In Which I Am Confused about Slavery and Freedom

Modern day (contemporary) slavery is truely vile. It eclipses in just about every way the slavery that took the Civil War to end, and which still scars the national complexion. That slavery too had only the fact that it was not … worse to commend it. Critics of the Christian/Jewish traditions which flow from the Old and New Testaments (or Torah, Tanakh, et al) note that slavery is not criticized, or that criticism of the same requires somewhat careful exegsis and non-straighforward hermeneutics.

However, slavery as practiced and discussed above, involves to separate things, cruelty and a loss of personal freedom. Cruelty and brutality I will not defend. However, I’m a little more confused about the freedom part. This will continue, in the dreaded bullet list fashion, below the fold:

  • Freedom, in the modern sense as choice, compared to ontological freedom as I recently discussed as described by Zizioulas drawing from Trinity and the Cappadocian Fathers as well as Dostoevsky needs comparison.
  • Freedom is seen by some as the freedom from constraint. Ontological freedom, drawn from Dostoevsky can be partially described when one is willing to commit suicide. After one is willing to die at a moments notice, one cannot be constrained. One is more free than one who is free by other means.
  • Via Baptism and it’s promise, Christians participate in eternity. This renders Christians doctrinally and in practice ontologically free.
  • One question therefore is whether when one encounters slavery (with cruelty) whether emancipation or conversion is the priority.
  • Slavery without cruelty? What does that look like. Perhaps like slavery in the first century, a lot like welfare perhaps? And that is the crucial question after all. Much slavery in the first century wasn’t cruel (or more importantly any different or more cruel than employment of the free).
  • If one could imagine slavery as a voluntary choice,  indenturing oneself in when in economic straits (or as alternative to the happy cruelty of the UNs “permanent refugee camps”). And the owner(s) taking any slaves into one’s household something akin to family.
  • I’ve argued earlier, following Zizioulas that equality and heirarchy are not opposed qualities, that is heirarchy can exist and does not necesarily denigrate or diminish equality. Slavery could be an example of this … if divorced from the cruelty (and replaced with charity, i.e., love).

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21 comments

  1. One question therefore is whether when one encounters slavery (with cruelty) whether emancipation or conversion is the priority.

    Wow, that’s the most disturbing sentence I’ve yet read today.

  2. Mark says:

    JA,
    How so?

  3. Am I misunderstanding you? If you knew of a slave and had the power to either convert or emancipate him, you don’t know which you would choose?

  4. Mark says:

    JA,
    Well, I think first off that the “either/or” dichotomy is artificial, for certainly would advise doing both, just which is of primary concern. And that furthermore, that emancipation with the notion that I am doing it out of charity is a good way to accomplish the other (conversion/witness).

    Do we wish for others that which we do (or at least should) for ourselves. Should I wish for my neighbor that which I wish for myself? or what I think he wishes absent my notions of right and wrong?

    Give a person already Christian the choice of slavery/death or apostasy the choice should be slavery/death. We don’t condemn those who choose to renounce their faith, but we name as hero (saint/martyr) those who choose the latter and see it as the higher choice.

    So the question is puzzling even if you take your “either/or” only alternative if after taking the second choice (conversion), the slave in question would agree with your choice!

    My schooling and upbringing would signal emancipation as the choice. But today, for myself, I’m confused.

    For additional points of pointing to my confusion which are not unrelated (having to do with making choices for others), note the decision of St. Sophia and her implicit advise to her three daughters, that is, her telling her three (underage?) daughters to stand fast with the faith of their upbringing. (There are other versions of the story as well, but the essential details for “our purposes” remain constant).

  5. Well, I think first off that the “either/or” dichotomy is artificial

    Of course. But, as with many artificial distinctions, it can be a clarifying tool.

    So the question is puzzling even if you take your “either/or” only alternative if after taking the second choice (conversion), the slave in question would agree with your choice!

    If you knew for a fact that the slave in question would agree with your choice, it might be okay, but it strikes me as unbelievably arrogant to sacrifice his freedom for him. Isn’t that the kind of reasoning that allowed Christians to burn women they thought were witches? It’s for their own good!

  6. Mark says:

    JA,
    I agree the problem exists in choice, that is why I brought up the St. Sophia thing, with the children presumably not being able to make choices at that a young age.

    I think the “problem” with the conversion choice is that one might present the gospel, but it might not be accepted. But that is actually just another complication which can be applied to both sides of your choice, if one has consequences of choosing conversion and it not be accepted, one also must note there may be (very painful or fatal) consequences of attempting emancipation and failing (escaped slave being caught).

    I think the reasoning for burning of witches was not quite as you describe. I think for the burning of witches (or Inquisition) the logic went to torture of the subject until they recanted their heresy then killing them as an act of mercy (and/or to prevent the chance of recantation/relapse).

    On the other hand, I see this choice as one between ontological freedom and ordinary freedom.

