Autobiographies from the Dead – Jefferson the Founding Father

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Jefferson will tell you the story of his life and death.

Jefferson the Founding Founder

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800My name is Thomas Jefferson.  I am one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.  I almost single handedly wrote the Declaration of Independence.  I was the third President of the newly united colonies and one of the most influential and famous Americans who ever lived.  Many people equated my skills and abilities with those of Leonardo Da Vinci.  I was considered a Renaissance Man.  My quotes and writings are ubiquitous throughout the world.  My name is synonymous with the concepts of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Yet, here I am today looking down at my grave in sadness.  I would never have thought that the day would come when I would be scorned and spit on and called a hypocrite.  Of course, even in my lifetime, I had many critics and people who attacked my position.  But it is different today.  Now, they are not doing it for political gain or to thwart my plans for building a great nation.  Today, I am being criticized because they honestly believe that I was a hypocrite and that I deserve to be denounced for it.

The sad part is that they are right.  I was a hypocrite.  I was also a coward.

I want to explain why I did not free my slaves.  I suppose I could make a few good excuses that would have to do with the economic realities in which I was faced.  I can’t deny that I knew slavery was wrong.  I often talked about how evil the entire enterprise was.  Our “peculiar” thing was, as we called it down South, not simply peculiar, it was fundamentally cruel and malicious.  Nevertheless, I was never a very good business man and I teetered between bankruptcy and solvency on a daily basis.  There was no way I could have freed my slaves and still run an economically viable business.  I was caught between making a living and living my ethics.  I choose to eat and continue my privileged life style.  In the South, I was not condemned for this choice.  I received no accolades either.  This was the way we lived.  We owned slaves and slaves were inferior beings born and bred to work for the White man.   I lived in a strange world.  I could not accept these beliefs but neither could I break free of them.  I do not justify my acquiescence and I do not seek to be exculpated for my failures.   If I were in a dock today, I would plead guilty.  My soul could not rest without such an honest admission.

sally hemingsNow we come to Sally.  I loved her like I never loved any other woman in my life.  I started a clandestine affair with her when she was only 14.  Was I taking advantage of her?  Maybe so, I do not know.  I never forced her or threatened her or coerced her.  Perhaps it started out as an affair of passion when my wife was sick and I was not able to have sex with her.  Soon though, it grew into much more than that.  Sally was witty and smart and fun.   She had none of the pretenses of the typical Virginian lady.  In bed, there were no rules and anything went.  If I could have imagined heaven, it would have been being in bed with Sally.

People started to suspect that something more than slave master and mistress was transpiring between us.  I could not afford to let anyone think it was anything more than that.  In 1790, in Virginia, it was permissible to sleep with a slave.  It was not permissible to love a slave.  My reputation, my entire life would have been destroyed if it had been shown that I was openly consorting with a Black woman.  I had six children with Sally.  Each of these children was kept secret from everyone around us.  I took the secret of these children to my grave.  One hundred and fifty years later, my family are still attempting to deny my lineage to these children.   I am sorry that I had to deny them.  I was worse than Peter with Jesus.  They were my children but they were raised in my house as domestic servants.

I freed Sally and her surviving children when I died.  I could not afford to free all my slaves as this would have left my heirs with a large debt.  My lands, house and slaves merely paid off the mountain of bills that my creditors were clamoring to be paid for.

Did Sally love me?  I don’t know.  I would like to think that it was more than simply serving her master.  But who can tell?  In the warped and perverted system that we called our “peculiar” thing, how could a Black woman have a normal relationship with a White man or vice versa?  Suspicion, fear, prejudice, uncertainty and opportunism were all pervasive in Black-White relationships.  Sally may have seen me simply as a way to have her children freed.  I might have indulged a younger beautiful woman simply to satisfy the narcissism of “old” age.  Who knows?  There is no sense wondering what I would do if I could do things over again.  I am sure I would do the same thing that I did before.  I would indulge in cowardice and hypocrisy because I could do no other.

I am looking at my grave stone now.  It reads:

HERE WAS BURIED
THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

These were my most important accomplishments.  Please remember me for them.  Forgive me for my failings as a human being.  I never claimed to be a god or to be better than my fellow man.  I ask forgiveness from my children and my descendants.  I hope someday my ancestors will acknowledge the patrimony and lineage between the Hemings and the Jeffersons.  Ironic, that in some ways, this lineage is a more fitting tribute to the principle that “All men are created equal” than anything I have ever done with my life.

I never believed in a God of judgement or a God of human like characteristics.  My belief was in some kind of a higher power that created the galaxies but was not necessarily sentient.   I wander now through these galaxies looking for the god of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.   If I should find him, I will ask him why?  What was it all for?  What did I accomplish?  Would I have left a greater legacy if I had not been a hypocrite?  How could I have done this?   Would he forgive me for my hypocrisy and cowardice?  How do I get rid of the sadness and pain I feel?

