Thursday, January 24, 2008

Amazing Grace: an Inside Job

I recently watched the film Amazing Grace with my wife and my oldest son (on the MLK holiday which made it even better).

I can't believe I'd missed this one!

The film retells the true story of William Wilberforce and his unceasing crusade to end slavery in the British Empire. It does not shy away from either his overt religiosity or his personal struggles.

I'd never heard the background of how Amazing Grace came to be composed. The song means even more to me now. I immediately went online to read more about John Newton (Amazing Grace writer and former Slave Ship captain who repented, became a minister, and profoundly inspired the British abolitionist Wilberforce), William Wilberforce, and William Pitt (British Prime Minister at 24 and sometimes Wilberforce's friend and co-conspirator in the abolitionist movement).

There is a lot I'd like to write about the parallels between the Slave Trade of the British Empire (ie the American Slave Trade) and our new slavery wherein we off-shore all of our manufacturing, textile production, etc. to third-world "sweat shops" but have to neither see nor consider it. There were a few interesting parallels to our current fascist-Empire building and those in parliament who would argue, for instance, that slavery was a necessary evil for the economic health of the empire (much as, I would contend, many in our government argue that the conquest and sacrifice of innocent civilians abroad is a necessary evil for our current oil economy) and that consequently anyone arguing for abolition was nothing less than a traitor.

But I only have time for three quick notes at the moment.

The first is how moving it is to read the full text of the hymn Amazing Grace and consider the awesome power of the atonement of our Savior in overcoming our own personal trials, mistakes, and evils. It was very inspiring early in the film when Wilberforce leaps to top of a table in what was essentially a gambling bar-room and sings the hymn with perfect baritone.

The second thing I wanted to note was that, interestingly, the film spends some time showing Wilberforce's personal struggles with depression, disillusionment, discouragement, and confusion about what to pursue in life. He ends up being shepherded into a dependency on heroin prescribed by a well-meaning family doctor and has to break free of that addiction (due to what he and his wife recognize as negative side effects) despite the fact that his society tended to overlook the ill effects of that drug's abuse.

The final thing I wanted to mention was a brief scene where one of Wilberforce's close personal allies in the abolition movement tries to recruit him into the bloody French (and potentially British) Revolution. Wilberforce – who has earlier in the film indicated that he favors sovereignty for the Americans and harbors other concerns about the the British Empire – explains forcefully to his friend that he has taken an oath to the King which he still cherishes and clearly sees cause for hope within the current British system. Even when another friend (the Prime Minister, Pitt) abandons the abolitionist movement [and Wilberforce himself] as being too anti-British during a time of war, Wilberforce remains true and keeps trying to work within the system he cherishes. I don't think it will ruin the movie to reveal what history already tells you – that ultimately Wilberforce prevails against incredible odds.

Amazing Grace reaffirmed my deep belief that if we can start within ourselves, within our families, and within our communities there is an insuperable power of God that can come to the rescue of all that is good and right. I'd recommend it to anyone.


Toadicus Rex said...

At last, something I can agree with you about! Great movie, absolutely fantastic.

Frank Staheli said...

Amazing Grace has catapulted to near the top of my all-time favorite list! I love movies that are about the portrayal or restoration of human dignity.

This movie re-energized my personal drive to make a difference in the world. And I appreciated his wit and gentility as he accomplished such a momentous task.

William Wilberforce is my idol!