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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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. TheMiddleWay

    Religion is BS. Stop believing in BS. Start using your own internal moral compass, which should be based on a combination of empathy for others, shared experiences, logic, reason, and scientific knowledge.

    Problem solved!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Kevin

      So...where does the internal "moral compass" come from? Don't animals fight each other for resources, mates and territory as well?

      March 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Greg

      I agree with Kevin on this one. Where did you sense of right and wrong come from? Where did you get any sense of moral compass?

      It didn't come from so called "evolution," or from your own desire to do good. Every human that has ever lived has some sense of a moral compass placed there by God.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Research Research Research!

      @TheMiddleWay, Some question about where the moral compass comes from! Hmm..Let's start with educated and loving parents.. I agree with you..Religion allows people the ability to judge as a GOD! And this is the power that is seducing in religion.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • CNN Moderator

      Kevin and Greg – it's inside. Deep inside. You can find it by putting a finger in your butt and feeling around. You'll know when you've found it.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • mike w

      It's called empathy Kevin and Greg, and it is an evolved trait.

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

      science would strongly argue against the silly concept of a moral compass.. (see how theres no winning?)

      March 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • joesixpackjr

      Mid, if this aproach works for you, that's fine. However, you might want to add a little humility and tolerance of the views of others.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • sam

      @joesix – are you serious? After some of the crap you've posted on other pages, now you're talking about humility and tolerance? This must be a joke.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Zen

      TheMiddleWay, I agree. You explain where the moral compass should come from and, due to a lack of reading comprehension, the first thing folks ask is where "this moral compass comes from". People have abdicated their reasoning faculties by believing in that which cannot be tested through the scientific method. It's all about magical insemination, a magical star, magical angels, magical miracles which cannot be proven because they didn't leave a trace of evidence, magical resurrection, magical ascension,....really it's all magical thinking. Magical thinking is delusional.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • canaan

      The Holy Spirit is the compass. It has been for me the last 3years of my life. I thought I had a moral compass for about 33years now I realized how lost I was. Just like those attacking Kevin and Greg. I would have probably done it myself several years ago.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  2. achepotle

    No way? All three of the major fairy tales have treated people like s**t and spread hatred and violence? No surprise, since they all follow the same psycho character.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Kevin

      You missed the point. Religion didn't every say 'slavery is part of religion' ...it just didn't do enough to prevent it.

      Non-believers, including non-religious pagans sure did their share of taking part in slavery, condoning slavery or not condemning slavery.

      Lots of blame to go around – to religion and non-religion. A stain in the history of religion and a stain in the history atheism.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Greg

      Actually, if you STUDY the Biblical commands for how the Jewish people were to treat they're slaves, it is quite a different picture than one gets with American slavery. You should actually take some time to read the historic texts and the commands on slavery in the Old Testament.

      When it comes to American Slavery, both religious and atheist – or non believing alike owned slaves. It wasn't just Christians. So to lump this all onto religion and religious people is absurd.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  3. Cannan


    Slavery has always existed yes. And the Christian Bible, like Judaism, does indicate that slavery is not a sin. But the Bible is very clear that if you oppress those that love him, and if those that love him ask to be freed, you will see his wrath fall upon the aggressors. Example? The Hebrews under Egyptian bondage. God heard the Hebrews call out to him and he butchered Egypt to free his people 4,000 years ago.

    Then, the Jews were enslaved by the Romans after 73 AD. Then the city of Pompeii was burried in flames only a couple of years later.

    Africans who did not know of God were taken from their homes and oppressed in the Americas as slaves for the sake of economic gains. Considered subhuman (which the Bible condmens since it clearly states we are equal under his eyes, but the article failed to mention that part.) Then, generations later, their descendants (African Ameircans) learned about God. They asked him to free them. The slave masters refused (just like in Egypt 4,000 years earlier). And when God's adopted children were not freed or treated humanly, god responded.... And in the end, the worst war in U.S. history took place known as the Civil War claiming more American lives than the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish War, World War I, World War II, the korean War, and the Vietnam War combined.

