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#1 Springheel

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 02:24 PM


I'm not the prototype religious person but The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible shouldn't be read outside the context of the whole book and the contextual, logical ending of it.
Slavery of course became immoral with the New Testament. Not in as much of a religious current as also a cultural reshape of the whole society. A sort of a collective penance. But of course each denomination saw it in their own way. And of course the discussable and vastly engaging apocrypha...
 
 
 

 

Please tell me where "slavery become immoral" with the New Testament?  Was it where Paul told Christian slaves to obey their masters, or where it tells Christians to treat their slaves better?

 

 


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#2 Anderson

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 03:03 PM

Firstly slavery was normal at the time, as much as engaging in relationships with them, abusing and killing them. All sanctioned (positively) by Roman Law.

The New Testament isn't the Bill of Rights obviously. But it did condone more righteous, generous behavior towards slaves. In a way the general idea of the texts is to recognize the brother in every servant and sort of to subtly suggest society to change its attitude.

In a similar fashion as The Gospel of Mary Magdalene breaks the stereotype of women having the possibility of being a 13'th Apostle or an equivalent follower/clergy of Jesus Christ. As it's apocrypha, the Church likes to pretend that this text has no value.

 The Church also loves to quote Christ of course as his phrases laid in parables do not need theological debate.

 

Clearly, ideas developed over time and as pointed out most eloquently in "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" by Max Weber the schism and the difference between Protestants and Catholics eventually led to capitalism, to industrialization, to progress and the abolition of slavery too. It would not have been possible without this conflict of two religions were Protestants where more productive than Catholics in the economy. A thing also mentioned by Montesquieu.

 

The New Testament is the first step in a long journey. At least when it comes to the economy changes that happened. The Roman Empire being forced to exchange slavery to feudalism (new way to mask slavery) because it conflicted with Christianity and so on and so on. Though I would argue The Old Testament is culturally more significant in how we view the world in general. How we view ancient times.


Edited by Anderson, 09 April 2017 - 03:05 PM.


#3 Springheel

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 06:47 PM

Firstly slavery was normal at the time,

 

 

Which is not exactly evidence for your claim that it's "just a metaphor".
 

 

But it did condone more righteous, generous behavior towards slaves.

 

 

Which also means that it condones slavery.  Contradicting your claim that it "made it immoral".

 

People used the Bible, including the New Testament, to justify slavery until the 1800s.  It's amazing that no one noticed that it made slavery immoral until after society started to have ethical problems with slavery.


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#4 teh_saccade

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 06:48 PM

We're all slaves.

Some are slavs.

Been reading through some old books as I sort out the old stuff - found one called "Slavery in Early Christianity" by Jennifer A Glancey - mrs used to study philosophy.

Might be an epub of it you'd be interested in, Anderson, if you're into that stuff.
I'd send it to you, but I took it to the charity shop only this week... sorry pal - just don't like having all the reminders lying around.


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#5 Moonbo

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 08:58 PM

I generally don't like to engage in internet debate, mostly because in my experience it doesn't really ever serve to change people's minds, but I've really got to shake my head on this one. 

 

Anti-slavery sentiment within Christianity starts very early, and the first ever anti-slavery document was written by an ascetic monk. As for the Catholic Church, the article in wikipedia is pretty good: https://en.wikipedia...rch_and_slavery . While agreement was never uniform, anti-slavery sentiment was there long before the 1870's, starting from "in-group" anti slavery, i.e. opposing the enslavement of Christians (with exceptions mostly being made for out-groups such as Muslims and non-Europeans) and moving out from there to encompass more and more people until universal abolition was reached.

 

I mean, it really takes a very narrow minded anti-Christian mentality to produce a stupor of the all-pervasive sort required not to notice that it was only Christian civilizations that abolished slavery and that every single prominent historical abolitionist was a Christian of some stripe who laid out their claims on explicitly religious grounds. Was anti-slavery universal? Obviously not, but there seems to be something within Christianity which historically engenders an anti-slavery sentiment which became so strong that in time it succeeded in completely eliminating the institution.

 

I'll just end by saying that in these sorts of debates it's a credit to ones intellectual integrity to give credit where it's due even if you don't agree with the ideas that produced a beneficial historical work.


Edited by Moonbo, 09 April 2017 - 09:00 PM.

