This month’s issue of Christianity Today has an interesting piece on William Wilberforce, and, in particular, the dark side of the abolitionist that has just recently come to light. It turns out that Wilberforce, a 19th century politician best known for bringing down the slave trade in England, was the very same politician who sanctioned the use of apprenticeship (thinly-veiled slavery with a different name) in Sierra Leone.
To be honest, I’m pretty glad this sort of story hasn’t caught significant national attention. It has parallels to “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith” from Time a few years back, only on a smaller scale, as Mother Teresa is a far bigger name than Wilberforce. While one exposé (Wilberforce) deals with hypocrisy in his actions, the other deals with internal doubts Mother Teresa feels while living the life of a “saint”. Despite this difference, a similar public reaction occurs: scandal. We are told to feel betrayed, not only by the individual on trial, but also by the religion they espouse.
In the case of MT, we have Christopher Hitchens coming out of the woodwork with some pretty harsh words: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.” We are supposed to hear these stories and think that religion can’t possibly be true, because of what horrible things these heroes have done or thought.
I don’t know about you, but I come out of these articles thinking the opposite. I see people that are as screwed up as me doing so much good in the world, whether it’s abolishing slavery or caring for the impoverished people of the world, and I think about how amazing it is that God can work through anybody, including those with imperfections that are so glaring that the whole world scrutinizes them. In fact, it makes God that much greater. Our anthropology, and the level of credit we give to humans, is inversely proportional to our Christology, and the credit we give to God (words originally coined by PZ, I believe). There are countless stories of God bringing about good through blubbering idiots, in the Bible and everywhere else. If you need proof, look at everything Peter says in the Gospels, and then his speech at Pentecost. The more we realize the lowness and ineptitude of the humans God works through, the greater we realize our God, and our need for Him, to be.