David Barton and “slavery for nonbelievers”. Really?

David Barton. Just hearing his name makes my stomach turn. The man not only cherry-picks quotes and spins ambiguities in his favor, but apparently flat-out lies about American history (and current events) in his quest to “prove” the United States was founded as a “Christian nation”. But does his website promote the enslavement of non-Christians?

A recent article by B. E. Wilson on AlterNet that is garnering attention at Reddit says that yes indeed, Barton’s site includes an article saying nonbelievers can and should be made permanent slaves to Christians . . . and Barton endorses the article!

To reiterate, although David Barton might deny it one can reasonably assume he endorses the re-introduction of slavery given that an article on Barton’s own Wallbuilders web site (which Barton links to in his own Wallbuilders articles), by a member of the Wallbuilders board of directors (Barton also serves on the board of an organization run by McDowell) endorses “Biblical slavery” as defined by Christian Reconstructionist titan R.J. Rushdoony . . .

. . .

McDowell then lists various types of slavery which can be legal according to scripture from the Old Testament books of Leviticus, Exodus, and Deuteronomy. According to McDowell, “pagans [non-Christians] could be permanent slaves” and to bolster this position McDowell quotes theologian R.J. Rushdoony:

“since unbelievers are by nature slaves, they could be held as life-long slaves” without piercing the ear to indicate their voluntary servitude (Lev. 25:44-46). This passage in Leviticus says that pagans could be permanent slaves and could be bequeathed to the children of the Hebrews.”

Upon this, our AlterNet author hangs his (her?) hat. According to this, Stephen McDowell and, by extension, David Barton are in favor of capturing and enslaving all who don’t share their religion!

I guess Aristotle was, too:

Slavery is an ancient practice; it is referred to in man’s earliest records such as the Code of Hammurabi (1760 BC, pictured above), the earliest known law code – from Babylon. It is mentioned in the Bible and some of the ancient philosophers (including Aristotle) believed that some men were born in a natural state of slavery – thereby making it moral to enslave that man (a nice way to justify it if ever there was one). Slavery in those days was often the punishment for debt – once the debt was repaid, the slave might be released.

No, I’m not going to leave you without a better resource on Aristotle than some “top ten” list. How about Oregon State University’s Philosophy 302 course website? Aristotle on Slavery, in part:

Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals (as in the case of those whose business is to use their body, and who can do nothing better), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore is, another’s and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature . . . It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.

What does the McDowell article say? I had to read it myself to be sure. Do Barton and Pals want to forcibly enslave all non-Christians?

Wilson did quote accurately . . . but cherry-picking is cherry-picking, I don’t care who does it. McDowell goes on to say (emphasis his):

Involuntary Servitude is Not Biblical

Exodus 21:16 says: “He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” Deuteronomy 24:7 states: “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently, or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.”

Kidnapping and enforced slavery are forbidden and punishable by death. This was true for any man (Ex. 21:16), as well as for the Israelites (Deut. 24:7). This was stealing a man’s freedom. While aspects of slavery are Biblical (for punishment and restitution for theft, or for those who prefer the security of becoming a permanent bondservant), the Bible strictly forbids involuntary servitude.

It was forbidden to take the life or liberty of any other man. Rushdoony writes:

“Thus, the only kind of slavery permitted is voluntary slavery, as Deuteronomy 23:15-16 makes very clear. Biblical law permits voluntary slavery because it recognizes that some people are not able to maintain a position of independence. To attach themselves voluntarily to a capable man and to serve him, protected by law, is thus a legitimate way of life, although a lesser one. The master then assumes the role of the benefactor, the bestower of welfare, rather tha[n] the state, and the slave is protected by the law of the state. A runaway slave thus cannot be restored to his master: he is free to go. The exception is the thief or criminal who is working out his restitution. The Code of Hammurabi decreed death for men who harbored a runaway slave; the Biblical law provided for the freedom of the slave.”

Rushdoony also says that the selling of slaves was forbidden. Since Israelites were voluntary slaves, and since not even a foreign slave could be compelled to return to his master (Deut. 23:15, 16), slavery was on a different basis under the law than in non-Biblical cultures. The slave was a member of the household, with rights therein. A slave-market could not exist in Israel. The slave who was working out a restitution for theft had no incentive to escape, for to do so would make him an incorrigible criminal and liable to death.

Doesn’t sound very “pro-slavery” to me. Not “pro-slavery” at all!

Now, Wilson does get a lot right in the AlterNet article.

