The Paradox of Christianity and Slavery
In the past couple of centuries, the attitudes Christian Whites have towards Blacks and slavery present very disturbing aspects regarding religious life. The Christian whites who believed in Christian teachings and the practice of loving fellow humans in the same manner that God loved them were in the middle of slavery. They were part of slave trade yet they had failed to bring it to an end or even reduce its belittling nature. Though Christian whites were aware of Christianity teachings of justice, mercy, holiness and love to God and humanity, they did not see the evils in slavery as well as suppression of black people.
They instead used theological explanations in the bid to justify slavery institution existence though its practices went contrary to Christianity teachings. The contradictions were an illustration of the paradox of slavery and Christianity. This paper purposes to explore Christianity and slavery paradox by looking at the works of Fredrick Douglass and W.E.B Du Bois who were ranked among first African Americans to criticize the contradiction of the perception held by the white’s on slavery on the basis of religion.
A paradox is defined as the view of something or a situation that is comprised of 2 opposing things which though they appear impossible, might actually be possible or true (Sultana 144). In the Christianity and slavery paradox, the whites were aware slavery was harmful to the blacks yet they justified their actions by focusing on particular Bible teachings selectively. A conspicuous theologian like Charles Hodge of Princeton provided theological justification that was quite extensive for slavery as an institution. He pointed that in the Old Testament, slavery was allowed a divine command and in the New Testament, it was forbidden.
Hodge argued stating slaving as a wicked crime would be the same as impeaching God’s word since slavery was consistent with Christianity teachings. The belief by whites that there was nothing wrong with slavery was hypocritical since it contradicted moral principles and the values of Christianity such as holiness, justice, mercy and love to humanity and to God.
A literate African American, Fredrick Douglass had managed to escape slavery and he explored the relationship between slavery and Christianity in his writings. According to him, the religious slave owners who had converted to Christianity were the worst slave masters since religion gave them religious sanctions as well as support for their cruelty. The slaveholders were convinced by religion that slavery was right and that God not only supported it but granted them authority to abuse, murder and oppress their slaves (Lee para 10). However, these slave owners ignored Christianity teachings that demanded masters should treat slaves well. Douglass also criticized Black people under the delusion that God required they should submit to slavery. To him, the slaveholders were not true Christians since they did not follow the teachings of Christianity of yielding earthly interests so they could achieve eternal piece. He also noted foundation of slavery and oppression lay in the power, pride and greed of man. Douglas made the argument that there is a difference between Christianity of the world and that noted of Christ.
While Christ’s Christianity was pure, holy and good, the Christianity of the world was wicked, bad and corrupt (Cited in Hughes 114). The slave holders followed the world’s Christianity which was a false kind of Christianity, as such, they were not Christians at all. Douglass believe true Christianity could not co-exist with slavery and also acknowledged the introduction of slavery had potential of corrupting Christianity completely (Smith para 2). The perspective of Douglass was that Christianity could not co-exist with slavery since Christ himself was not cruel to his followers and disciples. The basic principles of Christianity of mercy, justice and love were not put into practice by the slave owners since apart from being cruel to slaves, they never paid for labor the slaves provided. They upheld the practice of slavery in order to advance their economic status all at the slaves’ expense. According to Christianity teachings, one is supposed to love their neighbor first before they make claims of loving God whom they are yet to see physically.
The works of W.E.B Du Bois as well highlight Christianity and racial oppression paradox. Du Bois was born in Massachusetts in 1868 and was an African American historian, sociologist and civil rights activist. Also, he was the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree from Harvard University. In his book titled The World and Africa, he illustrates the contradictory statements which were made by Jan Smuts in 1945, who then was the South African Prime Minister that was experiencing forced racial segregation. Smuts had made the declaration every same White South African believed in suppression of Blacks. Later on, during a UN Conference, Smuts pleased for an article on human rights so he could be included in the UN Charter. This is an illustration of paradoxical thinking since while Smuts is seen advocating for inclusion in human rights article in the UN Charter, he is not in support of the human rights of Black people in the country he heads. He fails to acknowledge that Black South Africans also require the similar rights he advocates for at the UN conference. Du Bois uses Smuts case as an illustration of the contradiction in conception of freedom by the whites.
