In The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, the slaveholders use their
religion to justify their actions. Using their Christianity/religion is very
hypocritical considering what the Bible is all about. Douglass demonstrates in
his book how religion negatively affected the slaves and the masters.
book it demonstrates how slaveholders became crueler after their conversions to
Christianity. Douglass thought that Master Thomas being involved with religion
was going to improve his character. Douglass states in the story that the
conversion affected Master Thomas in a bad way, “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 worse
man after his conversion than before.”1
After his conversion Thomas would use his religion to justify the awful things
he would do. That is ironic because a Christian should be nice to
their slaves, but as stated in the story the non-religious slaveholders were
nicer to their slaves than religious ones.
are quick in punishing slaves for the smallest violations of the bible, but are
willing to twist scripture around to justify their own horrendous actions. Not
long after Douglass started living with Mr. Wilson in St. Michaels, he began
partaking in religious exercises and Douglass starts to see change in Mr.
Wilson. The book shows how Mr. Wilson used the bible to justify his
dehumanizing actions towards the slaves. “I have seen him tie up a lame young
woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the
warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would
quote this passage of Scripture — “He that knoweth his master’s will, and
doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”2
Slaveholders claim they’re Christian, but
don’t allow their slaves to participate in the learning of the New Testament. “We
met but three times, when Mr. West and Mr. Fairbanks, both class-leaders, with
many others, came upon us with sticks and other missiles, drove us off, and
forbade us to meet again.”3
This quote shows how the white men are very hypocritical when it comes to their
Christianity. Slaveholders should want their slaves to partake in religious
exercises or to be Christian. However, since they twist around the words of the
Bible to justify their actions; they don’t want them to learn the Bible or to
learn how to read at all. The slaves studying the Bible can be threatening
because it can enable them to act out. So the quote also shows that the white
Christians were selfish in destroying the Sabbath school because they don’t
want anything to mess with slavery.
Adding to the hypocrisy, there were
slaveholders like Mr. Covey. “Added
to the natural good qualities of Mr. Covey, he was a professor of religion — a
pious soul — a member and a class-leader in the Methodist church.”4
Based on this quote, Mr. Covey is portrayed as a good man, but he was one of
the worst, he was known to break slaves. Douglass was already being whipped a
week after he had been with him. Mr. Covey was a man focused on religion, yet
his actions didn’t look like those of a man who is supposedly religious. In
addition as a Christian, infidelity is a serious crime. Unfortunately, Mr.
Covey doesn’t seem to care about this seeing as he hires a married man to have
a baby with a one of his slaves. “After buying her, he hired a married man of
Mr. Samuel Harrison, to live with him one year; and him he used to fasten up
with her every night!”5
Its like he doesn’t seem to care or respect his religion.
On the whole, the slaveholders have twisted
their religion to rationalize their awful behavior causing them to be very
hypocritical. Frederick has some very strong points in justifying this. His
book really shows the selfishness of some of these cruel white men and how
religion negatively affected both the masters, by making them crueler, and the
slaves, by being punished harder than before by the masters.
1 Douglass, 47.
2 Douglass, 48.
3 Douglass, 48.
4 Douglass, 50.
5 Douglass, 55.