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#6 Anderson

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 01:48 AM

Which is not exactly evidence for your claim that it's "just a metaphor".


No. When I wrote that I meant the phraseologies where all humans are referred to as God's servants/slaves. That is a metaphor. An allegory to express creationism prominent in the whole text through the miracle it proclaims. Surely you see that.

Thomas Jefferson was also infamously a supporter of slavery despite being a founding father. I suppose it's just a regressive way of strict interpretation just as of the Quran that terrorists do. A narrow minded interpretation that lets them justify their actions. Rubber-like, elastic interpretation.
Over time interpretations change.

#7 Mortem Desino

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 04:21 AM

I, also, like Moonbo, don't enjoy entering debates like this for the same reasons he noted. I especially hate to pop in just for this after I've taken a long hiatus from TDM. However, I'm quite disappointed in some of the dead horsiness around this subject.

 

But it did condone more righteous, generous behavior towards slaves.

 

Which also means that it condones slavery.  Contradicting your claim that it "made it immoral".

 

People used the Bible, including the New Testament, to justify slavery until the 1800s.  It's amazing that no one noticed that it made slavery immoral until after society started to have ethical problems with slavery.

Springheel, I know for a fact that you're much more thoughtful than that. "The bible condones slavery" was already an unintelligible dead horse argument in the 19th century. And surely you recognize the several logical beggings of the question in your bald assertion (if I may syllogize it thusly:)

"people have used the biblical text to justify slavery; slavery is ethically unacceptable; therefore I need not pay thoughtful attention to what the historic biblical text or historic Christianity actually has to say regarding it".

Which people, and where, with what arguments? Which texts from the New Testament? What kind of slavery? Christian Thought has an ethical basis upon which to call slavery immoral -- Don't you need one of your own in order to say the same? And even if most Christians had supported slavery (and they never did), we surely don't make consensus gentium a test for truth?

 
Slavery as a metaphor in New Testament theological discourse is common knowledge. Paul, being a good educated 1st century man, used several legal metaphors to talk about Soteriology and the relationship of man to God -- slaves, sons, citizens, property managers, and more. That is the purpose of slavery in the places where it acts as metaphor.
 
You asked about the text from Ephesians 6 including, "masters, treat your slaves in the same way [as you would Christ]." If you are trying to pull that paragraph out of its meaningful literary context, in order to think of it as a bare standalone ethical maxim, you'll be sorely disappointed. If you're looking for veiled calls to social revolution, you'll be equally disappointed. Consider that the exhortations in the second half of Ephesians have an established foundation -- Paul isn't beating the church in Ephasus with a philosophically groundless moral bludgeon. There is a Christological and Soteriological premise for his cohortatives toward Christian living. Hence Anderson's argument that "the general idea of the texts is to recognize the brother in every servant and sort of to subtly suggest society to change its attitude." Even the very short letter of Paul to Philemon the slaveowner follows this pattern (in short: "Before you even consider what to do with this runaway slave, who is your brother in Christ, consider first how God in Christ has dealt with you.")
 
One of the only philosophical stances against slavery in the whole modern era (outside of Christianity) is Kant's Categorical Imperative and Enlightenment natural law theory. Two historically laughable disappointments with regard to abolition. Even the anti-Christian Marquis de Condorcet had to begrudgingly admit that "only a few philosophes have from time to time dared raise a cry in favour of humanity [over against slaveholding.]" Enlightenment natural law theory died when 19th century men discovered that there were hundreds of non-Western nations that didn't conform with the "rationality" of Enlightenment Europeans. And even if someone could demonstrate the correctness of either of these ethical systems, will people even follow it when it goes against their self-interest or value system? Thomas Jefferson is a perfect example -- he gave lip service to slavery being a "hideous evil", but he still remained a lifelong slaveowner, never attempted to stop his financial dependence on slavery, remained racist not only to people of color but also antisemite, and he made slavery a constitutional right in the expanding territories.
 
Meanwhile in Christianity, all classic Christians have always held that "if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come," and the transformed Christian's value system and worldview will have soteriological motivation to treat his neighbor as himself.
 
