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How religion has been used to promote slavery
Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, but he and other religious giants accepted slavery for others, scholars say.
March 29th, 2012
09:19 AM ET

How religion has been used to promote slavery

By John Blake, CNN

Editor’s note: The CNN documentary 'Slavery's Last Stronghold' airs on CNN International TV March 29, 30, 31 and April 22. Check local listings for times.

(CNN) - Which revered religious figure - Moses, Jesus, or the Prophet Mohammad - spoke out boldly and unambiguously against slavery?

Answer: None of them.

One of these men owned slaves, another created laws to regulate - but not ban - slavery. The third’s chief spokesman even ordered slaves to obey their masters, religious scholars say.

Most modern people of faith see slavery as a great evil. Though the three great Western religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – disagree on many matters, most of their contemporary followers condemn slavery.

Yet there was a time when Jews, Christians and Muslims routinely cited the words and deeds of their founders to justify human bondage, scholars say.

At times, religion was deployed more to promote the spread of slavery than to prevent it.

Read about present-day slavery in Mauritania

“The lesson in all this is we need historical humility,” says Daniel C. Peterson, author of “Muhammad, Prophet of God.” “It’s stunning for us to look back now and say, how can people face themselves in the mirror after doing what they did, but they did.”

But what did the founders of the three great Western religions do? Did they have slaves and did they condemn the practice? Or were they, at least on this issue, squarely men of their times?

The answers to these questions are as murky and contradictory as history itself.

What’s a slave?

Part of the problem is historical context. Most contemporary people think of slaves as people condemned to a lifetime of bondage, working on plantations and being whipped like oxen.

That kind of slavery did exist during the lives of Moses, Jesus and the Prophet Mohammad. Many slaves were prisoners of war; concubines, gladiators, laborers in salt mines. They could be killed, raped and discarded at any moment.

Yet there were layers of slavery in the ancient world. Many slaves would be seen today as indentured servants, or people trying to pay off debts; royal bodyguards and entrepreneurs, historians say.

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Sometimes the slaves became masters. In medieval Egypt, Muslim rulers trained and educated slaves to be their bodyguards. One group of slaves grew so powerful that they overthrew the rulers of Egypt and established their own dynasty, says Ali Asani, a professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Languages and Culture at Harvard University.

“Slavery meant different things in different cultures,” Asani says. “There wasn’t always this sense of powerlessness and oppression. In certain forms, it became an access to power.”

In other forms, it became access to freedom, says John Dominic Crossan, one of world’s leading scholars on the life and times of Jesus.

That was the case in the world of Jesus. The Roman Empire was the dominant power of Jesus’ day, and it survived on the backs of millions of slaves. Yet there was only one mass slave revolt against Rome, which was led by Spartacus, a gladiatorial slave, Crossan says.

The reason there were so few massive slave rebellions against Rome was because some of its slaves had avenues for advancement, dim though they may seem to modern sensibilities.

Slaves could buy their freedom. They ran businesses for their masters or tutored their children. Greek slaves, in particular, were often valued because of their education and culture, he says.

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Roman slavery was cruel and capricious, but not all Romans saw slaves as subhuman.

“One of the most extraordinary aspects of Roman slavery,” says Crossan, author of “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus,” was that the Romans ended up with a huge number of slaves who were smarter than their masters.”

The uncomfortable historical record

It’s been said that great religious figures transcend history. They rise above the peculiar customs of their day to show a new path forward.

It’s a matter of debate if Moses, Jesus and the Prophet Mohammad did that with slavery. All three seemed to either ignore or tolerate some forms of slavery, some scholars say.

The parables of Jesus, for example, were full of references to slaves. Terms like “servants” or “stewards” are what we would call slaves today. Yet Jesus doesn’t seem to make any moral judgments about slavery in his parables, Crossan says.

The subject may have been irrelevant to him or his audience, says Crossan, the Jesus scholar. Jesus didn’t own any slaves. Neither did his disciples or the crowds Jesus addressed. They were all too poor and lived under desperate economic circumstances.

“It may well be that the people he talked to were small farmers who would not have the luxury of slaves,” Crossan says. “He [Jesus] doesn’t say anything for or against it.”

