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Posts Tagged ‘islam’

 

With so many political posts lately I had thought to make this one about religion.  After all, a blog titled Bad Atheist should be discussing religion every now and again.  However, instead, I wrote another political post.   Why?  Because, as the saying goes, shit happens.   And that shit is Trump.

This week Trump started confirming my worst fears about him.  While it is hard to pick and choose which of his executive actions was the worse, since he has provided us with a full, rich smorgasbord  of terrible decisions and actions to choose from, I am going to talk about his latest one.  The one where he stopped and banned all migrants and refugees from seven countries from entering the United States, even those who hold permanent resident status.   These countries were supposedly picked due to their failed nature, terrorist activity, and violence.

This sudden and drastic action reeks of so many things – fear, hatred, ignorance.   This action, and Trump’s and his supporters justification for it make it seem as if there is no vetting of these travelers, as if we just say “yep, come on in” without doing any sort of check.   Trump and crew seem to believe that we have avoided a terrorist attack from the citizens of these countries due solely to the grace of God.

The reality is that we do check them, each and every one.   Some more than others.  But none are given a free pass to just come and go without any scrutiny.  And you know what?  It seems to work.

Consider this fact – a true fact and not an alternate one that Trump and his followers are so fond of – none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by a citizen of these seven countries.  Not one.

Consider this fact too, none of the attacks carried out in the United States were done by Syrian refugees.

Finally, consider this fact, and it is one that Trump’s defenders are making a big to do about; all of these seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as posing special risks for visa status.  In other words, the situation within those countries are dire and rife with terrorism and violence.

And yet, with just the procedures we have now, none of its citizens who have traveled here, go to school here, work here, and live here have committed any attacks against the hnan_and_lian_fadi_kassar_5758bdbd2e3fc99559b93f42d7bf4d69-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000United States here.    Despite being from high risk countries.

Seems like pretty good evidence that we are doing something right.  And that sudden, drastic measures such as those Trump engaged in, are not necessary or needed.  Examining those procedures and tweaking them, possibly so.  Full out stop – no.

An analogy from my own background might be useful here.  If I have a productive piece of equipment that, although not giving me zero defects, does do well and whose defects are well below our goals, I am not going to shut it down to examine it in order to find ways to improve it.  Instead I will let it run while I look at improvements, or even replacement.

Now, if the same machine were to malfunction and we had more defects than good product, or, even worse, someone were injured or killed, then yes, shut it down and fix it.

Our immigration system from these seven countries was working well, as evidenced by the fact that we had no terrorist attacks from anyone from these countries on our soil.  Agreed, some from those countries have engaged in terrorist acts in Europe, but Europe is not the United States and the dynamics and situations are different.  The situation in Europe is a cause to examine our system by using what is happening in Europe to see how it could be improved.  However, it is not cause to shut it all down to do so.  As I said, our immigration system for these seven countries so far has had zero defects.

Moving on, let me point out one other fact of interest.  Refugees are going to come from high risk countries with high levels of violence and terrorists.  If it were all nice and peaceful they would not have uprooted themselves from home and family and fled their country.  What this means it that in using the criteria of not allowing people in from high risk countries Trump effectively blocks entry to this country to those who need its safety the most.

So, what does this tell us about Trump and his administration?

That they are, tactfully speaking, not deep thinkers.   In fact, they are not thinkers at all – they do not analyze and try to understand the situation and system before making changes.  Instead, they are reactors.  They react and then try to justify, often with alternative facts and denial of actual facts.  Think of them as being the proverbial bull in a china shop, only with the ability to speak.

Next, they don’t care.  They do not care about the hardship that this imposes on people and families – on their livelihood, on their jobs, on their goals and plans.  They  don’t care that many of these people are in productive jobs in the United Sates and that their absence impacts American businesses. They don’t care that some of these people are engaging in important research that could have a potential impact on our medicines and healthcare.  They don’t care that their actions may even cost people their lives.  They don’t care.  They x_lon_syriaboy_170129-nbcnews-ux-1080-600reacted and damn , that felt good.  The rest – they don’t care.

Moving down the list of things we learned from Trump and his administration.  They don’t like to communicate. Nor do they like to coordinate.  A small group wrote this up without input from anyone.  The normal vetting of this executive order to ensure it does not violate laws and the Constitution, that it does what they want it to without unwanted complications and consequences, was not done.  But of course, Trump knows it all anyway and so doesn’t need to worry about that.  Which, come to think of it, is why he so often seems to live in a fantasy world.

This last trait, not vetting it (and isn’t that rather ironic), along with not communicating it in advance and planning on how to best implement it with those who are charged with actually implementing it contributed greatly to the chaos and uncertainty that followed.  That with, of course, the fact that this was a bad, very bad, hugely and bigly bad executive order.

A bad executive order done badly .    Trump and friends managed to get nothing right about this.

All for what?  National security?  To make out country safer?

This does not do that.  Not even a little bit.  In fact, it does the opposite.  It provides evidence for the radicals claim that the US is waging war on Islam and Muslims.  That our words about freedom of religion are nothing more than hollow hypocrisy.  Trump and company’s actions have the potential to increase the effectiveness of the terrorist’s recruitments efforts.

I know, I know.  Many of those supporters of Trump would pooh pooh my claims that Trump’s actions here actually help the terrorists and radicals rather than hurt them.  This despite the fact that the reasoning is sound and is supported by actual events.

