Several months ago I did a journal entry about Moses coming down off Mount Sinai, stone tablets securely tucked under his arm. More to the point I imagined what happened in the first thirty seconds or so after he finished letting the Hebrews in on the Word from on high. First there would be silence, I imagined. Then everybody would be talking at once. Every sentence beginning with “what exactly to you mean by,” followed by the commandment(s) of your choice. The gist of the matter being “what I’m planning on doing, or would really like to do, or wish I could do isn’t really covered by…..again the commandment of your choice…..is it?
Ok, intro over. Back in the 1700’s West Indian sugar and all that went with it was oil, high tech and sub-prime mortgages all rolled into one for the English economy. Slave grown and processed sugar fueled the triangle trade. By the late 1700’s the infant abolition movement in England found a voice. It belonged to William Wilberforce. Member of parliament from Yorkshire, he spent twenty years trying to get a bill through parliament abolishing the slave trade. It’s the story behind the film, Amazing Grace. He was the voice for the hundreds, if not thousands of men and women who worked to end the trade in human souls. (frankly if I used all the adjectives I'd like to use I'd run out of space, abomination is the kindest)
Is the film totally accurate? Probably not. Did the film take liberties with history? Probably. Was I totally blown away at the end? Yeah. Would I have wanted to ask the man to dinner? I’m not sure. Abolition, free education, decent treatment for animals, efforts to end prostitution; the man was never still. Dinner would not have been boring. A profoundly devout Evangelical Christian, he was influenced by John Newton. The same John Newton who finally traded the slave trade for a pulpit and along the line helped write the hymn that gives the film its name.
But, it’s not the movie so much that I’m writing about at that damnable “surely you don’t mean” gene that human beings seem to have. The western European run slave trade was financed, manned and benefitted people who described themselves as Christians. Most of them saw themselves as good, honorable men and women.
There are two Creation stories in Genesis. In the first, God Created human beings in His image. In the second, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
And “but surely” rears its ugly, hydra headed, monstrous body. We hear it in the modern Neo Nazi movement. We're confronted with it every single, bloody, shit not again day.
The…….fill in the group of your choice that doesn’t look like me, talk like me, eat what I like, dress like me, love like me, or most important of all believe like me can’t have that divine spark can it? Surely this isn’t the image of God. Surely you can’t mean that I should treat somebody like THAT as if God had come down to walk among us, can you?
WELL, WHY THE BLOODY HELL NOT?
Anyway, if you can get your hands on the film, it's well worth your time. We can change the world. Before there was Free Trade coffee there were signs in London shops that advertised sugar grown in the East Indies.
The East Indians may not have been living in paradise. At least they hadn't been torn from their homes, chained, crammed into a space approximately 40 inches wide by 18 inches high for a three week voyage into hell. Men, women and children crammed together in the same stinking holds. Some ships lost over half of their cargo to disease and despair before they even made the slave pens in the West Indies.
The trade in slaves was abolished in 1807. Slavery itself was abolished within the empire in 1833. William Wilberforce died three days later. The fight, all of it continues. The "but, you don't mean" monster and its children are alive and doing very, very well.