Monday, August 26, 2013

The dangers of the reactionary Right--a moderate example

As a general rule, I have no particular urge to go linking to posts and comments that illustrate what I wrote about here. That's because most of the best illustrations are so unpleasant and dark that it's better not to read them, much less get involved in trying to answer them.

This example falls into a middle zone. It's a fusty and not terribly well-argued article that tries to defend Christianity from the charge of being the fountainhead of leftism. The defense takes the strange form of, inter alia, pointing out with historical triumph that it was mostly the Unitarians, Socinians, and other heretics who didn't believe in the Fall and such who were the American abolitionists. The orthodox American Christians actually supported slavery! (Or at least some of them did--the ones the author cites, including Samel Morse.) Why, then, that'll show whoever-it-is that accuses Christianity of being the historical fount of liberalism. The real, orthodox Christians were pro-hierarchy and even supported slavery. Ergo they weren't the source of American liberalism. QED.

Well, that's really helpful. Talk about "out of the frying pan into the fire."

The main post gives the distinct impression that Christian orthodoxy really is pro-slavery. The author, one J. M. Smith (his real name), a professor of geography, cannot be bothered to stop and say in so many words whether he thinks that Christian orthodoxy really is naturally pro-slavery, though that is the implication of his article.

As I point out in the comments, Justinian (who was anti-slavery) was hardly a New England Unitarian. And I doubt that all the Presbyterians and Baptists who were abolitionists in America were non-Trinitarian. Does Professor Smith know for a fact that William Wilberforce was a heretic, or does that not matter because Wilberforce was in England in the early 1800's? (Yet the English abolitionist movement was by no means unconnected from the American abolitionist movement.) Then there was Wulstan, who preached against slavery as long ago as the 1000's. Commentator Skeggy Thorston also mentions Gregory of Nyssa. I seem to recall that St. Patrick was no fan of slavery. So even historically, it's highly dubious to say that all the orthodox Christians were pro-slavery and left the anti-slavery cause to the heretics who believed in the "natural goodness of man."

Given the opportunity to clarify as to whether he defends the "peculiar institution" of antebellum slavery or even whether he is saying (as he appears to be) that Christian theological orthodoxy is really, as a matter of logic and the connections of ideas, naturally pro-slavery, Professor Smith has so far taken refuge in the "I wasn't addressing that" response rather than answering either of those questions. He does, however, manage to hint even in the comments that the anti-slavery position really is somehow ideologically connected to all the rest of progressivism and liberalism, including sexual libertinism.

The whole thing is highly distasteful. It's a good example, though linkable, of the accuracy of my warnings about the dangers of the non-mainstream right. In fact, commentator Bonald (who is also a contributor at the Orthosphere where Smith's post appears) even defends Smith on the grounds that "we reactionaries don't cringe" and so forth. Yes, as I've said before, it's that attitude of being so darned tough and willing to shock that creates the potential problem. In any event, Professor Smith seems to be neither fish nor fowl. At least Bonald tells us outright what he thinks. (He's moderately pro-slavery though he thinks slavery should probably be abolished as a matter of prudence.)

It's enough to make one sigh. Really, is there no place where people are sensible reactionaries, reactionaries within limits? (Other than W4, of course.)


William Luse said...

I am a member of the non-mainstream right, and believe slavery contrary to the natural law. I have seen some Christians claiming that it's not intrinsically evil because St. Paul seemed down with it when he encouraged slaves to be obedient to their masters. I suppose he was encouraging them to focus on personal holiness while discouraging any idea of rebellion, which would have resulted in nothing but bloody violence. St. Paul also said that our bodies are not our own. I do not own it in the usual sense of owning property; I am not free to do with it as I will. How much less the body of another.

That we must ally orthodox Christianity with slavery in order to defend it against the charge of giving birth to leftism is nuts. If true, it would have to apply to all Christian societies throughout history, and a cursory examination of that history gives the lie to it.

Christianity is the source of any leftism, e.g. Communism, only in the sense that these parasitical secular heresies, like any heresy, take some point of doctrine such as the Golden Rule and distort its original meaning (the "equality of man!"). They blow it out of all proportion to its original context, rendering it so important that any means to the end of its realization is allowed:gulags, death camps, mass murder.

Modern history, especially, shows that it is non-orthodox Christianity that most readily makes its peace with the moral nihilism of the left.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Bill, well-said.

