Dusty Smith, of the Cult of Dusty YouTube channel, has made a video claiming that black Christians are Uncle Toms. The argument goes that the Bible was used to justify the slave trade, and by endorsing the Bible, black Christians are endorsing as the word of God the scriptures used to justify the enslavement of their ancestors. It is true that the Bible was used to justify slavery. However, justification is not the same thing as explicitly calling for something. The Bible never calls on white people to take black people as slaves, and it never asserts that black people are inferior to white people. In fact, the books of the Bible were written by Hebrews, not by Europeans, and nothing in the Bible addresses differences or relations between white and black people. The motive for slavery is not the same thing as the justification for slavery, and the motive cannot be found in the Bible. The motive was economics. White people wanted cheap labor, and slavery was a way to get it.
The problem was that slavery is evil, and in order to proceed with the slave trade while continuing to call themselves good people, the white people who wanted slaves needed a justification for it. Since these white people at this time in history were Christians, it is natural that they turned to their own Christian scriptures to justify slavery. They found verses that allowed the Hebrews to make slaves of foreigners, and they applied these verses to themselves. This allowed them to do the evil they wanted to do under the delusion that God approved of it, which allowed them to tell themselves that it was not evil.
It is important to understand the difference between motive and justification. Motive provides the reason why someone does something. Justification provides the reason why someone allows himself to do something. In Freudian terms, motive proceeds from the id, and justification is used to soothe the superego. As I mentioned in my dissertation, evil has two components. One is active, and one is passive. The active element is wickedness, which provides the motive for evil; the passive element is immorality, which allows evil to happen without opposition. The Bible never provided the motive for slavery. The motive for slavery has existed in many cultures throughout history. The Bible’s role here was to dull the recognition that slavery was evil.
And it should also be noted that the Bible was being used selectively here. The Bible is not a coherent document that speaks in one clear voice. It is a record of the evolving religious and moral beliefs of Hebrews over thousands of years. It records laws from when the Hebrews practiced slavery, but it also records moral reform. One of the most important is the golden rule, which says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A thorough application of the golden rule would condemn slavery as immoral. After all, what slave master ever wanted to be treated as a slave? Slavery is the epitome, the very essence of, doing unto others as you would not want them to do unto you. It is about treating other people merely as means to your own ends without considering that they have ends of their own.
Furthermore, slavery is theft, which is prohibited in the Ten Commandments. Slavery is the theft of a person’s means to an independent livelihood. It robs a person of the very ability to labor for himself. It also robs a person of the ability to live as he chooses, where he chooses, and among whom he chooses. Slavery robs people of freedom, and a thorough application of “Thou shalt not steal” prohibits slavery.
Besides that, the story of the Exodus was a story about God liberating his people from slavery. In this story, there was a recognition that slavery was evil and that liberation from slavery was a good thing. Naturally, the story of the Exodus came to play a prominent role in the Christianity of African-Americans. When I searched Google for let my people go, the very first link was to a YouTube video of a black man named Paul Robeson singing the hymn “Let My People Go.”
Given all this, it was natural for abolitionists to find ammunition against slavery in Christianity. In light of this, it is unfair to call black Christians Uncle Toms. The Christianity of African-Americans is the Christianity of the abolitionists, who found in Christianity moral teachings that could be used to condemn slavery. Again, it is important to stress that the Bible is not a consistent document. It contains moral codes to which it sometimes makes exceptions or which it sometimes fails to carry out to their logical conclusion. For example, there is “Thou shalt not kill” in the Ten Commandments, and then there are commands for the Hebrews to kill groups of Canaanites and to leave no survivors. Some of the most renowned Hebrew heroes are mass murderers, such as Samson and King David. Even though Hebrews tell of the story of their release from slavery and have a commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” which condemns slavery when carried to its logical conclusion, there were Hebrews who wanted to have slaves, and the Hebrew law contained exceptions to allow them to have slaves. In the New Testament, slaves were told to obey their masters, but Christians weren’t being told to go out and make slaves of people. In its fullest application, the golden rule would condemn slavery, but the New Testament did not take its application this far. Even so, it did tell Christians to give up their wealth, and taken to its logical conclusion that would include giving up having slaves. Of course, this is one of the first things that Christians have long ignored. Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. Apologists for the rich have tried to reinterpret what is meant by the eye of a needle. Slavery has always been about furthering one man’s wealth at the expense of others. It is a means to wealth that clearly violates the golden rule, and taking the words of Jesus to their logical conclusion, no Christian should enslave another person.
The white Christians who used the Bible to justify slavery were practicing covert blasphemy toward the end of justifying evil. When you think of blasphemy, you might normally think of overt blasphemy, which is speaking out against God. But it’s not the only kind of blasphemy. There is also covert blasphemy, which is the use of religious beliefs to justify evil. For example, Christians who condemn homosexuality on the grounds that “God hates fags” are practicing covert blasphemy. Ted Peters has made the distinction between overt and covert blasphemy in his book Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society. He describes seven steps to radical evil, and self-justification and blasphemy are the fifth and seventh steps he lists. Stated in more ethical terms, overt blasphemy is the rejection of what you associate with goodness, and so a rejection of goodness itself, whereas covert blasphemy is the association of your ultimate moral standard with evil. It is to take what is your ultimate moral standard, which for Christians has been God, and misapply it in support of evil. In rejecting slavery while accepting Christianity, black Christians are recognizing that the use of Christianity to justify slavery was a misuse of Christianity and of the idea of a good and loving God. Therefore, being a black Christian does not make someone an Uncle Tom.