It bothers most people. There are, as you note, numerous passages where the laws supposedly given by the Lord support slavery (there are, as you know, rules for owning other human beings as property, rules for beating your slaves, rules for passing along your slaves to your descendents as property) and other passages where the Lord supposedly commands atrocious things, including the murder of every man and the abduction of every unmarried women. It doesn’t explicitly say what should be done with those unmarried women, but…well, you don’t need much imagination.
There are a lot of lame apologies that are made for these passages. In some cases, people try to argue that slavery in Biblical times was a “different kind of slavery” that was a nicer, gentler form of slavery; they also try to argue that the people whom god ordered exterminated were “askin’ for it,” as they say.
What a load of baloney slices (which, as I abbreviate it, means B.S.). In the first place, Biblical slavery was emphatically not a nicer kind of slavery – there are rules for beating slaves, for crying out loud! Sure, some slavery was just a kind of indentured servitude (though there are even rules for tricking indentured servants into becoming slaves for life), but they also practiced the kind of slavery we all know and detest, apparently sanctioned by their god.
But all of that aside, even if Biblical slavery was the nicest form of slavery ever – even if the slaves were treated like prized property and kept very happy – it’s still the practice of owning another human being like property, which rightly outrages our modern sensibilities. If there really were a god – if there really were a supreme, eternal moral code of what’s good and bad – wouldn’t one of his commandments be “Thou shalt not own another human being as property”?
Why is it that the Old Testament advocates the owning of slaves, while the New Testament has nothing to say about slavery, aside from the infamous, “Servants, obey your masters” passage? What, did god think that slavery was not important to mention? In the nineteenth century, when Southern plantation owners were using the Bible as justification to own slaves, wouldn’t it have been helpful to have passages that explicitly denounced slavery, instead of doing just the opposite?
Then, of course, there are those apologists who will tell you that the Old Testament is just a bunch of symbolism, not to be taken literally, that was meant to demonstrate the changing nature of god’s relationship to humanity. There are those baloney slices again…obviously, the ancient tribal people who produced and revered this text used these stories as their tribal mythology. They weren’t trying to “symbolize” anything. They lived in a brutal world, and they imagined that their god was one who was fickle, that they fell in and out of his favor, and that he could be cruel. It makes sense that ancients peoples like this would attribute to their god the “commands” for some of the brutal things they did as part of ancient life. So no, it wasn’t “symbolism,” at least not to them.
But more to the point, as soon as you admit that some parts of the Bible are symbolic, the whole thing starts to become a farse. How do you go about deciding symbolic from literal, then? If you’re justified in claiming that an entire portion of the Bible is a symbol, then why can’t you just say the whole thing is a symbol? Maybe the Jesus story is nothing more than a symbolic legend that teaches you how to live a life of self-sacrifice and acceptance. Further, if the Old Testament is symbolic, then why do some people insist on following its laws, such as the prohibitions against homosexuality (which is found nowhere in the New Testament)?
The whole thing really makes no sense whatsoever. There are really two options: either there is an all-powerful god who used to think slavery and genocide were ok and then changed his mind, or there’s no god and the whole story was made up by fallible humans whose socially-constructed systems of morality develop over time.
Guess which option my money’s on.