What you say about "parasitical secular heresies" has always seemed to me to be pretty much all that needs to be said to the accusation (or for some the boast!) that Christianity is the source of leftism. Once one has said that, what more defense of Christianity is needed? Any good thing can have some small portion of it taken out of the context of the whole and perverted.

If I may say so, I think something similar applies to the principles of the American founding as well. What we see now is not, pace some reactionaries, the "real outworking" of the American founding but rather a bizarre and out-of-context perversion of it in much the same sense that Communism or other forms of leftism are perversions of the Golden Rule.

Lydia McGrew said...

What I find most egregious in Smith's post is the facile "lumper" association of the abolitionist position with total theological heterodoxy. Talk about a poor argument--both theological and historical. One could easily walk away with the impression that all the abolitionists throughout history have been heterodox on some other point (e.g., the deity of Christ or the fallenness of man), and that this all "makes sense" in some large-scale way because abolitionism is necessarily part and parcel of some massive and destructive egalitarian ideology. That sort of history, and history of ideas, just frosts me because it gives this weird illusion (to some people) of being learned and profound while it is actually a load of nonsense, to put it mildly. Not to mention how egregiously insulting it is to all Christian abolitionists throughout church history. Or how insulting it is to Christian theology generally by associating it with slavery.

Yet Smith evidently thinks himself something of a martyr because I said, more or less, "What the heck is this?"

I have had quite a few dear friends who have been openly pro-slavery. I consider it to be something of an unfortunate blot on otherwise excellent characters. But at least they didn't try to paint some picture with a brush a mile wide according to which the attempt to bring slavery to an end is "connected to" all manner of theological heresy and sexual libertinism to boot. Sheesh.

William Luse said...

I think something similar applies to the principles of the American founding as well

Indeed. The more distance that is put between that founding and its (orthodox) Christian bulwark, the more leftism we get, not less.

Lydia McGrew said...

Which is not to deny that the abolitionist movement had its share and more than its share of heretics and kooks. Such is the nature of real-world activism. (So does the pro-life movement, for that matter.) That hardly means we need to accept the position that abolitionism per se was simply a part of a heretical New Scheme of Religion.

William Luse said...

I left a comment I hope is still in moderation. Maybe I posted it after you retired for the night. It was in response to your comment about the American founding.

Anyway, if one is going to identify orthodox Christianity with a tolerance for slavery, he might as well identify it with a fondness for burning heretics and throwing witches into the river. Christians have done bad things. This is a problem of human nature, not orthodoxy. The difference is that in fullness of time Christian societies usually repent and renounce their wrongs, resolving to do them no more. The leftist never does.

As far as I can tell, William Wilberforce was an orthodox Christian, undergoing a sincere conversion in the late 1780's. He was evangelical in his enthusiasm, and it was his faith that informed his outrage against slavery. He was extremely conservative in moral matters, wishing to punish things like profanation of the sabbath, adulterers and other such. He was actually responsible for somewhat of a religious revival in the period prior to the Oxford Movement. It was into the Wilberforce family that Cardinal Manning later married (before he was a cardinal, of course). :~)

Lydia McGrew said...

"Anyway, if one is going to identify orthodox Christianity with a tolerance for slavery, he might as well identify it with a fondness for burning heretics and throwing witches into the river. Christians have done bad things. This is a problem of human nature, not orthodoxy. The difference is that in fullness of time Christian societies usually repent and renounce their wrongs, resolving to do them no more."

Where it gets really bizarre is where allegedly orthodox Christians identify orthodoxy with support for slavery but _don't_ seem to regard this as something the Christian society needed to repent for! Instead, apparently that repentance itself is supposed to represent some kind of devolution or corruption of the Christian society! As the saying goes, with friends like that, who needs enemies.

The ol' professor even tried to make some point or other to the effect that slavery is no longer a practical matter in American society. I gather the idea was supposed to be that I shouldn't ask him to clarify his position on slavery since it isn't a practical matter. This is mere foolery. The Holocaust is no longer a practical matter either. Most of us won't have any opportunity in our lives to commit genocide, to burn heretics, or any of a number of other bad things, but it still matters what we think about those issues! Ideas have consequences, and all that.

Not to mention the fact that slavery hasn't just totally ceased to exist. Sex trafficking is huge, but even if one (charitably) assumes that because it's sex, these "conservatives" would oppose it, there are also immigrants from Saudi Arabia who bring slaves (usually girls, sometimes adult women) to America from their own countries or from other Muslim countries. Should we prosecute them or not? What if they aren't treating their slave maids badly, aside from, of course, not letting them go? Human nature being what it is, slavery is never completely going to go away, more's the pity.

