Where are the Scientists in Congress?

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A few years ago on Real Time with Bill Maher, astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson brought up a very interesting point about the United States Congress. “I wonder what profession all these Senators and Congressmen are? Law, law, law, law, business man, law, law. . . . There are no scientists? Where are the engineers? Where is the rest of life?,” quipped Tyson. The rest of life, indeed. According to a report released last year by the Congressional Research Service, there were only 11 members of Congress (out of 535) that were scientists or engineers; all of them were in the House of Representatives, with the exception of one engineer in the Senate. This is the very definition of disproportionate, seeing as by 2010, one in every 18 jobs in the United States was in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM). By 2018, it is projected to be nearly one in five. If our congressional representation kept a parity with the private sector, there should be 30 scientists, rather than merely 11. By 2018, it should be closer to 91.

This is a sad state of affairs, something that should have changed years ago. However, with the election of one of the most unqualified, anti-science administrations in history, scientists are beginning to get political. As a recent piece in the New York Times noted, scientists are now beginning to organize and even run for office, namely UC Berkeley biologist Michael Eisen. Within the growing secular movement, activist and science communicator Aron Ra is running for the Texas State Senate. This is all culminating in a national March for Science on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. Thousands of scientists, engineers, and all-around rationalists from across the country are getting organized to take on the anti-science, anti-reason impulses of our body politic. But it doesn’t end there.

The March for Science should be the starting point of an even larger movement to reshape Congress. Our Congress needs to be more aligned with the growing body of knowledge about the harmful effects of climate change, the wrong-headed hysteria over GMO foods and vaccines, as well as a larger commitment to critical thinking. We need to have organizations and activist resources that help us find, groom, canvass for, and finally elect science-oriented reformers to Congress. So much of the rancor and divisiveness plaguing our politics is rooted in a partisan view of the truth. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” An objective, non-partisan view of facts and science should come back to our politics. Liberals, conservatives, and independents should more than happily disagree about specific actions we take on the issues, but if we can’t even agree on what the issues are, we can never really change them. Electing science-minded members to Congress will go a long way to fix many such ills we face in our country and the world.

Without the Net: Depression and Anxiety as an Atheist

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Content Note: This article is about my experiences with depression and anxiety. I’m not a medical professional or psychologist, so if you’re worried about your own condition, I strongly advise you to visit your doctor. This article is not intended to be medical advice.

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I often wonder what it feels like to die, to give up on everything; to finally feel the release of this tortured frame of my body and be free. It’s a thought I’ve had many times in my life. Despite my successes, my family and friends, and the passions that animate my curiosity, the creeping darkness of my own mind still haunts me.

To know these feelings is to know depression, at least how it manifests in me. I’ve lived with clinical depression for over ten years, and clinical anxiety for three. Alongside the darkness and thoughts of death, I also experience episodes of intense worry, regret, and self-destruction. These moments paralyze me, make me feel the urgency of my body. The constant wrenching in the stomach, the deep and stentorian beats of my heart. This combination makes it very hard for me to relate to people, especially ones whose easy-going nature and calm demeanor often aggravate my own intensity.

I try not to take it out on them, of course. It is not their fault I am who I am. I am the product of biology as well my environment. My family has a history of depression, often undiagnosed. My father’s depression, of which his undiagnosed case catalyzed the end of his marriage to my mother, still creates in him an inner turmoil. Today, he does seek treatment for it, but as I do, lives with the lingering emotional scars. However, I’m unlike my father in that I’m an extrovert and desire the approval and attention of others. These interactions are a great source of strength.

I have what is called dysthymia, or low-grade depression. It doesn’t appear like other forms of depression do, where you have long-bouts of completely debilitating experiences. Instead, this type of depression smolders under the surface, constantly picking away at you for weeks or months before you have a bad day, month, or even year. You still function, but you battle fatigue, irritability, and loss of attentiveness. In my experience, I often have a poor temper with regards to my episodes. Things will wear on me all day until the smallest thing sets me off. Whether it’s my wife asking me to do something, dropping an item on the floor, or forgetting a task that was important, these send me into a sort of mania that makes me really unpleasant. I have to be talked down from these moments, and thankfully for me, I have a partner who is patient and understands my symptoms.

