Thursday, April 28, 2011

Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Bible

Today I finished listening to Uncle Tom's Cabin on Audiobook.  It was a very interesting listen.

I don't consider it to be a great book, I think of it more as an important book, and I'm glad to have listened to it and know what it is all about.  Admittedly it is not a very happy book, but I enjoyed the experience of listening to it, the style of 19th century literature is very different from our own and it was equal parts surprising and refreshing.

The biggest aspect of the writing that struck me was how transparent and obvious Harriet Beecher Stowe made her intentions throughout the novel (which by the way, is to condemn slavery in case you hadn't heard).  Kortney and I are currently listening to State of Fear by Michael Crichton and even though he is obviously condemning the fear mongering that the threat of global warming has led to but still, the narrative never cuts to "at this point dear readers, we reflect upon the tragic nature of governments, that seek to perpetually keep their citizens in a state of fear..."  Stowe pulls no punches and though the book is exploding with characters and feels a little manipulative as every possible variant of slavery (kind master who negligently fails to free his slaves, hard cruel master, passive master, etc. etc.) is juxtaposed one on top of the other, despite its flaws it led to a powerful conclusion.

What I enjoyed most was the window that it created. enabling the reader to get a glimpse of every day life back then.  There were two things that I noticed more than others.  One was that people played backgammon a lot back then.  I've only played backgammon once and I daresay that I did not grasp the games possible nuances.  It seems like you just roll the dice and hope to roll higher.

The second and more significant aspect of the 19th century mindset was the part the Bible played in people's discussions about slavery.  I consider myself fairly familiar with the Bible and I was so surprised to hear people quoting certain passages that seem to support the idea of slavery, and other people quoting passages that condemn slavery.  Not that that phenomenon is rare by any means, as someone who served as a Mormon missionary, I know very well how the Bible could be used to support what I taught to people, and to contradict it, and that virtually anyone who takes the time to acquaint themselves with the Bible's contents will be able to use it in some way to support their views.  What was interesting to me was the fact that they were quoting the most arcane and esoteric passages as if they were the Bible's main points.  Little stories that we completely overlook in our modern course of Biblical study.  If you asked anyone today to give up a passage in the Bible to support slavery, no one could do it offhand.  But in the book, people are casually comparing the passage where the angel tells Hagar to return to her master with other such dark and dusty passages in the most casual manner.

Today, people are able to do this with gay marriage, which is the hot social issue of our day.  That's what I dealt with as a missionary.  "Gay marriage is condemned in the Bible!"  "What?  Condemnation of gay marriage is condemned in the Bible."  The issue of slavery has come and passed and the passages about Hagar and some servant girl who came to the apostles seeking freedom are now obscure and irrelevant.  It is so interesting to me, that no matter when and no matter about what, the Bible will be used as a double-edged sword slicing on both sides of any issue.

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