As far as movies scenes go, it’s a gem in natural theology vs. religious fundamentalism in Christianity over the topic of slavery:
There are some deep philosophical, political, and religious themes at play here; first and foremost, who counts as a human being – the debate actually started with Bass’ insinuation of irony on the concern for his well-being, but not Epps’ laborers. Epps’ position is simply that “they ain’t hired help, they’re my property”. As he bought his slaves, he is endowed to treat them as his property.
Here we see a timeless clash between natural law/natural theology and nationalism/religious fundamentalism. Bass’ reply a textbook definition of natural law:
“Is everything right because the law allows it? Suppose they’d pass a law taking away your liberty and making you a slave… Laws change… Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain and simple fact, that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike”
Epps obviously rejects the notion the slaves are human beings and that “might as well ask what the difference is between a white man and a baboon”. Bass, an abolitionist, puts forward a classic abolitionist argument with its basis in natural law and natural theology:
“I’m only asking in the eyes of God, what is the difference?”
Epps feels commissioned by his Southern laws, traditions, and Scripture. Earlier in the film, he initiates his slaves by reading Luke 12:47: “And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” In closing the Bible, he proudly affirms “that’s Scripture”. Perverted, taken completely out of context and literally applied to Epps himself being God, he’s all the more confident of his God-given and state given right to enslave, torture, beat, rape, and murder his slaves.
At the other end, Bass and abolitionists, grounded in natural theology and natural law, claim that moral truths are universal, given intrinsically to all by God, and that the message of Christianity is the furthest departure from slavery. Where Scriptural interpretation and state law go against natural theology and natural law, it is warped and unjust. And for Christianity; the furthest thing from the message of The Teacher.
If you are moved to end modern day slavery, will you join me in the fight to end human trafficking?