your argument is unpersuasive, and move on to some other topic for debate.

Please sir, I ask you to recant your apparent position on this and abandon this unworthy, and fundamentally flawed view.  You will gain considerable credibility in conceding a point upon which you have no leg to stand.

Regards,
Spence

p.s. I’m going to do a little further research, but I’m also not convinced that you are even correct in your belief that the Bible doesn’t expressly endorse slavery.  Seems to me God allowed the taking of slaves after one or more of his gloriously commanded battles.  I’ll get back to you on this one.

p.p.s.  Are you working on a response to my earlier post?

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Posted: 13 April 2007 09:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 77 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]Arildno,

I challenge you.

Show me a passage that shows the Bible ENDORSES slavery.

There are plenty of passages, especially in the Old Testament, with comments on slavery, and some with specific guidelines of conduct for masters and slaves who find themselves in a master-slave relationship.

But no passage ENDORSES slavery.

Prove me wrong.

You can’t do it.

It depends on what you mean by “endorse.”

Exodus 21:20 certainly tacitly endorses slavery:

[quote author=“God”]“When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished.  But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.”

Remember God is speaking here.  He has every opportunity to condemn slavery, but he does not. Instead he says that a slave is his owner’s property.  Not only that, but God also EXPLICITLY allows for slaveowners to kill their slaves; as long as the slave doesn’t die immediately, there is no problem as far as God is concerned.

Now, if God really did disapprove of slavery, this passage would read along the following lines:

“When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished.  He shall be punished for murder, for he has killed a human being.  And He shall be punished for owning slaves.  Slavery is a vile institution; humans are NOT property.”

Thus, unfortunately, did NOT speaketh the LORD.

Even if this is only tacit endorsement of slavery (and it is clearly much stronger than that), you would have a serious problem.  The problem is twofold:

First, God certainly never explicitly condemns slavery and the passage above claims that people are property.  The appropriate conclusion is that God believes that people can be property and thus approves of the institution of slavery.

Second,  God had every opportunity to condemn slavery, but does not.  All you have is the Golden Rule.  But if God believed so strongly in the Golden Rule, wouldn’t He have explained, very clearly, that slavery is wrong (so that nobody would be confused)?

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
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Posted: 13 April 2007 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 78 ]  
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[quote author=“Spencer H. Kelly”]eucaryote:

Thanks for the suggestion regarding shorter paragraphs.  I’m not yet accustomed to writing for the short-attention-span crowd (meaning, I haven’t spent much time posting to forums such as this).

Well Spencer, to be truthful I’m a little self concious chastising you over it just because I am as guilty as anyone. However, I do try.  And, it’s not just some idea that we write for a “short attention span”, as you say. I think that the best points and the best arguments can be made simply. Though some of us are talented with a gift for elegant prose, most of these discussions don’t really call for it.

Also as I pointed out, much of this prose becomes a smokescreen to cover faulty reasoning or a lack of reasoning. Mr Leahy is a good example. From a memetic perspective, I think that one of the ways that belief systems work is by confusing the believer who allows herself to become baffled with bullshit. The meme wants a drawn out exchange where the simple truth can be obscured rather than exposed and stated simply.

As I pointed out to Mr. Leahy, there is no “nobility” in an honest search for truth. This is just emotion evoking nonsense. Sounds heavy, must be right? Interestingly, the word really means aristocratic. So it becomes a non-statement…we value intellectual honesty, yes we do. That’s why we don’t believe in things that are not apparent.

For another good example of this read the debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan on BeliefNet. Sulivan is in love with his own prose and he expected it to substitute for rational thinking. While Sam can be rather verbose in the sheer number of arguments that he makes, his arguments are clear and inciteful and cut cleanly to the meat of the argument.

[quote author=“Spencer H. Kelly”]In the civilian sector, I’m accustomed to writing sometimes lengthy, and always detailed, legal briefs, and in that style of writing I find arguments to be more persuasive…..

Again I disagree. I do a lot of writing that I edit to try to cut to the chase. I think that if I cannot say something simply, maybe I don’t really have anything to say.

[quote author=“Spencer H. Kelly”]Nevertheless, brevity does have value, and your suggestion makes sense, especially in this forum.  So I’ll try.  But I write arguments for a living (for part of my career), so I make no absolute promises.

