Saturday, September 27, 2014

A History of American Christianity: Slavery, etc.

How slavery came about in the US is rather perplexing to me, so it is nice to see some other opinions on this subject.  According to Leonard Bacon, slavery had been opposed on religious grounds from the beginning, but through the conniving of slave traders and other non-religious types, the opposite course of action had been achieved.  There is this note about the beginnings of Georgia:

"The trustees of the charitable colony of Georgia, consciously laying the foundations of many generations, endeavored to provide for the welfare of the nascent State by forbidding at once the importation of negro slaves and of spirituous liquors; but the salutary interdict was soon nullified in the interest of the crops and of the trade with the Indians."

Bacon asserts that up until the year 1833, not a single Christian voice can be found defending slavery in the US, while condemnation after condemnation is the norm.  But then there was a sudden transformation in the south, which became complete beyond anything sensible:

"It was less perilous to hold Protestant opinions in Spain or Austria than to hold, in Carolina or Alabama, the opinions which had but lately been commended to universal acceptance by the unanimous voice of great religious bodies, and proclaimed as undisputed principles by leading statesmen."

and

"How came the Christian public throughout the slave-holding States, which so short a time before had ben unanimous in finding in the Bible the condemnation of their slavery, to find all at once in the Bible the divine sanction and defense of it as a wise, righteous, and permanent institution?"

The answer Bacon gives relates to the value of the slaves, the fear of uprising, and then the issue of Christians being unable to break fellowship with slave owners, particularly when they knew or believed them to be humane and honorable.  The US was thus launched off onto a period of madness that would leave a big chunk of the population dead and much of the economy destroyed.  A consequence of this:

"Of course the antislavery societies which, under various names, had existed in the South by hundreds were suddenly extinguished, and manumissions, which had been going on at the rate of thousands in a year, almost entirely ceased."

One wonders how Christians who risked extermination for their beliefs in earlier times should now have been so easily bullied into exactly reversing their opinions.  This reminds me of the current wave of madness going over much of what had formerly been known as Christian sects in the name of understanding towards depravity.

An earlier shameful episode happened in the south with the Cherokee Indians.  Christians had for generations reached out to proclaim the gospel to them, resulting in a peaceful, civilized and educated population.  This was all overturned by populists and opportunists:

"Missionaries were arrested and sent to prison for preaching to Cherokees; Cherokees were sentenced to death by Georgia courts and hung by Georgia executioners."

A place where I had enjoyed riding my bicycle when I was young was Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga, Tennessee.  This was the site of a major civil war battle that opened the path into Georgia.  What I did not know about this ridge is included here:

"Thirty years later, when in the battle of Missionary Ridge the chivalry of Georgia went down before the army that represented justice and freedom and the authority of national law, the vanquished and retreating soldiers of a lost cause could not be accused of superstition if they remembered that the scene of their humiliating defeat had received its name for the martyrdom of Christian missionaries at the hands of their fathers."

The current popular story is that the Christians were the ones responsible for all these woes, while the forefathers of the modernists were the ones to lead the opposition.  Bacon's view seems to be that Christians were rarely in a sufficiently numerous position to accomplish their aims in a society that was mainly made up of unbelievers.

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