    The fact is, dont oppress his children. White, black, Asian, European, American etc... or you will feel his punishment and your children's children, and your children's children's children and so on until the cycle is broken by a descendant that trully falls in love with God. At that point, god becomes a guardian. Anyone who takes it upob themselves to oppress you or abuse you will have even deeper consequences inflicted even on his children.

    The Bible says: "I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” Exodus 34:7

    Was this by chance? I refuse to think that

    March 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      Doesn't the Bible teach that the Jews were enslaved by the Romans because they didn't accept Jesus as their savior and they were no longer his chosen people, so he punished the Jews? I seem to recall something the Bible accredits to Jesus as a prophecy about the temple in Jerusalem being destroyed because God would abandon them.

      Not to mention, there isn't really any conclusive proof that the Jews were ever slaves to the Egyptians. The only place you find any mention of it is in the Bible. The Egyptians liked to keep lots of records yet they failed to keep note of this large Israelite slave force?

      March 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  4. quietchild

    Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so. (1 Corinthians 7:21)

    March 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
  5. ANYK

    He told the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that he preferred to call himself an agnostic rather than an atheist.

    The two men were taking part in a public “dialogue” at Oxford University at the end of a week which has seen bitter debate about the role of religion in public life in Britain.

    Last week Baroness Warsi, the Tory party chairman, warned of a tide of “militant secularism” challenging the religious foundations of British society.

    The discussion, in Sir Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre, attracted attention from around the world.

    As well as being relayed to two other theatres, it was streamed live on the internet and promoted fierce debate on the Twitter social network.
    For much of the discussion the Archbishop sat quietly listening to Prof Dawkins’s explanations of human evolution.

    At one point he told the professor that he was “inspired” by “elegance” of the professor’s explanation for the origins of life – and agreed with much of it.

    Prof Dawkins told him: “What I can’t understand is why you can’t see the extraordinary beauty of the idea that life started from nothing – that is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God?”

    Dr Williams replied that he “entirely agreed” with the “beauty” of Prof Dawkins’s argument but added: “I’m not talking about God as an extra who you shoehorn on to that.”

    There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator.

    The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.

    An incredulous Sir Anthony replied: “You are described as the world’s most famous atheist.”

    Prof Dawkins said that he was “6.9 out of seven” sure of his beliefs.

    “I think the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low,” he added.

    He also said that he believed it was highly likely that there was life on other planets.

    At one point he discussion strayed onto the theoretical question of whether a traditional cut throat razor could be described as a more complicated thing than an electric shaver.

    There was laughter as the Archbishop said he would attempt an answer before adding: “Not that I know much about razors.”

    During a wide-ranging discussion the Archbishop also said that he believed that human beings had evolved from non-human ancestors but were nevertheless “in the image of God”.

    He also said that the explanation for the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis could not be taken literally.

    “The writers of the Bible, inspired as I believe they were, they were nonetheless not inspired to do 21st Century physics,” he said.

    When Prof Dawkins suggested that he believed the Pope took a rather more literal interpretation of the origins of humans, the Archbishop joked: “I will ask him some time.”

    March 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • ANYK

      Porf Dawkins..... google this guy lol..... funny little man

      March 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  6. Pipe-Dreamer

    God is the substance of Creation and Creation's creative power for building all mannerisms of Life. WE are either the top wrung of the ladder or the bottom wrung. Either way, we will never escape our die-castings.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  7. Greg

    Once again...the Libtard media attacking religion. Why not write a story or cover something about religion in a positive light? The billions of dollars religious organizations pour into international aid.....the churches that are involved in helping the poor, the homeless......

    I am getting tired of this CRAP! If you want to put everything on a level playing field – why don't the Libtards cover the horrible things that secularism and humanism have done throughout history....I think I'll head over to the fair and balanced news site.....

