, Research Paper
In both of the writings by Douglass and Stowe, the question is raised concerning the existence of God. On page 1790 while watching the sails of the ships on Chesapeake Bay Douglass cries out for God to save him and grant him freedom and then states, “Is there any God?” On pages 2330 in response to Mr. Wison’s suggestion to trust in the Lord, George replies, “Is there a God to trust in? There’s a God for you, but is there any for us?” This question reverberates throughout both works. Slaves were looked upon as things or objects to be bought and sold, not as human beings with souls. Therefore, since they were not human, there could not be any inhumane treatment of these non-soul creatures. So, in essence, the white slaveholders created a system where there was no God for slaves.
While Stowe states the premise clearly, Douglass does more to develop the claim. Douglass gives us an intimate almost documentary style look behind the scenes at the Christianity of the slaveholders. He begins with the verse in Genesis 9:20-27 concerning the cursing of Ham, which slaveholders used as Scriptural proof that American slavery was right. Even the foundation principles of the slaveholders Christianity were built on a false premise- the misinterpretation of an obscure passage of the Bible. Douglass continues to support the claim when he describes his experience with the Aulds concerning learning to read. Those “who proclaim it a religious duty to read the Bible” denied him “the right of learning to read the name of the God who made” him. Mr. Auld stopped his wife from teaching Douglass to read because it would “spoil” him, make him “discontented and unhappy”, make him “unmanageable” and “unfit to be a slave.” Despite his motive, Mr. Auld unknowingly pointed the way to Douglass’s freedom.
By far the greatest support given by Douglass to the claim of a lack of a God for the slaves is his account of the conversion of Thomas Auld. Douglass declares Auld as a “mean man”, but states that despite his hopes of improving the character of Auld, religion made him “more cruel and hateful in all his ways.” Douglass states that Auld was worse after his conversion than before. Douglass lists the various religious activity of Auld including his being an “instrument of the church in converting many souls.” Auld even allowed many slave owning preachers to live on his property who justified not only there owning of slaves, but the brutal beatings with Scripture. These “religonists” surrounded Douglass. They used the pretense of religion to support their cruelty. Rev. Hopkins beat his slave for the smallest offences, believing he would “beat the devil out of them”, yet Douglass gives him credit for being one who was not equaled in his “professions of religion” and was very devoted to his family. After Douglass endures this hypocrisy of Auld and then the cruelty of Covey, he finds the lack of religion in the life of Mr. Freeland an “advantage.” Douglas called the religion of the south ”a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection.” Douglass preferred to have a master without religion than one with. I think it was this contrast that formed the basis of his belief concerning the “wide difference” between the Christianity of the land and the Christianity of Christ.
Douglass believed this difference was so wide “that to receive the one as good, pure and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other.” He “loved” the “impartial Christianity of Christ”, but “hated” the other. Face with only these two options, it would not be hard to conclude that the God of the slaveholders did NOT exist for the slave. What slave in his right mind would want such a God? Certainly not Douglass or Stowe or literally millions of Americans since. I hope that same spirit will be rejected by a generation of “religonists” that still worship God and make allowances for their prejudices.