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. thoughtsjustsome

    John Crosson is not a leading scholar. He's a fool whose scholarship is shoddy and self serving. He certainly has no business representing the Christian faith...if that was the goal...#Fail...Paul said that in Christ there is no male or female, greek or jew, slave or free... Early Christianity embraced a radical form of equality that the whole world has been trying to catch up with ever since.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • greg1466

      I think you need to read your Bible a little more carefully...

      March 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • hthoreau

      I guess you didnt read the article. If you did you would know that Jesus and his followers did not address slavery because they and the people they preached too did not have slaves. When Paul wrote the new Testament he included slaves becuase they were a huge part of the Roman Empire and if he didnt accept slavery he would be killed. The author says that many believe a second version of the new testament condemned slavery.......SO IF you read you would have learned something but instead you just blindly toted your bible

      March 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Reality

      From ; earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html (the same website also lists the studies of many of the other "top-gun" contemporary NT scholars)

      "John Dominic Crossan

      Some of his studies:

      •Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (Harper San Francisco 2001)

      •The Birth of Christianity (Harper San Francisco 1999)

      •The Jesus Controversy : Perspectives in Conflict (Trinity Pr Intl 1999)

      •Who Is Jesus? (Westminster John Knox 1999)

      •The Essential Jesus (Book Sales 1998)

      •Who Killed Jesus? (Harper San Francisco 1996)

      •Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Harper San Francisco 1995)

      •In Parables : The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (Polebridge Press 1994)

      •The Historical Jesus (Harper San Francisco 1993)

      •An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Chronological Stratification (online)

      •An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Independent Attestation (online)

      •Common Sayings Tradition in Gospel of Thomas and Q Gospel (online)

      •Seminar: HJ Materials & Methodology (online)

      •A Closer Look at the Mustard Seed (online)

      •Was Jesus Buried? (online)

      •Alchemy and Accuracy (online)

      •A Review of John Dominic Crossan's The Birth of Christianity (Harvard Theological Review 2001, reproduced online)

      •Danny Yee's Book Reviews: The Historical Jesus (online)

      •Simple Choices? A Response to John Dominic Crossan

      In the work of John Dominic Crossan, there is a refreshing emphasis on methodology. To this end, Crossan has compiled a database of the attestation for the Jesus traditions by independent attestation and stratification, provided by Faith Futures Foundation in the links above. Crossan in The Historical Jesus explains that his methodology is to take what is known about the historical Jesus from the earliest, most widely attested data and set it in a socio-historical context. The bulk of the common sayings tradition shows itself to be specific to the situation that existed in the 20s of the first century in Galilee in which the agrarian peasantry were being exploited as the Romans were commercializing the area. The historical Jesus proves to be a displaced Galilean peasant artisan who had got fed up with the situation and went about preaching a radical message: an egalatarian vision of the Kingdom of God present on earth and available to all as manifested in the acts of Jesus in healing the sick and practicing an open commensality in which all were invited to share. The historical Jesus was an itinerant whose mode of teaching can be understood on analogy with the Cynic sage but who was nonetheless a Jew who believed that the kingdom was being made available by the God of Israel to his people. The revolutionary message of Jesus was seen to be subversive to the Roman vision of order and led to the fateful execution of Jesus by Pilate on a hill outside of Jerusalem. "

      March 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Reality

      Other passages from Paul's epistles which resulted in a form of slavery for today's women:

      "8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.
      9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
      10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
      11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
      12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
      13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
      14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
      15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
      ( Timothy 2:8-15 KJV)"

      “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)"

      "He (Paul) feared the turn-on of women's voices as much as the sight of their hair and skin..... At one point he even suggests that the sight of female hair might distract any angels/ "pretty wingie talking fictional thingies" in church attendance (1 Cor. 11:10). (from Professor Chilton's book Rabbi Paul).

      Simply add Paul's thinking about women to the list of flaws in the foundations of Catholicism/Christianity.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Damon

      "Early Christianity embraced a radical form of equality that the whole world has been trying to catch up with ever since."

      As a gay man, I vehemently disagree.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Henry

      Misrepresentation? As just one example, Exodus 21:20-21 explains how to beat your slave. There is NO comparable "atheist book."

