The Incongruity of Slavery and Christianity in Harriet A Jacob8217s
The Incongruity of Slavery and Christianity in Harriet A. Jacob’s
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself
Slavery, the “Peculiar Institution” of the South, caused suffering among an innumerable amount of human beings. Some people could argue that the life of a domestic animal would be better than being a slave; at least animals are incapable of feeling emotions. Suffering countless atrocities, including sexual assault, beatings, and murders, these slaves endured much more than we would think was humanly possible today. Yet, white southern “Christians” committed these atrocities, believing their behaviors were neither wrong nor immoral. Looking back at these atrocities, those who call themselves Christians are appalled. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, Harriet A. Jacobs describes the hypocrisy of Southern, Christian slave owners in order to show that slavery and Christianity are not congruent.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson). Thomas Jefferson, a white, Christian, political southern slave owner, wrote these words in 1776, a period in United States history when slavery thrived. The writer of the Declaration of Independence contradicts himself when he states that all men are created equal, when in actuality, his slaves were denied all that humans were meant to cherish.
The slave owners accepted and rationalized slavery through the Holy Bible. The Bible mentions slavery on numerous occasions, and yet none of these passages condemn it. Timothy 6:1-2 states, “Let slaves regard their masters as worth of all honor.” Titus 2:9-10 informs women to “[B]e submissive to your master and give satisfaction in every respect,” and Ephesians 6:5 writes, “Slave, obey your master.” The Bible condemns neither the raping nor beating of slaves; given that the owner purchased them, he could do as he wished. Any knowledgeable man of the bible realizes that it does indeed refer to slavery and the justification of it numerous times. Jacobs writes that the “[plantation owners] seem to satisfy their consciences with the doctrine that God created the Africans to be slaves” (44). She continues by quoting the Bible, stating “What a libel upon the heavenly Father, who ‘made of one blood all nations of men!’” (44). This statement says that all men are equal, although other verses directly contest it.
The Bible’s verses concerning slavery contradict other verses in several places when discussing slavery and the treatment of slaves. Ephesians 6:5-9 instructs masters to “give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.” Galatians 3:28 states that “[T]here is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Again, the Bible illustrates that slaves were equal to all others, stating “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, … whether we be bond of free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Abolitionists undoubtedly used these quotes in order to put an end to slavery.
In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Jacobs discusses the role that religion played in a slave’s life. The Tenth Commandment in Exodus 20:10 says to “[R]emember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, … in it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant.” Being a Christian meant Sunday was free, as a day of relaxation and recovery from a week of hard working in the fields. The slaves had “their little church in the woods, built by the colored people, and they had no higher happiness than to meet there and sing hymns together, and pour out their hearts in spontaneous prayer”(Jacobs 67). Here, the church and religion was a sanctuary for slaves.
Southern women knew of slave women’s treatment from their husbands, which caused a great amount of jealousy toward their husbands. One particular mistress stood over a slave mother giving birth, and the mother’s suffering pleased her, telling the mother that she deserved it all and more. When the mother says that she is glad that the baby is in heaven, she retorts, “Heaven! There is no such place for the like of her and her bastard” (Jacobs 14). These women slaves were often raped by the master, who would go unpunished; however, if a white woman were raped, the perpetrator would be penalized. The husbands’ actions go unpunished; instead, they view the acts as favorable, for the children followed the mother, and so by impregnating women, he increases his wealth. The wife of one such man remarked, “[H]e not only thinks it no disgrace to be the father of those little niggers, but he is not ashamed to call himself their master. I declare, such things ought not be tolerated in any decent society!” (36) Again, these men may quote from the bible, as Leviticus 19:20-22 discusses the impregnation of slave women, stating that as long as the woman was not married, it was not a sinful act.