Still, Crossan says that he believes that Jesus would have opposed slavery, given the nature of his teachings. Scholars aren’t so certain about Jesus’ most influential disciple, the Apostle Paul.

The man whose writings make up most of the New Testament had to deal with slavery. As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire, many slaves joined the church.

At various parts of the New Testament, Paul seems to accept slavery. He tells slaves to obey their masters. At other times, Paul seems to challenge the morality of slavery. In one New Testament letter, Paul intercedes on behalf of a runaway slave and chides the master for calling himself a Christian and holding a slave.

Crossan, along with some other biblical scholars, says there are actually two versions of Paul in the New Testament: the authentic, “radical” Paul who opposed slavery and a “Pseudo-Paul” inserted into the texts by early church leaders who were afraid of antagonizing Rome.

“It’s one thing to say that Jesus is Lord,” Crossan says. “Now if you’re saying a Christian can’t have slaves, then something must be wrong with slaves. So now you’re attacking the Roman system, which is a slave economy.”

Jesus’ apparent silence on slavery and Paul’s ambiguous statements on the issue had dreadful historical consequences. It helped ensure that slavery would survive well into the 19th century in the U.S., some scholars say.

American Christians who owned slaves had a simple but powerful defense in the run-up to the Civil War. The Old and New Testament sanctioned slavery and, since the Bible is infallible, slavery is part of God’s order, says Mark Noll, author “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.”

“The defenders of slavery said Jesus condemned quite a few things that were standard in the Old Testament,” Noll says. “He condemned polygamy, violence, easy divorce, but he never condemned slavery.”

Let my people go, but keep the others

Neither did Moses, the founder of Judaism, say other scholars.

There’s no record of Moses owning slaves, but the Mosaic laws permitted and regulated slavery, says Peterson, the author of “Muhammad, Prophet of God” and a religious scholar at Brigham Young University in Utah.

Still, under Mosaic law, a master was encouraged to free slaves and forgive debts after a certain period of time that was called the year of jubilee, Peterson says.

“They were not trying to create a permanent underclass of slaves that went from parents to child and child and grandchildren,” Peterson says of the ancient Israelites.

But how could ancient Israelites sanction any form of slavery given their exodus from Egyptian captivity? Didn’t their God explicitly condemn slavery when he ordered Moses to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go?”

The text is not clear on that question, says Brannon Wheeler, a religious scholar.

He says the Exodus stories suggest that the God of Israel was angry at Pharaoh not for enslaving a group of people, but for unjustly enslaving the “Chosen People” - the people God had promised to give their own homeland.

“In order to make that promise stick, He [God] has to get them out of Egypt,” says Wheeler, director of the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the United States Naval Academy in Maryland.

“It’s not like He [God] says slavery is bad and I want to abolish it.”

The Prophet Mohammad never explicitly condemned slavery, and actually owned slaves, some scholars say.

Yet he recognized the humanity of slaves, teaching followers that freeing slaves was an act of piety. He allowed slaves to buy their freedom and demanded that they should be treated with love and respect, says Asani, author of  “Celebrating Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Popular Muslim Poetry.”

“He himself did own slaves but he treated them as family,” Asani says. “One called Zayd he treated like an adopted son and one of his wives was a Coptic Christian slave.”

The followers of men like the Prophet Mohammad, though, would take a harsher attitude toward slaves.

By the time of the crusades, Christians and Muslims were enslaving one another by the thousands. They cited their faith as justification, says Robert C. Davis, author of “Holy War and Human Bondage.”

“Religion was the defining principle of slavery—this person is another faith and can be enslaved,” Davis says.

Some church leaders preached that enslaving others was an act of evangelism, Davis says.

“One pope said that the justification for slavery was that it was important for spreading the faith,” Davis says. “Once they were enslaved, they would more readily take to Christianity.”

Those kinds of actions may now seem barbaric, but the texts and stories that were used to justify slavery still exist in the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Few, though, would quote those scriptures today, and many don’t even know they exist.

“We shouldn’t be surprised,” says Jonathan Brockopp, a religion professor at Pennsylvania State University. “Religions redefine themselves and people draw on different stories and underplay other stories. This happens constantly.”

