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Slave owners would not treat their slaves as people, just as simple machines that required little maintenance. Some would even punish a man for something that he had not done yet just to instill the fear of the Lord and His vengeance in him (Graiff 1). Douglass says, "Prior to my conversion, I relied upon my own depravity to shield and sustain me in my savage barbarity; but after my conversion, I found religious sanction and support for my slaveholding cruelty" (Douglass, 1845, 40).
An excellent example of this is Rev. Rigby Hopkins, a minister of the Reformed Methodist Church:
"Mr. Hopkins was even worse that Mr. Weeden. His chief boast was his ability to manage slaves. The particular feature of his government was that of whipping slaves in advance of deserving it. He always managed to have one or more slaves to whip every Monday morning. He did this to alarm their fears, the commission of large ones. Mr. Hopkins could always find some excuse for whipping a slave.
It would astonish one, unaccustomed to a slaveholding life, to see with what wonderful ease a slaveholder can find things, of which to make occasion to whip a slave" (Douglass, 1845, 53).
This man was a reverend who not only believed the words of God but also preached them to others, and yet he had the audacity to beat his slaves for no real reason Clutz 5 other than to prevent them from acting up again. In other words, it was acceptable to commit a sin as long as you are outwardly living the righteous life of a devoted and practicing disciple of Christ, according to the slaveholders (Stiver 1).
This brings up the question that Douglass asked many times. Why would a slave believe in God when the God they believed in, who was suppose to protect them was preached about and seen too protective of these evil men?
"It has been a terrible mystery to know why the good Lord should so long afflict my people and keep them in bondage to be abused and trampled down without any rights of their own, no ray of light in the future" (Gibson, 591). Frederick states, "It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists" (Douglass, 1892, 302). The ones in power were living lives of utter hypocrisy and the "victims" were hanging on to the only thing they knew was the truth, their faith in Jesus Christ.
"They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy" (Douglass, 1845, 77). It is safe to say that Douglass was a nineteenth century millennialist who developed a sense of special destiny. His millennialism was optimistic and activist at the same time. He was waiting for the "jubilee" of black emancipation and the fulfillment of America's national destiny required patience, but also "earnest struggle"; it demanded faith, but also great "suffering". He was not an "evangelical" Christian in any strict sense, but his views of God and history placed him in the millennial tradition.
Frederick's millennialism was a belief in God's second coming and reestablishing justice among peoples and transforming America into the "redeemer nation" (Blight 8). Douglass hoped Clutz 6 that his God would come for the cause of black freedom and would force this nation to start examining what it called Christianity. Whites in the south tried to brainwash the slaves into believing that God allowed and wanted them to be oppressed. More often than not, Bible verses were misused and twisted as a means to pacify the wounded souls and afflicted hearts of the slaves (Langford 1).
However, some believed, as in the Old Testament, that God would come to free them from slavery even though they were "the most degraded, wretched, and abject set of beings that ever lived" (Olsen 20). Although many slaves genuinely had faith in God and his ability to deliver them from their oppressed state, few truly understood how the bible was being used against them because they were not able to read (Langford 1). Douglass says, "The dealer gives his blood stained in gold to support the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.
Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other - devils dressed in angels' robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise" (Douglass, 1845, 76). In the Narrative of the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Douglass paints a clear picture of what Christianity proper is suppose to be. His vigilant description displays feelings of peace and love, "to receive the one as good, pure, and holy" (Douglass, 1845, 326). To him, it is impossible to believe in good and evil at the same time.
"To be the friend of one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceful, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding women whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land" (Douglass, 1845, 326). Douglass further demonstrates the great irony in the behavior and Clutz 7 character of the religious masters. The misinterpretations of the Christian faith are just as pertinent to the current misconceptions of Christianity.
"And yet there was not a man anywhere round, who made higher professions of religion, or was more active in revivals - more attentive to the class, love-feast, prayer and preaching meetings, or more devotional in his family, -that prayed earlier, later, harder, and longer, -than this same reverend slave-driver, Rigby Hopkins" (Douglass, 1845, 54). Douglass asks the profound question of how slaveholders can profess a religion that advocates treating others with respect hence the commandment "Love thy neighbor as thyself," but in the same breath treats other human beings as if they were savage creatures.
At various points in the narrative, Douglass finds himself contemplating the existence of God. In one part, Douglass is talking to "no audience, but the Almighty," and asking "is there a God? " However, in the next few lines he exclaims "O God, save me! God, deliver me! " The juxtaposition of these two sentences might reveal an atheist side of Douglass - believing in something and nothing at the same time (Stavchansky 1). The poem located in the appendix also represents the amount of irony present in the slaveholding religion of the south.
Douglass asks how slaveholders can preach and kidnap men, how can they give thanks to God and rob the poor, and how they can speak of liberty but deny it to the oppressed. He states that everything "respecting and against religion, [he] means strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no reference to Christianity proper" (Stavchansky 1). After escaping slavery, Douglass found fellowship among Methodists. He moved further and further from worshipping the church and became involved in organized abolitionism where he spoke of the antislavery cause. He ridiculed the churchmen and
Clutz 8 called them "the foremost, the strongest" defenders of slavery. Douglass remained a "spy" within the church and tolerated only a certain number of clerics. To Douglass a "true Christianity " was not to be found in the majority of the nation's sanctuaries. Only those religious bodies, which had adapted to remove both spiritual and physical restraints, received his approval (Van Deburg 218). Examination of his public statements in and following the war shows that he carried on the rhetorical tradition of the black jeremiad against every indication of American racial inequality.
He proclaimed slavery as an abomination to God and a curse to the nation. Slavery was a dire threat to America's present and future health. The Dred Scott decision allowed Douglass to say that the finger of the Almighty may be... bringing good out of evil.... hastening the triumph of righteousness. It was another proof that God does not mean we shall go to sleep but would shortly awake Americans to save the nation and its mission (Howard-Pitney 488). Right now it seems that we are regressing rather than progressing in the modern day parallel to how the slaves were treated.
Today the brutality and violence committed by the people, such as the slaves, is not as evident as the hypocrisy of the Christian faith. The only tangible difference between Douglass' time and present day are the circumstances of slavery (Stiver 3). "Between Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference-so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked (Douglass, 1845, 75). Clutz 9 People in general think the harder, louder, longer you pray, or how active you are qualifies you as a better Christian.
This assumption is false by a long shot. In fact, the opposite is true; the quiet, discrete believer is highly esteemed and greatly rewarded according to the Bible (Stiver 1). Not only were the slaves raped of their own traditions from Africa; they were forced into a new religion of tradition in America - Christianity (Stravchansky 1). Christian faith, which is so strong, steadfast, and an ultimate priority in some lives can be worthless, minuscule, and even made a mockery without a second though or ounce of guilt in other lives (Stiver 1).
Growing up, Douglass had a strong devotion of learning about religion as well as practicing it. However, as he grew older and understood the concepts of religion more in depth, he began to challenge religion as a whole. The more educated he became; the more he disliked organized religion. His dislike of Christianity was most credited to the slaveholders who distorted Christianity and conformed it to their needs. As Frederick Douglass very bluntly but truthfully proclaims, "-all calling themselves Christians! Humble followers of the Lord Jesus Christ! "
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