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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

(II) “Slave to Cherry-picked Footnotes: 19 problems with Hector Avalos on religion and human bondage.”


This is Part II of my response to Dr. Hector Avalos’ criticism of myself, and of the Christian record against slavery, in his article "A Slave to Incompetence: The Truth Behind David Marshall's Research on Slavery" on the “Debunking Christianity” web site. (See here for Part I, which mostly deals with Dr. Avalos' attempts at ad hominen; comments welcome below.)

(Note: Probably the most interesting part of this blog, especially for readers new to the discussion, will be the "Timeline for Christian Abolition" at the end of it. Some readers may like to skip my 19 critical points of response to Dr. Avalos' attack (immediately below) to this timeline beneath it. I especially welcome input, either by adding to the list, or by criticizing any errors or exagerations I may have made.)

No doubt Dr. Avalos chose to criticize the segment on slavery in my book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism for good reasons. In his on-going crusade to show how harmful Christianity has been, slavery is an obviously important front. Avalos is writing a book on the subject, so he has already done a lot of useful research. I explained, in Part I, why Avalos’ attempt to nurse his advantage on this topic into an attack on my scholarly credentials is bogus. But tactically, his choice of topics makes sense.

Hector Avalos is an accomplished and in some ways talented academic. With a doctorate from Harvard, a goodly number of publications, Avalos is recipient of the Professor of the Year award at ISU in 1996. He should be in a position, one would think, to offer formidable challenges to my arguments.

And in a sense, Avalos' critique is at least more detailed and (at first glance) convincing than most "new atheists" who have attacked the book, or than physicist Victor Stenger's critique in his book, The New Atheism.
But it is curious, given all these advantages, how often Avalos stumbles. It is also interesting to note the inconvenient facts he stumbles over.

Again, this is not meant to be a full rebuttal, which might best follow the publication of his book and more in-depth study. But I find nineteen initial problems with Avalos' critique, and with his approach to Christianity and slavery.

(Readers who have not read his critique might either like to read it first, or skip nos. 2-4, 11, and 13, which rebut specific criticisms. These bare less on the issue of Christianity and human bondage, than on the character of Hector Avalos' critique.)

(1) In one paragraph of page 145, I quote Sam Harris’ claim that the wrongness of slavery is “remarkably easy epiphany” and that Christians were especially dense for not arriving at it. I responded in part by saying Christianity DID stop it, twice, though “Not many people know about the first abolition movement.” I then briefly described Christian efforts in Antiquity to free slaves, and similar movements in the Middle Ages. I am not an historian of European history, and one paragraph for a thousand years is obviously a bit glib – though (as shown in Part I) much more than Harris or his allies offer. My main source for that paragraph was Rodney Stark, who does admittedly spread himself thin sometimes. (See my Amazon review of Carrier’s critique in The Christian Delusion.)

Avalos spends many pages rebutting that paragraph.

I took Avalos’ criticism seriously, and looked into the issue in more depth. Admittedly, some of what I found was depressing – Christian councils that saw it as a duty to return escapees, slave collars found with Christian symbols on them, slave-trading popes.

But after looking more deeply into the facts, I conclude that Stark was essentially right, as were my criticisms of Harris and Hitchens. A substantial and theologically-motivated movement against slavery did grow up in the ancient and Medieval worlds, among leading Christian thinkers. It ultimately helped liberate tens of thousands of people and make much of Medieval Europe almost free of slavery. It may be anachronistic to call it an “abolition” movement, but abolition was sometimes the effect.

But Avalos also errs by failing to note what I say about the nature of ancient and Medieval Christian reform. Were Avalos to read that whole chapter and the next, he would find that (in my view) what changes things for the better are usually not dramatic and instant revolutions, but incremental improvement:

(a) "Liberation often advances at glacial speed." (149)

(b) "Pluralism grew slowly in Western culture, like a sheltering tree from a small seed." (151)

(c) "Ideas are like Harry Potter's 'any-flavored candy,' or Forrest Gump's chocolates: there is a certain quantum variability to what comes out of the historical selection process at any moment. Influence is hard to pin down. How can we trace the flow of an idea from its intellectual origins through such a complex, ingenious, and devious organ as the mind, and out into human actions?" (158)

