Dinesh D'Souza Spreads Dishonest Propaganda…Again
Isn't it remarkable that Christians would like to use atheists as scapegoats for every evil action throughout history instead of admitting their own complicity? After all, they are the ones who are constantly reminding us that the inhumane actions committed by their predecessors don't necessarily reflect upon them, so why can't they just admit that the christians of the past were complicit in some of these atrocities?
I don't know that I need to move beyond the first sentence to prove the absurdity of his assertion. Apparently, Mr. D'Souza has forgotten about the atheists and deists who were the true impetus for ending slavery-like Abraham Lincoln! As far as we can tell from the biographies written about Lincoln, particularly those written by some of his closest friends, he was at best a deist, possibly an atheist, and definitely opposed to organized religion and christianity.1 How about other atheist abolitionists like Fanny Wright, Elizur Wright2 and Ernestine Louise Rose3?
Obviously D'Souza aims to rewrite history, much like his buddies in Congress with HR 888, to make it seem that christians were always paragons of morality and the evils of the world can be blamed on atheists. D'Souza attempts to ridicule Sam Harris by pointing out that everybody already knows that the bible sanctions slavery and that the same bible was used as justification for and against slavery.
I'm sure that we are all equally aware that slavery predated christianity by millennia. We are also aware that slavery was common, particularly for the less fortunate in battle. (Can I yawn here as well?) Nobody has forgotten that the Greek and Roman empires had slaves, and quite a few at that. The difference here is that we realize that the end of slavery was a result of the ethical development of society and not religion. If anything, the inclusion of religion was detrimental to the abolitionists' cause by vilifying their movement-even in the north. As a matter of fact, the term "abolitionist" was often equated with "atheism" due to the fact that they were disobeying a divine edict. The irony is overwhelming. Here's a direct quote from Thomas Smyth, minister of the Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston given on November 21, 1861:
"God is introduced to give dignity and emphasis . . . and then He is banished," said [Thomas Smyth]. It was this very atheistic Declaration which had inspired the "higher law" doctrine of the radical antislavery men. If the mischievous abolitionists had only followed the Bible instead of the godless Declaration, they would have been bound to acknowledge that human bondage was divinely ordained. The mission of southerners was therefore clear; they must defend the word of God against abolitionist infidels."4
Just to prove that he wasn't the only one, here's another example from an 1860 defense of slavery entitled "Cotton is King", by President E.N. Elliott of Planters' College:
The agitation of the abolition question had commenced in France during the horrors of the first revolution, under the auspices of the Red republicans. It is here worthy of remark, that most of the early abolition propagandists, many of whom commenced as Christian ministers, have ended in downright infidelity [i.e., atheism]. Let us then hear no more of this charge, that the defenders of slavery have changed their ground; it is the abolitionists who have been compelled to appeal to "a higher law," not only than the Federal Constitution, but also, than the law of God. This is the inevitable result when men undertake to be "wise above what is written."
"Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, their wresting the Scriptures from their plain and obvious meaning to compel them to teach abolitionism. Finally, the duty of all Christians: from such withdraw thyself." 5
D'Souza is using an obvious red herring here with his claim that atheists have this notion that slavery began with the advent of christianity, not to mention what can only be blatant dishonesty regarding the role of religion in the abolition of slavery.
To add to the list of dishonest rhetorical ploys, he then claims that a statement by Michael Shermer saying that christians were "late-comers" to the anti-slavery movement means that he "probably thinks the christians only got around to opposing slavery in the modern era." Don't light a match guys-we're likely to explode with all this straw around us. In fact, one of the most religious states of the country, Mississipi, just got around to ratifying the 13th amendment in 1995. Yeah-1995. As in 13 years ago.
Unlike D'Souza, though, I will not attempt to trivialize the work done by christians in those times. What I will do is point out his errors, which are numerous this time, such as the next gem; "Slavery was mostly eradicated from Western civilization--then called Christendom--between the fourth and the tenth century." As late as 340 CE, the catholic church issued an edict regarding the treatment of slaves which wasn't overturned until 1965.6
The switch to feudalism was by no means universal, either. Some areas adopted it, but slavery was still a common practice. In the sixth century, Isadore of Seville (later canonized as a saint) decreed that god had seen fit to create different groups of people in a hierarchical structure because they were not fit to be free.7
The Crusades offered another opportunity to enslave prisoners of war, and not only were the traditional Roman reasons for enslavement utilized, the church/government added other qualifying criteria such as being a prisoner, being captured, enslavement instead of capital punishment, being a debtor, selling yourself or your children due to destitution, or having a slave for a mother.8 It sure doesn't seem like slavery ended 600-800 years ago. The only thing that was done to slow the spread of slavery was to outlaw the keeping of Christian slaves. Everybody else was fair game.
For further proof of this, in 1866, the Vatican issued a statement supporting slavery which stated:
"Slavery itself...is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law...The purchaser [of the slave] should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue, or Catholic faith of the slave." 9
The British outlawed slavery in 1833, followed by the US in 1865. Brazil was the last in the western hemisphere in 1888-an overwhelmingly catholic country.