My depression started when I was 15 years old, about a year into some major life changes. My parents divorced, my father and I moved away from my mom and sister, and I started life at a new school. The first year was pretty great; I gained new friends, found new hobbies, and improved academically, but then a series of misfortunes triggered my first bout with serious depression. I suffered a break-up, being kicked out of my band (due to my increasing moodiness), and was struck with a serious sinus infection that lingered for months. These experiences awakened a melancholy that was brewing all my life. I had an intense childhood that left me with mild trauma. Emotional, verbal, and rare, but very real physical abuse from my past played over and over again in my mind. I blamed myself for the pain that I took, for the breakup of my parents’ marriage, for the poor relationship with my sister. I had a complete breakdown of my self-esteem and personal growth.

It was around this time that began to study religion. I tried to grab on to something, anything that might help me understand what was going on in my mind. I studied the Bible (the book of Ecclesiastes and its poetry still fills me with comfort) as well as Buddhism. I began to meditate and tried to seek answers to my all-encompassing problems. Despite some semblance of recovery, it didn’t really help. It wasn’t until I understood the science of depression that I began to understand my condition. This discovery, alongside other reasons, also led me to my abandonment of religious belief in 2009.

At the suggestion of my doctor, I began taking anti-depressant medication, Lexapro. It was a low dose, but I had to take it every day. Lexapro is a SSRI, or a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. People with depression and anxiety often have problems with the neural framework of their brains; serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is blocked from performing its task as a mood regulator. A SSRI signals in on these serotonin irregularities and helps to normalize the neurotransmission process. In doing so, it helps to regulate mood. I took it as a teenager, spent a few years off of it, and then resumed it in 2014.

The catalyst for resuming the medication was the second major depressive episode in my life, now more pronounced due to my anxiety. My anger, sadness, worry, and impulsiveness began to get the best of me. While my grades were good in college and I was excelling in my professional life, I often came home a shattered wreck of a person. It made me have serious relationship problems with my girlfriend and I found it absolutely exhausting performing even the most basic of activities. I finally had a period of intense panic attacks and breakdowns, especially once I began graduate school, which convinced me to resume my medication and begin another period of talk therapy.

I began seeing a talk therapist during my first depressive period in high school. While he was helpful, I think he thought I was just a moody teenager in need of friends rather than a seriously depressed person. It wasn’t until I began my relationship with my girlfriend (now wife), rebuilt my self-esteem, and climbed out of the hole that I realized that I really didn’t need to see him anymore. Also, the sessions were rather expensive, and our finances also motivated my decision.

I resumed talk therapy, this time with another therapist, in 2014, after the second round of depression with added anxiety. He was a very helpful and kind listener, who respected my lack of religious belief, encouraged me to follow my passions, and gave advice as to how to alleviate some of my symptoms. While I no longer see him, I’m in the process of finding another therapist. I’ve also continued meditating, this time focusing on the practices of Mindfulness.

So, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with atheism? For me, everything. When I lost my religious inclinations in 2009, I began to explore the world as it is, not how I wanted it to be. I no longer expected the world or the universe to care about me, because they don’t. The person who is calling the shots in your life is you; atheism is the realization that your life belongs to you. It doesn’t belong to the state, it doesn’t belong to the church. It’s yours to make worthwhile. This was a revelation to me (pardon the religious phrasing). Once I realized that my life was mine to mold as I wish, I had a renewed sense of purpose that reinvigorated my self-esteem and helped me with my depression and anxiety.

This is what a secular, atheist, and broadly humanist outlook on the world has given me. When people say that life is purposeless without God, they are working with a poverty of ambition. When you understand that life is precious, that each moment can be used to laugh, to love, to live, to speak, to think, and to be down once in a while, it gives you the resolve to be better. Realizing that chemistry, biology, and society, not sin or karma, were responsible for my depression and anxiety gave me the necessary tools to live a fulfilling life. As the author Andrew Solomon once wrote, “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.” Vitality is what we should strive for, not mere contentment. I’m not happy every waking moment of my day. Hell, no one is. But what I am trying to be is vital, thriving, and dedicated to my own values.

For those who suffer from depression and anxiety, it can get better. There are people who love you and will support you if you ask for their help. There are medical and psychiatric professionals who are there to help you get better. The world can be a beautiful and rewarding place if you face it head-on and not cave to superstition or wishful thinking. Clear and honest reasoning about your own troubles is difficult, but in doing so, you can combat almost any inner struggles you have. My atheism has helped me understand and then care for my depression and anxiety, because I’m not waiting for someone to help me from the sky. I know it’s upon me to take the path that I know will make my life better. It isn’t easy, nor is it the be-all, end-all solution, but being a reasonable person in an often unreasonable world will push back the inner demons. It did, at least, for me.

