God approves of slavery

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Over on his blog site, Biblical Musing, Don Camp is trying to justify why God appears to condone slavery. It’s not the first time Don has tried to defend the indefensible; he’s recently been arguing much the same thing on Debunking Christianity.

The fact the Old Testament appears to endorse the keeping of other human beings as slaves is a problem for Christians. It’s a problem compounded by the fact that Jesus in Luke 12.47-48 and the imposter-Paul, in Ephesians 6.5, both support the practice. How can it be that God approves, or at least raises no objection to it? Wouldn’t an omniscient, all-loving God have outlawed slavery, as he outlaws so much else, in one of his innumerable laws and commandments?

Instead, he provides instructions about how to keep and look after slaves; what to do, for example, when you flog one to within an inch of his life so that he later dies (Exodus 21.20-21) or when you deliberately blind your slave – she’s your property after all – or rape her (Exodus 21.26; Numbers 31.17-18).

Don’s answer is that, despite God involving himself in the minutiae of slave treatment, he knew it would be a waste of time telling his people slavery was wrong. Why? Because he took the trouble to tell them lying and stealing were wrong and yet they ignored him. So, hey, why should he bother telling them about slavery? They’d just ignore that too.

But the point is – disregarding the fact that not everyone steals and lies – ‘God’ did issue laws prohibiting stealing and lying (and eating shellfish, and wearing garments of mixed fabric). It seems it was important to him to tell his pet-tribe that these were wrong, even though he must have known many of their number, and many more subsequently, would ignore him.

What can we conclude from this? Only this: that God didn’t feel the same way about slavery as he did about lying and stealing, which is why he didn’t bother making even the same token effort for slavery.

Or, and much more likely: the tribes who wrote the laws didn’t think slavery was wrong. In fact, they thought it quite useful to have slaves. Given this utility, they were unlikely to have devised laws prohibiting their ownership. The enslaved themselves no doubt thought differently, but then they didn’t get to write the rules.

We don’t find a commandment prohibiting slavery in the bible because those who wrote it liked having slaves. For this reason too, we find all those inhumane instructions about keeping slaves and what should happen if you maim or kill them.

Of course God didn’t write these laws. People did. And they wrote them according to their understanding of what was moral, fair and legitimate within their own primitive milieu. Thus it was that slavery got a free pass.

Gilead – just a stone’s throw away

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Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis thinks it’s okay to stone people. Specifically, your wayward kids. The bible says so and AiG’s Elizabeth Mitchell is eager to defend whatever the bible says, on account of it being ‘God’s Word’. She does warn us that we need to read Deuteronomy 21:18–21, where you’ll find this particular bit of parenting advice, in context, because although the bible is the fallible, eternal, literal word of the Creator of the Universe it needs interpreting, and has to be understood in terms of the time it was written.

The context is of course that Deuteronomy and all of the Old Testament was written by primitive, superstitious bronze-age tribesmen who had the same mentality the Taliban and Isis have today. But this isn’t good enough for ‘Doctor’ Mitchell. No, her context is altogether different; she tells us in an article recently posted on the Answers In Genesis Facebook page that Deuteronomy 21 isn’t talking about children. No, it’s referring to uppity teenagers, which makes it okay. And not just teenagers, but really, really troublesome ones, which makes it doubly okay. These really, really troublesome teenagers are the scourge of society and can be stoned with impunity. The bible says so.

And yet, they’re not. Christians don’t stone awkward family members, thankfully. Perhaps, despite articles like Mitchell’s and others’, Christians don’t really believe the brutality promoted in and by the bible. Mitchell offers no explanation for this inconsistency of belief. Instead, her article peters out with some incoherent rambling about Jesus; the same Jesus who declared his undying support for these brutal, Old Testament laws (Matthew 5.17-19).

