Manage episode 198188326 series 2049784
Our next speaker is Dr. Karen Swallow Prior. If you are on Christian Twitter, you've probably bumped into her. She is very present there. She's also the author of several books. My first book of hers that I read that I really loved, was her memoir, Booked, her personal journey through literature and faith. It's a beautifully written book. It's just a good book. Her more recent book is called Fierce Convictions. It's about the life of Hannah More. I've asked her to come and share some of that with us, in the context of thinking about what does it mean to be a faithful presence, a redemptive presence in our culture. So, please welcome Karen Swallow Prior.
Karen: All right. So, aside from this introduction, how many of you have ever heard of Hannah More before? Be honest. Okay. How many of you have heard of William Wilberforce? Yeah. Okay. Well, Hannah More is basically the female Wilberforce, although, perhaps what is more accurate is that Wilberforce is the female Hannah More. That's really the best way for me to introduce her. I'm going to just tell you the story of her life, because it will make the points that I want to make, that I think are what we're here today to talk about, this idea of redemptive presence. There's just so much in her life. She's one person, so I'm not just telling you the story, the biography of one person, I'm asking you to think about how her life is exemplary for us, in our cultural moment. Because her life and the time that she lived in has so many parallels to our times, and the things that she did are so instructive for use. I'll give you the brief walk through her life. I would love to take a lot of questions and so forth. I'll have a lot more to add after that.
Basically, Hannah More, just to situate her life, she lived from 1745 until 1833. Those of you who are not British history and literature buffs like me, I will contextualize that for you a little bit. People often confuse the 18th and 17th century because the numbers are different. So, being born in 1745 means that she lived in the middle of the 18th century. She was born and lived slightly after literary luminaries like Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Most of us are more familiar with British history in the next century, the 19th century, which is the Victorian age, and that's because we've inherited a lot from the Victorian age. The great novels that we might be familiar with, if we read them, like by Charles Dickens and the Bronte’s, and Jane Austin, are all in the 19th Century.
So, right away, Hannah More is interesting because she bridged those two centuries that are very, very different. The 18th century is Neoclassical, and the Victorian age is much more progressive and brought about a lot more of the social reforms and the progressive traditions that we're talking about. Hannah More was a creature of that older, Neoclassical age. She was always an old-fashioned kind of woman. We'll talk about that more. But, she lived almost to the Victorian age, so one scholar has actually called her the first Victorian, and I'll unpack that phrase a little bit as we go along.
Hannah was born to a charity school master outside of Bristol, in England. Bristol is a seaport town, and her father was essentially, this wasn't really uncovered until fairly recently, but her father was basically a ne'er do well, who probably married Hannah's mother, owing to a shotgun wedding. He's a schoolmaster at a charity school for boys. Today, we might think he's a decent kind of fellow. He certainly had a good education, but before that he had been a farm bailiff.
I'm trying to give you a picture of how Hannah was born into a family of low reputation, barely above poverty. He's teaching charity school children. The school where he taught, and the home that she was born in, the same building, still stand today. I've visited them. It's a beautiful building. When you see it today, it's hard to think of them as being impoverished, but you know, it's one stone building. The school was in one part, the family lived in another part.
Jacob More had these five daughters, a son that died. He taught the girls at home. Most poor girls did not get any kind of an education, besides the skills that their mother would teach them. But Jacob More knew classical languages, and he was a teacher, so he taught his girls more than most girls of their class would learn. Hannah was a quick study. She loved language and learning, so she learned Greek and Latin, which girls were not supposed to do. She learned a little more math than she was supposed to. All the sisters were quite bright, and they ended up sending the older sister off to learn French in the city of Bristol. She would come home and bring the French lessons there. So, you've got this family of these five girls, and Hannah More, the really witty sharp one. So, her father taught her more, actually, than he was even comfortable teaching her as a girl.