The Year Ahead

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2016 has been an extremely rewarding year for me. I began this blog, started my first podcast, An Army of Principles, continued my activism as an admin for Philosophical Atheism, and began a partnership with the Atheist Alliance of America. It was this partnership that led to my next podcast project, Secular Nation. I am finally beginning to find my voice within the growing and diverse atheist movement.

With the new year, I have decided to change course. Trying to do both An Army of Principles and Secular Nation, alongside a full-time job and other projects, has been rather taxing on me. I think it is the right time for me to focus on specific projects and end others. It is with this in mind that I am ending An Army of Principles: The Podcast. I plan on doing one, final episode talking about the show and what I hoped to achieve. I will also end my show with a final “Special Comment” about the future of my activism and laying out a new vision for 2017.

With the troubling political landscape personified in the age of Trump, 2017 provides a unique opportunity to be a persistent opposition. Secular Nation is just the show for this opposition. I also hope to get back to some blogging, particularly about longer, more in-depth topics. The sharpening of focus will allow me to give you all more content that I’m passionate about that hopefully entertains and educates in the process. 2017 appears to be a rollicking year and I hope you will come along for the ride.

The Scientist and Communicator: Reflections on Carl Sagan

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It has been twenty years today since we lost Carl Sagan, the beloved astronomer and science communicator at the age of 62. His untimely death still feels prescient, especially in light of our seemingly chaotic and irrational world. However, I know that if he was still alive, Sagan would have found a way to be optimistic, looking ever forward to new horizons of knowledge and exploration.

I came to learn about him as an adult. Growing up in the rural Midwest, I received an abysmal science education, which left me largely ignorant and uninspired. I went into the humanities, history specifically, and found it to be my calling. I love studying the human race’s march toward betterment, through understanding ourselves and the universe around us.

As a result, I came to Sagan as an undergraduate in college. I am a huge fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, so it’s surprising that I didn’t get to Sagan earlier. But once I watched Cosmos for the first time, I was hooked. His ability to interweave science, history, and philosophy in way that is eloquent, engaging, and entertaining is unmatched by anyone. Even after all these years, Sagan is still the master.

From there, I began to read his books, which were even more rewarding than Cosmos. My all-time favorite is The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Published shortly before his death, this book is easily his best. In it, he stresses the importance of not just learning about science, but about critical thinking and skepticism. As he writes:

“One of the reasons for its [science’s] success is that science has a built-in, error-correcting machinery at its very heart. Some may consider this an overbroad characterization, but to me every time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science. When we are self-indulgent and uncritical, when we confuse hopes and facts, we slide into pseudoscience and superstition.”

The more we think critically, the more we test ideas against the evidence, the more we learn and grow as a people. As he said countless times, “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”

In his own career, he was a pioneering scientist. A professor at Cornell, Sagan’s research on the greenhouse effect on Venus and his work on the Viking and Voyager missions for NASA solidified his position as an astute scientist. Alongside his popular books, he published numerous scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals and continued his research into the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life for most of his career. Despite all this, he was never admitted to the National Academy of Sciences (they did give him a distinguished public service award, but not full membership).

His snub by the NAS was likely the result of his role as “popularizer” of scientific ideas, which was an unheard of endeavor during his time as a scientist. Most scientists were content with researching, publishing, and teaching, but Sagan took it a step further. He didn’t just want to be a great scientist; he wanted to be a great communicator of ideas. Even though some of his peers derided his public advocacy of science, the court of public opinion held him in the highest-esteem.

This is why Carl Sagan matters, why his work stands the test of time. When I started my search for graduate schools in history, I was inspired by Sagan to do something different. As such, I became a public historian, dedicated to quality research and analysis but interested in sharing this knowledge with the public. I didn’t just want to be a historian. I wanted to be a history communicator, someone who not only shared history with others but explained the importance of history to my fellow citizens and the world. I got this lesson from Carl.

Carl wasn’t just a great scientist; he was an amazing champion for skepticism, critical thinking, and intellectualism. His powerful voice, decades on, still inspires me to be a better thinker, a better communicator, and a better person. I have such a deep admiration and affection for someone I’ve never met, but whose mind and life compel me to be the man I am today.