      March 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  2. Bob

    While not religious myself I find it laughable that there is no mention of he atheist gulags in Soviet times to present (NK). Slave labor at many times were people born in labor camps.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • hthoreau

      how many pages did you want this article to be? too many examples

      March 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • greg1466

      I would not consider the USSR an atheist state. For all intents and purposes, Communism was its religion. Or probably more accurately Stalinism. In any event, the real issue here is not whether or not atheism can be used to support or oppose slavery, but rather the fact the the Bible *specifically* endorses slavery.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Bob

      Conveniently overlooked as always. There as a great article a few days ago on life inside a North Korean labor (slave) camp. Generational slavery.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Henry

      Typical misrepresentation of atheism. Atheism has no "creed." People HAVE justified slavery THROUGH RELIGION. Atheists that may have advocated slavery did not do so "in the name of atheism." Atheism is only the non-belief in god. Nothing else.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Bob

      Greg, you are correct in that religious text was actively used to either promote or abolish slavery. The arguments between southern religious leaders and northern religious leaders was fascinating in terms of what they used to justify their arguements. Southerners relying mainly on the Old Testement and northerners relying on the New Tetement.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • Bob

      Henry, very naive. Entire populations were sent into labor camps by atheists because they did not subscribe to atheism. A perfect case of one religion oppressing another.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Jeff

      North Korea is the most religious state on the planet. Their entire society is based on the worship of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il's dead father remained the official state leader. Now that Kim Jong Il is dead, I suppose they'll have all the makings of a trinity.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • U so crazy

      Henry, atheism is not a creed, but a general term for a variety of creeds. There are Communist inspired atheists, Social Darwinists, Secular Humansists. As an example Social Darwinism was used as a justification for the destruction of entire cultures, while Communist Atheism killed millions. What kind are you?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Henry

      The point is that there is no atheist "bible" that justifies slavery, whereas holy books do. Nutjobs that want to enslave people can be both atheist or religious, but they do it because THEY are nuts (not blaming religion or atheism yet). The difference is, the holy books DO advocate slavery, and can be used to justify it like the article states. There is no "atheist guidebook" that states guidelines to being an atheist. Again, atheism is ONLY the non-belief in god, with NO OTHER CLAIMS.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Henry

      @U so crazy you are still confusing atheism with OTHER philosophies. Again, atheism is non-belief in god. Period. "Social Darwinism" as you say can be twisted to justify genocide, sure. What does atheism have to do with it? The philosophies that you mention are separate from atheism. I am an atheist because I do not find any god-claims to be convincing. I do not attach any other baggage to that claim. My social and political views are separate.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • ensense

      When it comes to atheist repression see how the atheists defend it as misrepresentation. all along thy have been doing the same about Christianity..

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

      Misrepresentation? As just one single example, Exodus 21:20-21 explains how to beat your slave. There is NO comparable "atheist book."

      March 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  3. rick1948

    So, religion isn't fair. Now, there's a shocker-roonie.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • ensense

      Nor is atheism.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Kafir

      Atheism is neither fair nor unfair. It's a lack of belief (in gods). What's unfair about that?

      March 29, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  4. seancarroll

    No offense to your "Jesus scholar" maybe you should have consulted a real follower of Jesus, because at the beginning of his ministry he spoke these words:

    Luke 4:18-19 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

    In all places Christianity spread slavery ended, American Christians were the only group, and those mainly Southern Christians who used verses out of context to promote slavery. They used the Bible in the wrong means, and disregarded the context of the entirety of Scripture and bent it for their own economic gain. It is a big failure the American church still deals, with when they have traded allegiance to Jesus and think change comes through lawmaking.

