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Religious Justifications Of Slavery In The Caribbean (стр. 1 из 2)

Essay, Research Paper

The doctrine of Christianity grants eternal life to all persons who accept that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and choose to follow him. Such a statement leaves little room for interpretation of the scripture itself. Nevertheless, the nineteenth century Christian churches of the Caribbean Islands created a racial distinction between humans which determined who could and who could not be granted eternal life through the Christian faith. This concept of race was based on the belief that Africans were intellectually unable to make an educated decision regarding personal religion. Planters supported this discrimination against their workers because then they did not have to be cruel to fellow Christians. Two kinds of Christianity existed in the Caribbean during the nineteenth century. Planters and the church of the elite, mainly the Anglican church upheld a Christian faith that served mainly to justify the wealth of the ruling class, and the oppression of the enslaved peoples. The other side of the Christian religion served to promote the religious education of the slaves by operating under the non-traditional belief that all men were worthy of hearing the gospel, and making a choice for or against Christianity. This underground form of Christianity more closely represents the true ideals of the Christian faith, and grossly illuminates the corruption of Christianity at the hands of the planters.

During slavery many families were separated: fathers, mothers and children were attached to different plantations with the result that some never saw their family members again. The responsibility of bringing up the children rested primarily with the mothers and grandmothers. This situation gave rise to a matriarchal type of family which is still common in the Caribbean today. Formerly slaves had little or no knowledge or opportunity of legal marriages. (Later they were informed by the missionaries). The slave owners did not encourage the institution of marriage. It was felt that the strength and power of the marriage union would offer a threat to the Plantation System. Concubinage was encouraged as it was believed that this frail type of union would keep the negroes humble and complacent. Despite the rapid social changes taking place, common-law marriages and concubinage are still present in Caribbean and will perhaps be for a long time.

During the latter part of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century (1890-1910) there was a large movement of people from Jamaica to Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica and the United States of America in search of jobs. Fathers travelled away from their families leaving mothers to be solely responsible for the upbringing of their children. During the 1950s there was an exodus of Jamaicans to England. These included both fathers and mothers, and so, many children were left to be cared for by their grandmothers and other relatives.

Although families differ in form according to the society, they nevertheless are responsible for carrying out certain functions. The chief of these are:

1. Procreation or reproduction – for continuation of the species.

2. Socialisation which includes -education, religion, preparation for a career, learning social relationships, management of leisure and being a responsible citizen.

3. Providing the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, health care and love.

4. Transmitting the culture: that is, passing on the language, ideas, beliefs and attitudes, goals and values.

5. Preventing incest, by regulating kinship relationships

6. Conferring Status:

Status may be of 2 kinds, namely:

(a) derived: that is, inherited like familyname, language and speech, schooling, relationships and privileges.

(b) acquired: that is earned by the individual from the society based on the individual’s own performance.

Family functions are more or less universal, in that families through-out the world are expected to perform these functions for the Benefit chiefly of their family members and the community. Family roles are determined within the social setting of the family and are performed by individual family members. Families all over the world perform the functions outlined before, regardless of the society in which they live. Individual, family members, however, have different roles which they perform from day to day for the welfare of the family as a whole and the members in particular.

Roles of a generalized nature are attributed to certain family members: for example father as breadwinner, housekeeper, counsellor and caring person, depending on circumstances and family situation. Other family members like teenagers and grandparents can contribute from their earnings and pensions respectively to family income and encourage habits of thrift. Other roles include special household tasks like meal preparation and service, cleaning, sanitation, coring for pets, some of which con be performed by younger family members. Younger family members also add to the family’s aesthetic values by their music, drama and other art forms.

Parents’ roles include development of spiritual values, guidance in educational and social development, as well as giving assistance in forming good personal relationships.

In summary family roles include: sharing and performing home tasks pooling resources, pooling resources, assuming supporting roles, meeting family needs, recognizing individual rights, assuming role of breadwinner, helping to establish values.

