Slavery is not a major theme in any of the essays in Spirituality and
Society, and therefore it does not appear in the index. But there is an
important mention of slavery where Griffin identifies it as one of the
“disastrous” and “destructive consequences” of modern dualistic thinking
about “the nature of nature” (SSPV, 146).

Griffin says that dualism’s
materialistic view of nature” was “a major cause of colonization
(including neocolonization), mass enslavement, and war in modern
times,” and that dualistic ideas were used “to justify the enslavement
and even decimation of ‘primitives,’ in order to allow the ‘fully human’
Europeans to populate the planet and develop it” (SSPV, 146–47).

Griffin is correct in noting that modern dualism had “destructive
consequences” that included justifying colonialism and mass enslavement.
Additionally, consider the temporal priority of early transatlantic
slavery. Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century slaveholders and slave
traders required a worldview that could reconcile their increasing
commitment to enslaving others with their increasing commitment to
liberty for themselves. This morally duplicitous requirement encouraged
the development of dualistic thinking. Then, in the seventeenth
century, dualistic worldviews were further developed and widely
embraced. And, as Griffin notes, seventeenth-century dualism encouraged
the continuation and expansion of slavery and colonialism.
When we analyze modernity without reference to early modern
slavery, it appears that modern theory was leading practice. And
indeed Ferré says that premodern theory “follows rather than leads
practical success,” but in the modern era “verifiable theory began to
lead technological practice” (SSPV, 135).

However, when our analysis
includes study of early modern slavery, then we see that early modern
practice was a major cause of modern dualistic theory.
Beyond Griffin’s brief mention, Spirituality and Society includes
almost nothing about slavery. Similarly, of ten contributors describing
modern society in Postmodern Politics for a Planet in Crisis (1993), only
Roger Wilkins discusses slavery and “the contemporary burden of its
legacies” (158).28

From among constructive postmodern scholars, Wilkins, Thandeka,
and Cobb are the most attentive to the formative influences of slavery
upon modern self-understandings. In Learning to Be White: Money, Race
and God in America (1999) Thandeka offers an analysis of the construction
of white identity that is fully attentive to the influences of slavery.
In Postmodernism and Public Policy: Reframing Religion, Culture, Education,
Sexuality, Class, Race, Politics, and the Economy (2002) Cobb draws
upon Thandeka’s work and his own heritage as “a Southern white
whose ancestors owned slaves” (PPP, 162) to offer a postmodern deliberation
on domestic race and class relations. Cobb says:

Until whites recognize how deep is their self-identification as whites, they will
not understand the problems they create both for themselves and for those
whom they define as not white. The racial problem in the United States must
be redefined as that of the social construction of the white race. Until that is
deconstructed, there is no possibility for those who have been excluded from
whiteness to have equal opportunity. (PPP, 155–56)

Mothership Connections