    Jesus spoke words of freedom, and became a slave for our salvation. He spoke words of releasing all people from their burdens, for that is Good News. When people misuse the words of Christ, they cease to be his followers.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Bob

      Don't forget abouth South Americans. Brazilian slaver ended after it did in the US.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • U so crazy

      The pre Christian Roman Empire was roughly 40% slaves. What was the proportion of Christian Europe afterward?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Brian

      Actually, slavery existed for almost 2000 years after Jesus, so I'm not sure how you can say that Christianity spread the freedom of slaves. Russia had a type of slavery (serfdom) only a few years before the end of the Civil War. Much of Europe had slavery until the 1700's - well after they were Christianized.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • ensense

      There were slaves in christian empires, but Christianity did not advocate slavery. Christ was the first person after the Buddha to preach equality.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Eltrip

      Tell that to the native Americans who served Spanish Missionaries in the new world.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  5. BobbaFett

    The distortion, misrepresentation, and historical/social projection in the article is laughable. Just another cheap way to defame religion. But it's easier to accept it than to research.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Ah yes

      Are you talking about the type of research that concluded that dinosaurs are 5,000 years old?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Eric of Reseda

      Then offer some research of your own to refute the above....

      March 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • BobbaFett

      Classic fools. You've already decided, so little good that would do. Especially since you've already accepted the author's premise, research is worthless.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Ironic how we've already decided yet.... you haven't made up your own mind? You expect me to believe you'd listen to facts?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  6. CarefulThought

    I've often said that with the same shock that we look back and try to get a grip on why nice, normal people would own slaves, someone in the future will look back and be baffled why otherwise nice, caring people campaigned HARD for what amounts to killing children (abortion).

    March 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Seriously?

      So you think enslaving a conscious, sentient being is the equivalent of ridding a body of an unwanted, unplanned for, sometimes unavoidable, unconscious, non-sentient parasite?

      March 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • Kafir

      Fetus and children aren't equivalent.

      However, even pro-choicers would not rob you of the right to consider your fetus as a child, if you saw fit.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Vorlon

      You are right, CarefulThought. Abortion is a tragedy.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  7. Lily

    Everyone is a slave to something/someone.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • manonfetch

      Tell that to the thousands of real slaves in the world – men, women and children who are sold to brothels, sweatshops, farms, etc. Unless the 'someone/something' can sell you to the neighbors, whip you to death, or sell your kids to a brothel, you aren't a slave.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  8. James


    Religion, Christianity especially, had more to do with abolition then, both in history and this day and age then ANY OTHER force. Stop with the Anti-religious nonsense/lies CNN.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Average Joe

      For example, William Wilberforce in England.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • victor

      Wilberforce was a slave trader who made his money off the backs of slavery. Christianity and the two other monotheistic religions were both a cause for and a cause against slavery, it all depends on where, when and who was doing it. The ending of the slave trade in England was many things including religious, but it was not religion alone that caused the end of the slave trade.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  9. mike w

    Religion: holding back human progress for 4,000 years.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jonathan

      And counting..........

      March 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  10. Jeremy

    Can't wait for next weeks article on how Atheism promoted the murder of millions by the USSR/Stalin.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      your (at least) 2000 years trumps that 60 year mistake...

      March 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Jeremy

      If you believe murder by way of Athiesm was isolated to 60 years under the USSR then you are extremely ignorant, as is your comment.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      murder by way of atheism (if you could even call it that since communism was a dogmatic paradigm and not a form of atheism) is a tiny speck in the wars, maltreatment of human beings, and bloodshed that xtianity has heaped on this world – especially in the last 600 years.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • U so crazy

      You will be waiting a very long time. It is so easy to judge religions by thier failings, yet their detractors never seem to make the connection that the moral codes by which they judge religions are based upon said religious teachings. Atheists actually think their beliefs on morality come to them untainted by religious history. It's almost funny.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Jeff

      Can't wait for the article that explains how Christianity motivated the Nazis to begin the holocaust.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Seriously?

      To U so crazy: Sorry buddy, but my morals are quite a bit different than the only religion I know (Christianity). For instance, I think offering your two virgin daughter's to a mob of men who want to "know" them while trying to protect some random strangers from the same fate is quite immoral, yet angels of the christian god saw it as evidence that Lot (the father of said virgins) was a good man. I also think that it is highly immoral for god's supposed prophets to advocate, and insist on, the wanton slaughter of any men, women, sons, daughters, and livestock of a tribe just because they don't believe in the same god. To make matters worse, in this instance, some daughters and livestock were to be left alive; only the best livestock and only the girls that were virgins. The "people of god" were told they could do whatever they wanted to do with the virgins.