There are currently several  Jihadist groups who are hailing Trump’s piece of ant-terrorist action.  One even said that Trump was “the best caller to Islam”. Why?  Because it shows that what the terrorists and radicals have been saying about the United States, that it is at war with Islam and has no true freedom of religion, are true.  It turns what had been their lies into truth.

Or consider the citizens in Iraq.  We, the United States, are working with them to defeat ISIS.  But we won’t let them in?  What message does that send – hello, we think you make fine cannon fodder but don’t really want to have anything else to do with you. Other than help you become good cannon fodder.

Even worse, the message this executive order sends to the American Muslim community is that the United States does not care about the ideals of religious freedom.  That Muslims are second class at best.  Especially when they consider that now Christians will get preferential treatment over all other refugees.

Which brings us to another question being asked – is this a ban on Muslims?  Trump did call for such a ban during his campaign.  Add to that former New York City mayor Giuliani stating during a Fox interview on Saturday that Trump had tasked him with finding some legal way to make a ban on Muslims happen.  Then add to the pot Trump’s order giving Christians priority.

While this is not conclusive, there is enough here to cause extremely justified suspicion that it is indeed a ban based on religious belief.  A ban on Muslims disguised… rather like how laws to discourage black voting back in the good old days were disguised as literacy tests.  And if somehow it is not, then it gives every appearance of being such with all the accompanying issues and problems that such a ban would create.  Including providing aid and comfort to the terrorists.

Not good

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Moving to another one of the interesting questions being asked – why these seven countries?  Yes, President Obama had them on a list.  But, it was not for the sort of actions Trump is engaging in.   Since Trump is busily doing everything he can to undo what President Obama has done, then why not add countries who have actually had some of their citizens attack us on our own soil?   Why not add Egypt and Saudi Arabia to the list?  Or Turkey?

Hmmm, let’s see.  Trump has significant business interests in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey.  He has none in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

While not conclusive, it is suspicious.  Add to that the fact that he continues to refuse to release his tax returns and divest himself of his business holdings, or even put them in a blind trust, and I think we have a grand cause to investigate.  Is Trump trying to benefit, or at the very least, trying to protect, his business interests through the office of the Presidency without consideration on whether that is good for the United States or not.

Finally, despite all of this, the facts and the reasons, the protests and the pain it is causing to good people, I see many of his supporters still trying to justify this order and support these actions.  In reading some of the articles and in my discussions with them, some do it out of hatred of Muslims and Islam.  To those people I can only say go to hell cause we are not going to let you create one here in the United States.

Others though are doing so out of fear and ignorance.  To them I say, heal yourselves.  While your intentions may be good, ignorance and fear turn even the best of intentions into terrible actions.  They are the bricks used to line that road to hell.

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Republican presidential candidate Gingrich speaks at a meet and greet at the Willow Ridge Golf Course in Fort Dodge,

“We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in sharia they should be deported

…………

“Look, the first step is you have to ask them the questions. The second step is you have to monitor what they’re doing on the internet. The third step is — let me be very clear — you have to monitor the mosques. I mean, if you’re not prepared to monitor the mosques, this whole thing is a joke.” Gingrich on Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

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“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” campaign press release

 

“Do you think we might need to register Muslims in some type of database, or note their religion on their ID?” Yahoo Reporter

“We’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely. We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.” Donald Trump response

……….

“Should there be a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country?”  MSNBC reporter

“There should be a lot of systems. Beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.”  Donald Trump response.

 

And with these statements both Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump have stabbed with intent to kill that which both have professed to love and protect – the Constitution

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 “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States..” Article 6  United States Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”  First Amendment, United States Constitution

 

An integral part of being an American is being able to live your life in accordance with the dictates of your conscience and religion.

For those Jews so inclined there are rabbinical courts.  For those Catholics so inclined there are diocesan tribunals.   For other religious groups both Christian and not, there are organizations that, for  those so inclined, will resolve marital issues, individual disputes, business disputes, rule on inheritances, and more – all based on the precepts of that religion.

All of this is allowed by the free exercise clause as long  as they meet the following standards:

  • Participation is voluntary on the part of everyone.
  • What is decided does not violate US laws.
  • What is decided does not violate the US Constitution.

This is part of what being free to live in accordance with your conscience and religion means.  It applies not to just a few, not just to some, not just to most, but it applies to all Americans.

But Gingrich, Trump, and too many others wish to deny this Constitutional right to our Muslim citizens.  They would say to these Americans,

“No, you cannot follow your religious laws under the same guidelines as others follow theirs.  In fact, you are not allowed to follow them at all.  And yes, we are instituting a religious test on who is considered a full and good citizen of the United States.

And yes, although we may deny it, in doing so we are destroying that  which we profess to love and swore to protect.

And yes, by doing so we show that our true love is to the United States as a nation first and its ideals only a distant second.  And preferably a nation of Christians with a few Jews tossed in.”

 

Oh, what joy this must give our enemies who have charged us with hypocrisy, to have their once lies now made true.

Oh, what pain it gives seeing too many of our leaders recommending suicide as a way to protect our nation.

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Daesh, al Qaeda, and other Islamic terrorist groups claim that the United States is waging a war with Islam. That we hate Muslims and that our religious liberties are for Jews and Christians only, not Muslims. That Muslims are a hated and second class citizens, at best, within our borders. These claims are part of how they manage to gain recruits, highlighting our supposed intolerance of Islam and Muslims and casting this as a religious war of self-defense on their part.

