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After Destroying Statues of Washington and Jefferson, and Closing the Show Hamilton, Should We Burn the Bible?

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Bible and managing slaves;desighned by Bernard Starr
Bible and managing slaves;desighned by Bernard Starr
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If you wanted to expunge from history all offensive representations of slavery you would have to begin with one of the oldest documents, first put into writing in the sixth century BCE. The Torah (Old Testament)--the foundation of monotheistic religions--is rife with rules for managing slaves:

The Torah commands that "when you buy a Hebrew slave he must be freed after six years of service" (Exodus 21:2); that "when a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years, as men slaves are" (Exodus 21:7); that "when a master beats a slave who survives there will be no avenging since the slave is his property" (Exodus 21:20-21). There is also a warning not to be ruthless with kinsmen slaves (Leviticus 25: 39-46); and praise when a slave is freed: "The Lord and your God will bless you in all you do" (Deuteronomy 15:18).

There are other writings by revered authors that reject equality for all and embrace slavery.

Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) is a towering figure whose teachings are considered the foundation of Western civilization. The discovery in the Middle-Ages of his forgotten writings helped bring Europe out of the Dark Ages. He gave us the principles of logic and reasoning that contributed to the development of mathematics, the sciences, and virtually every other discipline. In guiding us toward the good life, he taught the "golden mean," the avoidance of excesses for the fulfillment of the highest goal in life: "the pursuit of happiness." For centuries scholars have mourned that only 31 of 200 works of Aristotle have survived

How do we reconcile his brilliant and inspiring teachings with the dark side of his philosophy? Aristotle not only endorsed slavery he believed it was "natural." In his book Politics he wrote : "from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule."

Just as the Founding Fathers of American democracy wrote that "all men are created equal" but in practice meant some are more equal than others, Aristotle believed that the pursuit of happiness is not only unavailable to those born to be slaves but that the slave class must devote their lives to serving the master class.

We cannot change the wording in the Old Testament, Aristotle's embrace of slavery, or the fact that slavery existed in virtually every society throughout history. Does that mean we should send the bible, all the works of Aristotle, and memories of every despotic culture to the trash heap? This question becomes more troubling when we look at slavery in other historical cultures.

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Bernard Starr, PhD., is Professor Emeritus at CUNY, Brooklyn College where he taught research methods and statistics in a graduate gerontology program that he directed. He is also the main United Nations representative for the Institute of (more...)
 

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