Finally, let's bring some empirical and historical force to the arguement. Figures like Granville Sharp and William Wilburforce should need no explication, but permit me to quote a few other thinkers on this subject:
 
S. Scott Bartchy, “Slavery,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

In such an economic context [that of the Roman Empire] it was virtually impossible for anyone to conceive of abolishing slavery as a legal-economic institution. To have turned all the slaves into free day laborers would have been to create an economy in which those at the bottom would have suffered even more insecurity and potential poverty than before. To be sure, according to all known traditions, neither Jesus nor His immediate followers owned slaves; nor did Paul, Barnabas, or Timothy. So both the example of Jesus and His great concern for the poor proved to be a challenge for many early Christians to conceive of themselves as living already among themselves in an alternative social-legal environment (note how Paul appeals to Philemon to release Onesimus sooner than he may have planned). For the author of 1 Clem. 55:2 Christ's love working through humble spirits has motivated some Christians to sell themselves in order to have money to buy the freedom of others (see Shep. Henn. Mand. 8:10; Sim. 1:8; Ign. Polyc.4:3).

 

Henri Wallon: Histoire de l’esclavage dans l’Antiquité (Written 1847--and already writing on the beneficial historic Christian impact on slavery in antiquity!)

The master had to spare the slaves as his equals in freedom; He was to treat them still more as being their brother in bondage; ... We are all born in bondage, we are all redeemed in Jesus Christ. (Nous sommes tous nés en servitude, nous sommes tous rachetés en Jesus-Christ.)
 
Thus, from the moment when Christianity had revealed its doctrine, the cause of liberty had vanquished. The day of triumph was to be delayed, it is true; And already the sign of salvation prevailed in the world, which was still awaited. But during these forced delays the Church did not forget the slaves; And at the same time preparing for them resources now honorable after emancipation, she pretended to give them a place in the domestic hearth, in the education of the family, in public esteem; It demanded for them all the rights and treatments of the free man
 
Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (2001):

It is an unarguable historical fact that the abolition of slavery in modern times stems directly from Christian influence.

 

Philadelphian Quaker Benjamin Lay, All Slave-keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage: (1737):

As God gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him might have everlasting Life; so the Devil gives his only begotten Child, the Merchandize of Slaves and Souls of Men, that whosoever believes and trades in it might have everlasting Damnation.

 
William Warburton, A Sermon Preached Before the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (1766):

 “Gracious God! To talk (as in herds of Cattle) of Property in rational creatures!"

 
John Wesley, Thoughts upon Slavery (1774):

“The dreadful consequence of slavery is the same amongst every people and in every nation where it prevails. ... Thy [slaveowners'] hands, thy bed, thy furniture, thy house, thy lands are at present stained with blood."

 
Charles Elliott, Sinfulness of American Slavery: Proved from Its Evil Sources; Its Injustice; Its Wrongs; Its Contrariety to Many Scriptural Commands, Prohibitions, and Principles, and to the Christian Spirit (1850)

All men are redeemed by the same blood of Christ; and therefore, this common and general redemption by the blood of Christ is at variance with slavery. ... The same great sacrifice has been made for the slave as for the master; and therefore, the soul of the slave is worth as much as the soul of the master.


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#8 V-Man339

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 04:34 AM

To be clear we all agree slavery is bad in the present, unless we're talking about in a manner that includes a more fetishistic connotation...

At least that's what I assume.


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#9 demagogue

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 05:05 AM

I read this book by Larry Siedentop called Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism.

I recommend it to you all.

 

The basic punchline is what we call the "Western" view of the world, including very much the mainstays of modern atheism, were developed out of Christian ideology. The big ones of these are individual agency, freedom of conscience/thought, separation of secular and religious authority, rule of law, voluntary associations, human rights as limits on authority, etc, etc. But it was a long evolution. The first laws against slavery because of moral right were by the Visigoths in South France on explicitly religious grounds, where bishops had greater control over governance as the western Roman empire crumbled.

 

The evolution is a long story though. It didn't come overnight. And most of the participants didn't realize at the time they were laying down the foundation for secularism, scientism, rationalism, atheism, humanism, human rights... but all of these things came out of the ideology they developed. If you have a specific question about it, ask and I can give you the book's argument, but it's hard to summarize because it's a 500 page book over basically every major trend in Western European history from 400 to 1300.

