In a Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, religion was a common theme discussed. Christianity shaped Douglass personal views about being a Christian and living in a predominately Christian place. Though Douglass disagreed with the way Christianity was used to validate slavery and the torturous treatment of slaves, he found himself religious himself. Throughout this biography slavery is justified with numerous Bible verses and church going people. Christianity was used as a vindication of how to treat slaves in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass describes his master, Captain Auld, goes to a Methodist camp meeting. Even though Auld found religion he continued to keep slaves and justify his how he treated them. Douglass wished that by Auld going to a Christian based camp he would be more humane, kind, and that would help him set his slaves free from slavery. It did neither, but religion now justifies the way he treats them. Douglass believe religion made him worse than before he went to the Methodist camp. Douglass lost his optimism when this happened.
He was learning that Christianity would not change his or the other slaves situation. This was the first time during Douglass bondage that he experienced Christianity and the effect during this time came off as negative. Also in this chapter, Douglass describes Auld as piety (Douglass 541). This is the act of being religious. Auld would speak the word of God and pray throughout the day, but not follow all the rules of the Bible. Douglass seen this as hypocritical in the ways he carried himself and could allow his self as a Christian to own another human.
In this chapter Douglass describes the way he would treat others, bringing them to God, feeding his fellow white man, but barely giving his slaves enough to eat. Douglass describes a preacher, who the slaves loved, he thought because he was a man of religion he would be able to convince the other preacher to release their slaves and let them be free. Mr. Cookman showed sympathy for the slaves, he still not change his views with the agreement that slavery should still exist. This helped Douglass to justify that Christians were not of the Bible, but of themselves.
They followed the parts of the religion that made them look good to other people, did the slaves wrong on a daily basis, and covered themselves with the word God. Douglass continues to write about living a community filled with religious leaders. In these communities Douglass would think the word of God would be prevalent and the treatment of slaves was better than nonreligious slaveholders. He was wrong and thought that by these slaveholders being Christians and attending church it helped to better justify the things they did to the slaves. Douglass explains how a young man wanted a Sunday school for slaves.
This was the time where Douglass felt he could teach other slaves things about being a good Christian and how to live and follow the word of God. The school happened but Douglass and others only met three times because it was thought the slaves would learn to read. They were ran off by religious community leader, who protested their love for God but came for the slaves with weapons and threat of hate. Douglass found this a hard way to understand the correlation between God’s love and the hate of his owner and other men who represented Christianity.
Throughout this chapter Douglass is constantly puzzled by this. Douglass stated “ I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. ” The example he used for was the relentless whippings Captain Auld gave to a lame slave. This young woman was burned in a fire at a young age, unable to use her hands and unable to work with the others because of her disability. Auld saw this woman as a pity, whipping her every day because it was a chore to feed and house her. She could not make them any money so he chose to beat her continually.
The Bible verse used to justify was Luke 12: 47. He knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes (Douglass 541). This only proves further how religion, Christianity, was used to uphold slavery. Auld used this verse out of context and for his own purpose. He used it for the justification of slavery and why he was so cruel to a person who was innocent. Another religious figure used to describe slavery is Mr. Covey, Douglass next master. Though he had good qualities, he was very religious, and keeps slaves.
Covey was a leader in the Methodist church he reinforced the way he treated his slaves by using the Bible and the views of other religious people that shared his common view. Mr. Covey had a reputation of being a “nigger breaker”, he used his role in the church to add to this reputation (Douglass542). This reputation heighten his role in the church and gave him more of a stronger name of handling slaves. Covey used religion to strengthen his reputation. Douglass described Covey as deceitful to God (Douglass 544). Covey prayed heavily twice a day.
Covey prayed for a long time and included hymns while prayed; he would get the slaves to intervene. Covey was spreading Christianity, but spreading it in a negative way. He was not showing his slaves the correct way of being a Christian, but the way he was a Christian, that Douglass did not agree with. Also Douglass thinks Covey prays to hear himself speak. He made everything a way to lie and misinterpret things to others through Christianity. Covey used Christianity as a way to cover his ways with prayers, in the morning and afternoon. He used this deceitfulness to fool his slaves and the people around him.
