20,000 Ghosts


We are Canadians. This is our nation. We have been called to “stand on guard” for our country. To stand on guard requires that we be personally aware of the very real, clear and present danger facing our country. I submit to you that Canada is under siege, not from without, from some foreign power, but from within.

What I am referring to is an invasion of ideas. Napoleon said that ideas were more powerful than armies. Armies come and go, but ideas can lie embedded in a society for centuries, influencing a nation’s culture, affecting the thinking and activity of generations, and touching their very soul and conscience. Good ideas strengthen a people: erroneous ideas, unchallenged and tolerated, weaken a citizenry.

I had the privilege of seeing the movie, Amazing Grace when it first hit the theatre, the true story of one of the 18th Century’s greatest heroes, William Wilberforce.

The movie’s title comes from a hymn sung in many of our churches, penned by John Newton. He was the son of a sea captain, pressed into naval service at an early age. He deserted, was recaptured, and then flogged for his efforts. At his own request, John was placed into service in a slave trip, which took him to Sierra Leone, on the Windward Coast of Africa.

On a homeward voyage, in the midst of a violent storm, he cried out to God for mercy, and “grace led him home.” Though truly converted, he continued in the slave trade, until he was overwhelmed by a conviction about the evilness of the idea of trading in people’s souls. It was detailed in his pamphlet, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade.

In it he wrote about the need to suppress the trafficking in human souls with the hope that the “stain on the national character would be wiped out” (pg1). He affirmed that he would have quit sooner, had [he] considered it, “unlawful and wrong” (pg 4). He went on to say that “the Righteous Lord loves righteousness, and He has engaged us to plead the cause, and vindicate the wrongs, of the oppressed. It is righteousness that exalts a nation; and wickedness is the present reproach, and will, sooner or later, unless repentance intervenes, prove the ruin of any people (pg 6).”

He started to speak out about what the acceptance of a faulty idea had cost the Empire. The Slave Trade had created a moral critical mass. Everyone was marked by its evil, and few were standing against its abuses. He pointed to the loss of the soul of England’s sons who were hardened by the inhumanity to humanity, the curse of fever which took both black and white’s lives, the affect on the minds of those involved in the trade, the unmerciful whippings, torture, crying babies being thrown overboard, men stacked like books on a shelf.

In the movie he speaks of the 20,000 ghosts that haunted his soul. They were men, women and children who died trying to make the nine month journey. Statistics estimate that close to 100,000 blacks, both slave and free, were bought and sold annually, that more than 20% died enroute, and those who survived passage seldom lived beyond nine years in captivity.

John joined the Abolitionists, and was influential in convincing a young man, William Wilberforce to remain in politics and “serve God where he was.” Wilberforce spent decades in Parliament fighting a “bad idea” that had gripped the soul and economy of a nation.

It wasn’t extracted easily from the consciousness of England. Men defended it for years: “if we do not do it, the French will glean the profits from it;” “shutting it down will affect the port economy and be a hardship to its people.” The justifications for a “bad idea” were numerous. For years the nation and its citizenry bought into it, drowning out this young man’s voice.

Finally, after impassioned speech after speech, using common sense, force of reason and political wit, truth won out. It was agreed that the trade was “contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy.” The Slave Trade Act, after twenty years of debate, received royal assent on 25 March 1807. A new idea won out, and has prevailed since that day.

What happens when good men say nothing about bad ideas? What occurs when good ideas are silenced by evil ones? What happens to the soul of a nation? What affect does it have on the corporate conscience of a generation? What legacy is left to its most innocent of citizens, its children? The question begs asking, “Would you have been an Abolitionist in Newton and Wilberforce’s England?”

Let’s make sure that 20,000 ghosts do not haunt our lives, as they did John Newton. Let’s get ready to stand on guard for Canada as we start to expose some bad ideas that desire to invade our corporate consciousness, and ultimately become part of our nation’s DNA.


Castanet Article
Thursday 19th, 2007
Oh! Canada! Column