Guest Post: When a Shield Hero Becomes a Slave Owner

Welcome back JeskaiAngel, one of our regular guest contributors here on Beneath the Tangles. Today, he takes a deep dive into a troubling aspect of The Rising of the Shield Hero, a show we here at on the website are absolutely loving.

As I watched the first five episodes of The Rising of the Shield Hero, I was unexpectedly impressed by its portrayal of slavery. The show explores the issue in a surprisingly realistic, nuanced way: slavery in The Rising of the Shield Hero should trouble us, but the problem is with slavery itself, not with the show’s depiction of it. It’s no apologetic for slavery, casting the institution in unequivocally negative light and making the slave character the most noble and sympathetic person in the whole story, but neither does it shy away from the complex, uncomfortable reality that a person can do bad things (like enslave another) without being a wholly bad person (at least at first). American abolitionists of the nineteenth century argued slavery is inherently corrupting, inevitably bringing out the worst in even the best masters. We might say the show asks whether Naofumi can remain both a good person and a slaveholder, or if one or the other of those must necessarily triumph (cf. “You cannot serve God and Mammon”).

From the outset, the show implies that slavery should be viewed negatively. When Naofumi goes slave shopping at the close of the first episode, it serves as the culmination of his journey to the dark side. We’ve already watched him grow cynical, bitter, violent, selfish. We’ve seen him use threats to get his way. He deliberately cultivates a nefarious reputation. And finally, to top it all off, he countenances slavery. The show also gives a number of visual cues that slavery is not good. The slave trader himself is about blatantly sinister looking as a character could be. His meeting with Naofumi takes place at night, in the darkness. His “shop” full of cages barely illumined by occasional bits of firelight seems genuinely worthy of the adjective “hellish”—a place of imprisonment, flame, and literal and metaphorical darkness. All the imagery in the slave-shopping part of the story proclaims that slavery is bad.

The conversation between the dealer and Naofumi should only deepen our sense of wrongness. The slaver trader’s mention of “human supremacy” as the basis for enslaving so-called “demi-humans” immediately brings to mind real-world “supremacy” ideologies. The term “demi-human” itself resembles real-life efforts to defend the exploitation of others. In the show, the self-proclaimed pure humans enslave those they judge as less or only partially human—that’s what the “demi” part of “demi-human” means! The same sort of idea has appeared many times in real life when people wish to justify their abuse of others. For example, once upon a time people argued that Africans were a less evolved, more primitive type of human, closer to animals than light-skinned humans. As if this weren’t enough, Naofumi denies slaves’ personhood and reduces them to mere tools no different than his shield.

As the show introduces Raphtalia, the slave trader casually reveals that her previous owner tortured her. He has no qualms about torture, just mild annoyance when it damages his goods. Physical abuse is an inseparable reality of slavery. When human beings are reduced to property, to objects possessed by others, when some humans’ have minimal or no rights and others possess absolute or near-absolute power, the temptation of abuse is incredibly strong. The famous aphorism says, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The history of slavery seems to validate Lord Acton’s claim. In the antebellum American south, masters could and did beat, maim, kill, chain up, starve, rape, and otherwise physically abuse their “property” without facing social or legal consequences. In the finale of the slave acquisition portion of the story, we watch as the process of purchasing a slave and applying the disobedience curse is physically painful to Raphtalia. Observing her physical pain as she’s sold to a new master, I couldn’t help but think of the psychological trauma inflicted on countless slaves in real life as their owners traded them away, separating spouses, siblings, and parents and children.

Naofumi next goes to purchase a weapon for his new combat slave. While visiting weapons shop, Naofumi invokes the disobedience curse—effectively trying to use magical torture to compel a child to kill for him. The shopkeeper finds Naofumi’s behavior disturbing and warns that it will have negative consequences. As Naofumi and Raphtalia depart, the shopkeeper wonders what forces are responsible for corrupting Naofumi to act in that way. In other words, even this native of a slaveholding, “human supremacy” culture, who should be expected to share its values, explicitly comments that Naofumi is acting wrongly.

I found it striking that throughout the second episode, almost from the first moment we encounter Raphtalia, the camera gives repeated shots from her point of view or at her level. Along with her, we look up through the bars of the cage at Naofumi and the slave trader. When she’s writhing in pain on the floor of the weapons shop as Naofumi activates the curse, the camera gets down on the floor on alongside her. This seems to me like a directorial decision to use the show’s camerawork to encourage viewers to identify with Raphtalia, to literally see the situation from her perspective. Her tragic backstory (seen through a dream featuring more first-person Raph-cam), the traumatic loss of her loving parents and everyone else she’d ever known, further encourages viewer compassion.