And here, on the Bible and slavery, a passage Avalos overlooks:

(d) "Some ideas are explicit. The apostles John and Paul wrote about the divinity of Jesus, which is why Christians have always believed him divine . . . . Other doctrines are implicit, and their logic mixes slowly, like juices in a crockpot. The New Testament has little to say about slavery -- it's taken for granted, but undermined by pervasive calls to love one another, talk about freedom, and the assumption that Christians form a united spiritual family. Still other doctrines or practices grow up in the face of commands against them, which we subvert for our own purposes." (158, emphasis added)

That, I think, accurately describes the process by which Christianity ended slavery. But Dr. Avalos does not seem to have read outside his four-page “strike zone,” and says nothing about these remarks.

(2) It is curious how often Avalos uses the "Yezbut" construction. It is never enough to admit my point: he always finds some complication, which of course history always furnishes, to pretend he is rebutting me, even when he essentially concedes my point. Finding such complexities is not hard to do when you’re responding with 24 pages to 4 pages.

(3) In two curious cases, Avalos quotes me, responds with the word “False!”, then goes on to admit that what I said is actually TRUE.

(a) Marshall: “Queen Bathild worked to free Christian slaves (at least) and stop the slave trade . . .”

Avalos: “False, at least in part. Bathilde did not work to ‘stop the slave trade’ . . . The Latin source . . . actually says that she ‘prohibited the sale of Christian captives . . . ‘”

Well, yes, that’s what I just said. Long before Islam had come to Europe, that’s what most people in her domain were, at least nominally.

And here’s a particular bald misreading:

(b) Marshall: “Hitchens claims that ‘this huge and terrible industry was blessed by all churches and for a long time aroused absolutely no religious protest. He’s wrong. Many popes protested, beginning in the 15th Century . . . “

Avalos: “False. For ‘a long time’ slavery was blessed by the churches and did not arouse any religious protests. Any protests were isolated instances. Marshall himself seems to concede that it took a pope until the 15th century to protest . . . 1400-1500 years would qualify as a ‘long time’ to many . . . ”

Here the tendentious nature of Avalos’ criticism is revealed by the contradiction of his own words. If there were “isolated instances” of protest, as Avalos seems to concede (in fact there were MANY such instances, and they were not that “isolated,” as we will see), then Hitchens’ claim that there were “absolutely no” such instances is false, just as I said. So as Avalos implicitly admits, even while he explicitly denies, my claim is not “false,” but quite TRUE.

Worse, Dr. Avalos’ criticism is based on badly misreading our discussion. Hitchens is not talking about slavery in general, but, to be precise, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. If Avalos does not have a copy of Hitchen’s book, all he had to do was read the prior sentences of mine to know this: “With slavery an accepted institution, and warfare a way of life, as they became more ‘civilized’ themselves, it was natural for the Portuguese and Spanish to go into the trade on a massive scale in Africa and the Americas. The English, French, and Americans followed their lead.”

Thus Avalos’ rebuttal drains into the sand without remainder. The Transatlantic Slave Trade BEGAN in the 15th Century: it is hardly surprising that popes only started protesting it then! (Even if Hitchens’ assertion were about slavery in general, then his claim would still be wrong – see the timeline at end.)

(4) Avalos accuses me of a "gross and misleading overgeneralization." Actually he MISQUOTES me again, then goes on a twelve-paragraph panegyric that depends for its barb on his misreading! Note carefully the two versions, Marshall (A) and Avalos (B):

A: "The equality of humanity was denied by Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asians and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Marshall classic version, p. 144.)

B: "The equality of humanity was denied by THE Greeks, Gnostics, Indians (Asians and American), Africans, Chinese, and countless similar tribes." (Avalos redacted version, emphasis added.)

What difference does Avalos' addition of the word "the" make to my sentence? It creates precisely what he accuses me of making, a "gross and misleading overgeneralization!" I left the word "the" out just because I didn't WANT to generalize about ALL Greeks, Chinese, etc!

Consider a similar example:

A. "A windstorm blew down trees in Mount Rainier National Park."

B. "A windstorm blew down THE trees in Mount Rainier National Park."

In which case are there probably still trees left in the park? In case A, of course. A is not a "gross and misleading overgeneralization;" B might well be.

