A More Martial Religion

28 Oct

James A. Donald said:

A more martial religion could have adopted the cause of forcibly ending slavery, and still remained true to itself. Christianity could not.

Must “Forcibly ending slavery” be our litmus test for legitimate religion?


Posted by on October 28, 2012 in religion


21 responses to “A More Martial Religion

  1. Will S.

    October 28, 2012 at 1:49 am

    I don’t know. I do know that the drive to end slavery in the U.K. and its colonies was spearheaded by evangelicals like William Wilberforce, who was indeed very much pursuing an innovative, new vision, and not following all the previous centuries’ precedents, in terms of being fairly neutral about slavery, as Jim notes. Wilberforce and his ilk were fired by the accounts of the likes of Olaudah Equiano, and allowed themselves to be swept up into a grand moral crusade.

    That repeated itself with John Brown and the abolitionists in the States. “As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!” Every social cause in America prior to the post-WWII era wrapped itself in Christian language to make it palatable and to gain converts…

  2. Matthew

    October 28, 2012 at 1:51 am

    I question the holiness of violent anti-slavery. Let John Brown’s body lie.

  3. Will S.

    October 28, 2012 at 1:53 am

    Me too, Matthew. Brown was a nutbar fanatic.

    Which really should have given others pursuing the same cause, pause…

  4. Dr. Eric Stratton

    October 28, 2012 at 2:14 am

    I’m increasingly of like mind with the now-retired Ferdinand in that Christianity in America serves progressive ends. This is not to say that Christianity itself is progressive, but her adherents cloak much in scripture.

    On a less philosophical note, I’m very weary of the idea that everything is the new slavery. Slavery was bad, but it is not a self-replicating model.

  5. Jay

    October 28, 2012 at 2:16 am

    Since christianity is about saving souls wouldn’t violence be counter-productive? After all the enemies that die never get to hear the gospel or rejects it outright as violence polarises them in contrast to what happens to peace-time and even if they do convert it is only the surface that changes but not the heart.

    Even Sun Tzu said:

    Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire
    than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

    2. Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.

    3. Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

  6. oogenhand

    October 28, 2012 at 3:03 am

    A more martial religion would turn the tables.

  7. chesterpoe

    October 28, 2012 at 3:43 am

    Ever read the works of George Fitzhugh? They are quite revealing and thoughtful. Here are 2 free e-books.

    George Fitzhugh

    “Sociology for the South, or, the Failure of Free Society”

    “Cannibals All!, or Slaves without Masters”

  8. Jehu

    October 28, 2012 at 4:50 am

    If you want to get anti-slavery from Christianity without being a heretic (i.e., by saying that pretty much the overwhelming majority of Christians of ages past were wrong and you are right), you’ve got to go about it this way–IMO of course.
    Slavery is justified in a low, no, or negative surplus society, which describes almost all of the world throughout almost all of its history. Christianity speaks to the proper way of handling slavery and the relations between master, slave, and God.
    Because of the industrial revolution/harnessing of fossil fuels/massive exploitation of nitrates/etc from the New World, we’re not in a Malthusian trap anymore (for now at least).
    Therefore, because we’re insanely rich, we can afford to dispense with slavery and Christ’s standard of charity says we should.

    But when you make an argument like that, it’s not one that calls people to arms. It gets you things like a grand bargain including a leveraged buyout of most of the slaves a la Brazil, or the UK. It doesn’t get you John Brown, a civil war, or every drop of blood shed by the lash being atoned for by a drop of blood shed by the sword. It also doesn’t provide a heroic narrative for the Left.

  9. Will S.

    October 28, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I’ve never read George Fitzhugh, but have heard of him; I heard he advocated a return to a non-explicitly-racial form of slavery, in which poor whites might end up enslaved too (perhaps, as in Rome, for non-payment of debts?) I suspect such would have been harder to eliminate. Shoot, we still have that (non-racially-based slavery), in the Third World, to this day…

  10. tbc

    October 28, 2012 at 9:12 am

    The Bible is anti-slavery in the same way that it is anti-polygamy. Neither system is explicitly condemned, but neither is held to be good either. They are rather described as they are: socio-economic institutions whose inherent evils are to be mitigated by applying gospel remedies. That slavery is an evil lies less in the fact that is an economic system whereby one person gives his service to another in exchange for the provision of food, shelter, and protection. A system like this is simply an economic exchange between equals. The problem lies when the depraved nature of man seeks to essentialise the relationship such that the exchange is between people who are inherently un-equal and the master is somehow ontologically ‘better’ than the slave and exercisely god-like powers over the slave such that basic freedoms as marriage, family, etc., are subordinated to the material betterment of the master. Thus it makes sense for St Paul to remind slaveholders that they are also slaves to Christ who is their master. He is reminding them of their essentially equal status before God and warning them away from dehumanising attitudes towards their servants. Seen this way, slave is perhaps a lesser evil than what might have been the alternative in early history e.g. mass execution of captured enemies of war as a sacrifice to ‘gods’ or mass starvation of the poor & needy during times of famine, but still cannot be deemed a positive good.