That’s cool,  just understand there’s a lot of information in these threads and the reader can glaze over in a second.
[quote author=“Spencer H. Kelly”]
Sorry for poaching on your Buffy territory.  I’ll try not to offend in the future.  Can I have dibs on Willow?—Or is she part of your Buffy territory

It’s not territorial, you were just suggesting that Buffy was “just a story”. Bahh humbug, only fools believe in Buffy, I’m into SpiderMan myself.

I enjoyed the scene you painted, a good use of prose, it held my attention. I did not know the portable equipment was as sensitive as you describe. The military context you describe is not anything I really want to relate to.

[ Edited: 13 April 2007 10:10 AM by ]
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Posted: 13 April 2007 10:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 79 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]specific guidelines of conduct for masters and slaves who find themselves in a master-slave relationship.

LOL  LOL masters and slaves who FIND themselves in a master-slave relationship!!!  LOL  LOL
You are a riot Mr. Leahy.

Whether the bible “endorses” slavery in a way clear enough for you is unimportant. It clearly condoned slavery and just as clearly failed to identify it as specifically immoral as we secular people do today.
If god was so moral, why wasn’t “Thou shalt not keep people as property” one of the 10 commandments?

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Posted: 13 April 2007 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 80 ]  
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Waltercat,

Kudos to you for actually citing a specific passage in my “show me an endorsement passage” challenge.

You write:

“Exodus 21:20 certainly tacitly endorses slavery:

God wrote:

‘When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.’  “

This passage is clearly a comment on the rule of conduct for slaveowners.

But you make an unsubstantiated leap by stating that it “tacitly endorses” slavery.

It does not.

“Endorse” means to approve and support.

A commandment that said “Thou shalt be divided into slaveowner and slave and that condition shall exist forever” would be a clear endorsement of slavery.

I keep coming back to this issue of context, as well, which is very important in understanding this and similar passages.

Remember, slavery was a well established human institution long before Judaism or Christianity.

It was within such a world that the passage you cite was written. It was probably around 1500 BC is my guess.

There is a sense among the “Bible endorses slavery crowd” that the lack of condemnation of the institution itself constitutes endorsement. That is not the case.

You are looking at this passage from the lens of 21st Century America.

Try looking at it from the lens of Egypt in 1500 BC.

I just don’t think that people in that day would have thought that the end of slavery as practiced throughout the world was even in the realm of the possible. To them, it was probably one of those natural conditions of life that had to be dealt with or endured.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 81 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]

[quote author=“Mia”]just what the heck guides you in your cherry-picking?

This is a fabulous question, and perhaps the central issue with regards to Christian faith, isn’t it ?

Furthermore…

[quote author=“Spencer H. Kelly”]I’d like to follow up on a point of discussion I raised earlier, as did Mia, whereby we essentially asked you to explain your reasoning process for deciding which parts of the Bible you agree with, and those you don’t. I didn’t feel entirely satisfied by your original response to me, and now, in reading your response to Mia it occurs to me why. You’ve explained that you first look at the book of the Bible from which a passage originates, each book of which having its own historical context.

You do not say this outright, so I will ask it explicitly: does this mean that you evaluate each book of the Bible in light of its historical context?

Do get back to us on this subject someday. So far, you’ve buried it. Since it is the same thing that guides you to your basic belief system, it is a crucial point. You appear to be dodging this one. Calling yourself a Christian (and not a fundamentalist or literalist) without accounting for your methodology in reading the Bible is strange. It may not be a Big Lie, but it is strange. :D

Edit: Now I’ve read your recent responses regarding slavery. Is this really the fortress where you want to make your last stand? Your treatment of this subject amply suggests how you conduct your approach to cherrypicking. Nobody of Sam Harris’ stature is ever going to debate someone with your shaky credentials, and your passion for splitting hairs.

[ Edited: 13 April 2007 10:44 AM by ]
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Posted: 13 April 2007 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 82 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]Waltercat,

Kudos to you for actually citing a specific passage in my “show me an endorsement passage” challenge.

You write:

“Exodus 21:20 certainly tacitly endorses slavery:

God wrote:

‘When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.’  “

This passage is clearly a comment on the rule of conduct for slaveowners.

But you make an unsubstantiated leap by stating that it “tacitly endorses” slavery.

It does not.

“Endorse” means to approve and support.

I don’t want to be rude, but this is ridiculous.  Go grab a dictionary and look up the word ‘tacit.’