The central conflict of the second episode is whether Raphtalia will fight for Naofumi, and the loser is slavery. Three times Naofumi invokes the disobedience curse to try to make Raphtalia fight, yet the curse’s pain proves insufficient to make her obey. In the end, Raphtalia doesn’t fight for Naofumi because he forced her: she demonstrates agency by choosing to fight for him because she independently supports his cause. As Naofumi monologues while Raphtalia suffers under the torturous curse, she comes to understand his mission:

“You’re going to fight the catastrophe?”

“That’s my job.”

Because Raphtalia understands and approves of Naofumi’s goal, she promptly takes up her sword. Slavery and the disobedience curse failed to break her will.

Choice prevails over duress again during the fight in the mine. When Naofumi wants Raphtalia to fight the dog-beast, she is paralyzed by traumatic flashbacks to her parents’ deaths. Instead of just activating the curse, Naofumi employs persuasion, reminding her how they can fight the Waves of Catastrophe together and prevent other children from suffering her fate. This is a dramatic change—instead of just punishing his property until she obeys like he did earlier, Naofumi’s first move is to appeal to her with reason. This represents at least partial acknowledgement of Raphtalia’s personhood: one does not try to persuade an object, like the shield to which Naofumi previously compared slaves. When persuasion seems to fail, Naofumi briefly triggers the disobedience curse, but quickly rescinds it and gives Raphtalia the choice to fight or flee. In a battle of wills, the slave wins and the master gives in. Raphtalia proves stronger than both her fear and slave crest’s punishment, fighting for Naofumi only because she chooses to do so. (Raphtalia also has abandonment issues that play a part in her decision to fight, but even this is her own intrinsic motivation, something predating and independent of becoming a slave. She’s no infantilized simpleton who clings to a master because she’s helplessly dependent.)

Slavery takes a backseat to action scenes in the third episode. However, we discover that Raphtalia is a Pokemon and has evolved to her adult form after leveling up. Others see this, but somehow Naofumi doesn’t. In continuing to treat Raphtalia like a child, Naofumi provides a striking parallel to the paternalistic pretensions of real-life slaveholders. In addition to slavery’s dehumanizing and objectifying tendencies, each of which help masters justify themselves, slaveholders of the past have cast slaves as helpless and childlike. Pro-slavery logic argues that just as children need parents to discipline and care for them, so also slaves need masters. Naofumi’s inability (unwillingness?) to accept Raphtalia as a mature adult is solidly in line with how a real slaveholder might regard his slave. Even long after the United States abolished slavery, “boy” was still used pejoratively to demean African-American men.

Slavery takes center stage again in episode 4. With sickening irony, the people pretending to want to free Raphtalia ignore her words and proceed to bind and gag her—things Naofumi has never done! Naofumi’s treatment of Raphtalia is plainly flawed, but Raphtalia’s purported rescuers objectify her to a greater degree than he ever did. She isn’t a person to them, just a chess piece, a pawn in a game of moral superiority. Happily once Raphtalia is freed of both slavery and her restraints, she unleashes a glorious verbal beatdown on the antagonists.

While this scene ultimately affirms Raphtalia’s agency, it also offers perhaps the best basis (at least in the first five episodes) for accusing the show of favoring slavery: one could construe it as saying slavery isn’t so bad, that Raphtalia was happy being a slave, and that Naofumi’s kind deeds made slavery okay or even good. But that’s not at all Raphtalia’s point. She doesn’t defend slavery the institution—she defends Naofumi the person. She enumerates Naofumi’s kindnesses—shielding her, feeding her, treating her illness—and delivers an armor-piercing (spear-breaking?) question to Motoyasu:

When the Spear Hero stutters out a claim that he is, Raphtalia’s counter is brilliant: “If that were true, you would have a slave by your side, too!” She has just demonstrated that, at least in some respects, Naofumi is a better, more compassionate man than the Spear Hero. All through the confrontation, Raphtalia’s focus is on defending Naofumi’s good character, not on affirming slavery per se. If we consider the solidly negative way in which the show introduced slavery and rightly understand Raphtalia’s own words, we have no reason to conflate Raphtalia’s defense of Naofumi with a pro-slavery apologetic.

Morally, Raphtalia rises above Shield Hero and Spear Hero alike, and the scene in which Raphtalia defends Naofumi also explores his faults. Raphtalia emphasizes that his use of the disobedience curse was limited—but that means she still points out that he did indeed use it. Naofumi apologetically confesses to her that “I saw you as nothing but a tool at first.” After his previous blindness to her personhood and adulthood, Naofumi is forced to recognize that she’s neither an object nor a child. Naofumi also unfairly misjudges Raphtalia, immediately assuming that she’ll turn against him now that she’s free. But she proves him wrong and forces him to admit how he’s failed to respect her. She is faithful to Naofumi because she chooses to be.

