Re: ID.Weinberg 2

Date: Fri Apr 06 2001 - 22:07:46 EDT

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    Steven Weinberg writes on the issue of slavery:

    << >It is certainly true that the campaign against slavery and the slave trade
    >was greatly strengthened by devout Christians, including the Evangelical
    >layman William Wilberforce in England and the Unitarian minister William
    >Ellery Channing in America. But Christianity, like other great world
    >religions, lived comfortably with slavery for many centuries, and slavery
    >was endorsed in the New Testament. So what was different for anti-slavery
    >Christians like Wilberforce and Channing? There had been no discovery of
    >new sacred scriptures, and neither Wilberforce nor Channing claimed to have
    >received any supernatural revelations. Rather, the eighteenth century had
    >seen a widespread increase in rationality and humanitarianism that led
    >othersor instance, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and Richard
    >Brinsley Sheridanlso to oppose slavery, on grounds having nothing to do
    >with religion. Lord Mansfield, the author of the decision in Somersett's
    >Case, which ended slavery in England (though not its colonies), was no more
    >than conventionally religious, and his decision did not men-tion religious
    >arguments. Although Wilberforce was the instigator of the campaign against
    >the slave trade in the 1790s, this movement had essential support from many
    >in Parliament like Fox and Pitt, who were not known for their piety. As far
    >as I can tell, the moral tone of religion benefited more from the spirit of
    >the times than the spirit of the times benefited from religion.

    First, it seems to me that humanism was most strongly influenced by
    the message of Christ. Values do not grow in a vacuum, and since a
    classical education consisted of Latin and Greek (and a corresponding
    text otherwise known as a Bible) the forces that shaped Western thought
    (like it or not) grew out studies which inevitable included reading and
    interpreting the words and message of Jesus Christ.

    Furthermore, I quite an Afro-American scholar (minus the multitude of
    references the authors cite, you'll have to read the book to get more

    (From: Keener C.S and Usry, G. (1997). Defending the Black Faith:
    Answers to Tough questions about African-American Christianity.
    InterVarsity Press Downers Grove. pp. 36-38.)

    Those who favored slavery often simply cited the practice
    of slavery throughout history, including in the Bible times,
    to support the idea that slavery is natural; they avoided
    grappling with whether the biblical writers actually favored
    or disapproved of the institution. Although abolitionist
    preachers soundly refuted the proslavery arguments slavery
    supporters did offer from the Bible, opponents of abolishing
    slavery had economic incentives to disregard them (in this
    their moral commitment resembled that of most North Americans
    today, who ignore most injustices practiced in the contemporary
    world). Thus slaveholders allowed some preachers access to the
    slaves, once they developed ways to leave out parts of the Bible
    that sounded as if they made the slaves equal. "The master class
    understood, of course, that only a carefully censored version of
    Christianity could have this desired effect. Inappropriate biblical
    passages had to be deleted; sermons that might be proper for
    freemen were not necessarily proper for slaves".

    Thus preachers would quote Ephesians 6:5: "Slaves, submit
    to your masters," out of context. Yet a few verses down, in
    verse 9, Paul says, "And you, masters, do the same things
    to them, because you also have a Master in heaven." In
    antiquity, only very few people said that slaves and masters
    were equal before God; those who went as far as Paul generally
    believed that slavery was immoral. Paul's words were some of
    the most radical antislavery words of his time, yet by quoting
    out of context a verse that in context meant something quite
    different, slaveholders made slavery sound more acceptable.

    The slave holders severely misrepresented Paul. First, Paul
    was addressing nonracial Roman household slavery, a
    situation quite different from the slavery practiced in the
    Americas. Household slaves had greater opportunities for
    freedom, status and economic mobility than did the vast majority
    of free peasants in Paul's day; one wonders whether the same
    term should apply to both U.S. slavery and Roman household
    slavery. Second, Paul's surviving letters are not essays
    addressing all moral issues of his day (which would have
    included the oppression of rural peasants, empires' suppression
    of indigenous peoples, and other issues generally removed from
    his urban audiences); instead they are pastoral letters addressing
    needs in specific congregations.

    Third, Paul wrote to first-century Christians, who were few in
    number and persecuated, and at that point could exercise little
    influence to change the wider social situation. Finally, as we
    have pointed out, Paul's words suggest that he regarded slavery
    as an evil, not a blessing. Why didn't he advocated a more
    activist response to slavery? Apart from changing public
    opinion, the only abolitionist method previously attempted
    in the Roman Empire was slave wars ---- which had always
    proved costly and never succeeded.

    Most nineteenth-century Black abolitionists did not advocate
    a slave war any more than Paul did; only modern armchair
    revolutionaries can afford to condemn both Paul and
    nineteenth-century Black abolitionists while remaining
    silent on many issues of desperate current concern. Thus
    one leader in Nation of Islam has denounced Christians for
    not standing more forcefully for justice, yet when he met
    with leaders of Islamic countries he reportedly failed to
    speak against the sins of his "Muslim brothers" who
    routinely enslaved African Christians. What Paul did
    write undermined the moral foundation of slavery, and
    nineteenth-century abolitionists could make ready use
    of his teaching.

    Many abolutionists also complained about the popular _distrotion_
    of Christianity; the Bible is hardly the cause of its own abuse. Yet
    counterfiets cannot keep the true Christian faith from emerging to
    challenge them. Abolitionism has distinctively, perhaps uniquely,
    arisen in societies directly influenced by Christianity; most other
    societies and philosophers in history have merely taken the
    institution for granted. The slaves quickly recongnized "that the
    Bible had more to say about Jesus lifting burdens than slaves
    obeying masters," and thus they "discovered a secret their masters
    did not want them to know."

    (Keener C.S and Usry, G. (1997). Defending the Black Faith: Answers to
    Tough questions about African-American Christianity. InterVarsity Press
    Downers Grove. pp. 36-38.)

    Whereas it is reasonable that secular forces have also made their
    contribution to Abolition, I suspect that S. Weinberg is distorting the
    issue by suggesting that Christianity had little our no influence in
    purging this scourge from the human race, and that secular humanism
    made this discovery completely independent of its Western cultural
    foundation which for almost 1000 years, had little more than Aristotle
    and the Bible to bind it together.

    In regards to Weinberg's comments on the persecution of Jews,
    I hope he might consider reflectively Psalm 94 which is a classic
    example of the same basic problem. There is nothing new under
    the sun.

    The attrocities we have committed on Jews in Western Europe and
    elsewhere are certainly not excused by any passage in the Bible that I
    have ever encountered. They are sins we own for ourselves and that is all.
    Like many screw ups we can all recall in this life, we cannot deliver our
    yesterdays and we have to live with what we have done. Better to
    recognize and purge the disease, rather than blame distortions and
    misrepresentations of the Bible committed by the corrupted wills of
    sinners. In this way, S. Weinberg is only pointing at the effects of the
    disease and not the cause. I don't see that as an effective way to
    rectify sin.

    by Grace alone do we proceed,

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