Category Archives: Slavery

How to Sell Your Daughter

Did you know that the Bible allow you to sell your daughter? Exodus 21:7-11 sets out the conditions:

If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed [bought back]. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

Although God promises prosperity to those who obey him, sometimes an Israelite would become so poor that he would have to sell his children. (Side question: What do you make of that? Do you think people are poor because they are bad?) Anyway, such dire circumstances did arise and Exodus 21 gives God’s instructions.

Paul Copan, whose book, Is God a Moral Monster?, has been the subject of the last several posts, is quick to point out that this passage only says, “If a man sells his daughter….” It is a law for how to deal with “specific examples that don’t necessarily present best-case scenarios.” That’s true: the passage does not command anyone to sell his daughter, nor does it come out and endorse the idea of doing so. However, it does endorse (even command) how the transaction is to go down given that it has been decided. Those of us who take moral objection to the Bible should not complain about the “if” situation, but we have every right to object to the “then” part that follows.

So what “then” is in store for the daughter in this passage? Are we talking servant-with-benefits — a sort of prostitution with the cover of another job — or an honorable state of matrimony?

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Was God an Incrementalist?

President Obama has built a reputation as an incrementalist. Before he was elected in 2008, liberals had high hopes that he would turn the ship of state 180 degrees and sail in their direction. But as Howard Kurtz put it in the Washington Post as early as 2009, “Anyone who’s spent two weeks in Washington would know that Obama’s yes-we-can idealism would run smack into the capital’s no-we-won’t culture.”

As we reach the end of president Obama’s second term, he has become more assertive with the liberal aspects of his agenda, using the powers of the executive branch to bypass congress and get things done.

Did the God of the Bible follow a similar course as he brought his people from ignorance to salvation? Did he start by meeting them where they were — in the moral harshness of the Bronze Age — and bring them along incrementally until, finally, he made a full revelation in Jesus Christ?

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Frederick Douglass and LGBT Equality

FDouglass1On July 4, 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a riveting speech to the citizens of Rochester, New York. Douglass’s theme was white America’s hypocrisy in celebrating Independence Day while a seventh of the population was in chains.

I encourage you to read the full text here. It’s lengthy, but I promise that you will consider it time well-spent.

Slavery was the culture-war issue of Douglass’s day. Today, marriage equality and LGBT rights are front and center. I’d like to apply a portion of Douglass’s oration to these modern issues by excerpting a portion of his speech, interspersed with instructions that today’s conservatives give to LGBT people. Not every word of his applies, but most do.

Argue your case and be patient. Don’t offend us.

I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light?

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Same-Sex Marriage vs Tradition

In the last post, we heard from from John Trandem, interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition. If we were to legitimize same-sex marriage, he said, “how would we .. be able to exclude [marriage between] two men and two women or three men or three women…?”

Marriage between one man and one woman, he pointed out, has two things going for it that these other variations do not: biology and tradition.

The last post was about biology. Now let’s talk about tradition.

We can presume that when conservatives in America cite “tradition” they mean Judeo-Christian, or biblical, tradition. This is the tradition on which conservatives like to say our counry was founded. Okay, then.

Like the argument from biology, the argument from biblical tradition has a nasty way of curling back to bite those who trot it out.

For starters, biblical tradition is firmly rooted in polygamy. The Bible mentions two wives of Moses. Abraham had an unkown number of concubines (second-class wives) in addition to his wife, Sarah. I won’t mention Solomon, who had 700 wives, because the Bible does say that kings should not get carried away like that. His father, king David, was a monk by comparison, having only 7 wives, plus maybe a couple of others that are in dispute.

But what could be greater evidence of the polygamous root of Judeo-Christian tradition than the fact that the very 12 tribes of Israel descend from Jacob’s four wives?

The predominantly Mormon state of Utah was not allowed to join the United States until it agreed to outlaw polygamy. Where were God’s culture warriors when this abridgement of biblical norms was being foisted on patriotic Americans?

In addition to wives and concubines, Hebrew men were free to have sex with their slaves. In the chapter of the Bible that immediately follows the Ten Commandments, we find God’s regulations for sex slavery. A man could sell his daughter to a fellow Hebrew, who was then under obligation to continue to have sex with her (presumably so she could have the honor of bearing children) even as he married additional women. Alternatively, he could sell her back if she did not “satisfy him” or he could give her to one of his sons if he chose.

Now there’s a nice family value: Have sex with your servant-girl and then give her to your son for more of the same.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife gave him a hard time for fathering a child by his housekeeper, where was the outcry from conservatives? (The outcry against his wife, I mean.) Why didn’t traditionalists support Arnold as he upheld the proud biblical tradition of impregnating one’s servants? He was even a Republican, for cryin’ out loud! It’s shameful how people won’t stand up for the Bible.

