Slavery, not liberty, has been the default position of most of humanity for most of history. Like the annoying default in Microsoft Word, which recalcitrantly reverts over and over again to American English and has to be strong-armed back to British English, the default setting of most peoples for most of the time has been serfdom, not freedom.
“Slavery has been among the most ubiquitous of all human institutions, across time and place, from earliest history until, some would argue, the present day,” note the editors in The Cambridge World History of Slavery.
The Exodus is a cataclysmic fissure in the universal acceptance of slavery. A motley crew of Hebrew slaves demand freedom from Pharaoh, Chief Tyrant of Egypt, the global superpower of its day. This dramatic story of freedom, the Exodus, becomes the archetypal metanarrative of the Western world.
In the 17th century it inspires English Puritans and parliamentarians to fight an oppressive king. It galvanizes the Pilgrim Fathers as they sail the Atlantic in search of a new world. Jefferson and Franklin use it in a sketch for the Great Seal of the USA. Franklin envisions Moses with his hand over the sea opposite a defiant Pharaoh, with the motto on the seal reading, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God”.
The Exodus is a cataclysmic fissure in the universal acceptance of slavery.
When African slaves sing of freedom, they sing: “Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, tell old Pharaoh, let my people go.” When 20,000 Boer Voortrekkers flee British imperialism and begin a “Great Trek” in 1836, they see their journey as an “exodus” and their Promised Land as Jerusalem.
In 1999, Time magazine names Bob Marley’s album Exodus, the best album of the 20th century. Leon Uris’ book Exodus on the founding of modern Israel becomes the biggest bestseller since Gone with the Wind. Cecil deMille’s greatest film The Ten Commandments is nominated for seven Academy Awards and named the seventh most successful film of all time. The Prince of Egypt, an animation film based on the book of Exodus, becomes the most successful non-Disney animated feature of its time.
Political theorist Michael Walzer sums it up succinctly: “…there has existed in the West a characteristic way of thinking about political change, a story that we repeat to one another…. This isn’t a story told everywhere; it isn’t a universal pattern; it belongs to the West, more particularly to Jews and Christians in the West, and its source is the Exodus of Israel from Egypt … Exodus is a story, a big story, one that became part of the cultural consciousness of the West … This story made it possible to tell other stories … I have found the Exodus almost everywhere.”
The Exodus provides a paradigm for freedom; it also offers a model for slave mentality. More often than not, slaves remain slaves because they lack a narrative of liberty; they prefer the rewards of slavery to the responsibility of freedom; they are unwilling to take risks; and, above all, they have cultivated a slave mentality that is content with the default setting of slavery. This slave mentality is as old as slavery itself and reflects one of the permanent verities of human nature.
Over the last few days, we’ve seen the rise and fall of two significant freedom movements—each considering a potential Exodus from Egypt. Britain’s exodus from the European Union and the exodus of conservative evangelicals from the Church of England have both stuck like Pharaoh’s chariots in the swamp of a shameful slave mentality deep-rooted in the leadership and membership of these movements.
The Hebrew slaves were tongue-tied for 400 years because of such a mentality. Not a peep out of them. No groaning, only grovelling. Were they feeling at home in the mud-pits of Egypt? Did they not recognize how dehumanising their slavery was? For four centuries they had silently acquiesced to the tyranny of their taskmasters. It was only when they began to “groan” that God was stirred to intervene on their behalf. Israel’s salvation begins not with God’s action, but with the slaves’ lamentation, notes Old Testament scholar Terence Fretheim.
It took a long time for Britons to begin protesting against the tyranny of the EU. Lamentably, sustained protest is still noticeably absent from the conventicle of conservative evangelicals. Sporadically, a gentle rebuke from the feeble pen of a supine evangelical leader squirms its way to the national media only to be laughingly slapped down by Pharaoh’s mitred generals in the palace-pyramids of Lambeth and Bishopthorpe.
Meanwhile, progressives continue marching through the Church of England in incremental steps, imposing heterodox practices unchallenged and leaving conservatives to delude themselves with the comfort that doctrinally no red line has yet been crossed.
Lamentably, sustained protest is still noticeably absent from the conventicle of conservative evangelicals.
Slave mentality is pathological because slaves afflicted by it don’t want freedom. They’d rather settle for the familiarity of Egypt and the free stuff doled out by Pharaoh’s welfare state. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic,” the Hebrew slaves complain to Moses, even after exiting Egypt. Nonsense! Their food as slaves must have been very meagre. But when it comes to leaving the security of Egypt, there is a tendency to romanticize Egypt’s free food.
