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In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the author analyzes how Christian religion is practiced in the ante-bellum South. From Douglass’ perspective as a slave, he finds Christianity in the still slave-holding South hypocritical. Although he is personally committed to the Christian religion, for Douglas, Christianity as it is expressed through the behavior of slave-owners violates the true system of Christian beliefs. Douglass sees this false Christianity that supports oppression and violence as a misrepresentation of God’s word. He is a man who is dedicated to his faith, and he uses it to fight for justice and to call America out for corrupting God’s true message of mercy, love, freedom and equality.
Douglass realizes from an early age that many slave owners practice false Christianity. When Douglass was 13 years old, he befriended a black slave named Charles Lawson. Douglass referred to him as his spiritual father. Lawson told Douglass, “God has destined you for more than the life of a slave and you would accomplish great work preaching the true gospel.” Christianity was split, the slaves believed one side whereas the white men and slave owners believed another version. Slave masters and owners used Christianity as an excuse to behave horribly towards slaves and call them racist names. The slaves would find hope within Christianity and justify their masters.
Moreover, Captain Thomas Auld, Douglass’s former slave owner was apart of the dangerous alliance between slaveholders and false Christianity. Captain Auld was Douglass’s former owner’s son-in-law. Douglass remembers how when Mr. Auld converted to Christianity, he became even more cruel towards slaves. “After his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty. He made the greatest pretensions to piety. His house was the house of prayer”. Captain Auld thought that Christianity made it ok for him to treat slaves in demeaning ways, but treat other people of his race better. Douglass always referred to religious slave owners as “the worst ones”.
Additionally, another one of Douglass’s former slave owners Edward Covey was religiously motivated in morally wrong ways. Mr. Covey was a professor of religion and a class leader at his church. He had a reputation of being a “slave breaker.” Slave owners would send their worst behaved slaves to Mr. Covey who punishes them by working labor on his land while also disciplining them with violence. “He found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty”. Mr. Covey also encouraged slaves to engage in drunk behavior over the holidays to lead them into not wanting to pursue freedom as that’s what they would think freedom is like; to be drunk and fool around with not much to do. Douglass knew not to act like that during his Christmas break as it would do him no good and he had hope religiously to become free.
Douglass argues that a person can’t be both a Christian and a slave owner. As Christianity spread in the South at the time, slavery became worse. Many of his former owners including Captain Auld and Edward Covey are prime examples of slave-owners whose behavior violates the true Christian system of beliefs. Frederick Douglass, himself being the author first hand describes the differences between true Christianity, and false Christianity, the religion that he believes his former slave masters perform, and realizes that a lot of their motives comes from their perspective of the Christianity religion.
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