Nice Marmot said...

While Smith's piece is not very well-written and somewhat overwrought in its argumentation, in its broad lineaments it is largely correct. See Mark Noll's The Civil War as Theological Crisis and Jason Wallace's Catholics, Slaveholders and the Dilemma of American Evangelicalism, among others. The American abolitionist movement was largely "progressive" in its theology. Hence, it could be said that the abolitionists were arguing a good cause with bad reasoning, and there is much evidence that later "progressivism" had roots in, among other things, the abolitionist movement, thus carrying on this bad reasoning.

Having said that, it should be clear that recognition of these observations do not necessitate an acceptance of slavery, and if that is what Smith is implying he's incorrect. There were any number of anti-slavery writers, both North and South, who found "movement" Abolitionism very problematic.

Lydia McGrew said...

NM, I appreciate your greater care and clarity.

The thing is, it is sometimes necessary to make common cause with allies with whom we have other serious disagreements. There are Mormon pro-lifers, for example.

And no doubt these things were highly fluid and did not have bright lines. For example, I would imagine that the "movement" abolitionists were inspired by Wilberforce, but it hardly follows that Wilberforce was a heretic. Or consider the fact that the Baptist denomination split over the slavery issue. I would imagine that a lot (most or all?) of those who went with the abolitionist side would have considered themselves "movement" abolitionists, but it seems quite a stretch to say that therefore they must ipso facto have embraced some modernist or other theological heresy (more so than one thinks that all Baptists are heretics anyway, that is).

NM said...

A better analogy than the pro-life movement might be the environmental movement. While there are a lot of conservatives who are ecologically minded, they tend to stand somewhat clear of "movement" environmentalism because of its progressive and leftist shadings, even if they have similar concerns and goals. The "movement" is largely heterodox even if the goals aren't uniformly so. I'd say something similar about Abolitionism -- it was largely heterodox despite its ultimately noble goal, in that its thought was rooted in a "progressive" anthropology and theology.

Lydia McGrew said...

Interesting analogy. If one really thought that their goals were good goals, then one would have to find a way around that, despite one's suspicions of the arguments of the movement. It seems to me that Christian environmentalists have been working pretty hard on that in recent years. What I think of their synthesis is a different subject, since we're just using this as an analogy.

Let's face it, though: The main post there quoted (with some apparent approbation, I would say) Morse & co., and there is precisely zero sympathy from Morse & co. (anti-abolitionists at the time) for forming a better-grounded (or parallel, or what-not) abolitionist movement. They are staunchly saying that the anti-abolitionist position (regarding the antebellum South!) is the place where real support for "due authority" and God-ordained hierarchy and what-not lies.

Lydia McGrew said...

As I put it in one of my comments at the Orthosphere, it would have been a dark shame to orthodox Christians of the time if they refused to join in trying to bring an end to slavery because they were afraid of getting anti-hierarchical cooties from other abolitionists. I actually mean that rather strongly. This was an extremely serious issue, not to be trifled with. It was a matter of moral urgency, and I applaud those who saw it as such.

And quite honestly, as an historical matter, I believe that orthodox Christians _did_ do better than that and did _not_ simply leave abolitionism to the Unitarians and other heretics.

NM said...

I remember reading about Morse but I don't recall the details. I know that there were quite a few writers who were anti-slavery but nevertheless eschewed the Abolitionist movement because they smelled a rat.

Lydia McGrew said...

Not Morse. At least, not if he is accurately represented in the post. He was specifically defending the "servile relationship" between masters and slaves and listed this relationship as one of the four "great regulators" that "enforced obedience to authority." He was upset about the Civil War in part because it was bringing an end to this (to him, valuable and important) "servile relationship."

NM said...

I think it was more than just anti-hierarchical cooties. Some of them saw where that progressivism, for lack of a better non-anachronistic word, would lead and wanted no parts of it.

Lydia McGrew said...

We all have to choose our priorities in the large moral questions in the age in which we live. It's my own opinion that having to make common cause with people with "progressive" tendencies was, if necessary, a small price to pay for opposing slavery. If the moral urgency of abolitionism was sapped from these people because they were worried about the far-down-the-line tendencies of the movement, then that was just a problem for them. And so it is as well for us today. If, looking back on that period, people are expressing sympathy for writers like Morse and George Fitzhugh, of all people (google him if needed) because God forbid we should seem sympathetic to the "progressivism" of the abolitionist movement, then we have a problem.