Inebriated by the elixir of entitlements, millennials, in particular, are opposed to Brexit. They cite free university education (including the Erasmus scheme), cheaper airfare and cell roaming charges, and affordable housing. And what the slaves leaving Egypt saw as a cucumber famine, the slavish BBC sees as a chocolate shortage. Companies are stockpiling ingredients for making chocolate in case of Brexit, it threatens!
In the case of Anglican Remainers, the mouth-watering melons that keep them captive are church buildings, stipends and 4-bedroom vicarages, as many clergy candidly concede. A high-profile conservative evangelical lawyer told me how conservative African bishops are taken around Anglican cathedrals, palaces and other Ramses-like edifices to keep them from exiting the Anglican Communion.
There is breathtaking cognitive dissonance on display here since evangelicals claim to be anchored in the Bible and not in buildings. Moreover, after Israel’s exodus, God commands his people to make for him a mobile, portable Tent. The Jerusalem Temple built much later by King David becomes the symbol of divine domestication; the Tabernacle is a counter-cultural symbol of divine freedom.
Why remain? Why leave the belly of the beast where there is warmth? Why quit the Church of England when you can have your cake and the icing—the entitlement of privilege, quite apart from cold cash? This month the Church Times reported the capitulation of a cluster of prominent conservative evangelical churches including St Helen’s Bishopsgate, All Souls Langham Place, Christ Church Mayfair and St Nicholas Cole Abbey in the City of London. These churches will no longer consider a Chrexit because the Diocese of London has granted them the privileged status of “national resource churches”.
Last year, William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s defiantly said that his church would no longer participate in City of London deanery activities “that imply partnership in the gospel”. His first question to Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London was going to be: “Are you prepared openly to declare as sin what God calls sin, and to summon all people to repentance, and to do so publicly?”
Taylor threatened Brexit from the CofE if the new Bishop did not “condemn homosexual relationships as sinful”. He thumped his pulpit: “If the answer is ‘no’ then there is an ‘unavoidable avoidance’ for us all.” Like Moses, he wouldn’t do a deal with Pharaoh. It would be a No Deal Chrexit.
Suddenly, William “Moses” Taylor has made a U-turn and done a good deal, now goading his followers to work harder and bake more bricks for Pharaoh Mullally. After all, his church will share in the pot of gold worth £8.69-million so tantalizingly placed under his nose.
Inebriated by the elixir of entitlements, millennials, in particular, are opposed to Brexit.
Isn’t this sort of bribery the very thing that is keeping Remainers in bondage? Scientists fear loss of half a billion pounds of EU funding after no-deal Brexit. We will lose the European Social Fund (ESF) grants if there’s no Brexit deal. What happens to £5 billion EU funding after Brexit? So dependence is preferable to sovereignty? If Moses had asked these questions the Hebrews would have still remained in Egypt.
Of course, Remainers repeatedly used Project Fear to persuade Moses to return to Egypt. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” they ask Moses. “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness,” they tell Moses.
They don’t want freedom; they want free stuff. They have been so successfully co-opted by Pharaoh’s imperial imagination, they cannot imagine themselves as a viable, independent nation. I know this only too well. The Portuguese colonised my ancestors for nearly 500 years. When India got its freedom in 1947 my ancestors thumbed their noses at independent India. It was only in 1961 that Goa became free of colonial rule and that too because the Indian army charged in and liberated Goa from Portuguese rule.
My ancestors believed in Portugal more than they believed in Goa. They didn’t really believe Goa could have a future without the Portuguese. Our rulers don’t believe in Britain any more, let alone believing that we can “make Britain great again”. Our conservative Anglicans are content with their corner of the swamp—they believe the lie of the liberal crocodile who assures them that he will restrict himself to devouring his prey elsewhere.
Evangelical Anglicans and British Remainers are slavishly content with what French historian Alexis de Tocqueville called a “soft tyranny”, refusing to admit that this increasingly becomes more oppressive, leading to a hard tyranny. They don’t even think they are slaves—the ultimate form of slavery. Most tragically, they have no Moses to lead them—or their Moses has turned tail and returned to Des Teufels Lustschloss—Pharaoh’s demonic pleasure palace.
It is the great lawyer, orator and founding father Patrick Henry who delivers one of the world’s greatest speeches on March 20, 1775 at St John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. His words may well be repeated in Parliament when our representatives choose to either make a Faustian bargain with slavery or a Mosaic break with tyranny: “There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
(Originally published in Republic Standard)