Chapter 13 - Why does God love slavery?

Frederick Douglass started life as a slave. He was born to a slave mother in 1818, at a time when slavery was practiced almost universally throughout the United States. At the age of 20 he was able to escape from slavery, educate himself and transcend his humble origins. This transformation gave Frederick Douglass a unique perspective on slavery.

Frederick Douglass wrote an autobiography in which he described many of his experiences as a slave in graphic detail. He was a person who experienced the atrocities firsthand.

For example, he describes the violence of his master in this way:

    He was a cruel man, hardened by a long life of slaveholding. He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin. I remember the first time I ever witnessed this horrible exhibition. I was quite a child, but I well remember it. I never shall forget it whilst I remember any thing. It was the first of a long series of such outrages, of which I was doomed to be a witness and a participant. It struck me with awful force. It was the blood-stained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass.
He spoke of the slave trade in this way:
    We were all ranked together at the valuation. Men and women, old and young, married and single, were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine. There were horses and men, cattle and women, pigs and children, all holding the same rank in the scale of being, and were all subjected to the same narrow examination. Silvery-headed age and sprightly youth, maids and matrons, had to undergo the same indelicate inspection. At this moment, I saw more clearly than ever the brutalizing effects of slavery upon both slave and slaveholder.

    [Source: "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas" by Frederick Douglas.]

Imagine these injustices magnified across the lives of thousands upon thousands of slaves in the United States and you can begin to understand the horrific magnitude of slavery in America. Slavery is a scourge. It is an atrocity.

All of us know that slavery is abhorrent. Slavery involves the loss of free will and the subjugation of one person to another. Slavery is a form of imprisonment. Slavery turns human beings into a type of livestock that can be bought and sold as the property of another person. As described by Frederick Douglass above, slavery is often accompanied by remarkable brutality. No human being would want to be enslaved. This is what makes the concept of slavery so repugnant.

Now that you have a clear image of slavery in your head, here is an important question: How would you imagine that God feels about slavery?

As the all-loving creator of the universe and of each human soul, you would expect God to be violently opposed to the enslavement of human beings. Our all-knowing God would certainly despise slavery in the same way that any normal person does. What other position could a perfect God take?

It is surprising, therefore, to discover that the Bible tells a different story. If we read the Bible, we find instead a God who embraces slavery wholeheartedly. The Bible is so supportive of slavery, in fact, that it was frequently used as a justification for American slavery prior to the Civil War.

What the Bible says about slavery

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Here are ten passages from the Bible that clearly demonstrate God's position on slavery:

Genesis chapter 17, verse 12:

    And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised.
In this passage God understands that people buy other people and, quite obviously, is comfortable with the concept. God wants slaves circumcised in the same way as non-slaves.

Exodus chapter 12 verse 43:

    The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover: No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it.
God again shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery and singles out slaves for special treatment.

Exodus Chapter 21, verse 1:

    Now these are the ordinances which you shall set before them. When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master's and he shall go out alone. But if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.
Here God describes how to become a slave for life, and shows that it is completely acceptable to separate slaves from their families. God also shows that he completely endorses the branding of slaves through mutilation.

Exodus Chapter 21, verse 20:

    If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.
Not only does God condone slavery, but he is also completely comfortable with the concept of beating your slaves, as long as you don't kill them.

Exodus Chapter 21, verse 32:

    If the bull gores a male or female slave, the owner must pay thirty shekels of silver to the master of the slave, and the bull must be stoned.
Not only does God condone slavery, but here God places a value on slaves -- 30 shekels of silver. Note that God is not sophisticated enough to understand the concept of inflation. It is now 3,000 years later, and a gored slave is still worth 30 shekels of silver according to God's word.

Leviticus Chapter 22, verse 10:

    No one outside a priest's family may eat the sacred offering, nor may the guest of a priest or his hired worker eat it. But if a priest buys a slave with money, or if a slave is born in his household, that slave may eat his food.
Here God shows that the children of slaves are slaves themselves, and that he is completely happy with that concept.

