|Discourtesy of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason|
Precisely because the questions are intended to be rhetorical, the New Atheist isn’t looking for an answer — it’s supposed to be a slam-dunk “gotcha”, and anything you say is mere thimble-rigging, a pathetic attempt to rationalize an obvious error. Moreover, the proper response requires something of a full history lesson, for which many people have no patience … especially if it challenges cherished myths about ante-Internet European history.
That the Bible was never intended to be treated as the sole infallible source of Christian beliefs is not a sufficient answer in itself. To understand where the defect lies, first ask yourself this question: How, after thousands of years in which the propriety and naturalness of slavery was taken for granted, did the West come to believe it wrong? I’ll give you a couple of clues: 1) It had nothing to do with the rise of the scientific method; 2) it also had nothing to do with the Renaissance and the so-called “Enlightenment”.
It’s very tough for Americans to remember that we were almost the last of the modern First World countries to abandon slavery, and then only as a byproduct of a horrific struggle that decimated a generation of young men. It’s tougher to remember that people convicted of felonies can still be forced to work by the state, as a stated exception in the Thirteenth Amendment, or that international treaties still conditionally allow forced labor by prisoners of war. But only history wonks like me know that, from about 1100 until 1492, slavery as we understand it was all but dead in Christian Europe, hanging on mostly in the borderlands between the Christian and Moslem worlds.