Acton Institute Powerblog

A secular Jew makes a surprising discovery about Christians and American slavery

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“Christians ended slavery. Do you think that’s a conservative simpleton’s mock-worthy bombast, embarrassing the rest of us with his black-and-white, unapologetic caricature of American history?” asks John B. Carpenter in this week’s Acton Commentary. “No. It is the considered conclusion of a Nobel laureate, a former communist, a secular Jew, and arguably the foremost scholar on American slavery.”

The moral question: If Southern slavery was profitable, even providing for the slaves a relatively decent material life, then why is it evil? If slavery is wrong, then, we have to look beyond the beans that can be counted, the dollars that can be earned, the efficiency that can be charted. The answer is found in a system of morality that comes from beyond mere materialism.

Fogel saw that the American institution of slavery was evil because it depends on unrestrained domination. One group of people determine, in God-like fashion, the fate of others. Slavery was, for Fogel, a “Time on the Cross.” This was the original objection of Christian abolitionists and that caught Fogel’s eye. Christians provided the other-worldly ethics that ended a system that worked in this world that had been normal. But Christians believed that normalcy and efficiency were no excuse if it offended the next world.

The full text of the essay can be found here.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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