Carl, thank you for all you did for the world. We love you and we miss you.

Aron Ra announces intention to run for Texas State Senate

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Aron Ra, the charismatic science educator and atheist activist, has announced his intention to run for Texas State Senate in 2018. On a recent episode of Dogma Debate, Aron Ra explained why he felt the time was right to announce his intention to run. Inspired by Bernie Sanders and California State Senate candidate Steve Hill, Ra remarked that “in 2018, when I run for Texas State Senate, I’m going to do an advertising campaign along those lines, and I think people are going to be completely outraged at what they’ve had to put up with for the two years leading up to that point before I do.”

What he was referring to was the phenomenal success that both Hill and Sanders had as unconventional candidates. Hill ran for the California Senate as an open Satanist during the 2016 Democratic primary, garnering nearly 12% of the vote. Sanders ran as a “democratic socialist” and won 23 states, 1865 delegates, and over 13.2 million votes against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This makes Sanders the most successful non-Christian (he’s a secular Jew) Presidential candidate in US history.

Ra faces an uphill battle in his race for the Texas State Senate. He lives in Garland, which likely puts him in either district 2, 8, or 16. These districts are Republican strongholds, where Democrats and even Libertarians haven’t had much luck against the incumbents. Nevertheless, Ra is an extremely successful activist and science educator, using his YouTube channel, podcast, and other outlets to educate the public about the dangers of creationism in public schools. He was also a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter, which means that he likely cares about combating climate change, income inequality, and money in politics.

Aron Ra would be a welcome addition to the local politics in Texas and would show to the country that atheists and secularists are becoming a more influential voice in the United States.

On Colin Kaepernick and Patriotism

 

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“What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” by Dread Scott. Courtesy of Dread Scott.

In 1989, this installation, created by artist Dread Scott, was displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago. As Scott’s website describes:

The installation is comprised of: a photomontage (the montage consists of pictures of South Korean students burning US flags holding signs saying ‘Yankee go home son of bitch’ and flag draped coffins in a troop transport; text printed on the photomontage reads “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?”), books (originally with blank pages) on a shelf, ink pens, a 3’x5′ American flag on the ground and an active audience. The audience was encouraged to write responses to the question “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” As they did so, they had the opportunity to stand on the flag as they wrote their response. When this work has been displayed, thousands of people filled hundreds of pages with responses. Many many of those stood on the flag as they added their comments to the work.

The installation’s main goal was to critique the often sycophantic and narcissistic displays of so called “patriotism” in our society. President George H.W. Bush condemned the exhibit and the US Congress even moved to make displays like this illegal. Protesting Congress’s action, artists burned the flag on the steps of the Capitol, which led to a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that defended their right to burn the flag as “protected speech.”

I bring this up because of the recent controversy concerning the actions of pro Football player Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem, as a protest against the continued violence against minorities in this country. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said.

The backlash was predictable and typically myopic. People burned his jersey, called for his firing, and publicly railed against his actions, yet did not actually acknowledge or understand why, as a person of color, he might do this. But that’s the specific circumstances of this incident; I wish to speak of its larger implications.

In my estimation, Kaepernick’s protest is just as legally defensible and morally consistent as “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” His action was exactly what people of privilege and tradition fear: showing them what’s wrong with our society and making them deal with it.

We have violence in our cities, continued high unemployment within minority communities, homelessness, and the chronic mistreatment of our past and present service members who need vital healthcare and social services. And yet this is what dominates the news.

We have a society that obsesses over meaningless objects of idolatry, like the flag or lapel pins, but ignores and actively undermines alternative acts of patriotism.

Kaepernick’s act was that of patriotism, just as much as any person who stood proudly during the anthem and sang their hearts out. Who is to say what is and is not patriotic? If patriotism is nothing more than blind deference to symbols and slogans, than we are no better than the fascists the democratic world defeated nearly 70 years ago.

Patriotism is not a showy display of hero or symbol worship; it is embodying the idea of what your nation believes in. In the U.S., our cornerstone ideal is liberty. When Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem, when Dread Scott created their art with the flag on the floor, and when a young kid refuses to say the pledge of alliegence because of the divisive and unconstitutional phrase of “One Nation Under God,” they are all reaffirming the true nature of our Republic, which is that of freedom.

