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 Wright 2 and Ernestine Louise Rose 3?
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