Leviticus Chapter 25, verse 44:

    Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
Here God states where you may purchase your slaves, and clearly specifies that slaves are property to be bought, sold and handed down.

Luke, Chapter 7, verse 2:

    Now a centurion had a slave who was dear to him, who was sick and at the point of death. When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his slave. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him earnestly, saying, "He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built us our synagogue." And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude that followed him, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well.
Here Jesus shows that he is completely comfortable with the concept of slavery. Jesus heals the slave without any thought of freeing the slave or admonishing the slave's owner.

Colossians, chapter 3, verse 22:

    Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily...

Did God mean it?

Many Christians will try to argue that God does not intend for us to keep slaves today. That simply is not true. As you can see, both Jesus and the New Testament are strong advocates of slavery. In Isaiah 40:8 God says, "The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever." In the twenty first century, God and the Bible fully intend for us to have slaves.

Here God shows that he is in complete acceptance of a slave's position, and encourages slaves to work hard. This sentiment is repeated in Titus, chapter 2 verse 9:

    Bid slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to be refractory, nor to pilfer, but to show entire and true fidelity.
Once again God shows that he is quite enamored of slavery.

God loves slavery

If the Bible is written by God, and these are the words of the Lord, then you can come to only one possible conclusion: God is an impressive advocate of slavery and is fully supportive of the concept.

If you are a Christian, I realize that what I am about to suggest is uncomfortable. However, it is crucial to the conversation that we are having in this book. What I wish to suggest to you is that these pro-slavery passages in the Bible provide all the evidence that we need to prove that God did not write the Bible. Simply put: there is no way that an all-loving God would also be a staunch supporter of slavery.

What does your common sense tell you about God? Doesn't it seem that an all-loving, just God would think of slavery as an abomination just like any normal human being does? If any sort of all-knowing, all-loving God had written the Bible, shouldn't the Bible say, "Slavery is wrong -- you may have no slaves"? Shouldn't one of the Commandments say, "thou shalt not enslave"?

As you can see, these slavery passages present us with a paradox:

  • On the one hand, we all know that slavery is an outrage and a moral abomination. As a result, slavery is now completely illegal throughout the developed world.

  • On the other hand, the creator of the universe states in writing that slavery is perfectly acceptable. Beating your slaves is fine. Enslaving children is fine. Separating slave families is fine. According to the Bible, we should all be practicing slavery today.

The intensity of this paradox is remarkable.

The importance of the Bible

Most people in the United States are Christians, and therefore in the United States we take the Bible completely for granted. It is like gravity or the morning sunrise -- the Bible is there all the time, so you don't even think about it.

Because we take it for granted, we tend to forget just how important the Bible is to our lives. Let me give you three examples of just how significant this book is.

First of all, think about Jesus. Everyone in the United States has heard of Jesus. We all know that Jesus was born on Christmas. We know that Jesus died on the Cross and was resurrected three days later. We know that God loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). And so on. How do we know all of that? Because of the Bible. If the Bible did not exist, no one would have ever heard of Jesus. Without the Bible there would be no Christianity.

Second, there are the Ten Commandments. According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, "Ninety-nine percent of Americans believe in the ten commandments." [ref] Scalia has also pointed out that the Ten Commandments are "a symbol of the fact that government derives its authority from God." [ref] Where do the Ten Commandments come from? The Bible. And because they come from the Bible, we assume they come from God. The Bible is God's word.

Key Point

According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, "Ninety-nine percent of Americans believe in the ten commandments." [ref] Scalia has also pointed out that the Ten Commandments are "a symbol of the fact that government derives its authority from God." [ref]
Third, think about your soul. Chances are that you believe that you have a soul. In addition you probably believe that, when you die, your soul lives on forever. You also believe that your soul goes either to heaven or hell. Where did those ideas come from? They come from the Bible. The Bible is the place in our culture that tells us about heaven and hell. Without the Bible, these concepts would not exist. The whole notion of "everlasting life" is based on the Bible.