Lines really do have to be drawn. This is where I think the abortion issue is a better analogy because of its sheer starkness as a moral call to arms.

NM said...

~~It's my own opinion that having to make common cause with people with "progressive" tendencies was, if necessary,a small price to pay for opposing slavery.~~

I think that many more moderate abolitionists would have disagreed. In the battle of words the extremists on both sides screamed the loudest -- it was "end slavery now! vs. "never!" No one in the middle got heard much, including those who put forth various plans for an incremental end to slavery, both from the N and the S. When the orthodox Christians heard such things from the Abolitionist movement as "If the Bible be found to be for slavery, then we will do without the Bible!" one can't help but understand their reticence. You don't sell your orthodox soul for a mess of egalitarian pottage, not at least without being aware of what you're eating.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, here we need to disentangle a couple of things. The first thing is whether an incremental approach to the issue was in fact morally justifiable. Suppose just for the sake of the argument that it wasn't. Was it really necessary to accept some sort of sweeping ideological egalitarianism (much less, for crying out loud, to deny the deity of Christ!) in order to believe that the incremental approach was not morally justifiable?

That's not at all clear to me. The two issues--the ideological foundation of the anti-slavery position and the question of *how rapidly* slavery ought to be ended--seem to me quite separate. It might be that the incremental approach would not do justice to the inherent human dignity of the slaves' imago dei, for example, especially if it was an *extremely slow* incremental approach without any clear end-game in sight.

And it seems to me to be rather seriously false to call an immediate end to slavery a "mess of egalitarian pottage." Why should it be? Why should it not be a noble goal?

As for the expression about the Bible, it sounds to me like one of those "per impossible" statements that people make precisely because they do not believe the antecedent will ever be fulfilled. There is a similar statement about reason and the Bible in Butler which gets taken out of context all the time.

Moreover, a lot depends on how serious a wrong one takes slavery to be. What if one replaces "slavery" with "torture and rape"? Would it still seem so horribly unreasonable and such a loss of one's soul to you for someone to say, "If the Bible is found to be on the side of torturing and raping little girls, then we will do without the Bible"?

Lydia McGrew said...

Re-reading that last comment of mine, I see that it needs to be corrected. Actually, any ideological foundation that held that slavery was intrinsically immoral would tend very strongly to support a more rapid end. So the ideological question is not really quite separate, as I said it was, from the speed issue.

What I should have said instead is that there is more than one ideological foundation that would lead one to pursue a rapid and clear-cut end to slavery, and that some sort of sweeping egalitarianism is by no means the only such foundation.

Lydia McGrew said...

NM, the point I made about the Bible should be all the easier for you as a Catholic (I believe I'm right in recalling that you are Catholic) to accept than for certain types of Protestant. As a Catholic, you're very careful not to "worship the Bible" and you also accept the deliverances of the Natural Law. This could at least lead you not to take it to be outright blasphemy if someone contemplated concluding, say, that a certain portion of the Bible is non-canonical because it is teaching something flatly contradictory to the Natural Law.

NM said...

I do not believe that slavery required the moral urgency that the more radical Abolitionists called for. I think that this is true given both the Biblical support of slavery generally understood, and the theological and hermeneutical confusions surrounding the issue in the mid 1800's. Likewise, the air of the debate was tainted not only by bad theology but by bad racial science. It seems to me very anachronistic to project 21st century understandings of race and equality back into the 1850's, and then to defend extremes (on either side) thereby.

One also must consider the overheated rhetoric of the Abolitionists, which stirred the fire. As someone once put it, the North became convinced that all slaveowners were like Simon Legree, while the South came to view all Abolitionists like John Brown.

That Southern chattel slavery was a great wrong there is no doubt in my mind. But it is not at all clear to me that it required the urgent intervention desired by the Abolitionists, much less a war with 3 million casualties. That urgency seems to me to be based on a decidedly non-Christian, abstract understanding of freedom.

NM said...

~~As for the expression about the Bible, it sounds to me like one of those "per impossible" statements that people make precisely because they do not believe the antecedent will ever be fulfilled.~~

Read Noll. Like the liberal and progressive theologians of today, the Unitarians, Universalists and other heretics at the head of the Abolitionist movement were perfectly willing to chuck the Bible, or o/w explain it away.

Lydia McGrew said...

