Photo credit: AFGE (CC-By-2.0)

There are murmurs among politicians in the Democratic Party these days about making white people pay “reparations” to black people for the moral atrocities (e.g., slavery) that occurred in the Antebellum United States (such as U.S. Senator Cory Booker, pictured above, who recently introduced a reparations bill). And numerous Christians who have yet to think this through consider this a good idea—based on compassion and Christlikeness, or something. 

The sooner we nip this nonsense in the bud, the better.

Some Christians and other people of faith cite Bible verses like Deuteronomy 5:9-10, thinking these passages form a valid blueprint for a socio-political reparations agenda. That particular passage reads: 

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

How anyone would equate the message of this passage with reparations for slavery escapes me. 

It might be helpful to compare the political concept of reparations to the Biblical concept of God’s punishment for sin being imposed on the offspring of idol worshipers.

1. The verses in Deuteronomy are describing God’s prerogative of punishing children for the sin of their parents if he so chooses. The modern concept of reparations has nothing to do with God’s actions—it’s about man imposing the obligation of reparations on his fellow man. The last time I checked, it isn’t a good idea for us puny humans to act as if we are God and have the right to do what he alone has the authority to do. The verses above don’t say, “I, the Lord your God give you permission to arbitrarily force people who haven’t committed the sins in question to give their money and property to people who were never victims of the sins of people who are long dead just because they have the same color of skin. I, the Lord your God declare unequivocally that skin color is everything, and you will assign guilt and victimhood on that basis and on no other factors.”

2. The verses above are about punishing the children of the parents to the third and fourth generations, not punishing future inhabitants of a country who have the same color of skin as the perpetrators but aren’t related to them in any familial sense whatsoever. The verses are limited to immediate family members, period.

3. The verses above are about the sin of idolatry, and that is all. They are about sins committed directly against God, not about sins committed against their fellow man. 

4. Verse 9 above says God will punish them to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him. What does that have to do with slavery or oppression? You could argue that those who oppress their neighbor might possibly hate God. But there is no guarantee that this is the case in the same way that idolatry is a manifest hatred of God. Some of the people who endorsed slavery in the Antebellum U.S. were practicing Christians who thought what they were doing was Biblical and virtuous. We can call them tragically misguided and terribly mistaken, and rightly so. But that doesn’t automatically make them God-haters. Since there is no automatic direct correlation between practicing slavery and hating God, you can’t apply Deuteronomy 5 to slaveholders, or anyone else who oppresses his neighbor for that matter.

5. The above passage is part of what is known as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), which is the collection of books containing the Mosaic Law governing ancient Israel’s theocracy. A theocracy is a system of government where the state religion and civil law are one and the same thing. Separation of church and state is a myth even in the non-theocratic United States, but I can assure you it has no place in a theocracy. In the above passage that recites the original Decalogue, God is describing his direct (non-jurisprudential) punishment for breaking the Mosaic Law (against idolatry), and that punishment applies to the people of ancient Israel. It applies to no other nation or people on Earth—not then, and not now. As far as I can remember, God has never repeated his declaration that he would punish children for the sins of their parents. But even if he did, reparations would have exactly nothing to do with God’s agenda in that regard.

The truth is, the modern socio-political concept of reparations is the most intellectually bankrupt and morally incoherent idea ever conceived by the mind of mentally-damaged fallen man. What are the criteria for “calculating” how much any given person owes to any given ethnic group in reparations? There is none. It is and always will be a completely arbitrary amount. How much will ever be enough? And according to whom? In the purely moral sense, whether you are thinking within the framework of Biblical revelation or outside of it, it is absurd to punish people for something they didn’t do to people who were never victims of the original offense. Far from being noble or morally virtuous, reparations are, in fact, harmful and evil. Ironically enough, they are a form of oppression.

Please don’t misunderstand: reparations is a valid moral decision if it is granular and voluntary. If it is derived from someone’s personal desire to set right what they have done wrong in the past, it is not only virtuous, it’s beautiful. But that kind of reparations is fundamentally and radically different from the twisted political agenda being suggested by the corrupt politicians and misguided people of faith who are peddling it now. This is about forcing the guiltless to pay non-victims what the guiltless do not owe and the non-victims do not deserve. Sowell: “Those who suffered in centuries past are as much beyond our help as those who sinned are beyond our retribution.”

