Slavery is the room temperature state of fallen humanity

We are living in a period when enough of the Christian tradition still remains as a mood and unthinking assumption about what is “normal” that we imagine this is not so. But the reality is that slavery was the absolutely normal state of the human race for its entire history. Because fallen man is selfish and does not like to pay for work if we can force people to do it without paying them.

To be sure, Christianity was born into a world where this norm obtained. And the early Christians took slavery for granted as The Way Things Are. So you don’t find the New Testament offering some program for abolition any more than you find the tiny mice mammals of the Cretaceous planning the overthrow of Tyrannosaurus. But what you do find is a hostility to slavery in the DNA of Christianity. It comes, after all, of a Jewish tradition in which the Exodus from slavery in Egypt is the core founding event of Israel. And the Messiah repeatedly speaks with intense hostility to slavery even while offering no political program against it (or against any other forms of political evil in the world). Paul tells slaves to get their freedom if they can, but also tells them their status as slave does not, in the end, matter with respect to their dignity as sons of God. That is something he can say since he shares their hardships and has their respect as one who serves the God who “took the form of a slave”. It is not something slaveowners can say. When Paul does get a chance to speak directly to a slaveowner, he takes the side of his slave, reminds Philemon just how much he owes himself, shames him by assuming Onesimus’ debts, and puts enormous psychological pressure on Philemon to free him. Tradition hints that this is exactly what happened and that Onesimus went on to become a bishop.

James reflects this hostility to slavery too:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you. (Jas 5:1–6)

This text will become the basis for one of the Four Sins that Cry to Heaven for Vengeance in the Catholic tradition and undergird theological developments ranging from St. Gregory of Nyssa teaching that slavery simply cannot be reconciled with the gospel (a teaching so radical in its day that nobody, including his brother St. Basil, saw it as anything but wildly unrealistic idealism) to Catholic backing for the 19th century labor movement in Rerum Novarum.

Of course, Christian culture took centuries to get rid of slavery and it was never far away. With colonialism and the conflict with Islam (which had no scruples about slavery) it rushed right back and took centuries more to defeat. Now we pride ourselves on taking for granted how Stoopid the people who fought to defeat slavery were for not just, you know, Being Us.

But as our society moves away from the only social force that was ever (after centuries of struggle) able to destroy the institution of slavery (at least temporarily) these tendencies (never far beneath the surface even in Christian cultures and always tamed only with extraordinary difficulty) strain to re-emerge. And we, in our blithe and bonny certitude that we are immune from those forces are almost entirely unprepared for slavery’s resurgence. Case in point: this recent realio-trulio “job” opening from UCLA:



Open date: March 4th, 2022

Next review date: Monday, Apr 4, 2022 at 11:59pm (Pacific Time)
Apply by this date to ensure full consideration by the committee.

Final date: Monday, Apr 4, 2022 at 11:59pm (Pacific Time)
Applications will continue to be accepted until this date, but those received after the review date will only be considered if the position has not yet been filled.


The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.

Responsibilities will include: teaching according to the instructional needs of the department. Qualified candidates will have a Ph.D. in chemistry, biochemistry, or equivalent discipline and have significant experience and strong record in teaching chemistry or biochemistry at the college level.

The University of California, Los Angeles and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are interested in candidates who are committed to the highest standards of scholarship and professional activities, and to the development of a campus climate that supports equality and diversity. The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or protected veteran status. For the complete University of California nondiscrimination and affirmative action policy see:


Document requirements

  • Curriculum Vitae – Your most recently updated C.V.
  • Cover Letter
  • Statement of Research (Optional)
  • Statement of Teaching
  • Statement on Contributions to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion – An EDI Statement describes a faculty candidate’s past, present, and future (planned) contributions to equity, diversity, and inclusion. To learn more about how UCLA thinks about contributions to equity, diversity, and inclusion, please review our Sample Guidance for Candidates and related EDI Statement FAQ document.
  • Misc / Additional (Optional)

Reference requirements

  • 3-5 letters of reference required



Los Angeles, CA


Now, since this ad ran, some have come forward to try to explain that “Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position” does not really mean “Slaves only. No employees wanted”:

Yesterday, a job posting from the UCLA chemistry department began making the social media rounds, accompanied by predictable outrage that the department appears to be soliciting applications for unpaid employment (essentially, volunteer teaching).

