Slavery of The Mind

By Kersley Fitzgerald

I read a fascinating, horrifying article the other day about slavery in Mauritania, a country in the far western Sahara with only 2% arable farmland. Despite government assurances, despite the fact slavery was abolished by various entities four times and criminalized once, ten to twenty percent of Mauritanians are slaves.

This is a slavery culture that has gone on for at least two-thousand years. Lighter-skinned Arabs moved across Africa, enslaving the darker-skinned locals. And those locals' descendents are still slaves for the same Arabic families. Slaves are generally not bought or sold — one family owns another — although they may be given as gifts with no regard for immediate familial relations. The fast majority of the slavery is labor, not sex. But a great many of the slaves are fathered by their sexually abusive masters.

This type of slavery is very different from what we call human trafficking (although technically, it is human trafficking) and it's different from the slavery familiar to the American South. There are few chains or fences. There are no laws requiring that slaves stay with their masters. It is a slavery of the mind. The culture teaches that dark-skinned Africans are inferior to light-skinned Arabs, and their place is in service to Arab families. Many don't realize they are slaves. They cannot conceive of freedom. The concept just doesn't make sense. "Freedom" would mean leaving one's family and going off to starve alone.

As I read, I pulled out several themes espoused by the people involved:
- Slavery is the natural order of things; not evil, but simply natural law.

- Those who encourage slavery see it as an inevitable part of life for a certain subset of society.

- Slavery is generational. And the more generations, the stronger the hold slavery has.

- People are not held in slavery by force because slavery is such a fundamental piece of their character that they have no identity without it.

- Many people in slavery don't know they're in slavery; they think they that their condition is just the normal operating system of the family and culture, and they are an integral, valued part of it.

- Many resist freedom because they cannot (or believe they cannot) survive outside of slavery. Societal conditions are such that it is inconceivable they could live a different way.

- Those who have been freed from slavery are actually seen as evil; they have rebelled against the natural order that all should adhere to.

- Many who are technically freed from slavery don't understand what that means. They don't feel any difference between slavery and freedom. Slavery was such a part of their identity that they tend to act as if they're still caught up in it.

- Even when people are "free" of slavery, they often make an idol out of their master, to worship or fight against. They still feel a tie or a bond that is integral to their identity.

- Those who support and defend slavery don't know how to live without it, either. Those whose lives are saturated with slavery, don't even know it's wrong.
Did you catch it? I mean, we've read a million times Paul's words about being a "slave to sin," but how dense to we have to be to not see the implications?

Take those above statements and exchange "slavery" for your favorite sin. This is two-by-four to the head kind of stuff. I'm not even sure how many words I should waste on explaining it because it's so right in front of our faces. Society pushes sin while denying it exists. We all judge people, assuming that a particular sin is inevitable for their people-group. Sin is so rampant in our culture that we don't even get that it's wrong. Zillions stay in their sin because they think this is the way they're supposed to act, and to act any differently is inconceivable. And even Christians, who are freed from the slavery of sin, sometimes don't remember the difference, and step back into old, familiar habits.

The most haunting quote from the article was a slave owner answering if he paid his laborers. "We don't pay them," he said. "They are part of the land."

"A part of the land." A part of the environment. The natural world. The way things are. Do we believe that? That our sin and the sin of others is just the way it is?
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6:1-6
We do not have to remain "a part of the land."

Image Credit: Peter Lee; "Shackles of the Past"; Creative Commons

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Published 6-7-12