Delving deeper into Douglass’ autobiography of his enslavement, a reader cannot help but notice the re-occuring theme of Christianity. The acceptance of it, the doubt of the reality of it, and the way it affects the slaveholders as well as the slaves who do or do not believe in the Christian faith.
If one could sum up in one sentence the belief of Christians, it is the belief that Jesus Christ, son of God, was born as a man, lived a perfect life as a man, and died on the cross for all of humanity’s sins so that we could go to heaven and live forever in eternity. It is believed by Christians that if you truly believe this, and if you ask God to forgive you of your sins, He shall reward you with eternity in paradise. However, some people, as with most of the slaveholders that Douglass comes across, this is where the belief both begins and ends. In the Bible, as well as with Douglass, you see examples of people who, after proclaiming their faith, begin to see a huge change in their life. The biggest and most obvious example of course, would be Paul. Paul, who was once a hunter and killer of Christians, turned his life over to Christ and began converting and hanging out with the people who he once condemned. Douglass as well saw a change in his own life. He began to have hope. He, while still hating the system of slavery and saw the fault of the “Christian” white owners, began to try and love them. This change is what sets “Christians” apart from Christians. They start to act like their Christ, (while still being human and messing up sometimes) rather than practice and preach something totally different. When Christ is with you and lives in you, it is hard to not feel convicted when one is doing something different than from what Christ would do. As hokey as that sounds.
Douglass makes a claim in one of the chapters that the worst kind of owner you could have is a “Christian” one. I feel as though the masters hid behind their false belief. I feel as though their own humanity, (where I personally believe lies a God-given conscious, believer or not) convicted them that this slavery epidemic was a horrible and evil system, but they were able to hide behind out-of-context verses in the Bible to defend their actions for their own monetary gain. After a while, this brain washed them into not feeling anything about it at all. With the masters that had no Christianity, they were free to do as they pleased without any misinterpreted doctrine and were left to their own devices of their humanity, which caused them to be a little bit kinder.
I appreciate that Douglass is so candid with his faith. It makes it real and passionate. The scene where Douglass is in the woods and grapples with his faith from true believing to “black atheism” is just heart breaking. Because this is so true of human nature and anyone can relate to the inner struggle of unbelief. One scene, as a believer, also broke my heart early on in the book. It is when Uncle Lawson told Douglass (after Douglass was so down about being a slave for LIFE) to “Trust in the Lord. The Lord can make you free, my dear. All things are possible with him, only have faith in God. Ask and it shall be given. If you want liberty, ask the Lord for it, in faith, AND HE WILL GIVE IT TO YOU.” After this Douglass prayed and prayed, in faith, for his liberty, and although we have not finished the book, as an educated person who has taken many history and literature courses, we know that Douglass did get his freedom. Now as a believer, I know that I choose to look at this differently than say, a non-believer. But I find this particular scene especially moving because I choose to believe that God did grant Douglass his wish. I believe that he chose Douglass especially, ( rather than an illiterate slave his own age, as Douglass pointed out, could have been the case) to go the house where he learned to read. I believe that God chose Douglass for this task to go through slavery and then write about it so the world at large could know the horrors of it and help stop it. I believe God chose him for this work and I believe God delivered him from evil and gave him the tools necessary. Of course, I also understand, as a nonbeliever this looks probably as nonsense and that Douglass learned to read on his own accord and had the means to rise up himself, and I don’t doubt that one bit at all. I just believe that Douglass had the strength to take the opportunites God gave him, when so often people don’t.