Time for Questions:

Do you admire Thomas Jefferson?  What did you find most admirable about his life?  What would you have done if you were in Jefferson’s shoes?  Why?  What do you think he should have done with his slaves?  Why?  Do you think it was wrong for him to have a relationship with Sally Hemings?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

1789 “As far as I can judge from the experiments which have been made to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children. Many quakers in Virginia seated their slaves on their lands as tenants. They were distant from me, and therefore I cannot be particular in the details, because I never had very particular information. I cannot say whether they were to pay a rent in money, or a share of the produce: but I remember that the landlord was obliged to plan their crops for them, to direct all their operations during every season & according to the weather. But what is more afflicting, he was obliged to watch them daily & almost constantly to make them work, & even to whip them. A man’s moral sense must be unusually strong, if slavery does not make him a thief. He who is permitted by law to have no property of his own, can with difficulty conceive that property is founded in anything but force. These slaves chose to steal from their neighbors rather than work; they became public nuisances and in most instances were reduced to slavery again. But I will beg of you to make no use of this imperfect information (unless in common conversation). I shall go to America in the Spring & return in the fall. During my stay in Virginia I shall be in the neighborhood where many of these trials were made. I will inform myself very particularly of them, & communicate the information to you. Besides these there is an instance since I came away of a young man (Mr. Mayo) who died and gave freedom to all his slaves, about 200. This is about 4 years ago. I shall know how they have turned out. Notwithstanding the discouraging result of these experiments, I am decided on my final return to America to try this one. I shall endeavor to import as many Germans as I have grown slaves. I will settle them and my slaves, on farms of 50 acres each, intermingled, and place all on the footing of the Metayers (Medietani) of Europe. Their children shall be brought up, as others are, in habits of property and foresight, & I have no doubt but that they will be good citizens. Some of their fathers will be so: others I suppose will need government.” – Letter to Dr. Edward Bancroft, Paris, January 26, 1789; “The Works of Thomas Jefferson,” Federal Edition, Editor: Paul Leicester Ford, (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5) Volume 5

Autobiographies from the Dead – Chima the Slave

For the next several weeks, my blogs are going to consist of “autobiographies” written by some very special people.  They have one thing in common.  They are all dead.  Some have a burial place and some were simply discarded like pieces of trash.  Their stories will be told by the deceased themselves.  They cry out from the fields, rivers and graveyards to speak.  I have heard their cries.  They want me to tell their stories to you.  They want you to know what their living and dying was for.  This week, Chima will tell you the story of his life and death.

Chima the Slave

igbo boyMy name is Chima.  My slave name is Julian.  My family and I were Igbo people.  I was 9 when I was brought to the United States.  My father and mother also came with me.  We were captured one night by Arab slave traders who sold us to the British slavers.  The year was 1790.  We were chained together with other Igbo tribe members and forced to walk many miles to the coast of Africa. Slaves_ruvuma

Once on the coast we were loaded like cargo into the hulls of the British slave ships.  Nearly 600 of us were loaded onto one slave ship.  As we were loaded into the vessel, we were branded with red hot irons on our arms or chests or legs with the marks of various slave owners.  We were crammed so close together below decks that there was no room to move or change position.  We sat between each other’s legs and could not lie down.

Freed-Slave-Ship-by-Granger-in-Fine-Art-America-665x385There were numerous pails placed among us to use for feces and urine.  Several people were selected to dump the pails overboard each day.  Usually they were overflowing before they could be dumped.  The smell was horrible.  Many of the people selected to dump the pails overboard never returned.  We often heard how they had jumped overboard to drown rather than return to the hull.  Other slaves were then selected to replace them.

We were fed on deck twice per day.  We ate rotten meat and a mixture of oats and gruel.  We were given water to wash our food down with.  The amount of food was never quite enough to make one feel satiated and there was always a gnawing sense of hunger that was pervasive among us.  Many of use died from starvation or dehydration.  The slavers deliberately underfed us in the belief that the stronger of us would survive and bring better money at the auctions.

Slave-hung-on-ship-1Some of my tribal members tried to attack our captors.  This would end in either being thrown overboard or hung upside down from the Yard Arms until they died from starvation or dehydration.  Screams and cries were a constant sound at all times of the day from sick or hungry slaves.  My father died from some disease before we reached shore.  Diseases were rampant aboard ship and no one received any treatment.  Smallpox and scurvy were the most common disease killers.  Probably one third of all the slaves who boarded our ship died before we reached port either through starvation, beatings, suicide or disease.

slave-auction-virginia-PMy mother and I were still together when we reached the harbor in Charleston, South Carolina.  We were brought to an auction house with many other slaves and placed into large rooms with no furniture or windows.  We were kept locked in these rooms like animals in a pen.  They discussed whether to sell my mom and I separately or together and it was decided that because of my age, they would keep us together for a while.

cottonculture-1875After some White people purchased us, we were loaded onto a cart with the other purchased slaves and taken on a two day journey to our new home.  We arrived at a large white building with big columns set in the middle of a large field.  In the field and around the house were many other slaves and White people riding large black horses.  The horse riders all carried whips and riding sticks.  We heard constant yelling and orders which we later learned were instructions to speed up and work harder.

born-in-a-tar-paper-shack1_scruberthumbnail_3My mom and I were brought to a single room shack where an old Black woman lived.  She was given instructions to wash us and show us what the rules were around the plantation.  She was told to get us out in the fields as old slave womansoon as possible and to show us how to pick and tend the crops.  Anna, as she was called, told us that she had lived on this plantation for over fifty years now.  She told us we would both be field hands and that if we worked hard enough we might someday become workers in the big white house.

