“I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” – Harriet Tubman
I’ve been reading, off and on, The Forge of Christendom by Tom Holland. Holland does a nice job, I think of pulling together the historical sources in an interesting tale (I very much enjoyed his previous books Rubicon and Persian Fire). In the book, Holland gives a fantastic description of life in early France during the rise of castles, knights, and nobles.
The basic story line is simple. The people were free across the countryside, living in small communities and coming together as a community to decide community matters. The early “nobles” (they were not called by this name, but it is what we could consider them), rarely operated under direct allowance of any king. Rather, they would step in, build up a stone fortification (castle), and use it as a defensive mechanism from which to exert their will over the masses. They’d hire thugs (knights) and set up shop as the authority in the community.
During those days, the people would subsist not only on crops, but also on foraging, hunting, and fishing in the ample woodlands. This would not do for the nobles. You see, the nobles had a fairly easy time exacting a portion of the produce from the fields. It’s a predictable process; you know when the harvest is going on – so you simply go out and take what is your “fair share” … which nobody can determine but you. As such, a nobleman wanted a large crop, meaning he needed people to work in the fields. The dilemma was that people could also find meals in the woods. They’d skip working in the fields today and go hunting instead, or fishing, or foraging. The family was fed just the same, and life carried on.
How do you address this, as a noble lord? Simple, you claim all the lands surrounding the village as your own, and charge those who dare enter them with trespassing. No more skulking off to go fishing or hunting … get back to work in the fields and make some more crops for me!
It is a story as old as humanity itself. A man can produce with the work of his hands and the sweat of his brow. He can make things, develop things, produce things. He can then consume these things in the course of his life. He often trades what he is good at making for what he is good at consuming. Markets, bartering, trade, specialization … economies develop. Eventually though, a man finds that he wants to consume more than he produces. Try though he might, he is unable to produce enough to satisfy his desires. What is he to do?
The obvious answer is to find a way to consume some of the produce of others. It’s really quite simple and brilliant at the same time.
Now, the degree of consumptive usurpation varies throughout history, though generally it is limited not by benevolence but by constraints on the system. For instance, slave masters in the south completely owned their slaves – but still had to feed them, clothe them, and shelter them. That is, some of the production of their slaves had to go to the care and subsistence of the slaves themselves. The French noblemen found a different constraint – the villagers had options. They could go feed themselves with untaxable production in the wilderness. No wonder the noblemen moved quickly to stop this nonsense. Even still, there was only so much they could tax the crops, or the villagers too would cease to exist – and they’re no good to you dead.
These practices were horrid, wretched, and an offense against God. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” – 1 John 4:20.
And yet, the practices persisted – often by folks who were regular churchgoers. All manner of trumped up justifications were produced. Slavery in the south was justified on the basis that these people were better off as slaves in a Christian nation than free men in their heathen lands. Then there was a clever ruse about the “Curse of Ham” – that somehow Africans were just reaping a Biblical curse, and southern white slave owners were enforcing God’s will (see Gen 9).
The practice has by no means ceased.
Estimates show that better than half of all Americans receive federal benefits. Let me rephrase that. Better than half of all Americans reap where they have not sown, they consume what they did not produce. We live in a democracy (yes, I know it’s a “republic” – but look at its recent behavior and tell me it’s anything other than a democracy). In this democracy, a large number of the citizenry have voted for government policies that bequeath to themselves the produce of others. Did they use the slave trade? Did they claim authority over the surrounding lands to trap villagers in their farming industry? No, they simply voted, and demanded, and voted some more. They promised that their votes would continue to roll in, so long as the produce of others was funneled in their direction.
The whole charade was wrapped in moralistic arguments (sound familiar?). “But these are the most needy in our society.” A question for you, friend: weren’t there elderly or crippled slave owners in antebellum south who were unable to produce for themselves? Did their inability to harvest crops on their own justify slavery? I think not.
Should we abandon the poor and needy, the elderly and infirm? By no means! But we should aide them freely, not by force. We should supply their needs of our own benevolence, not as a result of subjugation. (Remember, there is a big difference between sacrifice and oppression. The end result may be the same, from a material standpoint, but the heart of the matter is the freedom to choose for the parties involved.)
We find ourselves today in a situation where nearly the entirety of the federal revenue is consumed by entitlements. It is consumed by those who did not produce it. Nearly the entire revenue of the federal government is swallowed up in an exercise of consuming what was produced by others. Without remorse or reflection they have grabbed authority over the produce of your life and heaped it upon themselves. We are a nation of slaves and masters.
To this we ask a simple question, from the standpoint of the Christian. Are you praying for your slave masters? Our Lord was unambiguous.
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matt 5:44-45
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” – Luke 6:27-28
We have, each of us, been given life by our Creator. He has granted us this great gift – He has given it to each of us individually. It is a crime for one to steal away the life of another, whether in whole or in small pieces as time goes by. But crimes, and abuses, and sin itself are the nature of this fallen world – and we, as Christians, are told clearly to pray for our oppressors, and to trust in God’s provision for our lives. And so we shall.