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FAQ: “Slaves Obey Your Masters” Billboard

As expected, the billboard put up in partnership with American Atheists this month is generating a lot of controversy. To help answer many of the questions we’ve been receiving, we have compiled this list of answers for you. We will add to it as needed.

Why are you picking on the Bible?

In January 2012, the PA State House of Representatives passed HR 535, declaring “The Year of the Bible“. We think this is an egregious breach of the wall of the separation between Church and State, and also think it necessary to show WHY it’s not just wrong on legal grounds. It’s wrong on moral grounds as well. You cannot claim the Bible to be a moral book without examining that morality. If you do so, then you are declaring even the most horrific parts of the Bible to be moral – And we think that needs to be addressed.

But wasn’t slavery in the Bible ethical?

Some people claim that slavery in the Bible was only for 6 or 7 years, or that slaves in the Bible were treated better than American slaves. See Deuteronomy 15:12-15 and Exodus 21:2-6 for the discussion of the releasing of slaves. Note that ALL passages regarding the releasing of slaves say “Hebrew” or “Israelites”. Slaves taken from other tribes were enslaved for life, and the fact is that slaves were chattel. More here on the treatment of slaves:

No matter how you try to justify slavery – It’s still wrong, even if it’s temporary or permanent, or in some cases, passing slaves down from parent to children. The idea that one human being can directly force another to do their bidding is simply wrong. This has been well established in our society. One would think that a God who supposedly has superior morals to our own would have directed his followers to establish rules against slavery and other actions that we consider immoral today. God doesn’t get a pass on immorality if one defines God as a perfect being. It’s one thing to argue that we are more advanced than the society we are referring to from the Bible – But the claim that the Bible is perfect morally means we must consider the ENTIRE Bible in that argument. If it doesn’t measure up to even today’s standards of morality, it can’t be considered a perfect yardstick of morality, and therefore the content of the book itself defeats the argument that the Bible is “holy”.

Isn’t the root of the Abolitionist movement based in the Bible?

In a word: No. Many good, moral people joined the abolitionist movement, mostly Christians. Of course, most of the population at the time in this country was Christian, and if you look hard enough you will realize that the movement was made up of good and decent people of all stripes. That does not mean that the movement was rooted in the Bible. The fact is that no verse in the Bible speaks out against slavery as an institution. To do that, people needed to use their own inborn ethical compass to reject slavery, then search the Bible for support for their own beliefs – As many Christians today do concerning things like homosexuality and other issues.

It’s quite clear that human morality is evolving – We are still trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong. If there were a perfect God to give us perfect morals, that might be a good thing – But reality simply doesn’t bear that scenario out.

Isn’t your billboard racist?

Only if you would claim that pointing out a cause of slavery is racist. In this country, slavery was primarily of a particular race. To ignore that history would be irresponsible. Additionally, the Bible (specifically the verse highlighted on the billboard) was used in this country in support of slavery in the south. This is the pernicious problem of dogma – Slavery in the Bible justified slavery in this country. To forget that history means giving us the opportunity to repeat it. So, what is racist here is not the billboard, but rather the practice of slavery that the billboard condemns.

What’s wrong with HR 535?

We’ve written about this before on our site. Our HR 535 archives are here. Also, the FFRF did a fairly in-depth legal analysis of the bill here. Quite simply, this resolution is a clear government endorsement (establishment) of religion, in violation of the first amendment to the US constitution. It was passed using a mechanism reserved for “non-controversial” resolutions, things like naming softball teams and bridges. Then, later it was discovered that most legislators hadn’t even read the bill.

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