Sunday, July 12, 2015

What's with the Church's record on slavery? part 2

Letter to Ray Sizzehm continued...
We Americans are proud of our repudiation of slavery, and that we fought a Civil War to end it.  I am not so sure that we were told the truth in high school history classes. Slavery in the United States didn’t end with the Civil War.
It is interesting that Abraham Lincoln did not talk about the complete abolition of slavery until he had safely won a second term as president. He seems to have been opposed to slavery since his youth, but he knew that if he prosecuted the war, in a way that was a “war to free the Negroes” (the phrase then current) the average Northern soldier would have laid down his weapons.  He didn’t like slavery, but liked blacks even less, just as he disliked Catholics, Jews, and the Irish. Illinois among other states passed laws to keep free blacks out of the state during the Civil War.  The fact is that in many places a kind of slavery was reintroduced after the Civil War that kept African Americans in servitude. This system didn’t begin finally to break down until my childhood in the 1950’s.  A rose by any other name….

I am afraid that the Catholic Church has never fully repudiated slavery, at least until modern times.  That, I believe has to do with the fact that slavery is alive and well and you, dear reader, are its beneficiary.   Slavery is defined by the United Nations as: “debt bondage, serfdom, forced marriage and the delivery of a child for the exploitation of that child are all slavery-like practices and require criminalization and abolishment.”  The 1930 Forced Labor Convention defines slavery as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily".
 I think the definition given by Lincoln two years before the Civil War in the Lincoln Douglas debates is the clearest and simplest definition:

They (slavery and freedom) are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
 Allow me to quote the New York Times, Dec. 2, 2014, that’s a year and half ago. 
Modern-day slaves include construction workers in the Persian Gulf, girls from Nepal trafficked into prostitution, shrimp fishermen on Thai ships, children in India working in brick kilns and garment workers in Bangladesh. Slavery is also present in prostitution rings, and even in private homes that employ domestic workers in the United States and Europe….. Despite laws that clearly make the practice illegal, slavery is increasing. Women and girls account for 70 percent of those trafficked.  Just five countries account for 61 percent of the world’s slaves. India has, by far, more enslaved people than any country — more than 14 million. Three million are enslaved in China; two million in Pakistan; 1.2 million in Uzbekistan and one million in Russia. In Mauritania, which made slavery illegal decades ago but remains prey to an entrenched tradition of slavery, 4 percent of the population is enslaved.
 To that list, I would add Sudan where Christian boys from the south are sold, last I heard for about $50, though I imagine with the war slowing down and inflation, the price has gone up. Also on the list Iraq and Syria where Muslims sell Christian girls as young as three and four to fill the harems of the Muslim world and our friend Saudi Arabia where people, especially young Filipino girls come to find work and then to their surprise are not allowed to leave despite horrible abuse. Let us not cluck our tongues and shake our heads. 
As I write this I am sitting at a desk that comes from Indonesia (some assembly required) wearing cheap polyester blend clothing made probably by underpaid forced labor or by prisoners in China as does the coffee cup which keeps me awake with its blessed tawny nectar. I am wearing sandals made by little Indonesian girls who are locked in a factory and paid 22 cents an hour. The sandals are very nice. They cost almost $30.00. The shoe stores and the manufacturers divvied up $30 and gave a few cents to the forced child labor that made them. I have not reputed slavery nor have you. “You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.” As Lincoln might have said today, “You make shoes and I’ll wear them, you make laptops and I’ll sell them you make chairs and I’ll sit on them.”  We have not repudiated slavery in this country. We have just moved it to places where it can’t be easily seen.  
Every time you buy a new pair of sneakers or fill up your gas tank you are enjoying the fruits of slavery. Stop your pious liberal belly aching.  Wherever the Christianity has flourished and Catholicism in particular, slavery has diminished. The Catholic Church was perhaps the first major organization in the world to condemn slavery Pope Benedict XIV condemned slavery in the papal bull Immensa Pastorum in 1741.  The other great world religions seem to have no problem. Islam to this day permits slavery and it is primarily among Muslims that slavery is being given new life through the efforts of the new Muslim Caliphate in the Middle East. Hinduism seems to have no problem with slavery and the great new world religion of secularism which has just given us gay marriage, seems particularly fond of a more subtle kind of slavery.
Catholicism has, however condemned something that we overlook, something that when combined with slavery produces one of the most evil institutions ever devised.  The Catholic Church has condemned racism by its very existence. "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus". (Galatians 3:28)  Notice St. Paul does not say you are the same, but that you are one in Christ. 
Christianity admits the existence of difference, but insists that it is not the central reality of human existence. Race for the Christian does not really exist except as an external factor, and no institution on earth has more consistently taught this than the Universal, that is catholic, Church.  People who claim to be Catholics may have been horrible racists, but as soon as European Catholicism encountered the completer other, they insisted that those others were also children of God with rights and dignities. In 1402, when the Spaniards “discovered “the Canary Islands they promptly started to enslave the “Guanches,” the indigenous inhabitants of that place. The pope condemned the practice. Regarding the Guanches, Eugene IV in 1435 wrote in his bull, Sicut Dudum
“...They have deprived the natives of their property or turned it to their own use, and have subjected some of the inhabitants of said islands to perpetual slavery, sold them to other persons and committed other various illicit and evil deeds against them... We order and command all and each of the faithful of each sex that, within the space of fifteen days of the publication of these letters in the place where they live, that they restore to their earlier liberty all and each person of either sex who were once residents of said Canary Islands...who have been made subject to slavery. These people are to be totally and perpetually free and are to be let go without the exaction or reception of any money.”
 When Europeans moved on to the Americas and “discovered” the great empires of the New World, Pope Paul III condemned the enslavement of the indigenous peoples in 1537. In the bull Sublimus Dei, Pope Paul III prohibited “unjust” kinds of enslavement relating to the indigenous peoples of the Americas and all others. He called enslavers allies of the devil and condemned attempts to justify slavery.  What did he mean by “unjust kinds of slavery”?  He meant precisely the kind of slavery that we practiced in the United States, chattel slavery based on race. “Chattel” means property. Chattel slavery makes a person a thing.  What the Church has always tried to do is to guarantee that even those who are enslaved have basic rights. They may not be treated as things. We have always insisted that every human being is a person, not a thing. To enslave the other because he is not “us” has always been condemned by Catholicism, though individuals who claim to be Christian have often ignored the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, as they still do today.
As we human beings try to extricate ourselves from the economic predicament of slavery, which  is now and will be for the foreseeable future a major part of the world’s economy, Christianity has said for the very beginning that the other is human and that all people are descended from a common origin and are thus a  family.  Nazis and all other forms of racism deny this. The Church has always championed the universality of the human person. The saints of the Church have always represented the many nations and languages of the earth. Sanctity has never been based on so-called race. The bishops of the Church are the most truly international organization in the world today, despite the pretensions of the United Nations.  The world is trying its best to bring back slavery. Thank heaven for the Church which will always resist the spread of slavery. 
A word of caution to those who want to destroy the Church:  who will struggle to keep you free if you succeed in destroying her?
Rev. Know-it-all

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