Chains shall he break, for the Slave is my Brother
My Father and Stepmother sang in the Tabernacle Choir during my Youth, and I was privileged to attend many performances through the years. One such memorable performance (the last I attended) was in 2007 when the Men in the Choir, joined by The King’s Singers, performed this arrangement of “O Holy Night”
This is rendition has been a perennial favorite of mine ever since. It is a powerful piece and makes me emotional each time I listen to it. I particularly love the second verse:
“Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is Love and his Gospel is Peace.
Chains shall he break, for the Slave is our brother — and in his name all oppression shall cease”
Followed by the refrain:
“Christ is the Lord! Oh Praise his name Forever! His Power and Glory evermore proclaim!”
It’s hard to not hear these words, sung with such great force and conviction, and not be moved, and filled with compassion and resolve. I have turned to this song on countless occasions to be strengthened and feel the sense of awe and gratitude that Music uniquely provides me.
Tonight — while watching the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional — I was pleased to hear this same arrangement begin to be played. I excitedly turned up the TV and announced that this was one of my favorite Christmas Songs. I quietly sang along. As I did so, I noticed that the Choir had slightly modified the words of the second verse from “the Slave is my brother” to “each soul is our Brother” (as far as I can tell, that’s what they’re singing). See time-stamped video here:
Now, perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill — but I fundamentally disagree with whoever made the decision to do that. I don’t know the motives behind such a change, but my presumption is that it’s a desire to not be associated with anything that could be construed as having an affiliation with racism. If there are any other potential motives, or better yet — actual reasons — for the change in the Lyrics, I’d be all ears.
This type of action seems consistent with other behavior I’ve observed in recent years. For example, the re-naming of my Alma Mater because of its name (Dixie State University) and the implicit (loose) association with Racism and Slavery. There were, unfortunately, actual racist events sponsored by the University — which were despicable — but such events occurred decades ago. Beyond that, the idea was (as far as I can tell) that Dixie = Southern United States and Southern United States = Racism, so that was the end of the word “Dixie”. I don’t think I’m doing an injustice by explaining the reasoning behind such changes, because I think that’s as sophisticated as the logic is.
I think that such reasoning is dangerous for two reasons:
1) It’s important that we don’t cede precise language to ideologues. There is an ideology that seems ever abundant, which would paint society as merely two groups: Oppressors and Oppressed. Part of that Narrative is that Western Civilization (in particular) is best, and uniquely, defined as being not much more than an oppressive and racist institution. While it is objectively true that western society is guilty of the moral sin of terrible Slavery and Oppression, I disagree vehemently that such a characterization is objectively (and certainly not pragmatically) accurate at all. That isn’t all it is. The argument is a one-dimensional, caricature, lacking the sophistication, nuance, and grasp of complexity necessary to construe the world as having any redemptive value whatsoever. It’s fundamentally pessimistic, and even, nihilistic. Worst of all, it simply isn’t true that Western Society is to be solely defined (or even mostly) by its Sin of Racism and Slavery. Truthfully — the honest and thoughtful inquirer should arrive at the conclusion that the appropriate level of analysis for such classifications is to be done at the level of “individual” and that such classifications in broad categories (such as entire groups of people sharing common characteristics as: Race, Gender, Sexual Preference, etc.) is sure to be entirely inaccurate. For we are both Oppressor and Oppressed — regardless of the “group” we belong to. In fact, we are (almost all of us) more Oppressor than anything else, and our time would be better spent focusing on how we can improve ourselves than blaming a group of “others” for our woes. Though it is historically and objectively true to state that crimes and misfortunes alike fall upon groups of people (and in some instances) specifically because of their group traits, those persecutions and misfortunes are experienced individually despite being aimed at a group. Ceding this language is a mistake, because it’s a confession, and an admission that — yes — saying things that are associated with Racism is a cardinal Sin that we are collectively guilty of. In fact, our Language is already evolving to reflect that societal belief. John McWhorter, a preeminent linguist, observes in his book “Nine Nasty Words” that Racial Slurs are the “new F-word”. That is to say, Racial Slurs are Tabooer to speak out loud than the swear words that have been taboo for so long up to this point. I’m not saying that Racism doesn’t exist. I’m not saying that Slavery didn’t happen in our country. I’m simply saying that hypersensitivity towards anything related to racism, which results in the ceding of language that is not inherently racist is a hallmark of the “woke” ideology that would construe society as nothing more than classes of oppressors and oppressed, and this a slippery slope. God help us if we start down it. There is a sense of pseudo-morality associated with it all. It is a weaponization of kindness embedded in this ideology that beguiles many people. Because, of course, slavery was terrible, and of course racism is wrong — so it’s obviously admirable, and courageous to eliminate from our vocabulary anything associated with it. The problem is that doesn’t appear to be the real point of it, and there seem to be ulterior motives. What we say matters. Don’t say things that aren’t true, and don’t cede language to those who aren’t precise in what they’re saying, and whose ideas are too one-dimensional to appropriately reflect objective reality as far as you can discern it. I think we would be wise to heed the advice of the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn — to not cede language to ideologues, and to cultivate a fierce devotion to telling the Truth. In a piece titled “Live Not by Lies”, he wrote:
“Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies! Having understood where the lies begin (and many see this line differently) — step back from that gangrenous edge! Let us not glue back the flaking scales of the Ideology, not gather back its crumbling bones, nor patch together its decomposing garb, and we will be amazed how swiftly and helplessly the lies will fall away, and that which is destined to be naked will be exposed as such to the world.