The church of the elites struggled to justify the role of slavery in contemporary Caribbean life. This church, primarily of the Anglican denomination sought only to supplicate its financial supporters, so that its future existence would be insured. The justification of slavery went back far into biblical history. References to slavery litter the Old Testament of the Bible, creating arguments for the support of slavery. Many men of the Old Testament such as Abraham, David, and Moses referred to themselves as slaves of the Lord. However, these men referred to slavery as a voluntary condition, which one entered into by agreement and belief that the Lord would reap benefits upon those who bowed to Him. These definitions of slavery also focus more at the spiritual being than the physical being. However, the Israelites twisted this notion of slavery into the subjugation of other peoples, because they had been named the Lord’s chosen people. Moses wrote in the book of Leviticus:

“As for your male and female slaves whom you may have – you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. `Then, too, it is out of the sons of sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. `You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.”(Bible, Leviticus 25:44-46)

The Jews interpreted this passage as a license to own slaves and a reaffirmation of their superiority over other nations (and races). The Old Testament offered little to contradict the institution of slavery as it became an approved fixture within society. (Davis, 1966, p.63-65) Ancient biblical theology interpreted the slavery of the Jews in Egypt as a necessary period of bondage in preparation for freedom. Slavery, therefore, was a step towards salvation and freedom, not a permanent bondage. However freedom was not easy to come by for the slaves. Many slave women wanted their freedom and the freedom of their children. They wanted also to do housework and be free from the toils of field labour as well as to escape the economic hardship of slavery. So they submitted to the sexual advances of the planters and slave masters, and bore them children outside of wedlock. A similar pattern exists today (even though to a lesser extent) where positions and special considerations are exchanged for sexual favours. This passage in Leviticus represented one of the earliest justifications of the slavery of another people. Because the Jews had suffered under slavery, now others were destined to follow the same path, to one day achieve their freedom. The New Testament, containing the teachings of Jesus Christ discredited this earlier justification of slavery by redefining the Jews’ definition of slavery. Jesus used the term in a much broader context. The Apostle John wrote:

“Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, `You shall become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever.”(Bible, John 8:31-35)

Jesus here extended the definition of slavery to extend beyond physical bondage. The Jews, having lived with the righteous belief that they were the chosen people, never considered themselves to be in bondage to anything. Jesus, and his follower Paul, taught that there existed two forces over men, God and Satan, and that humans lay in a perpetual state of bondage to either of these two forces. Therefore, from the Christian perspective, true freedom came only when one pledged oneself fully to the will of God, becoming in essence a slave or servant to God’s Word. The alternative to this slavery was slavery to sin, which deceived individuals because it allowed people to do whatever they wished to do. Such free choice normally denotes freedom, not a slavery. Therefore, slavery became inevitable, the only issue was to what would an individual choose to enslave him or herself.

This theology came as a double-edged sword to both pro-slavery and anti-slavery movements. Jesus’ teaching inferred that all men were equal before the Lord, and subject to both God and Satan. This held owners and planters as equals, a strong point for anti-slavery movements. For slavery advocates, the fact that Christian slaves were to accept their condition as ordained by God discouraged slave revolt, and encouraged the peaceful continuance of the slave society. Human existence on earth should not matter to Christians, having been assured eternal life after death. If Christians fought for emancipation, either for themselves, or for others, they took responsibility away from God and placed it with themselves, denying their faith in their deliverance.

Paul’s Epistle to Philemon discusses the issue of slavery directly. This letter instructs Philemon to take back Onesimus, a former slave of Philemon, whom Paul had converted to Christianity. Paul asked Philemon to treat Onesimus as a spiritual brother, not as a bondservant. By obeying Paul’s instruction, Onesimus’ bondage to Philemon would not have carried the connotations that slavery carry today. While Onesimus would remain subject to Philemon for employment, an atmosphere of exploitation would not have existed. This theory relied on both the master and slave maintaining a solid religious basis in Christianity. For planters and slaves in the nineteenth century Caribbean, a mutual understanding of Christian beliefs did not exist, and was prevented from existing by sections of the Christian church. Therefore, the conception that the Christian church condoned slavery is only partially correct. While the Christian faith does allow for slavery, it does not allow for slavery under the conditions that existed in the Caribbean. The Anglican church however, ignored the New Testament teachings in order to support their patrons, the planter class. The church, though charged by the European monarchies with instructing the slaves in Christian practices, took an uninterested approach to missions work with the Africans. The planters wished to avoid the Christianization of their slaves, thus becoming guilty of abusing fellow Christians in the eyes of God. This tailoring of Christianity to fit a certain predetermined set of circumstances, and complacent attitude towards the religious responsibilities to the slaves marked the deep corruption of the Christian church.