Furthermore, you have not responded to my claim that God, if he had not approved of slavery, would have taken the opportunity, while condemning slaveholders for the immediate deaths of those they beat, to also condemn slavery.  GOD DID NOT DO THAT.  WHY?

God also said that slaves are property.  If that is not a tacit endorsement of slavery, please tell me what is.

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What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.
-Ivan Karamazov

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Posted: 13 April 2007 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 83 ]  
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Eucaryote:

You write:

“masters and slaves who FIND themselves in a master-slave relationship!!! 
You are a riot Mr. Leahy.”

Your attempt at ridicule here is actually quite instructive for all to consider.

You seem to imply that throughout history the master-slave relationship was always one in which an active decision was made by the master to enslave the slave.

Certainly there were times, especially when the practice began many thousands of years ago, in which a non slaveowner enslaved another human being. This usually happened during warfare in the beginning.

But consider the average Egyptian slaveholder in 1500 BC. Did that person go from a non-slaveholder to a non-slaveholder by an active choice to enslave someone else ? Perhaps so, but in many cases that slaveholder was born into a slaveholding family, and that person, indeed, “found himself in a master-slave relationship.”

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Posted: 13 April 2007 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 84 ]  
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Mr. Leahy:

I have located the additional biblical citations that concerned me, which I believe do in fact express an endorsement of slavery.  If you still feel “endorse” is an unfair word to use, perhaps we should substitute “condone,” as each of these quotations fits the bill. 

Read on:

“When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment.”  Exodus, 21:2.

“If his master gave him a wife, and she has borne him children, the wife and her children shall belong to the master, and he shall leave alone.”  Exodus, 21:4 (emphasis mine).

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are.”  Exodus, 21:7.  [This latter passage is notably generous with regard to the treatment of daughter-sold-slaves, in that Exodus 21:8-11 places limitations on the manner by which a master may dispose of any such daughter-bought-slave.  I guess we should be grateful for such a humane God, eh?]

And if I understand correctly, Mr. Leahy, you are a Southerner (if not a natural Southerner, than one by adoption).  Is that not so?  Indeed, an “exciting new author from the American South,” and currently at work on a Civil War novel?  Then perhaps you will enjoy the following quote by a character with whom you should be familiar:

“”[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God . . . it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation.”  Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, Inaugural Address as Provisional President of the Confederacy, February 18, 1861.

Do you wish to continue this debate, or would you like to take this opportunity to gracefully concede on teensy weensy point?

Spence

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Posted: 13 April 2007 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 85 ]  
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Mr. Kelly,

I always enjoy reading your posts.

With regards to your request for a response to your earlier post, your longer posts take a while to digest and think about, but I will respond to that post at some point when I can.

With regards to your citation of your quotes on slavery.

I appreciate that you took the time to look them up. Indeed, most of those very quotes are included in Appendix 3 of Letter to an Atheist.

You seem to have the same general problem as all the “atheistically oriented” people who seem to WANT the Bible to endorse slavery. Passages that simply provide rules of conduct for the master-slave relationship as it existed are somehow invented to the level of endorsement.

Such is the case with all the passages you cite.

I think each passage deserves a much longer comment than I can provide here right now, so I will dig into Chapter Two of my book and provide you with a more detailed response, passage by passage.

Now, as to your quotation of Jefferson Davis.

I will tell you that you have just stepped into my parlor on this one, so be prepared.

You definitely display the same lack of information on the history of the South and the Civil War as do most of those who take the “Bible endorses slavery” argument.

I shall summarize my argument as follows:

1. The original sin of slavery in the United States was not a result of Christian faith, but the result of the profit maximizing moral objectivists within the hierarchy of Britain in the 16th, 17th, and 18th Century.
2. Until 1835, most Americans in the South, Christians especially, considered slavery a “necessary evil” that would eventually be abolished.
3. The slave trade itself was powered by moral objectivists, including heroes of the enlightement such as David Hume, John Locke, and Voltaire. The latter two made huge profits by investing in slave trading companies.
4. “Necessary evil” changed to “slavery is a positive good” for some in the American South when the leading moral objectivist (and quite probably atheist) Senator John Calhoun of South Carolina made a famous pronouncement to that effect in a speech to the Senate in 1837.
5. This argument was adopted by some slave-owning Christian clergy in South Carolina and Mississippi, who created a Biblically based argument that “cherry picked” and massaged passages such as the ones you cited.
6. Christians were the sole driving force in the abolition of slavery in the British Empire (See the role of William Wilberforce in the recent movie “Amazing Grace”)
7. Christians were the driving force in the abolition movement in the United States.