  7. On the other hand, I see this choice as one between ontological freedom and ordinary freedom.

    And I think I’m learning to realize that whenever you use the word “ontological,” I should expect your conclusion to be kind of crazy. 🙂

    (I have nothing against the word itself.)

  8. Mark says:

    JA,
    What do you call the notion of freedom as described by Dostoevsky and Zizioulas?

    If one is, in the Dostoevsky case, willing to end one’s life, one also cannot be constrained by external conditions. One is “ontologically free”, i.e., that freedom is intrinsically then tied to ones being and cannot be removed. You happen, as an atheist, to deny that a Christian by Baptism and promise from God, is also ontologically free. But certainly you have to agree that if the Christian promise is true then, one is intrinsically more free than mere human institutions can grant. Reconsider the arguments above with a premise that the Christian faith is true. Does that not change your conclusion?

    I think your disagreement hinges on your premise of the truth of your faith (or more specifically your lack thereof).

  9. What do you call the notion of freedom as described by Dostoevsky and Zizioulas?

    As I said, I have nothing against the word. It’s just that when you use it, there tends to be a conclusion that doesn’t pass the smell test.

    I think your disagreement hinges on your premise of the truth of your faith (or more specifically your lack thereof).

    In a way. Obviously, if Christianity is true, it’s better to have everlasting life than physical freedom during this one. However, because none of us can know for sure if it is true, it seems to me arrogant to take away a sure thing (physical freedom) for a possible thing (ontological freedom or heaven.) Aren’t radical Muslims equally sure that their religion is true?

  10. Mark says:

    JA,
    So, … the rightness of the decision then hinges on one’s confidence in the truth of the Christian claim. If I have the faith of a martyr … then conversion is right? That is, if one does not grant the truth of your assertion “none of us can know for sure” … then it is not arrogance … correct?

    Are radical Muslims operating out of their love for neighbor? or hatred of “other” and their personal desire for a eschatological reward. There is a fundamental difference there, ya’ know.

  11. That is, if one does not grant the truth of your assertion “none of us can know for sure” … then it is not arrogance … correct?

    It seems to me that not granting the truth of that particular assertion is the definition of arrogance.

    Are radical Muslims operating out of their love for neighbor? or hatred of “other” and their personal desire for a eschatological reward.

    I’m sure they’ll tell you that they’re operating out of their love for Allah, not out of hatred. They don’t scream “death to Jews” or “death to America” when they’re about to kill, they scream “God is great!”

  12. Mark says:

    JA,
    I think “arrogance” isn’t the word you’re looking for. Would you stake a man’s life on your surety of the existence of electrons … or quarks? Is there nothing you are sure about? I think there probably is. Therefore, this isn’t about arrogance, it’s about epistemology and hermeneutics (and possibly as your reason for bringing up the Muslim, about universality).

  13. I think it is the right word, or close to it. You are so sure you’re right about a non-empirical claim that you’re willing to bet someone else’s life on it.

  14. Mark says:

    JA,
    From a Google “definition:” tag search:

    arrogance: overbearing pride evidenced by a superior manner toward inferiors

    I don’t see, pride, or any notion of hierarchy inherent in that claim. And as I’ve said, certainly the person willing to be a martyr for said faith (willing to freely give their life) is so qualified. For might he/she also judge it best for others and not have it judged as an unfair “bet” of someone else’s life if this is not a bet they are also freely (if not eager) to make?

    And “non-empirical”?! You, I think, lack an empirical method to assert the preeminence of the empirical epistemology over other epistemological or hermeneutic methods.

    Recall, the results of the test as set up by you. A person is a slave under circumstances which include cruelty. You have two choices, emancipation or conversion (and we didn’t consider failure). In both circumstances the victim, after the operations views your choice as logically the best one (the freed slave … unconverted sees freedom as best, the converted slave now Christian sees that conversion as the best choice). I fail to see, logically speaking, how you can necessarily deny to the Christian believer that the second choice is necessarily wrong under the premises of the Christian faith. That is the claim that emancipation is necessarily best requires denial of the truth of the Christian claim.

  15. You, I think, lack an empirical method to assert the preeminence of the empirical epistemology over other epistemological or hermeneutic methods.

    Empiricism works. The other stuff is usually just so much wankery.

  16. Mark says:

    JA,
    Empiricism answers so few questions though and “works” is a thing which must be determined … non-empirically.

  17. Mark says:

    Oh, one other thing. I’m not claiming that willingness to be a martyr makes for a thing to be true. However, I will claim that you aren’t being “arrogant” if a martyr believes that the good he sees is good for others.

  18. How about “paternalistic?”

  19. Mark says:

    JA,
    How about “loving”, in a love your neighbor way. If I love my neighbor I want what I see as best for him. What I see as best is going to be what I want for him.

  20. […] a short discussion earlier in the week, I had written: You, I think, lack an empirical method to assert the preeminence of the empirical epistemology […]

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