I suggested in the comments on Facebook that it doesn’t matter how much one takes context into account, the command of Deuteronomy, that rebellious youths be stoned to death, is utterly indefensible. It is cruel, barbaric and belongs in the past when, presumably, unfortunate young people were actually killed in this way by their families and tribal elders. I suggested morals and standards have evolved for the better since the days when people considered that murder was the best way to deal with youthful bad behaviour.

And for that I was metaphorically stoned myself. How dare you challenge God and his Word! How ridiculous to suggest we have better moral standards today when clearly we are in an immoral abyss worse than any before! Last Days! God’s standards are inviolate and if he says the best way to deal with miscreants is to stone them to death then it is!

The Gilead regime envisaged by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, where Old Testament sanctions are stringently applied in contemporary society, is closer than we think. People like those who hang around on Answers In Genesis’ Facebook pages, like flies around a corpse, would be more than happy to see the death penalty for those who infringe God’s barbaric laws. They’d be only too willing to throw the first stone, not only at difficult teenagers, but at all the others ‘God’s Word’ says merit the death penalty: couples who have sex when the woman is on her period (Leviticus 18.19); women who are not virgins on their wedding nights (Deuteronomy 22.13-14; 20-21); gay people (Leviticus 20.13); those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35.2; Numbers 15.32-36); blasphemers (Leviticus 24.16) and worshippers of other gods (Deuteronomy 13.6-9))

I am not an advocate of censorship but some form of censure is necessary for those who, either in speech or writing, advocate that others be put to death. Calling for the execution of those with whom you disagree or who have different moral codes cannot – must not – be tolerated in a civilised society. Pronouncements like those of Elizabeth Mitchell, her supporters and other religious crackpots who defend the indefensible, should be flagged up as hate speech, carrying a warning that the views expressed are themselves immoral, insupportable and, ultimately, illegal in civilised society. Ideally, their poisonous rhetoric should not be provided with an online platform. This wouldn’t, before anyone suggests otherwise, violate their right to free speech; they would still be free to express their unpalatable views in their churches, Creation Museums and own homes. Excluding them from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, however, would deprive them of their wider audience – they’re only showing off, after all – and confine their hateful rhetoric to where it can do least harm.

These people are not merely ‘causing offence’ – offence is not the issue. They are inciting violence against others, influencing fellow believers to adopt their repellant views as their own. The standards of bronze-age tribes are not ours today; those who think they are abuse free speech and forfeit their right to be heard publicly.

 

 

When the Salt of the Earth loses its flavour*

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Embittered fanatic Linda Harvey (above) has it from the Lord that gay people are unnecessary. And even if there are those around who’ve ‘chosen’ this ‘lifestyle’, there’s absolutely no need for them to be having -yuk – sex together:

… as most well-informed Americans know (read: ‘as people who share my prejudices would agree’), no person is born “gay,” so this conduct is completely unnecessary… No male ever needs to engage in anal sex with another male, and we need to stop accommodating homosexual behavior and “gay” identity…”

How right you are, Linda, and I’m sure we can all look forward soon to reading about how how women of a certain age who don’t keep quiet like they’re supposed to (1 Timothy 2.12) are completely unnecessary too. And how there’s absolutely no need for them to wear make-up and jewellery or obsess about other people’s sex lives (Linda talks about little else). Equally, no-one needs to admire art, read a book or listen to music; survival doesn’t depend on these things so they are, by definition, ‘unnecessary’. Likewise driving, watching TV, drinking anything but water, celebrating Christmas. Since when does necessity determine what people can and can’t do? And who decides what’s necessary, anyway? Certainly not cranks like Linda.

Her Lord and Saviour had a go it’s true; nothing was necessary, he said, that didn’t advance the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6.33 etc). That’s the Kingdom he was sure was going to materialise some time in the first century (Matt 16.27-28; Luke 21.27-28, 33-34 etc) As for those activities he did think were necessary – selling your possessions, helping the poor, giving to all who ask, loving your enemy, not judging others – he was evidently wrong about, which is why Christians have long since abandoned them.