Early in the fifth episode, Raphtalia gets a new slave crest, at her own request. Naofumi says it’s unnecessary, but Raphtalia calls it “a symbol of your faith in me.” Engagement or wedding rings spring to mind as examples from our world of symbols for relationships; I suspect there’s a bit of similarity to how Raphtalia views her crest. I wasn’t a fan of this turn of events, but I found it easier to swallow when I realized that, like it or not, it at least makes a lot of sense that Raphtalia would want this. The show previously established that she has attachment issues stemming from the loss of her parents, she spoke in episode 2 about her fear of being discarded, and part of what helped her overcome her fear of the dog-beast in the mine was the thought of losing Naofumi and being left alone. It’s quite logical for her character to still be dealing with this insecurity and obtain a new slave crest as a way of assuaging that anxiety. Getting a magical tattoo is hardly an ideal coping technique, but logically it fits with Raphtalia’s character.

As a Christian, I believe slavery is evil. Period. End of story. Case closed. However, The Rising of the Shield Hero reminds me that there’s a sad history of Christians—or at least people who identified as such—defending slavery. Antebellum Americans repeatedly twisted the Bible to justify slavery. Such writings bring together many of the issues—slavery, racism, self-righteousness—that we see in the show. (Warning: snark ahead; boojum status unknown.) In 1840, one Rev. Leander Kerr declared, “Abolitionism then is as foolish as it is wicked, lawless and reckless: and the time will come when it will be regarded as wicked and absurd as ‘witch burning’ is now.” Moreover, “Abolitionism is anti-scriptural and anti-Christian…there is nothing morally wrong in holding slaves.” Like many slavery apologists, Kerr appealed to the curse leveled by Noah upon Canaan son of Ham in Genesis 9.25-27. By some exegetical alchemy, this passage is transmuted into proof that God consigned blacks for all time to be the slaves of whites.

In “A Dialogue Between an Abolition Croaker, a Citizen of Boston, and the Prince of Darkness,” a Socratic dialogue from 1851, the character of the ordinary, Bible-believing, slavery-defending citizen trounces a strawman abolitionist, with intermittent contributions from the devil himself explaining how abolitionism’s satanic nature. At one point, the Prince of Darkness reveals his desire to promote interracial marriage and offers a remarkable interpretation of Genesis 24:

Abolitionists and freesoilers…are some of my best friends, and have been so for many years. They have rendered me very important service in several particular cases; such as trying to make null and void some of God’s decrees and ordinances concerning slavery… I lead those bewildered and blinded men into all manner of iniquity connected with the emancipation of the slaves, and also to amalgamation with them by marriage; but it was not so with Abraham; I could not so easily control him; for he would not allow his son Isaac to take a black wife from the Canaanites; but I have got some friends among you abolitionists, who approve of their own children intermarrying with the negroes, and thus becoming part and parcel of that unhappy and degraded people.

This exegesis, clearly the product of truly dizzying intellect, is rivaled by a later contribution from the citizen. He recounts the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman from Mt. 15 & Mk. 7 (she was black, he claims) and says Jesus refused to help her until she proved “her faith and humility” by “taking her place where she belonged, in accordance with the curse pronounced upon her progenitors.” In other words, the lesson is that Jesus refused to do a miracle for an uppity black woman until she stopped putting on airs.

I’ve seen memes joking about Renaissance paintings for depicting Jesus as a northern European, but hadn’t realized that real people who claimed to be followers of Jesus seriously argued that he was white. Sadly, one Rev. Josiah Priest, writing in 1852, disillusioned me:

The Saviour of mankind, though born of a Jewish copper colored woman, was nevertheless a white man. This complexion, which characterized the body of God incarnate, was such as pleased him, or he would not thus have appeared. The proof that he was a white man, is derived from a letter, written by a Roman Senator from Judea, in the time of Augustus Caesar, to Rome. In that letter, which is now extant, the man Jesus Christ is said to have been a man of surpassing beauty, having a bright fair complexion, with hair the color of a ripe filbert, which is inclining to the yellow or golden color. His eyes were of the hazel or blue cast; his forehead high, smooth, and broad… This being true, it adds another proof that, in the estimation of the Creator, the white complexion, such as is possessed by the race of Japheth, is more valuable than black or red.

Priest is emphatic that Rahab, one-time prostitute of Jericho who became an ancestress of Jesus, couldn’t possibly have been black like he believes Canaanites were, and must have been a Semitic woman who merely happened to be residing in Jericho. “It was abhorrent to God…that the immaculate blood of his Son, which was to be offered as an atonement, should be contaminated by that of negro extraction,” wrote this Titanic of theology. Priest also discovered that the Tower of Babel was constructed entirely by and on the initiative of black people, that the wicked queen Jezebel was black, and that “Had Onessimus been a white man, or an individual of the race of Abraham, St. Paul never would have arrested him as a slave, to return to his master.”