They lived in Bristol in the middle of the 18th century, when the slave trade was beginning to flourish. If you know anything about British history, you know that by the time the Victorian age comes, or during this period, Britain is becoming the world empire. It was the world super power. Remember, the sun never sets on the British empire. We can take a lesson from that.
So, there's this great irony because Bristol was this burgeoning, blooming city where there was a growing middle class as a result of the slave trade. One of the things that happens within this growing middle class, is that educational opportunities are becoming more available. So, the wealthy merchants and traders who had daughters ... Things haven't changed that much, the middle class always wants to be like the upper class, so this growing middle class wanted their daughters to receive fine educations like the wealthy daughters did. So, More's older sisters opened a school in Bristol, where they were able to offer education to these daughters of the growing middle class. So, Hannah More started out as a teacher there.
Remember, she's born, essentially, in poverty. Gets this great education. Becomes a school teacher because she lives near this metropolis that's growing wealthy because of the slave trade. Then, because she's in this school that serves wealthier people, she meets a wealthy landowner, and they fall in love. Someone that she never would've really been able to meet, or travel in the same circles with, because two of his cousins went to their school.
Well, he kept getting cold feet. He got cold feet three times, to make a long story short. As a result of that, Hannah More's family finally intervened and they broke off the engagement. All this is important because, as was customary at the time, he settled an annuity on her. So, she was getting, basically, 200 pounds a year for her trouble, because that was just a customary thing.
Now, she's a lower-class, educated woman who has a little bit of money. She'd already gotten a little bit of a reputation writing in Bristol, because Bristol was a town where a lot of politicians would come and give speeches. She had written a letter to Richard Sheridan, and gotten praise from him. She'd written poetry that someone had sent to Samuel Johnson in London. Samuel Johnson is the most well-known name of 18th century letters. So, by the time she gets a little money in her pocket, and she's a single woman, she decides to travel to London, where she gets to meet all of her literary heroes, including Samuel Johnson, the British playwright and stage manager David Garrick. He puts on a couple of plays she's written. She becomes very famous. She gets in the circle of learned literary ladies, called the Bluestocking Circle.
She's really the toast of the London town. Her poetry and her plays, again, are very classical, very erudite. Today, they would be seen very archaic. But she earned a very good literary reputation while she was there. Samuel Johnson called her the best [versatrix 00:09:59] in England, which meant a female poet.
She learned, she established a reputation. She became skilled as a writer. This is all important, because she was not focused on the things of God. She was, like most British citizens, she was born into the Church of England, so she was Anglican. But she always did have a conservative and pious bent to her. So all this time that she was spending in London, she really ...
We have lots of her letters that still exist. She would write letters home and she would mock the gowns that the women were wearing, and how their hair was piled high and would have birds and fruit in it, and so forth. They would wear the hoops on their skirts really wide. She was just always a country bumpkin and never felt very comfortable with it, even though she was intoxicated by the attention. Samuel Johnson, by this time, was an old widower, but all of her friends were teasing her about them running away and getting married. So there's lots of flirtation in the letters. But she really didn't quite fit in.
Then around 1787, a friend of hers gave her a book that was anonymously published as was often the case. It was a series of letters from a clergyman to various correspondents laying out the Christian faith, and talking about the transformation of the heart through an authentic faith. Because if you remember anything about your church history, what was happening in the early 18th century around 1720s and '30s.
Speaker 3: [inaudible 00:11:53]
Karen: In England, sorry. Yes, so Evangelicalism, in both countries. The Wesley's were already circulating in England and America, so Evangelicalism was influencing England both inside established church and outside of it. So, Hannah More read this collection of letters from a clergyman who's expressing all of these Evangelical ideas, which are different from the sort of cold, dead, rote ritual of the Church of England at that time. No offense to any England friends here.
It turns out that the volume was written by John Newton. John Newton who had, by now, he is the former slave ship captain who'd become an Anglican clergyman, also became an Evangelical, and wrote this volume called Cardiphonia, or Songs of the Heart, I think is its translation. Anonymous publications, they're like open secrets, so they figured out who it was, and they went to visit Newton at his London perish, where he was preaching one Sunday. We have the letter, actually, and she writes that she went to hear him preach for the first time. Remember, she's famous too, so they're both famous. She stayed after and talked to him for a couple of hours after church. She says she went home with her pocket stuffed full of sermons. Isn't that cool?
