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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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Why is religion presented ironically in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave?

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Douglass is deliberate is casting religion with so much irony.  For Douglass, the slave experience is inextricably linked to the religious one.  Douglass casts religion in an ironic light in how he connects it to the perpetuation of slavery.  A religion that is meant to preach universal love, acceptance of individuals, and brotherhood amongst all was manipulated to represent some of the worst in slave ownership.  Douglass points out the fundamental irony in how some of the most inhumane slave owners would be in churches on Sunday morning.  The irony is the difficulty in reconciling both realities. There is something ironic and twisted about a man who listens to the teachings of Christ in the morning and then in the late afternoon and evening returns to his plantation to whip and rape slaves. Douglass makes this point in a direct manner:  '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.’’  

The reasoning behind this was to expose a dualistic experience of Christianity in America.  Douglass believed in Christianity.  Yet, he understood that religion was being fraudulently practiced by slave masters.  Douglass "constantly pits True Christianity, which he explicitly embraces, against the False Christianity of racism and slavery."  Douglass' point in casting religion in this light is to force its critical examination.  Douglass is seeking individuals to engage in soul searching and reflection about what constitutes real religion and real religious worship.  In Douglass' mind, when this is done, a clearer and more true embrace of Christianity will become evident.

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