Christianity – a Product of Its Environment: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)

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Throughout the centuries Christianity provided solace and spiritual moorings to millions of people who found living in G-d’s image fulfilling. In the Southern American slaveholding states in the 19th century, Christianity the dominant religion, was meant to be a moral compass and add clarity of purpose to one’s life. Slaves did not experience Christianity as a religion promoting good deeds. In Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he puts forth the thesis that Christian slave owners espoused values of generosity, mercy, and moral uprightness, which were not applied to their own slaves. In other words these Christians had a double standard when applying their religious values. Though Douglass himself became a religious man once he escaped slavery, he believed that one could not believe in both Christianity and slavery at the same time. Douglass observed that slavery in the South destroyed and transformed Christian values, and created merciless masters. In what follows I demonstrate that Douglass believes that Southern Christian values are influenced and corrupted by the social values of the times, which leads to religious hypocrisy. In the appendix to his narrative Douglass distinguishes between two different types of Christianity, “Christianity of Christ” and “Christianity of this land.” (147). “Christianity of Christ” reflects a God fearing Christian, who treats all people equally and mercifully, where as “Christianity of this land” refers to the exceptions in moral dogma made when applied to slaves in the South. Douglass juxtaposes both forms of Christianity to convey the underlying hypocrisy of the salve owners. The final result is not just a religious or traditionally Christian exposition of the evils of human bondage, but a blatant political statement about how ideals can be easily corrupted to fit the ruling class. An example of this transformation from “Christianity of Christ” to the “Christianity of the land”...
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