Nothing New Under the Sun

I was looking for an illustration to go with a sermon on a “our citizenship is in heaven” sermon. Pastor Mitchell’s classic on the subject is something I still carry in my soul to this day. He had described each Roman colony as a little piece of Rome, as each church is meant to be a little piece of heaven influencing the areas around us. I was trying to find Mark Steyn’s writing on the lasting influence of the British colonies upon the world we live in today. I came across this Mark Steyn article “The Man who Murdered Slavery”.

Always enjoying his writing and had read the article before, but I liked this part:

But what was decisive was the way Wilberforce ‘murdered’ (in Metaxas’s word) the old acceptance of slavery by the wider society. As he wrote in 1787, ‘God almighty has set before me two great objects: the
suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.’

The latter goal we would now formulate as ‘changing the culture’ —
which is what he did.

Then as now, citizens of
advanced democracies are easily distracted. The 18th- century Church of
England preached ‘a tepid kind of moralism’ disconnected both from any
serious faith and from the great questions facing the nation. It was a
sensualist culture amusing itself to death: Wilberforce goes to a
performance of Don Juan, is shocked by a provocative dance, and is then
further shocked to discover the rest of the audience is too blasé even
to be shocked. The Paris Hilton of the age, the Prince of Wales, was
celebrated for having bedded 7,000 women and snipped from each a
keepsake hair. Twenty-five per cent of all unmarried females in London
were whores; the average age of a prostitute was 16; and many brothels
prided themselves on offering only girls under the age of 14.

But the life of William Wilberforce and the bicentennial of
his extraordinary achievement remind us that great men don’t shirk
things because the focus-group numbers look unpromising. What we think
of as ‘the Victorian era’ was, in large part, an invention of
Wilberforce which he succeeded in selling to his compatriots. We,
children of the 20th century, mock our 19th-century forebears as uptight
prudes, moralists and do-gooders. If they were, it’s because of
Wilberforce. His legacy includes the very notion of a ‘social
conscience’: in the 1790s, a good man could stroll past an 11-year-old
prostitute on a London street without feeling a twinge of disgust or
outrage; he accepted her as merely a feature of the landscape, like an
ugly hill. By the 1890s, there were still child prostitutes, but there
were also charities and improvement societies and orphanages.

The article does a great job in describing the destruction of the slave trade, I included the parts in which Wilberforce realized he needed to change how society saw slavery (normal) as well as how society saw immorality (normal). Here was the conclusion of the article:

Our schoolhouses revile the Victorian
do-gooders as condescending racists and oppressors — though the single
greatest force for ending slavery around the world was the Royal Navy.
Isn’t societal self-loathing just another justification for lethargy?
After all, if the white man is inherently wicked, that pretty much
absolves one from having to do anything. And so the same kind of lies we
told ourselves about slaves we now tell ourselves about other faraway
people, and for the same reason: because big changes are tough and who
needs the hassle? The hardest thing in any society is ‘the reformation
of manners.’





About hansston

Pastor a church in Sparta.
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