This is not the first time Dr. Avalos, who makes so much of the importance of careful scholarship, and so often derides his opponents for failing at it, misquotes opponents. Nor is it the first time his misquotes give advantage to his arguments.

*In our debate, he tried to refute claims he ascribed to me about Stalin and Hitler that I had in fact not made.

*In Christian Delusion, Avalos claimed that Dinesh D'Souza admitted that Europeans had killed 100,000 people as witches – only D’Souza didn’t say that.

*Avalos falsely claimed that historian Richard Weikart blamed the Holocaust on atheism – but Weikart said no such thing, and when I asked him, he repudiated Avalos’ misreading. (See our Amazon debate for details on all these.)

* Later in this article, Avalos again quotes me as saying "slavery didn't die in Greece or Iberia," then responds, . . . "The fact is that it is in areas, such as Iberia and Italy, where the greatest Christian populations were concentrated in the Middle Ages." (sic) Aside from the confusing punctuation, it almost appears that Dr. Avalos is suggesting his "Italy" as a synonym for my "Greece!"

Slippery citations seem to be an unfortunate habit with Dr. Avalos. Given how usefully sloppy he can be working in English, it might be reasonable a fortiori to take his translations from Latin and Aramaic with a small grain of sal.

(5) Context again: as I emphasized, slavery was almost universal in advanced civilizations, because it was profitable. Even some ants enslave other ants. The wonder is not that anyone participated, but that any society ever stopped doing it for moral reasons. This is the point of some arguments I make that Avalos misreads as meaning something else.

(6) Avalos claims that "Qualitatively, nothing in the NT compares to the extensive and thoughtful advocacy of fairness of slaves in Seneca's forty-seventh epistle . . ."

Avalos would be right if he said "quantitatively." There is no passage on slavery in the NT as LONG as that in Seneca's letter.

But note two points. First, Seneca is keenly conscious of spitting against the wind here:

"Associate with your slave on kindly, even on affable, terms; let him talk with you, plan with you, live with you. I know that at this point all the exquisites will cry out against me in a body; they will say: 'There is nothing more debasing, more disgraceful, than this.'"

I never claimed no pagan ever suggested it would be a nice thing to treat slaves nicely. In fact, some pagans freed slaves, possibly including the great Buddhist king of India, Ashoka, and the founder of the Late Han Dynasty in China, Liu Xiu.

Second, when it comes to QUALITY, while Seneca urges us to treat slaves as "friends," Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesius "no longer as a slave, but as more than a slave, a beloved brother." (αδελφον αγαπητον) Paul may or may not have been asking Philemon to manumit the young man (there is long debate over the point), but certainly the term of endearment he prescribed at least matches that of Seneca. (To say nothing against Seneca or Stoicism in general, for which I have profound respect.)

(7) There is no exegetical reason not to apply the hundreds of demands in Scripture that we "love" both other Christians and people in general to slaves. Slaves are human, and therefore fitting objects of all the imprecations along those lines in the New Testament. Of course slave owners can choose to ignore those demands, but that does not render them void.

(8) Avalos scoffs at the relevance of my pointing out that Jesus was a carpenter. Apparently he does not understand this point. Slave societies create a mindset in which owners think physical labor is beneath them. The example of Jesus forever renders this attitude heretical to Christians: how can the work Jesus did be too good for his followers? Of course people can again ignore the Gospel example, but that is their fault.

(9) “There is no evidence cited that loving one’s neighbor eventually led to abolition. As Harry M. Orlinsky, the prominent scholar of Hebrew, has deftly noted, the Hebrew term (re’eka) translated as ‘your neighbor’ is best understood as ‘your fellow Israelite’ in Leviticus 19:18 . . . ‘”

All one has to do is read what abolitionists like John Wesley, Francis Pastorius and his fellows, and William Wilberforce said about slavery, to see that “loving one’s neighbor” was the heart and soul of the abolition movement. They consciously drew on Jesus’ teaching and example here.

As for what “your neighbor” meant, let me suggest that Dr. Orlinsky, and Avalos again, “deftly” fail when it comes to reading context. Note just 15 verses later in the same chapter, 19:33: “When a stranger lives among you in your land, do not mistreat him; the foreigner who lives among you shall be like a native among you. You shall love him as your own . . . “

Is that not sufficiently clear?

