Kōloa, Hawaii -- One of the things I love to do when I take a breather, as I did last week on Kauai, is to read things I've never read but have long meant to.
Which explains why I spent time absorbing Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which was published in 1845. I read a free e-version of it on Kindle, thanks to the Gutenberg Project, which reproduces great old books in the public domain. If you're unfamiliar with the project, have a look.
One of the benefits of the book for me was that it helped to move slavery from a concept to more of a concrete reality because Douglass (pictured here) offers various stories about the horrific and abominable treatment of men, women and children who were caught in that evil system. And the book is worth reading just for that now that we're 150-plus years past the end of the Civil War and its attendant horrors and achievements.
But Douglass also writes about his astonishment that people who claim to be Christian can and do support slavery, thereby radically distorting the message of Jesus Christ and the faith's foundational values.
Let's let Douglass speak a bit about that appalling sorrow:
-- ". . .it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country."
-- "A great many times have we poor creatures been nearly perishing with hunger, when food in abundance lay moldering in the safe and smoke-house, and our pious mistress was aware of the fact; and yet that mistress and her husband would kneel every morning, and pray that God would bless them in basket and store!"
-- "In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp-meeting held in the Bay-side, Talbot county (Maryland), and there experienced religion. 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. 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. . .(A)fter his conversion, he found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty."
-- "Mr. Covey's (a slaveholder) forte consisted in his power to deceive. His life was devoted to planning and perpetrating the grossest deceptions. Every thing he possessed in the shape of learning or religion, he made conform to his disposition to deceive. He seemed to think himself equal to deceiving the Almighty. He would make a short prayer in the morning, and a long prayer at night; and, strange as it may seem, few men would at times appear more devotional than he. . .I do verily believe that he sometimes deceived himself into the solemn belief, that he was a sincere worshipper of the most high God; and this, too, at a time when he may be said to have been guilty of compelling his woman slave to commit the sin of adultery."
-- ". . .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. . .(O)f all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst."
-- "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; 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."
Perhaps it would be a useful mental exercise to substitute the sin of slavery (which still occurs around the world) with other practices that today still are acceptable and religiously justified here and there. I do not mean to equate slavery with misogyny or white supremacy or gay-bashing or economic and political systems that routinely crush the poor and slather the rich with more riches. But however we rank such flagitious systems, we must make sure that we aren't using our religions to find support for them. Religion that is not liberating but, rather, oppressive is unhealthy at best and demonic at worst. Thanks to Frederick Douglass for the reminder.
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THE MENNONITE-NAZI CONNECTION
There were Mennonite Nazi collaborators? It appears so, and as this story reports, Mennonites in Paraguay now are beginning to confront their past and to figure out what went wrong. Evil will entangle people and eventually the truth will out.