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For the most part, we have avoided playing into that scenario of theirs internally. American Muslims are among the most integrated of any countries. However, now we are letting our fears and biases provide an element of truth to the terrorist claims, making their propaganda and recruitment efforts even more effective.

With the rise of hate crimes against Muslims in America, talk of internment camps, registries, and such what do you think would happen to those Muslims who truly do love the US and are proud to be citizens? Imagine if this were to happen to Christians here, what would happen to your loyalty to the US? What if your religion were demonized and reviled, you and your family and friends viewed with suspicion and often outright hatred? What if friends and family who are Christian living outside the United States could no longer visit you?

I know that these proposals are not in place…..yet. But they are being talked about and too many Americans are thinking them a good idea. Along with the fact that too often when mosques are being built they are being protested, that even Islamic cemeteries face an uphill fight to get city government approval to be created, when protesters armed with guns march outside your mosque – how safe would you feel in your own country? American Muslims make up the single largest group providing tips to the FBI on possible terrorist activities. What do you think would happen if that should cease?

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And in foreign affairs, this sort of rhetoric and these actions would be devastating. Our Muslim allies such as Jordan would cease to be allies. Our European allies would, justifiably, revile us. If a small percentage of Muslims based largely in the Middle East and Africa can create this much harm to us, imagine if the percentage were larger – or even to become the majority worldwide?

Carpet bombing Daesh with the huge loss of civilian and innocent life would indeed destroy the military capability of Daesh. But it would also give Daesh a huge propaganda win, feeding life into its Frankenstein creature of an American war on all of Islam. Our allies in the region would turn into our enemies. Muslims worldwide would decry the loss of innocent lives. And, if we made the sands glow, to paraphrase Ted Cruz, even our European allies would denounce us.

The short term destruction of Daesh’s military capability would be hugely offset by the fact that they would have won the propaganda war and would gain millions of new adherents and sympathizers. And take a good look at Paris – does that sort of action really require a country to support it? They can work underground and with the sympathy and help of millions of other Muslims, Muslims that had opposed them before, they can create even greater havoc and chaos more frequently.

This language, these proposals, these possible actions are just what Daesh and the other Islamic terrorist groups want. They want us to act out of fear, to violate our own supposed morals and principles, and create a reality in which more Muslims than ever would flock to their banner. There are many signs that Daesh is having a harder time recruiting Muslims. These actions and this rhetoric can turn that trend around for them. Trump, Cruz, and others as doing exactly what the terrorists want. Far from fighting terrorism, they are helping it.

And the above is just the practical reasons why all of this rhetoric from Trump, Cruz and too many conservatives is harmful. Just as important, in fact even more important, are the moral considerations.

We are holding people accountable for the actions of others due solely to the fact that they belong to the same religion. Not because they helped those responsible for their terrorist acts (the great majority denounce and condemn them). Not because they shared the same exact religion – like Christianity there are many forms of Islam, some good and some evil. Not because they even shared the same nationality or origin. Just because they share the same religion.

This violates all of our principles and morality. Our constitution requires that there be no religious test for office. The same principle should hold true here too – no religious test should be used to condemn a person. Especially not an American citizen.

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This is not the only supposedly American principle this hateful rhetoric and proposed actions violate – innocent until proven guilty comes to mind too. Extreme gun rights people argue, correctly, that law abiding gun owners should not be blamed for the actions of those who use guns to kill (note: I do not intend and will not be drawn into a gun control debate here as that would take attention away from the central message). Yet, they seem to, as a group, to be one of the groups who have a hard time applying this to other situations – law abiding Muslims should not be held accountable for the actions of those who are not.

Our current political climate and the rhetoric and proposals coming mainly from the conservative and Republican side are helping the terrorists. Ironic that. And scary too.

 

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I have a very conservative critic (whose views and thoughts match many of the extreme right) who claims that I always and only criticize whites and Christians. Never Islam, never non-whites.

Not true.

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What my critic does not understand is that when I post blogs about gay marriage and rights, when I post blogs about women’s rights, abortion, and on and on and on, that even though I may be addressing them to Christians it applies to all groups within the United States. And out of the United States even.

I focus on the United States because that is where I and my family live, and where my grandchildren will grow up. I address Christians because they have the numbers and hold the political power and are the main threat to such rights here in the United States. But it applies to all.

When I criticize those who attack Islam here in the United States, what my critic does not understand is that I am protecting their rights as American citizens and in so doing protecting the rights of all Americans. When I point out that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists and are good citizens my critic does not understand that this does not mean that I agree with their views and beliefs.

My defense of Sharia courts in the United States is a good example. I often do not agree on how they may rule in issues of divorce or women’s rights. However, I also do not agree with many of the Jewish and Christian courts that operate within the United States that also rule on these issues based on their beliefs. However, as long as they do not violate US law and the Constitution, then they should be allowed as part of our freedom of religion and of conscience. Defending their right to do so is a very different thing from agreeing with their views. My critic often does not seem to understand that.
What my critic does not understand is that I have criticized Islam before, in different forums and venues.. For example, in one blog about blasphemy I did so.

I will not call Islam evil, which is what I believe my critic wants. I will not because it is not. It can be evil, it can be good. Just like all religions.

What my critic does not understand is that a religion is what its followers make of it. There is enough material both good and evil in all sacred works, enough history both good and evil in all religions that whether a religion is evil or good is dependent upon how its followers put that material together – what they find central in its writings, what they find inspiring in its history. And such creations vary not only between different times, groups, countries, and regions, but even between individuals.

