March 7, 2010

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Slavery and Me

“We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued. The slaves were undeniably an element of strength to those who had their service and we must decide whether that element should be with us or against us.”

Abraham Lincoln to the Secretary of the Navy

Lessa of Pern. Flinx of Moth. Dana Franklin of Earth. Martin of Redwall.

All these fictional characters were slaves in truth or fact. They all broke free of the bonds of slavery to become powerful characters able to not only effect change in their own lives, but in the lives of others – whether individuals or entire worlds.

While their slavery was horrible and those who enslaved them reprehensible, their time as slaves created both the drive and wisdom to move beyond the limited scope their lives once had. (I am not condoning slavery, I’m observing)

Millions died under the terrible yoke of slavery. Creating a slavery economy in order to produce the individuals of exceptional strength and resilience would be a crude form of eugenics. We run screaming from any mention of eugenics, BUT: “…developments in genetics, genomic, and reproductive technology at the end of the 20th Century have raised many new questions and concerns about what exactly constitutes eugenics and what its ethical and moral status is in the modern era…” (

The International Executive Director, Patrick Atkinson (and an old, old friend of mine!) of the Institute for Trafficked, Exploited and Missing Persons (ITEMP) (, which is a new and terrifyingly necessary organization has this to say, “We believe that every person has the right to live their life free from slavery, coercion and fear. Quite simply, this is why we do what we do.” They just received a two-year, $240,000 grant from the US Department of State.

Slavery comes either from the darkest reaches of the human psyche or from the deepest pits of Hell (take your pick). It is, however, STILL a part of a world economy that we support – whether we want to admit it or not. Slavery is alive and well and it’s something we need to talk about.

So why does the Apostle Paul say in First Corinthians 7:22 that, “…he who is called while free is Christ’s slave…”?

In light of all I’ve said and all our society says it believes about slavery, how can Paul say that we are Christ’s slaves? It makes websites like look like they are spreading the truth! It makes us so uncomfortable that English translations frequently and without apology substitute ‘bond servant’ or ‘servant’ for the Greek word, doulos which meant, literally, “slave”. Some of us who are not descended from slaves, have ancestors who were indentured servants – people who sold their services willingly to escape poverty or were kidnap victims or prisoners (the distinction seems vague to me…). It would be horrifying for Paul to write this – except that Jesus called Himself the slave of all in Mark 10 : 42Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’"

Jesus knew both the horror of slavery – he was born into a family of slaves. He knew the reality of slavery – he saw slaves everywhere because He grew up in a land occupied by the Roman Empire. But He knew that He was the slave of all humanity and then called us to be His slaves as well. He knew – as SF writers have known and demonstrated in their writing…and that we ALL know because we’ve made these people famous writers by voting awards on them and buying their books – that slavery can create powerful personalities. Slavery can create (and I do not condone slavery as a method of character building) strong individuals.

Jesus calls us to be His slaves, as He was a slave to all humanity, in order to create powerful witnesses of His Word to the world – a world that still HAS slaves, yet refuses to talk about it.

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