It happened with slavery, and, who knows, perhaps it’s happening again in our time. There may be a religious practice accepted today that future generations will look upon and ask the same question we ask about people who enslaved others in the name of God:

How could they?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Africa • Belief • Bible • Books • Christianity • Church and state • Egypt • History • Islam • Islamic law • Islamic law • Israel • Jesus • Moses • Muslim • Uncategorized

soundoff (3,207 Responses)
  1. closet atheist

    wow... all the religious nuts are out on this thread!! it's funny reading through comments. it is soooo hard to reason with a believer. most of the logic they use is circular. by this, for you slow ones, i mean that they keep referencing the bible (in the case of christians) when arguing the validity of their christian beliefs. it doesn't work like that, people.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Zaximus42

      This isn't true at all. I've never heard of a religious person contradicting themselves. It's all spelled out so clearly in their gospels. Quite clearly too. It's amazing too with all the times it's been rewritten to keep up with times. God loves that by the way. He said "You know, I'm feeling a little out-dated. Let's rewrite my teachings. Change some of the stories a little bit too." That's not a contradiction at all unto itself. Clearly.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • closet atheist

      @Zaximus.... don't bother with sarcasm. I'm pretty sure it'll be lost on the vast majority of the sheeple.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  2. QS

    I have always wondered how the black community, which seems to be overly religious at times, can claim a belief system that either condoned or at least didn't condemn slavery....while at the same time using the same types of justifications that were used against them against the gay community.

    Blind leading the blind.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Horus

      I've always wondered why people picture early christians as "white". It was the middle east you know.....

      March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  3. Rachel Maddow

    Forget all this religion stuff for a moment and look at how fat I have gotten! I have to lift layers of blubber to scrub underneath every time I hop in the shower. Some of its too big to go down the drain so it looks like someone threw up pieces of carrot and mutton in my tub...

    March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  4. Zaximus42

    Zues LIVES!! ALL of you non-believers will feel it when he brings the THUNDER!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • closet atheist

      I'm betting Odin is going to unleash Thor on you. How dare you worship another god...?!?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  5. Mohammed

    Would anyone like to sit and draw a picture of me acting silly with a sandle laid across my face?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Zaximus42

      LMAO!!

      March 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Zaximus42

      Brutal man. For those of you who don't get this....well there is a recent example of violence due to a picture being put in a paper under the name of religion. Good comment Mohammed.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Don't you dare laugh you infidel!

      March 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Zaximus42

      My apologies. Please don't smite me.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Issam Azziz

      It is a huge sin to speak about these great messengers of Allah, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad Salla Allah Alahi wa Sallam. As a Muslim, we have respect for all prophets and messengers From Adam to Mohammad (the seal of all prophets). Slavery is holding someone for your own benefit against his or her own will (whether you pay them or not). People of all colors loved to be around our last messenger Mohammad Salla Allah Alahi wa Sallam. He always advocated that there is no difference between a black or White or Red or Yellow except how strong their submission to Allah is and had set the fact that every Muslim is a brother of another Muslim regardless of their origin. Wait for Issa (Jesus) to come back and follow the Muslim way. The message of our Prophets and messengers as human beings chosen by Allah is to deliver the message that humans are the slaves of Allah and they shall not associate anything or anybody with him and to worship him alone. Be thankful to your creator, he gave you eyes, legs, brain, etc.…what if you don’t have one of these great things Allah gave us, what would your life be like?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Zeus

      @Issam – you forgot me, in your list; that is a sin as well.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  6. leroy love

    Whatever the reasons for slavery in the past, now exist econmic, social, and cultural inculcation, that will replace slavery of the past. This plot will exist for another 2000 years

    March 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  7. Devon

    Yet aside from CNN's usual hilarious cheap moral equivalence, only Islam and its actual brutal founder, Muhammed, owned Slaves....that's right folks....Muhammed , the founder of Islam actually owned slaves .....

    March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • El Flaco

      So did Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Cleopatra, Washington, Jefferson ... There's a very distinguished list of slave owners.