 

I'll just give one big piece. As the title of Siedentop's book suggests, the key role that to this day still distinguishes Western thinking from practically every other culture on the planet is that, in a Christian worldview, individuals voluntarily decide their lot in life (the most important of which at the time being the decision to accept God or not). It isn't handed down by fate or God where they have no choice in the matter, like every other religion and culture in the history of history everywhere and still continuing in many places to this day. The immediate implication was the equality of souls and it affected every aspect of society. For slaves it meant humans could not be born as slaves. At most it was a social condition imposed on them, but they still had an independent conscience as human beings and, over time, a claim to end social conditions that don't respect their freedom of conscience. This idea did not exist in that form before Christianity. That's the basic thesis.


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#10 RPGista

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 08:51 AM

No, as a matter of fact, most of the western humanist evolution you refer to was originated in greek phylosophy, which greatly influenced christian thought throughout its history. It was actually the rise of philosophy, (which then gave rise to science) understood as the "search for truth", as opposed to religious dogma, that set the road to continuous improvement in abstract thought, human understanding and social relations we recognize today, always in direct opposition to religious and cultural dogmas of the day. The "search for truth" eventually laid bare the fact that human beings are all equal, despite religious text, which contradicts it. Though it is true that charitable ideologies were a positive aspect of christian tradition (and one of the reasons for its popular domination), and that it was likely a major factor in gradually easing opressive practises condoned by its own church, it is also a matter of fact that the christian/catholic religious empire legitimized, protected and participated in human slavery for all its history up to recent times, their texts understanding it as tradition and having not a single word to say against it. It is also a fact that those who opposed slavery in any form had to do so against the might of the religious, cultural and political forces of their time, extremely regressive by nature, which meant (for progressive thinkers, even religious ones) isolation, persecution, and often violence and death.

Edited by RPGista, 10 April 2017 - 09:00 AM.


#11 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 09:02 AM

First of all, the claim that started this thread was that the New Testament "made slavery immoral."

 

That claim can be strongly countered by the fact that the New Testament continues to lay out rules for managing slaves.  It didn't tell Christians not to enslave anyone.  It didn't say that it was immoral to treat people as property.  At best, it just told Christian masters to be nicer to their slaves.

 

There are plenty of Christians who argued that slavery was immoral, using the Bible to back up their arguments, and there were plenty of Christians who argued it was moral, and they also used the Bible to back up their arguments.  The Bible is such a large, sprawling, and apparently contradictory text that it is not difficult to use it to support any position someone is inclined to take.  You can find people using the Bible today to support pro-gay positions, anti-gay positions, racist positions, anti-racist positions, conpsiracy theories, and just about anything else you can think of. 

 

Whether or not Christianity was responsible for making slavery immoral is a much larger claim and far more difficult to argue.  Yes, most abolitionists were Christian.  So were most anti-abolitionists.  So were most architects and artists.  Most people in the western world were Christian, so it's hard to draw much of a conclusion from that.  However, you can't just ignore the fact that the Christian Church ruled Europe for more than 1000 years before any serious efforts were made to reign in slavery as immoral. Thomas Aquinas, arguably the biggest authority in Christianity since Paul, argued that slavery was moral and consistent with Christianity well into the middle ages.  So if you're going to argue that Christianity made slavery immoral, you need to address why it took more than 1000 years of arguing to figure that out.

 

 

As for some specific claims:

 

the first ever anti-slavery document was written by an ascetic monk.

 

 

What document are you referring to?  There are ancient Greek, pre-Christian writers who question slavery.
 

 

it really takes a very narrow minded anti-Christian mentality to produce a stupor of the all-pervasive sort required not to notice that it was only Christian civilizations that abolished slavery

 

 

Really?  Do you consider Japan a "Christian civilization"?  They abolished slavery earlier than some European countries did.
 

 

every single prominent historical abolitionist was a Christian of some stripe who laid out their claims on explicitly religious grounds

 

 

I'm not sure how you define "prominent" (there were many Jewish abolitionists....they don't count?), but the exact same claim could be made about anti-abolitionists.

 

 

For slaves it meant humans could not be born as slaves. At most it was a social condition imposed on them, but they still had an independent conscience as human beings and, over time, a claim to end social conditions that don't respect their freedom of conscience. This idea did not exist in that form before Christianity. That's the basic thesis.

 

 

Christian authors often seem eager to make claims that something "didn't exist before Christianity" or "didn't exist outside of Christian cultures".  This claim suggests some tunnel vision.  The pre-Christian Greek Sophists didn't agree that people were born slaves.  In fact, there is a famous quote from one of them that "no one is born a slave" or something to that effect.  The Epicureans also dealt with the idea of being free in the mind even if you were a slave.  These issues were being debated well before Christianity.


