Being a part of Bibliophile’s Workshop’s many different blog tours,“ will give you the opportunity to read various novels, spanning many genres and writing styles, along with helping share new, promising titles with readers all across the internet.
James’ Journey Blog Tour Monday, April 20,2015- Ends Saturday April 25, 2015
Information About the Book:
Day #3, April 22,2015- The ‘Quaker’ Spirituality of the Abolitionists
We are still facing the lasting effects of the Civil War, a war unparalleled in our country’s time. Beyond that though, a deep rift was cut in the fabric of American Christianity, which we still see tangible effects of such to this day. Many Christians in America, especially those in the South, during the 19th century, were strongly opposed to the Abolitionist Movement. Within the pages of Helen Lundstrom’s abolitonist novel James’ Journey, the Virginia plantation owners had nothing but antipathy for the abolitionists, whom they saw as posing as economic threat to their very way of life. Historically, Christians have long faced the inconsistencies of their own beliefs, as cultures change rapidly, yet a certain fixed, uncompromising orthodox approach to scripture, from a bygone era, creates predictable conflict within the minds of Christians. During the Crusades, the Catholic Church argued that the violence was necessary, in order to reclaim their stake on the Holy Land. They also looked to the various Old Testament accounts of wars being waged between different tribes, and how God was always on the side of the Israelite. As such, this notion of a God, a divine, timeless being, having a vested interest, in a earthly conflict (all paradoxes aside) became a fairly subconscious defense for the justification for many self-proclaimed holy wars.
In the same vein, the issue of slavery was justified by many branches of Christianity in American History, due to the ample number of clearly-phrased verses, in the New Testament, that supposedly validated slavery as something God accepted. Of course in the context of that time, the reason parts of the New Testament spoke of slaves, honoring their masters was due to Biblical writers being careful of not appearing treasonous or inordinately radical, in the eyes of the Roman Empire. They were, first and foremost, worried about the survival of their new religion, so they didn’t want their enlightened ethical revelations to be too radical. There’s always been a rational, almost purposely pragmatic thrust to many of the supposed divine-inspired words of the Bible, which are most often written with the acute knowledge that overreaching one’s social barriers could very well spell unrest. Especially after Constantine, the church’s dogma become increasingly secular, abstruse, and really deeply entrenched in the politics of the time. The common stake in the ground, where people were crucified on (not a cross by any means) quickly became the symbol of a cross, under Constantine, to venerate war and the arsenal of a formidable empire, laying siege to ‘God’s enemies.’
The most successful religions invariably become more and more ‘political,” and secular over time;therefore, it is inevitable the most ubiquitous forms of modern-day religion are primarily fundamentalist, flagrantly political, and increasingly even fatalistic. That fatalism can be seen with those that held steadfast to trying to preserve the evil industry of slavery. But all religions have a very potent spiritual niche group, and Christianity is not a monolithic religion. There have always been groups that have been more focused on spirituality, versus the political focus of more secularized, organized ‘religions.’ For example, one of the most vital ethical Christian groups of this kind in early American History, and also a strong force in the growth and evolution of the Abolitionist force were the Quakers. In an England where the political hubris of the established church made religion seem to lose its spiritual vitality, the Quakers emerged with a startling revelation that served as a metaphorical progression of the deeper kernels of truth, contained in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This was a powerful belief in the notion of the ‘Inner Light;’ an egalitarian belief that the Holy Spirit was a spiritual force embedded in the hearts of all human beings. This meant that women, slaves, children, groups that historically been ruthlessly marginalized by established society, were just as equal and worthy of dignity/compassion/respect, as any other human being. The Quakers found a way to reconcile the nihilism of the spiritually dead forms of organized religion with an idea that God was not some intractably political,’Earthbound’ force, but a timeless entity that progressively speaks through the hearts of many. It was this belief, in the concept of the ‘Inner Light,” that led to the Quakers to condemn slavery in the late eighteenth century, long before many other such groups in America.