It was that same year that she also met that whipper-snapper, young parliamentarian William Wilberforce. More had actually already been involved in anti-slavery circles for a number of years through some other friendships. Basically, in that year, 1787, these abolitionists who'd been working separately, their paths crossed. Wilberforce had his famous conversion, and also went to John Newton. If you remember that story when after Wilberforce was received into the church, he was already a parliamentarian. He thought in order to be a Christian, to really serve the Lord, he had to go into full-time ministry. He went to Newton in the secret of the night, because he didn't think it would be good for him to be seen talking to this Evangelical minister. He knocks on his door, and he goes to see him. If you know this story, it's quite famous. Newton tells Wilberforce that he can serve God in parliament. Because of that advice, or course, history is changed.
The Evangelical movement, it had this effect on Newton, on Wilberforce, on Hannah More. They converged. They begin working together in the abolitionist society. The reason we know about Wilberforce, of course, is because he spearheaded the parliamentary campaigns that changed the laws. But a lot of people don't realize the Hannah More was involved in the artistic element of the campaign.
Just to give you one example, in 1788, Wilberforce was scheduled to introduce a measure in parliament that would limit the number of slaves that could be carried on a slave ship. Let me just make a little segue here to draw a contemporary parallel. In today's terms, particularly in the abortion debate, we would call this incrementalism. The British Abolitionists fought slavery incrementally. I'm not going to say who did it better, the US or England. Whatever. You can draw your own conclusions.
So, here's Wilberforce and his friends who are trying to abolish slavery, because they, by the grace of God see it for the horrific evil that it is. It sounds so awful. There are illustrations. If I were more technologically adept, I couldn't even get this microphone on. You can go on Google and look up the illustrations of the infamous Brookes slave ship. Because what the abolitionists did, they didn't have photographs or Twitter, they had to sneak in and draw pictures of these slaves ... Especially in England, America doesn't have this excuse, but in England, slavery wasn't in England, it was just a way station.
The British citizens didn't see slavery. They didn't see slaves working on plantations. The ships would go in and out, and there might be an auction or two, but the slaves were not physically working the land in England. In England, the people, they had no idea what slavery looked like, so the abolitionists, they had to sneak into a slave ship, draw pictures of it. This pamphlet and illustration of the Brookes slave ship, which shows the cargo hold with the slaves just literally stacked in like sardines, was how these slaves were carried across the middle passage.
Wilberforce was going to offer this piece of legislation to limit. Instead of their being 800 slaves packed in, a limit of 600. It sounds so weak and futile, but it was an incrementalist move. What Hannah More did, they planned this and timed it. The day that he was to enter this piece of legislation, she spent the two weeks before writing a poem called, "Unslavery." So she wrote this long poem. I have sections of it in my book. I just taught it last week, and it's actually included in women's literature anthologies today. Hannah More's making a resurgence with respect in academic circles, even though she was a conservative Christian, go figure.
It's a powerful poem that actually, in literary terms, and I won't get to geeky here, but in literary terms, it bridges both of those ages that she was part of. That more traditional Neoclassical age, and then the coming Romantic age. The poem operates on many levels. It incites God's authority. It incites patriotism, the idea that you cannot be a true patriot and endorse this kind of thing. But overwhelmingly, it simply paints a picture of the suffering that slaves go through when their families are torn apart. When they're separated from their children. It was a powerful, powerful poem. It is still, as I said, anthologized and taught today.
So, while Wilberforce was trying to change the laws of the land, Hannah More was working to change the hearts of the people. William Bysshe Shelley, a Romantic poet, who wasn't writing about Hannah More but lived around the same time, is famous for saying in his essay on the Defense of Poetry, that poets are the unacknowledged legislatures of the world. What he means by that is it's the art and poetry that changes people’s hearts, that allow the laws to change.
