The Challenges of Religious Rhetoric posed by 12 Years a Slave

1 Nov

I’m still waiting for 12 Years a Slave to arrive around here. Reflections such as the following increase my interest in seeing the film:

In the film, slaveholders use Christian rhetoric and biblical passages to insist that slavery was ordained by God and consistent with being a “good” Christian. This is juxtaposed with scenes of enslaved men and women singing songs and hymns of the same Christian tradition, the very tradition used to justify their enslavement. It’s a fundamental religious question: how can the same scripture, the same songs and the same religious rhetoric be used both to justify slavery and to insist that it’s evil? The institution of slavery served as a religious battleground. Whose version of the divine and whose version of scriptural faithfulness would dominate public discourse?

So asks Yolanda Pierce, faculty member at Princeton Theological Seminary. See her full piece here:

Slavery and religious rhetoric | The Christian Century.

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2 Responses to “The Challenges of Religious Rhetoric posed by 12 Years a Slave”

  1. Closet_Theologian_209 November 1, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    “And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.” Exodus 21:16 (KJV). Whether a case can be constructed for slavery or against it is irrelevant. The Torah Law is “no kidnapping” and “no selling of kidnapped people”. Our interpretation is just haughtiness over the Divine Law; idolatry by our reason. It is important to return to Jesus’s temptation in the desert. Satan temps with interpretation and Jesus fires back with the Torah—not reason.

    • Douglas Firth Anderson November 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

      1. I take it you are replying to Pierce’s questions.
      2. You are saying we should be guided by the Torah? Today, or only back in Northup’s time? The Torah says a lot of things … we should all be following them all now? For example, Lev. 20:9-21? If not, who interprets which are still relevant? Also, what then of the New Covenant/Testament?
      3. Would you say all slaves, then and now, are “stolen”? Christian slaveholders might well have granted that Northup was stolen, but they would have argued that the slaves born on their plantations were not stolen. Slavery was justified in their view, on a biblical basis, and Ex. would be irrelevant, in their view.
      4. So Jesus only went by the Torah?
      5. And, there should no interpretation? Only of the Torah? Of anything? All interpretation is idolatrous, and use of reason is idolatrous? (Your assertions/declarations themselves need a bit of interpreting, don’t they?)
      6. The Sadducees went only by the Torah. According to Jesus, they interpreted it wrong, at least so far as resurrection.

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