I first ran away ten years later.  I was nineteen years old.  I did not get very far as some other field workers yelled to the Master that I was running off.  When they caught me, I was tied to a large oak tree and given twenty five lashes.  I was warned never to try it again.  As soon as my wounds healed, I ran away again.  I ran away at least five more times in the next three years.  Each time I got further and further from the plantation.  Each time I was caught the beatings got more severe.  They hung me by the neck once for about three minutes before cutting me down.  I was told that the next time I ran, the hanging would be for real.

My mom and some of my slave friends told me to never quit or give up.  “No matter what they do to you” said my mom, “never give up your freedom.”

I have heard tell of how happy slaves are and how much better off we are on the farms then if we were left on our own.  I never met a happy slave.  I never met a slave who did not want their freedom.  I never met a slave who did not want to go back to their home in Africa.  If we were so happy on the plantations, why do they beat us, chain us, brand us and torture us?

Slave_Hung_1I see my body now hanging from the trees.  It looks like a big celebration going on beneath me.  My eyes are bulging out, my skin is flayed off my loins and I am bleeding from many wounds made by the whips and dogs.  Some people are throwing rocks and sticks at me while other people look like they are having a picnic with their families on blankets below where I am hung.  I see a large pile of sticks being placed under me.  I assume they are going to burn my body now.  It won’t matter much to me because I am already dead.  My soul left my body several minutes ago and I am simply dead meat hanging there.  I am finally free.

I am wondering what I ever did to these people to make them hate me so much.  Why do they treat us as like animals when we have souls and dreams just like they do?  I have heard that White people fought for their freedom and declared the following:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

How could any people who believed in the above saying treat other human beings as we were treated?  The phase says “all men.”   Was I not a man?  Were my people not men and women?  Did we not want to have happiness and liberty?   How could we have a life and happiness if we were treated as animals and beaten and chained and whipped daily?  I do not understand.

Furthermore, the White people on our plantation all said that they were Christians.  They said they believed in a God who wanted peace and love among all people.  I heard it said that their savior (whom they wanted us to believe in) was a savior of compassion and mercy and forgiveness.  But these people never showed my people any love or mercy or compassion or forgiveness.  They treated us with contempt and scorn and intolerance and hatred.  Everything they showed us was the opposite of what they said their savior stood for.

They have lit the pile of sticks below me now and they are burning my body.  The smell is awful and many people in the crowd are holding their noses while many others are laughing and patting each other on the back.  It is time for me to leave.  I want to go find their God.  I need to see why he would let my people be treated like this.  What have I done to deserve such a fate?   Maybe he will be able to explain it to me.

Time for Questions:

Do you think the slave were happy down on the plantation?  Do you think the Confederate flag is about “heritage and not hate?”   Do you practice tolerance and love to only people of your own color or do you love all people regardless of color?  Why or why not?  What do you do to help fight racism and discrimination?  Do you think it is only a Black fight?”

Life is just beginning.   For some people anyway!

The facts cited below are from:  Center for American Progress

  1. While people of color make up about 30 percentof the United States’ population, they account for 60 percentof those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.
  2. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black mencan expect to go to prison in their lifetime.Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.
  3. Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a higher number of youth of color incarcerated.Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percentof those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make up two-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today.
  4. According to recent data by the Department of Education, African American students are arrested far more often than their white classmates.The data showed that96,000students were arrested and 242,000 referred to law enforcement by schools during the 2009-10 school year. Of those students, black and Hispanic students made up more than 70 percent of arrested or referred students. Harsh school punishments, from suspensions to arrests, have led to high numbers of youth of color coming into contact with the juvenile-justice system and at an earlier age.
  5. African American youth have higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.According to the Sentencing Project, even though African American juvenile youth are about 16 percent of the youth population, 37 percent of their cases are moved to criminal court and 58 percent of African American youth are sent to adult prisons.
  6. As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percentover the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented.While the number of women incarcerated is relatively low, the racial and ethnic disparities are startling. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated.
  7. The war on drugs has been waged primarily in communities of color where people of color are more likely to receive higher offenses.According to the Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percentof regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American.
  8. Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders.The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percentlonger than white offenders for the same crimes. The Sentencing Project reports that African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison.
  9. Voter laws that prohibit people with felony convictions to vote disproportionately impact men of color.An estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on a past felony conviction. Felony disenfranchisement is exaggerated by racial disparities in the criminal-justice system, ultimately denying 13 percentof African American men the right to vote. Felony-disenfranchisement policies have led to 11 states denying the right to vote to more than 10 percent of their African American population.
  10. Studies have shown that people of color face disparities in wage trajectoryfollowing release from prison.Evidence shows that spending time in prison affects wage trajectories with a disproportionate impact on black men and women. The results show no evidence of racial divergence in wages prior to incarceration; however, following release from prison, wages grow at a 21 percent slower ratefor black former inmates compared to white ex-convicts. A number of states have bans on people with certain convictions working in domestic health-service industries such as nursing, child care, and home health care—areas in which many poor women and women of color are disproportionately concentrated.