Priest’s efforts to “refute” scriptural arguments raised by opponents of slavery are likewise revealing. Since abolitionists appealed to passages like Rom. 13.8 and Gal. 5.14 and claimed that loving one’s neighbor was incompatible with enslaving him, Priest unleashed this marvelous counterassault:

God having judicially appointed that race to servitude, the law of love cannot abrogate it, any more than the law of love can abrogate several other particulars of judicial appointment. Such as, it is appointed unto men that they should die; the woman was condemned to be ruled over by her husband; the earth was cursed, in relation to its fruitfulness; the wicked dead are sent to hell; the earth is doomed to be burnt up; and many more things which might be adduced as being determined judicially; all of which the law of love cannot reach nor abrogate… God’s determinations and decrees are not frustrated by his benevolence.

Checkmate, abolitionist fools: God’s judgment triumphs over his love. Shush, don’t bring up James 2.13 (“Mercy triumphs over judgment”)! For the common abolitionist talking point regarding the horror of separating families by selling off members, Reverend Priest has a comeback that can only be described as literally diabolical:

On this subject, the abolitionists argue the same as they would were the case their own, imagining that negro parents feel such a circumstance as acutely, and as sentimentally as white families would under similar circumstances. But this is a mistake, as we believe, and does not apply to the negro’s case, as it would to that of the whites, on account of a want of the higher intellectual faculties of the mind of the blacks. On occasions of severe bereavement, the feelings of negro parents seem to be of shorter duration; as it is well known that the bond of marriage and family obligation with that race, is of but secondary considerations, or of slight influence, as a knowledge of, and a participation in, high intellectual love and elevated affections, is not reached by the black man’s soul…when separated from each other by being sold, it is not so grievous a thing as it would be to the mind and feelings of a white man or woman.

Your eyes do not deceive you: this demonic excuse for a “Christian” minister really did argue that breaking up slave families was fine because black people didn’t really love their spouses or kids all that much. Priest has another objection to looking at the treatment of blacks in terms of how white people would want to be treated: the “doom of the negro race” established by the cursing of Canaan in Gen. 9 “raises a barrier which is impassible and insurmountable to all earthly power,” such that “Even the famous words of our Lord called the Golden Rule, cannot apply here.” In other words, why bother with empathy when they’re just demi-humans?

An 1861 pamphlet titled “The Governing Race; or, Is Slavery Sanctioned by the Bible?” explained that Jesus’ mention of slavery in his parables demonstrates his endorsement of it as righteous. I suppose that if Jesus’ use of servitude imagery in his teaching proves he endorsed slavery, then the parable of the unrighteous steward means Jesus endorsed embezzling from one’s employer, right? Also, the true meaning of “Love your neighbor as yourself” and the parable of the good Samaritan Jesus told to explain the command is we should aid the needy, but without “the relinquishment of our just rights, or the giving up what belongs to us.” (Forget about the fact that Jesus emptied himself and gave up incomprehensible privilege and glory in order to serve us, as Paul said in Phil. 2.5-8.) In fact, the good Samaritan “had the right to expect that the wounded man would exert himself to the utmost not to be chargeable to his benefactor. That was the neighborly duty of the man who had been helped.” What a blessing to receive such illumination and find out that Jesus was teaching that I only need love others insofar as it doesn’t cost me anything! Motoyasu jumps to mind—happy to “help” a slave if all it requires is bullying a guy he despises anyway, but who did nothing substantive to better the lot of even one slave.

As far as I can tell, this is a representative sample of the moronic, vile, perverted nature of biblical justifications for slavery. I focused above chiefly on scriptures interpreted to validate slavery, but that risks overlooking one other major argument these authors (and others like them) used. It boils down to variations of “The Bible never says it’s wrong.” I still hear this one today, unfortunately. According to this line of thinking, since the Law of Moses permitted slavery and Jesus and his apostles never explicitly condemned it, I would be wrong to insist slavery is inherently sinful. Amusingly, this logic validates quite a few practices that I don’t know any Christians would support—after all, the Law permitted and Jesus / his apostles never explicitly condemned polygamy. Unfortunately for this line of reasoning, Jesus plainly says the Law sometimes permitted things that went against God’s true will (cf. divorce in Mt. 19 / Mk. 10), so a practice being regulated by Moses doesn’t automatically mean God approved it. Moreover, Christians totally do believe some things are wrong—based on the Bible!—despite those things not explicitly being called sins. I’ve never heard of a Christian who argued on that since no scripture calls abortion a sin, we cannot condemn it.