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#12 Moonbo

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 10:50 AM

Hey Springheel,

 

It took me a while to find the writer I was thinking of, and I could be wrong but I believe it was Gregory of Nissa: http://www.iep.utm.edu/gregoryn/#H7 , interestingly while I was looking for it I found an interesting reddit post about the stoics and cynics and slavery: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1l9kl7/were_any_roman_citizens_against_slavery_in/ .

 

If there are pre-Christian greek writers advocating for the abolition of slavery (and not just discomfort, or picking around the edges) I would genuinely love to read them if you can provide links.  And my bad on not saying "Judeo-Christian" instead of Christian.

 

But in general, I do have to ask what exactly the thesis is: "Christian ideas had a negligible impact on the abolition of slavery?" It was late last night when I made my post, but that was the sense I was getting which made me roll my eyes.


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#13 Anderson

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 11:20 AM

First of all, the claim that started this thread was that the New Testament "made slavery immoral."

 

That claim can be strongly countered by the fact that the New Testament continues to lay out rules for managing slaves.  It didn't tell Christians not to enslave anyone.  It didn't say that it was immoral to treat people as property.  At best, it just told Christian masters to be nicer to their slaves.

 

There are plenty of Christians who argued that slavery was immoral, using the Bible to back up their arguments, and there were plenty of Christians who argued it was moral, and they also used the Bible to back up their arguments.  The Bible is such a large, sprawling, and apparently contradictory text that it is not difficult to use it to support any position someone is inclined to take.  You can find people using the Bible today to support pro-gay positions, anti-gay positions, racist positions, anti-racist positions, conpsiracy theories, and just about anything else you can think of. 

 

Whether or not Christianity was responsible for making slavery immoral is a much larger claim and far more difficult to argue.  Yes, most abolitionists were Christian.  So were most anti-abolitionists.  So were most architects and artists.  Most people in the western world were Christian, so it's hard to draw much of a conclusion from that.  However, you can't just ignore the fact that the Christian Church ruled Europe for more than 1000 years before any serious efforts were made to reign in slavery as immoral. Thomas Aquinas, arguably the biggest authority in Christianity since Paul, argued that slavery was moral and consistent with Christianity well into the middle ages.  So if you're going to argue that Christianity made slavery immoral, you need to address why it took more than 1000 years of arguing to figure that out.

 

 

Very interesting development.

 

I understand and totally agree that Christianity was not the pioneer of many ideas. It is interesting you bring sophism among greek philosophers though. The reason I say this is because I don't think Sophists really wanted to convince anyone that slavery was wrong. They were just provocateurs who didn't necessarily believe what they preached and were tolerated in Athens only because of democracy. In that regard, on the contrary, greek philosophy had little impact on Christianity, but it did bring examples of behavior such as cynicism and stoicism for Christians to follow, perhaps even Jesus was influenced by Essenes though who were similar to the greek counterparts. Who knows?

 

I would draw your attention to another aspect such as greek influence on the Christian understanding of heaven and hell (which The Hebrew Bible does not mention at all). It is that influence that later shaped in Medieval Times the concept of burning in hell, whereas Jewish dogma focuses not on afterlife but on action in this life, not preoccupying itself with the fate of the soul too much.

The bullet point is that it's not that simple if you want hardcore evidence.



#14 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 11:24 AM

Hey Springheel,

 

It took me a while to find the writer I was thinking of, and I could be wrong but I believe it was Gregory of Nissa: http://www.iep.utm.edu/gregoryn/#H7 , interestingly while I was looking for it I found an interesting reddit post about the stoics and cynics and slavery: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1l9kl7/were_any_roman_citizens_against_slavery_in/ .

 

If there are pre-Christian greek writers advocating for the abolition of slavery (and not just discomfort, or picking around the edges) I would genuinely love to read them if you can provide links.  And my bad on not saying "Judeo-Christian" instead of Christian.

 

 

 

 

Cool!  Let me read up on this a little bit and get back to you.

 

edit:  Ok, it does look like Gregory was the first known writer to argue that slavery was a sin, in around 350 AD, though it should also be noted that he is the singular example from his time and did not reflect the views of the Christians of his day (or for the next millennium, for that matter).  His own brother wrote arguments against his views on slavery.