    March 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • joesixpackjr

      CNN is so full of BS. Also, most of its atheistic readers are full of BS. Here is their line of reasoning: (1) religion did not oppose slavery, (2) atheists are not religious, (3) ergo atheists are better than religious persons. However, appealing this reasoning may be to the self-congratualatory atheists who read CNN, just remember that Stalin was an atheist and so was Hitler. Stalin and Hitler opposed and suppressed religion, and were even more negative toward religion than the atheists in the CNN Sound Off crowd. History is full of evil, cruel atheists who might have benefited from spending a little time in church.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • MistahBurns

      Hitler was most certainly not an atheist, but continue to spout historical inaccuracies to support your vitriol. Also, do you not see the flaw in your argument...Derp atheits in history have been bad. But you fail to mention the millions that have died due to religious persecution. Man can certainly be evil, and unlike atheism, religion generally can and has been used to carry out evil actions, for example, the Spanish Inquisition.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • CNN Moderator

      Good riddance to both you doucches.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Shhhh Shhhh!! Your using facts, don't you know your not supposed to do that?

      March 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Greg

      CNN Moderator – you are ignorant!! and for the rest of you...Hitler was an atheist. or are you too ingrained with LIBTARD history and thinking?

      March 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Using the word Libtard while giving absolutely no evidence to back your assertion shows how partisan and idiotic you really are. I suppose anything that you don't agree with is put into place by "Libtards", and anyone who doesn't believe as you do is going straight to everlasting torture by your "all-loving god"?

      March 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Greg

      Hawaiiguest....you are correct about that last part. All those who don't believe will go to hell – and be there for eternity. But God is all loving.....so loving that he sent his one and only son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for you sins and the sins of the world....through Christ – he has made a way for people to be reconciled to have relationship with the God who created them. Now it is your personal choice to either accept that free gift from a loving God.....if you reject it...the Bible teaches that your sins are not forgiven and you will need to pay the punishment for those sins by spending eternity in hell – separated from God....it's your choice.....but God showed his love through Jesus Christ

      March 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • WMoonFox

      Greg: Hitler has alternately been Christian, Pagan, Muslim, Jewish (yes), Atheist, and a host of other religious descriptors, depending on the goal and intent of the speaker describing him. I think we can all agree that he was just a wee bit crazy, and it's very likely that he *was* all of the above. In any case, it's clear that nobody wants to claim him, so let's just leave that alone before everyone starts posting quotes proving the case of every one of those.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      And what about those people born in areas where they are not exposed to christianity? Those people, according to you, will go to hell for all eternity merely because they were not born in the right geographical location.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Greg

      Hawaiiguest....not true..the Bible clearly teaches that man can acknowledge and see that there is a God simply by looking at nature – the Book of Romans talks about this....as well as the fact that God has placed in every human a moral compass – the basics for knowing right from wrong. It also teaches that before Christ return, all nations will hear about Jesus.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Fred Garvin

      Greg, you're an ignorant slut.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      So even though those people have their own customs, legends, and gods, they are expected to look around and automatically come to the conclusion that your god is the right one? Also, why wouldn't an "all-loving god" care more about the actual heart and inherent goodness of a person, rather than who they worship, or even if they worship at all? Why does god "need" us to worship him specifically?

      March 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Fred, name calling does not further anything, it only serves to incite others and hamper anything resembling a conversation.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  8. Kevin

    I'd say the lack of belief in a higher power has contributed more to abusing others, including slavery. It's a shame what a sordid, disgusting history non-belief has in our history.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • tacc2

      You don't need an imaginary daddy in the clouds to tell you what's right and wrong. All you need is to evaluate the situation by placing yourself in the other person's position, and treat them as you would like to be treated. We can drop all the metaphysical BS.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      You could say that Kevin, but it would not be a factual statement.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Greg

      HAWAIIGUEST.....just because you say it, doesn't make it true......lol...by FAR – non religious people have committed more atrocities in this world......LIBTARD

      March 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • just sayin

      When accompanied by the atheistic despots names who murdered millions it becomes amazingly accurate. Persons like Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      The same holds true to you greg.
      just sayin....stalin, mao, and pol pot were doing what they were doing in the name of expanding their own power, not in the name of atheism. They saw organized religion, as well as any type of social equality, as a threat to their own power. There is a huge difference between commiting atrocities in the name of something, and doing it because you are something.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Greg

      Hawaiiguest....but the reality is that these men weren't religious men – so to say that religion is the root of evil – the basis for terrible things happening is simply just ignorant