No study of the wondrous variety of marriage arrangements in the Good Book would be complete without mention of the final, glorious act of Moses, the great Law-Giver of Judeo-Christian tradition. This was to direct the distribution of 32,000 virgin war-captives to his soldiers and sundry others. As recorded in Numbers 31, these girls were parceled out exactly like the cattle that were also taken as “plunder and spoils” of war. It is stated at least 4 times in this chapter that Moses did all this in accordance with God’s direct command (verses 25, 31, 41, and 47).

Numbers 31 does not tell us whether any of the virgins got to update their Facebook status from “plunder” to “wife.” We can only hope. If they did, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 gave God’s instructions for how the Hebrew men were to arrange the marriage — and terminate it at will if the girl whose parents and brothers had been slaughtered by her new husband’s army does not manage to “please him” sufficiently.

We have all been horrified by ISIS’ enslavement and plunder of women in recent months, or Boko Haram’s practice of capturing girls and marrying them off to their soldiers. Why won’t advocates of “traditional marriage” speak up and tell the rest of us that ISIS and Boko Haram are acting exactly as God commanded in the Bible?

Never mind; I know the answer to that one. It’s because it’s bad when Muslims do it, but God’s righteous judgment when those in our spiritual tradition do the same thing.

By the time of the New Testament, the Jews were subject to Rome and were in no position to wage war and get wives by capturing them. However, polygamy was still practiced among both Jews and early Christians. In fact, it was pagan Rome that finally outlawed the practice.

So maybe it is Roman tradition that opponents of same-sex marriage really want? Probably not.

Maybe tradition is not all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe we’re better off thinking for ourselves.

What do you expect them to do?

One of the most-read posts on this blog is What did Jesus say about slavery? People often land there by Googling exactly that question; although biblical slavery ended millenia ago, people are still troubled by it.  So, I am not totally surprised when the series on biblical slavery that I wrote almost two years ago continues to garner the occasional comment.

The latest was from Henry. I had been addressing a passage where God commands Israel to sack distant cities and enslave their populations. Henry said of the captives,

They were prisoners of war, what do you expect them [Israel] to do capture the city and let them regroup for retaliation? (Only Americans and British let their enemies go free so they can come back to fight again.)

Henry asked, “What do you expect them to do?”

I suggest that this is not the most fundamental question. It was supposedly God, not the Israelites, who came up with the idea of enslaving these cities. I suggest a better question would be, “What do you expect God to do?”

Here are some possibilities.

Instead of directing the Israelites to enslave distant cities, God could have told them, “March around the city 7 times, praying for them. Upon completion of the seventh circuit, I will send my Holy Spirit upon them. They will welcome you into their city and you are to teach them my ways.”

If that would be just too easy, God could have said, “You are to be missionaries to the distant cities. Some of you will suffer and even be killed for my Name’s sake, but you must continue to faithfully spread my love.”

If that would be asking too much, God could have just said, “Stay away from them, and I will make sure they stay away from you.”

If God had really wanted those distant cities to be judged, using Israel as his instrument (which I highly doubt), he could at least have said, “You are not to use my solemn judgement as an occasion to gratify your carnal lusts. Keep your hands off the women.” (But of course, he said just the opposite. See the last part of this post.)

…and I’m sure you can think of more ideas.

If I were to steal a loaf of bread to feed my child because I have no food, no job, no friends, no money and no alternative, few people would condemn me.

If I were to do the same thing when I had a refrigerator full of food and all the money in the world, people would think I was compulsively evil.

Of all the characters that have ever been reputed to live, the one with the most embarrassing richness of alternatives for everything he does is God. That’s why his horrible acts in the Bible troubled me enough to finally push me out of the faith.

If he exists, he could have done so much better.

Zubeidat Tsarnaev and the Black Hole of Reality

Like many of you, I’ve been spellbound as the drama of the Boston Marathon bombings has unfolded. Since it took place just a few miles from my home, I have felt that I should blog something about it, but I’ve hung back until more of the facts were known.

Unfortunately, the more that has become known, the less unusual the story has become. We’ve seen so much of it before: A young man that everyone had voted least-likely-to-become-a-terrorist falls under the spell of hateful religious extremism, probably conveyed by his own brother. He blows the leg off a seven-year-old girl who had loved dancing — which somehow seems even worse than killing her eight-year-old brother along with at least two other people. While scoring in the 99th percentile for cold-blooded wickedness, he and his brother score in the 1st percentile for competence as criminals and are soon caught. All that is nothing new.

What is new, and what I’d like to muse on for a moment, is the brothers’ mother’s slow orbit around the black hole of reality — that place where all man-made falsehoods are first ripped to shreds and then compressed to a singularity of truth, whether we wish it or not. It has been both maddening and heartbreaking to watch.

Zubeidat Tsarnaev

Zubeidat Tsarnaev

Zubeidat Tsarnaev kept her distance from reality long before the Boston Marathon bombings. According to one of her spa customers, she believed that “9-11 was purposefully created by the American government to make America hate Muslims.”