 

The best example of a Greek writer I can find on the topic is Seneca the Younger, writing around the same time as Paul.  He didn't argue for abolition, but did say things like the following:  "Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies. It is just as possible for you to see in him a free-born man as for him to see in you a slave."  https://en.wikisourc...ilius/Letter_47

 

 

But in general, I do have to ask what exactly the thesis is: "Christian ideas had a negligible impact on the abolition of slavery?" It was late last night when I made my post, but that was the sense I was getting which made me roll my eyes.

 

 

No, I wouldn't say that's my claim.  I think my position would be closer to:  "Christianity did not start as anti-slavery, it evolved to that position.  It's debatable whether the factors causing that evolution came primarily from within the tenets of Christianity itself, or primarily from outside or ancillary forces."


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#15 Anderson

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 12:31 PM

 

 

No, I wouldn't say that's my claim.  I think my position would be closer to:  "Christianity did not start as anti-slavery, it evolved to that position.  It's debatable whether the factors causing that evolution came primarily from within the tenets of Christianity itself, or primarily from outside or ancillary forces."

 

Don't forget that Christianity was a lot of minor groups until the 4'th Century AD and only by the First Council of Nicaea "The Bible" in the modern sense appeared. That is without some passages of The Hebrew Bible known today as The Old Testament and only the canonical New Testament, leaving out a lot of apocrypha.

 

Also Christianity and its "mainstream", decriminalization  proclaimed by Constantine eventually replaced slaves with the Colonus caste of people who eventually transformed into what we know as feudalism - a masked form of slavery or a really good situation for the equivalent of an Ancient Times slave. Depending how you look at it. Later on through the Middle Ages slavery disappeared completely.



#16 Moonbo

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 01:01 PM

Hey Springheel,

 

Definitely true that anti-slavery sentiment within Christianity developed over time - like you mention Gregory of Nissa was somewhat of a radical, but he was a first and it was his religion that brought him to his conclusion. Even Seneca had something more akin to Paul's view on slavery (he says you should be nice to slaves because you yourself are a slave to various lusts and forces, but a few lines down from your quote he says "I do not wish to involve myself in too large a question, and to discuss the treatment of slaves, towards whom we Romans are excessively haughty, cruel, and insulting. But this is the kernel of my advice: Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your betters. And as often as you reflect how much power you have over a slave, remember that your master has just as much power over you." - that seems to be his crux - be nice to your slaves).

 

Regarding how much influence Christianity had on Christian anti-slavery, there's always going to be a multitude of forces at play in any opinion, but all a historian can say is that the Christian abolitionists themselves (like Gregory) were pretty convinced that it was Christian principles that brought themselves to their convictions - Mortem Desino has a pretty nice compliation of quotes to that effect.


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#17 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 01:34 PM

all a historian can say is that the Christian abolitionists themselves (like Gregory) were pretty convinced that it was Christian principles that brought themselves to their convictions

 

 

It's indisputable that Christian writers often gave credit to their faith for leading them to their opinions.  However, I think you would agree that just because someone claims to get their opinions from a particular source, it doesn't mean that the source actually CONTAINS that message.  It's just as possible that they felt this way for other reasons, and then discovered passages in scripture that seemed to support their feelings. 

 

Since it is awfully hard to know how we come to our own ideas, let alone how someone else comes to theirs, it's nearly impossible to provide hard facts to argue this with.  If we could, then we could know for certain which terrorists really ARE brought to their convictions due to their religion, and which are simply intent on causing damage for other reasons and use their religion to justify it after the fact.

 

However, I think we can agree at the very least, that if the Bible contains a clear message that slavery is immoral, it is odd that so many Christians, for so many centuries, did not get the message.


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#18 Moonbo

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 01:49 PM

If you can show me an ideology or doctrine which doesn't have people swearing to it and drawing wildly different conclusions from it I'd be shocked (or for that matter agreeing that an ideology has a conclusion and then ignoring it - you don't need to go to slavery for that, adultery and murder work just fine).  

 

Even with that being the case it takes an extreme ideological nihilism to say "ideas don't have consequences", which is basically what you'd have to do by ignoring the large numbers of people who, even when it was unpopular, stated that their Christian convictions inspired their anti-slavery positions. 