When the TRUTH Will Not Set You Free!  Part 1 of 3 Parts  

Dangerous-LiarsFor the next three weeks, I want to help us find the truth.  Truth has been said to be the most important element in our lives.  Truth is what everyone wants to find.  Thus truth should make a difference in the world, but does it?  We will examine some specific episodes in history in our search for the truth.  I have selected the following ten situations:

  1. The Trial of Socrates
  2. Slavery
  3. The Crusades
  4. The Inquisition
  5. The Extermination of Native and Indigenous Peoples
  6. Reign of Terror
  7. Scottsboro Boys
  8. The Holocaust
  9. The Khmer Rouge
  10. Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Scandals

What do they all have in common?  What does truth have to do with these injustices?  What truths did the perpetrators subscribe to that allowed these travesties of justice to happen?  What truths did the perpetrators fundamentally ignore?  Would the truth even have made a difference?  Are we more liable to listen to “truth” today or is it simply a fiction that we trot out to justify our prejudices, bigotry and murders.  Will it really set us free or is that simply another myth spread by the powerful to emasculate those with less power?  (Listen to in Search of the Truth  by Guy Sweens)

“Historical injustice is ubiquitous in human history. The origins of just about every institution relevant to human political life has a pedigree stained by injustices of various magnitudes. Slavery, genocide, mass expropriation of property, mass internment, indiscriminate killings of civilians and massive political repression are all depressingly familiar features of human history, both in the distant and more recent past.” —- Historical Injustice, Duncan Ivison, University of Sydney in Jon Dryzek, Bonnie Honnig, Anne Philipps (eds) Oxford Handbook to Political Theory (Oxford, OUP, 2006)

I want to briefly explore each of the above injustices.  I apologize for calling these injustices, they deserve a harsher more critical term that that.  For the victims of these “injustices” were slaughtered, maimed, mutilated, tortured, butchered, immolated, hung, gassed, poisoned, executed and stripped of all human dignity.  The words we can use to describe man’s inhumanity to man can never go far enough to convey the “truth.”  I debated whether to start the New Year of 2015 with such a heavy dose of misery and horror but perhaps it is better to start with some thought for creating a better world and recognizing the work that needs to be done.   We are told that all we need is the truth and the world will be a better place. We are constantly urged to seek the truth and to speak the truth.  But what is the truth and what can these injustices tell us about the truth?  Do you dare to see the truth?  Do you have the stomach for the truth?  I have ordered the above list in a rough chronological order.  Let us together examine each one of these horrors to see what truths were behind their execution.  For surely, one fundamental fact is that no human being acts without some truth.  Thus, you may be as curious as I am to see what truths the perpetrators had subscribed to in the implementation of these deeds.  Also, what were the truths that the victims subscribed to?

Keep in mind that we must give perpetrators the benefit of the doubt.  It is possible that they only thought they had the truth and that each of these injustices was not based on actual truth but an incorrect system of beliefs which we shall dutifully avoid calling lies.  Some might say that each of these injustices represented a lapse in truth.  If so, perhaps we can learn the real truth from looking at them more closely and finding out why there was a lapse.

Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.Swami Vivekananda

These ten injustices range from the death of one man to the death of millions of men and women.  They include the deaths of people from every corner of the earth, every tribe that ever existed and every culture that was ever known.  That is a truth.  But I doubt it is the truth that we seek.  Before we proceed with this exploration, let me warn you.  You may find some truths that you do not want to hear.  What if each injustice in this list was the truth?  What would this tell us about human nature?  Could you look at your fellow human beings and live with this truth?  Do not despair yet, for at this point, I have presented no evidence to show that either truth or false beliefs were behind any of these inequities.  Perhaps, we shall find that truth had nothing to do with them.

But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… to tell the truth.”  ― Howard Zinn,

The Trial of Socrates:

death of socratesSocrates, the wisest man in the world was tried in Athens, the world’s greatest democracy sometime around 400 BCE.  Socrates was tried for corrupting the minds of the Athenian youth.  The truth for Socrates was that he never taught anything (since he did not know anything) but he loved to ask questions to stimulate the thinking of other people.  Socrates was teaching Critical Thinking skills before they were popular.  The truth for his persecutors was that it was too dangerous for the young people of Athens to be questioning their elders.  Socrates did not mount a defense, did not hire canny lawyers, did not plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” and did not blame Athenian society for his plight.

“At first, they’ll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they’ll dislike you.”   Criss Jami

Much to everyone’s chagrin, Socrates plead guilty as charged.  One might wonder what fears could have brought about the conviction of a man teaching other people to think.  Was it the potential fall of the Athenian Democracy or the current threats that leaders saw mounted to this democracy?  Was Socrates really a threat to democracy?  Is this possibly a truth we have not admitted in our own zeal to export democracy all over the world?  Truth:  Thinking is bad.  Truth:  Following orders is good.  Truth:  He who is in charge decides what is true.

