Frederick Douglass was one of the most important orators of the 19th century, and a well-regarded abolitionist leader. He is also well known for his autobiographies, which provide a detailed account of his childhood as a slave, his unofficial education, and his eventual escape from slavery. Frederick Douglass' writing style is incredibly detailed and personable. His most famous work is A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, his first of three autobiographies in which he narrates his life as a slave from childhood to his escape. His use of eloquent language and detail help to enhance his argument that black people, given the actual chance for education, have the ability to overcome the stereotype of African-Americans being lazy and stupid. At the same time, Douglass takes a rather dubious perspective on Christianity; Douglass believes that slavery is indicative of a perverted kind of Christianity that is far removed from the real religion.
Douglass' own relationship with God is elaborated in the narrative; he always places God's perspective on slavery into question, particularly in the beginning. The author expresses his crisis of faith as it evolves during his own slavery: "O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave?" (Douglass). Here, the author asks God why he is meant to be a slave, and whether or not it is part of His plan. However, despite this same doubt and frustration, he manages to maintain his faith - with God's existence, Douglass claims that God will provide him with the means to be free.
During his early education, and his Christian experiences in Sabbath school, Douglass admits that he had a great deal of trouble reconciling the love of God with the horrors of slavery, often asking, "Does a righteous God govern the universe? and for what does he hold the thunders in his right hand, if not to smite the oppressor, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the spoiler?" (Douglass). He is not quite sure whether or not God controls the universe, due to the fact that slavery and other inhumanities still exist under his sight. However, Douglass finds a way to continue to teach other slaves to read, and uses the Bible to do it, showing that he forms his own sense of right and wrong independent of his Christianity.
Douglass notes that there are two different kinds of Christianity; first, there is the "Christianity of Christ," the real variety that emphasizes love, kindness and knowledge of the Lord, and the other is "the Christianity of this land" (Douglass). According to Douglass, the Christianity held by slaveowners does not indicate how innately good they are; in fact, they reveal them as hypocrites who selectively ignore fundamental principles of the faith in order to justify their ownership of other people. Douglass, at several points, notes the differences between the principles of true Christianity and the things that slaveowners do, which skew towards the immoral and brutal. When talking about Mr. Covey, Douglass says of the devout man, "Poor man! such was his disposition, and success at deceiving, I do verily believe that he sometimes deceived himself into the solemn belief, that he was a sincere worshipper of the most high God" (Douglass).
This perspective is illustrated through the character of Thomas Auld - a slaveowner whose brutality and cruelty increases when he becomes "pious" (Douglass). Due to the fact that he believes that he is on the side of God, Auld also thinks that his right to own slaves, and to abuse them, is "God-given" (Douglass). Through Douglass' writing, Auld also becomes a case study of the corruption of the Southern church; due to the financial interest the church has in the money acquired from slaveowners like Auld, the church is much more willing to incorporate this warped view of Christianity into its doctrine. The complicit nature of the Southern church in the horrors of slavery makes its status as an institution of Christianity questionable at best, according to Douglass:
"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 deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection." (Douglass).
In conclusion, Douglass' slave narrative wrestles with the competing issues of God's love and the existence of slavery; Douglass tries to reconcile the existence of a loving God with the seemingly church-backed institution of human injustice he was a part of. Douglass' conclusion is that there are two different types of Christianity, and the Southern variety of the time is one steeped in hypocrisy and financial interest. This perspective lends the author's narrative an intriguing spiritual outlook on one of the most controversial institutions in American history.
Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Project Gutenberg.