|A Brief History of Slavery|
Another historical constant is the use of slaves, be they slaves from birth, from conquest or whatever. Aristotle and Plato both produced justifications for slavery centred on the lower abilities of slaves, seen as more akin to animals. Both Christianity and Islam have been apologists for the practice despite Mohammed setting free his own slaves and instructing that all men should be brothers and treated as equals. (Well, that's half the human race freed, anyway.)
Today we find churches spearheading social change, calling for civil rights, the protection of unborn children, an end to human rights abuses in other countries, etc. This has not always been the case. It has often been said that on issues such as women's rights and human slavery, religion has impeded social progress. The church of the past never considered slavery to be a moral evil. The Protestant churches of Virginia, South Carolina, and other southern states actually passed resolutions in favour of the human slave traffic. Human slavery was called 'by Divine Appointment', 'a Divine institution', 'not immoral' but 'founded in right'. Typical of this was one Buckner H. Payne, styling himself 'Ariel', who wrote in 1867 that 'the tempter in the Garden of Eden... was a beast, a talking beast... the negro'.
Many New Testament verses call for obedience and subservience on the part of slaves, (Colossians 3:22 - 25; Ephesians 6:5 - 9; I Peter 2:18 - 25; Titus 2:9 - 10; I Timothy 6:1 - 2) and were used to justify human slavery. Many of Jesus' parables refer to slaves whilst Paul's infamous epistle to Philemon concerns a runaway slave who he unambiguously states should be returned to his master. Other than Deuteronomy, in the Old Testament, which says 'You shall not surrender to his master a slave who has taken refuge with you.' the abolitionist had to find non-Biblical sources to argue the immoral nature of slavery, a cautionary tale for those who take their lead from religion.[[br]
]Actually, Europeans have not only been slave traders, perhaps a million of them were slaves too. During the medieval period, Islamic pirates in the Mediterranean used to raid the coasts of Italy and Greece in particular, capturing 'Christians' who were then worried as slaves in North Africa. Unlike the European version of slavery though, the slaves were considered as 'fully human' and it was both possible and intended that these prisoners might be freed after payment of a suitable sum to their new owners.
And slavery is by no means merely an historical phenomenon. For example, in 2005, in Niger alone, there were officially 43 000 slaves. They were descendants of prisoners taken during wars, and were obliged to wear bracelets indicating themselves as such. As well as of course working for their masters for nothing, they were often castrated or told who they were to marry, and families were split up at the owners' whim. They ate only the 'left overs'. Naturally their children became slaves too.
Secondary source: 101 Ethical Dilemmas, by Martin Cohen, 2nd ed. 2007