27 March 2021

Slavery and the Catholic Church

 Mr Holdsworth discusses the intellectual dishonesty of many critics of the Church, with especial attention to the question of slavery.

As anyone who’s successfully completed any level of education knows, any decent curriculum will unfold gradually with the most basic lessons at the beginning and the most difficult at the end.
So, take a typical math curriculum for example. The first level of instruction will include lessons about counting to a certain number, counting by two’s and three’s, and maybe a little addition and subtraction.

But higher levels of instruction will cover concepts like algebra, problem solving, trigonometry, and functions. And in between those two levels are a series of progressive lessons that help prepare a student for the higher levels. The curriculum is designed to progressively reveal knowledge to the student.

Now what would you make of someone who looks at a curriculum like that and criticizes it by only ever looking at the fist level and says, “All their doing is counting and a little addition? They aren’t even doing long division? How is this a good math curriculum?”

And then they selectively quote from the primary lessons in order to convince other people that this is a bad curriculum. They point out how rudimentary and inferior this is because it doesn’t cover the topics and knowledge that many of us who are already educated take for granted.

Wouldn’t you think that was dishonest? Wouldn’t you think that was a slanderous and fallacious way of describing that curriculum? Well, something like that goes on when the Bible and the Church are discussed by critics all the time, especially on the topic of slavery.

You could describe the Bible as a kind of spiritual and ethical curriculum. It depicts the gradual and progressive unfolding of knowledge and experience for those who were being formed by God in history so that they could come to a full knowledge of what is good and true.

So you might identify one of the first lessons with the story of God’s liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt through Moses as his prophet. And in those stories, he gives them the 10 commandments and the Mosaic law.

But these are just the first lessons. God goes on to continue to reveal what is true and good throughout the history of these people until he reveals himself fully through the person and teachings of Jesus. Jesus is the calculus in this mathematical curriculum.

But what I see a lot of anti-Christian and atheistic critics doing these days, is quoting from the first lessons, going back to Moses and the law and saying, look at how evil the Bible is for not fixing all the objectionable things in his time.

You have to remember, the Bible is telling us about a people who had to be told that killing and stealing was wrong. God is starting at the rudest level of ethical understanding to help humanity know how to begin. So he starts with a legal system that introduces people to the concept and practice of justice. This is the 1+1 and counting by two’s lesson in ethics.  

So on the topic of slavery, critics will quote passages from this first ethical lesson while ignoring everything that came after it, up to and including all the teachings and actions of the Church.

But the first thing I’d want to point out is that no other ethical curriculum in the world condemned slavery either. Every nation and civilization up until the middle ages had slavery. The Persians had it, the Chinese had it, the Egyptians had it, the Greeks and Romans had it, the indigenous people of the Americas had it, Africans had it, and the Islamic world… you better believe they had it. Mohammed personally owned and sold slaves.

So what we have are people taking cheap shots at Christianity for not abolishing slavery in the very fist ethical lesson of its curriculum and calling it inferior, even though no other ethical framework accounted for it either.

Again, using the math analogy, that’s like criticizing the first math lesson in a curriculum for not having long division and denouncing it as an inferior curriculum as a result, when no other math curriculum ever even gets to long division.

So the question then becomes, if long division is analogous to remedying the evils of slavery, does Christianity ever do it or can atheists continue to lay this charge at the feet of the Church?

Read the whole transcript at https://brianholdsworth.ca

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