At least one faculty from the department was quick to explain in at least one academic-focused FaceBook group that the post was for classes that are taught by postdoctoral fellows (who are compensated) and teaching a class is a part of their fellowship duties. My guess is that there is some state law that requires them to post the classes publicly as “jobs” even though the classes are for a specific group of already-compensated and selected postdoctoral fellows, for whom teaching a class, one of the advertised classes, is a part of their compensation scheme. I think, in this case, the most unfortunate part of this incident is that UCLA has not found a way to more clearly convey the population that these classes are available to and what compensation scheme that they are a part of. Instead, it looks like the chemistry department as UCLA is looking to exploit a population of increasingly desperate PhDs scrambling to hold onto academic careers in a higher education system where opportunities are increasingly scarce, and the opportunities that do exist are increasingly demanding.

It is easy to be outraged at this “job” ad. But, since the classes that it is advertising are part of the (compensated) job responsibilities for a certain group of scholars it is, not, I think, worth the apoplectic rage that I am seeing from many of my colleagues. And while UCLA chemistry can perhaps look for a solution to more clearly communicate what these positions are to insulate them from public outrage (if that is something they think is worth their time and effort), that is an internal problem and has an internal solution. And it is internally generated solutions that are going to have a much greater impact on a very hard, confusing, and often cruel academic job market. The social media outrage generated by UCLA’s ad is a lesson in where we are finding outlets to express our collective frustration at the state of higher ed employment without actually adding to our own (extensive) workloads or risking any political capital in our own workplaces.

It is so very easy to respond with outrage to a problem external to your organization. Especially when that problem seems to prove the worst image of a system (in this case, that academia will increase its exploitation of PhDs until we are begging to work for free). It is much harder to turn our desires for fair compensation inward and examine the systems that we are a part of and might be able to effect. I assure you that there are exploitative jobs masquerading as “opportunities” in all of our departments and we all have likely felt as though we have benefitted in some way from them. For example, at one institution where I taught, it is common for librarians, who are already paid only about half of what even early-career faculty earned a year at this institution, to teach classes in the departments of their subject area of expertise (as many of these librarians had PhDs as well as Masters in Library/Information Sciences). They are not paid to teach these classes. They do not get to substitute teaching time for any of their library work time. They are, effectively, volunteer instructors. They do this because once they retire, having a history of teaching classes that departments can not cover (due to chronic understaffing, even though this is a private, elite college with an enormous endowment) can help them secure an adjunct position with the department and provide some retirement income. I was and am appalled at this system that both exploits these librarians for a chance at extra income in retirement while also allowing departments to continue in a state of chronic understaffing since there are literally free instructors available to them. In my personal experience, everyone shook their heads at the situation and let it continue. No one was willing to go up against the administration and their rule that no full-time faculty could be compensated in excess of their full-time salary, even if they are doing more work. The librarians likely do not want to rock the boat and be barred from teaching classes that allow them to both teach in their areas of expertise and also give them a chip that they might be able to cash in once they retire from their library position. (See the rest here.)

But at the end of the day, it gets harder and harder to see how piling more and more work on people while refusing to provide increased compensation for their labor is not, in fact, slow enslavement. It looks indeed like the goal toward which our current system strains is the reinstitution of slavery, whereby the master gains, not merely some, but all the benefits of the laborer’s work and ultimately pays the slave nothing in return in the name of maximization of profits. It is the endpoint toward which all systems which elevate power and money over the good of the human person must tend.

The exquisite thing about this job description is the haphazard way in which the “employer” still retains (for now) other fruits of the Christian tradition’s hard-won legacy of emphasis on human dignity. So while Massa has no intention of paying the slave for his or her increasing burden of work, he still proudly declares that all human beings, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or protected veteran status have the right to be exploited as slaves. It is a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand foretelling things to come, a snapshot of conditions unique to the early 21st century, when the rich are working out ways to enslave the rest of us, but cushion that ever-increasing exploitation and impoverishment with happy talk about “equality” as they issue Personal Affirmations to the slaves while in fact creating massive inequality. Like this:

Thoughts and Prayers in place of action may make nice moral Novocain for a population of slaves, but it remains a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance.