Hannah More did a number of things. She would carry around that pamphlet to dinner parties in London, like classy affairs, and be sitting next to people and pull out the pamphlet. "Have you ever seen inside of a slave ship?" There's a lot of debate today over how to combat certain evils, and whether or not to show graphic pictures of abortion, and putting all the different advantages and disadvantages to that approach aside, there definitely is a place throughout all of human history for what seeing what something is, how that, it can change people. This picture of the slave ship did the same thing.
Just to pause here and sum what I've said so far. What I'm trying to show is that we have this woman born in less than ordinary circumstances, to an obscure man, in obscure town, in obscure circumstances, who just by chance or providence, got a little bit of education, combined that with her little bit of extra wit, and talent, and intellect. A little bit of opportunity of having well-established male leaders support her and make a way for her when she went to London. As I said, someone, a mentor to her, sent her poem ahead to Samuel Johnson.
She gets into London, she's really focused more her literary art, and the literary reputation. She's intoxicated by the fame and celebrity, but just never really that comfortable with it. She knows there's more to life. We don't have any record of her coming forward at an altar call, or raising her hand. They didn't do that then, as you know. But, in her letters, I mark an expression of what I would call an Evangelical faith in one of her letters, after reading Newton's work. She just basically puts all that fame and celebrity aside and decides to commit her life to social reform. That was what Wilberforce said, that the Lord had set before him two great objects, the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners. Reformation of manners actually meant more like reformation of morals, in today's language.
Eventually, the slave trade was abolished in England. I have to compress a lot of things that were happening, because the other important point is that while Wilberforce and More, and their friends were fighting the slave trade, they were working on other things simultaneously as well. Hannah More ended up deciding to go back to the country where she from. It was two day's journey to London, so she would go back and forth. But, she settled back outside of Bristol, where she was raised, in the country.
One day, Wilberforce came to visit her and her sister in her country house, which still stands in Cheddar. If you've heard of the hills of Cheddar, where we get Cheddar cheese from, was nearby. It's a very scenic place. Hannah sent Wilberforce, and I think his sister was with her, off to go visit the cliffs of Cheddar. Wilberforce came back that day, and went into his room and wouldn't take his supper. All this is recorded in letters. Hannah and her sister were all worried about him. They finally get him out, and Wilberforce says, "Something must be done for the people of Cheddar." Because what he had seen in Cheddar was simply ... This is another reason why when we look back, we can't understand why slavery was tolerated, and we have to see with the eyes of the people then. Those who were impoverished were not living in much better circumstances. So, in other words, the children of the poor were working in mines and pits, and doing hard labor six days a week. Being beaten and abused.
Wilberforce, when he went into this little village of Cheddar, just saw the deplorable conditions of the poor, and especially the children. So, he told Hannah More, "If you'll be at the trouble, we'll be at the expense." He told Hannah to open up schools in Cheddar and around, that Wilberforce and his other wealthy friends would help pay for. So that he could teach these children, first of all, to read, because they wanted to be able to read the bible for themselves. To teach them the catechism, and to teach them some skills, so that they could get better work.
Hannah opened the first of these Sunday Schools. That's what Sunday Schools were then, they were literally school on Sunday, where you would learn not just flannel graph lessons, but learn math and reading. Hannah More didn't teach writing, that was too revolutionary. Only reading was taught. That's another story. She was very conservative. But even so, her letters are filled with anecdotes.
She couldn't open these schools without the support of the landowners and the farmers in the villages. She had to convince them that if the children that they employed six days a week were in school on Sunday, which was their only day off, they wouldn't be robbing orchards and getting into trouble, and so forth. So she had to convince them. But it was greeted with skepticism, because don't forget, there's also a French revolution brewing over on the other side of the channel. So, anything that was seen as improving the lives of the poor, or empowering them in any way, and what's more empowering than learning to read, was seen as something that would upset the status quo, and possibly bring revolution to England.
