Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Religion and slavery

The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, condones slavery in Ancient Israelite society by failing to condemn the widespread existing practice [21] present in other cultures. It also several times explicitly states that slavery is morally acceptable under certain circumstances (Leviticus 25:44-46; Exodus 21:7-11). At the same time, there are also many limits to slavery. For example, Hebrew slaves must be freed after six years of servitude (Exodus 21:2). Masters also do not have complete control over the lives of their slaves. If a master beat his slave so severely that the slave is killed immediately, the master is to be punished (contrary to widespread practice elsehwere and even much later that masters have complete control over the lives of their slaves). If the master had beat the slave but had no intent on killing him/her, the master can go unpunished (Exodus 21:21). Ancient Israel during the time of the Old Testament was certainly not as slave-dominated as later societies such as Ancient Rome.

The New Testament admonishes slaves to obey their masters (1 Peter 2:18; Ephesians 6:5-8; Titus 2:9-10; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Timothy 6:1), and the prophets and apostles urged kindness to slaves, mainly because Christianity in its early days did not aim to stir a social revolution. Modern Protestant churches have differently interpreted these passages to be either anti- or pro-slavery, with some regarding these passages to consist of the Bible reporting existing social customs and laws, rather than a moral endorsement of the institution of slavery.

In regards to the Catholic Church, the early Church had nothing to say about the slavery that was part of the prevailing culture in Ancient Rome. The most influential of the Catholic Fathers for a thousand years, St. Augustine (354-430), wrote in City of God (19:15) that slavery "is no crime in the eyes of God," since slavery is part of God's punishment for sin. Pope Leo I (440-461) forbade admitting slaves (servi) into the clergy "because of the vileness [vilitas] of their condition," which he maintained, would "pollute" the sacred profession. Pope Gregory I (590-604), whose Church owned more than 1,500 square miles of land cultivated by slaves, repeated this prohibition and also (in "Epistles" 7:1) the prohibition of a slave marrying a free Christian.

The position of the Christian churches became firmly anti-slavery only in the 1800s. For about one thousand years there was little protest from Christian clergy until, in 1462, Pope Pius II declared slavery to be "a great crime" (magnum scelus). In 1537, Pope Paul III forbade the enslavement of the Indians, while Pope Urban VIII forbade it in 1639, and Pope Benedict XIV in 1741. Pope Pius VII in 1815 demanded that the Congress of Vienna suppress the slave trade, and Pope Gregory XVI condemned it in 1839. In the Bull of Canonization of the St. Peter Claver, Pope Pius IX branded the "supreme villainy" (summum nefas) of the slave traders. Pope Leo XIII, in 1888, addressed an encyclical to the Brazilian bishops, In Plurimism [22] (On the Abolition of Slavery), exhorting them to banish the remnants of slavery from their country.

In Islam, the Qur'an accepts and endorses the institution of slavery, and Muhammad owned slaves (his actions are religiously binding through the Hadith). The slavery endorsed by the Qur'an limited the source of slaves to those captured in war and those born of two slave parents. [23] The Qur'an considers emancipation of a slave to be a meritorious deed, yet nationwide emancipation did not occur in Muslim lands until post-WWII, with pressure exerted by Western nations such as Britain and France to secularise. Some Islamic nations have been among the last to outlaw slavery.

In Hinduism, the caste system is analogous to slavery in several ways (low inherited status), while distinct in others (ownership). Hindus and scholars debate whether the caste system is an integral part of Hinduism sanctioned by the scriptures or an outdated social custom.[24][25] Discrimination based on caste, including untouchability against the so-called low castes, was criminalized in India upon independence by the Indian Constitution.