John Loftus on Madeleine Flannagan and Women and Other Red Herrings

A few days ago I posted, Sunday Study: Slavery, John Locke and the Bible; in this post I defended an argument proposed by John Locke that the Bible does not support slavery. In that article I quoted from John Loftus’ book “Why I Became an Atheist” as an example of what is typically meant by slavery when sceptics claim the Bible supports slavery. John Loftus runs the blog Debunking Christianity, is a former preacher and student of William Lane Craig who is a new-atheist. On page 231 of his book, Loftus cites an eyewitness description of a malicious, brutal and bloodthirsty whipping of a female slave that took place in the antebellum south. Immediately after this he asks, “Why didn’t the Christian God ever explicitly and clearly condemn slavery?”

Now by juxtaposing this question next to the description of the beating, Loftus insinuates, that the scriptures explicitly or implicitly condone these sorts of practices. In his book, Loftus reinforces this by noting that,

the Bible was still used by Christians to justify the brutal slavery in the American South. Distinguished Princeton professor Charles Hodge defended American slavery in a 40 page essay written in 1860, just prior to the Civil War.

Here Loftus suggests that Hodge supported the “brutal slavery in the American south” which he had just described, on the same page only a few lines earlier, with his graphic account of a female slave being beaten. In the same paragraph Loftus also refers to the book Slavery Sabbath and War, which summarises various pro-slavery theological arguments to the same effect and then he states, “The Catholic Church didn’t condemn slavery until the year 1888, after the Civil War and after ever other Christian nation had abolished it.” This again suggests that the writers in Slavery Sabbath and War, along with the Catholic Church, all condoned and failed to condemn the practices he refers to.

Now in my post I pointed out that Loftus’ claim that the Bible does not explicitly condemn the kind of practices he describes is mistaken. In the comments thread I also noted his suggestion that Hodge did is also mistaken. Hodge did defend the existence of slavery an as institution, but on page 831 of Cotton is King, the book Loftus himself referred me to, Hodge states that if the bible is used to argue that “slavery as it occurs among us [in the US south]” is sinful, then “he has no objection.” Hodge only objects to the idea that all forms of slavery, including the ebed in scripture, are unjust. On the same page, he states that laws allowing people to beat, harm, kill and starve their slaves are condemned by scripture. A point, Loftus conveniently missed. On the next page, page 832, Hodge again states that it is very plain that the institution which existed in the US was condemned by scripture.

The same is true if one looks at Slavery Sabbath and War. Many of the pro-slavery theologians Loftus referred to, in fact, criticised the abuses that were occurring in their day and suggested these should be condemned.

It is also worth noting, at this juncture, that Loftus’ claim about the Catholic Church has been shown to be false by Rodney Stark. Stark notes that “[the Catholic Church repeatedly condemned slavery] … beginning in 1435 and culminating in three major pronouncements against slavery by Pope Paul III in 1537.” He notes that Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447), Pope Pius II (1458-1464), Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484), Pope Paul III (1534-1549), Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) issued bulls against slavery; in addition, the Roman Inquisition condemned slavery on 20 March 1686. These condemnations were largely motivated by concerns about new world slavery.

In addition to weighing into the comments, Loftus responded with a post on his own site, Nitpickers Have Started to Attack; this response led with aspersions about my education and intelligence concluding that my comments were “nitpicking” and did not address the real issue. This lead to a response by Glenn Peoples, Skeptics and the annoyance of the little things…. like facts. Glenn noted.

Apparently it’s just in poor taste and really just skirts around the edges to point out that contrary to the claims that some skeptics love to make, the Old Testament does not endorse what we call slavery. But I daresay that annoyance has clouded John’s vision, for what has been shown is that in fact God did condemn kidnapping and/or mistreating people, the very things that Loftus is concerned about and which he is calling “slavery.” it may be irritating to have the rug ripped out from under your argument, but getting annoyed and demanding that people deal with the “main” argument by pretending that the rug is still there (for the sake of your argument and nothing else) is a bit of an ask, don’t you think? Why not just graciously thank the other person for their helpful explanation and remove the argument from your repertoire?

Glenn wasn’t the only person to ask Loftus to respond to the main argument and address the factual claims I had called him on. Loftus’s response to this pressure was to single out the only woman who’d criticised him along the same grounds, Madeleine. He dedicated a post to her, Madeleine Flannagan is Happy to be Treated as Women Were in the Bible!, publicly ridiculing her as “backward thinking,” “incredibly ignorant” quoted her out of context and finished with an aspersion on our marriage:

Here’s exhibit “A” of the backward thinking of some Christians. This is incredibly ignorant:

“So yes, I…am happy to be treated the same way women were in the Bible.” Link

How much more ignorant can someone be? Although, her husband probably likes it! 😉

Of course in the actual comment Madeleine qualified her statement (as the “So yes” will tell any observant reader) and of course Loftus pasted it without this qualification into his own contextual understanding which assumes that his take on the Bible and on its teachings on gender is correct and is what Madeleine meant.

I write this post to demonstrate how some people who pass themselves off as free-thinkers or rationalists are often dogmatic proponents of a secular party-line who will happily ridicule and attack other people personally who question the orthodoxy that they expound even if the facts get in the way.

Madeleine asks that even though Loftus hefted a stone at our marriage that commenters refrain from doing the same in turn.

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