Since Frederick Douglass is in the news these days—with President Trump calling him “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice”—I thought I’d share a haunting paragraph from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written in 1845, sixteen years before the Civil War began.
It is a beautiful expression of the horrific hypocrisy of some antebellum churches:
I . . . hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land. . . . I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. . . .
I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me.
We have men-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 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 in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.
Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.