What Reading Huckleberry Finn told me about Human Rights

It`s now more than 50 years ago I read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time. One passage of the book made me very thoughtful even then. Huck wonders, if it is not a great sin to help a slave to escape, because he is legally owned by another person and he fears, he might be condemned to eternal damnation, if he does. But at last Huck follows the voice of his heart, he accepts eternal damnation in order to help Jim, the slave.

The story takes place in the southern states in the first half of the 19th century. White people in the southern states thought this way at that time. But wait a minute. Was not 60 or 70 years before an important declaration?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is obvious that people have a tendency to interpret their own beliefs and values very flexibly: „created equal“, of course, but it does not apply to slaves? „You shalt not kill“, that is certainly not true in war, right? „You shalt not steal“, but if a country is populated only by hunters and gatherers, then it is abandoned anyway, then you have the right to take it over, right?

And unfortunately it is a fact that such justifications of injustice are often proclaimed by state or ecclesiastical authorities. For example during Nazi regime in Germany there were lots of people, who thought it was right to deliver Jews to their persecutors. But there were others, who hid them. They didn`t follow the ruling law, but they followed the voice of their heart.

I think, that´s the message Mark Twain tells us about Huck: If you notice, there`s a blatant contradiction between the ruling law and your feelings, follow the voice of your heart.

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