If it isn’t, similar commands elsewhere in the book should make it so:

23: 22: “When you harvest the crop of your land neither mow to the very edges of your field nor glean what has been dropped in harvesting; leave it for the poor and for the foreigner. I am the Lord.”

25: 35: “If your brother becomes poor and unable to meet his obligations to you, then you shall sustain him, foreigner or neighbor, so he may keep alive with you. Charge no interest . . . “

There are numerous similiar regulations in Numbers, which immediately follows Leviticus, and throughout much of the OT.

(10) Avalos wants to ascribe the origins of racism to Christianity. I wait with interest to read his argument proving this point, contravening the plain meaning of Scripture.

(11) In regard to Darwin, I did not, in fact, "resort to guilt by association," as Avalos alleges. My point was that Haeckel was a prominent Darwinist, not that Darwin (as a person) was responsible for his views. As I’ve said elsewhere (in fact earlier in the same book from which Avalos read 4 pages, see subtopic on page 53, “Darwin was a Great Scientist!”), I have much respect for Charles Darwin.

(12) No, Pharaoh was not an "abolitionist," as Avalos claims. Nor, in the Exodus story, did he "manumit" anyone -- after all the trials God sent him, he allowed the Hebrews to go into the desert to sacrifice, then went after them with an army when they tried to stretch their holiday to a lifetime. I suggest Avalos re-read Exodus; it in NO way supports an abolitionist interpretation of his actions.

(13) No, I did not "excuse the Spaniards and the Portuguese because slavery was 'an accepted institution.'" I didn't even root for Spain in the World Cup.

(14) Avalos asks how the Bible could have had anything to do with getting rid of slavery in northern or western Europe, if it didn't serve the same function in southern Europe, "even though the Bible was known in both areas."

What a view of historical causation this seems to betray! Yet his fellow CD contributor, the historian Richard Carrier, makes the same mistake in trying to deny Christianity had anything to do with the rise of science, by offering this remarkable view of historical causation:

“One of the most basic principles of causality: when the cause is in place, its effect is seen.”

But history is not a machine in a pizza parlor that, when you hit the blue button, a the green alien pops out. It is multivariable chronology of events involving complex, obstinate creatures (human beings) who act out of a wide variety of often opaque and usually self-serving motivations.

Sure, there were Bibles in Spain. But few people owned them. There were also other books. Most people could not read any of them. Those few who read Bibles, were also acted on (like all of us) by lust, greed, pride, hunger, cowardice, stupidity, vanity, and social inertia. In addition it is, as I conceded in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, possible to rationalize slavery from the Bible, if you really want to. And of course, Sam Harris aside, human beings take a lot of motivating to give up power and wealth. To reduce a fantastically complex causal pathway to “when the cause is in place, the effect is seen” mocks modern post-determinative physics, still less any realistic understanding of how human history works.

(15) I argue, “A second and more radical abolition movement began among the Quakers,” then describe one of the antics of Benjamin Lay, the eccentric Quaker activist who agitated against slavery in the Philadelphia area until his death in 1759, to illustrate the point.

Dr. Avalos spills much ink arguing that, despite Lay, many Quakers in Philadelphia were and for some time remained slave-owners. He admits that the number of slaves there fell by 60% in just 8 years, from 1767 to 1775, but claims, “A better explanation for the decline of slaves is the inability of a slave population to reproduce itself after slave importations had virtually stopped.” On this basis he derides the idea that Quakers can “be counted as the second time ‘the Bible’ ended slavery.”

This response is questionable on several counts.

First, I didn’t say Quakers, or the Bible by means of one particular Quaker living in Philadelphia in the 1750s, “ended slavery.” I said a radical abolition movement BEGAN among Quakers. So it did. Nor did it begin or end with Lay, as anyone who reads the history of abolition should know. Misreading my real claim, not for the first time, Avalos simply fails to respond to it.

The first recorded protest against slavery in North America seems to have come from four Quakers in 1688. Half a century later, Benjamin Lay, Anthony Benezet, and John Woolman followed their lead. Woolman wrote, “my heart was enlarged in the love of Jesus Christ, and the favor of the Most High was extended to us in that and the ensuing meeting,” which gives a feel for his motivation.