When I discuss motives and causes of terrorism and violence, what my critic does not understand is that I am not excusing such behavior but seeking to understand it so as to come up with the best way to either stop or reduce it. Without understanding good policies cannot be reliably formed and acted upon. Instead harmful actions that may feel good but actually work to make the problem worse happen.

What my critic does not understand is that my comments are tailored to the problem and issue at hand. My critic does not need to understand the deficiencies of Islam or the problems within the black community. What my critic needs is to be reined in as he puts too much emphasis on them – to the point of becoming very misleading – and given some perspective. My critic paints with too broad a brush and holds all Muslims accountable for the actions of a few. My critic sees blacks as almost solely responsible for their own problems and solely responsible for solving them.

What my critic does not understand is that I focus on what I see to be the bigger issue not being addressed. Islam is in no danger of taking over the US and Muslims do not pose a danger of stopping gay rights and such. Therefore I concentrate on the Christians who are.

Black already know and are working on the problems within their community. However, white privilege and the past history of racial injustice also has a large role to play in our current racial problems and needs to be addressed. Without them being addressed true racial equality and justice will never be achieved. Something that many do not acknowledge, and so I address it.

 

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That is why, although I know that there are problems within much of the black community that they need to work on to improve, and that there is much within Islam as practiced by most Muslims that I strongly do not agree with, I do not dwell on those with my critic. It is not needed within the context of our discussion. What is needed is the other side, the one that presents a fuller and thus more accurate picture of reality. And, in so doing, provides a better basis for finding true solutions.
Since my critic has such a hard time understanding all of the above my critic sees me as never criticizing non-whites or Islam, and believes my views to often be cowardly. As I said, not true. I am not afraid of criticizing Muslims and Islam (and have done so), nor am I afraid of guns. However, my views are more shaded and complex than my critics. And thus more in tune with reality.

Of course, I realize that I have mistitled this blog. And knew it from the beginning. This blog will not satisfy my critic as my critic will continue with their simplistic views of reality and how it works, and their view that a hammer as the all purpose tool that will fix all problems. But, that is OK. I am satisfied with my views even as I challenge them and change them as evidence indicates.

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I am both saddened and enraged at the cowardice and lack of humanity being shown by too many Americans today, many of them Republican politicians.

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So much for being the home of the brave when we are too cowardly to provide shelter and protection to those coming to us for help from horror and abuse.

So much for being the land that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” when we turn away those in need.

And why are we so willing to give up our shared humanity, our ideals, our empathy and what had been considered deep seated beliefs? Two reasons.

First, Paris was attacked by Muslims, and the refugees are Muslim. Never mind that the vast, vast majority of Muslims condemn these terrorists. Never mind that these refugees are also victims of the same people who attacked Paris.

You would think that the victim of our enemies would be considered sympathetically and efforts made to help them. But too many Americans are refusing them, vilifying them and even comparing them to rabid dogs. They want to kick out any Syrian refugees already here and refuse any more. Men, women, and children. No matter that they have nowhere to go and that returning to Syria would result in their deaths.

Second: a Syrian passport found near what remained of a dead terrorist. From that many have made a leap to concluding the terrorists are coming in with the refugees. Never mind that all the other terrorists were French and Belgium, many of them being born and raised in those countries. Never mind that the mastermind was not a refugee and was instead a Belgium, being both born and raised there.

And never mind that the passport was likely faked, and the possible terrorist was not a Syrian refugee, as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

And why, one might ask, would a terrorist organization wish to plant a passport to stir up fear and animosity against the refugees. The reason is simple, it is because the vast majority of Muslims are against them and their terrorist tactics. It is because they know that most Muslims do not believe as they do. And so they set it up where we, in our fear and ignorance, will act in such a way so as to push the moderate Muslims into their arms. They want us to do the work of radicalizing the majority of Muslims, and in so doing grow their ranks for them.

And we, cowardly, ignorant, fools that we are, gladly do so. Governors are refusing to house the refugees. Republican Presidential candidates, supposedly bright and moral people of courageous convictions talk of not only not taking more refugees in but sending those we do have away. Others wish to use this as a pretext to take away the rights of some Americans, those who are Muslim. Warrantless searches, making them wear a special ID, refusing to build new mosques or tearing down ones already built. When it comes to Muslims and refugees our fears are turning us into Nazi’s

And in our fear of the terrorist, we wind up helping them recruit new followers. We make their lies about us true.

Religious liberty! Hah! Only for the Jew and Christians. They can live by their laws as they wish. But not the Muslim. The U.S. wants to ban them from doing so.

Religious liberty! Hah! Only for the Jews and Christians. They can build churches and synagogues where they wish. But Muslims trying to build a mosque face protests and refusals. Even the attempt to create a Muslim cemetery resulted in protests and a massive effort to deny them.

A land of hope and opportunity, a haven for those in need. Hah, they turn away hurt and crippled children. Unless they are Christian.

Some talk of the risk that a terrorist may sneak in among the refugees. They say that we need to ensure that the US has a proper vetting process to keep the terrorists out. This includes all manner of politicians and presidential candidates.

Ignorant fools.

Our vetting process already takes 18 to 24 months. As this Atlantic Monthly article discusses, this includes background checks by the UN Commission for Refugees as well as background checks by every intelligence and security agency the U.S. has – Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Defense Department and others. In addition to these background checks these refugees face multiple interviews as well as a physical exam. This is the most secure and thorough vetting process we have.

