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Owning up to the real problem

This morning's Boston Globe has an opinion piece on what pretty much all of us agree is one of the greatest scourges in the world today: the continued existence of slavery. The notion that one human being can own another is one of the most repugnant conventions in human history, and the fact that most of the world has repudiated and outlawed it is one of the greatest accomplishments of the modern age.

But one can't simply condemn slavery without mentioning the religious aspect of it. As the author notes, all three of the world's largest religions -- Christianity, Islam, and Judaism -- all tacitly endorse slavery in their sacred texts. That is a huge obstacle to overcome, as many of those of baser instincts will use that to justify their behavior.

What the author fails to mention, however, is that that particular battle is two-thirds won. Christianity has been anti-slavery for about a century, and Judaism for far longer. In fact, the only religion currently being used to justify slavery is Islam.

Note that the examples Dr. Brooten cite are all involving Muslims. Muslims taking slaves, Muslims selling slaves, Muslims owning slaves, Muslims exploiting slaves.

At the end, though, Dr. Brooten's biases come out. Not only must the out-and-out abolishment of one human being owning another be abolished, but we also must rework the labor market, "reproductive rights," our criminal system, and even "reparations" for past offenses.

Apparently to Dr. Brooten, the fact that "(w)omen's access to reproductive health services varies by race and economic status" is just as offensive and horrific as Saudi royalty's tendency to abuse, mistreat, rape, and even kill their servants.

I don't know if Dr. Brooten sincerely believes that these are all of equal offensiveness, or if she's just afraid of mentioning the elephant in the room -- that Islam is the only religion currently being used to rationalize slavery.

And I just don't really care.


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Comments (18)

I don't know why the good D... (Below threshold)

I don't know why the good Dr. finds it so "shocking" that the ancient religious texts have "tolerated" slavery.

Indeed, her use of such language is a signal that this article isn't really about slavery at all.

Slavery predates even monotheism. What organized ethical monotheism attempted to do was to lay out some ground rules in order to regulate the practiced and ameliorate some of the more horrendous abuses. In some societies, say Roman, slavery was necessary component of the social, educational and legal fabric of the society.

Brooten crassly uses slavery as a frame in which to push a political agenda not even tangentially related to the issue of modern slavery. Dollars to donuts she doesn't care one whit about slaves in the Middle East ... she's more worried about "disparate incomes" and "free" abortions in America.

Forgive my lack of Bible St... (Below threshold)

Forgive my lack of Bible Study, but where does Christianity endorse slavery in its 'sacred texts'. I'm sure it has it as an accepted reality of the times but so were monarchies and taxes. Or is the endorsement an inheritance from the Old Testament?

The support of slavery in Christendom is probably more based on convenient ignorance of its own teachings from my limited knowledge.

"Christianity tacitly endor... (Below threshold)

"Christianity tacitly endorsed slavery"?

Hardly. As a Catholic the Old Testament can be summed up in 3 words: "He is coming."

New Testament takes a few words more: "Jesus died that you may live forever".

No mention of slavery there. Also, remember Jesus' 2nd commandment: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself". No slavery there, either. But I've never been into bondage, so I could be wrong.

I agree with Darleen. Who s... (Below threshold)

I agree with Darleen. Who still thinks in racial terms anymore? Most of us sure don't, and haven't for decades. The main exceptions I can think of are the Racial Grievance Industry, bleeding heart liberals and politicians. In short, people that have something to gain by keeping the subject in our face until we're sick of hearing about it. God forbid we should all agree on such a politically delicious topic. Can't have that.

I was inclined to dismiss Brooten's article with a wisecrack ("What a dumb broad..."), but I didn't want to overwhelm the Meriam-Webster Dictionary website with frantic searches for "Neanderthal". So I decided against it and kept a respectful distance. After all, there are times when a wisecrack can be taken the wrong way.

In the New Testament, speci... (Below threshold)

In the New Testament, specifically in Colossians 3:22, it is written "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord". OFcourse, it Colossians 4:1 it is said that "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. That is the only place in the New Testament that I can think of where slavery is mentioned. And, I would argue, that it is not exactly an endorsement of slavery, but more of a rule for the housholds, which at the time, included slaves. Ofcourse, if you are an enemy of religion, that becomes an endorsement, I guess..

The Old Testament doesn't s... (Below threshold)
just me:

The Old Testament doesn't so much endorse slavery, as it sets up ground rules for who can be slaves, how they were to be treated, and how long they could be slaves for.

Christianity doesn't really endorse slavery, so much as it recognized that slavery was part of the culture they lived in. Christianity wasn't a political revolt religion, it was a religion where change was made at the individual level.

While many a Christian used the text to support the continuation of slavery, the abolitionist and emancipationist movements had Christians leading the charge.

But in general, the problem with saying "monotheists supported slavery" is that it ignores the history of the world and slavery in general. Pretty much every people group and every religion had slavery as part of its economic system-I am unaware of any ancient or primitive society that didn't have some form of it (there might be, considering I am neither a historian or an anthropologist, but I can't think of any off the top of my head).

The reality is that most people realize that it is morally wrong.

Isn't Communism a religion ... (Below threshold)

Isn't Communism a religion of sorts?