Aside from their influence in the colonies, in England, “Friends taking the initiative against the slave trade in the 1780s drew on the colonial American Quakers Benezet and Woolman. The groundwork of a powerful testimony and action against the trade in slaves was laid by their writings.”

Second, is it really likely that the slave population of Philadelphia fell 60% in eight years through natural attrition? The slave trade to the US was outlawed in 1808. The 1810 Census counted 1.2 million slaves, while the 1860 census counted 4 million! (Not counting free blacks.) So even without slaves being imported, the number more than tripled over 52 years. So why should it have plunged so precipitously in Philadelphia? There is, then, something in need of explanation about the demographic claims Dr. Avalos draws from, here.

Third, why did Pennsylvania ban the import of slaves? Wasn’t that itself the fruit of agitation against slavery?

(16) No, I did not use the movie Amazing Grace as "evidence," as Avalos infers. Here's what I said:

"But as the movie Amazing Grace beautifully shows, Wilberforce's 'delusion' that God has raised him to make slavery 'vanish away' changed the course of history."

As should be clear, I mentioned the movie because I LIKED it, and wanted to encourage readers to see it. It is an illustration, nor an argument, thus the words "beautifully shows."

Having run up the flag of True Scholarship again, Avalos then tries to distract attention from the clear fact that Wilberforce DID play the leading role in banning slavery, by an historiographic aside questioning the "Great Man Theory of History." But if men like Jesus and Paul do not have a big effect on history, why does Avalos need to worry about something called Christianity? Furthermore, why does he spend so much effort trying to pin blame for the Holocaust on Martin Luther in his chapter in Christian Delusion? Should he add a postlude to that chapter: “But of course recent historiography has shifted away from the Great Man Theory of History, so the heart of my argument is null and void?”

Or does this argument, too, only work when employed against Christians?
(17) Avalos quotes Wilberforce as saying the NT undermines slavery, then pretends the man didn't really mean it. Again he plays a kind of verbal shell game, this time by first citing what he takes as a useful quote from Wilberforce, then transitioning with a sentence starting "In other words." Not uncommonly with Avalos, what follows are not just other words, but other meaning:

Wilberforce: “ . . . there certainly cannot be a doubt as to the principle of the Holy Scriptures especially of the New Testament on the subject of the Slave Trade or even that of slavery; tho on the latter point explanation would be required. But I believe it was better not to enter into any such discussion in the House of Commons for many reasons.”

Avalos: “In other words, Wilberforce apparently recognized that arguing on the basis of the Bible was a losing battle in the Commons . . . if anything, it was abandoning the Bible that made the abolitionist argument much easier.”

The implication is that, as Avalos claims earlier, the New Testament does not furnish good arguments against slavery, or that it furnishes better arguments for it, and Wilberforce wisely recognized this. But Wilberforce actually MEANS exactly the opposite: “there can be no doubt” that the NT is AGAINST both the slave trade (obviously) and slavery in general (needs some explanation).

An unspoken premise here is that Wilberforce could have no other reason for not emphasizing the biblical argument, than that the NT is not really against the slave trade and slavery, wink, wink. (Never mind his explicitly stated view that it is!) In any case, this premise is also clearly false. Consider the famous words of William Lamb (aka Lord Melburne):

“Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.”

A reprobate of the old school and friend of Enlightenment figures, Lord Melburne seldom seemed to allow religion to invade his private life much, either. Avalos seems to curiously assume that such orientations were unknown, even in the midst of the Enlightenment.

(18) Avalos' arguments about why Christians enslaved black Africans is something to behold, and seems to have little to do with historical reality. But this paper is growing long; I’ll leave that for another day.

(19) Finally, I write, "Evangelical Christians led the movement against slavery in England and America, and England led the world."

Dr. Avalos responds:

"Not quite. In 1791, Haiti became the first country where slaves successfully overthrew their slavemasters (Christian slavemasters in this case) and founded a new nation. Those slaves were heavily influenced by Voodoo and other African traditions rather than just Christianity."

The topic here is abolition, not slave rebellions. Slaves have always wanted to free themselves, of course, which is why we have so many movies about Roman slave rebellions. (Note: movies are an illustration, not evidence!)

