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:
- 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)
- 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)