NM, I know how discussions of the Civil War can get interminable, so I'm trying not to turn this into that, but one thing to remember is that with Dred Scott the pro-slavery side was definitely pushing the envelope. The logic ("logic") of Dred Scott, applied at the state level and applied at the federal level to territories, would have made it impossible for there to be any free states or territories. A hot question of the day was whether territories and new states should be slave or free, so there was definitely a possibility of an expansion of slavery in the U.S. The push for changing things in one's own direction definitely wasn't coming only from the abolitionists. And then there was the odious Fugitive Slave Act, which required anti-slavery states to be complicit by sending back escaped slaves.

In any event, while I definitely realize that the questions of the Civil War are fairly complicated, and I probably have more sympathy than you would guess for the ideas of secession and/or nullification (as mechanisms for keeping the federal govt. from getting too big for its britches), I'm quite sure that you and I disagree on the moral urgency of ending antebellum slavery. I wouldn't be entirely closed to *some* kind of gradualism, but it would need to have a definite shape to it and a fairly quick endgame, not simply be a vague, "Eventually we hope that this will wither on the vine and be no longer necessary, and we will try to find gentle ways of encouraging it." (These are actual phrases I've seen used elsewhere.)

Given that the states of the South seceded over the mere election of Lincoln and also in outrage at the idea that new territories might not be slave-holding, I doubt that _any_ positive program of abolitionism, even if in some sense "gradualist," would not have provoked the same response.

Much evil has come of the Civil War, including the vast increase in power (unconstitutional power, but based on the thin excuse of the 14th amendment) of the federal govt. Historically, one can wish heartily that it had never happen. But it's like one of those tragic but great novels: One goes back through it and tries to figure out where it could have stopped short of war once slavery was built into the U.S., and one doesn't find any plausible candidates.

NM said...

No, I don't wish to get into the CW debate. And I do think that our opinions differ on the urgency of ending Southern slavery. This I'd say is at the root of your disagreement with Smith as well.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, in some ways one could say that that's at the root of my disagreement with Smith, but you have made some pretty straightforward statements here such as that "Southern chattel slavery was a great wrong" which, as far as I can tell, he does not wish to make. So...there's a difference there too. Also, you've stated here that the abolitionists were arguing for a good conclusion but with bad arguments. Whatever one may think of that historical thesis, at least you grant that in some sense theirs was a true conclusion.

NM said...

Yes, it would've done well for him to be clearer on such things, esp. when taking a controversial position on them.

Lydia McGrew said...

I also think one should challenge the idea that the Bible was on the side of the anti-abolitionists, and that therefore to say that all antebellum slavery should be ended one must "throw out" the Bible.

The Bible is not "on the side of" slavery. The arguments there are quite thin--arguments to the effect that Paul and Peter told slaves to be good servants and what-not. That hardly amounts to, "The Bible teaches that we shouldn't try to abolish slavery by way of influencing the duly ordained government."

I'm quite concerned when people start throwing out biblical teaching, real biblical teaching. But the Bible doesn't teach that chattel slavery is hunky-dory.

NM said...

If the question is, "Is slavery permitted or not?" the Bible definitely comes down in the affirmative. The error with the pro-slavery Christians was not that they used the Bible to support slavery, but rather that they equated their own version of it with that of the Bible.

It is interesting that Southern writers who were pro-slavery but who also saw the need to reform the institution made their arguments along these very lines: yes, we have slavery, and yes, slavery is allowed in the Bible, but ours must be reformed so that it looks like the Biblical version.

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, NM, I disagree that the Bible teaches that slavery is permitted, particularly if by "slavery" one means permanent, life-long, unchosen slavery of an otherwise innocent person (that is, not as a sentence for a crime).

Many, many things are portrayed and in a sense provision even made for them in the Old Testament without this constituting a "teaching" that they are permitted. For example, the OT envisages a father's selling his daughter to a man who allegedly intends to marry her, but I would like to think that we do not take this to mean that "the Bible teaches" that it's permissible for you to sell your daughter into marriage.

Jesus' own teaching concerning divorce is quite explicit: The OT law envisages many things as part of life and regulates them, but this need not constitute ethical endorsement of those behaviors as definitely morally right. The disciples tried to make an argument to Jesus similar to the argument made by the pro-slavery southerners: The OT Law says to "give her a write of divorce," therefore, divorce must be permissible. Jesus says distinctly otherwise. Therefore, inferences from elaborate OT codes concerning some social practice to the moral licitness of that practice are shaky in the extreme.

NM said...

The general practice of slavery (understood in the manner in which it existed in Biblical times) is assumed in the NT, and is mentioned but nowhere prohibited. It may be a bad practice, perhaps even a sinful one, but it can't be inherently evil. The gradual eradication of slavery due to the widespread influence of Christianity is an unqualified good, but I'd say it's a prudential one, along the lines of the leaving behind of polygamy.