 

 

And totally unrelated, but I really enjoyed the new TDM intro mission! The quality of the modules really added a lot to the immersiveness of the whole thing  :)


But you should walk having internal dignity. Be a wonderful person who can dance pleasantly to the rhythm of the universe.
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#19 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 02:54 PM

If you can show me an ideology or doctrine which doesn't have people swearing to it and drawing wildly different conclusions from it I'd be shocked (or for that matter agreeing that an ideology has a conclusion and then ignoring it - you don't need to go to slavery for that, adultery and murder work just fine).  

 

How do you establish the actual message of a religious text then, if you admit that people can draw wildly different conclusions from it?  Surely there must be more than "it means whatever someone wants it to mean"?

 

 

And totally unrelated, but I really enjoyed the new TDM intro mission! The quality of the modules really added a lot to the immersiveness of the whole thing  :).

 

 

Thanks!  That means a lot. :)


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#20 Anderson

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 03:25 PM

 

How do you establish the actual message of a religious text then, if you admit that people can draw wildly different conclusions from it?  Surely there must be more than "it means whatever someone wants it to mean"?

 

 

By writing the Talmud and Sharia Law as a commentary.

 

The question is if we see religion in its current form as ephemeral, can we hope for a compromise at least between the Abrahamic religions into a universal denominator at least on key points for global peace proclaimed in Kant's works?



#21 Moonbo

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 03:53 PM

Hah! That's a question that plenty of people throughout history have asked, and not just about religion (after all, both Ayn Rand and Karl Marx were atheists - that didn't stop them from drawing pretty different conclusions about how the world works).

 

Not to wax too poetic but all you can say about an idea (religious or otherwise) is do you find it convincing and if so, then how will you express it in your life. You will inevitably run into people who agree with your idea but have totally different interpretations of it, and express it in totally differently ways in their lives. Just because that happens, does that mean that the idea is wrong? Probably not  - you could have ten people look at a dot on a piece of paper and get ten explanations as to what it is.

 

So I suppose you could spend all your time in debate to try to get everyone to agree on a certain interpretation of the facts (some people do this), but in the end, the worth of any idea to an individual is going to boil down to those two initial factors: how convincing is it to you, and how will you express it in your life. As time passes, if you can look back and see that idea has guided you and those you love to a better place, then at the least you can say it was a good idea to embrace it. And most likely that's the idea that will spread, even if you don't spend all your time debating it.


Edited by Moonbo, 10 April 2017 - 03:54 PM.

But you should walk having internal dignity. Be a wonderful person who can dance pleasantly to the rhythm of the universe.
-Sun Myung Moon


My work blog: gfleisher.blogspot.com

#22 Kurshok

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 04:08 PM

Dudes, let's all just agree that humanity might be doomed due to the fact that the internet has "ANAL VORE" and go home for a shameful fapping session to hyper hermaphrodite furries while choking ourselves as an entire city is sucked into a massive multi-dick-&-titted skunktaur's anus. There, see? We can all agree that that stuff is horrific, and having agreed on something, we can have peace.
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#23 Kurshok

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 04:09 PM

P.S.: PLEASE don't let there actually be anyone here aroused by that shit.

#24 demagogue

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 06:08 PM

Uh, putting that aside...

It's not really the historian's job to imagine all the possible ways an ideology might be interpreted, but the ways it actually was in history that led to social development. The recent book I read I found very enlightening, not because it was a defense of Christianity but because it made sense of the history and ideas of the West, all the ideas coming to fruition in the Enlightenment period, mid 17th Century.

We have all these concepts today. They had to come from somewhere. The book IMO makes a great case about two things, (1) they couldn't have come from Roman thought, still less Greek, nor from the Germanic norms, and (2) they all have their proto-form in church institutions first.

The core of the thesis is that the most revolutionary idea could only have come from a Christian starting point, not Roman, Greek, or Gaul (et al), but it's not the idea you might think. It's nothing really to do with the existance of gods or the bible narrative or the role of Jesus, etc. The thesis is the Christian belief that did the real work is that it put individual voluntary will at the center of its cosmology. The universe doesn't mandate your status by birth. You determine your own status (if only in the afterlife) by your voluntary will. Greeks, Romans, and the tribes couldn't make that leap.

It means, eg. if a slave tells you he's a believer in God, he's your equal before the eyes of God and will share a mansion with you on your block in paradise, so to speak (although clearly not here). That was the revolution. The stories were all just scaffolding for that idea. It's his voluntary belief that makes his status (and since all humans have capacity to believe, it's an equal status), not the station of his birth. That part.