Even a cursory examination of the history of slavery in the U.S. reveals several challenging facts about the Antebellum South that most people in our society are blissfully unaware of:

1. Not all black people were slaves.

2. Not all slaves were black.

3. Not all white people were slave-owners. In fact, less than 2% of the entire U.S. population ever were.

4. Not all slave-owners were white. Many were black. In fact, the percentage of black slave-owners to the black population was higher than the percentage of white slave-owners to the white population.

5. All the people who sold the slaves shipped over the Atlantic to North America and (mostly) to South America were black. So all the black slaves were sold into slavery by their black brothers in Africa. The slave-traders they sold them to were likely white. But that doesn’t change the fact that the people who originally sold them were black. So we could argue with powerful merit that those who bear the original and primary guilt for the slavery that existed in America’s history were black people. I realize this inescapable reality will cause left-wing sophists’ heads to explode, but that doesn’t make it any less true. If we embrace this idea, are we merely trying to exculpate ourselves? No, we’re simply following the truth wherever it leads and however uncomfortable it may be (for some people). Remember, no one alive today is “guilty” of Antebellum slavery, regardless of what color their skin is. Therefore we need no exculpatory devices. But we do have a need to firmly grasp the truth of our history and its implications (or lack of them) for our current socio-political climate.

Much of the reparations nonsense coursing through today’s political discourse centers around racism. But to refer to the wisdom of Thomas Sowell again, slavery was never about race—the black slaves who came over from Africa weren’t slaves because they were black, but because they were available. Racism in the U.S. was not the cause of slavery, but the result of slavery. Moreover, as Dinesh D’Souza points out in his book The End of Racism, racism has seen a steady and decisive decline in this country since World War II. The modern anti-American propaganda being fire-hosed out of the Democratic Party and from left-leaning pundits is a false narrative. Institutional or systemic racism in this country no longer exists.

In a broader consideration, there are more facts about slavery in history and on the world stage that have a direct bearing on the question of reparations.

First, there is the historical fact of the Barbary Slave Trade. Around the 16th and 17th centuries, black pirates kidnapped, enslaved, brutally raped (and often murdered) over a million white Europeans on or around the coast of North Africa. The overwhelming majority, if not all, of the slave-holders and perpetrators of these crimes against humanity were black. Does that mean blacks all over the world owe reparations to whites all over the world? If not, why not? Just because it was confined to a limited (albeit quite large) geographic region? What is it about this evil being limited to one part of the world that makes black people everywhere exempt from owing reparations? Slavery was practically nonexistent in the American West (with the exception of it being practiced by numerous Native American tribes). Does that mean the white descendents or inhabitants of the American West will be exempt from having to pay reparations? If so, members of the current Democratic Party didn’t get the memo.

Second, the United States didn’t invent slavery. It was a universal phenomenon all over the world for untold centuries—long before the United States was a gleam in Thomas Jefferson’s eye. This was the case from the Ottoman Empire to Russia to China to most of Europe at one time or another. That means almost everyone in the world can trace their ethnic “lineage” back to someone who committed this moral atrocity somewhere in the world at some period in history. It’s going to be rather difficult to precisely calculate how much each and every one of those billions of people owes in reparations, and to whom.

I have heard the “argument” that white people today enjoy the economic benefits of the slavery that existed in the U.S before the Civil War. Therefore, it is mistakenly reasoned, they owe reparations for that reason alone. Never mind that black people also enjoy today’s economic benefits in ridiculously large proportions. In any case, that belief about our history and our present economy is entirely false. No one and I mean no one, today enjoys any economic benefits from the slavery of the past. How can we possibly know this? We know it based on one overriding reality: the Civil War completely obliterated the Confederate economy, and therefore swallowed up any wealth and economic assets the South may have accrued from slavery.

Moreover, whether slavery even actually produced any economic advantage for slave-owners at all is in serious dispute. It was expensive to own slaves. You had to feed them, shelter them, provide medical care so your assets wouldn’t up and die on you without warning. Some slaves were sold at a premium, since many were strong and therefore hard workers, and many were beautiful females the slave-traders knew would attract the attention of the more lustful cross-section of plantation owners and therefore would be sold at a higher price. No, slavery was hardly ever about profit; it was mostly about status. But even if it was profitable to own slaves, remember that any financial gains that may have come out of it were thoroughly wiped out by the economically devastating Civil War.

Though we have barely scratched the surface, I want you to think about the above facts for a few moments. Reflect on them.

Now think about what reparations would have to look like given these infinitely complex historical realities. Does it make sense to indiscriminately force all white people to pay reparations to all black people for slavery? The answer is in the question.

Photo credit: AFGE (CC-By-2.0)

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