      So did Constantine, the founder of Christianity.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Zaximus42

      Priests and boys. Think about it.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Devon,
      Yeah, and you shouldn't follow him, either.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • faruk

      hai devon are you a davil? how could say this that prophet md.{p.b.uh} own slave if you did know any thing about islam and the history of all those prophets you should not throw acoment like this. do you know any thing about BELAL WHO WAS A slave?& count less other who was been bought from their owner by the prophet &set them free? he neverown them. prophet md.is the one who dicleard slevary is sin crime.if you have no knoledge about about some body you should not coment on him. i want to give you an honest advice please go any muslim scoler to find out what prophet md.[s.] with the slave. the is so wrong.we did not change our self.we keep doing this.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • faruk

      hai devon are you a davil? how could say this that prophet md.{p.b.uh} own slave if you did know any thing about islam and the history of all those prophets you should not throw acoment like this. do you know any thing about BELAL WHO WAS A slave?& count less other who was been bought from their owner by the prophet &set them free? he neverown them. prophet md.is the one who dicleard slevary is sin crime.if you have no knoledge about about some body you should not coment on him. i want to give you an honest advice please go any muslim scoler to find out what prophet md.[s.]did with the slave. this is so wrong.we did not change our self.we keep doing this. do you know ABU BAKAR? READ THE ISLAMIC HISTORY THEN YOU WILL find out the truth..

      March 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  8. WILLIAM

    The servent was to obey his master and the master to obey GOD. In this order the servent would be given freedom because his master would have obeyed GOD and he himself would be given freedom.
    I think it all boils down to HUMAN error not GODS error.
    GOD= The Father, Son and Holly ghost= The trinity=everlasting life and love.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • sam

      The holly ghost is the one covered in red berries, right?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • momoya

      God's error is in contradi.cting himself concerning slavery and lots of other issues, His error is not in providing enough va.gue scripture that can be used to support any position on any topic whatsoever.. That's all there is.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  9. Leah Schlager

    Slavery was a solution before there were jails and an alternative to executing a defeated enemy. It was a system to pay off debts, thefts, etc. Judaic law insists that slaves be treated well, fed before the rest of the household, etc. In Judaic law in was forbidden to abuse them and a man may be punished if he does so. A slave was permitted to bring his master to court. Also, a slave may "choose" to be a slave for life, but it was preferred that they go free once their debt was paid, or in the year or jubilee, or at the owner's will. It was never intended to be a way of life or to create a second class of people.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  10. matrix

    we all slaves of government, banks and the those with capital. The poors are always the slaves of rich people in this modern life.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  11. Horus

    All religions are tools of bondage. When you commit you become a servant of whichever god, or gods you choose to follow. If you can explain why you discredit all other gods but yours, then you will understand why I believe in none.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  12. Nonimus

    Although, as a lead-in for a program on an important subject, slavery in today's world, (re: "Editor’s note: The CNN docu.mentary 'Slavery's Last Stronghold' airs on CNN International TV March 29, 30, 31 and April 22. Check local listings for times.")

    This article though seems to be a seriously poor example of journalism (normally, I don't use this argument, because Belief Blog is a blog and an opinion blog at that, but this was written by a CNN employee to support a CNN program.) Examples:

    "Greek slaves, in particular, were often valued because of their education and culture, he says." Does this make slavery any better? No. I'm sure the big "buck" African slaves in the southern U.S. were "often valued" as well, in fact, valued very specifically with money.

    "The reason there were so few massive slave rebellions against Rome was because some of its slaves had avenues for advancement, dim though they may seem to modern sensibilities."
    Yeah, advancement... and perhaps... just maybe... the most feared and successful military power, of its day, in the world.

    '“One of the most extraordinary aspects of Roman slavery,” says Crossan, author of “The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus,” was that the Romans ended up with a huge number of slaves who were smarter than their masters.”'
    Sorry, do you mean more educated, perhaps? So, Jesus and Paul thought it was okay to be a slave, if you were educated at the same time? What exactly is your point?

    "The subject may have been irrelevant to him or his audience, says Crossan, the Jesus scholar. Jesus didn’t own any slaves. Neither did his disciples or the crowds Jesus addressed. They were all too poor and lived under desperate economic circu.mstances."
    What? Irrelevant? Are you kidding? How many times did Jesus, supposedly, speak about money and the likelihood of rich men getting into heaven. Camels passing through the eyes of needles and 'sell everything and follow me' come to mind. How many others?