As conservative as Hannah More was, and believe me when I say conservative, she was very conservative. I'll share some other anecdotes. It was no less than revolutionary for her to teach the poor to read. She had to fight a lot of hostility. She says, she had to drink a lot of terrible mead and pet a lot of ugly dogs to be nice to these farm owners and get them on her side. She was good.
So she ended up opening about 11 or 12 of these schools in the countryside. They were all free for the children. She ended up expanding it beyond just educating the children. The parents, she would educate the parents. They would come at night. She started out, she didn't call it this, but basically it's a micro-loan system. The women would pay small dues in, so that when they gave birth, or had a death in the family, or illness, they would basically have a little bit of an insurance policy that they could collect. She held picnics for them. She gave prizes for memorizing bible verses. She's actually credited with being one of the first ones to teach children, and she writes about her philosophy, with being entertaining and delightful as opposed to just beating them with a stick, or whatever. The children would want to go to school, it wasn't something that they were just forced to do. She was doing this all at the same time that, she and her friends were supporting it, as they were fighting slavery. Wilberforce also opened the first Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
For us, we're so divided by our politics and our modern categories. This is the thing I find most instructive about the 18th and 19th century British Evangelicals. They had this very holistic view of how the coarsening of life in one area coarsens hearts and attitudes in another. For them, their prevailing virtue was benevolence. They talked a lot about benevolence, about wishing well for others. Those others actually included animals. They didn't believe in animal rights, but they believed that treating animals cruelly, which was just, that's what people did for games. They did cockfighting, and bullfighting, and dog fighting, cock throwing. This was just routine entertainment that people used.
The Evangelicals saw this, actually ... it was also surrounded by all kinds of vice. We have issues like that today, where it's not just gambling, but it's all of the vices that surrounded it. All the other activity. So, the Evangelicals, they thought that such cruelty to animals cultivated barbaric behaviors elsewhere.
Kindness to animals. Kindness to slaves. Kindness to children. All of these were part of their reform. Even so, Hannah More was no feminist. Her contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, who is considered the mother of Feminism, was writing at the same time. I do love Hannah More, but this statement makes me a little sad. She refused to read Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She said, "The rights of woman? Might was well be talking about the rights of children, to be talking about the rights of woman." That's how conservative she was, and that's why, one of the reasons she fell out of favor later, even though she was one of the best-selling writers of her time.
Again, to get back to her writing craft, what she ended up doing besides writing the anti-slavery poetry, was once she opened up these schools for the poor, she had to write material for the poor to read. Because literacy was new. Print technology was new. There were a lot of cheap literature, or cheap tracks they were called, circulating. But guess what, they were dirty, or seditious, or just superstitious. So, Hannah More started a whole project where she produced very cheap literature with edifying moral scriptural tales. It was one of the most successful projects that she had.
She wrote for the upper class. She wrote for the lower class. She wrote poetry to help the slaves. Then she wrote one novel, which is how I ended up discovering her and writing my dissertation about her. She wrote one novel that was the best-selling novel of the time. That came out when no one ever heard of Jane Austin, they were reading Hannah More, her novel about a young man in search of a suitable wife. It's a very didactic novel. It's not what we would consider very novelistic today. She wrote for all of these different audiences. No one ever did that. People were either part of the poor, or they were part of the upper classes and just communicating with the upper classes. She wrote for every strata of society.
Then in her elder years, she lived to be 88, which is pretty old for that time, most of her works are very spiritual. She wrote a treatise on Paul. She wrote a treatise called the Spirit of Prayer. She became a Protestant saint. She lived in this estate. She died a wealthy woman. She supported young clergymen in their studies. People would come and visit her, and just sit at her feet. All of her money when she died, went to various missionary projects and schools, and Christian efforts.
That's a lot. That's more detail than I wanted to share. But, it's fascinating to me how God used this woman who was willing to be used and brought together all these various elements of her life and her times, and they all converged in a way that she was able to affect and reach so many lives, even though we've never heard of her now.