Meanwhile, Jesus is blunt with thieves, and most especially with thieves who like to perfume their oppression and theft with pious goo:

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Mt 7:21–23)


26 Responses

  1. A big up-vote while crying at the duplicity of the oligarchs in every field. Crying even more about the people who accept their lies while screaming about “welfare queens” (unless the queens are oil companies and billionaires) and the woke (defined as everyone who doesn’t agree with them). God help the US – we’re sliding back into the 19th century instead of the future.

    1. Like it or not, it is. The anti-slavery movement had its intellectual foundations in the work of medievals (notably de las Casas) was spearheaded by Quakers when nobody else saw it as anything but a boutique moral panic, became a foundational moral issue for English Christians and then became a foundational issue for millions of American Christians during the Civil War. You really should read DOMINION. Your bigotry is blinding you.

      1. “You really should read DOMINION.”

        I’m well into it. Here is page 382:

        “Blood, dripping from his twitching body, had formed a puddle in the dust. Like more than 70,000 other Africans in Barbados, the man was a slave. The Quaker, explaining to Sarah that he was a runaway, felt no need to apologize. As in the time of Gregory of Nissa, so in the time of the Lays, slavery was regarded by the overwhelming majority of Christians as being – like war, poverty, or sickness – a brutal fact of life. That there was no slave or free in Christ Jesus did not mean the distinction itself was abolished.”

        This was the 18th century, which means the Church was fine with slavery for more than 80% of its history (as long as the slaves themselves weren’t Christians). It is awfully hard to reconcile that with hostility to slavery being in the Church’s DNA.

        By the way, did you read the link to godless in dixie? I’m reading a 500-page book just because you asked. You could at least read a blog post for me.

        – joel

      2. The point about it being in the Church’s DNA is that very often traits in DNA take a long time to be expressed. Babies are not born with beards. But (and this is Holland’s entire point in writing the book), when opposition to slavery finally gains steam (though it was clear to deeply Christian thinkers like Gregory of Nyssa 15 centuries earlier), it arises from Christian beliefs about the human person and nothing else. Virtually all atheism in the West is *Christian* atheism, complaining about the Faith on the basis of Christian morality and Christian presuppositions. It is anger at the Church, not for what it believes, but for failing to live up to those beliefs. I have no need to whitewash Christian history. I mentioned the re-embrace of slavery by colonializing European and American powers. But that does not negate the fact that the Christian tradition is *the* source of the only thing that humbled slavery (humbled, not killed: it returns the moment we abandon the Christian view of the human person). The weird thing is that, in our time, the loudest champion of that mystical view of the dignity of the human person that derives wholly from the Jewish and Christian tradition are people who think they don’t believe that tradition while many of the champions of the truly post-Christian Nietzschean contempt for Christian morality are conservatives who somehow imagine they are Christian while making almost total war on the Church’s tradition.

      3. @Mark Shea:

        That would be like saying that the Catholic Church was in favor of the BLM movement and was ahead of the curve in race-related issues, just because Gloria Purvis, a Catholic, advocated strongly for those things. That doesn’t quite give the full picture, does it?

        Sure, the Quakers and Christians who fought on the Union side of the Civil War were opposed to slavery. But who were they fighting against? It would be remiss to ignore that it was Christians who were on the other side as well.

        You talk about the room temperature of humanity, but you forget that when Christianity rose to power it took on that role. The idea that if not for Christianity slavery would still be in place, is unfalsifiable at best and ahistorical at worst, especially when you consider the fact that Christianity brought slavery to places where there was none, or was not entrenched to the point where it essentialized slavery by tying into the human construct of “race”.

        I’m not trying to single out Christianity as uniquely evil in this regard, but I don’t think that going in the opposite direction and trying to downplay its role when it comes to continuing, enabling and justifying the institution of slavery is helpful either.

        I think the part you’re missing in your analysis is that Christian ideology and culture does not exist in a vacuum; it changes and becomes influenced even as it changes and influences others. In a fashion akin to living organisms, it adapts to its environment. That’s one of the points Neil Carter made in the article that Joel linked to you. You also made a similar point in an article you published a while back, where you contrast the positions of the American Catholic Church and the Vatican when it came to slavery.

