Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Stark on Slavery: Part 2: What about Pagans and Humanists?

In For the Glory of God, Rodney Stark bursts the bubble for those who see pre-Christian religions and Enlightenment philosophies as somehow more humane than Christianity with regard to slavery.

He notes that no philosopher of Sumer, Babylon, or Assyria "ever protested against slavery" or expressed any sympathy for its victims.

Plato saw slaves as "lacking the mental capacity for virtue and culture" p. 326). At his death, Plato’s estate included five slaves.

Aristotle justified slavery since slaves were "more akin to brute beasts than to free men" (p. 327). "Upon his death, Aristotle’s personal property included fourteen slaves" (p. 327).

Opposition to slavery developed only among Jews (the Essene and the Therapeutae sects) and Christians.

What about men of the Enlightenment? Surely these noble humanists opposed slavery! Think again, Stark says (see p. 359-60). Stark notes that "a virtual Who’s Who of ‘Enlightenment figures fully accepted slavery" (p. 359). These included Thomas Hobbes, John Locke (he invested in the African slave trade), and Voltair (who supported the slave trade and believed in the inferiority of Africans). We can add to our list of humanist slavery supporters Baron Montesquieu, Compte de Mirabeau, and Edmund Burke (he saw abolitionists as "religious fanatics").

Stark concludes: "It was not philosophers or secular humanists who assembled the moral indictment of slavery, but the very people they held in such contempt: men and women having intense Christian faith, who opposed slavery because it was sin" (p. 360).

The end of slavery in the West did not come through the efforts of humanists but from Quakers in North America, the preaching of the aged John Wesley, and the efforts of evangelical churchmen like William Wilberforce and the "Clapham Sect" in Great Britain.
This why Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12).

1 comment:

Mark Collenburg Rego-Monteiro said...

Quakers in North America were among the leaders in protesting slavery, with Lucretia Mott fascinating to study in relation to her husband and her own women´s circles. However, the fight in the UK was hardly Wilberforce´s baby, although he certainly was key at his level and as a Christian evangelical of the upper class. However, the Quakers had already been establishing their reputation with high integrity and against slavery when ministry student Thomas Clarkson graduated after writing an anti-slavery essay that galvanized him. He never practiced formal ministry in his life, apparently, because upon graduating he became determined to end slavery. He approached a group of Quaker-Friends, and they were his anchor.

Adam Hochschild has written an amazing book, Bury the Chains. I´ll have to research the Clapham Sect again, but Clarkson was investigating and organizing as a pioneer of modern social movements. As Lucretia Mott met Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the 1840 Anti-Slavery Conference, Mott the adventurous Quaker and Stanton the secular humanist became electrified for the women´s movement. It´s important to clarify how Christian integrity resides at the root of modern social movements, I find.