Socrates was given a poison called hemlock and his last words were:  “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius.  Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”

“Everyone knows perfectly well what truth is – everyone except Pontius Pilate and philosophers.  Truth is the quality of being true, and being true is what some statements are. That is to say, truth is a quality of the propositions which underlie correctly-used statements.” — Bob Stone

Slavery:

slavery in IslamSlavery has existed since time immemorial.  Slavery was known in almost every ancient civilization, and society, including SumerAncient EgyptAncient China, the Akkadian EmpireAssyriaAncient IndiaAncient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate, the Hebrew kingdoms in Palestine, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas.  According to Wikipedia:   “Slavery is officially illegal in all countries, but there are still an estimated 20 million to 36 million slaves worldwide.   Mauritania was the last jurisdiction to officially outlaw slavery (in 1981/2007), but about 10% to 20% of its population is estimated to live in slavery.”

Many distinctions and definitions exist regarding types of slavery and conditions related to how slaves were and are still treated, bought and sold.   According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year for the purpose of sex, servitude or pornography.  More than 70% are female and half are children.  Without going into the various categories of slavery, anyone with a smidgen of morality can see that all slavery is immoral and cruel.  But that is a truth for the slaves.  What was and is the truth for the slave owners and slave traders?

Truth:  We have a right to their labor and even bodies

Truth:  Slaves are inferior creatures and do not deserve to be treated as we would want ourselves to be treated.

Truth:  If it is my slave, you have no business telling me what I can do with his/her labor.

Truth:  My slaves may have had different ideas regarding these “truths” but their ideas do not count.

Truth:  Money made by slavery is more important than the morality of the trade.

“So our definition of truth needs to be much more flexible than Plato, Descartes and other philosophers claim. I would say that a pragmatic theory of truth is closest: that truth is the ‘thing that works’; if some other set of ideas works better, then it is truer.” — Andrew Warren

Will slavery ever come to an end?  Is there a truth to slavery that will enable all to see the inhumanity of it?  What about the truths that the perpetrators have?  Is their truth less valid than the truth of the slaves?  Does anyone care about the slaves’ truths?  Which truth is truer?  When will the truth arrive to set the slaves free?

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”  ― Galileo Galilei

The Crusades:

From about 1100 CE to 1300 CE, Europe invaded the Mideast with the purported reason of securing the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims.  Some would say the real reason was conquest while others would say it was purely economic.  According to Wikipedia:

Pope Urban II promised forgiveness of all sins to whoever took up the cross and joined in the war.  While there were additional motivations for taking up the cross—opportunity for economic or political gain, desire for adventure, and the feudal obligation to follow one’s lord into battle—to become a soldier for Christ was to express total devotion to God.”

crusadeWhile I find the arguments for the wars intriguing, I am not as interested in the motives for conquest as I am in the truths that both sides, Muslims and Christians used in their massacres of each other.  As Ulysses S. Grant noted about the southern sharecroppers who supported the Civil War, it is curious that so many Christians could be induced to fighting for goals that had no material or even spiritual advantage for them.  Of course, one could argue that the “forgiveness” of sins was some type of spiritual advantage.  I would counter that there would have been easier ways to attain this goal rather than risking one’s life.  Did not confession as a Catholic sacrament exist in 1100 CE?  No, if there was a real reason for the crusades, I think as usual we will find it in the truths that motivated both sides.

Christians then and now believe that God is our God and not the God of Islam.  Allah is not Jehovah or Yahweh or I Am.  Allah is some foreign and heretical interpretation of the “real” god who belongs to Christians.  “Allah Be Praised” is not the same as “In God We Trust.”  Another truth is that Muslims had no right to the Holy Lands.  God (The Christian God) gave the Holy lands to the Catholics by way of Abraham, David and those other Jews who were known as the Israelites but who no longer existed back in 1100 CE.  Of course, Jews were scattered all over Europe but the world was not yet interested in regaining the Holy Lands for Jews.  In fact, in another one hundred years or so, we would start an institution to get rid of Jews and eliminate the heresy that was associated with Jewish beliefs (More on the Inquisition later).

So what truths motivated the Muslims to risk life and limb to protect the Holy Land and to stop the Infidels from regaining the center of Christian spiritual life?  I think the term “Infidel” easily answers this question.  Translated the word Infidel means:  “A Person who has no religious faith; an unbeliever.”  Thus, to many Muslims then and now, an unbeliever is a Christian or Jew who does not believe in Mohammed or Allah.  That is the Allah of Islam.  The truth to a Muslim is that Christians are unbelievers and not worthy of respect.  Of course, not all Muslims believe this.  Another motivational truth was that many Muslims in 1100 CE thought it was their land.  They were upset that French, Italian and German Knights thought that they somehow had a right to lands that had been occupied by Arabs since Ismael’s time.  The truth that “this is my land and not your land” has always been a powerful motivator for fighting (More will be said about this when we talk about the Extermination of Indigenous Peoples).