As slavery established itself in the region, a difference between Protestant and Catholic theologies developed on the religious treatment of slaves. The Catholic nations of Spain and Portugal employed priests to perform rudimentary baptisms on the slaves, usually before they departed from the African continent. This practice ensured that the Catholics had completed their responsibility of `Christianizing’ their slaves. In fact, the slaves received no instruction in the Christian faith, and certainly did not understand the rituals performed by the Catholic priests. The Protestants, on the other hand, discouraged religious education of slaves because of statutes within the Protestant church forbidding the ownership and exploitation of fellow Christians. They also felt that their safety and security rested upon the ignorance of their workers. If slaves were educated and given knowledge, the slave owners worried that their justifications of slavery would fall under attack from the oppressed class, exactly what had already happened on mainland Europe during the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century. This belief ran directly against true Christian teaching, which said that the slaves, upon good Christian education would realize their position within society and would work in return for fair treatment as described above.

Even if the slaves had been granted a Christian education by the Protestants, it is unlikely they would have received better treatment. Most plantations focused on the production of sugar, requiring grueling fieldwork by slave gangs. To convert this labor to a more civilized schedule, allowing workers free time, and proper food and shelter would have raised the costs of plantation operation exorbitantly for the planters. The owners of these plantations, mostly absent from the region cared only for profits, and money. Any cost not directly resulting in more income was deemed unnecessary. The maltreatment of the slaves was further encouraged by the low prices for slaves. It became more economical to work slaves to death than to care for them. With such conditions, it was not surprising that few slaveowners allowed Christian education for the slaves. (Hart, 1980, pg.119)

The large institutional religions of Europe were not the only Christian influences in the Caribbean at this time. Other denominations such as the Baptists, Moravians, and Methodists established missions programs throughout the Caribbean Basin to educate the slaves independently. These religious groups offered a strong political base to the slaves as well, becoming more of a political institution than a religious one. Nonetheless, the slaves looked to the Christian faith as means to freedom from the oppression of servitude. Such movements to educate the slaves did not meet with the approval of the plantation masters, fearful of the growing education and political identity that the slaves gained through the church. Slaveowners convinced the Jamaican parliament to pass an ordinance in 1807 forbidding any unlicensed minister to “preach or teach, or offer up in public prayer, or sing psalms.” Penalties for breaking this ordinance ranged from 100 Pounds to six months imprisonment in the workhouse. To further curtail slave participation in religious ceremonies, parliament further restricted worship practices for all island inhabitants. This ordinance, restricting worship during the free hours of slaves, attempted to discourage participation among slaves in religious gatherings. Such measures against these Christian religions proved pointless, and eventually the slaveowners turned to their own form of education to attempt to take control of their slaves religious life. This teaching consisted of the basic belief in Jesus, neglecting any theological study or background to empower the slaves into the effects and responsibilities of Christianity. The slaveowners though professing to follow the Christian faith, actually were more cultural Christians than religious Christians, and instead of educating the slaves in the religious Christian sense, they preferred to make the slaves cultural Christians, so they would not be inclined to follow the Bible religiously, and then realize the full implications of Jesus’ teaching on slavery.

The Anglican and Catholic churches, in deference to their desire to remain in the good graces of the ruling class did not actively rally against these laws. However, other Christian denominations continued undeterred by the laws and unfavorable conditions put forth by the ruling class. The Moravians were the first missionary group to exert an influence upon the Negros of Jamaica. Establishing themselves as early as 1754, these missionaries, did not upset the slaveowners primarily because they exhibited a very poor track record in terms of evangelizing and conversions. By 1804, the Moravians claimed only 938 converts in 50 years of Christian teaching.(Patterson, 1967, pg. 209) As a result, the slaveowners did not actively prosecute the Moravians in the preaching.

The Methodists established a missionary unit in 1789 and quickly made more of an impact among white, free black, and slave population on Jamaica. This interest exhibited by free blacks upset the white landowners because it gave the blacks, albeit free, a central organizational unit from which to gain power. The slaveowners operated solely out of self-protection of their plantations, and because they knew that treatment of the slaves was abhorrent, they wore worried that those exploited might rise up against their power. This admission looks psychologically into the minds of the slaveowners, showing their knowledge of unfair treatment and coercion, and their guilt at inflicting it upon another human being. Thus came the undeniably different attitude held by the owners towards the Methodists.

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