My parenthesis above is vital; as I said before, one of the chief errors of pro-slavery Americans was to equate their version of chattel slavery with the type of servitude that the Scriptures permitted.

Lydia McGrew said...

"The general practice of slavery (understood in the manner in which it existed in Biblical times) is assumed in the NT, and is mentioned but nowhere prohibited."

Argument from silence, and a particularly weak one. Just let your imagination go a bit and think of all the things not prohibited in the NT. Even the fact that it's mentioned but not prohibited doesn't strengthen the argument much.

" It may be a bad practice, perhaps even a sinful one, but it can't be inherently evil.

That seems contradictory. I don't see how something can be sinful but not inherently evil, unless one means it is usually or sometimes accidentally sinful or something like that.

"My parenthesis above is vital; as I said before, one of the chief errors of pro-slavery Americans was to equate their version of chattel slavery with the type of servitude that the Scriptures permitted"

In the OT the practice of lifelong slavery of non-Israelite slaves is envisaged. They were not released at the jubilee, and apparently they could be legally sold. I have difficulty seeing how this differs from chattel slavery. In fact, it sounds just like chattel slavery. Unless one means by "chattel slavery" that you can do anything you darned well please to your slave (torture him or what-not). But when I use the phrase I have in mind the treatment of the slave as property, hence saleable, lifelong, etc.

If you're talking about the NT, it gets even dicier, because Peter and Paul were writing to a Gentile audience in a Roman world. Roman masters could crucify their slaves on a whim. (To give just one example.) Roman slavery was quite brutal and cannot under any construal be regarded as normative. You can't rope in the Apostles' silence on the evil of Roman slavery as giving permission for slavery of the kind found in the Roman world which they clearly had in mind in their audience while at the same time postulating some kind of "better" or "normative" slavery permitted in the Bible.

At least Jewish slaves in the OT were released at the 7-year Jubilee unless they chose to be lifelong.

NM said...

I am talking simply about the concept of slavery, i.e., that one human being can be owned by another in some sense. Scripture seems to take this concept for granted, neither promoting it nor condemning it. Reduced to its simplest form it cannot be considered inherently evil, Biblically speaking. On this particular issue the American slavery defenders were correct.

Where they went very wrong was in their presumption that because slavery in general was permitted in the Bible their version of it was thereby permitted.

But equally wrong, convinced by their free-thinking egalitarianism, the abolitionists attempted to demonstrate from Scripture that slavery was evil in principle, which is incorrect.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of shelter for an escapee from Prof. Smith's theological plantation..? pant ....whine...I've slipped my bonds and....
Sorry, couldn't resist. Surly bad taste. Terribly unfair.
'Not to mention the fact that slavery hasn't just totally ceased to exist.'
And further..
'The ol' professor even tried to make some point or other to the effect that slavery is no longer a practical matter in American society.' Yes, indeed Lydia.
I wonder if he has worked in the Middle East? I wonder if your theoretically pro-slavery friends might reconsider their views if they saw the condition that slaves live in today in the Middle East. That's why I left Qatar. For me it was impossible to be at ease (no, not the armed guards outside Church) knowing the living conditions of these people. This in the self proclaimed Richest country on Earth. Somewhat obviates any arguments about 'fair treatment of slaves'. In Qatar, the Police force have Lamborghinis and the supermarket owners own slaves.
'Or how insulting it is to Christian theology generally by associating it with slavery.'
Insulting? Infuriating as a matter of fact. I would take 'Action Directe' against anyone who told my Nepalese Security Guard (in Qatar) about the proud history of 'decent' or theologically 'sound' Christian slave owning. Call me Brown, call me John Brown but you needed to see how these dignified people lived in dangerous squalor amongst all the billionaires and millionaires.
The phrase coined by William Luse 'parasitical secular heresies'
must also, if I am correct that all slavery is wrong; apply to the idea that early 'pure' theologically inspired Christianity defended slavery. According to an excellent post lurking at the end of the thread in question, some Priests wanted to free South America Indian slaves but enslave Africans to balance the books. A secular priority. Who'd have thought The Church would put so much store by gold.....stop laughing at the back. I wonder what the freed Indian slaves though when they saw blacks arriving from Africa being whipped and worked to death?
'My are right...these Europeans are stark staring mad.'

Anonymous said...