    Race-based slavery is however, unremittingly evil in that neither of the aforementioned exceptions prevailed during the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade AND the racial status of slaves was essentialised as a god-given curse not only justifying but virtually necessitating their enslavement. Likewise such essentialisation works to blind the eyes of slave-holding races to their own wickedness, keeping them a bit farther from enjoying the fullness of the grace of God than they might otherwise be.

  11. CL

    October 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    The ‘be true to itself’ line bothers me. If one is going to make that sort of argument for or against anything, it would be best to steer clear of new age flaky language. It betrays a shallow thinker and doesn’t make me want to bother to find out if that is a correct impression.

  12. graaaaaagh

    October 28, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    I’ll happily take Christianity over this “more martial religion”; I see little good in the forced abolition of slavery.

    To talk of Fitzhugh: much of my approach to sociological, political and philosophical matters is essentially Fitzhughian; his view of history (that it tells a tale of retrogression in some areas as much as progress in others) and of political economy, and his understanding of the importance of hereditary hierarchy within a society, come from a uniquely American perspective – which has a certain resonance for me, a certain ethnic timbre – and are yet at one level very basic and eternal.

    A telling observation of his: in the 1850s United States, the quasi-aristocratic South largely believed in free trade, while Socialism was in vogue in the more industrial capitalist North. In other words – in Fitzhugh’s own words – “we see each section cherishing theories at war with existing institutions”: two forms of liberalism engaged in the dialectical rot of traditional social structures that has continued to the present day.

  13. DC Al Fine

    October 28, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    OT: My pastor preached on pornography today and included 50 Shades of Gray as an example of porn that Christians should avoid. Small victories.

  14. a tiny little mouse

    October 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I learned from reading Matthew Henry that the defenders of race-based slavery in his times used the argument that OT allowed Hebrews to purchase slaves from unbelieving nations and those slaves couldn’t go out in the jubilee year. However, since many of the slaves who had been brought to America got converted by the same logic they should have been freed. Also, these particular OT verses talk about those who voluntarily sold themselves into servitude, while manstealing was the offence punishable by death. On the other hand, this obsession with slavery is getting very tiresome. It still exists in the Third World but you seldom hear about it.

  15. seedofjapheth

    October 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm


    What verses in the bible can be extrapolated to be anti-slavery and anti-polygamy?

  16. Lee Scuppers

    October 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    I may have misread you, but did you read Jim to be saying that ‘“forcibly ending slavery” [should] be our litmus test for legitimate religion’?

    If so, I think you’re mistaken. Here’s one thing he did say (emphasis mine):

    “Abolishing slavery with fire and sword is arguably a noble cause. … But it is a cause entirely incompatible with the New Testament, which mildly encourages Christians to free their own slaves, and to look the other way when runaway slaves pass by, but forbids slaves to run away, and forbids Christians to interfere with the property of slave owners

    If he regards the New Testament as legitimate, he clearly does not regard abolitionism as a necessary component of a legitimate religion.

  17. Will S.

    October 28, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    @ DCAF: Oh, that’s great news! Christian women need to know that’s just as much porn as Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, et al. (As is milder ‘romance literature’, generally speaking.)

  18. tbc

    October 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    @seedofjapheth – my observation on the anti-polygamy and anti-slavery bent of the Bible is less from the Biblical studies point of view and more from the theological reflection point of view. In other words, I don’t think you will find an explicit condemnation of either, aside the aforementioned prohibition against men-stealing (slave trading) and the requirement that church elders be monogamously married. The overall theological thrust of scripture though places both polygamy and slavery outside of God’s intended good purposes for mankind. Both are distortions of good things: human marriage / relationship & human work / economic exchange and both tend towards exploitative dehumanization and abuse of power. In a way the strictures that are placed around them are similar to the allowance for divorce; given not because it was God’s intention ‘from the beginning’ but because of the ‘hardness of men’s hearts’.

  19. oogenhand

    October 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm

  20. Will S.

    October 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Well, of course they’d attack it. They see such female fantasies as disempowering, and thus hurtful to teh wimminz. Whereas we Christians would simply see them as perverse and pathetic, and insofar as non-marital, since the two main characters aren’t married, therefore behaving immorally; thus, the novel celebrates fornication.


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