In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass describes his interpretation of Christianity in his experiences as a slave. Christianity as seen through the eyes of a slave was very different than the Christianity of the slave owner/master. Douglass’ audience is obviously whites and educated blacks, because slaves were forbade reading. With a punishment ranging from lashes to death, “Every moment they spent in that school, they were liable to be taken up and given thirty-nine lashes (88).”
Douglass’ first image of Christianity began with his not understand the meaning of the spirituals sung in the fields. “They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension… they breathed the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from the chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirit, and filled me with ineffable sadness (29).” He only felt a deep sadness and the dehumanizing effect of slavery.
The majority of the Christian imagery in the narrative is intended for the hypocritical slaver owner. Douglass described Captain Auld as more cruel after his conversion to Christianity at a Methodist camp meeting in August 1832. “If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worst man after his conversion than before (65).” Captain Auld found ways to interpret the Bible to support his cruelty. Quoting the Scripture, Auld said, “He that knowth his master’s will, and doeth it, shall not be beaten with many stripes (66).”
Edward Covey, slave breaker extraordinaire, was a professor of religion and a class leader in the Methodist church. How could a person that lifted spirits and brought them to God decimate those of humans of a different color
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