Freedom is looked upon as applicable on the white people while it excludes the Black South Africans on racial grounds. Smuts is portrayed as an individual who is aware of international human rights importance yet chooses to ignore the rights of black South Africans with the purpose of allowing White South Africans to continue with the oppression and exploitation of the blacks. Smuts uses racial prejudice to justify oppression of blacks in South Africa but advocates for human rights across the globe. Therefore, Smuts is aware that blacks in South Africa are also entitled to enjoy human rights but he chooses to ignore their status and instead, uses racial prejudice of the whites for purposes of justifying oppression.
The American political and social values are significantly affected by slavery. While evaluating the social values, irresponsible and corrupt powers of slave owners over slaves led to decline of morals. Some of the slave owners used the power they had to rape female slaves and commit adultery as such, fathering children with their slaves. This in turn threatened unity of the slave-owners family since the father was forced into either selling or continuously punishing their own children as slaves. It is outcomes such as these that made some of the slave owner’s wives resentful and this could end up in divorce or cruelty against the children and husband of female slaves with their husbands. Majority of the family of slaves were also affected by slavery especially when they were separated from their families so they could be sold to other owners. It also led to increase of social stratification in America since it made it possible for owners of huge plantations to acquire great wealth from free labor.
The Whites with less slaves made less money as such, they had lower social status. Because some slaves lived lives that were better than poor whites, slavery also increased racism prejudice among poor whites. This contributed to social evils like lynching of blacks, instead of taking them through fair trial if suspected of wrong doing. Blacks comprised the lowest classes in society after poor whites without many slaves. The racial oppression and racism resulted from slavery affected the social cultural values of slaves since they had to embrace cultural values and behaviors preferred by slave owners. Racism also had the potential of leading to economic exploitation and oppression. What is more, it gave rise to feelings of inferiority and superiority amongst people from other races as such, this created power relations where they attempted to impose authority over racial groups perceived as inferior. The dominant racial group employed brutality and threats to suppress resistance attempts by the racial group dominated. This gave rise to racial oppression which was exploited for economic reasons by the racial group domineering racial group.
Internalization of values, ideologies and racial stereotypes were perpetuated by the dominating race regarding one’s racial group leading to source of self-doubt, disgust, lack of respect for one-self and race (Pyke 553). People who experienced these psychological feelings readily accepted to be oppressed by other racial groups as they viewed it as worth or legit. Establishment of racial ranks on societies having severe racial groups could be used in allocation of social incentives, economic resources, opportunities and access (Carter 18). Unfair distribution of these resources, opportunities and rewards by dominating race caused oppression of racial groups ranked as the lowest within society. Controlling means of production of the dominated racial group like denying them ownership rights to land made them dependent on dominant race for survival. This dependence is characterized by economic exploitation which is sustained through racial oppression.
The political values of America were affected as well due to slavery since it led to formation of abolitionist movements that called for immediate slavery end. They argued slavery was against natural rights of the US constitution and humanity which regarded all individuals as being equal. Northern states were opposed to slavery expansion into new frontiers of the nation by southern slave owners. The issues on slavery was at the center of presidential debate between democrat candidates Stephen Douglass from the South and Abraham Lincoln from the north. When the presidential election of 1860 was won by Abraham Lincoln, the US became divided along section lines. Majority of the slave owners in the South were afraid that the President and the Republicans had the intention of abolishing slavery in all states where slavery existed. Their major worry was the immediate freeing of slaves could be problematic not just for slave owners but the economy as well which was largely driven by profits from unpaid labor that was offered by slaves. Seven Southern States withdrew from the Union before Lincoln took office to form Confederate States of America.
President Lincoln in 1861 made the decision to use military force for purposes of ending rebellion by the southerners in his attempt to unite the nation. As the Civil War commenced, 4 states withdrew from the Union and they joined Confederate states. In the course of the war Lincoln called for abolishment of slavery throughout the nation. On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was killed during the Civil War by pro-slavery Confederate sympathizer. The War came to an end when Confederate States surrendered to Union forces and the nation was thus united again. Slavery was also abolished officially on December 6, 1865 when the 13th Amendment of the US constitution was ratified. Slavery came to an end and the blacks begun taking part in political processes like voting.
It is clear most injustices were committed deliberately by Christian whites to blacks and that they went against Christianity principles. They followed the teachings and beliefs that were biased and which justified racial oppression they were subjecting the blacks to. The Whites were fully aware of injustices they were committing yet, they made the decision to manipulate things and Christianity teachings to justify their wrong doing. This is an illustration of the paradox of slavery and Christianity.
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