        Lastly, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice when you conflate honest critique with “bigotry”. We’ve both seen what actual bigotry looks like and this ain’t it. Just saying.

      4. You are talking about a sociological entity called the Church. I am talking about the gospel. When I say that opposition to slavery is in the Church’s DNA, I am not saying that all or even most Christians at a particular period believed that slavery was something that could or should be outlawed, any more than when I say “Opposition to war is in the Church’s DNA” (which it is). I’m saying that a gospel that has “Love your enemy” at the core of Christ’s teaching is a gospel that is always striving to break through the husk of the merely human systems of order that have bound us for 300,000 years. The Church has always tolerated war for the very good reason that nearly all human beings tolerate war and see no way in the world to get rid of it. We humans hate war while perpetually doing it anyway. The Church, if she could, would banish war just as most of us would. But the Church also lives in the real world where war happens anyway. So it offers just war teaching and strives against war, but still fails to prevent and sometimes must take sides in wars that it hates. Same with stuff like the death penalty. The Church took two millennia for the DNA that must, in the end, demand an end to the death penalty to be expressed. But once expressed, there will be no going back, no matter how many Catholics fight the Church to kill people. There is much in the Church’s DNA that is still fighting to be expressed. The Church is the jar of clay. The gospel is the treasure it contains. Multiple times in its history, the gospel has thrown out unexpected roots and branches which its members did not expect and even sometimes hated. The earliest example of this was the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Church. And not everybody liked that. Opposition to racism is *deeply* part of the Church’s DNA, not because Gloria Purvis sees it, but because Jesus declares that Gentiles will come from the four winds into the kingdom and the apostles, to their own shock, realize that Gentiles are to be included in the Church after Peter’s vision of the unclean animals and the Council of Jerusalem finally does the math (Acts 15). This is what “development of doctrine” means.

        The most gigantic doctrinal development in centuries took place at Vatican II when the Church declared that “Man is the only creature on earth whom God has willed for his own sake”. It means that *no* human system–political, economic, philosophical, sociological, military…or ecclesial–is more important than the dignity of a single human being. Systems are made for man, not man for systems. The Church has barely begun to comprehend the implications of that and there are millions of Catholics who are disposed to hate it. Tough shit for them. The DNA of the Church in that department will sooner or later be expressed about that too. That’s why I keep pointing to Gregory of Nyssa in the late fourth century. He grasped clearly that whatever human structures imposed on the lived experience of Catholics regarding slavery, in the end it *could* not be reconciled with the gospel. Nobody took him seriously, just as nobody took Dorothy Day’s pacificism seriously. But in the end, they were both right: neither slavery nor war can be squared with the command to love your neighbor, therefore the DNA of the Church will always strive to break the clay pot and reveal the treasure.

      1. It’s an honor to hear from you sir! I’ve been following you at Only Sky – you don’t post often enough, but when you do it’s like angels singing.

        – joel

      2. @ joel

        Top article by Neil, a few paragraphs in: Christians are irrational and I don’t get along with them when they’re belligerent about me calling them irrational.

        I have that with female academics who don’t just admit I’m right when I call them hysterical. It’s all very sad, really.

      3. @Artevelde:

        You’re reading that paragraph wrong. The people Neil is upset at are those from the outside looking in, who “grow belligerent about the irrationality of faith”. The whole point of the article is that faith, in a manner akin to currency, has value within the religion’s context, beyond the simple veracity of its claims.

        Because when we’re talking about faith we’re also taking about people’s identity, community and their standing within such community. For many people, faith simply works, and to get overly worked up over some elements being “unproven”, “false” or “unfalsifiable”, is to really miss the full picture.

        Or at least, that’s my take on the article.

      4. @3vil5tracker Exactly. Your take correctly reads what I said, although I’m not convinced @Artevelde isn’t trolling. Also, thank you Five Parrots 🙂 I try to write when I’m free, but I have a day job that’s sucking the life out of me. I just need to find a wealthy patron to put me out of my misery XD

      5. @ Evilstriker

        Yes, you are right. That was not just uncharitable of me, but also simply shoddy reading on my part, augmented by a few Pavlovian reflexes. I stand corrected.

