If not the Bible, then how did we come to know that slavery is wrong?


That WWJTD’s response to my August 24 post, Ten Reasons the Bible Has It Right On Slavery, was scornful is hardly surprising. First, he caught me legitimately in an error: I misused the word “condone” where I meant “heartily affirm.” I should have said, “Note that the Bible does not heartily affirm everything that it recognizes, nor even everything that it regulates (divorce being one other example).”

JT notes correctly that the Bible does condone slavery, which is to say, it allows that which is considered wrong to continue. The question is, who’s considering it wrong? JT certainly does, as does virtually everyone else today. The question is, did the writers of the Bible consider it wrong? If God was the ultimate author of the Bible, did he consider it wrong? If so, then why didn’t they just say so?

From what I’ve been told, the morals of the Bible are something to strive for. There was no delusion that putting something in the Bible automatically caused it to phase out of the space-time continuum. It was meant as a guide, and to improve society (not that I think its moral code is all that moral)… something for individuals to work towards.
We don’t necessarily need to start a movement… just throw in 3-word rule into the 1000+ page book (or roughly 850 pages if we’re talking about the OT) – “Don’t own people”
Suppose that only one person, ever, is freed, because one Christian actually decided to listen to his/her Bible for a change, and free a slave. Is this one person’s freedom worth so little to God, that he couldn’t include that 3-word rule? Does he care so little? Is there a 783,137 word limit for the Bible, and they just managed to max it out?

That’s a great question. It’s a question with a context, which is that today, JT and everyone else knows that slavery is wrong. What I want to know is where JT learned that from? If Christianity is at fault for never issuing that simple three-word command, I want to know what other major philosophy succeeded.

How did we discover that slavery is wrong? Plato considered it necessary to an orderly society, even to justice itself. Aristotle took it that certain people were slaves by nature. The Hindu religion carries that to an extreme. Islam orders dhimmitude—not necessarily slavery per se, but nevertheless greatly dehumanizing even its gentler forms.

Was it in the Enlightenment that we discovered there was something evil about slavery? I’ve heard that suggested, and I’d be willing to hear it defended, but not in terms of when it happened, but why it happened; specifically, what were the intellectual currents leading up to it?

Do we know it because we’ve witnessed its horrors in the modern age? Certainly that’s driven the conviction deep into our souls, but we wouldn’t have regarded it as a horror unless we first recognized it as wrong. New World slavery didn’t explain to us that slavery was evil, it showed us how extreme its evil could be. We had to know slavery was wrong to know that this extreme version was extremely wrong.

Do we know from modern science that slavery is wrong? I am not aware of any lab experiment or field work that’s demonstrated there is such a thing as wrongness.

I have my opinions on these questions, and I spoke about that briefly in my “Ten Reasons” post, but for now I’ll leave my voice out of it and let you suggest your answers. From where did we gain the discovery that slavery is evil?

For now, also, I will acknowledge that I’m not offering any direct answer to JT’s great question: why didn’t God just say it was wrong? I don’t intend (or need) to evade that question; rather I’m building toward it a step at a time, and also trying to keep the conversation open.