“Truth is not constant. Some beliefs which were held to be true are now considered false, and some for which truth is now claimed may be deemed false in the future, and vice versa. Truth is good for helping us decide how to act, because it serves as a standard for making some sort of sense of a world populated also by half-truths and untruths.”  —- Ray Pearce

The Inquisition:

Galloping on through history we now arrive at the Inquisition, another great idea to come from the Roman Catholics.  How can we stamp out lies, heresies and false truths?  Heresy can be defined as:  “My beliefs or truths are different from your beliefs or truths and since you have more power than I do, my beliefs are wrong and punishable.”   Solution:  Let’s inquire as to the beliefs that potential heretics (Jews, Cathars, Protestants, Muslims, Free Thinkers, intellectuals and many others) might have in respect to what are the true beliefs that we know are true.  Any suspects whose thinking deviates from our truth will be punished until they are repentant.

“Wherefore if forgers or money and other evil-doers are forewith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated, but even put to death. “Thomas Aquinas

Inquisition_torture_03This simple inquiry or Inquisition process was complicated by the unfortunate fact that people lie.   Solution:  We will need to torture them to tell the truth.  Complication:  people who are tortured will also lie and tell you whatever you want to hear.  (See the current US Senate Report 2014 on Torture).  Thus, the suspect is dammed if he tells the truth and dammed if he does not, since he won’t be believed in either case.  If he does tell his truth and it is not the right truth he will be burnt at the stake for being a heretic.  Solution:  Burn all suspected heretics no matter what they say.   Is it any wonder, so many people finally left the Old World and when they came to the New World wanted nothing to do with religion, the Pope or the Catholic Church?

“Discovering the truth will be a hurtful and painful experience when the facts or realities turn out to be different from what is expected. Yet there ought to be no grounds for despair if we accept that the ideal of truth, like all other virtues, can be approached rather than attained. This ideal truth can be glimpsed if we manage to be skeptical, independent and open-minded when presented with the supposed facts and realities.”  —- Ian Rizzo

The Extermination of Native and Indigenous Peoples:

Aborigines, Mayans, Native Americans (Indians), Eskimos, Tibetans, Incas, Ainus, Daurs, Bushmen.  All indigenous people.  All subjected to murder, famine and extermination by more powerful invaders who wanted their land or resources.  There is not an inhabited continent on earth where the indigenous people were not persecuted and their rights and even lives forfeit to the invaders.  There is not a time in history where such persecutions have not occurred. From the first historical records to the most recent news reports of mass tribal exterminations in various parts of the world, we see the truth.  The truth of the invaders and the truth of the exterminated though are not the same.

I have listed the Holocaust in a separate category of injustice.  Many historians would see the systematic genocide of the Holocaust as perhaps belonging in my category of Extermination.  We can add numerous examples of genocide to the above list.  The Bosnian Serb massacres, the Rwandan murders, the Armenian massacres, the Cambodian massacres might also fit in the Extermination category but in my scheme of things, I would include them in the Holocaust category since I believe and will show that they are based on a different set of “truths.”  The truths for the extermination of indigenous people as defined by the invaders are:

Truth:  They don’t need the land and stand in the way of progress.

Truth:  Might makes right.  Since we are mightier we can simply take their property.

Truth:  They will never fit in with our way of doing things.

This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.”Thomas Jefferson

“The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.”L. Frank Baum (Author of the Wizard of Oz)

native_american_indian_six06Looking at the truth from the point of view of those due to be annihilated provides a different perspective on the truth.  We see the White truth that Indians are lazy, barbaric and that their culture stands in the way of progress.  A White truth is that the problems with Indian culture far outweighed any inherent value in their way of life.  They are immoral, cruel and uncivilized and worse they refuse to adopt the “White man’s ways.”  Heck, we gave them reservations, taught them to speak English, sent them to schools to learn to read and write and even sold them booze and now they have casinos.  Truth:  Nothing seems to make them happy.

However, the voices from Native Americans seem to present a different truth:

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents.  Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.  We had no locks or keys and therefore among us there were no thieves.  When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.  We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property.  We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth.  We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another.  We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”  —John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota – 1903-1976

“I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right.  Riches would do us no good.  We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches.  We want peace and love.” — Red Cloud

Do Red Cloud’s words sound familiar?  Have you ever heard of a man named Jesus Christ who said:

“Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” — Luke 6:30

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  — Mark 8:36

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” — John 13:34

It would seem like Red Cloud knew more about the “true” teachings of Jesus then the thousands of Christian missionaries who went to Asia, Africa, South America, North America and elsewhere to teach the pagan barbarian primitives how to be good Christians before they were slaughtered.  Much merit to these missionaries since in the Christian theology, you cannot get to heaven unless you are baptized.  It would be simply awful if these indigenous peoples, whom we planned to rape, rob and murder could not get to heaven.  What do you suppose they will say to their murderers when the murderers arrive in heaven?  Egad!  I just had a terrible thought.  What if all the conquerors and murderers are going to hell?