McDowell’s article cites R.J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law six times in its footnotes and that’s notable given that the book was Rushdoony’s master work on how to implement Biblical law in the American legal system. R.J. Rushdoony’s scheme included establishing stoning and burning at the stake for adultery, homosexuality, and idolatry, and the legalization of Biblical slavery. Leaders in the Christian Reconstructionism movement Rushdoony founded have for several decades now been trying to make it so.

A heinous Christian Reconstructionist (aka “Dominionist”) wish list, indeed. The growing strength of these people in American politics is the reason this site even exists. But Biblical slavery? We’ve seen that is not what Wilson would have us believe — the permanent enslavement of all non-Christians — but voluntary slavery.

Isn’t the truth damning enough? Is it necessary, useful, or in any possible justification ethical to use the same devious tactics as Barton?

Am I defending David Barton or Wallbuilders? No! I think David Barton is a very dangerous pseudo-historian who makes many unsupportable assertions about American history in order to advance an anti-secular, Dominionist agenda. I think David Barton is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the so-called Religious “Right”.

Do I think he should be silenced? No. I think he should be proven wrong with facts at every opportunity. Not cherry-picking and distortions, but facts.

Cherry-picking potentially damning words from an article and claiming the document says the exact opposite of what it actually says? Distorting the facts to serve your own political agenda? Destroying your own credibility in the process, thus calling everything else you say into question? Come on, Wilson!

That sounds like something David Barton would do.

8 Responses to David Barton and “slavery for nonbelievers”. Really?

  1. As distasteful as it may be to those of us seeing the outrageous tactics of the religious right, I detest dishonesty by fellow seculars even more. It's their dishonesty that I disdain much more than their Christian Nation-style objectives, so I cannot abide it, period. Mr. Wilson should be ashamed, and I'm glad you've called him out on this reprehensible action. EDIT: Um, that article is 3 months old. Kinda late for rebuttal now.

    • Not when it was getting major traffic from Reddit yesterday . . . which is how I came across it.

  2. Human slavery is the greatest moral abomination that ever existed. That anyone could site bronze age myth as a present day justification for the practice is beyond comprehension. It's also very revealing that Barton's favorite invisible sky pal, Jesus, never commented on the subject.

    • I'm confused. Did you miss the second page? Barton and McDowell (AND even Rushdoony) wrote against involuntary slavery, not in support of it. Wilson's accusation is not supported by the article he cites as a "smoking gun"; it says the exact opposite of what Wilson claims. Rushdoony's idea of acceptable "biblical" slavery encompasses voluntary slavery, which can be terminated by the slave choosing to leave, and temporary servitude on the part of criminals to make restitution for crimes committed if they cannot or will not pay. They specifically wrote AGAINST capture and forcible enslavement. I wrote the article because I am both offended and angered that a supposed progressive author is willing to stoop to the same unethical levels as many on the Religious Right — false allegations, twisting truth, etc. — in order to advance an agenda. It's hard to claim the moral high road when you're down in the ditch with everybody else.

  3. David Barton: US should use biblical justice, just as the Constitution says: http://www.secularnewsdail​y.com/2011/07/06/dav… (Biblical law as in killing those who are found guilty)

    • Yes indeed . . . not denying that at all! He, like other Dominionists, does want to establish biblical law in the US. But that does NOT include forcible enslavement of all non-Christians.

      • Sorry for the late reply, but you're absolutely right to denounce this hyperbole and semantic nonsense. All it does is give ammo to the religous right to show how we are the "liars". I refuse to be represented by those who would use this type of propaganda, no matter what the cause. Oh, and I didn't know about the recent re-animating of this previously interred corpse. Good job, Van Helsing! hehehe.

  4. avatar DebatableScientist

    Interesting thing to note… It says specifically that 'unbelievers are by nature slaves'. This seems to me that they considered anyone who wasn't Jewish to be a slave, or someone you could take as a slave. Therefore, that biblical passage would condone making all non-believers slaves. The later quotes are about who they consider people. This was a tribal document, after all, and people outside of the Jewish 'tribes' didn't seem to be considered people, so I would say those quote don't apply here. At any rate, I don't think the point of the piece is them saying that non-believers should be slaves. I think they're just doing their usual thing of trying to justify the bible and slavery so the bible doesn't seem so bad anymore, while at the same time trying to reinstate some sort of slavery. I'll agree that they don't say explicitly that non-believers should be taken as slaves here. Going out on a limb, though, if they ever did manage to reinstate slavery and get the bible included in our government, I have the feeling it wouldn't be too long until someone quoted the bit about unbelievers being slaves by nature, at which point the persecutions would begin full-tilt. Of course, I don't believe this is going to happen, but somehow I hesitate to think they'd stop it if it did, either.

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