And then there’s religion...

We’re nearing the end of Black History Month here in the US and Canada. In the American South, prior to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, religion played a key role in justifying the centuries-long exploitation of men, women, and children of African descent.

In a new Epistles section of The Brick Testament, the Rev. Brendan Powell Smith has some examples of the New Testament passages that slave-owners used to rationalize treating another human being as property.

LEGO Brick Testament - Epistles on Slavery

22 comments on “And then there’s religion...

  1. jonathanx

    While I don’t want to start a heated debate, let me just point out that the Bible does not actually condone slavery in any way, and that people with less-than-altruistic intentions have been taking verses out of context to help them rationalize this or that as long as the Bible has been around.

    And before you ask, no, I do not consider myself a religious person.

  2. Jargon

    To be fair, religion also played a key role in the abolition of such practices. It is a clever scene though. It immediately calls to mind the cotton plantations of yore.

  3. worker201

    It should also be noted that the slavery practiced in the time of Paul was quite different than the violent and inhumane slavery practiced in America. Good scene nonetheless.

  4. Starwars4J

    Geez, I guess if the last blog post (politics) didn’t start a flame war why not resort to using religion? ;) Maybe that sweeps week comment wasn’t that far off…

    It’s an absolutely brilliant MOC though. Even the blurred background is LEGO, that’s some dedication!

  5. albero78

    It is amazing. And the creator is right as any rational human being knows.
    Thanks for posting this. Also the other creations from the same author are wonderful!

  6. lastgiantrobot

    I love the smell of pretentiousness in the morning…
    or is it just commentbait for site hits?

  7. Thanel

    It’s well worth checking out the rest of the new epistles section. There are great Star Wars related surprised in the misogyny section that had me LOLing.

  8. Brickadier General

    Very well executed. The placement of the cotton plants is just insane, as it would seem the only thing holding the small foliage pieces up are the baseplate studs they’re wedged between. I think I would have to use headlight bricks. It’s also nice to see the old granule trees in the background.

    I made a plantation to go with my Civil War battlefield, so it’s nice to see someone else tackling this subject, and so well done too. And, might I add, this was tastefully handled. For example, there is the absence of a whipping scene, which would have been easy to take advantage of. Second, he made good choices for the minifig heads. Of the NBA heads he did use, none of them had the big goofy grins on their faces that would scream “Birth of a Nation” stereotypes. When I took mine to a convention, I had the majority of the figs be faceless, as I didn’t want to get labeled something I’m not. I did not hear of any complaints, except one kid who said “That’s just wrong.” But what do kids know anyway? :-P

  9. wunztwice

    Have you ever noticed that *if* taken *out of* context, nearly anything in the Bible could be used to prove or otherwise condone some action? That’s why exegetical teaching is essential in the church. It is vital we understand the author’s intent, and not merely take the English (or other translation) at face value, but rather look into the original Greek and Hebrew for the intended emphasis.

    There is more, but I am sure others will more-than-likely jump in.

    (As a bit of a side note on the topic of religion and slavery, everyone should go check out the film “Amazing Grace” about William Wilberforce’s attempts to end slavery in the British Empire)

  10. Bunbrick

    Yeah, I am SO staying out of -this- discussion. ;-)

    Great build though, loved how simple but effective he did the cotton plants.
    Saw most of this new section’s pages yesterday already, but it’s always a treat to revisit that site! :-) Especially enjoyed the section on women, the bits in church.

  11. brendanpowellsmith

    @jonathanx: I can only guess that you did not click on the image and read through the several illustrated Bible passages from the Epistles that quite clearly condone slavery. You may question my motives, but I consider it an altruistic act to alert people to the fact a book often regarded as our best moral guide is chock full of morally dubious and morally outrageous teachings and examples. The Bible says many different things about slavery (a convenient list of them can be found here http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/slavery.html), but what you will surely not find is a clear and consistent moral condemnation of it, the kind one might rightfully expect from anything vying for our recognition as “our highest moral guide”.

    @worker201: I would not argue that slavery in the time of Paul was different, but I have a very hard time imagining that slavery in any time period was not both violent and inhumane. The reason I have chosen to illustrate this and other “teachings” parts of the Bible in more modern times is because a great many believers seem to think that Bible teachings in general are quite applicable to modern times.