After her sons were involved in a shootout with police, she told CNN correspondent Nick Walsh that her sons “were being killed because they were Muslims. Nothing else.”

Days later, according to CNN, she was still maintaining that the bombing was staged and the supposed blood was actually paint. Tellingly, she based this opinion on a video she had seen, but she had not seen any video of the actual bombing. It seems that she was staying as far from the black hole of reality as possible.

But then, in the same interview, she said of the bombing’s victims, “I really feel sorry for all of them” and repeated, “Really feel sorry for all of them.” Her voice was cracking, and so was the wall she had constructed to keep herself from reality.

Why would she feel sorry for the victims of a staged bombing, who were splattered only with paint? I think part of her knows the truth. Or as she put it, “There is something wrong.”

Is she still orbiting the black hole of reality at such a distance that it will not pull her in, or has her descent already begun? It’s too early to tell, but I suspect she has slowed below escape velocity and the black hole will soon rip her apart.

I hope it does, but not because I bear her any ill will. Quite the opposite.

(Now comes a Beagle’s Bark.)

I identify with Zubeidat Tsarnaev. She reminds me of myself during my evangelical days.

Just as she swallowed an unlikely theory from an off-the-wall video, but did not think it necessary to watch a video of the actual events, so I took the word of my fellow evangelicals on all manner of topics and did not conscientiously seek out the unfiltered opinions of my so-called opponents.

She projected her own us-versus-them mentality on the police, which caused her to misread their motives in the shootout. I, too, was prone to misread the motives of honest non-believers, chalking up their conclusions to atheistic assumptions and invoking conspiracy theories.

In fact, her claim that blood was actually paint reminds me of the claim, which I entertained but never felt comfortable with, that God created the Earth with only an appearance of great age.

And finally, her uneasy confession that “there is something wrong” is not unlike my own realization that something was amiss in evangelical Christianity, even as I struggled against the pull of godless reality.

I think Zubeidat Tsarnaev will fall into reality eventually. We don’t hear her saying things like, “My sons did not do this thing, but if they had I would be proud of them for killing infidels.” Her moral sense is not completely gone. If she were an evangelical and were confronted with Jehovah’s commands to enslave whole cities and his permission to force the most beautiful of their women into sham rape-marriages, it seems she might not be one of those who would say, “It must have been God’s righteous judgment.” I have hope for her.

Perhaps, when she discovers that the people to whom she has given her ear have been lying to her, it will be the same wake-up call for her that it was for me and she will no longer resist the gravitational pull of reality.

The process of leaving my faith did feel like being ripped apart by a black hole. But ultimately, I found I was happier as part of the singularity of reality than struggling against it.

I wish her a similar happiness.

Biblical Slavery Postscript: Where Were the Apologists?

If you’ve been with me since the initial post of my series on biblical slavery, you may remember that I planned to invite some Christian apologists to respond. You might wonder what happened with that.

Coincident with the start of the series, I did invite three full-time Christian professionals to comment on it: the author of the AIIA article that served as the springboard for the series, a man I’m acquainted with who runs an apologetics ministry and who has written about biblical slavery, and a former pastor who now works full-time to combat modern-day slavery and sex trafficking.

One of them was kind enough to spend an hour on the phone with me midway through this series. I wrote a summary of our conversation and emailed it to him so he could verify that I had represented him accurately. I told him that I would post the summary if he would approve it. He promised to send me some minor revisions, but so far I have not heard from him. It has been over 2 months, so I think he has moved on to other things.

I had a short correspondence with another one of the men by email. Since he chose email instead of public comments on this blog, I don’t feel at liberty to post our exchange. Suffice it to say that he did not say anything I had not heard before.

I have not heard anything from the third man. I should note that he never promised even to visit the series, let alone comment on it.

So, there was some dialog, but nothing for the record.

You may also be interested to know that long before the series started I sought the input of three pastors besides my own. One of them I knew personally. The other two were recommended by close acquaintances as intelligent and thoughtful, able to answer questions like mine. I wrote each one a letter explaining why I was troubled by the Bible’s teachings on slavery and pointing out some of the key verses. Each one promised to reply. None of them did, even after multiple requests from me.

I finally canceled my questions. I sensed that they didn’t have an adequate response to my arguments, and they knew it. I thought we would all be more comfortable if I just let them off the hook.

I think evangelical Christians know deep-down that it would be wrong to defend the acts and commands of God that we have seen in this series, but they can’t bring themselves to admit it — even to themselves. They are too heavily invested in the inerrancy of the Bible. I have compassion for the bind they’re in because I’ve been there myself.

Incidentally, the series started out as an “invitation to a dialog.” I really did hope that there might be some back-and-forth. As the series progressed and none of the professional apologists were willing to comment for the record, I sort of gave up on the dialog and settled for a diatribe. I hope you enjoyed it.