'In the battle of words the extremists on both sides screamed the loudest -- it was "end slavery now! vs. "never!" No one in the middle got heard much, including those who put forth various plans for an incremental end to slavery'
This ties in very well with my limitedish reading of the history and your perceptive comments about how people respond to their critics (on the other thread). You suggested that people can respond to criticism by becoming more radical (in briefly). Last night in respect of this
I wanted to reference an extreme pro slavery Irishman of the era who became a half crazed pro slavery Zealot as the debate progressed and showed no signs of being won. Sadly I don't have that text in here London. Your point was pertinent to the debate though as it seemed the Professor was adopting a 'Who? Me? Slavery? So?' attitude that was 'unfortunate'. I don't know how people can be totally sure until they see slavery. Afterwards, I don't know how they can be unsure.
The good (Geography?) Professor's attitude would not allow any such musing however, as he seemed to not acknowledge that there WAS any debate to get wound up by. Instead, he preferred to...well you can read it yourself.

'Yet Smith evidently thinks himself something of a martyr because I said, more or less, "What the heck is this?"

Oh No!
Not any more Lydia!
That 'Who me? Why pick on me?' mood is all gone. Now the Professor has 'declared victory' in the debate. I can't help with his explanation as I only read to that point. If only one of his opponents had thought to 'declare victory' before him. The debate could have gone the other way. THAT wont happen to ME again....I've taken notes. They read; 'Always Declare Victory First'.

Nice Marmot said...
'While Smith's piece is not very well-written and somewhat overwrought in its argumentation, in its broad lineaments it is largely correct'

This is unarguable.
It's a shame then that the Prof. refused to engage. The tenor of the discussion was not hostile in any way. I imagine he didn't like to be challenged (by Lydia) in an intellectually cogent manner under any circumstances. That's how he came across to me BEFORE he taught me a lesson in Declaring Victory.
Afterwards...well you can draw your own conclusions. I hear he was born in Roscommon*.

Nice Marmot said

'A better analogy than the pro-life movement.....'

Better than the pro-Life analogy? Never!
That is the best analogy! The core analogy and I will use fire and steel to tear down...

'...might be the environmental movement.'

Oh, yeah.
You mean how a warped orphaned Western spirituality, removed from salvation, recreated a pagan religion, complete with 'sin' and 'being good' and 'making sacrifices' for the Earth.
Only to find they had been hoodwinked by good ol' fashioned Marxists at last united with their eugenicist brethren. Determined to finally cleanse the world of those 'unworthy to pollute an innocent virgin stream' by living and breathing nearby.
By 'breeding'. By multiplying and demanding food and education and clothes and freedom and who knows what else next?
You mean THAT environment movement Nice Marmot?

Y'know, I think it's about time I Declared Victory for tonight. So little need to read the rest of that particular post I feel.

It's nice to find such an interesting blog though.


John Richardson

* As was my mother.

Antillean said...

By far the most frustrating thing for me about discussions like that one on the Orthosphere is how parochial Americans are about some issues. As you said, JMSmith seemed not to have known or cared about Wilberforce and the other thoroughly orthodox abolitionist British Christians. And it would be downright stupid of me to expect him to even dream of thinking of what the orthodox black American Christians thought.

So to your admonitions to the non-mainstream, Christian right I'd add this: there are countries in the world other than America. There are orthodox Christians who are not American. It may be uncomfortable that we don't neatly fit into the American right-left political line, but -- well, some discomforts are good.

Lydia McGrew said...

NM, I realize that you're simply making a distinction between "what might be called slavery" and some particular type of slavery. But I think my arguments bear pondering nonetheless, since you seem to believe that Scripture actually _teaches_ that one man's owning another is not morally wrong. I think I've answered that claim in some detail.

Don't forget, too, that the options are not, "Scripture definitely teaches that slavery isn't morally wrong" and "Scripture definitely teaches that slavery is morally wrong." AFAIK, Scripture never even mentions cannibalism, but we can still tell that cannibalism is wrong. There is a combination of more general Scriptural principles and, most importantly, the natural light that comes into play here. So simply by saying, "The abolitionists were wrong when they thought that Scripture expressly teaches that slavery is intrinsically wrong" you haven't really said very much about whether we know that slavery _is_ intrinsically wrong.

Lydia McGrew said...

Antillean, to be fair, I'm probably pretty parochial about this stuff as well. For example, one reason I'm interested in all of this is because of the American preoccupation with race issues, which really is in no small part a result of our history.

Your point about the orthodox black Christians in the U.S. is an excellent one I had not thought about in much detail, but someone pointed out to me that Frederick Douglas belonged to a prima facie orthodox denomination.