It really is quite amazing when you think about it. We take Jesus, the Ten Commandments, heaven and hell completely for granted. Nearly every person in America has heard of them, and few would question their existence. The place where these core concepts originate is the Bible. Without the Bible, these concepts would not exist. The Bible has a gigantic impact on the lives of people around the world. The only reason it has this impact is because Christians believe that God is the author.

Let's say that the Bible were not the word of God. Imagine that it was written by a group of random men 2,000 or 3,000 years ago and God had nothing to do with it. Would you believe in heaven and hell? Would you believe in the Ten Commandments? Would you believe in Jesus? No. Of course not. If primitive men wrote the Bible rather than God, no one would care about the Bible. Homer was a primitive man, and 3,000 or so years ago he wrote a book called "The Odyssey." In this book Homer talks about a Cyclops, a goddess named Athena and a place called Hades, along with many other things. Do we believe any of it? Of course not -- it was a fanciful story written by a man. We ignore the Odyssey in our daily lives because the author was human.

The Bible and Slavery

So now we have opened the Bible and looked at it, and inside the Bible -- God's word -- we have found ten extremely clear and outrageous passages about slavery. What these passages indicate, without any question, is that the Bible supports slavery. The Bible thinks that slavery is great. According to the Bible you are free to buy slaves and you are free to beat your slaves. There is no denying that, in the Bible, slavery is perfectly acceptable.

If you are a Christian, you automatically and unquestioningly believe in Jesus, the Ten Commandments, heaven and hell. Why? Because you believe that the Bible came from God.

The problem is that if you support the Ten Commandments and believe in Jesus, you must also support slavery. The same God and the same Bible that tells us about the Ten Commandments and Jesus is also telling us about slavery.

Take a moment right now to ask yourself this simple question: Do you believe in slavery? Having read how God feels about slavery in the Bible, do you now believe that in America and around the world we should repeal all anti-slavery laws and re-open the slave trade? If you are Christian, what choice do you have? God fully advocates slavery in the Bible, and you believe the word of God.

If you are going to believe that the Ten Commandments came from God because they are in God's Bible, then you must also believe that all of these slavery passages came from God. You, Justice Scalia and everyone else who believes that God wrote the Bible should be perfectly comfortable with the slave trade.

An all-or-nothing book

Key Point

If you are going to believe that the Ten Commandments came from God because they are in God's Bible, then you must also believe that all of these slavery passages came from God as well. Therefore you, Justice Scalia and everyone else who believes that God wrote the Bible should be perfectly comfortable with the slave trade. Christians must believe that all the laws that forbid slavery in the United States defy God's word, and we should be actively working to repeal them.
If you do not believe that God wrote the slavery passages in the Bible, then the obvious question to ask yourself is this: How can you possibly know which parts came from God and which parts were inserted by primitive men? How can you pick and choose like that? You have absolutely no way to know whether the slavery passages came from God or primitive men.

It is when you start thinking about the Bible in this way that you understand something very important about the Bible. Either the entire Bible really is God's Word, or the entire Bible was written by primitive men with absolutely no input from God. Here is the reason for this very strong dividing line:

    If part of the Bible came from God and part came from primitive men, how can you possibly know which is which? How do you know if Jesus really is resurrected, or if that's just a make-believe story inserted by primitive men? How do you know if God wrote the Ten Commandments or not? If any part of the Bible has been polluted by primitive men, you have to reject the whole thing. There is no way to know who wrote what, so the entire book is invalid.
There really is no middle ground. The Bible has to be an all-or-nothing book. Either the entire Bible came from God, or none of it did.

The Tylenol Scare

Why can there be no middle ground? To understand the problem, simply look at slavery passages in the Bible. Many Christians believe that God did not write these passages, and therefore reject them. These Christians believe that these passages were inserted by primitive men without God's approval. However, these Christians have no way to prove their belief. And by calling the authorship of these passages into question, they call into question every sentence in the Bible.