The result of this vetting? Of the 784,000 refugees that the U.S. has accepted since September 11, 2001 only three people have been arrested for terrorist activities. “None of them were close to executing an attack inside the U.S., and two of the men were caught trying to leave the country to join terrorist groups overseas.”

So I call bullshit on all of those governors and Republican presidential candidates who say we need to examine and modify our vetting process, that we don’t have one. They are in the position to know better and should. They are using the politics of fear to gain power.

As for those who are buying into that fear and hatred – get informed. Don’t stay so ignorant – it is a disease that can be cured. Do not let your fears and bias keep you blind.

People such as the Syrian refugees are why we have a refugee program, so that we can live up to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Words that we have a dismal history of failing to live up to, but one that I hope we will someday.

So despite our ideals, despite our extensive and successful vetting, despite the desperate need we say, “No, never mind all of that. We reject you, we deny our shared common humanity, we deny our own stated ideals and values. We are instead afraid of you, of refugees such as the family whose five year old daughter lost a leg in the violence in Syria and whose 11 year old son lost two fingers. No, we quiver in fear and turn a blind eye to you and with a cold and hardened heart turn you away, reject you. Just as we have done other refugees in the past.”

And in so doing, in so saying, we provide immeasurable help to the enemy, the violent Islamic extremists.

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Unlike France which has announced that even after the attacks they are not only still committed to taking in 20,000 refugees but will now take in 30,000 Americans seemingly have no moral courage and empathy for those in need.

Fools. Cowardly fools.

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So many people believe that religion cannot change – most especially the sacred scripture of their religion. To use Christianity as an example, the words of the Bible do not change and therefor our understanding of it is timeless – all that needs to be done is to read its words plain and simply. That is what I see repeatedly from both conservative literalists Christians and from many atheists. I find it amazing that such a wrong idea can be so strongly promoted by those at the opposite ends of belief. I imagine that this is probably the only area of agreement that literalists Christians and many atheists have. And it is ironic that it is so very wrong.

indexI wrote a paper for one of my graduate classes a couple of years ago that illustrate very nicely some of the reasons why it is wrong. It doesn’t hit at all the reasons, but gives an idea about how religious believers understanding of their sacred scripture can and does change over time. Although this paper focuses exclusively upon slavery and the Bible in the pre-civil war United States, the idea behind it applies to any and all scriptures – such as the Qur’an for example – and even such documents as the United States Constitution.

The Bible Wars: It’s Use For and Against Slavery

Slavery still exists today, not only in other countries but even here in the United States. However, today slavery is almost universally condemned instead of almost universally accepted as it once was. Governments have made slavery illegal. Religion and Christianity almost universally condemn it now. Not so very long ago this was not true.

In colonial America and in pre-Civil War United States slavery was a flourishing institution, one that was supported by many arguments ranging from the economic to the supposed nature of blacks. One argument of special importance and interest was the one based upon the Bible. Both the proslavery people and the abolitionists claimed Biblical support for their beliefs and positions. In this paper I plan to look at how the Bible was used to both justify and argue against slavery.

1. Pro-slavery arguments

The pro-slavery side had the initial advantage in using the Bible to support their views. The reason for this is that no special interpretation or treatment of the Bible was needed to justify the institution of slavery. Nowhere within the Bible does anyone condemn slavery, not even Jesus. It was an accepted institution, one that seemingly was considered both normal and moral. Because of this, the proslavery groups could rely on a literal reading of the Bible and upon Christian history to make their case.

Most Christians throughout history did not see the practice of slavery as conflicting with the Bible. Many church leaders from the first days of Christianity had slaves. Church policy since its earliest days supported the institution of slavery and the rights of slaveholders. Several early Christian writings include codes of household management; how husbands, wives, children, slaves, and slaveholders should behave. In these codes, slaves “were told to subordinate their wills to the wills of their master” (Glancy 55). Christian teachings often seemed to reinforce “the power of the slaveholder, even as they affirmed the dignity of the slave in God’s eyes.” (Glancy 53).

In fact, although there are some hints that some early Christians might have questioned slavery, real and unambiguous writings against slavery as being un-Christian did not come until medieval times when people such as Gregory of Nissa, Saint Patrick, and Saint Eligus started to write and speak out against slavery. However, other church leaders, such as Saint Augustine, Saint Aquinas, Calvin, and Martin Luther wrote that slavery was not un-Christianity. Although slavery eventually disappeared in Christian Europe it was still not widely condemned or considered un-Christian by most.

Due to this weight of history, and to a literal interpretation of the Bible, the development of a Christian defense of slavery in the United States did not come about until the early 19th century. In the years before this in America there had been no need for one. It was not until the rise of a larger abolitionist movement and a radical form of antislavery during the 1830’s that proslavery literature began to become significant.

The fact that the proslavery side had a plain reading of the Bible on their side can be readily seen in one of the first conflicts with the abolitionists. Initially the abolitionists had argued that the word translated as “slave” in the Bible actually meant “servant” and thus there was no slavery in the Bible. The proslavery side quickly pointed out that this was not only not how it had been historically translated but that the best and newest methods of biblical scholarship showed that the word in question meant slave and not servant. What is ironic is that those who used and understood the Bible literally to argue for slavery were able to use the new biblical criticism of the Bible, a methodology that would show the problems inherent in a literal understanding of the Bible, to support their position.