      March 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      I never said that religion is the root of all evil, neither do I think that. Both religious people and non-religious people have done horrible things in the past. Some have done it in the name of belief/non-belief, and many have not. My original post was in regards to the inaccurate statement of Kevin.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  9. theProhetJesusPBUH


    March 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  10. Wooland Hills

    We are still evolving. Some of us hunts other animals just because they are bored. We should to end unnecessary killing of all biological beings.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  11. RDiculous

    Everyone gets upset when you down Religion. It's Man trying to define God! That's why you think everyone is ganging up on you, THEY ARE!!! It's arrogance and ignorance to think you can know who or what God is. I'm not and Atheist, I have a personal belief in something greater than us/Creator, of which I believe we know nothing about. Mainly because there's been so much BS spread over the earth for the last 4000 years we've been wasting our times with these fairy tales instead. SMH!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  12. Zyrikey

    How do you interpret this:

    Old Testament
    Exodus 21:1-4: "If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself."
    New Testament
    Leviticus 25:44-46: "Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 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. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly."

    New Testament
    Ephesians 6:5: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ."
    1 Timothy 6:1-2: "Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them."

    4:36 "(Show) kindness unto parents, and unto near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and unto the neighbour who is of kin (unto you) and the neighbour who is not of kin, and the fellow-traveller and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess."

    33:50 "O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war."

    March 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • tacc2

      Shhhhhh! They don't want to hear the truth.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Jonesyman

      Frankly I would interpret all of these things the same... that these religious teachers were not concerned with the political structure of their society but rather with the moral development of mankind.

      While that may seem strange, consider this: each teaches that you should show boundless mercy, justice, and respect for all regardless of nationality, station, or gender ("neither jew nor greek, slave nor freeman, man nor woman for all are one" to quote Galatians).

      Now if one were to truly and deeply instantiate these qualities in themselves, whether they officially owned someone else on paper or not would have no impact on what they asked of this person or how they cared for them.

      In short I think they didn't care about slavery. Not because they didn't care about their fellow men but because they were focused on cutting to the roots of greed, hatred and arrogance that make all injustice possible.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Zen

      Jonesyman,, why do religious people have to rationalize their religious books? Either your god said and meant it or your god didn't say it and the text was actually writren by some primitive guys (much like the misogynistic, backward barbarian folks in Afghanistan) wrote it. You can't cherry pick what your god wrote (which should be applicable for all time for all people); your god either wrote and meant all of it or men wrote it and the book is not written by your god and therefore worthless and meaningless because your god is imaginary.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  13. omar


    March 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Greg

      I thought President Obamination was the Messiah?

      March 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Zen

    "I say we are all atheists. I just happen to believe in one less god than you. When you understand why you reject all the other gods, you will understand why I reject yours" – can't remember the author....good quote, though. God is imaginary.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • BobbyTN

      Well, God is as imaginary as any or the other gods, at any rate. hose who argue that God could be hiding out there are actually arguing the same for any of the other gods, which I'm sure they would consider ridiculous.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Evan

      That was said by Richard Dawkins, and the statement appears to entirely confuse the meaning of Atheism. An Atheist is someone who denies the existence of any God. Christians believe in God. As to how Christians can believe in a God yet still be Atheists is beyond me. This quote is a sloppy one.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      Evan, you missed the point entirely. I would explain it but you still probably wouldn't get it.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  15. UhYeaOk

    As usual CNN has to throw religion under the bus in order to justify a story. And as usual, all the haters have to crawl out from under their rocks to get their 2 cents in as well.....

    March 29, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • BobbyTN

      My, you do seem to hate CNN! Thanks for your 2 cents worth. 🙂

      March 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • NickZadick

      We are not haters! We actually want to help you break the bonds of your intellectual slavery which binds you to ridiculous fairy tales... we would like to live on a planet filled with open minded scientific driven people... not stupid pawns who believe in utter B-S fed to you by brainwashed idîots!!

      March 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • tacc2

      Thanks CNN. Please keep outing the dumb things religion supports. Just my 2 cents...