Over in Britain, a few years after Quakers had their own spiritual awakening, or ‘epiphany’ about the clear immorality of the industry of slavery. William Wilberforce, an English politician and philanthropist, begins feeling awash with a need to study the Word of God further, after becoming more active in the Church of England. But he decides against more sedentary, theological study, and instead feels compelled by some dynamic force within him, not much different from the Quaker concept of the ‘Inner Light,’ to help lead a passionate movement against England’s fairly industrious, economically-viable slave trade. Rather than remain silenced by the orthodoxy or dogma of the established church, who paid lip service to politicians, William Wilberforce followed his heart; he followed what ethical thoughts were illuminated in his own mind. He fought tirelessly with others, against opposition from a large swath of society; he was a spiritual contrarian, yet he largely helped lead the end to England’s involvement in the slave trade. The 2006 film, Amazing Grace, does an excellent job, portraying this wonderful, edifying tale on the screen, and I wholeheartedly recommend i (I’ll be reviewing it this Saturday,a review serving as the last post for this blog tour), but this strain of a more “spiritual-centrist” Christianity would not have been possible without the creation of the Quaker Church, and its reversal away from the more politicized form of “religious-centrist” Christianity.
Today’s emergent church is nothing contemporary, it is merely a continuation of the legacy of the Quaker Church, and the various progressive groups within different denominations, especially in America, that were formed, as a result,of a need to react in a powerfully ethical way against the evils of slavery. In James’ Journey, the character of James experiences a spiritual transformation of sorts, when he pays a visit with several Southern tourists, to the New York abolitionist church, led by Pastor Beecher. Originally, James goes in with a cynical heart, preparing to making flippant comments with his friends about these silly, overly-emotional, sensitive Abolitionists, who have no inkling of the economic reality of the South’s plantation system. But something invisibly works its spiritual magic on the mind of James, as he is overwhelmed by the proceedings of the service. This is an experience, much like that of the Quakers would have, seated in silence during a Quaker meeting, and being led, subtly by a strong moral impulse. That indignation that many of us when we feel maddened by the various moral atrocities of the world would be seen as a result of our ignoring the impulses of our Inner Voice. Many liberalized forms of Christianity, emerging and becoming more pivotal during the Abolitionist movement, are very much active forms of spirituality, impelling James and others in the novel James’ Journey to endure to work for helping with the abolitionist movement.
While we are living in what some phrase an “atheistic era,” we cannot neglect the fact that healthy spirituality among some groups in Christianity really helped the abolitionist movement to really come to fruition. Would it have existed, at a time where the very notion of atheism was very much an unthinkable concept, without some form of an active, ethically-motivated spirituality, like that articulated by the Quakers and several other progressive Christian groups that have emerged.These are questions I thought of, while reading the interesting stories we have of the various abolitionists, and stories of the freed slaves. Frederick Douglas, a very distinguished writer and former slave in the 19th century, worked to help with the creation of the early Suffragette movement, very much created in part by this more lively, spiritual,progressive form of Christianity, which saw their form of worship being tangible acts of compassion and help for the marginalized. Without the Quakers’ belief in the “Inner Light,” without more ethically-minded Christians who were focused more on compassion, and less on politics, less on “rigid belief,” and “abstruse theology,” would slavery remain? Would people continue, much like James in the story before visiting Beecher’s church, walking in a amoral fog and neglecting the plight of their brothers and sisters, who are being dehumanized all in the name of avarice, greed, and complacency.
These are questions to ponder, and they are reasons why reading the history of the Quakers in America, the very development of the abolitionist movement is such an important, valuable thing for all people to do at some point in their lives.
Tomorrow, I will be publishing my extensive thoughts on the book itself, then an interview Friday, and Saturday will include a review/discussion of the 2006 film Amazing Grace (Originally, I intended to use 12 Years a Slave,but discovered Amazing Grace was more thematically pertinent to my focus of these discussions.)