There’s much much more to tell on this story.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 86 ]  
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Mr. Leahy:

Apologies.  I attempted to emphasize part of this quotation in bold italics, but it didn’t take hold.  Let me try again:

“If his master gave him a wife, and she has borne him children, the wife and her children shall belong to the master, and he shall leave alone.”  Exodus, 21:4 (emphasis mine).

Forgive me for getting a little frustrated here, but you are trying to split a very fine hair here by asserting that the Bible does not endorse slavery in the strictest sense of the word “endorse”.  I do not believe this is a fair or reasonable interpretation by even the wildest stretch of imagination. 

Indeed, if I were to put forth an argument like this in court on behalf of a client, I would justifiably be sanctioned (under Rule 11 of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) for the frivolity of said argument; and I would probably expose myself to ethical or malpractice claims as well.

Let’s do some textual analysis, shall we?  The highlighted portion of the above-referenced quotation should be as follows: “the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall leave alone”.  SHALL BELONG TO HER MASTER.  Let’s think about these words for a moment.  The word “shall” is a directive.  It is not permissive, as would be the word “may”.  It is a command that is not subject to debate, appeal, or refusal.  God says the woman and her children “shall belong to her master”.  “Belong” means “the property of” and in this context is subject to no other reasonable interpretation.  “Master” in this context is equally clear, and refers quite obviously to the slave-owner.  God is thus dictating a specific set of circumstances where a woman and her children shall (read “must”) become (or remain) the property of her and/or their slave-owner.

Please tell me how you parse this language as anything less than a directive by God that human-beings SHALL (under the circumstances provided) BE SLAVES.  In what way is this something less than God’s “endorsement” of slavery?

I await your reply.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 87 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]
5. This argument was adopted by some slave-owning Christian clergy in South Carolina and Mississippi, who created a Biblically based argument that “cherry picked” and massaged passages such as the ones you cited.

Even if you could refute the argument that the Bible tacitly condones slavery (which you cannot, except by flatly denying it in your interpretation) you go on to note that “cherry-picking” of scripture can condone slavery. In fact, cherry-picking of the Bible can affirm just about any ridiculous notion that mankind is able to come up with, including the notion that the universe is only 6000 years old. Some people do this, in case you didn’t know.

And you still haven’t gotten back to us on your own cherry-picking methodology, except to inform us that it does not allow the Bible to condone the practice of slavery. Perhaps it can be cherry-picked to condone the practice of science. Care to assay this important effort, Leahy?

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Posted: 13 April 2007 11:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 88 ]  
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Spencer,

Thanks for bolding that quote.

I see the point you are trying to make and see how you interpret that as endorsement.

Let me show you why your interpretation is wrong:

“If his master gave him a wife, and she has borne him children, the wife and her children shall belong to the master, and he shall leave alone.”

What is this passage really saying ? Think about it for a moment.

You’re a slave in ancient Egypt.

Your master gives you a wife. You have children with your wife.

Who is responsible for feeding and housing your children ?

You seem to suggest that this passage should say… the children shall be free.

OK, and if they are free, Mr. Kelly, what would become of them ?

Who would be responsible for feeding and housing them ? There were no foster family programs back then

Do you see my point here ?

You are reading this out of context.  You are interpreting this as an endorsement of slavery. In fact, it is simply a set of rules and guidelines that provide for the feeding and housing of the children of a slave union.

You may not like it.

But the way you think the passage should read…. would not have protected the children of slaves from death and starvation as this passage does.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 89 ]  
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[quote author=“Michael Patrick Leahy”]But the way you think the passage should read…. would not have protected the children of slaves from death and starvation as this passage does.

Never mind what happens to the children of slaves, Leahy. That is only a problem for someone given that the institution of slavery already exists, and is condoned.

I don’t care if you lack respect for your own intellect. If you disrespect mine, I will feel insulted. Most “militant atheists” feel the same way, I’ll warrant.

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Posted: 13 April 2007 11:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 90 ]  
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Salt Creek,

You’ll be surprised to find that I agree with some important aspects of your posting on slavery and cherry picking of passages.

You are absolutely right about this:

You can cherry pick passages from the Bible and weave them into arguments supporting all kinds of crazy things.

As I must turn my attention to other matters at the moment, I will elaborate on that tantalizing statement in more detail for you in the very near future.

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