Those arguing that slavery was Biblical used a variety of arguments based on quotes from the Bible. They used the story of the Centurion’s Servant (Luke 7:1 – 10; Matt 8:5 – 13) to show that Jesus had not only met slaves but also had commended the slave’s owner, a Roman soldier, as a faithful man such as he had not seen even in Israel.

Taking the argument even further, they argued, on the basis of the example of the Roman soldier above and Jesus’ praise of him, as well as other verses, that not only was slavery not immoral, but that the proper Christian stance towards the world was hierarchical and patriarchical. “Importantly, Jesus praised the centurion’s use of commands to order military and domestic subordinates….The plain sense of this language means that military hierarchy and other forms of patriarchy ought to order human relations, especially between master and slave.” (Harrill, 183).

When the abolitionists used the Golden Rule to argue against slavery, the proslavery groups responded by referring to the above verses, saying that Jesus was not teaching egalitarianism, but rather patriarchical love. Such love does not make men social equals, but instead means that “the master should treat his slave as if the master, imagining himself a slave and aware of his own good, would like to be treated.” (Harrill, 185).

Using a plain reading of the Bible with the understanding that passages were to be understood in light of patriarchalism, and with a selective use of the new biblical criticisms, the proslavery groups defended the institution of slavery as being Biblical and Christian.

2. Abolitionist Arguments.

As I mentioned above, the proslavery groups had the easier argument to make in regards to the Bible and slavery. This was something the abolitionists recognized from the beginning. Because of this, instead of a literalist approach they used an interpretive approach.

Of course the proslavery groups interpreted passages too, as seen by their interpretation of the meaning of the Golden Rule. And the proslavery groups were influenced in their interpretations by outside sources such as their economic and political views and their prejudices. However, the difference was that while the proslavery groups found their key to interpreting biblical texts within the Bible (patriarchy), the abolitionists found their key from outside the Bible.

First and foremost of these outside keys was the outrage that slavery inflicted on their sense of morality. Regardless of the source of this feeling, morally they knew that slavery was wrong and that therefore any interpretation of the Bible that defended slavery was flawed. They had only to be perceptive and knowledgeable enough to discover the flaw. Or, failing that, some counseled rejecting the Bible altogether as a moral guide to slavery. “Garrison concluded that slavery, like just war and woman’s suffrage, ‘was not a bible question’, since nothing in regards to controversial matters had ever been settled by the Bible.” (Harrill, 176). While most did not go as far as Garrison, some did. All though were motivated by the same sense of moral outrage.

A large reason why this attempt to use outside sources to aide in interpreting the Bible was possible was due to the Enlightenment. It was an age of questioning everything, including Christianity and the Bible. It was an age of discoveries that made old understandings of the Bible questionable. The age of the earth, the orbiting earth and central sun, evolution, and other discoveries of science showed that the Bible could not be understood literally in regards to matters of how the physical universe worked.

The new higher criticism coming out of Germany was becoming increasingly influential among American scholars. It demonstrated that Moses did not write the Torah, that the Bible had multiple authors and did not always agree with known history and, most importantly, that the Bible might not always be the best guide in understanding itself.

At the same time a new religious movement had developed and was expanding, that of evangelism with an emphasis on a personal experience of God and not necessarily to adherence to old doctrine. Quakers were the earliest evangelical group to start to criticize and work for abolition. However they were joined by other such new evangelical religions as Methodists and Baptists.

It took some trial and error for abolitionists to find their way to their final arguments. One of their first attempts was to deny that Jesus had ever met any slaves, saying that the word translated as slave could also and more probably did mean servant. However, as noted above, that argument did not hold up to the new scholarship.

From there, they looked for another key by which to understand the Bible and its verses about slavery, one that would hold up to the new biblical criticism and would also align with their moral understanding of the Bible. Part of the key consisted of viewing the Bible as a work in progress instead of a static work with a finished understanding.

Taking their cues from their times, a time when progress was not only much talked about but actually being seen in the industrial and scientific revolutions, they argued that the Bible had “seeds” planted within it that would blossom and bear fruit as societies grew in knowledge and moral sensibilities. They argued that Jesus knew any condemnation of slavery would not take root in the culture and society of his age. Instead he planted a seed that would grow and blossom in the fullness of time. History, and our understanding of the Bible, were not static but were instead dynamic, growing, and progressive.
With this understanding of the Bible and how to read it the abolitionists then argued that the Golden Rule, as related in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, was the seed that Jesus planted and that now was the time for its blossoming. “True Christianity, through ‘fair application’ of the Golden Rule and related immutable principles such as charity and love of neighbor, is a Christianity against slavery.” (Harrill, 171)

The below quote of Dr. Thornton’s, taken from a report about slavery given to the Presbyterian Synod of South Carolina highlights this difference between the abolitionists and the proslavery groups.

“Opposition to Slavery has never been the offspring of the Bible. It has sprung from visionary theories of human nature and society. It has sprung from the misguided reason of man. It comes as natural, not as revealed truth; and when it is seen that the Word of God stands in the way of it, the lovely oracles will be stripped of their authority, and reduced to the level of mere human utterances.” (National Era).

Where the abolitionists would disagree with Dr. Thornton, is that this scheme amounted to “mere human utterances”. Instead they would say that, along with the Bible, God also created the natural world and the mind of man with its ability to reason.

Further, God had implanted within humanity a sense of morality. They would argue that theirs was taking the whole of what God had given them, whereas the literalist views of Dr. Thornton and the proslavery groups had rejected part of God’s revelations and gifts.

