Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Was slavery not a sin if the owner treats his slaves humanely?

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Was slavery not a sin if the owner treats his slaves humanely? Does God fart? Deep theological questions all.

Last Sunday, the prescribed Catholic Church readings for mass were Scripture passages that mentioned slavery. "Be nice to your slaves" is essentially the core message. Apparently people in those days weren't bright enough to figure out that slavery itself was immoral, even 'sinful.' It is amazing to us, some 20 to 30 centuries later, that a slave system was a culturally acceptable situation. That Golden Rule thing need not apply to slavery.

Ephesians 6 "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ."

Colossians 4:1: "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven."

Matthew 18:25: "But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made."

1 Timothy 6: "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed."

Paul's Letter to Philemon is odd. While in prison, he met a runaway slave, Onesimus, the slave of a Christian. He was owned by Pheliemon. Rather than give the slave sanctuary, he returned him to his owner.

Why did not Jesus speak against the institution of slavery? Why did he assume that slavery was the natural law? Did he not wish to offend slave owners? Or was he so much a part of the culture of the times that the concept did not seem to be worthy of discussion?

Fast forward to the American colonies in the 1700's. Slavery was practiced throughout the colonies in this 'Christian' land. White slave owners were righteous, Bible-thumping Christians who bellowed out Christian hymns on Sunday and whipped their slaves on Monday. In fact, these white Christian slave owners were forced to fight a war against the 'wicked' Unitarian Yankees and Bible-hating abolitionists.

So, the question becomes this: how do Bible-thumping evangelicals [Calvinists] spin the slavery thing so deeply written in both our American history and scripture passages?

The Late Unpleasantness in Idaho: Southern Slavery and the Culture Wars
gives a clue. William L. Ramsey, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Idaho, wrote the essay which is found on George Mason University's History News Network site. Here is a portion of the article:

The so-called “culture wars,” though maddeningly difficult to define, have begun to set previously complacent Americans against one another in unexpected ways and to challenge some of the basic goals and assumptions of late twentieth-century U. S. social policy. Critics on the right have stepped up attacks on multiculturalism, “political correctness,” and even on the general framework of “secular humanism” that has guided much of western thought since the Enlightenment. In many cases, these critics propose the adoption of a “Biblical worldview” as the only viable solution to America’s cultural and social problems. Different “worldviews,” they argue, lead people to see the same events in a very different light. But can such a shift in “worldview” lead rational adults to praise the institution of slavery as it existed in the antebellum South? And when professional historians point out that the experience of slavery was not generally a happy one for African Americans, are they merely blinded by “abolitionist propaganda” and knee-jerk liberalism?

Such questions brought the small college town of Moscow, Idaho, home of the University of Idaho, to the brink of open hostility during the past year. Previously friendly neighbors perfected outrageously inventive insults for one another and in some cases cut off communication altogether. Boycotts were threatened, Christmas lights pulled down, safes allegedly stolen, tires slashed, and soda cans thrown at “nigger lover” professors. At the center of the furor is a small thirty-nine page booklet entitled Southern Slavery: As It Was, co-authored by local pastor Douglas Wilson and League of the South co-founder Steve Wilkins, on the one hand, and an even shorter book review of it, on the other hand, by two University of Idaho history professors entitled Southern Slavery As It Wasn’t: Professional Historians Respond to Neo-Confederate Misinformation.

Wilson’s and Wilkins’ booklet, published by Wilson’s “Canon Press” in Moscow, argues that southern slavery was not only sanctioned by the Bible but, thanks to the patriarchal kindness of their wise evangelical masters, a positive, happy, and pleasant experience for the majority of southern blacks. Wilson and Wilkins are quite specific about the many benefits of slavery for African-Americans, and they conclude that southern slaves genuinely appreciated those benefits and supported the system that provided them. As such, they claim that “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War [the Civil War] or since.” (p. 38). Their praise of the institution is almost unbounded in places. “There has never been,” they argue, “a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” (p. 24). They repeatedly deride the consensus view of slavery that has emerged over the last fifty years of academic scholarship as “abolitionist propaganda” and “civil rights propaganda.” Most of the modern problems confronting the United States, they feel, are the logical result of the theological heresies implicit in the abolitionist movement and its unfortunate victory over the South in the Civil War.

So, apparently 'southern slavery was not only sanctioned by the Bible but, thanks to the patriarchal kindness of their wise evangelical masters, a positive, happy, and pleasant experience for the majority of southern blacks.'  A pleasant experience, like going to Disnyland.  Those darkies should have 'preciated what Christian white folks did for them.  The ungrates!  Today, of course, 'they' are mostly all on welfare when they could have been happy little niggers working for a living on the plantations.

Ramsey continues his article:

In addition to marking out skirmish lines, the controversy made it clear that Douglas Wilson was more than just a local troublemaker and southern partisan. He had established two “Reformed” evangelical churches in town whose congregations, thanks to nationwide recruitment efforts, now represented 10 percent of Moscow’s entire population. He had founded a k-12 school called “Logos” that taught history from a “Biblical Worldview” and an unaccredited college called “New Saint Andrews,” where he had installed himself as “Senior Fellow of Theology.” Other faculty members at the college included Wilson’s son Nate, his brother Gordon, and son-in-law Ben. Wilson, it turned out, had cultivated an empire of “classical” schools based on a biblical worldview that included over 165 private academies around the country, all of which purchased educational materials published by his personal “Canon Press” in Moscow, Idaho, or affiliated “Veritas Press” in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

 His empire of private academies paled, however, in comparison to his real passion for home-schooling. Wilson’s view of slavery currently services thousands of home-school families around the country with materials published by Canon and Veritas Presses.

Information about Wilson’s ninth annual “history conference” in February 2004 turned out to be the final straw for many residents. Wilson had scheduled himself as the keynote speaker, praising the southern racist ideologue R.L. Dabney, but he had also scheduled as co-speakers white supremacist League of the South co-founder Steve Wilkins and the anti-gay Tennessee minister George Grant, notorious for advocating the extermination of all homosexuals in his book Legislating Immorality.

University of Idaho students were especially outraged that the conference was surreptitiously scheduled to take place on their own campus in the Student Union Building. Wilson had apparently paid good money for the facility well in advance, and nobody had balked at taking it. Student anger, however, ultimately forced the president and provost of the University to issue a joint disclaimer of the event, which tried retroactively to take the moral high ground by denouncing efforts to “recast or minimize the evils of slavery.”

Apparently, not all is well in a place called Moscow.  It seems that one of the rising stars of Time Magazine's feature, The New Calvinism, pastor Douglas Wilson, has some explaining to do.  I'm sure that he 'explains' things quite well and spins himself so as to be simply 'misquoted' or 'misinterpreted,' whatever seems to work for him. 

The 'believers' will coo and coddle him and denounce any who would be brazen enough to question what the hell he said. To me, however, he's just one more screwed-up theist, bamboozling the faithful.

[for an interesting history of Douglas Wilson, read Taliban on the Palouse]

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