Frederick Douglass on Slavery and Christianity

I’ve been working my way through Christianity Is Not Great: How Faith Fails, to which I contributed a chapter. John Loftus has an essay about slavery and Christianity that is quite good and he offers this quote from Frederick Douglass that really struck me for its eloquence and importance:

I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels…We have man-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of the week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity…We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! All for the glory of God and the good of souls! The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals of the slave-trade go hand in hand together.

Douglass was an astonishingly eloquent man, the equal of his contemporary, Robert Ingersoll.

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  • dhall

    Douglass was an amazing man, for countless reasons.

  • typecaster

    The section of his autobiography that I remember was from when the wife of his owner started teaching him to read. Her husband caught her at it, and explained how this was wrong, since reading would ruin any slave, and make him discontented with his lot. Douglass agreed with him, noting that his owner correctly understood how the system worked. Of course, he disagreed on whether that was the right thing to do, and set out on a personal quest to become as literate as he could. This eventually included reading the founding documents, where he found all of the noble phrases about liberty and equality, and thought they were worth trying.

  • jws1

    But, but, but aren’t Christians the ones primarily responsible for ending slavery (as they like to tell everyone when this subject comes up) so therefore we don’t have to pay attention to those other Christians whose favorite Bible quotes supported slavery?

  • Marcus Ranum

    Douglass had so many amazing things to say, and wrote so fucking well it makes me wish I could level up whenever I reach for the keyboard.

    This letter of his, on letters of note:

    is fantastic. His speech in 1852 “The Hypocrisy of American Slavery” is one of the great speeches of all time.

    Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.

    Damn. Burn it all to the ground!

  • Donnie

    For those who visit DC, make sure you visit the Frederick Douglas house in SE Washington. It is a marvel of unknown tourist attractions. You sit through a 20-minute documentary of his life, read his words on the wall, and visit the house he bought while the U.S. Marshall (???) of DC. It is a free tour, but requires reservations and you will need to drive in order to get out to that part of the City. A great excursion for an afternoon. He appeared to be an amazing man, advanced in ideas for this time.

    After abolotion, his second goal was supporting the Suffrage movement. Frederick Douglas, such a fucking SJW! His words ring true today.

  • marcus

    Marcus Ranum @ 4 The power of that speech, the simple truth, the unmitigated beauty of his anger… I cannot even find the right words to express my admiration, my gratitude for his genius.

  • magistramarla

    And sadly, many of the insights of Frederick Douglas in that quote are still applicable to today.

    He would be dismayed to see that we have advanced so little.

  • culuriel

    Spent yesterday reading the Ingersoll Thanksgiving speech, also in CING. Highly recommend it, as tis’ the season for it.

  • deityfree

    @Marcus Ranum #4; Thanks so much for that link to Fredrick Douglass’ letter to his former master. It was simply incredible reading. I plan to share it with my kids later today.

    he could express his feelings with such clarity and dignity to that man, after his horrifying, degrading experience, is truly remarkable. You and Ed have made me curious to learn more about him and his life.

    Just an amazing thing to have read. Thank you again.