Saturday, July 24, 2010

Racism, slavery and the Bible

You'll find, as you wander around the digital mountains and valleys of cyberspace, that a lot of Christian apologists trying to claim that racism isn't supported by the Bible.

Now, the tricky part that none of them wants to mention is the fact that, back in the Bad Old Days known as Biblical Times, the Middle East was not what you'd call a "racially diverse" area. There weren't a whole lot of world travellers in those days, and so people, being the small-minded bigots they are, separated themselves mostly on a tribal basis rather than the color of a man's skin.

The Romans marched way down into Africa, but the Old Testament had already been written by that time. By that same token, of course, the Egyptian had some dealings with the Nubians and other African people, but for the average tribesman running across the desert, there was really only one major race that they ever saw - the medium-brown, dark-haired folk known as the Semitic people.

Which leads me to wonder, who the hell is this guy?

However, within those limits, racism is found in the Bible, and more especially in how the Bible has been interpreted throughout history.

First, consider that the Jews are continually referred to as God's favored people (admittedly, this enhanced status hasn't seemed to help them much through history).

Deuteronomy 24:7 "If a man is caught kidnapping one of his brother Israelites and treats him as a slave or sells him, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you." This verse quite clearly states that the Israelite is better than any other human being in the eyes of God. If an Israeli is treated as a slave, then that is bad. However, it's ok to treat other races as slaves and all but kill them (Exodus 21:20).

This attitude that the Jews are better than all other races is echoed in the New Testament, where Jesus doesn't want to help a darker-skinned Canaanite woman, saying "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). Yeah, that's what the son of God would say, right?

All through the Bible, God tells the Israelites that they are His "chosen people," His "inheritance." The whole point of the Old Testament is to establish a precedent for Israelites to be God's favored people, after all.

Going back to the Canaanites, though, the "curse of Ham" (Genesis 9:20-27) is less often referred to as the "curse of Canaan." Noah got drunk and passed out naked. Ham saw him lying there, and because of that, Noah cursed Ham's son, Canaan, and all his descendent's with being enslaved to the descendants of his other sons.

Let's not get into why Noah didn't curse the one that did him wrong, the curse seems a little extreme, considering the nature of the "crime." This curse has most often been represented by those amazingly understanding ancestors of ours to be... well, let's just say "darker skin."

Which is why slaves are brown people.

This same logic has also been used in reference to the "mark of Cain" in Genesis 4:15, which was considered to be, again, the darker skin. Of course, since everybody on earth drowned except Noah and his family, anything that affects man would, logically, have to take place after the flood. So that theory seems harder to accept, right? It's just logic.

(If logic can be said to have anything to do with this story; for example, that's a mightily small gene pool for all of humanity to have sprung from. On the other hand, I suppose that inbreeding could explain a lot about humanity, wouldn't it? And then there's the whole question of the size of the ark, and the size of all the animals that were supposed to go into it. Plus, with only two of each animal, that's an even worse inbreeding problem than humanity faced.)

In the Song of Solomon, the woman is dark but comely; even though her skin is darker, she can still be pretty, right? (In the King James translation, it actually comes right out and calls her black. Nice of them. Thomas Jefferson would be proud.)

The belief that dark-skinned people are somehow cursed, and thus less important than their white brethren, has been abused by people throughout history. The Mormons even refer to white skin as "delightsome" (no, really, Joseph Smith thought that was a word) in 2 Nephi 30:6.

But don't stop there. Read something about Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the father of Southern Presbyterian University (now Rhodes College). Streets and parks are named after him throughout the South. He was also a virulent bigot, who thought the Civil War was a "holy" conflict between a righteous South and an ungodly North; he spent a lot of time and energy ensuring that Godly racial separation and Anglo-Saxon domination were reflected in both church and society.

Without slavery, he argued that blacks would suffer "rapid extermination before they had time to waste away through listlessness, filth and vice."

He also viewed the "practical extinction" of Native Americans as part of a divine plan revealed in Scripture.

So go ahead and explain. Why is a non-racist interpretation of the Bible the correct one, and all the others have been wrong for the last two thousand years?


USAWatchmen said...

Thanks for stopping by

Obviously you and I have some stark differences in the way we think. Which is good, and the reason I've spent the last hour reading some of your work.

In this post you've left some things out, and made some assumptions in an effort to make your point.

For example:
The Canaanites - were a sophisticated agricultural and urban people. And nowhere in Matthew chapter 15 does it refer to this woman as "darker-skinned".
That might be like referring to a woman from the mid-west as lighter-skinned. And if you read on in that chapter, Jesus did help the woman and her daughter was healed.

Nameless Cynic said...

The Canaanites - were a sophisticated agricultural and urban people.

Yes, they were. But if you believe Genesis, they were cursed to be slaves.

nowhere in Matthew chapter 15 does it refer to this woman as "darker-skinned".

True. But it's a good bet. The Canaanites are said to have been one of seven regional ethnic divisions (or "nations") driven out before the Israelites following the Exodus. Specifically, the other nations include the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1). And those are all primarily from further west into Africa, and darker skinned than the average Semitic people.

However, you are correct that it's an assumption, and I should have left it at "Canaanite woman."

Nor did I dispute that, after His initial refusal, Jesus did, in fact, help her. But should the Prince of Peace have to be convinced to help someone, just because they aren't Jewish? Doesn't seem very Christ-like to me.

Thanks for your input.

USAWatchmen said...

You didn't even mention that Jesus did help the woman. So my thought is that you were purposefully leaving this out to make it appear worse than it actually was.

Although I do agree that the wording in the scripture makes it seem that Jesus did not want to help. But how do we know that Jesus was not testing her?

It seems to me there were many times Jesus would test a person’s faith before he healed them.

But as far as I can remember, he DID heal all who asked.

Nameless Cynic said...

Wow. I feel like you're testing me... Should I be honored?

Go to John 5:1-15

In verse 3, "multitudes" were gathered at the pool of Bethsaida, but Jesus picked only one to be healed - a blind and lame man. He disregarded the rest.

The man had been blind about 38 years, and, you know, yadda yadda yadda, and he was healed.

And what about the rest of these sad m-f's? I mean, is it just me? And how often did Jesus just walk past every one of these lame, blind, deaf, or generally messed-up people, ignoring their plight?

Let's be real. They didn't have universal medical care back then. Jesus could have spent His entire day, every day, healing everybody he passed, and still wouldn't be done, 2000 years later.

The Bible talks about the bunch of people He was supposed to have healed, and ignores the huge quantities of people He had to ignore.

(You know, Council of Trent, Nicea, all that - they don't let out the bad stories, only the ones that look good, right?)

And, incidentally, really? "Testing her"? Is that His job? (Or "Job"?) To fuck with people? Is that what the Prince of Peace does? "Hey! I'll heal you, but first, I'll tell you why I don't like you! Because, you know something? 'King of the JEWS'!!! Yeah, baby! It means something! You damned Canaanite wench!!"

Is that the guy you pray to?

I'm just curious...