Today is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. I noted that on Facebook earlier today, and referenced Leviticus 25:10, the verse cited on the Liberty Bell: “you shall … proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” That verse seems appropriate, since the Emancipation Proclamation represents movement of the nation toward the fulfillment of its long-held aspirations.
But someone responded to me with this: “So which verse should bear more weight, the one you quote [or] Lev 25:44-46?” Since very few of us have Leviticus committed to memory, those verses say:
Regarding male or female slaves that you are allowed to have: You can buy a male or a female slave from the nations that are around you. You can also buy them from the foreign guests who live with you and from their extended families that are with you, who were born in your land. These can belong to you as property. You can pass them on to your children as inheritance that they can own as permanent property. You can make these people work as slaves, but you must not rule harshly over your own people, the Israelites.
You see the point: the Bible says freedom but it also says slavery. The Bible is a terrible book and we’d all be better off if people abandoned those primitive superstitions and became humanists like Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, and Hitler.
Well. I thought the Emancipation Proclamation was a good thing, but apparently its real value is how it underscores the hypocrisy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
But just because a question is asked in bad faith doesn’t mean it can’t be answered. Here’s my response:
I’ve observed how modern critics pick out the verses in the Bible that support slavery and say, “Gotcha! Your religion is evil.” Then they go buy a printer from a company that just announced 5000 layoffs, or a company that switched its offshore manufacturing from Mexico to China. I prefer freedom to slavery, and I think God does too, but freedom isn’t a panacea.
My impression is that the Bible’s instructions about slavery tend to place limits on an existing institution, kind of like the Bill of Rights. For example, the verses you cite say you may have slaves but only from the gentiles, not from your own people. In the following verses, it says that gentiles can enslave your relatives but you may not. This institution exists among the gentiles, it says, and you may participate in it only insofar as you deal with them, you may not let it make inroads among your own community.
You can see that glass as half-full or half-empty. Would it be better to reform the gentiles too? How would you do that without imposing your religion on them?
Since we’re analyzing Leviticus 25, what did you make of 25:3-4, rest for the land? Or Leviticus 25:13, returning property to people who lost it? Or Lev 25:14, the prohibition against cheating people? Or Lev 25:25, the requirement that people help out their relatives (rather than abandoning them to the mercy of society at large)?