I’m not sure why, but until now I’ve never read Frederick Douglass’ Narrative. I think the impetus was actually from Carl Sagan, who devotes a section of The Demon-Haunted World to Douglass’ life. It’s a remarkable story, not least for the improbability of its ever being written down. His escape from slavery began, however, with his clandestine education by the wife of one of his owners. She taught him to read, but not to write.
Douglass, while invoking a general sort of God throughout, has nothing but the harshest words for the pious Christian slave owners of the American South (mind you he was in Maryland, the state I grew up in 150 years later; the deep South is a whole ‘nother story, as we say.)
“I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is 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 slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all the slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have found them the meanest, the basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others. It was my unhappy lot not only to belong to a religious slaveholder, but to live in a community of such religionists.”
Bearing this in mind, isn’t it amazing more African-Americans aren’t hostile to religion in general, and Christianity in particular? I think so.