Pick any sentence in the Bible and ask yourself, "Did God write this sentence, or did primitive men write it without any input from God?" There is no way to know. Since there is no way to prove it one way or another, and since it is possible that primitive men wrote any sentence in the Bible rather than God (i.e. every sentence in the Bible could be a forgery), we must assume that every sentence is the product of primitive men.

An analogy can put a finer point on the problem. Imagine that I tell you that several madmen around the country have inserted capsules containing cyanide into random bottles of Tylenol sitting on store shelves. The poison capsules look identical to normal capsules, and the tainted bottles of pills are indistinguishable from normal bottles. If I now hand you a bottle of Tylenol capsules off of a store shelf, will you take one of the pills? Of course not. Every pill could, potentially, contain poison. There is no way to know which pills do and do not contain poison. Therefore, you must assume that every pill does contain poison. If you do not know who created the pills, you must suspect that every pill came from a madman.

This Tylenol situation actually happened in the United States in 1982, and it is the reason why all bottles of over-the-counter medicine now have tamper-proof seals on them. The lesson from 1982 is simple. Since every capsule of Tylenol could contain poison, we had to suspect that every capsule did contain poison. We threw out millions of capsules because of that uncertainty. In addition, all manufacturers began putting tamper-proof seals on all bottles of over-the-counter medicine to eliminate the uncertainty.

The Bible suffers from exactly the same problem. And the Bible contains no tamper-proof seal. If we suspect that any one sentence in the Bible might have been randomly inserted by primitive men without God's approval, then every single sentence in the Bible now comes under suspicion. It does not matter whether any of the Bible might have been written by God. Because we are uncertain and have no way to prove it one way or another, we must assume that primitive men wrote every sentence of the Bible. Because of the uncertainty, we must throw out all of the sentences, just like we threw out all of the Tylenol capsules. If primitive men could have written any sentence, we must assume that they wrote the entire Bible. We have no other choice. The Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Drawing a conclusion

With this all-or-nothing reality about the Bible now understood, you can see that there are only two possible explanations for the slavery passages in the Bible:

  • The Bible is right, and God loves slavery. The entire Bible is God's word, so these slavery passages must be God's word too. The laws in the United States and other modern nations that make slavery illegal defy God's word. Justice Scalia should be promoting slavery in exactly the same way that he promotes the Ten Commandments.

  • The Bible condones slavery because the Bible was written by slave-owning men, not by God.
Chances are that you have a problem with the first explanation. God would not champion the abomination that is slavery. We all know that.

Therefore, what you are left with is the second explanation. And suddenly, the Bible becomes a poisoned book.

Here is the thing that I would like to help you understand: You, as a rational human being, know that slavery is wrong. You know it. That is why every single developed nation in the world has made slavery completely illegal. Human beings make slavery illegal, in direct defiance of God's word, because we all know with complete certainty that slavery is wrong (see also Chapter 28). If God actually had anything to do with the Bible, then the eleventh commandment would be, "Thou shalt not enslave."

What does your common sense now tell you about a Bible that supports slavery in both the Old and the New Testaments? Given the fact that the Bible clearly condones slavery, and given the fact that the Bible is an all-or-nothing book, does it make more sense for you to believe that God wrote the Bible, or that primitive men wrote the Bible without any input from God? Be honest with yourself. Make a choice, and then let's look at another example that is just as outrageous...

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by Marshall Brain

New York Times Coverage
discussed in a
New York Times piece
by N. D. Kristof.
For a counter-point to Mr. Kristof, please see
Chapter 26.

Recommendation by Sam Harris
Sam Harris recommends WWGHA in his book Letter to a Christian Nation.

Endorsement by Richard Dawkins
In a New York Times Letter, Richard Dawkins calls WWGHA a "splendid Web site."

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