This is something I think artists struggle with. If you write great art that pass the tests of time, it often isn't received in its own time. But if you write for your time and for your people, to influence them, that's the kind of art that's much less likely to pass the tests of time, and be forgotten. It's almost like it's one or the other. So, Hannah More is not a great artist, or writer, whose works have passed the tests of time. But she really did change the minds and the lives of people in her time. She met them where they were, to take them where they needed to be, and that has repercussions on our lives and our culture today. I have no doubt from studying her.
Anyway, I just ... I think now, we're up to questions, if we have time? Okay. Questions. Yes.
Speaker 4: Who do you think in our contemporary times, would be analogous to Hannah. I know there's not an equivalent. Are there people or communities that have that same [inaudible 00:33:23], that you could share with us? Yourself excluded.
Karen: I mean, I guess I would think in its own way, Tim Keller and what he's doing in the city through various strata and reaching different people. Oh, Hannah More, I didn't even get into, she was persecuted mercilessly. There was literally a billboard campaign from the road to London into Bristol, denouncing her for her Sunday Schools, because she was accused of Methodism. Because one of her teachers led an extemporaneous prayer. There were political enemies who were afraid of her revolutionary practice of teaching the poor to read, so they accused her of these things. That's another parallel. She was accused of being a liberal and a progressive because she was doing these things, and politically that was used against her, because she was simply trying to reach people where they were. So, that would be the first example.
I don't know. We need more Hannah More's.
Speaker 5: How would you say in today's age, how Hannah and Wilberforce have this connection, how do we, as Christians, have a connection to something like the political, while still being Christians? It seems like either you have to choose which party [crosstalk 00:34:53]? How do you see insight to that?
Karen: Ask the question a different way. Let me make sure I'm understanding it.
Speaker 5: As a Christian artists, and we want to engage the political, or whatever [crosstalk 00:35:13], it seems like the temptation is then, if you take on the right platform or the left platform. Instead of say,[inaudible 00:35:18] did you see that [inaudible 00:35:20]?
Karen: The name of the group, the Clapham Sect, or Clapham group they're called, it was Wilberforce, Hannah More, others. I talk about this more in the books, they shared common cause, but they knew they had separate gifts. So, what they did, which I think we're not good at today in the church, is they encouraged one another in their own gifts. They didn't say, "Because I'm doing it this way, you have to do it that way." So, the banker funded everything. Hannah More was the artist, she wrote things. So, they really understood that they had different roles to play.
I think if the artist is out there being a little bit edgy and a little bit questionable, and it makes us nervous, they're doing something different. If you're a pastor, you are not to be so edgy, and sketchy, and questionable. I think we're very nervous about letting us be different parts of the body, and they did that very, very well. I'm not sure if that's answering your question.
So in other words, politics is another part, right? We can support the people who have to be political, but we may have a different role to play, and I think that's hard for us to figure out. For example, when I publicly love my former student who is gay, because he was my student and I'm like a mother to him, people who criticize me need to remember I'm not his pastor. I'm more like his mother and mentor. So my interactions with him are going to look different than I would hope his pastor would look.
Speaker 5: So, it's giving the freedom to the artist to not have to live like they're a pastor. So it's [crosstalk 00:37:08] the grace to move freely inside of their spectrum. Even though that might make us, in our position, a little uncomfortable.
Karen: Right. But you know, we artistic types ... I'm not sure I'm that artistic, but you know, the political and pastor types make us nervous in return, right? So, we're all good. Thanks. I'm going to keep thinking about that. It's a good question. It's not easy, whatever the answer is.
Speaker 5: Just context. Someone who came from the classical music world, and has noticed, now as a pastor, I find myself, because my natural inclination isn't to think pastorally first. Its to think artistically. Around my pastor friends, I can get myself in trouble. Trying [inaudible 00:37:55] artists. Now all the sudden, now I can be on the opposite side. I can be like, "I don't know. Did you think theologically on that." I need to help them with that, but I shouldn't treat them like they need to go to pastoral seminary and work through all the logistics of that. There has to be something [inaudible 00:38:13].