One final fact to note is that just because a white person was an abolitionist does not mean that they were not prejudiced. An argument that was used in conjunction with the early claim that Jesus had never met a slave was that if Jesus Christ had met slaves and condoned the institution, then it would have been the slavery of his time, a slavery involving whites. “This reductio ad absurdum disproof…. reveals the racism present in some abolitionist arguments: surely Jesus Christ agreed with the American beliefs that white people should not be enslaved.” (Harrill, 169).

While this was not an argument that was used as much after the abolitionists lost the argument on whether Jesus had met slaves, it does show that a white view of abolitionism might, and did, differ from that of an African American of the times.

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3. Free Blacks and Slaves

“Dark and Dismal was the day
When slavery began
All humble thoughts were put away
Then slaves were made by man.”

The above words are part of a poem by Jupiter Hammon, the first black poet in America and a slave since birth. The 25 stanza poem was titled: “An Essay on Slavery with Submission to Divine Providence Knowing that God Rules Over All Things” and, unlike his other poems and essays, it was never published; most likely due to its controversial nature.

In the beginning, blacks resisted Christianity. They feared that their master’s religion was meant as a means of control and oppression. At the time, the Christianity being preached was. As taught to the slaves, Christianity was strongly Calvinistic and taught that everyone had been put in their place by God, and that given this instead of questioning their God ordained station they should do their best within that station. Most African Americans were not attracted to this message.

Some blacks though did accept the religion of their masters; for example, Jupiter Hammon. Born a slave in Lloyd Harbor, NY in 1711, property of the Lloyd family of Queens, NY, he was fortunate enough to have owners who insisted that he attend school and learn to read and write. He was born and became Christian before the Great Awakening and the arrival of the evangelical Christianities that did not preach a religion of acquiescence to oppression, and so had a foot in both worlds.

The Christianity taught and accepted by Jupiter at his birth, and rejected by many blacks, was of a Calvinism that “did not believe that Christians, and even less so slaves, should do anything that distracted from a contemplation of a heavenly afterlife.” (Day, 2) This version of Calvinism, and not the one that “emphasized participation in the world with a view toward transforming it” (Day, 2) that many of the whites followed , was what the blacks were taught, when any were taught at all to become Christians. From the same poem:

“When God doth please for to permit
That slavery should be
It is our duty to submit
Till Christ shall set us free.”

But, while Christianity was taught as a means of oppression, it did not stay such. Instead it changed and became a means of resisting oppression; sometimes actively, sometimes more quietly. It did so by giving blacks “a sense of common identity and purpose that created the conditions for organization and collective action.” (Day, 3).

The African American was treated as and had the status of property, not person. Even Hammon’s owners, who by all accounts were good masters who treated him well, lists Hammon, along with their other slaves, as property in their ledgers, along with cattle and other goods. To resist this reduction to being nothing more than property, African Americans had to form a new identity as well as a new community. A large part of that new identity came with the arrival of the Great

Awakening. The Great Awakening created a number of new voices within religion, ones that were not part of the established religions with their political and economic ties, which allowed them to “reevaluate the old theologies and speak out against slavery as an organizational endeavor.” (Day, 15).

As a result of increasing literacy among the African Americans and the increasing numbers of itinerant ministers who were preaching a message of resistance to worldly oppression and not submission, blacks started to convert to Christianity in increasing numbers. They also started to assume leadership roles as preachers and ministers as well as organizing churches.

As they did so their understanding and ways of interpreting the Bible differed from that of not only their white masters and white society in general, but even from that of the white abolitionists. In fact, blacks often found themselves at loggerheads with their white abolitionist allies.

For example, the slave narrative became popular means by which the abolitionist movement pressed their cause. However, most of these narratives that had the approval of the white abolitionists were those that “focused on the ‘objective facts’ of slavery rather than on individuals’ ideas and interpretations.” (Day, 88).

This control of the narratives allowed the white abolitionists to control the content and priorities of the anti-slavery movement, resulting in an anti-slavery movement that was against slavery but not necessarily for equality. Even though sympathetic to the troubles of the blacks, most whites were not willing to give up power nor to examine with a critical eye their own views and thoughts about black.

Blacks agreed with and used the argument used by the white abolitionists of the Golden Rule being the key to understanding and interpreting the Bible. However, they also identified both themselves and their plight with biblical figures, most especially Moses and the Exodus narrative, although the figure of Christ as the “Suffering Servant” was also important. Blacks found much support and strength through such imagery and identification; and especially in the knowledge that both the Jews and Jesus were triumphant at the end of their sufferings.

And just like the earliest Christian groups, many blacks found the book of Revelation meaningful. It pointed to a time when slavery and prejudice would end, a time of the Apocalypse when “an abolitionist Warrior Jesus” (Harrill, 179) would come in wrath and retribution to end slavery and establish justice for the blacks.

Not only did the Bible provide support and comfort, but many blacks found within it the sense of group identity and organization necessary for an active resistance to slavery. Those times of unrest among the blacks that led into actual revolt against their masters were most often preceded by a rise in religious activity.

While the black community did have much in common with the white abolitionists, their goals and views were not identical. There were significant differences in how they understood and used the Bible. Given their differing social standings and needs this was inevitable.

4. Final Notes

These changes to Christian understanding of the Bible have now become ingrained and are considered the orthodox understanding today. Except for some small groups, even those Christians who claim to believe the Bible literally use this new interpretation of the Bible, this interpretation that takes into account ideas from outside the Bible to understand it, when they claim that the Bible is against slavery. This is a far cry from the literalists of the pre-Civil War era, and a change that has continued to create social changes up to today.