The “God didn’t say it’s a sin” argument for slavery reminds me of how people used to talk about communism. Once upon a time, you’d hear people say that communism was a really wonderful system in theory, and that although it had caused immense misery everywhere it was tried, that was just a matter of bungled or unfaithful implementation of the theory. Communism’s redoubtable string of genocidal failures was not evidence that there was anything wrong with communism itself. Let’s concede for the sake of argument that communism is good in theory. But if we have abundant evidence to conclude inductively that humans invariably mess up this (hypothetically) good system, then should we really keep trying it, thinking that this time will be different? That this time, we’ll get it right and it’ll be great? We could make a similar point about moral perfection: it’s hypothetically possible for a human to live without ever sinning. But how “possible” is it really, in practical terms? Well, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1.8). Out of all the countless humans who have ever lived, only one can boast of a sinless life: the Lord Jesus. Knowing this, it makes no sense to approach life expecting moral perfection from ourselves or others (though we can and should strive for it).

Much could be said (and has been said) analyzing various scriptures and exploring their implications for slavery. But set aside for a moment whether slavery is *inherently* sinful: can you find me even one example anywhere in human history, out of the countless times and places in which slavery existed, where a society practiced slavery in a consistently just, moral fashion? An instance where the institution of slavery was not implemented in a blatantly sinful way? No, you can’t. It’s never happened, and it never will. Slavery has always served, and will always serve, as a means of exploitation. Slavery has never failed to be a way for the powerful to indulge their greed, selfishness, and pride. Slavery has been tried, and it always proves to be dehumanizing and objectifying. I freely concede that Jesus could do slavery in a morally pure, righteous way, but based on history, I wouldn’t trust anyone else to be capable of that feat. I don’t care whether that’s a problem metaphysically inherent in the institution of slavery or merely the result of humans unfailingly abusing absolute power over other humans. Either way, I contend that human history proves that slavery is inseparably bound up in a host of sins, and thus it’s perfectly valid to declare slavery immoral. Be honest: how confident are you that you, personally, could fulfill Jesus’ teaching (e.g., “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”) toward a human regarded by yourself, the law, and society, as your personal property? Slavery has been done sinfully literally every time mankind has ever tried it: are you morally superior to countless slaveholders of the past?

All this is worth considering in the context of The Rising of the Shield Hero because it’s so tempting for us to be Motoyasu—to set ourselves up on the moral high ground looking down with smug superiority at that other guy who’s doing something so obviously wrong. In the show, Motoyasu thinks himself a paragon of righteousness, a far better man than Naofumi. Ironically, if any person is a tool in the story, it’s not Raphtalia the slave but Motoyasu, the useful idiot in the evil schemes of the king and princess. Once upon a time, people who were trying (at least nominally) to serve Jesus twisted the Bible in outrageous ways in order to support great evil. What of us? It’s easy to huff and puff about the evils of slavery today, but are we, like the Spear Hero, blindly aiding some other form of evil? Hopefully not, but we certainly possess the potential to do so.

The Bible and Raphtalia alike make an important distinction between hearts and appearances. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment,” Jesus taught us (Jn. 7.24). Throughout the Bible, we see God calls upon us to judge evil actions, but he also affirms that only he can judge a person’s heart. In the case of slavery, for example, while I am confident that objectifying another human as property sinful, I can’t speak with that same certainty about the heart or eternal salvation of any particular slaveholder. I can condemn the action (slaveholding) while accepting limits on my ability to judge hearts. Raphtalia gets this. Others in the show judge Naofumi based on outward appearances, but Raphtalia’s opinion is based on what she’s seen of Naofumi’s heart. She sees, for example, that although Naofumi owns a slave, he doesn’t partake of the arrogance and racism on which the kingdom’s slavery is based. Naofumi has misjudged others (e.g., Meanie, err, Myne) and been gravely misjudged by others, but despite his own failings and the fact that others treat him wrongly, Raphtalia is there to loyally support him. I imagine we all can relate to Naofumi’s struggles—we’ve all made regrettable errors of judgment regarding other people or what’s right, and we’ve been unfairly judged by others. Thankfully, through all our trials we can count on the God who, though faintly reflected by Raphtalia’s character, knows us better and is more faithful to us than even the greatest of cartoon raccoon-girls.

28 thoughts on “Guest Post: When a Shield Hero Becomes a Slave Owner

  1. I support both Polygamy and Communism so you really ruined what started out as a great article here.

    The Bible doesn’t just not condemn Communism, it explicitly calls for it.

    Slavery is condemned by implication in many Aspect of Biblical morality like the Golden Rule and the Second Greatest Commandment. Not to mention the Slavery allowed in the Torah had prescription the American South was not following.

  2. Thank you for this article, Jeskai.I can tell you really put a lot of heart and effort into writing it.

    I would definitely disagree with Mithrandir on the Communism part. Communism is different the Biblical sense of submission and charity. The Bible in several places advocates for the holding of private property which is antithetical to communism. “Thou shall not steal” presupposes it. Communism is more than just sharing resources between people. It also advocates for a centralized state. Communism isn’t the end state utopia. Communism is the method implemented to try to get people to that utopia. If it was God’s ideal system of governance, it should have more success. It has even been tried in America a number of times in very Christian environments, and it failed each time.