Let’s wrap this up.  Thanks for your patience.  I never thought this blog would get this long. I suddenly realized it was almost beyond too long and I have decided to break it into two parts.  When I started this blog, it was as much an exploration for me as it may have been for you. I truly wondered if I would find the Truth.  I wondered if a clear set of precepts might emerge which would better help me to understand humanity and how we can allow such injustices to occur.

I thought that by exploring the worst injustices or at least a variety of the worst injustices in history, a light would inevitably shine on the Truth.  Everyone talks about the Truth.  Everyone says they are looking for the Truth.  We all know that the “Truth will set us free.”  Free from what though?  I am more confused than ever.  Thus, the search will continue next week.  You deserve the Truth, if you can handle it.  The problem seems to be in finding it.  In my next blog, we will look at the next five atrocities on my list to see if they will shed more light on the Truth.   We have invested too much time to quit our quest now.

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.”Herbert Agar

Time for Questions:

Have you found the Truth?  What is your Truth?  What keeps us from the Truth?  Is there really a Truth to be found?  How do you know?  What if there was no truth?

Life is just beginning.

“We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.”   ― Albert Pike

The 2nd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Pleasure without Conscience.

A number of years ago when I first started graduate school, I was talking to a professor who had just purchased a brand new yacht.  This was nearly 30 years ago and I was pretty judgmental (I am hoping I am somewhat less judgmental today). I remember saying to him exactly what was on my mind:  “Don’t you feel guilty with all of the poverty and problems we are facing in this world, to spend your money on such an extravagant purchase?”  To this day (Perhaps, my continued naiveté) I remain both shocked and amazed at his reply.  “John, if I can afford it, I deserve it.”  I was shocked because it seemed so insensitive to the world’s problems and I was amazed because I had expected that someone who had earned a Ph.D. would have had a more reflective and thoughtful reply.  Instead, he simply parroted back to me what I had labeled as the “Protestant Ethic.”  According to Wikipedia:

“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and prosperity as a display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith. The phrase was initially coined in 1904 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Somewhere in the course of the development of American Capitalism, guilt or perhaps conscience was replaced by the moral certainty that if you only work hard enough, you can spend your money as frivolously as you want to.  At least, this was the interpretation I drew and continue to draw from my understanding of the Protestant Work Ethic.  In some sense, I can understand this idea.  If you work hard, why should you not be able to harvest the fruits of your labor?  Why should you be expected to share with those who are less fortunate?  After all, how many of the “less” fortunate are “less” because of their own laziness, stupidity, inertia or lack of ambition?  Should I have to pay more taxes to support people who don’t want to work or whose entire goal in life is to eat their way to obesity, drink their way to liver failure or drug their minds to an out of this world zombie state?  Why should I have to put up with the lack of ethics that it would appear so many of the indigent and poor in this world have?  A study in England in 2009 found that:

Four out of five people see nothing wrong with stealing from their workplace – while more than half think it acceptable for a care giver to persuade an elderly person to rewrite their will, according to a new study.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1211629/How-80-think-OK-steal-work-study-reveals-wavering-moral-compass.html#ixzz2RU850BbL

In some sense, the Protestant Ethic is a direct refutation of the morals that I had been given in my early Catholic school training. Perhaps, that is why Catholics and Protestants did not get along in years gone by.  I remember every lunch break being told by one of the nuns or sisters at my Catholic school to be sure to “clean my plate.”  When queried why this was so important I always received the same reply “Because of the starving kids in India.”  Somehow, I was expected to feel guilty for these starving children in some far away country who did not have enough food to eat.  Was it my fault that they did not have enough to eat?  However, it was okay if I cleaned my plate and did not leave any scraps.  Kind of reminds me of when I go to a Chinese Buffet and it says on the sign posted:  “Please do not take more than you can eat.”  I weight 147 lbs. and scrupulously (well, sometimes) obey this admonition.  I watch the 400 lb. plus people with plates that are stacked higher than the Eiffel Tower and I wonder if they saw the sign or is it simply that they are on a diet?  See, there I go again, being judgmental. 

Well, here it is nearly 30 years later and the question I posed to my professor colleague still seems quite legitimate to me.  When is it okay to indulge?  When can I binge? When is it permissible to go buy my brand new Ferrari or brand new yacht?  What would Sister Evangeline say if she knew I was spending $350,000 dollars or more to purchase a new boat that I might only use two or three times per year?  What would Martin Luther say?  I can imagine Luther saying: “Well, John, don’t worry about it. You are supporting the economy. Every boat you buy is a job for some boat builder in India or Pakistan or some other place where the kids don’t have enough to eat.”  “Thank You Martin Luther, now I don’t feel so guilty.”  Hooray for the Protestant Work Ethic!