    "Still, Crossan says that he believes that Jesus would have opposed slavery, given the nature of his teachings. Scholars aren’t so certain about Jesus’ most influential disciple, the Apostle Paul."
    Well, good for Crossan, but apparently slavery just wasn't important enough for Jesus. Thanks anyway.

    "At various parts of the New Testament, Paul seems to accept slavery. He tells slaves to obey their masters. At other times, Paul seems to challenge the morality of slavery. In one New Testament letter, Paul intercedes on behalf of a runaway slave and chides the master for calling himself a Christian and holding a slave."
    I'm sorry, but Philemon, if that's what he's referring to, only says to free Onesimus because he is now a Christian and no longer "useless" to Philemon. So, at most, Paul is saying that we shouldn't own Christians, but others are okay. Not only that, but it is not necessarily wrong to own Christians, just more "useful" to not own them. This is reinforced by Paul's offer, although admittedly insincere sounding offer, to purchase Onesimus' freedom or as Paul, supposedly, puts it, "If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me." (Philemon 1:18) And, not so ambiguously, Paul is in fact returning Onesimus to Philemon. If slavery is inherently wrong, why would Paul return a slave to *it's* owner. "Render unto [Philemon] what is [Philemon's]... etc."

    "Jesus’ apparent silence on slavery and Paul’s ambiguous statements on the issue..." What ambiguity?

    “The defenders of slavery said Jesus condemned quite a few things that were standard in the Old Testament,” Noll says. "He condemned polygamy, violence, easy divorce, but he never condemned slavery.”
    Good point!

    "Still, under Mosaic law, a master was encouraged to free slaves and forgive debts after a certain period of time that was called the year of jubilee, Peterson says."
    He may be referring to Lev 25: 54-55:
    "54 '‘Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, 55 for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

    But as it says, it is speaking of Israelites only. Non-Israelites are mentioned earlier in Lev 44-46:
    "44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly."

    That bears repeating:
    "...they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life..."
    Yes, it's OT, sure, but GOD is *not* against slavery on principle, just circu.mstance. period.

    Why isn't there an eleventh commandment?
    11. Thou shall not own thy neighbor.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  13. El Flaco

    From the New Testament. Most of you should read it.

    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;

    All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.

    Those who have believers as their masters must not be disrespectful to them because they are brethren, but must serve them all the more, because those who partake of the benefit are believers and beloved. Teach and preach these principles.

    Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative,

    Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  14. Glades2

    Like Baptists, we Catholics also follow St. Paul's teachings, though some again have taken his words out of context and are using them to approve of slavery – that is wrong, and even in St. Paul's teaching, he taught love and kindness between owners and slaves. George Washington followed that way and as history shows did not mistreat them – but that still does not mean slavery was or is right. As my Dad used to say, those who talk in favor of slavery have never been slaves themselves – so true...

    March 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  15. Facts Lover

    Great job CNN! Information is key. The only way truly improve as society.
    Keep the good work

    March 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  16. Glades2

    Like Baptists, we Catholics also follow St. Paul's teachings, though some again have taken his words out of context and are using them to approve of slavery – that is wrong, and even in St. Paul's teaching, he taught love and kindness between owners and slaves. George Washington followed that way and as history shows did not mistreat them – but that still does not mean slavery was or is right. As my Dad used to say, those who talk in favor of slavery and never been slaves themselves – so true...

    March 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • jimtanker

      By your own words you even admit that your religion condones slavery. If Paul didnt speak out against it then he condoned it.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Glades2

      He spoke of it – but as a converted murderer you can bet he did not approve of the torture that was experienced and still today, because during his conversion Jesus told him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"...

