A socialist bestseller that got everything wrong
Now that we’ve read In His Steps together and discussed it, let’s talk about another work of fiction. Looking Backward was written by Edward Bellamy. That name may sound familiar! We talked about his cousin Frances Bellamy in the episode about the Pledge of Allegiance. Frances was a Christian socialist. Edward wrote his famous book looking forward to the year 2000. He predicted that the United States would be a socialist paradise. People would work hard, retire early, and equality would reign.
None of that came true.
We’re talking about it today in order to understand the zeitgeist in the late 1800s. This book sold over half a million copies in its first few years of publication. It is now over a million copies. That doesn’t happen without stirring something in society. As we’ll see, socialism was tied to the Social Gospel. The opposition to the Social Gospel is what would go on to create the Christian fundamentalist movement.
- How have fictional books you’ve read impacted your worldview?
- What do you think about Bellamy’s predictions?
- How does the fear of socialism and communism impact evangelicalism?
- What real threats were facing evangelicalism in the 1800s? How about now?
Christians helped to end the British Slave Trade. But we forgot one of it’s greatest heroes: Thomas Clarkson
The British slave trade had several well-known enemies: William Wilberforce and John Newton (who wrote “Amazing Grace”) to name a few. But historian Adam Hochschild (“King Leopold’s Ghost”, “To End All Wars”) argues that history has largely forgotten the most valuable member of the abolition movement: Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson was in charge of gathering and disseminating information across the British Isles. He fought for years to end the slave trade and then slavery itself.
This movement is important for many reasons. It was the first to use logos, a coordinated marketing campaign, and it established a high bar for investigative journalism. It was also an ecumenical movement.
In this episode we explore slavery, the importance of slave rebellions, the power of ecumenical efforts, and the book “Bury the Chains“.
Helpful discussion questions:
- Had you heard of Thomas Clarkson before this episode?
- Do you participate in any cross-denominational movements? Where do you draw the line?
- Has your church ever participated in anti-racism movements?
- Was there any wisdom in ending the slave trade first?
- Why do you think John Newton didn’t give up the slave trade as soon as he became a Christian?
- Was it possible to be a Christian and own slaves?
- Do you think humanity will ever go back to slavery?
- Do modern payday loans keep people in bondage in the way that debt kept people in bondage in the 1700s?
- Link to slave ship diagram (very interesting)
- Episode Photo from the Library of Congress. FYI – it is not from the correct era or place.
What ended the British slave trade?
- Slave revolts in places like Haiti
- The high cost of ending slave revolts
- Freedom was in the air after the American Revolution and the French Revolution
- Public opinion
- Women in the 1800s boycotted sugar to protest slavery
The United States staged a coup in 1954 to protect the United Fruit Company. We overthrew a democratically elected leader.
In 1954 the United States government, led by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, staged a coup to oust President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. For what reason? To help the United Fruit Company.
United Fruit was a giant company, capturing over 90% of the market in its heyday. The juggernaut found President Arbenz to be a nuisance when his agrarian reform meant they would be paid for some of their unused land, which would be given to peasants. With the help of powerful friends like Allen Dulles (the Director of the CIA), the United States staged a coup, installing Castillo Armas in his place.
All of this took place while the USA was busy framing itself as a Christian nation. What does that mean for the Christian Church today? Are we a nation that supports that kind of behavior?
Our special guest for this episode is Stephen Schlesinger, co-author of the excellent book “Bad Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala“.
- What threat did President Jacobo Arbenz pose to United Fruit?
- United Fruit owned many utilities in Guatemala from the trains to telephone lines. How would you feel if our utilities were owned by foreign entities? If they controlled our natural resources?
- Do you think the land reform deal was a good one for their country?
- Were people like John Foster Dulles right to overthrow Arbenz?
- How might it have benefited them to do so?
- In what way could the actions of the US in the 1950s reflect poorly on Christianity domestically and abroad?
- It has been argued that American consumers benefit when Latin American and African countries are thrown in disarray. It means cheaper diamonds, gold, rubber, and more while also stranding the people in those countries in poverty.
- Does it bother you that you may be benefiting from unbalanced countries?
- Do you find the assumption that we are benefiting to be offensive? Why?
- Is there anything we can do about it?
Did you know that Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump have all stumped for the multi-level marketing industry? MLMs, direct sales, and network marketing have powerful friends. But what about Christian “celebrities”?
On this, our fourth and final episode on MLMs, we’re going to demonstrate how the gospel is used to sell an illegitimate business model. People like Josh McDowell have spoken for Amway. But does that make his actions wrong? He is, after all, there to preach the gospel to a captive audience. Who can blame him?
Ideas explored in this episode:
- What was the Trump Network?
- Did Bill Clinton speak at Amway events?
- How was George Bush involved with MLMs?
- Who is Terri Savelle Foy?
- Can we mix the gospel and business?
- Why do Christians and people of faith sell for pyramid schemes?
- How do pyramid schemes target Christians?
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