Here is what the Gandhi Institute has to say about this issue:

Pleasure Without Conscience: This is connected to wealth without work. People find imaginative and dangerous ways of bringing excitement to their otherwise dull lives. Their search for pleasure and excitement often ends up costing society very heavily. Taking drugs and playing dangerous games cause avoidable health problems that cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect health care facilities. Many of these problems are self-induced or ailments caused by careless attitudes. The United States spends more than $250 billion on leisure activities while 25 million children die each year because of hunger, malnutrition, and lack of medical facilities. Irresponsible and unconscionable acts of sexual pleasure and indulgence also cost the people and the country very heavily. Not only do young people lose their childhood but innocent babies are brought into the world and often left to the care of the society. The emotional, financial, and moral price is heavy on everyone. Gandhi believed pleasure must come from within the soul and excitement from serving the needy, from caring for the family, the children, and relatives. Building sound human relationships can be an exciting and adventurous activity. Unfortunately, we ignore the spiritual pleasures of life and indulge in the physical pleasures which are “pleasure without conscience.”

Fromhttp://www.rabbitadvocacy.com/gandhi_teachings.htm

A person I really admire is the teacher and prophet OSHO.  OSHO also believes that all the violence in the world comes from the need people have to address the boredom and meaninglessness in their daily lives. People who are bored and who feel that their lives have no meaning turn to violence and or drugs in an effort to fill their lives with something that excites them or makes them feel alive. The problem with such stimulation is that it never really fills the void and as with any panacea it is only temporary. The void returns and the need to find new or greater stimulation also returns.  The cycle is not broken by the search for outside stimulation since the only real meaning of our lives must come from within.  No matter how great the wealth we achieve, no matter how many titles we accrue, no matter how famous we become and no matter how many people want our autographs, this kind of stimulation can never fill the void that we have if we do not find real meaning for our existence. 

Let us pose the central issue here (Pleasure without Conscience) in the form of series of questions. Each question puts a slightly different slant on the issue:  Here are some ways to reflect on the issue:

  • How much pleasure is it okay to feel before I feel guilty? 
  • If I am enjoying my life, should I feel guilty?
  • Do I have to feel guilty if I am feeling great pleasure?
  • Does a sense of conscience have anything to do with my personal pleasure?
  • Do I need to tie the concept of pleasure in with conscience? 

Depending on which way we posit the question we will come up with different answers.  Try the exercise yourself and see what you find as your personal answers. For me, I would answer some of these questions in the negative and some in the positive. Nevertheless, such a pedantic method of addressing the issue actually ignores what I think Gandhi was really getting at.  I don’t think this is an issue of us not enjoying our lives or not finding pleasure but it is more of what I have come to think of as a “Happy Days” issue. Do you remember the sitcom that ran from the mid-seventies to mid-eighties?  It featured Ron Howard as a too good to be true teenager and Henry Winkler as a thuggish type of Greaser.   The term “Happy Days” was associated with how many Americans felt about the period of time between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy and the Mickey Mouse Club show were only a few of the sitcoms to depict a happy America where all was right with the world and Americans knew only bliss and prosperity. 

Those “Happy Days” for middle class White male Americans were not so happy for the rest of the world never mind the many groups and constituencies in the USA who were denied rights, served excessive prison terms, could not find employment and were often subject to abuse and/or lynching. I refer here to minority groups and women in the USA during our “Happy Days” period.  One could argue that either stupidity or a lack of conscience was a prerequisite for putting on “Happy Days” blinders. Kind of like those folks who miss the “Good Old Days” down south.  Those nostalgic summer days when the happy slaves would sing and dance all day long in the cotton fields.  At the end of the day, they would trudge happily home to their cozy cabins to sit by the fire-place and eat their fill of watermelon, sweet potato pie and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Before going to bed, the young slaves would all have cute stories read to them by Uncle Remus.  Stories that would prepare the young slaves to get ahead in a world dominated by discrimination and non-citizenship.  No doubt migrant workers, women and many other minorities would have their own version of the “Happy Days” fantasy that dominated American Psyche for so long. In fact, there are many Americans who still believe in the “Happy Days” fantasy. 

The point I am getting at is that no matter how you look at it, it is immoral and unethical to divorce Pleasure from Conscience.  To do so, is to be guilty of at best a form of benign neglect and at worst, a criminal conspiracy to keep other people degraded and denied the same opportunities as we might have.  Christians should all be familiar with many of Jesus’s teachings on this subject:

  • “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Mark 10:25
  •  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”   Mark 10:21
  •  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”  Matthew 16:26

Clearly anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ could not put profit or pleasure above conscience. Jesus was all about helping others even at the expense of his own life.  His entire mission was to help those who were poor, sick or downtrodden.  Is there anyone who could do this without a conscience?  Perhaps we have focused too much in the past few decades on success and getting ahead.  This intense focus may have allowed many of us to put our consciences aside with the result that they seem to have atrophied or in many cases disappeared.  Too many people now measure success by how much money they have made and not how many people they have helped. Perhaps it is time we start focusing on conscience again.  Pleasure without conscience is simply hedonism. 

Ok, time for questions:

What pleasures do you have that you may sacrifice your conscience for?  Do you think it is possible to have both conscience and pleasure?  What does it mean to have an “ethical” conscience?  Can we have too much conscience?  Do you think people should have more pleasure or more conscience?  Why?  What about yourself? Where do you fall on this issue?

Life is just beginning.

 

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