Freedom to think, freedom to act, freedom to worship or not to worship. These ideals mean far more than some piece of cloth, a metal pin, or some national song. These symbols mean absolutely nothing if the ideals upon which they stand for cannot be lived out.

Therefore, until every homeless person is fed, clothed, and sheltered. Until every child can achieve a good education and live in communities that are safe. Until every act of patriotism, both traditional and unorthodox, is honored. And until every veteran and active service member is cared for with dignity and respect, shut the fuck up about national anthems, pledges, lapel pins, and flags.

Symbols do not deserve unadulterated respect; only people do.

Slavery, Morality, and Christianity: A Dialogue with Pastor Chad Damitz

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I  recently had a very passionate and interesting exchange through social media with Chad Damitz, associate pastor at Bible Baptist Church in Kokomo, Indiana. We have known each other for years and even participated together in a public debate on the origins of morality. (It can be found on YouTube.)

This polite, but heated exchange was spurred by my post of a quote from Alice Walker, celebrated African-American novelist, whose view of Christianity Chad took issue with.

Here’s the quote:

“What a burden to think one is conceived in sin rather than in pleasure; that one is born into evil rather than into
joy. . .

It is chilling to think that the same people who persecuted the wise women and men of Europe, its midwives and healers, then crossed the oceans to Africa and the Americas and tortured and enslaved, raped, impoverished, and eradicated the peaceful, Christ-like people they found. And that the blueprint from which they worked, and still work, was the Bible.”

Our unabridged dialogue is as follows:

Chad:

This quote is blatantly misleading. There are several scripture references that denounce the idea of kidnapping or man-stealing, which is what happened in Africa in the 19th century. Africans were stolen by slave hunters, sold to slave traders, and these slave traders forced them into harsh labor. These practices will always be loathsome to God.

Here are a few verses to confirm this: “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death (Exodus 21:16).” 1 Timothy 1:8-10 lists “enslavers” along with liars and murderers, condeming their acts against humanity too. I think the Bible even has a stricter stance against slavery than today.

Currently, there are 27 million people in the world that are subject to slavery. This includes forced labor, human trafficking, and inheritable property. Why aren’t there stricter penalties for these atrocious acts against humanity today? Just look at the Norweigein Bodnariu family who the government is taking their children away from them without duable cause. This is supposed to be one of the most progressive countries in the world and the government is literally stealing children away from law-abiding citizens. This is progressive?

With that said, the Bible did talk about slavery (Deut. 15; Eph. 6; Colossians 4:1), but people were not enslaved because of their ethnic background. People who owed a debt actually voluntarily sold themselves to owners since that was the only way to provide for their families, some of them even being doctors, lawyers, and politicians. It wasn’t always the poor that this happened to.

And let’s be honest. Just look to William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp, Hannah More, and Charles Middleton, all Christians, who took on the cause of abolition because of their idea that all men are created equally in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). In my opinion, this quote is academically and historically dishonest.

Justin:

I’m really glad you ended this comment with, “in my opinion,” because your comment is about as blatantly misleading to me as this quote was to you.

Slavery is an extremely murky subject in the Bible. You can read passages in both its defense as well as its rejection. For example, your comment on slave trading is misleading.

In Exodus, there are restrictions for slave masters on the attainment of Hebrew slaves (Exodus 21:7-11 NASB), but not so much on non-Hebrews. Here’s an extended passage from Leviticus 25: 44-46 (NASB) on this point:

“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.”

If you look at the Reverend E. W. Warren’s 1864 tract, Nellie Norton: or, Southern Slavery and the Bible, this same argument is made in defense of American slavery. I am in no way denigrating the strong abolitionists who were religious, like Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greely, or even John Brown. My point is that it is not a clear-cut as you see it.

The Bible was used, from the earliest days of the Republic, to both defend and refute the “peculiar institution.” Even Thomas Paine, the freethinking deist, showed this point in an excellent essay from 1774 called “African Slavery in America.” Here’s a quote from his essay that illustrates his view:

“Such arguments ill become us, since the time of reformation came, under Gospel light. All distinctions of nations and privileges of one above others, are ceased; Christians are taught to account all men their neighbours; and love their neighbours as themselves; and do to all men as they would be done by; to do good to all men; and Man-stealing is ranked with enormous crimes. Is the barbarous enslaving our inoffensive neighbours, and treating them like wild beasts subdued by force, reconcilable with the Divine precepts! Is this doing to them as we would desire they should do to us? If they could carry off and enslave some thousands of us, would we think it just? — One would almost wish they could for once; it might convince more than reason, or the Bible.”

