In 1957, the town of Sugar Grove in Pendleton County, West Virginia, had a population of twenty-one residents. A single crossroad marks the center of the community, with the post office, general store, and gas station combined in a single structure overlooked by a church from across the street. The rest of the town’s center would have consisted of a few houses lining Sugar Grove and Moyers Gap road. These roads, like most in this part of Appalachia, follow the curves of fluvial plains long dammed up by civil workers employed through the New Deal. Although rich with sediments, the rocky soil would only yield a limited number of plots suitable for agriculture, thus limiting the effects of any consequent population booms. And so whereas towns like Charlestown and Harrisonburg saw upticks in both population and wealth, Sugar Grove remained small and remote. Few who heard the steady beep from the Soviet satellite Sputnik that October could have imagined its ramifications on the small town.
Yahweh holds a grudge. Jesus forgives.
In an earlier post, I posed the question of whether or not there can be a Christianity without a God. So much of what we know about Jesus’ teachings and Christianity more generally are predicated on the notion that a single, all-powerful God must exist that it is seemingly impossible to separate the two. We are likewise not helped by the fact that so much of the central teachings and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth were altered through interpretation from seemingly the very moment of his death. The very question of Jesus’ divine nature — one which is not clearly explained in any of the canonical Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John — was itself not settled until three centuries after his death, and then not out of a concern for truth as out of a desire to unite Constantine’s empire. Politics and not reality made Jesus the God-incarnate we know today.
Even in the darkest moments of the human condition, the desire for freedom and self-determination has never been extinguished. Even in societies which generation after generation kept others in bondage, time has preserved for us the aspirations of slaves seeking liberty and greater control over their fate. Roman society was particularly generous, granting the children of freedmen the full rights of citizenship, an especially coveted status that would enable the numerous descendants of freedmen to enter public life and eventually rise to positions of influence among the highest authorities in the Empire.
Individuals who today state that many slaves were “better off” in their servitude and even that they preferred bondage are sadly deluded, ignoring the evidence of history — and of their own eyes. Human trafficking in the present is simply the latest way of referring to the ongoing slave trade, one which may at times mirror low-wage employment. But any form of compulsive, imposed dependence is itself a form of oppression, and one which unwillingly restricts self-determination is nothing less than slavery. Indentured servitude is another such polite way of expressing the same basic idea, though in this case the promise of freedom is held out as motivation, like a carrot on a stick, but much like the cartoon analogy, the prize is all too often an illusion. Some see this reality, others do not or choose to ignore it, but all work towards a single common goal. Unlike most common goals, however, this particular goal is shared in name only, for despite the fact they all seek the same end-state, they work towards it individually rather than collectively.
What is this goal? Quite simply, the betterment of their offspring. Continue reading