Does the Arc of the Universe Bend Toward Justice?
by Ed Simon
Almost a year before the Confederates fired on Ft. Sumter and a bookish, bald, kind-faced minister and professor named Theodor Parker would die while being treated for tuberculosis in temperate Florence, being very far from his birthplace of Lexington, Massachusetts.
Rev. Parker was of the New England intellectual vanguard; conversant with the transcendentalism of his neighbor Ralph Waldo Emerson, deeply read in the new German philosophies of Friedrich Schleiermacher and the higher biblical criticism of the time, as well as with the radical abolitionist politics of Boston.
At the time of his death in that city of the Italian Renaissance, where humanists had argued that man must be the measure of all things, Rev. Parker’s country of birth contained 15 states where slavery was legal, with a population of close to four million slaves, 12.6 million black women, men, and children toiling in bondage. More than one out of ten of Rev. Parker’s fellow countrymen were conceived of as property in his corrupted native nation.
As a radical Unitarian minister Rev. Parker had agitated for emancipation, he’d supported the patriot John Brown’s struggle, he’d preached, organized, and fought against slavery, yet when he died in sight of Brunelleschi’s dome not a single slave had yet to be emancipated. Almost exactly four years after his death and the U.S. Congress would ratify the 13th Amendment, so that now “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude … shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Even though it was heartbreaking that Rev. Parker never got to see the fruition of his activism, it was a schedule that was in many ways keeping with his own perspective on how history operates, for it was the good Unitarian minister who wrote, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure that it bends towards justice.” Click here to Continue Reading
Ed Simon is the Editor-at-Large for “The Marginalia Review of Books,” a channel of the “Los Angeles Review of Books.” A frequent contributor at several sites, his collection America and Other Fictions: On Radical Faith and Post Religion will be released by Zero Books in November of 2018. He can be followed at his website or on Twitter @WithEdSimon.