African American Autobiographies and Slave Narratives

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The Misuse of Religion During Slavery and How Slave Narratives Depict Slaves Religious Views

“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.” Frederick Douglas’s infamous quote was used to explain how slave masters seem to value a different form of Christianity than he was used to. Slave masters would explain to slaves and slave families that Christianity wrote it into their bible and laws that they were meant to be slaves and pick out particular passages that they would manipulate to support their views. For centuries, slave owners have looked for way to justify the need for slaves and a way to manipulate slaves into believing that slavery was their true calling. They would use Bible stories such as the Curse of Ham as well as the Mark of Cain in reference to African Americans to legitimize slavery to their slaves. Slaves often spoke on this in their narratives of the time as slaves. Harriet Jacobs was another enslaved child that spoke on this misuse in her narrative “Incidents in The Life of a Slave Girl”, Jacobs spoke from a more domestic view of slavery. She often questioned religion for this very reason, how can something so cruel possibly be of God? Olaundah Equiano was different from Jacobs in the respect that he never doubted his own religion, simply believed that he worshipped a different Christianity than Whites did. Just as education is presented as a paradox in “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas” so too is the issue of religion and Christianity. On the on...

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... other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and 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.”

-Fredrick Douglass on Christians

Through his discussions of religion that are interspersed throughout The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the reader gets the sense that slavery and true Christianity are opposing forces and one cannot be present while the other exists. Not only is the simultaneous existence of the true version Christianity with slavery impossible, it appears that even if real Christianity does exist in a pure form, the introduction of slavery corrupts it inevitably and completely.

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