Frederick Douglass: “I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, –a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, –a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds,–and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and the most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection.”
Having recently read (#43) Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I decided to read one more book detailing the plague of slavery in our nation’s history. As the title suggests, this book is a brief autobiography of Fredrick Douglass, detailing his life as a slave in Maryland from his birth in circa 1818 (he never knew the exact year of his birth) until his escape to freedom in 1838 and (briefly) the subsequent decades later where he became a leading voice for the abolitionist movement.
Like Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Douglass’ account of slavery in America is shocking and enraging. At the time, there was much talk about how the slave states closer to the north, like Maryland, were the most humane states. If that is the case, then one would be hard pressed to conceive just how awful things could have been in states like Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana.
In his book, Douglass shows how slavery has a dehumanizing effect – not only on the slave, but on the slave owner as well. One striking example of this is when he tells the story of going to a new master in Baltimore. This master and his wife had never owned any slaves previously. At first, the both the husband, and especially the wife, were kind and humane to their new slave. But within a few short months, the effect of owning a slave had completely warped and twisted their personalities and temperaments – it’s as if they had become animals.
However, before this change by the new masters, the wife had taken to teaching young Frederick to learn his A,B,Cs and some basics of reading. When the husband discovered this, he forbade his wife from continuing the education and warned her (within earshot of Frederick) of the dangers teaching a slave how to read. He said that, soon, the slave would rise up and revolt… he would think about and plan his escape… which is exactly what the seed of that conversation did on young Frederick.
Like Stowe’s book, Douglass shows the utter hypocrisy of the so called ‘Christians’ of both the south and the north at the time. In fact, perhaps the best part of the book was the epilogue, where he clarifies his comments on religion. Here he states that he loves the Religion of the Jesus of the Bible, but utterly despises the Christianity of America (again, both in the north and south). He compares the Christians of that day as those of the Pharisees where Jesus accuses them of straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Mt. 23:24). He laments how the cruel slave owner could whip his slave on Saturday, and then fill the pulpit on Sunday – Or how they wouldn’t think of fellowshipping with someone guilty of stealing a sheep, while the whole church is filled with people who steal and kill fellow human beings. – Or how they preach the importance of reading God’s Word, while forbidding the slave from learning how to read it.
The question for me and for you, and for anyone in any generation that calls themselves Christian is this; What areas of my life is there a disconnect (hypocrisy) from what the words of the Bible says and what I believe and do? And furthermore, should I, by God’s grace, learn of my hypocrisy, would I be willing to repent and change accordingly?
I pray so.