    @Brickadier: I actually did use plenty of green headlight bricks to hold up the cotton plants. But for the ones closest to the camera in any given shot, I used the far-less-reliable wedge-between-the-studs method to hold them up. :)

    Alas Jargon is right to pint out that I did also include a whipping scene and even used a smiling NBA figure’s head to go along with it. I felt this was the best means by which to illustrate the Epistles’ jarring instruction to slaves that they should serve their masters “whole-heartedly, as if serving the Lord”, “not only those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are cruel.”

    Thanks to all who had nice things to say about the construction of the scene. I’ve done a fair amount of microscale stuff in my backgrounds before, but in this story I wanted to take things a step farther by also including a close-up of the plantation house in a later illustration that is first seen in microscale.

  12. jonathanx

    @brendanpowellsmith: There’s a difference between discouraging slaves from rebelling and actually encouraging slavery. You seem to feel that not condemning something is the same as condoning it, but that’s not the case here. I think the real point of your chosen passage there was that an injustice done to you doesn’t justify you to do something that wouldn’t be morally right in a normal situation, so it’s basically a turn-the-other-cheek sort of thing. Personally I’m someone who hates injustice in whatever form it may take, but I don’t see that passage as being as “morally dubious” as you consider it to be.

  13. Magnus

    Whatever the creators intentions are, The Brick Testament really sets a standard for creativity and cleverness. It pushes the boundaries of what we think we can do with the Brick and it makes us debate important questions.

    As an atheist who belives that religion needs to be respected, understood, and examined critically, I say thank God for the Rev. Brendan Powell Smith.

  14. wunztwice

    This is a very well-crafted scene. The lighting, the forced-perspective, and the posing are all quite nice, as is the parts usage. However, I wish the consideration of the passages was as careful. While I am sure many people are familiar with the differences between the bondslave/servant and the slavery depicted here (and that has gone on in countless other cases throughout history, and even up to today) it should be noted that regardless, any who have utilized these passages to condone the mistreatment of other humans are abusing the language here.

    Consider this: The Bible, in ‘the’ ten commandments, tells children to honor their parents. Seeing as all people do wrong things, parents will inevitably abuse this. There is a vast difference in the scope of abuses against this commandment parents have committed. Does the commandment say that if a child is being beaten (physically or psychologically) they should submit to their parent? Absolutely not! Should a child do the chores they are asked to do, and with a cheerful heart and willing attitude? By all means!

    So, when you depict a slave being happily beaten, you are completely missing the context of the passage you so forcefully oppose.

    In the context of Roman issues, we see that many of these slaves are indentured. I still very much dislike that they were bonded to the owner, but none-the-less it was so. Many of the slaves were also followers of “The Way,” and often times Paul is telling them to work diligently and to be good examples so that they may have an influence on their (often) Roman owners for the namesake of Christ. Do I wish these people were not slaves? Absolutely! Do I believe that many good things came from their diligence in work and ministry to their owners and other slaves? Most certainly. They were working for a reward, not here on earth, but looking forward to an eternity filled with freedom.

    Perhaps this is hard to imagine, and perhaps you cant’ swallow that someone would rather work hard in a bad situation for the time being in order to “store up” rewards for a better situation.

    Now please let me be understood on this. Do I condone the slavery of Africans in America as it was? I DO NOT! It is NOT my intent to get slave owners off the hook. It is my intent to provide some context and an angle I think many people miss.

    [And now, can we just have some LEGO on this site for a while? I'm tiring of what appears to be a drive for drama-centered new viewership...]

  15. Puddleglum

    @ brendanpowellsmith There isn’t really much point in saying “Document X cannot be an absolute moral guide, because I disagree with some of it’s content.” All you’re really saying is that you reject the idea of an absolute moral guide. And to take it one step further, that you believe in your own ability to determine right and wrong, since you seem to think there are “wrong” teachings found in the Bible. But what if some people didn’t evolve the same way as you, so they can’t determine right and wrong the same way you do? Which way is up? This is quite the quagmire of squishy post-modern relativism we’ve found ourselves in! It seems like it would be more expedient to just write down your own moral principles on a piece of paper if you’re looking for a document on morality that you agree with. Or perhaps do it in LEGO. ;-)

  16. brendanpowellsmith

    @wunztwice: Your comparison to “honor your parents” from the Ten Commandments is not a very good analogy precisely because it is so (unhelpfully) vague a directive and open to all sorts of interpretations. The Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses as a whole do not go into details about whether children should, for example, still respect and obey parents who are abusive and cruel (though on the other hand, they do specify in Exodus 21:15 and 17 that children who curse or strike their parents shall be put to death!). The Epistles’ directives for slaves on the other hand, are far more specific than a simple “honor your masters” message. They specify that slaves should have the utmost regard for their masters and serve them as if they were serving Christ, even those masters who are cruel. As such, I illustrated a slave who is attempting to carry out these directives by happily serving a cruel master as if he is serving Christ. I am not sure what context you think I am missing here.

