Monday, March 26, 2007

The abuses of slavery

This is in reponse to a discussion in the comment section of the BBB that physical abuse is a distortion of an otherwise just relationship of headship and submission. I have heard the argument that it is not fair to judge a practise by its distortion.

In my experience the psychological effects of submission outweigh by far the physical cruelty of abuse, however painful that may be. Teaching your fellow human that he or she is created by God for subordination is the true cruelty, not the physical act of enforcing submission.

I was relieved to see this exact point being made in so many words by the controversial philospher Kwame Appiah. He writes,

    When I think about how the world of the Ashanti remains etched and scored by slavery, an odd question arises: What is it about slavery that makes it morally objectionable? European and American abolitionists in the 19th century tended to focus, reasonably enough, on its cruelty: on the horrors that began with capture and separation from one’s family, continued in the cramped and putrid quarters below the decks of the middle passage and went on in plantations ruled by the lash.

    William Wilberforce, the evangelist and Tory member of Parliament who was as responsible as anyone for the passage of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, was not an enthusiast for democracy when it came to expanding the franchise, and he railed against the “mad-headed professors of liberty and equality.”

    It was the torments of slavery’s victims that moved him so. (He was also a founding member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.) Once freed slaves had been properly Christianized, he believed, “they will sustain with patience the sufferings of their actual lot.” In the United States, abolitionists mainly shared his perspective, naturally emphasizing the abundant horrors of plantation slavery.

    Slavery’s more sophisticated defenders had a response. They agreed that cruelty was wrong, but, they maintained, these horrors were abuses of the slavery system, not inherent features of it.

    What if their paternalist fantasies had come true, and a world of kindly slave masters had developed? Would slavery be acceptable? Of course not. Even a well-treated slave is diminished by his status. As a social or legal institution, slavery has built into it a denial of the social basis of self-respect: it defines the slave as lower in status by denying that she could have personal aims worthy of consideration and rejecting the enslaved person’s right to manage his or her own affairs.

    When you’re a slave, someone else is in charge of your life. What keeps the wound from healing is that this subordination is something you inherited from your parents and will pass along to your children.NY Times March 18, 2007
I can only thank this writer for articulating so well the problem of a headship - submission relationship. Maybe one day we will all understand better that the core teaching of the scriptures is found in Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Rom. 13:9, Gal. 5:14, James 2:8.
    Thou shalt love thy neighbour (thy next one) as thyself: I am the LORD.


    Peter Kirk said...

    I could add that subordination of women is morally even worse than slavery. For in principle a slave has the possibility, however remote, of buying himself or herself out of slavery into freedom; but a woman has no way of buying herself into manhood. Subordination of women is in fact more like a society based on institutionalised racism, such as the Indian caste system in its original form, in which certain races are automatically and permanently enslaved.

    Matthew Celestine said...

    Hey! You are posting again!

    Anonymous said...

    I do not find headship-submission relationships emphasized in scripture. Instead, I find servant leadership emphasized. I also find sacrificial headship emphasized. I don't think that scripture simply teaches us to submit to heads. Submission is a characteristic of spiritual grace that we are to exhibit to more than just our spiritual "heads". What is totally wrong, and we find this castigated in scripture, is domineering headship of any kind.

    Kevin Knox said...

    Brilliant, Suzanne.

    Jeremy Pierce said...

    Did you delete my comment, or did it not take somehow?

    Suzanne McCarthy said...


    I certainly did not delete your comment! This is the first I have seen from you.

    I have no idea what you said in your comment.