  3. Private Property in the modern Capitalist sense wasn’t heard of in Biblical Times, John Lock’s ideas of Private Property are clearly contradicted by The Torah. The Early Church practiced Communism, and the man who invented modern Communism, Gerrard Winstanly, based it on what The Bible teaches.

    As far as I’m concerned Capitalism is a form of Slavery.

    If there is a Government it by definition sin’t Communism. True Communism has never been tried, not even Marxism has actually been tried, every attempt to Implement “Communism’ had actually been Blanguism.

  4. Sincerely uncertain at this point whether Gandalf is being serious or just trolling, but hoping it’s the latter.

    The idea that private property was unheard of among the ancients is easily disproved. Some low-hanging-fruit examples from the the New Testament are“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Mt. 20.15) and “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” (Acts 5.4).

    “As far as I’m concerned Capitalism is a form of Slavery.” Uh, that’s not how this works. No one gets to arbitrarily redefine words and then act as if they’ve proved anything. “I reject the universally understood meanings of words and substitute my own!” is a joke, not an argument. Or, in the immortal and equally reasonable words of Anakin Skywalker: .

  5. Ah yes, slavery, a topic I was definitely thinking of writing a post about at some point. I won’t say you’ve completely relieved me of my desire to cover it, but you’ve definitely provided a good reference (and I probably don’t have to talk about Shield Hero as much), so thanks!

    It does seem to come up quite a bit, especially in isekai. In anime adaptations we have Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody and How Not To Summon a Demon Lord feature slaves as part of the main cast, with the main character not freeing them and even purposely obtaining more slaves, as if he’s helping them out in doing so. And if you look into other isekai light novels (and especially those that haven’t been licensed yet), they are disturbingly common.

    Though if you look at these as wish-fulfillment stories, there’s definitely an appeal in this. In general, servant characters who wholeheartedly serve their “master” are popular even outside of slavery, as can be seen with how beloved maids and butlers are. On top of that, there’s certainly something appealing about being “the kind slaveowner”, of being the guy who can take something inherently repulsive like slavery and “bring light” to people (well, usually cute girls) who would normally suffer from it. This definitely comes up in Shield Hero, with Raphtalia even outright saying Motoyasu should have had a slave if he was as kind as he claimed to be.

    Not that non-isekai stories are immune to this either; I mean, even The Ancient Magus’ Bride starts off with the titular magus buying a girl, with the intent to make her his bride. Not exactly slavery but still marriage-based human trafficking, which many would consider a form of slavery.

    That said, I don’t believe stories that have “good” characters that own slaves are necessarily “wrong” for doing so. Slavery is definitely bad in reality, but I believe in fiction as a place to explore themes and ideas that cannot be explored in real life. The execution of the exploration of more “risque” ideas is important, though, and discernment is always good.

    I’ll have more to say when (or if) I write my own post on the subject, but for now I shall go and work on my fantasy story about a noble who once had a slave, but she stole some of his money and ran away from him. The noble had since been reformed by a passing adventurer, and said adventurer later ran into that runaway slave and convinced her to return to her former master, while writing a letter to that noble asking him to forgive her and to treat her as a sister. (If that plot sounds familiar, that is completely intentional.)

  6. TFW when someone says they are plagiarizing the apostle Paul to write a fantasy story. 😀

  7. The Bible seems accepting of slavery within the, rather fundamental, text of the ten commandments. “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house, wife, slaves, animals or anything else.” The commandment feels completely unnatural unless you interpret slavery as a natural part of everyday life.

    Meanwhile, the comment discussion above might be a good lesson that trying to solve political quandaries as an aside to an analysis of religion (surely a big enough topic on its own) is not the best idea xD.

  8. I was also going to quote the Onesimus and Philemon case. It seems that the Apostle Paul thought that slavery was not intrinsecally evil, as he was a brave man who wouldn´t have let Philemon, a Christian, living in adultery or idolatry, or killing innocents, for example. He wouldn´t let him do something he thought of as directly corrupting. That is not to say the Church cannot condemn it later, but I don´t think one can read the texts and deduce there is an early implicit condemnation.

    Racism, on the other hand, is explicitly anti-biblical indeed, as every nation except for Israel -and due to their racial origin, but only to the Covenant- is the same in the eyes of the Lord, and the New Covenant makes a big point in declaring that the jew and the non-jew are equal now.

    The Onesimus precedent, I think, implies at least that there may be some cases in which the slave may have a moral obligation towards his master, given that he hasn´t been robbed his freedom and the master hasn´t abused him. Christianity made a big difference in the life of the slaves of the Roman Empire nonetheless, because they would have slaves protected from injustice, being members of the Church and validly marrying non-slaves. I think these changes -which imply refusing to deprive someone of his or her personhood because of the condition of slave- challenge the foundations of slavery in such a way that, in time, the institution itself cannot resist, and must give way for something more just.