      So yeah, my morals? Definitely didn't come from the bible. And certainly not from the judeo-christian god.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • What?

      Jeff, the Nazis believed in the past Nordic religion/tradition that they were the master race descended from the lost civilization of Atlantis, it had nothing to do with "Christianity" or it's teachings. Why don't you study a little history before throwing out every anti-christianity talking point you've ever heard in your sorry life, idiot.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • CarefulThought

      Jeremy makes an excellent point. Yes, you can easily point to God-fearing people making enormous moral errors in judgment, sometimes for centuries at a clip.

      BUT, religion doesn't hold the corner on sin.

      Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung,Pol Pot, Nero were not churchy folks.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  11. mr bible

    The author mentions, but then totally glosses over the fact that slavery in the bible is not "chattel" slavery; it is indentured servitude. "Servant" is a much closer translation from the original text than "slave". When the period ended, the law in the Torah is that the servant must be sent away with gifts.

    In addition in the Jubilee year, freeing servants isn't "encouraged" it is a commandment. This guy is a dope.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Ron B

      and yet. the bible says it's OK to beat your slave as long as they do not die withing two days...... yes, that certainly sounds compassionate????????

      March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Ron B

      and yet. the bible says it's OK to beat your slave as long as they do not die within two days...... yes, that certainly sounds compassionate????????

      March 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Fina

      finally someone with some real insite, thank you for this comment!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Kyle

      Ron, don't bother. Christians are blind to their own bible, accepting what they want as literal truth and dismissing what they don't like with interpretation and analogy.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • U so crazy

      mr bible, dont' bother. Most atheists are so blinded by their biases that they see no good in religions. Even thought the moral codes they claim to follow are illogical when seperated from religious teachings.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      @ U so crazy
      It is logical to follow the law and remain civil in a CIVIL society. We are heard animals after all. Similar behavior can be found in buffalo. Doesn’t make is divine.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Marlon


      March 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  12. simplei

    I knew it wouldnt be long until CNN got back to religion bashing.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • KK Denver

      you be so smart

      March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • jayh

      It's not hard to do...

      March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • ChicagoAnthro

      So its better to go to church every week and bash everyone else? I know its hard not to be a hypocrite since you are chosen by your god and therefore can do no wrong, but don't act like you don't spend an inordinate amount of time every single week bashing, literally, everyone and everything that is not exactly like what you think you see in the mirror.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      How is discussing controversial views of religion "bashing"? Or are you one of those sheep who believe the bible is infallible and cannot be questioned?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Jeff

      How are they "controversial views." The bible says it's fine to beat your slaves within an inch of their lives, as long as they get up later and you don't knock out their eyes or their teeth.

      It also says that it's ok to stone people to death for working on Saturdays. Why would that be controversial? God wants us to do it right?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  13. Brooklyn Boy

    The justification of slavery is conveniently omitted when people talk about all the "love" in the bible. A prime example of what a con organized religion is.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Dee

      Tru dat! Especially if they claim to be "faithful and discreet" (hope you 'get' the reference)

      March 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  14. Blaise

    Got it, CNN. You don't like religion. Why don't you spew your platform elsewhere and actually report news?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Brooklyn Boy

      They're just reporing the fact that these ancient fairy tales justified slavery. Go to your precious bible and look it up.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • hthoreau

      Just because you do not like what you hear means you can dismiss it as false. Slavery was common when these religions were established so of course the great religious figures would have addressed it...and unfortunately the wrong way

      March 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  15. TexDoc

    Ok, CNN we get it. Religion is bad. Secular humanism is great. We can stop doing these stories.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • KK Denver

      I think the point is slavery is bad but nice try

      March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • MaxUS

      slavery is bad. Anyone who promotes it is a bad person. Get it?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  16. Stupidity is not healthy for Christians and other loser things

    Prayer is delusion

    Prayer is a joke

    God is a fraud

    March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • TexDoc

      What belief do you have?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Why does someone NEED a "belief"?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • sortakinda

      Believers have faith, hope and charity. You apparently have none of these. That is a shame.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Dissappointed in CNN...again!