And how did slavery end in Haiti? Perhaps the best and most effective leader of the revolution was Toussaint Louverture, the Father of Haiti, a zealous Catholic and abolitionist who believed God wanted slavery overthrown. This formed no part of my short argument, and I’m not quite sure why Avalos brought Haiti up, other than the need to find someone, somewhere, who was not a zealous Christian, to credit for abolition. No doubt one might well credit practitioners of voodoo in Haiti for some good deeds in that process; we will see what specifics Avalos comes up with.

But the Western movement culminating in abolition had been going on a long time before slaves were liberated in Haiti. Western history is not, as I have admitted, my primary field, and the following events deserve more in-depth research than I am able to give them right now. But with a bit of rummaging around, here’s a partial list of prior abolition-tending highlights, a tree, as I said, growing slowly from a seed:


Timeline for Christian Abolition

50s AD: Paul writes, “In Christ, there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free.” The full implications have been debated ever since; certainly it precludes treating slaves as less than human.

60s: Paul writes a letter to his fellow Christian, Philemon, asking that he take back Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but as a brother.” His meaning has been debated ever since.

300s: Ambrose, bishop of Milan, melts down communion vessels to redeem captives: “The ornament of my sacrament is the redemption of captives; and those alone are precious vessels, that redeem souls from death.”

354-431: Paulinus, bishop of Nola, (whom Avalos criticizes for alleged racism) liberates his own slaves, spends his considerable wealth redeeming citizens of Campania, and then, (allegedly, will need to look into this further), goes into slavery to redeem one captive.

4th Century: Gregory of Nyssa critiques slavery in the light of Christian theology:

"'I obtained servants and maidens.' What are you saying? You condemn man who is free and autonomous to servitude, and you contradict God by perverting the natural law. Man, who was created as lord over the earth, you have put under the yoke of servitude as a transgressor and rebel against the divine precept. You have forgotten the limit of your authority which consists in jurisdiction over brutish animals . . . “

"God has said, 'Let us make man according to our image and likeness' [Gen 1.26]. Since we are made according to God's likeness and are appointed to rule over the entire earth, tell me, who is the person who sells and buys? . . . How can we properly estimate the earth in its entirety as well as its contents? If these things are inestimable, tell me, how much greater is man's value who is over them . . . ? "

400-425: Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary historian, tells how Acacius, Bishop of Amida in modern Turkey, talked his priests into melting down holy vessels in order to redeem 7,000 Persian captives and send them home. He explains:

“Our God, my brethren, needs neither dishes nor cups; for he neither eats nor drinks, nor is in want of anything. Since then, by the liberality of its faithful members the church possesses many vessels both of gold and silver, it behooves us to sell them, that by the money thus raised we may be able to redeem the prisoners and also supply them with food.”

400s: St. Patrick rebukes Coroticus for enslaving Christians and threatens him with damnation:

“I do not know what to lament more: those who have been slain, or those whom they have taken captive, or those whom the devil has mightily ensnared. Together with him they will be slaves in Hell in an eternal punishment; for who commits sin is a slave and will be called a son of the devil.”

The assumption here, which has NT precedent, is that slave-trading is a “sin,” and a particularly nasty one, showing that the sinner is “mightily ensnared” by the devil. Patrick’s rant continues:

“Far from the love of God is a man who hands over Christians to the Picts and Scots . . .They have filled their houses with the spoils of dead Christians, they live on plunder . . . This is the custom of the Roman Christians of Gaul: they send holy and able men to the Franks and other heathen with so many thousand solidi to ransom baptized captives. You prefer to kill and sell them to a foreign nation that has no knowledge of God. You betray the members of Christ as it were into a brothel. What hope have you in God, or anyone who thinks as you do, or converses with you in words of flattery? God will judge.”

500s: An anonymous Christian believer in Egypt makes a legal declaration that a woman dependant on his family named Martha is not a slave, as she says, but free. After she certified that she was in fact of slave status, “fearing the judgment of God, and mindful of the Savior’s love of mankind, I groaned aloud.” He warned that anyone who tried to enslave the woman and her children would be subject to God’s judgment.

