How might we characterize Frederick Douglass’s views regarding religion? Douglass tries to forestall misunderstanding about his views in the appendix to his autobiography. He doesn’t want his readers to suppose him “an opponent of all religion” (107). “What I have said respecting and against religion,” he writes, “I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. […]. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land” (107). Why is religion the terrain of appeal here at book’s end? Religion has been a tool of indoctrination, a violently imposed ideology, a “crown of thorns”-style cognitive map and/or map of the cosmos imposed upon slaves. Douglass shows that the crown can be seized and repurposed. The slave arrives into Logos, reclaims “Scripture,” and sits in judgment upon the master. Douglass’s religious views also manifest in his several attestations about “divine providence,” and his claims regarding the latter’s influence over key events in the course of his narrative.
Boards of wood warp beneath my feet as I stare up at the night sky. Paranoia tugs at me, and I know that’s just the weed becoming manifest — but I also hear the world telling me, “All symptoms are purposeful.” Upon observing this, my reality fast-forwards. I live my life as Providence decrees, dipping into and reading snippets on occasion from St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. Sarah and I shared a mystical experience, a moment of sublimity, while sitting on a bench, staring up at a play of sunlight and wind among the tops of a patch of trees. It is only in retrospect that I see ahead a way to retain the habits of the child, while standing upright. St. John scolds me here, though, for my vanity. Don’t speak proudly or boastfully of spiritual things in the presence of others, he warns. What, then, of these trance-scripts, I wonder. Is it, perhaps, time to take a break? Can’t I pull a Bartleby and say, “I’d prefer not to?” Why am I even considering obedience to what feels like an ultimatum? Are these the first signs, perhaps, of a crisis of faith in my crisis of faith? Nay, it angers me; I resent the imposition. Grace is not a gift if it requires something in return. Utopia ain’t utopia if reserved only for a deserving few. Perhaps I’m too patient, though, with regard to my progress. Let it thus be resolved: for purposes of experiment, I shall assent to a few days off.