      Does it make you feel good to continue to hurt Christians? Is that what atheism is all about, tearing down those who disagree?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Marlon


      March 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  17. Reality

    As per 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis, Moses probably was a myth as was the Book of Exodus:

    To wit:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    March 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • Reality

      Then there was Jesus who did exist but keep in mind the following:

      Only for the newcomers:

      . JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

      Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say about slavery?

      (Note: Professor Crossan's analyses of the NT, concluded that only about 30% of the NT is authentic. See for example,http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?ti-tle=Crossan_Inventory

      March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Reality

      Professor Gerd Ludemann concluded from his thorough analyses of the NT (e.g. Jesus After 2000 Years) that even less than 30% of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John's gospels are historic. He lists what he considers the authentic passages of these gospels on two pages in the referenced book, pp. 694-695.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Reality

      Then there was Mohammed:

      A summary:

      Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, slave-owning, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

      Obviously, not a good example of a compassionate human!!!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • WASP

      @prayer changes nothing: troll. troll.troll.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • just sayin

      Prayer changes everything Truth Truth Truth

      March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Foreverwar

      Prayer lets you talk to your ceiling.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • MaxUS

      "living on a prayer" aren't you? 🙂

      March 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Ron B

      religion is terrified that children will learn to think for themselves...... that is why the religious are so terrified of atheists. ANYONE who reads the bible quicky realizes that it is nothing but a fraud. In the beginning man made god........

      March 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • sortakinda

      It should be indisputable that prayer changes YOU. Atheists have no one to blame but themselves, ironically.

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

      "Prayer lets you talk to your ceiling" Or in your case, the floor?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Dissappointed in CNN...again!

      Only the closed-minded are not capable of recognizing the benefits of prayer in their lives. Atheism is a closing of the door to other possibilities that exist beyond what the eye can see. It really is anti-academic in the sense it limits other possibilities rather than keeping doors open, such as is done in the scientific community

      March 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Seriously?

      For instance:
      Prayer changes seemingly sane individuals into people with infantile minds that cling to an invisible friend for comfort.
      Prayer changes a raving lunatic into a devout preacher.
      Prayer changes neighbors into rivals.
      Prayer changes minor differences into major rifts and schisms.
      Prayer changes an individual who tries to confront their problems head-on into a person who runs and hides from them, hoping someone/something else will solve the problems for them.
      Prayer changes one man's quest for power into a holy crusade.
      Prayer changes education into story-time.
      Prayer changes a thirst for knowledge into the bliss of ignorance.

      Prayer changes someone like me into someone like you.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  19. Mike

    After World War One, Germany had hyper inflation. To stop the Inflation the Dawes Plan was used. Two billion in gold back bonds were sold in Germany. One of the conditions of offering the bonds in Germany is that Germany had to get rid of its slave laws. That was in 1924. Noted that several issues of the bonds were to the churches. The churches had the ability to tax and levy taxes on the people.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  20. William Demuth

    Why would religion, which enslaves minds, object to physical enslavement?

    Churches are BASED on slavery.

    Jews can't be slaves to the Pharoh, but then they can enslave non Jews?

    Bigotry promoted to a supernatural realm is still bigotry

    March 29, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • james124

      Christianity doesn't promote slavery. True Christianity promotes Jesus. Jesus is love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Jesus teaches these things to people whether they are wealthy, poor, free, or in bondage. The whole bible begins with creation being perfect until man was tempted and followed Satan. Since then man has been enslaved to Sin.. not being able to live a life that truly honors and respects God. God, wanting us to be free from Sin, gave us Jesus so that we might find redemption, forgiveness, and freedom if we would obediently believe in Him. Christians believe God desires for us to experience freedom, love, peace, patience, kindness, and gentleness which are all found in Him. Even in the new testament, Godly men were kind and provided well for anyone who would serve them.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • sortakinda

      You sir, are a slave to your own delusions.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • sortakinda

      The earlier response was to DeMuth, NOT to James 124, by way of clarification.

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

      Isn't it bad enough that christianity didn't do anything to stamp out slavery once and for all?

      March 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
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About this blog

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.