Posts Tagged ‘slavery’

I just saw Steven Spielberg’s epic biopic “Lincoln” with my family this past weekend.  For those of you who have seen it, I need not go into the details; and for those of you who have not, I don’t want to give anything away.

But I will briefly offer my humble review.  Succinctly stated, “Lincoln” is an excellent work of cinematic art that offers a profound sense of the time period it portrays.  Performances and production values alike are superlative, and I’m glad to have seen it on the big screen where its full effect could be felt.

The film focuses on the last few months of Lincoln’s presidency and his efforts to abolish slavery.  In Congress, the pro-slavery and anti-slavery players clash in scenes of political jousting that would give the British Parliament a run for its money.

I’d like to talk about one particular thing that struck me about the arguments the two sides presented against one another in the film.  At one point, each side argued that the opposing view of slavery was a violation of the very same thing — the natural law.

By “natural law,” one means the innate and fundamental law that all human beings, as creatures of reason, know in their hearts — the law that reflects the mind of the Creator and, therefore, can be seen in some sense reflected in nature and its laws.  For centuries, it was considered to be the basis of all just laws and human conduct.  We could talk about this as Thomas Jefferson put it, referring to the “laws of nature and nature’s God.”

The anti-slavery side of the debate: Black people are people, and slavery is a violation of the rights and dignity endowed upon them as human beings.

The pro-slavery side: Black people are clearly different from white people (at that time, they were believed to be more primitive, less educated, etc.), and therefore to treat them as equals would be an insult to the truth.

Discrimination and non-discrimination are very important issues pertaining to the natural law.  Any value discrimination we make that nature has not made is, in a very real sense, a crime against nature.  But there is also such a thing as just discrimination — that is, keeping apart things not designed to be put together or deemed alike (for example, we would never say that a hippopotamus has the same right to fly an airplane as a human being who is a licensed pilot).  Not to observe this rule is likewise a crime against nature.

The anti-slavery side applied the first position to slavery, while their pro-slavery opponents applied the second position to the abolition.

So at this decisive moment in United States history, we had two opposing views of how the natural law applied, each side of a debate using it differently.

At this time, however, we have entered into a very different kind of debate.  Rather than arguing which side of a position natural law supports, we are arguing the question of whether there is a “natural law” to begin with.  I can well imagine people who are against the notion of a natural law using the above example, or others like it, as a case in point.  “Questions about ‘natural law’ just get people fighting,” they might say, “so we should just scrap it.”

My response to that is very simple: The abuse of something does not invalidate its proper use.  Any time we are talking about something that can be properly used, we should be very careful about dismissing it.  And when it comes to something this “heavy,” we should think all the longer and harder.

Anyway, I just thought this was an interesting subject that Spielberg’s film suggested for viewer reflection.  What are your thoughts on the issue?  I would love to read other people’s perspectives  — provided, of course, that all comments are civil and respectful.

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