      March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • jimtanker

      You make absolutely no sense. Did Paul speak out and condemn slavery? NO he didn't. Your church condones slavery.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Glades2,
      Did Paul, or did he not return Onesimus to *it's* owner, Philemon?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  17. csnord

    This is an awfully long article for a simple social problem. Of course religion promotes slavery because religion is a symptom of human nature. All people tend to organize into groups based on some core theme. Once the group is formed, they develop a means of identification. A group can be formed around any them, but religion is the most popular. Some examples of groups and symbols are Republicans (elephant), Democrats (donkey), Bears fans (Bears logo), Rotary (gear), Shriners (fez), countries (flags), etc. Religion is just the most common way to organize. Once a group is formed, the existing members make membership exclusive, which gives the members and elevated sense of importance, or, in the case of religion, righteousness. That makes it easy to view non-members as a lower class of species (ask a Bears fan about Viking fans). Once the "outsiders" are viewed as inferior, it is a small step to take in making them slaves.

    No doubt many will criticize this analysis by saying the Christianity is all inclusive. Right. Well, actually, it is all inclusive so long as anyone wanting to join the club toes the line. Don't believe me? Then, just watch the reaction to an openly gay couple, or a transgender female, trying to join a conservative Catholic parish. Women as priests, anyone? A pork eater in a Hassidic synagogue? If you don't want to wear a bed sheet on your head, don't apply to the Sikhs.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  18. martog

    Ten Reasons You Know you are an Atheist.
    1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.
    2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.
    3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles and other magic powers soon started to look pretty unlikely.
    4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.
    5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.
    6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump of a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.
    7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar”.
    8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.
    9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.
    10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. You also know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born. It is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as is the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.

    ReplyReply AllMove...mls

    March 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • mike w

      Describes me almost perfectly, well done.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • LMD

      Very well written Thank You

      March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • joesixpackjr

      11. You read stupid articles on CNN.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Chris Rowland

      11) You have spent an enormous amount of time posturing as someone superior to your contemporaries in terms of intellect, knowledge, and in the ability to reason. You are so uncertain of your position that you find the need to write enormous posts on forums defining how wonderful you are and how superior to everyone else, rather than an ounce of digital ink defending the substantive claims of your position.
      What are the substantive claims of your position?
      Most controversial is a dogmatic materialism, that, if you followed through to its rational conclusion, precludes any possibility of free will, as we have come to understand it, because chemistry must always precede and determine thought, so your thoughts (atheism for one) is inevitably determined by the chemistry in your brain.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • sam

      Watch out, everybody, Chris is butthurt. He didn't understand #4.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Russell_in_Texas

      Well done my friend. I felt as though I was reading about myself. I copied your text for personal future reference. I hope you don't mind. Thank you.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • D

      Nice....basically describes me in a nutshell..... Except that for all the appreciation and "knowledge" of the universe that I have gained by studying science, etc., I have actually come up with even more questions and thus have a closer relationship to the God concept

      March 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • martog

      Joe six pack JR...yojuu OBVIOUSLY read STHOOPUD articles on CNN too. Shall we call you the pot or the kettle?

      March 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  19. Bootyfunk

    this guy is trying to make excuses for the bible promoting slavery. the bible has rules for how badly you can beat your slaves (if they can walk after 3 days, congratulations, you didn't go overboard). also rules for selling your own daughter into slavery. the bible PROMOTES the s.h.i.t out of slavery.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  20. Rscan

    First off, we're talking about a single religion here – Monotheism. Christian, Jew, Muslim, just branches, although the Jews invented the story of the "single god man." Oooops, that's not correct either, because there are about a zillion duplicate, prior myths that this copied. Attention Christians-ALL the old myth gods were born on Christmas (solstice), star in the sky, virgin mom, 3 wise men, born in a manger + +. At least with the Roman Empire we get archaeology to support the idea "they lived."

    Yup, the Roman Empire existed, but Jesus didn't, nor Moses, Abraham, Noah, etc. etc. ad pukem. All myths. Simply answer the question "who created god?"* and maybe then you can "see the light." ALL of the anger and hate across the globe can be traced to myths becoming dogma. (*we did)

    I say we give the Humanists a chance for the next 2000 years. Their doctrine has no place for slavery, let alone "manifest destiny." War isn't holy, it's murder.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Zaximus42

      I still subscribe to Greek Mythology. The rest is nonsense. One God...pssshhh. Zues says "Zap to that!"

      March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • wowt

      I like it Zax

      March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.