Douglass described Covey person who thought as himself greater than God. Douglass also thought that he deceived himself in believing he would was actually sincerely worshipping God. Covey also condoned breaking the Ten Commandments, adultery. Covey bought a slave to commit adultery, as a breeder. She had to bear children at the expense of her soul for slavery and profit. Douglass did not agree with this and thought it went against what was taught in the Bible. Douglass felt upset because this man of God was condoning and making sins for the slaves because a true Christian would not approve of this.
In the appendix of Narrative of the Life Frederick Douglass, Douglass explains the difference Christianity of the Land and Christianity of Christ. Christianity of the Land went against everything Christianity of Christ believed. Christianity of the Land was the way Douglass explained how the white man oppressed the slaves and justified the cruelty that the slaves endured on a daily basis. To Douglass Christianity of the land empowered white supremacy that had been tolerated for centuries. Douglass described Christianity of the land as “bad, corrupt, and wicked”.
He is only against slave holding religion (Douglass 570). Douglass cannot figure out why a person can own slaves and call themselves a Christian. Douglass hates the way white people are hypocrites to the Bible and what it stands for. He is puzzled by the fact the Bible says one thing and something else is done. Douglass explains the same man who hurts and dehumanizes a fellow human is the same person who is going to preach a sermon from the Bible on Sunday morning, say a prayer during worship, and calm Jesus as their savior. Douglass feels ashamed the way the name of Jesus is mocked by these hypocrites.
In this narrative, Douglass is puzzled about how can a person teach you about the ways of Jesus Christ when they do not live this Holy life their self? Douglass masters all were introduced to religion and all treated him as slave without empathy or sympathy. Douglass tries to understand how a person of Christianity can do the things he preaches against. Douglass refers to these Christians as “devils dressed in angels’ robes and hell presenting the semblance of hell”(570 Douglass). Douglass sees the Christians at this time as imposers of a faith they do not follow correctly.
Douglass does not believe these people are true Christians but use religion to hide their bad behaviors and oppress the other party. He thinks their reality is warped and they fool themselves to believe they are living right. The reality of their situation was they were being taught God’s word, prayed, claimed to live and proclaim Him, but in reality did everything but represent God’s true meaning. Douglass believed there was no way a Christian could own slaves and truly be of his word. Douglass also explains that is not against Christianity as a religion. He is against the hypocrites who say they live by it but are imposters of the faith.
Douglass describes Christianity of Christ as a different stand point of Christianity that is not showed in Christianity of the land. He describes Christianity of Christ as good, pure, and holy. These are all things Douglass was never offered while as slave though he had Christian masters. He says they are on two different spectrums of each other. He thinks by supporting one you will go against the other. Douglass tried to explain that true Christians do not use hate and other demeaning ideas and tactics to practice their religion. Christianity of Christ was a different way of the Christianity known by Douglass.
Douglass calls this the Christianity of America (Douglass 571). Douglass focuses on American because this is the only place he lived and the place where he understands uses religion to justify slavery and cruelty to the slaves. Douglass is mainly talking about religion in the Southern part of the United States of America. This is where slavery was most prominent and depending on the part the most brutal. This is also where Christianity was used as a religion. Douglass also use a Bible verse to enforce his way of saying the Christians of the land were not true followers of Christ.
He uses Matthew 23 to describe the way Christians of the land are (Douglass 571). This text summarizes who they are and act during this time of Douglass’ slavery. He has a great hate for the hypocritical ways of the slave owners for using Christianity to promote their views of how to treat a person. He compares them with the people in the Bible who want to have a position in the church. He compares them to the people in the Bible who did everything for show and nothing truly for God. Douglass feels they want to have this position for the power and the show of having it, not for the glorification and gratification of God.
The verse speaks about the long prayers, to hear themselves speaking for themselves not for God. But by doing this they are only putting themselves further and further in hell. Matthew 23 speaks about how they have taken the Christ like aspects out of their Christianity views and puts in the ones they want to uphold slavery. Matthew 23 says “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith”. Douglass wants to explain that the Christians of the land have used their own understanding and not what the Bible asks of them. Douglass was a very religious person, who wanted the Bible and Christianity to be used correctly.
Douglass criticizes his old masters and people who owned slaves because they proclaimed themselves as Christians. He felt these people did not follow the word but did the deeds they did for show and justification of their behavior. Slavery was justified by slavery because it made slave owners more inhumane to their slaves. They keep them as property and used the Bible to enforce their rules. Douglass was puzzled by this and gave two examples of Christians during this time. Christianity was used as a vindication of how to treat slaves in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.