The Importance Of Religion To American Slaves

2131 words - 9 pages

The Importance of Religion to American Slaves

Whether one notices or not, each person has the right to make choices concerning

his or her life. Being able to make these decisions is a God-given right that

vibrates in the heart of every human being who claims possession and mastery

over his or her own self. However, for slaves, this concept did not exist, and

they became the property of someone else with no place to call their own. For

this reason, many slaves turned to religion to comfort them in their darkest

hour, to help them gain the strength to continue in their struggles, and to hope

that a day would come when they would rise above their condition to a better

place. For slave-owners, the Bible became a place where the institution of

slavery was justified, but for the slaves, Christianity became a symbol of

redemption in which they envisioned a future free from bondage, and if earthly

escape was not possible, their faith would be rewarded in the afterlife,

securing them a home of their own in a free heaven.

While many white slave owners discouraged slaves from learning the Bible for

fear it would encourage slaves to seek freedom, slaves, nevertheless, felt the

Bible was their source for obtaining earthly freedom; thus "their persistent

hope for the future was tied to their faith in God." (Stammering Tongue, 57).

Their convictions gave them the ounce of hope they needed to believe that there

was a better life awaiting them. "The Spirit of the Lord allowed black slaves to

transcend the horizon of their immediate experiences and to hope for a future in

which they would be free." (Stammering Tongue, 60). In Frederick Douglass’

"Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," Douglass

maintains that "in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word

of faith and spirit of hope departed [not] from me, but remained like

ministering angels to cheer me through gloom. The good spirit was from God, and

to him I offer thanksgiving and praise" (1775). Douglass’ belief that God is on

his side helps secure the notion that the possibility of a future could be sought and


Meanwhile, Douglass continues to struggle in his present condition, and begins

to see possible freedom in daily objects that surround him. Upon seeing a ship,

Douglass imagines it to be a symbol for "freedom’s swiftwinged angels, that fly

around the world; I am confined in bands of iron! O that I were free! Oh, that I

were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing!...I am left

in the hottest hell of unending slavery. O God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me

be free!" (1790). Thus "the religious imagination played a powerful role in

creating new horizons of possibility that linked experiences of the Spirit with

the struggle for earthly freedom" (Stammering Tongue, 52). This...

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