  9. It’s…important to point out that from a historical perspective, anyway, the kind of enslavement the United States practiced was one-of-a-kind weirdness. For most of history, nobody could get far enough away from everyone else who looked like them and wholesale take over another people to enough of a degree that enslaving people who looked all that different from them was even possible. Even where it was (as was the case with the Romans and Egyptians), there were some very different policies around slavery, and most people didn’t see it as conferring some kind of inherent inferiority. Why not? Well, because most slaves were either indentured servants (and so, temporary), debtors, or people who were conquered during a military assault. This last type were usually permanently enslaved, and treated pretty badly, but at best the locals saw the enslavement of those individuals as so much shitty luck for them. There’s a reason the Old Testament does have explicit slave rules, rather than just going ahead and banning slavery – It recognized this was how it was. I mean, this is also a world in which your social class was set in stone and rich people were literally seen as having been given the *divine right to be rich* in many societies. Rich people already treated poor people kind of like slaves. Jesus’ teachings – and indeed the Jewish people – had some rather revolutionary ideas about these subjects.

    So there’s a certain argument that, yes, some types of slavery are in fact worse and caused much more harm.

    “But set aside for a moment whether slavery is *inherently* sinful: can you find me even one example anywhere in human history, out of the countless times and places in which slavery existed, where a society practiced slavery in a consistently just, moral fashion? An instance where the institution of slavery was not implemented in a blatantly sinful way? No, you can’t. It’s never happened, and it never will.”

    That said, of course not on this front, because slavery is a side effect of a universe in which no human views more than a couple hundred other people in the abstract as human. (They’ve actually done sociological studies that more or less prove that it’s literally not possible to view everyone around you as a whole, three-dimensional person). And the less somebody looks and acts like you, the less human you see them as, unless they’re already one of your hundred-something people for some reason, and you then tend to also extend humanity to people who look like *them.* That’s part of *why* we need moral systems, and why we need God – We’re not omnipotent, and we’re horribly imperfect. Slavery is morally wrong because how we are is morally wrong. I’d argue that in a perfect world following God’s order, slavery wouldn’t exist because there would only be one country and universal human brotherhood.

    But this is all a Luminas-style commentary tangent. Sorry I haven’t been around in a while; Been reading up on the Promised Neverland and may comment there as well!

  10. Well, Mithrandir, biblical scholars tend not to agree about anything at all since the historical-critical method went out of control. Being a Catholic, I trust them to the extent that they respect the text as something that refers to actual facts and cannot contain error, believe on the supernatural character of the text and follow the guidance of early Christian authors and of the Church nowadays. From your perspective, I would take away at least the scholars that don´t follow the first two. You see, in the temptations in the desert we are shown how Satan can and will misquote the Scripture to tempt and deceive, and Jeskai´s text is a good proof of something similar concerning racism. You will always find at least one that agrees with any view you can conceive, but beware of the wolves.

  11. I believe what’s most important is that we follow the two greatest Commandments. Anyone thing seems Lawful but leads a violation of that principal is a deception.

  12. Lots of thoughts here, and an interesting read. Guess I’d like to toss in my .02… or .05, lol.
    I take issue with an anthropomorphic characters. It creates a grey area that’s worse than the android problem (the latter of which is very black and white IMO). In reality, such “demi-humans”/anthro-characters can’t exist. One day, people might have surgery to put animal parts on their bodies (which Satan could easily convince them to do if he hasn’t already), but those people will still be people… just with animal parts.

    We understand slavery in light of American history and political perspectives and of the physical world, but God’s truth transcends human activity. God is a god of principle, not “law”, as evidenced by the command to “love” which leads to the fulfillment of the law – both written AND unwritten. God’s not happy with people who just follow the book and skip what He intended. That’s all part of a very deep thought I don’t want to elaborate on right now. But anyways, it means that God cares about our treatment of each other. Terms like male/female, slave/free, old/young are of no concern to morality and status in God’s eyes, which is St Paul’s point, not because we should all be free androgynous, ageless creatures. True freedom is a state of mind. Some people are slaves even when no such “status label” is on them, and some people are free – having control of their own will and action – even when others beat them and try to demean them. I’m actually happy to see the director for this TV show recognizes that, and though I haven’t watched the show, I’d be happier still if he drives the point in that freedom is a state of mind.

    The slavery of the past was sinful because it was selfish – telling someone else to make your life easier. Even if the relationship isn’t master/slave, manipulating others for your sole profit is still a sin because it is inherently selfish. It’s called “exploitation”. It happens at work between employer/employee or between coworkers. It happens between some parents and children. It happens between relatives. It happens between bullies on the school ground. Slavery is just when legal labels explicitly declare other humans as tools for exploitation.