Your argument about indentured servitude makes sense within the context of scripture, but the moral point remains. Is indentured servitude a moral action? I would argue that it isn’t, since it is still founded on the unequal rights and treatment of human beings. Contracted labor is fine, especially if someone has a right to exit (key to a free society), but indentured servitude is a barbaric practice that should end, much like witch killing and death by torture.

I read up a bit about this family in Norway that you speak of. The claim that they were taken with no doable cause is nonsense. This issue is complicated enough to warrant an investigation by authorities. In Norway, spanking and other forms of corporal punishment on children is illegal, and the children accused their parents of abuse. Now, the children could be lying, and in which case, an investigation could display that. But when there’s the potential abuse of children at play by what seems to me as radical, Pentecostal parents who have no respect for civil laws and civil society, I have no issue with Norway’s version of CPS to come and help these children. Your equating this incident with slavery is morally problematic, and if I was a believer, I wouldn’t have used it as an example.

You’re a smart guy, and you clearly are moral and kind. It must be hard for a believer like you to constantly have to circle a square, which is what religious people have to do when it comes to claims about the Bible. As I’ve said, it is the “Big Book of Multiple Choice.” It can be used to defend or denounce just about anything.

Slavery is upheld, both by the Old and New Testaments. It would’ve been easy for God in the Ten Commandments to add, “thou shalt not own another person as property,” but for some reason he wastes the first few commandments reminding you of how much of a petty, jealous god he is. This, along with not clearly stating that rape and abuse of children is wrong, pretty much nullifies Christianity in my estimation.

Alice Walker is right, and your attempt to justify this Bronze Age religion, is wrong. (If you wish to continue this discussion, let’s do so in a message. It will be easier to type to one another.)

Chad:

Justin, let me first start by apologizing for being brash in our conversation the other day. My desire is not to be mean-spirited but have a reasonable discourse concerning biblical ethics. I want you to know I respect your viewpoint.

I want to start by sharing Job 31:13. It states here: “If i have denied injustice to any of my servants, whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me? How will I answer when called to account? Did not He who made me in the womb also make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?

Job is agreed upon by most scholars as one of the oldest books in the Bible. This suggests that the concept of equality and human dignity was taught from the beginning.

You made the comment that all forms of servitude, even voluntarily servitude, is immoral. I do agree that no one should be forced into labor, but what if someone needs to earn a living or learn a trade? Shouldn’t they be “highly encouraged” to provide for their family? Also, what about criminals in jail. Is it wrong for them to be mandated to have certain jobs, like washing dishes or taking care of their laundry? They do receive free food, housing, and clothes. The same happened in the Bible. When some of the foreigners who were at war against the Israelites were captured, they were treated just like prisoners today.

And I know you selected the passage about non-Israelites being captured, but even they were not constituted to a life time of bondage. The Bible says in Deuteronomy 15 they were able to earn their freedom.

Moreover, the institution of slavery was deeply rooted in the culture. Every historical record confirms the Egyptians, Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Ammonites, Edomites, etc were involved. That doesn’t justify the Israelites being involved in this practice, but there was a major difference. The OT Mosaic Law limited and regulated the practice and was determined to correct its inhumane abuses. See Exodus 20:10 and 21:20-27. Also, Israel never captured and sold humans as did the Phoenicians and Philistines.

In the New Testament, Jesus, who Christians believe to be the God-Man, taught through the disciples that there is neither slave nor free, but that all are part of Christ’s church and equally accountable to God (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11; Ephesians 6:5-9). Also, Jesus was a revolutionary. He told people to love his enemies. This was unheard of.

Finally, you are correct in mentioning that the South promoted slavery because of their religious viewpoint, but that doesn’t mean it was a biblical viewpoint. I already shared with you the passage that condemns antebellum slavery by the very fact that people were “stolen.” This was punishable by death in the OT. Also, as mentioned, it was not racially motivated. Remember how I mentioned Moses and other Israelites were able to intermarry among different races? A few examples are an Egyptian Cushite, Ruth a Moabite, Rahab from Jericho, etc. These were different nationalities accepted into the Israelite community.