D'Souza then goes on to claim that the slaves "went to" the bible for comfort. I don't know if he thinks that they had entire libraries at their disposal, particularly since it was illegal to teach slaves how to read in some states, but if they were allowed any book, it was the bible. Why? Because passages like these helped to propagate the slave trade and keep them relatively docile:
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. (Matt. 24:45-46)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Eph. 6:5-6)
Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect; they are not to talk back, not to pilfer, but to show complete and perfect fidelity, so that in everything they may be an ornament to the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9-10)
Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. (1Pet. 2:18-29)
Kenneth Stamp wrote in The Peculiar Institution that:
...when southern clergy became ardent defenders of slavery, the master class could look upon organized religion as an ally ...the gospel, instead of becoming a mean of creating trouble and strive, was really the best instrument to preserve peace and good conduct among the negroes.
If anything, the bible caused the civil war. Outside of financial issues, the fact that both sides were using the same evidence to bolster their case made it impossible to negotiate.
Led by Mark Noll, a body of scholarship has highlighted the fact that the American debate over slavery became a shooting war in part because the two sides reached diametrically opposite conclusions based on reading the same authoritative source of guidance on moral questions -- the King James Version of the Bible. After the American Revolution and the disestablishment of government-sponsored churches, the U.S. experienced a massive protestant revival -- the Second Great Awakening. Without centralized church authorities, American Protestantism was heavily reliant on the Bible, which was read in the standard 19th-century Reformed hermeneutic of "common sense," literal interpretation as if the Bible were speaking directly about the modern American situation instead of events that occurred in a much different context, millenia ago. By the mid-1800's this form of religion and Bible interpretation had become a dominant strand in American religious, moral, and political discourse, almost serving as a de facto state religion.
The problem that this caused for resolving the slavery question was that the Bible, interpreted under these assumptions, seemed to clearly suggest that slavery was Biblically justified: (from wikipedia)
I certainly don't disagree that the basis of democracy is that all men are equal, but unfortunately, that didn't come to pass for African-Americans until the 1960's or for women until the 1920's, but D'Souza's assertion that the abolitionist movement was dominated by christians would only be a result of demographics. At that time, people were unlikely to identify themselves as atheists. Deists weren't uncommon, but even so, if 95% of your population is Christian or religious, then naturally any group would have more christians. The quote that he uses from Thomas Jefferson seems to be much more a deist's perspective than a biblical one as D'Souza claims.
To add insult to injury, as I'm sure that more than a few people did the face-slap while reading his article, D'Souza uses the primitive understanding of evolutionary science to falsely conflate atheism with eugenics and racism. He then claims that atheists today still harbor these feelings since they are intrinsic in his mind to acceptance of evolution.
Ultimately, D'Souza is doing nothing more than belated damage control for his belief of choice. In order to achieve that, he uses deception and rhetorical ploys. Apparently Dinesh hasn't discovered that repeating lies to a crowd of bobble-headed lemmings will not make any of this rubbish less ridiculous. What I will do, given the fact that I am not an outright liar, is not deny that christians were involved in the abolitionist movement. There were many. There were atheists and freethinkers as well. For him to pretend that it was all because of the Jesus worshippers, while the atheists "stood by and watched," is nothing short of blatant dishonesty. I honestly pity anybody who believes this load of drivel, and any newspaper that prints it should be relegated to the tabloid section.
Just for good measure, here's some more of those kind christians opposing slavery and the occasional buy-bull verse...
When a slave owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner's property. (Exod. 21:20-21)
...Jesus Christ recognized this institution as one that was lawful among men, and regulated its relative duties... I affirm then, first (and no man denies) that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery by a prohibitory command; and second, I affirm, he has introduced no new moral principle which can work its destruction... -Reverand Thomas Stringfellow
"... learned to subdue their critique, in order to grow in membership...Unlike Calvinist intellectuals such as Charles Colcock Jones, Methodists rarely used the Old Testament patriarchs and their hierarchical values to buttress the pro-slavery case. Relying mainly on the letters attributed to Paul, Georgia Wesleyans argued that slavery was scripturally allowable, but not necessarily ideal. In the ante-bellum era their theoretical position was neither proslavery nor antislavery, but neutrality. Christians lived in an imperfect world where slavery was sanctioned by law; therefore, the church should coexist with slavery, just as it did in Paul's day." 1
Dr. Lord - former abolitionist - became an "advocate of slavery as a divine institution, and denounced woe upon the abolitionists for interfering with the will and purpose of the Creator."
The Baptist movement in the U.S. had maintained a strained peace by carefully avoiding discussion of the topic. The American Baptist Foreign Mission Board took neither a pro nor anti-slavery position. An American Baptist Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 brought the issue into the open. Southern delegates to the 1841 Triennial Convention of the Board "protested the abolitionist agitation and argued that, while slavery was a calamity and a great evil, it was not a sin according to the Bible."
"In 1843, 1,200 Methodist ministers owned 1,500 slaves, and 25,000 members owned 208,000 slaves...the Methodist Church as a whole remained silent and neutral on the issue of slavery."