A man of his times.

I loathe the fossil fuel economy. I hate the smell of exhaust, the leaky oil pipes, the tar balls, the exploding refineries, the history of coal and oil.. all of it.

But I use gas and plastic all the time.

To be fair, I have a Leaf and hybrid.. but.. I can’t get away from it. I burn gas to get around. My house is heating with at least some coal burning somewhere.

On my way back from responding to the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for 3rd or 4th time I was watching the “John Adams” miniseries and the issue of slavery came up. I believe George Washington and Abigail Adams were discussing it in relation to forming a new and “free” country. It was clear they both knew it was wrong.. but they were stuck. They couldn’t imagine their economy or country without the economic benefits of slavery. The southern states would have never signed on with out some “compromise”.

They were a product of their time. I’m a product of my time.

However, there must be limits to this subjective morality.

We don’t look at German civilians in 1940s who marched Jews into the woods to put bullets in them with the same level of “grace”. The Germans didn’t put up statues of Himmler or even Erwin Rommel.. the general who Hitler has executed for being a part of a plot to kill him. Nope. But they left the concentration camps up as a grizzly reminder of what they are capable of.

And then there is America. Our history is far more complicated than any one group and a single atrocity. Each large stone head carved into the Black Hills represents a flawed President. Heck, the fact that’s it’s carved into protected Sioux lands says a lot. It’s a complex mix of hypocrisies. The Sioux weren’t saints, but we can’t still use that to excuse to justify taking their lands. If Mexico invaded citing all the issues America has we would take issue.

So, as we wrestle with our mixed past.. how far do we go in righting wrongs? Jefferson was guilty of slave-child rape but do we tear down his monument and shred his documents? Washington while claiming to be opposed to slavery kept all of his until his death and even then very few were freed. They didn’t live the lovely lives that people think and he couldn’t comprehend why they would want to run away.. which is ironic considering how hard he fought for his own “freedom”, which of course looked nothing like the lack of freedom his slaves experienced.

As a white male to who happens to like America.. is my view skewed? Would it be different if I was a 14 year Black girl learning for the first time that the Country’s white males owned my relatives and used them as sex dolls?

Now that I’m “woke” (aware of sensitive cultural issues) and I can better see through their eyes.. I see more clearly. The Black children playing on the playground of their school named after Robert E. Lee.. or the young Black basketball players playing in front of his statue. “This man fought to keep me in chains”.

A look further back at the history of Western morality shows us that the God of the Bible clearly didn’t consider the peoples around Middle Easy merely a product of their time. He didn’t look at the Assyrians and their violence and say, “Oh well, that’s just how people were back then.” His “chosen” people were called to extreme morality, to the point of breaking. YHWH was no joke. What we would deem small violations resulting in stonings or the ground opening up and swallowing people.

And yet, some things that we would consider sins today were often overlooked. Polygamy was the norm. Concubines were seemingly acceptable.

So, does morality in fact change over time? Are our own personal moralities a key factor in what society deems acceptable or not?

Jonathan Edwards wrote a sermon on the back of a receipt.. he had sold slaves, and broken up a slave family none the less. Should we burn his books and toss his sermons into the fires?

How could he preach freedom in Christ while preventing others from tasting it on Earth? What kind of God is that? .. “slaves obey your masters”.. oh, the dangerous of crafting a world view from the letter of a man “of his times”.

While I write this the issue of abortion is burning brightly.. possibly hot enough to tear the Country apart. But it wasn’t always like this. This really has only been a hot button issue for 50 years. People now say it’s murder and yet no one really believes that. The rhetoric is off the charts. Most Evangelical leaders had a more nuanced views of abortion. Ironically I told it’s comparable to ending segregation. Which is an interesting comparison. I can’t think of a single instance where creating laws separating races is in anyway justifiable.. where as I can easily name a half dozen situations for an abortion may be necessary.

But, who knows, maybe future generations may look back with disdain on all forms abortion and those who didn’t speak out against it. Or, maybe it will be the opposite. Maybe I’ll carry the blood of a 12 year old who dies in childbirth because she was forced to carry her rapist’s child. I don’t know.

I do know that as I peruse history I’m most impressed by those with integrity and who consistently fight for the oppressed..

--

Philosophy & History

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store