Lydia McGrew said...

Mr. Richardson, I thought I left the discussion at the Orthosphere with some dignity, and this time I'm going to stay away when I said I was going. (I don't always keep such resolutions but am happy to do so this time.) So I won't get to see any declarations of victory. In all honesty and fairness, I think Professor Smith may not be all that used to the rough and tumble of the blogosphere, hence found my manner when up in arms a bit much to take, and he was actually quite gentlemanly in demeanor esp. compared to a few of the commentators. (!)

Your point about Qatar really brings up the "power corrupts" issue that lies at the heart of opposition to the idea that one human being owns another. I find that often when people defend any version of this idea of ownership (as opposed, say, to strictly temporary and fairly brief indentured servitude) they are more or less ignoring Acton's dictum.

There are several reasons why it's flatly wrong for one man to own another man. But just one of those reasons is the sheer corruption on the slave owner. What must it be to own someone else, to be able to hale him back if he runs away, force him by threat of at least _some_ kind of violence to his person (even if the degree is moderated by law) to work, and all upon an innocent man who has never committed a crime deserving of such a fate? A civilized society can't get along without prison guards, but even so, their job must be soul-scarring. How much the worse when you are in essence in a position to imprison a man simply because he was born your slave or your serf?

Anonymous said...

'Blogger Antillean said...
By far the most frustrating thing for me about discussions like that one on the Orthosphere is how parochial Americans are about some issues. As you said, JMSmith seemed not to have known or cared about Wilberforce'

My goodness!
He didn't know Wilberforce!
What a thought, if true. I mentioned that non-Americans (like me) find American slavery essentially boring. Horrific, but intellectually stagnant as an issue to debate.
I though that the Professor was simply ignoring me. Perhaps I am correct in my supposition that he did not actually trust his own reading on the subject.

Lydia McGrew said...

The reason that we conservatives in America occasionally get into debates about slavery is because slavery led to the Civil War, and the Civil War led (most unfortunately) indirectly to the undermining of the constitutional limitations on our federal government.

Now, conservatives like me tend to be originalists and constitutionalists, and we wish the Bad Genie of overgrown federal government could be put back in the bottle and that we could return to some notion of state sovereignty, which is called (confusingly enough) "federalism" in American constitutional and political discourse.

Inevitably this tends to lead back to a discussion of history and how we got where we are, how the leftists got power and such-like, and inevitably such a digging back does eventually take one to the Civil War. For one reason among many others, the Civil War permanently took the possibility of secession permanently off the table, which removed one potential threat that might otherwise have held the federal government back from usurpation and unconstitutional expansion.

So slavery ends up being all bound up with other issues. In a sense this is an historical accident, but it's an historical accident that conservatives in particular must live with, because constitutionalists like me end up having _some_ things in common with those who want to rewind history even more radically and actually endorse the Southern side in the conflict _altogether_.

So we end up having these discussions about whether slavery was intrinsically wrong.

NM said...

From what I remember abolition in England was driven largely by Quakers and Evangelicals, while in the U.S. it was spearheaded by Unitarians and other "progressives." Thus, Smith's objections wouldn't necessarily apply to English abolitionism.

Lydia McGrew said...

Not to fan the flames, NM, but what if the ones in England _also_ thought that one man's owning another was intrinsically wrong? What if they also thought that the cause of ending slavery had enormous moral urgency?

What if they also believed that the Bible did _not_ teach that one man's owning another to be permissible?

I'm pretty sure that they thought all of these things. Yet your attempted arguments in this thread have not been solely historical: This is _in fact_ what the majority of these abolitionists thought. If it were that, then the purely historical argument is refuted by half the American Baptists who were abolitionists as much as by the large numbers of evangelical abolitionists in England! You have rather argued or at least implied that a truly *full-scale* abolitionist position goes contrary to Scripture and can be justified only on the basis of radical egalitarian ideas.

NM said...

No, what I'm arguing is that you can't build an airtight case against slavery, generally understood, based on Scripture alone. The battle over this realization is the root of the "crisis" that Noll writes about in his book.

Antillean said...

Lydia, there are other majority Christian countries that are also preoccupied with race issues for slavery-related reasons like America's. Perhaps the closest and most obvious examples are the Caribbean islands and Brazil. There are significant differences between them and America (one of which is that they didn't fight any wars in significant part about freeing their slaves), but it seems to me that there are more than enough similarities for us all to benefit from talking (more) to each other about these things.