Thursday, March 01, 2007

Amazing Grace, Christians, and slavery

Ed Babinski, in a lengthy post at Debunking Christianity, points out that several early abolitionists were denounced as atheists and infidels because of their attacks on the slave trade, that William Lloyd Garrison's first anti-slavery speech in Boston was in "the infidel hall owned by Abner Kneeland ... who had been sent to jail for blasphemy" because "every Christian sect had in turn refused ... Garrison the use of [their] buildings," and that Pastor John Newton, the author of the song "Amazing Grace," was a slave trader for years after his conversion to Christianity, contrary to the story Arlo Guthrie has told on stage:
"Editor's Bookshelf: Amazing Myths, How Strange the Sound: An interview with Steve Turner, the author of Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song" by David Neff, Christianity Today, March 31, 2003)

John Newton was a pastor and author of "Amazing Grace" and "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken."...

INTERVIEWER: What mythology did you yourself hold that you discovered was wrong when you did your research?

TURNER: I think I just knew the basic skeleton of this story. I knew Newton was a slave trader, I knew that he had been in a storm, and I knew he'd written a song. I didn't really know the sequence in which that happened. Arlo Guthrie tells the story on stage that Newton was transporting slaves and the storm hit the boat, he was converted on the spot, changed his mind about slavery, took the slaves back to Africa, released them, came back to England, and wrote the song. That would be nice. That would be the way we'd like to write the story. But the fact is that he took years and years before he came to the abolition position. And he never captained a slave ship until after he became a Christian. All his life as a slave captain was actually post-conversion.

The majority of Christians were in favor of the slave trade. The ship owner that he worked for had a pew in the church in Liverpool. It was not uncommon at all for prominent Anglicans to also be involved in the slave trade. And it made me wonder, what things are we involved in that we think are fine but in centuries to come people will think, How could they possibly have done that? [...]

Newton's tender ship captain's letters that he sent home to his beloved Mary showed complete lack of concern for the African families he was breaking up. A telling passage from one letter cites "the three greatest blessings of which human nature is capable" as "religion, liberty, and love." But referring to those he had helped to enslave, he wrote, "I believe... that they have no words among them expressive of these engaging ideas: from
whence I infer that the ideas themselves have no place in their minds."

When it came to denouncing the slave trade, Newton would not commit himself publicly until the mid-1780s—nearly 30 years after the issue was first broached in Parliament, 20 years after the Countess of Huntingdon began campaigning for equal treatment of the races, and 14 years after John Wesley wrote his Thoughts on Slavery.
Ed has much more at Debunking Christianity.


Einzige said...

Here is the text from a book from 1856 that makes a persuasive and convincing case that

the institution of slavery has received, in the first place,

1st. The sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age.

2d. That it was incorporated into the only National Constitution which ever emanated from God.

3d. That its legality was recognized, and its relative duties regulated, by Jesus Christ in his kingdom; and

4th. That it is full of mercy.

Yet another reason not to be a Christian.

Mark Plus said...

Conservative economist and historian Thomas Sowell credits the spread of a "humanistic philosophy" during the Enlightenment for the change in Western opinion about slavery. Those unnamed humanistic philosophers, with their emphasis on making life better in this world instead of worrying about getting into heaven, led people to see the disutilitarian aspects of slavery and motivated them to work towards its abolition.