Frederick Douglass reminds us: Christians supported far worse than Donald Trump
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Everyone is ignorant of something — most things, when you consider the vast storehouse of knowledge on subjects from accounting to zoology.
Some hide it better than others. But we can all improve, and it’s good to spend at least as much time re-filling your own leaky bucket of information as you do pointing with derision at the leaky buckets of others.
The Democrats have, since the election of Donald Trump, been fluttering our hands to heaven in amazement over his strong support among the religious — 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Millions of Bible-toting Christians see Trump as faith in action. Causing left wing America to ask: how, how how anyone professing to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ could also support the thrice-married, p—- -grabbing, lie-telling, insult-hurling, petty, cruel, vain, un-repentant Donald Trump?
Let me meet that question with a question of my own:
Have you any idea of what Christianity has tolerated in this country? Supporting Vladimir Putin’s puppet is a trifle compared to the enormous mechanism of horror that religion in America has enthusiastically endorsed, not for a few years, but for centuries.
Ken Morris, great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass is speaking this week at the American Writers Museum, in conjunction with its show, “Frederick Douglass: Agitator” featuring words and personal artifacts of the great abolitionist.
Not wanting to attend the event in total ignorance — refilling my own bucket — I read “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave,” for the first time, I’m embarrassed to admit.
I don’t want to say that the book is ripped from the headlines. But certain aspects resonate with 2018 America. Recounting his life in bondage, Douglass pens an eloquent damnation of the corrosive effect of faith. In August, 1832, his master goes to a revival meeting “and there experienced religion.”
Naive — Douglass was around 14 at the time, a slave could rarely be certain of his age — he dared speculate what effect finding religion would have on his master.
“I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane,” Douglass writes. “I was disappointed in both these respects. It neither made him to be humane to his slaves, nor to emancipate them. If it had any effect on his character, it made him more cruel and hateful in all his ways; for I believe him to have been a much worse man after his conversion than before. Prior to his conversion, he relied upon his own depravity to shield and sustain him in his savage barbarity; but after his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slave holding cruelty.”
Douglass comes to appreciate masters who aren’t religious.
“Another advantage I gained in my new master was he made no pretensions to or profession of religion,” Douglass writes. “This in my opinion was truly a great advantage. I assert most unhesitatingly that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes, a justifier of the most horrid barbarity.”
Since dim-wittery straddles our land like a colossus, I should be clear: I’m not equating slavery to Donald Trump, not saying that supporting Trump is as bad as keeping slaves. What I’m saying is: it’s ignorant to regard a moral system that was twisted to accept whipping and raping women then selling the resulting children—your own children—into lifelong bondage, and wonder how it can support a flyspeck of a man whose crimes dwindle into nothing by comparison.
Douglass is so unrelenting in his portrait of religion as the handmaiden of evil, he feels obligated to add an appendix where he explains he is not an “opponent of all religion.”
“What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper.”
Not to single out Christianity, mind you. Jews traded in slaves, and members of all faiths stray far from their supposed precepts. If history teaches us one thing, it is that no religion is immune from being deformed by human depravity. We should never be puzzled to see this in action.
Kenneth B. Morris speaks on “The Legacy of Frederick Douglass” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8 at the American Writers Museum, 180 N. Michigan Ave.