    As for communism, it isn’t inherently evil. It’s just a system. The Puritans tried it. It just didn’t work because people like to own stuff. The connection with evil came about with the revolutionary thoughts of Marx as expressed through the turmoil of the early 20th century. In actuality, the real criminals are the oligarchies (led by dictators) who used it to control the populous (It’s not like the leaders ever participated). I’m not saying communism is a good economic model. It’s practically ineffective, but if people agree to it (or some strong socialism, like in Sweden), then it’s not inherently bad. What IS bad is forcibly taking things from people, and THAT is where it becomes bad.
    Christ said to pay taxes to Caesar, but note that he never said “taxes are good”. I don’t think he agreed with Caesar’s actions. What he meant was “Be at peace with others”. If they wanted to force you to go a mile, go two miles. If they wanted to sue you for your cloak, give them your tunic. Be. At. Peace. He said don’t worry about it because you can trust God to provide for you better than the birds (“The birds neither sow nor reap.”).

    To often we get wound up over the correctness or effectiveness of economic, political, and social models when in actuality it is people’s sinful nature is the real problem and prevents society from functioning the way it should.

    Ok, so maybe that was 0.10? XD

  13. Great to see Christians are still justifying slavery. Vile ideologies like slavery from Bible etc. continues to corrupt all sorts of people, even today!

  14. You support communism?!?!? Have you seen what communism does to a country? My family left a communist country to come to the United States. All it does is bring poverty, removes any rights or liberties people have, and gives all the money/power/influence to the ones running that government. There’s absolutely nothing good about communism.

    Sure, China is communist, but they have a lot of flexibility and give more freedom to their people, though they are communist.

  15. There has no been an actual Communist state as that would be an Oxymoron. There are have been Anarchist Communist experiments that were succeeding before an Army shut them down, during the Spanish Civil War, and in Kurdishstan, and the Paris Commune.

    China is the most Capitalist state on earth and it’s a horrible place to live. Cuba meanwhile has been massively smeared by the Western media, it’s poverty is caused by the Embargo not by being Socialist.

    1. Sorry to intrude, but I’m Spanish and I’ve two relatives who were martyrized by those Anarchists and Communists you mention (they were killed for being Catholic priests), while others were assasinated for crimes akin to being in charge of a factory, or had to go into hiding until they were liberated by the army you just mentioned. I know you probably didn’t know this (it’s buried in propaganda, after all) and I’m not trying to silence your argument, but the regime they supported was nothing short of an anti-Christian purge, the greatest religious persecution there had been until then in number of victims. I consider myself bound to calmly defend they were not succeding in any meaningful sense of that word, and that they were indeed unchristian under Our Lord’s sayings about the Pharisees and the people of Nazareth, and also His repproach to St. Paul, and that the army which fought them was justified in doing so.

    2. Also, I’m wondering: if you’re searching for examples of sustainable, non-materialist, non-Marxist communities which use a system of commonal property, what about monasteries and nunneries? I don’t think that system is suitable for an extended political community, but these smaller communities have sustained this way of life for centuries now.

  16. I checked the video. Sorry, but the CNT and the FAE were without doubt among the prosecutors of the Faith and the terrorist murderers (mainly in Aragon and Catalonia), even if it´s true they themselves were in turn repressed in horrific ways by their allies in the Republican Government since 1937. As the video correctly states, the Republicans were controlled by the soviets, to the point that the organizer of the secret police was the soviet agent Orlof, but the Anarchists had their own violent tactics, what they called “propaganda del hecho”, which had lead (for example) to assasination attemps against every important Spanish politician of 1850-1925. During the war, I know in some detail the case of Buenaventura Durruti, a known Anarchist leader who was born in my city, was responsible -among other things- of personally killing with a machine gun the women and homosexuals of his own army to stop the spread of venereal diseases, so you can imagine how he behaved towards his enemies. It was a sad period of our history, but it left us the testimony of our martyrs.

  17. Luminas is about the only person in this thread who understands the Semitic ta’beed system. (I’m using Arabic here as this is the Semitic language I know best.)
    The translation of the ‘bd root is “servitude” – not “slavery”. “Slavery” implies race: for Arabs, Slavs were prime targets, blacks also of course. The ta’beed in the Quran was cognate instead with Hebrew ‘oved. The Jews, and the Arabs of the jahilia, had not yet the power to conquer entire other races. For Semites the ‘abd was instead an indenture. When your term was up your master was supposed to free you.
    The Bible is full of demands on the government that they proclaim Jubilee and free the indentured. Michael Hudson “and forgive them their debts…” is a great book on this topic.

    This talk of “communism”, “capitalism” is tiresome. Communist leaders enslave their whole society. Capitalism without Biblical restrictions leads to servitude on an industrial scale and, ultimately, the same permanent slavery.

Leave a Reply