Which should make us ask: are Christians really necessary? Isn’t it long past time we stopped accommodating their misguided behaviour and their “holier than thou” identities?

* Matthew 5.13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Rejecting Jesus the Christian way

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I’m sometimes taken to task for pointing out that Christians don’t make much effort to live as their saviour says they should. The title of my first book, Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead sums it up. Since the very beginning, believers have replaced the radical commands attributed to Jesus with mythology, mysticism and magic formulae, none of which he’d recognise and all of which are far less demanding than going the extra mile, turning the other cheek and loving enemies. So today, when confronted with what Jesus says is expected of his followers, believers are inclined to say, ‘what right have you to tell us how we should be living?’ to which the answer is, ‘it’s not I, nor any other commentator, who tells you how to live; it is your Lord and Saviour. All we do – all I do – is remind you of what that is.’

Christians don’t like this, primarily because they don’t like what Jesus commands – it’s too exacting, too radical, too impractical – and they want to go on disregrading it. It’s damned annoying being reminded of it and being challenged on how far they are from complying with it.

Have those of us who point out Christians’ failings any right to do so? Well, of course. Christians spend their time judging, castigating and condemning others and as Jesus himself points out, judging others leads to being judged in return (Matthew 7.1-5). He sees this as something of a natural consequence, a yin for a yang. But ‘judge not that ye be not judged’ is another of his commands his followers like to ignore. Even so, if Christians are going to insist on pointing out the speck in others’ eyes, they must expect others will have something to say about the plank in theirs. That’s the way it works – Jesus says so.

So, Christians, if you don’t like me and others challenging you on how far you fall short of your Lord’s expectations maybe you need to lay off atheists, LGBT people, those you consider to be sinners, those of other faiths and even fellow Christians you think haven’t got the right theology. Put your own house in order first and then maybe we’ll listen to you (or maybe not). But don’t say we’ve no right to look at how far you measure up to Jesus’ standards. We’ve every right to ask whether the so-called Salt of the Earth (Matthew 5.13) has any of its flavour left.

 

Call yourself a Christian?

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So you think you might be a Christian? Try this handy-dandy checklist to see if you’re a true follower of Jesus or just someone who’s paying lip-service. You’ll need to score big if you’re ever going to get into his exclusive club!

1) Have you relinquished all wordly goods as Jesus tells you to in Matt 19.21 & Luke 12.33?

If not, better get to it. It’s pretty important to him – he mentions it at least a dozen times in the gospels.

2) Have you forsaken your loved ones, taken to hating them even, the better to serve him and his Kingdom?

No? Than what are you thinking of? Not Luke 14. 26 & 33 that’s for sure.

3) Do you constantly go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give to all who ask, love your enemies and forgive others repeatedly (Matthew 7.12; Luke 6.27 & 29; Matthew 6.14; Matthew 5.38 etc)? In short, are you perfect as he says you should be?

Some work to do here then, to come up to the expected standard?

4) Do you sacrificially serve others – the sick, the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, the naked (Matthew 25.34-46)?

Better get round to it as the only way to avoid Jesus’ blacklist.

5) Do you work tirelessly and exclusively to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth (albeit in the first century) like Jesus commands in Matthew 6.33?

Why not? Get with the programme!

6) Have you stayed single, never marrying, and certainly never getting divorced?

You haven’t? Shame on you, because you can’t into the Kingdom with a spouse and definitely not with one you’ve discarded along the way (Luke 20.34-35).

7) Have you given up judging others?

If not, you can expect to be on the receiving end of a hell of a lot of judgement in return (Matthew 7.1-2).

8) When you throw a party do you invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind instead of your friends (Luke 14.12-14)?

I think we know the answer to this one.

9) Are you tireless in denigrating, campaigning against and ranting about same-sex relationships and marriage?

Well, good for you though this has nothing to do with being a follower of Jesus (see 7 above).