And thus, overcoming our temerity, let each man choose: Will he remain a witting servant of the lies (needless to say, not due to natural predisposition, but in order to provide a living for the family, to rear the children in the spirit of lies!), or has the time come for him to stand straight as an honest man, worthy of the respect of his children and contemporaries? And from that day onward he:
· Will not write, sign, nor publish in any way, a single line distorting, so far as he can see, the truth;
· Will not utter such a line in private or in public conversation, nor read it from a crib sheet, nor speak it in the role of educator, canvasser, teacher, actor;
· Will not in painting, sculpture, photograph, technology, or music depict, support, or broadcast a single false thought, a single distortion of the truth as he discerns it;
· Will not cite in writing or in speech a single “guiding” quote for gratification, insurance, for his success at work, unless he fully shares the cited thought and believes that it fits the context precisely;
· Will not be forced to a demonstration or a rally if it runs counter to his desire and his will; will not take up and raise a banner or slogan in which he does not fully believe;
· Will not raise a hand in vote for a proposal which he does not sincerely support; will not vote openly or in secret ballot for a candidate whom he deems dubious or unworthy;
· Will not be impelled to a meeting where a forced and distorted discussion is expected to take place;
· Will at once walk out from a session, meeting, lecture, play, or film as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda;
· Will not subscribe to, nor buy in retail, a newspaper or journal that distorts or hides the underlying facts.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possible and necessary ways of evading lies. But he who begins to cleanse himself will, with a cleansed eye, easily discern yet other opportunities.
Yes, at first it will not be fair. Someone will have to temporarily lose his job. For the young who seek to live by truth, this will at first severely complicate life, for their tests and quizzes, too, are stuffed with lies, and so choices will have to be made. But there is no loophole left for anyone who seeks to be honest: Not even for a day, not even in the safest technical occupations can he avoid even a single one of the listed choices — to be made in favor of either truth or lies, in favor of spiritual independence or spiritual servility. And as for him who lacks the courage to defend even his own soul: Let him not brag of his progressive views, boast of his status as an academician or a recognized artist, a distinguished citizen or general. Let him say to himself plainly: I am cattle, I am a coward, I seek only warmth and to eat my fill.”
2) Slavery still exists. We should still be singing “chains shall he break, for the Slave is our Brother”. In China, across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East — depraved, wicked, and sinful Men and Women imprison other Men, Women, and Children and treat them like Property. Slavery still exists. It is, I would think, a far more pressing moral problem that there are still Slaves, right now, in 2021 — contrasted with the fact that there were Slaves 150 years ago in the United States. You’ll remember, the United States abolished Slavery, institutionally. It’s illegal here — and Slavery and Racism are both universally abhorred by the vast majority of the population that lives here. We’re not done with Racism — it still needs to be rooted out of any slum hole where it exists. It isn’t “Mission Accomplished”. There are still things that need to be addressed and corrected for. But it is a zero-sum game to dwell on our past sins, and not progress along the continuum that leads towards the ideal of equality for all Men — regardless of the presence of any characteristics that they hold in common, physical, or otherwise. It seems to me that if compassion were behind the social movements that condemn racism, it would focus predominantly on the Men, Women and Children in Bondage around the world right now.
As I said, I may be making a Mountain out of a Molehill. But, ironically, I think the original words of the text are more impactful. But at any rate, listening to this arrangement of this Hymn is sure to leave you inspired. So, despite my qualms with the language, either arrangement is beautiful. I do, however, prefer the version with the King’s Singers — linguistically and musically. So please listen.
Chains shall he break, for the Slave is my brother — and in his name all oppression shall cease. Christ is the Lord! Oh, Praise his Name forever! His Power and Glory evermore proclaim!