The Types of Christianity in Frederick Douglass

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Fredrick Douglass final essay
Subpoint 4: The Christianity of the slaveholders is hypocritical and used to justify their actions.

There are two forms of Christianity represented in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and each are described and function differently throughout the text. Based on Douglass’ personal recollections and thoughts in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, there are both real and false versions of religion and generally, the real or “true” form of Christianity is practiced by himself as well as some whites who are opposed to slavery. The false form of religion, or what the author explained in one of the important quotes in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, “the hypocritical Christianity of this land” (95) is practiced by whites, most notably Mr. Covey, and is a complete bastardization of the true ideals behind genuine Christian thought.

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. As thisthesis statement for The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass suggests, it is for these reasons, Douglass juxtaposes both forms of Christianity to reveal the underlying hypocrisy of the slaveholding South as well as the potential redemptive value of his version of true Christianity. The final result is not just a religious or traditionally Christian exposition of the evils of human bondage, but an overtly political statement about how ideals can be easily contorted to fit the current situation.

It is important to preface this discussion by defining Douglass’ own views of Christianity, aside from the expressions included in his essay at the end. In general, despite his criticisms about how the religion has been subverted and used as an instrument of power within the structure of slavery, Douglass holds quintessential Christian views and clearly does not detest or blame the religion for how it is used by people like Mr. Covey and other members of the Southern churches. For Douglass, giving thanks to God and recognizing good deeds and moral behavior is important and is part of what defines the “true” or “real” form of Christianity rather than the hypocritical slant taken by slave-owning whites. It is clear from the first part of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass that Frederick Douglass has a firm understanding of the central tenants and stories of the Bible, not necessarily because he espouses that he’s read it multiple times or has been instructed formally about it, but because he is able to apply moral stories to his situation. For instance, near the beginning, Douglass thinks about slavery in the context of biblical and Christian thought when he discusses the children who have been born to white slave owners. He states in one of the important quotes from The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, “if their increase will do no other good, it will do away with the force of the arguments, that god cursed Ham, and therefore American slavery is right. If the lineal descendants of Ham are alone to be scripturally enslaved, it is certain that slavery at the south must soon become unscriptural…” (24).

In his narrative, Frederick Douglass relates biblical and Christian knowledge to his feelings about the inherent wrong of slavery and considers the way these children will grow up with “those fathers most frequently their own masters” (24). By beginning the text with a biblical and...
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