Through her slave narrative, Jacobs reveals to her audience that the purpose of Christianity was not to enlighten slaves, but rather to maintain the social system of slavery. Masters used religion in order to quell the ideas of insurrection as well as to promote loyalty. After Nat Turner’s rebellion, the “slaveholders came to the conclusion that it would be well to give the slaves enough of religions instruction to keep them from murdering their masters” (68). Slaveholders used religion in order to convince slaves and themselves that slavery was necessary and just. The slaves were taught only certain parts of the Bible; a person would be punished for teaching a slave to read, for fear that the slave would then be able to read the Gospel and interpret it. Jacobs speaks of this injustice, arguing, “[T]here are thousands [who] are thirsting for the water of life; but the law forbids it, and the churches withhold it” (73). Mr. Pike preaches the same sermon to the slaves week after week, stressing the bible verse, “[S]ervants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ” (68). Not only were slaves forced to remain illiterate in society, but also denied access to religion.
Some of these slaves recognized that Reverend Pike’s sermons were garbage, and so chose instead not to go to church. Although the slaves were Christians, they distrusted any church, indeed anything, created by the slave owners. One of their hymns went, “Ole Satan’s Church is here below. Up to God’s free church I hope to go” (Jacobs 71). They began attending church again when a new reverend arrived in town. Jacobs writes of his sermons, “it was the first time they had even been addressed as human beings” and so “it was not long before his white parishioners began to be dissatisfied” (71). When the slave owners realized the reverend was preaching good and true sermons, they moved quickly to relieve him. When the good reverend came back to town several years later, he delivered a powerful message to the slaves. “Try to live according to the word of God, my friends. Your skin is darker than mine; but God judges men by their hearts, not by the color of their skins” (Jacobs 72). Over one hundred years later, Martin Luther King delivered his powerful speech with much the same idea, telling his followers that he dreamt that his “four children [would] one day live in a nation where they [would] not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The institution of slavery was so powerful that it still affects society in the United States today.
Jacobs believes that slaves are closer to God than the slave owners. She writes of men that commit atrocities against slaves that “[they] also boasted the name and standing of a Christian, though Satan never had a truer follower” (49). She also says that the slaves are “nearer to the gate of heaven than … long-faced Christians, who see wounded Samaritans, and pass by on the other side” (70). The blacks were viewed on such a low scale by whites that, “if a pastor has offspring by a woman not his wife, the church dismiss him, if she is a white woman; but if she is colored, it does not hinder his continuing to be their good shepherd” (74). When asked by Flint to join the church, Jacobs replies, “There are sinners enough in it already. If I could be allowed to live like a Christian, I should be glad” (75). Slave owners treated slaves, human beings, like animals. Indeed, many slaves were much more wholesome and Christian than any slave owner could ever truly be in God’s impartial eyes.
The statutes of Christianity sharply contrasted with the actions of the typical Southern slave owner. Slaveholders committed atrocities and based them on a handful of quotations from the Bible. However, if a white befell the same violence, the action was immoral, illegal, and punishable. Slavery, the “Peculiar Institution,” was the cause for the suffering of countless of human souls. Americans today can look back and truly see that chattel slavery was a cruel, perverse institution that no human should ever have to endure. Most people realize today how hypocritical it was to call oneself a Christian, while treating slaves so horribly. Throughout her book, Harriet Jacobs, in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself, revealed Americans everywhere that slave owners were hypocrites, and calling themselves Christians was perhaps the greatest sin of all.

Works Cited
Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. 1861. Ed.
Lydia Maria Child. New ed. Jean Fagan Yellin. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987.
Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence.” 4 July 1776.
The Holy Bible. New International Version. Zondervan Publishing House. 1983.
King, Martin Luther. “I Have a Dream.” Washington, D.C. 28 Aug. 1963.

 
Bibliography:
Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself. 1861. Ed. Lydia Maria Child. New ed. Jean Fagan Yellin. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987. Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence.” 4 July 1776. The Holy Bible. New International Version. Zondervan Publishing House. 1983. King, Martin Luther. “I Have a Dream.” Washington, D.C. 28 Aug. 1963.
 
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    Commandment Exodus | Bible Bible | Christian Satan | Nat Turner’s | Satan’s Church | Institution” South | Luther King | Thomas Jefferson | Reverend Pike’s | Declaration Independence | slave owners | slave girl | incidents life | incidents life slave | life slave girl | life slave | slave girl written | girl written | slave owner | southern slave | slavery “peculiar institution” | jacobs writes | southern slave owner | suffering countless | created equal |  
   
 
 
 
 
   
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