Monday, February 19, 2007

Essay 1728

From The New York Daily News…


Amazing grace always defeats hatred

By Stanley Crouch

Friday is the 200th anniversary of the day that the efforts of England’s abolitionists paid off and the British Parliament cast the vote that brought an end to the slave trade. This was one of the greatest moments in Western history and had absolutely no parallels in Africa, the Middle East or Asia. Is this because — as the owners of slaves and the defenders of slavery would have us believe — that the pale-skinned people of Europe were superior to those with darker hues or eyes that appeared to be slanted? Hardly.

The fact of the matter is that two things essentially cooked slavery’s goose. One was Christianity, because of its conception that there were no chosen people and that all had equal access to God. The other was the idea of universal humanism, the grandest conception to arrive in the 18th century. Universal humanism meant that there is a universal connection between human beings that transcends time, religion or place. To think that is a natural and very simple deduction is to be pathetically ignorant of the tribalistic thinking that has dominated the vision of our species and underlies all wars that are not fought over land masses.

Together, those two ideas were central to the thinking that led to the abolition of slavery without bloodshed in Europe and through an extremely bloody Civil War in the United States. In both cases and both places, things went beyond.

The campaign in England was led by William Wilberforce, and two events are taking place that acknowledge this momentous moment in world history. One of them is a very fine film called “Amazing Grace,” which opens this Friday to celebrate the anniversary of the campaign led by Wilberforce — a campaign which not only rocked the system of bondage but built its coffin and laid it to rest. The other is a superb history of the British campaign against slavery, which has the same name and was written by Eric Metaxas.

It is of absolute importance that we also see that the abolition of the slave trade helped to purify universal humanism, which was not initially conceived to include those from outside of Europe or outside of Christianity.

Great thinkers of the 18th-century Enlightenment such as Voltaire and John Locke went on the record making what seem now to be absurdly racist statements.

But the racist thoughts of even great thinkers were overmatched by the Christian will, the great determination and the resilient shrewdness Wilberforce brought to the long march that brought slavery down piece by piece.

Petitions, boycotts and brilliant strategy won the day.

“Amazing Grace,” whether seen or read, will prove to you how great a human effort abolition demanded and may convince you that it is time to stop allowing those in the South to pretend that the issue was any other than being able to legally own other human beings and treat them like lower animals capable of speech.

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