My friend Will Schryver has just launched a new personal blog called Imetatron. Will is an interesting thinker and a true original, and I commend his blog to your attention (while, of course, desperately hoping that it won’t weaken your slavish loyalty to mine).
The story that he tells in his first entry, by the way, reminds me of an anecdote told me by a friend a few months ago. I share it because I found it funny and quite striking, and despite the fact that I know with sad certainty that a few of my most obsessive and hostile critics will twist and abuse it in order to portray me (yet again) as a racist:
My friend was traveling into a small African country within the past year or two. He went from large plane to smaller regional plane to really small local plane. In the end, he was flying with, I think, just two other travelers besides the crew: a well-dressed, professional-looking, married couple. African-Americans, they were visiting their ancestral homeland in an attempt to understand and recover their roots. As the three Americans flew deeper and deeper into a territory truly foreign to them all, they chatted together and became, to that extent at least, friends.
Finally, they landed at their destination, and a mobile staircase (“ramp stairs” is, I think, the proper term for such a thing) was wheeled up to the aircraft. The door opened, and the three visitors stepped out onto the top of the staircase. The airport and city stretched out before their view, with garbage blowing across barren fields, mud huts, corrugated tin roofs, and an unmistakable smell.
The woman turned to my friend. “Thank God for slavery,” she whispered.
Now, I pass this anecdote along very warily, knowing that I’m in a very precarious position (although, despite the fact that I’m white, none of my ancestors were ever slaveholders) to say anything that seems in any way positive or exculpatory about slavery. I don’t deny for a moment that the enforced servitude of blacks in the United States was a horrific injustice even at its best, an inexcusable offense against God, humanity, and the fundamental principles of the American founding. Those who advocated it and advanced it will have to account for their actions at Judgment Day, if, indeed, they haven’t already done so.
But I do believe that good can, and often does, come out of evil. Indeed, I think that this is one of the beauties of the atonement of Christ, that, even out of horror and failure and sin, good can still be extracted if we will repent from and move beyond the bad. Not necessarily the good that would have come without the evil, but, still, some good nonetheless.
The economist Thomas Sowell is said to have made a point similar to that of Will Schryver’s Mr. Franklin: On a national radio talk show, a caller accused him of denying that slavery had had any real impact on American blacks. “Oh, I don’t deny that at all,” Professor Sowell responded. “If it weren’t for slavery, you and I would likely be living in some Third World African hell hole.”
Does this excuse slave ship captains or slave traders? Not even slightly. It does mean, though, that good can be manufactured from evil, that bad intentions can sometimes inadvertently lead to positive results. That, in other words, there is still hope, even amidst pain and evil.
This is the true alchemy, turning lead into gold.