In general, I attempt to avoid topics of morality in my discussions of theology and religion. This is not because I think the topic is too difficult or too complex to discuss, but rather because it seems like an exercise in futility to argue about morality when the foundational metaphysical views upon which we frame morality differ so greatly. I’ve found that such discussions very frequently either end up with one person expounding on the virtues of apples while the other extols the dangers of oranges; or else they end up regressing backward until we are discussing the foundational metaphysics instead of the moral topic.
However, today, I’m going to break that trend. I was recently directed to an article written in November of 2017 entitled Nine Points about Biblical Slavery and Skeptics’ Condemnation of the Bible. The author of the article intends the piece to be a defense of the Bible against complaints regarding the manner in which its constituent documents treat the institution of slavery. The topic is an understandably sore one for a great number of people. Opponents of religion are quite often quick to point out that the Ten Commandments, a list of some of the supposed most important tenets of morality, includes things like, “Keep the Sabbath holy” and “Honor thy father and mother,” but omits something like, “Thou shalt not own another person as your property.” In fact, the Bible never offers any clear proscription against slavery, and indeed seems to sanction the practice in a number of places. Given the incredibly strong modern moral aversion to the idea of slavery, Christian apologists have attempted to take up the task of showing that these modern detractors hold deep misunderstandings of what the Bible actually says about slavery.
The reason I’m breaking my usual avoidance of topics of morality to discuss this one is that I honestly don’t care about the metaphysical foundations of our ethics, in regards to slavery. All I care about, regarding this topic, are the answers to two, simple questions.
Is it morally acceptable to own another human being as property? Does the Bible sanction the owning of another human being as property?