      6. @ Neil

        I am not trolling. As I admitted, I misread and as such the accusation was unwarranted. That doesn’t mean I agree with you. It’s mostly the same old internet atheist stuff.

    2. I’m not so sure that “Historian here… AKSHULLY, these deeply racist, segregationist Southerners were initially fine with Roe v Wade” is quite the devastating take down of the anti-abortion cause that Randall Balmer thinks.
      Fine article otherwise, and very true that conservative Protestants and Catholics often reap credit where they did not sow – indeed, where at the time both sides attacked liberal Protestants for sowing the seed.

      1. There is precisely one (1) issue on which non-Christians and liberal Christians today would concede that they got it wrong and conservative Christians were in the right, but that issue isn’t slavery. Rather, it was over sterilisation of the “unfit” in the 1930s.
        Rational free-thinkers like HL Mencken, OW Holmes, GB Shaw and other English Fabians, and the progressive Social Democrats who governed Sweden thought compulsory eugenics was a great advance for humankind. So too did all too many progressive Social Gospellers. It was left to religious “reactionaries” (GK Chesterton, Pierce Butler, 1930s German clergy) to protest. They were on the right side of history in that case, because the right side aligned with their priors (conservatism in sexual/ reproductive matters). It did not guarantee them moral infallibility on all matters.

      2. One of Hitler’s few failures was when the churches pushed back against the euthanizing of children and others with mental and physical defects years before the death camps. Officially it ended, though neglect continued to kill those in hospitals and other facilities. When the churches pushed back against other Nazi practices, it was too late as their priests, ministers and others disappeared into the Dachau and other camps – 94% of the clerics in Dachau were priests, many of whom died there.

  2. I’ve seen the tendency to requirements inflation and tuition inflation converging in the future. Of course the children of the wealthy will go to whatever college their folks can pay for. The children of the lower orders will exchange intellectual ability for the opportunity to indenture themselves for life, in exchange for an education that’s useful to the holder of the indenture, with some guarantee of lifelong employment in exchange.

    Big corporations would jump at it, and find ways to chisel on the far side.

    1. The canary in the coalmine of contemporary free market capitalism is the alarming number of people made to urinate in plastic bottles.

  3. Facebook just reminded me that I posted this exactly 10 years ago today:
    “Slavery is mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, yet it is never condemned. The books of Exodus and Leviticus, for example, give lengthy and detailed instructions about how slaves are to be acquired and how they are to be treated, yet strangely fail to mention that slavery is, you know, horribly wrong. Later, in the New Testament, we see the Apostle Paul instructing slaves to obey their masters (Eph. 6:5), and telling a runaway slave to return to his masters (Onesimus, in the book of Philemon) yet still failing to mention that slavery is ghastly and appaling under any circumstances.”

    – joel

  4. Why should anyone be free at all? Even the most liberty loving deist references a creator – “all men are created equal.” From there you can talk about dignity and opportunity and equality and things like that.

    If one is actually atheist, one can still play along by choosing to accept the humanistic rules that come from shared creation. (Mark Shea’s “Christian atheists”)

    The atheist has to keep in mind though that the endpoint for all atheistic philosophy is Nietzche’s theory of the Overman. The individual is an end to himself – enslave away as able and as needed.

    1. “The atheist has to keep in mind though that the endpoint for all atheistic philosophy is Nietzche’s theory of the Overman.”

      If believing that makes you feel better, well, be my guest.

      – joel

  5. I’ve long said that a very under-appreciated after-effect of US chattel slavery is that it created in most people’s minds an overly binary sense of what it means to be enslaved. By that way of thinking the only definition of slavery is someone whipped and beaten into submission on an owner’s property and anyone who isn’t subject to that sort of subjugation is “free”. But that has never been the Church’s view of slavery (nor society as a whole for that matter). That is why we say things like “our sins enslave us”. And why things like ‘debt is a form of slavery’ are true.

    I think that is a big part of the reason why so many have trouble seeing why a job that doesn’t pay any money is a form of slavery. They’ve been lulled into an overly rigorous definition of slavery that blinds them to anything even slightly more subtle.

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