Karen: For my own experience, probably the thing I have to explain most, is if I'm reading and writing about books that I wouldn't necessarily recommend to everyone to read. I'm an English professor. It's my job to read the books that I might not recommend for you to read, but that is my role. Obviously, I'm not going to read everything, but if there's something out there the culture is talking about, engaging in, and I can read it for all of you, and translate for you what it is people are seeing and talking about it, that's my job. So, just because you wouldn't read it, doesn't mean that I shouldn't read it, because that's my vocation.
Good question. Other questions. Yeah, Mike?
Mike: I'd love to hear you just speak a little more about the theory of benevolence. That just rings a bell for me. I'm just curious if you have anything more to say about that or how that shaped that movement.
Karen: Sure. Benevolence literally means good will. Good volition or will. To have good will for others. I do talk about this more in the book. So the 18th century was very much, still had this very ancient and medieval paradigm called the Great Chain of Being, where all of society was seen as in a hierarchy with God at the top. God, angels, man, animals, rock, minerals. And even within that, everyone is stratified in a hierarchy. Hannah More was very much operating within that paradigm. Even the abolitionists were. Even if they did not see women and children as slaves, as being equally to men, they saw them as, "We still have a duty for them." There are things I like about the paradigm and things I don't. But it still had its strength.
It was a Christian's duty ... whoever you were on the Great Chain of Being, you had a duty toward those that were lower than you. Part of that is good will, wishing the best for them. So, animal welfare would fall into that. Along with the idea that if you're watching people be entertained by blood sports, as they were called, then you know that is not good for them either. It's a little bit paternalistic and authoritarian, and those things that aren't very popular today.
Benevolence is a virtue we really, really should talk about more. Just wishing well for others. Even the other, or people you don't agree with. But it was a central value at the time. There's even something called a Cult of Sensibility in the 18th century, and Hannah More wrote a poem about that. Sensibility meant ... if you think of Jane Austin's Sense ... Well, maybe you don't think of it at all. But if you do think of Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility, sense refers to reason, like common sense, and sensibility refers to feeling. There was an emphasis with the coming Romantic age on feeling, and what we would call today, empathy. There's a lot of talk today about empathy, so benevolence and sensibility are part of that. Being able to feel the suffering of others and have compassion on them as a result. Again, something else that we're lacking in today.
I don't know if that helps. Yes.
Speaker 7: Maybe you said it, I'm just trying to think it through in my head. Their idea of benevolence, it sounded like it was more based in creation in general, instead of image of God. Would they have made that ... is that distinction that would be fair, because if they saw women and children and slaves as not as important as the white man who's walking around. It wasn't an image of God thing, it was more like creation in general, [crosstalk 00:42:22] be nice [crosstalk 00:42:23].
Karen: Yeah, I think that's probably correct.
Speaker 7: That's really deficient on one level.
Speaker 7: I don't know if I really. That was just more clarifying for me. [crosstalk 00:42:41]. Exactly that way.
Karen: It's really, before democracy, you know, before modern democracy. One of the other things I talk in the books, is how people literally thought then, that if you were born poor, it was God's will. So, if you try to empower the poor by teaching them to read or to work a little bit better ... This is a long history and I'm really truncating it with centuries. But, someone like Hannah More, by empowering the poor ... And she didn't really believe that they should not be poor, she just wanted to alleviate their suffering, and that's why she gets criticized. It was pretty radical to just want to help the poor, because people thought if you were poor God wanted you that way. It was really a sin against God to try to change that. That's a very hard mindset to wrap our mind around, now.
Benevolence was the in-between. Like, "Wow. God made them poor, but let's just try to alleviate their suffering a little bit." That's why Hannah More is looked at as a reactionary conservative, and not really well respected among academics today.