781: Jing Jing, in Chang An, the Chinese capital, writing an authoritative summary of the history and characteristics of the Church of the East:

“They do not keep slaves, but make the noble and humble equal. (不畜臧獲。均貴賤於人). They do not amass wealth, but put their stock in common.” (Note: the first Chinese phrase here is an unusual classical expression, used similarly by the Han historian Si Maqian, among other places.)
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972: Counsel of Koblenz

1014: In the "Sermon of the Wolf to the English," Wulfston is said to lambast the English for restricting the rights of slaves. Slaves seem to have constituted either about 2 or 10% of inhabitants of England.

1000-1150 Iceland: ¨Christian influences were also one reason why slavery declined and disappeared in the 11th and early 12th centuries.¨ Jon Hjalmarsson (a history teacher in Iceland and regional administrator of education), History of Iceland, 34
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1102: Under the leadership of Anselm, philosopher and Archbishop of Canterbury, the Council of Westminster condemned the slave trade: “Let no one here after presume to engage in that nefarious trade in which hitherto in England men were usually sold like brute animals.”

As one blogger put it, Anselm “hated slavery.”

1198: Founding of Trinitarians, who are credited with freeing almost a million (Christian) slaves over following centuries, among other acts of charity.

1200s: Founding of Mercedarian Order, also dedicated to freeing Christian slaves.

1300s: Louis X allows slaves to buy their freedom, as Avalos notes, to swell his coffers; actually his rationalization extended beyond that. In any case, France remained mostly slave-free, which did not need to happen.

1335: Magnus IV outlaws slavery (for Christians, anyway) in most of Scandinavia.

1416: The Republic of Ragusa (in modern Croatia) abolishes slavery and slave-trading.

1508: Thomas Hunt, one of John Smith's lieutenants (see Pocahontas for the Disney version!), kidnaps an American Indian named Tisquantum (Squanto) and attempts to sell him as a slave in Europe. Friars educate him, he is freed and returns to North America. While he is gone, everyone in his village died in an epidemic. Settlers at Plymouth are surprised to meet an Indian who speaks English. He teaches them how to fish, fertilize vegetables, and talk with other local tribes, enabling the colony to survive.

1588: The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth abolishes slavery.

1772: The Somersett’s case essentially ruled against the (already rare) institution of slavery in England.

1777: The Republic of Vermont adopted a Constitution outlawing slavery: "no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one Years, nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent."

1778: Slavery is outlawed in Scotland.

1780: Pennsylvania passes an Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery; other northern states follow with similar laws in 1783, 1784, 1799, and 1804.

1783: Slavery is ruled illegal in Massachusetts.

1780-1803: Other new laws are adopted against slavery in various parts of Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

1804: Haiti declares independence and abolishes slavery.

Given this history, it is puzzling why one should see Haiti as the pivot around which modern abolition moved.

After this point, and with this precedent, it is I think fair to say evangelicals (and Quakers) led what became the moral crusade against slavery, first in the English world, then extending around the world to this day. (I myself was privileged to play a small role in the continuing struggle.)

But not being a slave myself, I think I'll end here. A more proactive argument for the influence Christianity had and continues to have in ameliorating and ending slavery is probably needed to join all these little dots; maybe I’ll find time to write such a paper, or book, later.

Part III will deconstruct Dr. Avalos’ argument that Christianity caused the Holocaust.

5 comments:

The Angry Atheist said...

Hello David. Nice to hear from you! My post wasn’t vitriolic at all. I merely pointed out the obvious. While you yourself constantly engage others with ad hominem you whine when someone does it back to you. That’s hypocritical. Your attempt at tarnishing Avalos’ rep. was not when when you allegedly refuted his arguments (you did no such thing) but when you referred to some of his past debates and things he had said. So what? That has nothing to do with the arguments at hand.

As far as your supposed arguments (if they can even be considered that) you haven’t made a dent in anything he said. For example, you equivocate (among other things) about how he argues against your citation of Queen Bathild who freed fellow Christians from slavery. You claim Avalos says what you’ve written is false and then quote him as saying it’s partially true. Avalos is correct. You argue incorrectly that Bathild tried to stop the slave trade. The slave trade was much more than just the Christians being enslaved by Muslims, the opposite also occurred with Christians enslaving Muslims, but you didn’t see Bathild try to free anyone else but her brethren. That’s not anywhere close to stopping the slave trade but practicing the “in group” morality that your bible preaches so much of. If she was truly all for stopping the actual slave trade she would have tried to free everyone she could, but she didn’t.