      March 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  16. Diego

    As a militant atheist, I see nothing new in this story except it being published in such a mainstream American website.
    Kudos to Mr. Blake and CNN.
    To religious people tryng to deny the facts: all religions were cruel and bloodthirsty while they could get away with such behaviour. I lough when believers accuse atheists of not being moral. Morality arises from social consensus, and the advances in public moral often come from liberal thinkers fighting the entrenched conservatism associated with Religion.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Glenn


      You claim to be a Militant Atheist? How interesting

      Anyway gotta love the Liberal Thinkers like Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao etc who through alleged social consensus killed more people the religion ever did.

      God Bless

      March 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • BobbyTN

      Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao were not "liberal" thinkers. They were dictators, like the Christian Hitler, and dictators hate rivals to power including unions, fellowships, liberal colleges and organized religion. They also like propaganda, something the folks like you who like to mention these guys seem to have in common with them.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • NickZadick

      Glenn! you are a retârd!! if you think you need to believe in fairy tales to be moral...quoting atrocities of atheists is no proof...there are many more religious tyrants than atheists...but either way, it is not an indication of why!

      March 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • WMoonFox

      Glenn: Hi dad. I see you're just as condescending as ever. Perhaps random people on the internet will respond better to your brand of religious indoctrination than I did. Good luck!

      March 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Glenn

      HA HA HA

      BobbyTH go read a book or surf the internet about the ideologies of the three wonderful progressives I mentioned. You will find them very liberal in ideology and of course used force to get what they wanted. By the way to suggest Hitler was anything but an atheist is to fool yourself.


      I think someone who believes in life from non life or the big bang theory is just as guilty of believing in a fairy tale as you suggest I am.



      March 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  17. doncampbell101

    CNN you marginalize yourself with this. The headline could have at least been accurate and said instead "How Religion WAS used to promote slavery" using "has been" to imply recent is a CHEAP journalistic ploy...

    March 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • tacc2

      "Has been" and "was" mean exactly the same thing.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • BobbyTN

      In places where slavery still exists, like Mauritania, religion is still the justification.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Research Research Research!

      Not so! Even though slavery today is not on the Mass Scale it once was, Slavery still does exist in the world. There are parts of the world where these ancient systems of human abuse still exist not to mention forced labor, Trafficking of women and children. We have even prosecuted people in the united states for having workers as slaves!!! RESEARCH DONCAMPBELL101 RESEARCH...

      March 29, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  18. p

    Funny how the article fails to mention that Christians are responsible for the abolition movement. Slavery in the times of Israel was not like the slavery that we had in the United States. Slavery in those times was necessary for many people, as sort of a profession, in exchange for food and shelter. People have used scripture to justify all sorts of things, but the principle of equality was always there:

    Galatians 3:28

    There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus

    March 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Mike D

      What were atheists going to organize at the time, when they were a tiny and unacknowledged minority? The abolition movement centered around Christianity in those days because everything did, without exception.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • WMoonFox

      Religion can be used to justify anything. See: the crusades.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  19. 3511danny

    I am now in a deep sleep. Thanks.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  20. CNN


    March 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • mike w

      Look at how Islam treats women and tell me that again with a straight face, lol.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • DE

      Saudi Arabia didn't ban slavery until the early 1960's and then just to get into the UN. In the late 1960's you could still find chains and manacles on sale.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Cannan

      But it believes in killing those that do not submit to Islam. Ask any Hindu in India. This is the concept of Dar-al-Islam. And it is instructed in the Bible.
      And while Christians in history did in fact kill people who refused to submit to Christianity (as hypocrit as they are and still are), their actions is not supported by the Christian doctrine of the Bible. Jesus clearly indicated that if a person does not accept his doctrine to simply wipe off your feet and leave that person in peace. that is not what the Koran teaches.

      ‘We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!’ Luke 10:11

      March 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Greg

      Islam is against slavery? What about the way it treat's women? That's a form of slavery.....oh and on another note...isn't the desire of Islam to enslave the rest of the world or destroy those who don't conform? Pillar #6 of the Islamic cult

      March 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Greg

      ...isn't the desire of Islam to enslave the rest of the world or destroy those who don't conform? Pillar #6 of the Islamic cult

      March 29, 2012 at 5:03 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.