Adventures in Conversation – Good & Evil #3: Strong Critic


Strong Critic:  Look, I don’t see how Christians can claim to know what good and evil are.  You guys came down on the wrong side of slavery, women, and now homosexuality.  Your definition of good and evil is totally crazy.

Me:  You raise a good point, and I could explain what was going on if you want.  But yes, I do think that the Christian definition of good and evil is the only one that makes sense.  I’d like to compare it with yours.

Strong Critic:  You have a quick explanation for all that?  I find that hard to believe.

Me:  Sure.  The earliest Christians freed slaves.  The first kingdoms to abolish slavery did so because of Christian influence:  France, Hungary, England, Iceland, the Netherlands, and the Scandanavian countries.[1]  Western Europe got back into the slavery game because they took over Muslim slave ports in West Africa.  Christians then re-abolished slavery (like Wilberforce in Britain), and it took longer in the U.S. because American Christians were simple-minded.

Strong Critic:  I’ve not heard that history before.  But what about all those Bible references about slavery?  It’s right there in the Ten Commandments:  ‘Do not covet your neighbor’s slave…’?

Me:  The kind of slavery that was practiced in the Old Testament was self-indentured servitude to either make money through a contract of labor or pay off debts for a very limited time.  That is obvious when you look at two verses.  In Exodus 21:16, people could not be kidnapped into slavery or forced into it.  And in Deuteronomy 23:15 – 16, slaves can run away at any time and the Israelites were commanded by God to help the runaway run away and settle anywhere he likes.  If ‘slaves’ can run away at any time, then that means this type of ‘slavery’ was voluntary.  So I understand why Americans would have strong feelings about slavery, but you’ve really been misinformed about what the Bible says about it.[2]  Slavery in the Bible didn’t mean the same thing as slavery in the U.S.  Just because you know a word doesn’t mean you know the meaning.  Do you know what the phrase, ‘I’m mad about my flat’ means?

Strong Critic:  Doesn’t it mean you’re upset about a flat tire?

Me:  If I’m an American, yes.  But if I’m a Brit, in London, it could mean that I’m happy about my apartment.

Strong Critic:  I get it.  The word ‘slavery’ here doesn’t mean the same thing as the word ‘slavery’ there.  Otherwise we fall into the word-thing fallacy.  Look, I just think that what is ‘good’ has to start from the individual, not from some God or some book.

Me:  So the more freedom you have, the better?

Strong Critic:  Yes.

Me:  So when my dad was an alcoholic, was he doing what was ‘good’ for him?

Strong Critic:  No, he was destroying himself.

Me:  You’re right, and not just himself.  So you’re actually saying that you have to be good before you can be properly free.  Goodness is different from freedom and more important than freedom and comes before freedom.  So the question is still where does your definition of good and evil come from?

Strong Critic:  Can’t we just say that it’s just obvious?

Me:  No, it’s not obvious.  My mom really does not like the fact that I live in a lower income, black neighborhood.  She’s basically an atheist, so she thinks that by living in not the best school district, that I’m doing something morally wrong to my children.  But my wife and I do this because we believe in Jesus, and are trying to live out his care for the vulnerable, and teaching our kids something morally valuable.  My point is that you actually can’t start with your own definition of good and evil, and evaluate someone else by it, because that’s just intellectually lazy.  You want to lob arrows at the Christian sense of good and evil from within your own castle of good and evil, but you actually don’t know what good and evil are.  You have no foundation for it.

Strong Critic:  I see what you mean.

Me:  So if you’re going to say no to Christian faith, you have to explore why it might be true, regardless of what your prior commitments to a ‘good’ and an ‘evil’ are.  You have to look at the historical evidence for Jesus, and his resurrection to give us a new humanity.

[1] For a more extensive summary of how Christians dealt with slavery in the first millennium and a half, primarily in Europe, see Mako A. Nagasawa, Slavery in Christianity: First to Fifteenth Centuries, see

[2] For more information and a treatment of every Scripture related to biblical slavery, see Mako A. Nagasawa, Slavery in the Bible and Slavery Today,



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