    @Puddlegum: It is not my intention with The Brick Testament to say that “Document X [i.e. The Bible] cannot be an absolute moral guide, because *I* disagree with some of it’s content.” It’s not so me-focused. The goal is more to make people much more aware of the sorts of morality promoted in The Bible, and get people to *ask themselves* if it deserves to be considered as any sort of moral guide, absolute or otherwise. I realize not everyone will come to the same conclusions as I have, but I like to think that The Brick Testament will help people form their beliefs based on greater knowledge and consideration of the Bible’s content.

  17. Creative Anarchy

    In all fairness it is massively unfair to open a discourse about topics like the value of religion or biblical interpretation in the hopes you will not be contradicted out of fear of starting a flame war. It is not debatable that religion has played a role in our development as a people. Many great accomplishments we have laid claim to were under the watchful eyes of one God or another and virtually every act of inhuman attrocity can been committed has been under the religious symbol of one Religion or another. I’m going to say without humbleness that I lack the maturity to have a discussion about religion with respect and maturity and I will boldly shout from my soapbox that if you believe you do you’re wrong. Our planet has failed roundly to manage a respectful discourse about religion since the beginning of conversation. It is Pride to think you are the exception that won’t prove the rule. I ask, with respect and maturity to leave that crap off this blog.

    That said and allready having explained my lack of maturity and respect I am compelled to make at least one comment. Historically The Roman Empire holds the patent of most of the different types whips that have ever been invented, however within the Roman capitol and most of her empire a whip was never used on an animal. In fact most of the whips used in Roman times would not be practical for use on a beast that wasn’t standing at the same height as it’s user. Just because they had aquaducts doesn’t mean Roman slave’s lived fabuless lives, and just because Antebellum slaves worked in the hot sun doesn’t mean that their lives were conversely free from dignity or under the constant cracking of a whip. All slavery is the bad kind of slavery. It is no less true that failing to condemn evil is not the same as condoning evil, it is without exception the same as encouraging evil.

    I do sincerely appologise for not living up to the standards I ask of others on this forum. Religious debate brings out the monster in me.

  18. Puddleglum

    @brendanpowellsmith Your creative “interpretations” of any number of passages belies your stated role as a neutral (“not me-focused”) distributor of Biblical content. For example, when you show president Obama “acting out” a certain passage (a very well-made scene I must say), you’re not simply quoting the Bible, you’re giving your own interpretation on how you think it would look for him to follow that teaching. I understand that showing Jesus talking six frames in a row would be boring, but please don’t pretend that you aren’t trying to shape how others view the Bible. I admit there is a fuzzy line between illustration and commentary, but I don’t see how you can credibly say that you haven’t stepped over it.

  19. Buster

    As a long time viewer of the Brick Testament, I agree that I’ve noticed a lot more “commentary” entering into more recent creations.

  20. thurst

    I agree with some of the others and I wish that the admins would not post this kind of controversial content… I come here to see some well-done creations… not engage in a debate about religion or politics. Besides, this post has more to do with poking fun at religion than it does with Black History.

  21. Magnus

    I feel like the beauty of TBB is that all sorts of things can be covered.

    If you don’t like the intellectual debate (which some people think of as “drama”) then just ignore those posts. I’m not personally interested in Mindstorms, the LEGO board games, the LEGO Movie, or Bionicle but that doesn’t mean I have to post on those threads; “Hey, I don’t like this, please stop blogging it”.

    The fact that the long discussion threads usually tend to develop in response to posts that are about more than just some MOC indicate that there are people here who are interested in, and don’t feel intimidated or threatened by, discussing big issues like this in the context of a LEGO blog.

    If you don’t like a MOC or blog entry, then by all means respectfully tell us what you think it wrong with it, but don’t then turn around and say “We really shouldn’t discuss it, so I don’t want to hear your response.” That’s just a way to try to have your cake and eat it too – “I don’t like this thing, I want to tell people that I don’t like it, and I don’t want other people to share their opinions about it.” Come on AFOLs – we’re more grown up than that.

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