All those persons trumpeting the economic boom have the slave labor of Mainland China to thank.

Yes Semanticleo they are th... (Below threshold)

Yes Semanticleo they are the good slaves of the Chinese Communist Party. Communists=Progressives=Liberal Democrats.

Radical Islam is still in the 7th century. Why is anyone shocked they are still practicing 7th century
behaviors like slavery? It's hardly news.

So wheres JESSIE JACKASSON ... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

So wheres JESSIE JACKASSON and his RAINBOW/PUSH bunch wheres the NAACP wheres AL SHARPTON over there in those middle eastern countries demading a end to all that slavery wheres the UN Human Rights bunch and where are the lawyers calling for rperations for these slaves?

It doesn't take much skill ... (Below threshold)

It doesn't take much skill to Google the author and review her home page and links. She is a very experienced and educated woman whose main interest seems to be the topic of her editorial as well as a recent conference at Brandeis:
1) She makes some compelling arguments.
2) Her prejudice and true major interest is revealed in a somewhat Freudian manner by the last sentence of the above link [and reviewing the subject of her one major publication]:

We envision an ethic of sexuality rooted in freedom, mutuality, consent, responsibility, and female (as well as male) pleasure, and we are working to make that vision reality.

My point being that men are... (Below threshold)

My point being that men are a parenthetical afterthought.

The Good Doctor might have ... (Below threshold)

The Good Doctor might have expanded her definition just a little bit to get beyond chattel slavery. Had she done so, she would have discovered India...

The condition of thousands in India today differs very little from chattel slavery. Entire villages live on privately owned land. They pay the landlord through their labor and crop-sharing, sometimes with currency from what they can sell or otherwise earn. They cannot marry except with his approval. He can throw them off the land--and thus sentence them to a lingering death of poverty--at whim. True, they can vote, but only for whomever the landlord dictates. Otherwise, it's off the land.

The landlord and his family can rape and murder with impunity, so long as they're in good odor with the local politicians (who own the police).

In my book, that's slavery, even if it's taking place in the "largest democracy in the world".

Apparently to Dr. ... (Below threshold)
Apparently to Dr. Brooten, the fact that "(w)omen's access to reproductive health services varies by race and economic status" is just as offensive and horrific as Saudi royalty's tendency to abuse, mistreat, rape, and even kill their servants.

Actually, you just made that up. Perhaps you could quote Brooten saying that denial of contraception is as bad as slavery?

jpe, those little marks aro... (Below threshold)

jpe, those little marks around the words are quote marks. That means I took them straight from her piece I linked to. Here's the full context, just because you're either too lazy or too ignorant to read it yourself:

Slavery corrupts the moral fabric of society. Unfortunately, the idea that one person could own another person's body did not die after the Emancipation Proclamation. It remains embedded in our national psyche and manifests itself insidiously in other forms, as well. Today in the workplace, incomes remain profoundly disparate, based on race and gender. Outside the workplace, we have not overcome the idea that wives should obey their husbands, that parents own their children, or that sex can entail ownership and domination.

Harmful racial and sexual stereotypes infuse our popular culture, many of which can be traced back to slavery and which still have an impact on public policy. Women's access to reproductive health services varies by race and economic status, and African-American rape survivors face hurdles in the criminal justice system that white rape survivors do not.

Still say I unfairly characterized her opinion?


I must concur with several ... (Below threshold)

I must concur with several others here who have stated that Christian texts - let's assume we mean The Bible - never advocated slavery, but being that it was part of society, it was worked into the laws. Slave owners were to treat their slaves with respect, and slaves were to obey their masters. One might even parallel that with us showing our supervisors at work respect, and them treating us fairly. Taxes were mentioned at times as well, and they were to be paid, because Christians are/were to respect the laws of the land.

I've oftentimes thought about our founding fathers - I've struggled with the fact that Jefferson, Washington and the rest of them felt that all men were created equal, yet they held slaves to run the plantations. Who am I to judge our founding fathers - but I doubt very much that they were wearing WWJD bracelets around. I'm sure they had some distorted view of equality and rights being directly proportional to one's skin tone.

Ok, I'll get off my soap box and go back to the laundry and sock sorting.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!!!

Christianity and The West w... (Below threshold)

Christianity and The West were the first people to end slavery. The good old missionaries from England in the 1700's to be exact.

Sigh.From my point... (Below threshold)


From my point of view, a fair portion of her intellectual effort is a thinly to thickly veiled attempt to justify an ultra-homo-feminist view of the world. She's just done it in a framework of erudite religious studies. The slavery thing is simply an attempt to find an angle or fulcrum for her argument, and as Jay has clearly pointed out, she really isn't interested in addressing slavery, just ultra-feminist-homoerotic-power-to-the-ovaries verbiage.

But what do I know.

I always thought that the p... (Below threshold)

I always thought that the parallel for control over your own body was control over your own household.

I've heard a man say "what happens in my house is my business" when confronted about beating his wife. It seemed very much the same to me as "what happens in my body is my business" when talking about a fetus.

It all depends on who controls the place you live.

That man may well have felt that he provided the home, paid all the bills, and was entitled to have authority over it. Shouldn't he have authority over his home?

The fact that I'm entitled to control my Self doesn't mean that I'm entitled to hurt other residents.






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