To quote Avalos from the butt whooping he gave you -

“Plato (Republic 5.469b-c) had similarly prohibited the enslavement of fellow Greeks, but not that of non-Greeks. Thus, Bathilde is following an ancient tradition of prohibiting the enslavement of members of the in-group, but allowing the enslavement of members of the out-group (see Leviticus 25:44-46 again).

In sum, prohibiting the sale of Christian slaves is not the same as being against the slave trade because it was still perfectly legitimate to buy or capture non-Christian slaves. Bathilde’s actions cannot count as “abolitionism” or even as being against slavery.”

Precisely. That was Avalos’ point, but you simply glossed over that. Would you care to try again? You still have two more strikes before you’re out.

David B Marshall said...

Ed Babinski, contributing author, The Christian Delusionm, by e-mail:

"I read your responses, and your history of all the good things some Christians did for slaves throughout history. No doubt some Christians did good things for slaves. And I certainly have never said Christians were demons, nor that their only thought was to make others suffer. On the other hand, history is long and complex, and historians have discussed multiple reasons why serfdom eventually replaced slavery, and also why slavery rose to new heights during the colonization of the New World, and later, how slavery was made illegal in Europe and the U.S. (in each case multiple reasons come into play). The history of slavery in the western world, as well as the history of human rights in general is a fascinating one, and I have several book lists that can add to one's knowledge merely by reading the titles of each book in the list for starters and then reading the summaries and reviews, and then reading portions of each book itself . . . "

(Ed then copied correspondence he had had with Adam Hochschild, an historian of slavery who critically reviewed the movie Amazing Grace in the New York Review of Books, in which both men criticized the Christian record on slavery. He also copied Mr. Hochschild's review. I may respond to some of this later -- DM.)

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Ed. History is "long and complex?" No quarrels, there.

Hochschild may have been asking too much. Amazing Grace was a wonderful movie, but it was not a documentary. Compared to, say, Braveheart, or even Shadowlands (Anthony Hopkins drove me nuts with his C. S. Lewis), Amazing Grace still seems pretty good, historically. Of course the movie focused on one figure: it would be a bad movie if it hadn't! Patton didn't fight his war all alone, either; does that make George C. Scott a scoundrel for drawing so much attention to him?

One could equally object to Amistad for portraying Christian abolitionists as bigotted dullards. I enjoyed that movie, too, and was thrilled to see John Q Adams in the limelight. Wilberforce was (IMHO) a greater man, not all of whose great deeds were mentioned by Amazing Grace. While some of his points are valid, I find it a bit churlish of Hochschild to cut Wilberforce down to size. But I guess that's what the Academy likes to do with heroes.

Anonymous said...

A British economist based near Oxford e-mailed me the following useful resource on abolition of the slave trade, its Christian causes and implications:

"There is a Cambridge Paper (a biblically-based series) on the abolition of the slave trade. Do you know of it? It can be freely downloaded - here is the link: http://www.jubilee-centre.org/resources/the_abolition_of_the_slave_trade_christian_conscience_and_political_action."

David B Marshall said...

Angry Atheist: You say, "As far as your supposed arguments (if they can even be considered that) you haven’t made a dent in anything he said."

This is plainly untrue.

In one case, as I showed, Avalos spent NINE PARAGRAPHS attacking a claim I did not, in fact, make, because he added a key word that changed the meaning of my original comment.

In another, I showed that he misread both Harris and me as talking about slavery in general, when in fact we were talking about the Transatlantic Slave Trade -- and so attacked another straw man.

Those are particularly clear-cut examples, but many others are almost as straight-forward.

But you don't want to give an inch. Nothing I say can be right; nothing Avalos says can be wrong. He "kicked my butt" because you think you can dispute one relatively ambiguous point I made.

Nor are you very successful at that. In fact, it is unlikely that many slaves in Bathild's realm were Muslim, since she ruled until about 665 AD and the Moors didn't invade Iberia until 711. Hector would like to diminish her efforts at ending the trade. My point is that in her time and place, to oppose trade in nominally Christian slaves was probably de facto opposition to most the trade in slaves -- though Avalos may be right in saying the historical record is distant and hard to be certain about.

What most puts me off your posts is your apparent lack of genuine concern for truth