When we look at our culture today, anyone can take the Bible out of context. Just take a look at Fred Phelps and his “hatred speech” towards everyone. Or think about Jim Jones and others who have enticed people to take their own lives from preaching “the Bible.” This, of course, is diametrically opposed to the Bible.

I understand we will be at a stalemate, but I would like to hear your response. Thanks again for listening to my worldview and  being gracious to sympathize as best as you can. Have a good day.

Justin

I appreciate your response and your willingness to intellectually spar a bit.

I certainly agree with you that the Bible has been used, and will continue to be used, as an instrument or good or ill. But that isn’t the main issue.

My issue is that God could’ve easily said, “Thou shalt not own another person as property.” But he didn’t. Instead, there are obscure and often contradictory statements made in the Bible

The passage of Job is a good one, and its overall point is sound but it still doesn’t address the issue. By calling them servants, which in this context are slaves, Job is still considered superior to them in his society. Even if he is kind and righteous and moral to them, his ownership of them is still morally wrong. I also wouldn’t go so far as to the say the Bible endorses equality in the passage. Concepts of equality, that we often think of today, come from humanistic traditions that both pre-date and supersede Biblical traditions. Overall, this is a difference of opinion for us.

Race has nothing to do with this issue from a Biblical view; this is where we also agree. Whether they are black, white, brown, whatever; people should not be owned as property. The Bible still doesn’t get that across clearly.

And while Jesus does say that we are equal in the eyes of God, that means nothing for the here and now. While you may be equal in the next life, you are still desperately unequal in this one. This may not matter to you that much, but this means everything to me, since I have no belief or interest in the afterlife. Since it is an “if,” I would rather focus on this life and improve things here. However, for the sake of argument, if we’re all equal in the eyes of God, according to your view, it shouldn’t matter if we want to improve things here. But apparently, slavery is still something that goes on the Biblical narrative.

Let’s look at Ephesians 6:5-8 (NASB) in detail:

“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.”

Again, it reaffirms what I said earlier, which is that a person will receive equality in the next life if they are ignorantly obedient in this one. Still pretty murky to me.

And while 1 Timothy 1:10 does decry against “menstealers,” its context relates more to those who steal others to sell them into slavery, rather than slave traders in general. So, to be more accurate, the Bible is against a certain form of slavery (human trafficking spurred by kidnapping) rather than slavery broadly. Good, but not quite good enough.

I do not believe that prisoners should work for free. They should be compensated for their work, but it does not have to be at the same value. Most prisons do not make their incarcerated work for free; they may earn bad wages but it is still a wage. Far more moral in my book than servitude.

We should also work towards a society where no person should have to sell themselves into servitude, where all free men and women should be able to work, or not work, as they please. Labor should have just as many rights as the owner. Abraham Lincoln agrees with me on this point. In his first annual message to Congress, Lincoln wrote that, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Lincoln’s strongest opponents, those who favored slavery, still continued to use Christianity to defend slavery. Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, gave a speech in 1861 where he said, “They [meaning the North] were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

He also stated that, “It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws.”

Like Phelps and Jones who came after him, Stephens used his own view of religion to commit himself to terrible ideas, ideas he got from a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.

We are at an impasse. You continue to use post hoc rationalizations for the barbarism within the Bible. I respect the fact that you make an effort to make the book more moral than it actually is. It speaks to what I said in our debate last year, which is that most Christians are far more moral than the religion they actually believe in.

I always enjoy our discussions and appreciate your criticisms. It helps me be a better thinker and writer. I hope I have done the same for you.

In that vein, would it be ok if I published our exchange on my blog? I will not edit a single thing (other than typos, ha) and you will have final say on whether it goes up. Let me know what you think. My blog is at www.armyofprinciplesblog.wordpress.com.

Best wishes.

Chad

Hey Justin, thanks for your response. Yes, you can publish our exchange on your blog. Thanks again for the discussion and valid points you brought up.

Justin

Excellent. Thanks for letting me do that and your willingness to discuss things. You made great points as well. It was too good of a discussion to be left to Facebook.

While we disagree on much, Chad and I had a very respectul, if at times  confrontational, dialogue. He’s a really nice guy and very bright; he’s the kind of religious person I always enjoy talking to.

More importantly than our own personal views, it is good that the two of us can have these discussions and remain civil. That’s the goal of free inquiry and expression. I hope to have many more of these discussions in the future.

To learn more about slavery in the Bibile, I highly recommed the Rational Wiki’s entry on the subject.