Speaker 7: So did the Evangelical awakening help push that theological foundation to being stronger? I don't know-
Karen: Well the role the Evangelicalism had, it over time, was basically as emphasis on the individual. So it was more of an indirect. If each individual soul is important, and each individual conversion is important, and then you put in the Protestant work ethic, and then you put in ... you know. This is the irony, is that Hannah More made her way because of slavery, and then ended up fighting slavery. But slavery did bring opportunities for the middle class to emerge and then spread these values of the individual. Does that make sense?
Speaker 7: [crosstalk 00:44:40].
Karen: I could talk about this all day long.
David: I want to ask you one more question. I'm curious about the role of the Clapham sect, group.
Karen: The correct term is sect, but some Christians don't like that.
David: There's a Clapham today.
Karen: Right, there's a Clapham today, that just took their name after that. Right.
David: So I guess I'm curious how you would understand the role that the nature of that played in Hannah More's success and she's accomplished. Two part I'm curious about, the fact that that community of people was professionally diverse. You had clerics, business people, politicians, artists-
David: ... so on and so forth. You think that fact that is was that diverse of occupations, professions, vocations, that enables it to accomplish [crosstalk 00:45:28], successes. Whereas if we're just pastor groups [crosstalk 00:45:31]?
Karen: Yes. Absolutely
David: And then, more interestingly, do you think that benevolence as a model for us? Not so much like, I know Tim Keller’s probably some kind of awesome inklings. But we're not. It's easy to think, "Well, the super-powers, they got to do awesome thing." But do you think that there's a version that translates itself to everyone on a local level, that folks in different churches, pastors, business, politicians, artist, do you think that kind of community formation could enable something to happen that couldn't happen otherwise?
Karen: Sure. Everything's so global now, it's hard to think ... just think about if something locally is happening. Say an abortion clinic opens in your community. Yeah, the pastors and the churches have a role, but why not have a little ad campaign that's very positive and that promotes the local crisis pregnancy center, and promotes life. Do any of you remember the "Chose Life" commercials? Was that the '80s? The DeMoss Foundation did? Whatever happened to that? That was beautiful, I think.
Of course, we have to adapt. We don't want to go back to television commercials, I don't think. But why not tap into art and song, and maybe address one local issue. I think maybe we see this in human trafficking, on a larger scale. There's a lot of energy around that. There's so many more foundations. All these things we're talking about, abortion, and human trafficking, they're all just the symptoms, too, right?
I said early, to use that phrase, full-time ministry, I think. Sarcastically, because I'm one of those that believe we're all supposed to be in full-time ministry, regardless of where our paycheck comes from. John Newton had it right when he told Wilberforce to stay in parliament and serve God there.
Speaker 9: To follow up with that then. It seems like Wilberforce and Hannah are moving outside of the church, towards these issues. It seems like that's one of these things today. The issue is sometimes we try to bring it into. This means we've got to do art things in the church. Not that that's bad, it just seems like maybe we're trying to do something inside for people who already have the message. [crosstalk 00:48:17].
Karen: Oh, the church empowering people to do it.
Speaker 9: How are we doing it? Then that's the issue of community. It seems like, if I just do that inside of my church ... if I have a really artistic church, maybe we can do something. But how do we mobilize the communities of believers to rally our people who are in the different spheres to connect, and singular message towards these things [crosstalk 00:48:42]. Because it seems like that's what ideally, we're saying in those groups. I want to make sure the church isn't just doing insular, four walls things. Like, "We're going to conquer abortion," when we're just speaking to ourselves, [crosstalk 00:48:58] our walls. [inaudible 00:48:59] getting the message to the community, and doing it in a way that actually [inaudible 00:49:04].
Karen: Right, like Hannah More wrote a poem. There were some other little stray thoughts I had that I was going to mention. Now there gone. I only had a few, but there are a couple copies of my first book there. It's about literature, like classical works of literature. So if anyone wants any of those, it's first come, first serve. But that's another area of changing the cultures, reading literature. Anyway, those are back there.
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