10) Do you believe in a magical incantation that is going to preserve the essential ‘you’ in Heaven forever?

Jesus didn’t.

So how did you do? Are you someone Jesus would say, ‘Well done you good and faithful servant’ to (Matthew 25.21), or would he insist he never knew you (Matthew 7.23)? –

0-2: Pathetic, especially if the two in question are 9 & 10.

3-7: You’re neither hot nor cold. Expect to be spewed out of his mouth (Revelation 3.16).

8-10: You’re getting there, but then, you didn’t really answer truthfully, did you? Your yes didn’t mean yes (Matthew 5.37).

Never mind, you can always get back to singing songs, waving your arms about and condemning others because they have a speck in their eye (Luke 6.42). Everybody knows that’s what being a Christian is really all about.

The stuff Christians say… God Gave Us Free-will

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Did he really? He doesn’t mention it in his ineffable, infallible, inerrant Word and you’d think he would when it’s so important. It’s a favourite cliché of Christians whenever they’re challenged about why God has let the world get in such a mess, why he allows children to die, why there are hurricanes and earthquakes, that kind of thing. These are all, they like to tell us, the result of humans using the ‘free-will’ God gave them to make the wrong choices – which are anything that’s not God himself. When that happens, he deserts us, abandoning any idea of a duty of care. But that’s not his fault – oh, no – it’s ours for using the free-will he gave us… freely.

So even though we have free-will, we’re in big trouble if we use it any other than the way God thinks we should. Of all the options available to us, only one is any good; there are so many penalties for choosing anything other than him. It’s as if he says to us, ‘obey me or I’ll abandon you, make everything shit and ultimately torture you’. And you’d be right to ask how this is in any way ‘free’ will. Imagine a human father saying, ‘Now, kids, choose to do as I say or else I’ll throw you on the fire.’ Would children presented with a choice of this kind really be ‘free’ to make their decision?

Still, apparently we are, and wouldn’t you know it, we choose the wrong things. This might have something to do with there being far more ‘wrong’ things than ‘right’ ones, but that’s how God has set things up and who are we to point out the inconsistency of his mysterious way?

More than this, God has handicapped us by making us ‘slaves of sin’ and ‘servants to corruption’ (John 8.34 & 2 Peter 2.19) which naturally disposes us to use our free-will in such a way that almost always leads to the wrong decisions. How about that? Not only does he say ‘obey me or I’ll abandon you, make everything shit and ultimately torture you’, God has given us up to our base desires and so impaired our ability to make the ‘right’ choices.

Ultimately, the idea of ‘free-will’ is a Gordian knot created by Christians, who, finding themselves unable to explain why a loving God would allow everything to be far from perfect, added it to the their already shaky theology. But free-will isn’t scriptural; as we’ve seen, the Bible teaches that God does the choosing not us. Nor does it stand up to  scrutiny in the real world. Science tells us that free-will doesn’t exist, it’s an illusion. Our subconscious mind makes our decisions before informing our conscious mind of what these are. This means our decision-making is neither free – our subconscious mind is shaped and constrained by environment, genes and upbringing – nor the product of our conscious mind, our ‘will’.

Still, this is of little interest to Christians who cling tenaciously and blindly to the notion of ‘free-will’. They’ve made the right decision by opting for God and in so doing have surrendered the free-will they otherwise insist is crucial in explaining the state of the world. They’re not going to need it in heaven, I don’t suppose, sitting around praising God all day long. Given though that they’ve made the right decision, why is it the world continues to be such a muddle? Why is life for believers not noticeably better than for the rest of us? Why are they as subject to life’s tragedies and calamities – cancer, disease, death – just the same as the rest of us? Shouldn’t their free-will decision nullify the disasterous effects of rejecting God so that we can see some overall improvement in the state of the world, or at the very least in the lives of God’s Chosen themselves? Why doesn’t it? What good is ‘free-will’ which, even when exercised in the ‘right’ way, appears to make no difference at all?