Then you can look at European history, the end of slavery as one example, as playing out the inevitable implications of that core idea, which the text sources show they (the bishops and soon after monks) realized very early on, but Roman and Germanic social habits died hard, and the transformation of social norms took time. The point is, voluntary will creating your station in life, that's the idea that did all the real work, and that idea has to come out of a Christian cosmology. It can't come out of Greek, Roman, or the pagan tribes' cosmology because it's antithetical to their fatalistic starting point, where people are simply born into their station and have no choice in the matter, including (especially!) the Greek Sophists, and many cultures still today.

So it's a Christian idea, but it's not the idea most people would latch on to as the critical part of the religion. But it's all a matter of perspective and what you care about. If you want to know where western thinking comes from, and don't have any agenda to defend or attack the church per se (which would focus you on details the church may care about but didn't mean much to intellectual history). then that's the track the sources will lead you to.

What I found interesting was the "freeing up" implication. Once individual voluntary will was put at the center of the cosmology, that freed up the rest of the world to follow independent secular rules. William of Occam finally drew out the implication of that with nominalism, which I think is still the most powerful idea in history. It's the simple idea that your description of the world is just a description, not recounting the reality of it itself, so you might actually be wrong or not know what the world is. That's very different than ancient philosophical scepticism, which took ignorance as an axiom. In nominalism, you have to actually explore the world to let it tell you its truths, instead of you dictating them to it. You can imagine how much falls out of that, deductive reasoning, science, governing by consent instead of divine right, etc., etc.

I guess if you want to have a discussion, to simplify things, the three major claims are (1) a cosmology where an individual's voluntary will assigns their status in the universe is the core idea on which western liberalism is built, (2) that cosmology came out of Christianity, the way it was structured, and (3) that concept was antithetical to, so could not possibly have come out of the cosmologies in Greek, Roman, and Germanic thought.

Edit. I realize this is bigger than the original issue of debate. I just find it useful to connect to the big picture for my own sake of understanding how the pieces fit together.
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#25 Springheel

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 08:08 PM

The thesis is the Christian belief that did the real work is that it put individual voluntary will at the center of its cosmology. The universe doesn't mandate your status by birth. You determine your own status (if only in the afterlife) by your voluntary will. Greeks, Romans, and the tribes couldn't make that leap.

 

 

That seems like a healthy dose of confirmation bias to me.  Christians certainly didn't believe that you could determine your status on earth by voluntary will.  Lots of Christians didn't even believe that you could determine your status in the afterlife that way--predestination was a popular idea in Christianity, and an entire sect of it (Calvanism) is devoted to the idea that there is absolutely nothing you can do to determine your own status.  So right off the bat this author is narrowing his definition of "Christianity" to suit his thesis.

 

Beyond that, there are Greek writers who wrote about people being born with the souls of free men, even though they might later be enslaved.  Seneca the Younger, who I already quoted, said ""He is a slave." His soul, however, may be that of a freeman."  Clearly, the idea that a person was not  "born a slave" was not an idea limited to Christians.  The idea that "if a slave tells you he's a believer in God, he's your equal before the eyes of God" is already summed up in Seneca's quote, "Kindly remember that he whom you call your slave sprang from the same stock, is smiled upon by the same skies, and on equal terms with yourself breathes, lives, and dies."  How is that not expressing a similar idea?

 

 

Hah! That's a question that plenty of people throughout history have asked, and not just about religion (after all, both Ayn Rand and Karl Marx were atheists - that didn't stop them from drawing pretty different conclusions about how the world works).

 

 

That's not a direct comparison.  Religious texts are supposed to send messages.  The world does not send messages.  Figuring out the message of a text is not the same as developing a philosophy based on direct observation.

 

My question was "How do you establish the actual message of a religious text"?

 

If there isn't a good method, then the text becomes meaningless, doesn't it?  It's just poetry--it can mean whatever the reader wants it to mean. 
 

 

Not to wax too poetic but all you can say about an idea (religious or otherwise) is do you find it convincing and if so, then how will you express it in your life.

 

 

But again, that leads to complete relativism, doesn't it?    What does it mean to say the Bible has a position on slavery, or anything else, if the only way to decide that position is to ask yourself  "do you find it convincing?" 


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