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A bit over two years ago I posted “Gimme That Old Banned Religion”, about a t-shirt with the words “I am not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God the salvation of everyone who believes. Romans 1:16” on the front. On the back it stated, “This shirt is illegal in 51 countries.”

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Obviously I checked out the accuracy of this back statement and then used this to discuss the interesting fact that many Christians in America claim that they are persecuted, not only in other countries but also here in the United States.

This blog has gotten some interesting responses, including two that I did not allow due to their abuse of language. A few days ago I received in comment that made me want to briefly revisit the topic of the “persecution” of Christians in America. Before I do though, I realize that many if not most Christians in the United States do not believe they are persecuted. In fact, I received a couple of thoughtful comments from Christians to this effect.

However, while acknowledging the truth of this, it is still also true that a sizable number of Christians do believe they are persecuted in the United States. Now, I am not going to deal with all the problems in claiming that Christians are persecuted in the United States. Much of it stems from the fact that “They wish to elevate the loss of their religious privileges – which are forbidden by the United States Constitution – to the loss of their religious rights – which is very much protected by the Constitution.”

What I want to focus on instead is the claim of a commenter that “Christians are the MOST persecuted in the world”. Really?

Consider the following:

  • In every country in which Christianity is outlawed and expressing Christian beliefs illegal, so too are other religious beliefs, including atheists. Does the Most Persecuted Religion trophy go to the group with the most individuals being persecuted? If so, then Christianity has an unfair advantage in that they are the largest religious group in the world. A better measurement would be a proportional one in which you look at laws outlawing and restricting a religion. By this measure, Christianity is not the most persecuted religion in the world. At best, it is tied with many others.
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  • In Iraq  today a religious group is in danger of being totally wiped out by ISIS. Those who follow the Yazidi faith are being hunted and killed for their faith. Just because they are not as numerous as Christians does that mean that their persecution doesn’t count? Or perhaps it counts, but just not as much. How do you compare their persecution with their smaller numbers with that of Christians? After all, they are in grave danger of giving their all, just as the widow did in Mark 12: 41- 44

    41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

    It seems to me that even though the Christians today might be persecuted out of their abundance, those who in their poverty of numbers are in danger of being wiped out are being the more persecuted.
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  • Does it count as persecution when those persecuting you are also a Christian, just of a different variety? For example, the Catholic persecution of Protestants, the Protestant persecution of Catholics, the persecution of Quakers by both, etc. It seems to me that this should not count towards the count for most persecuted religion. Instead, this should be reserved for persecution by those of a totally different religious belief.

jews-arriving-auschwitz-PSo, who do I think is the most persecuted religion? The Jews. They have been persecuted for far longer than Christians have, have suffered more deaths and restrictions than Christians have. What is of interest here is that the Jews have suffered deaths and restrictions frequently at the hands of Christians. In fact, this makes me wonder, does the fact that Christians persecuted other religions mean that they should be deducted points for most persecuted religion? This question is especially important in light of the fact that the religion that has engaged in the greatest amount of persecution of the Jews is Christianity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYes, Islam has done so too. Both have anti-Semitic elements within their respective sacred books. However, for most of history,einsatzkids Islamic countries have been a safer place for Jews to live than Christian European ones. That is not to say that Jews were considered the equals of Muslims, nor that they did not suffer persecutions and extra taxations . They did. However, what the Jews experienced in Christian Europe was worse, on average, than what they experienced in the Middle East. Just consider, the greatest number of Jews being killed for being Jewish occurred during the First Crusade and in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Both of these were Christian countries and these actions carried out by Christians.

So, how does the fact that Christians have engaged in severe persecution fit into these Christians calculations for being the most persecuted religion?

A more basic question, though, is why do so many Christians seem to feel this is important. They seem to believe that if a religion can survive such persecution then that is evidence that that religion contains the truth and is the one correct religion. However, is this true?

Not really. Although my tone may have, at times, been slightly sarcastic in my questions and points above, the questions and points are all valid. Christians have been and in many countries are still being persecuted – along with atheists, Jews, and other religious groups.

Christians have also often been the persecutors.

And it is Judaism, not Christianity, which has suffered the greatest amount of persecution throughout history.

Yet this belief that being persecuted validates Christianity still permeates the thinking of many Christians. It is why they so often try so hard to twist and distort the reality of Christianity within the United States so as to claim that they are persecuted too. It validates, in some strange way, their belief in the ultimate and exclusive truthfulness of their religion. Never mind the reality.

And the reality is? Persecution is no measure of how true a religion is. It is the result of many other factors instead – politics and economics, geography, social norms and values, and the interactions with other religions. If persecution were the measure of a religion’s validity then Judaism would be the winner. Of course, the atheist would rank fairly high too. Not to mention the Yazidi. Or the many other religious groups.

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Instead of contemplating with joy how persecuted Christians are, even within the United States, these Christians should instead be working to protect all of those persecuted regardless of religious belief – atheist, Jew, Yazidi… all. They should be working to rid the world of persecution and discrimination for any reason whether it be for religion or race or gender or sexual orientation. They should, instead, be working to create a culture, a society, a world in which each is free to follow their conscience and to live their lives as they best see fit. That is a much more laudable goal than watching all their trials and tribulations sinking in a gentle pool of wine.

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