What is the relationship between religion and slavery?
Religion is an abstract concept, free for people to interpret and act accordingly, based on what they believe is God’s will.
This being said, religion was able to play many different roles in the slave society and eventually supported two completely different viewpoints on slavery. One viewpoint was the belief of the abolitionists, who used the countless teachings about love and compassion to further their cause in putting an end to slavery. Contrarily, religion was also used to promote and justify slavery by those who supported the institution, causing a great big contradiction in the ideals of the Bible.
The Bible is filled with endless teachings about love and forgiveness, bringing into light the necessity of spreading positivity and compassion. These teachings were widely used by abolitionists to advocate the termination of slavery. To anyone that has read the Bible, or even has a slight knowledge of the passages, it is obvious that the Bible would condemn slavery as an institution of violence and inhumanity. The Bible states, “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” It is explicitly stated that slavery should not be practiced, given that it is everything the Bible advises against. In Maria Weston Chapman’s book of poems called, Songs of the Free and Hymns of Christian Freedom, there is a prayer titled Prayer for Emancipation, in which it states, “When at the judgement God shall call, / Where is thy brother? say, / What mean ye to the judge of all / To answer on that day?” This prayer questions the slaveholders and how they will answer on judgement day, given their disobedience to God’s urges against brutality and wickedness against other humans. Like Chapman’s collection, there were many other abolitionists who used God’s name to attack the slaveholders and support their own cause against slavery.
No matter how much the Bible teaches about compassion, people are born imperfect. Led solely by their desires, they choose to be ignorant to their destructive behavior and turn their backs on their wrongdoings. No matter how much slaveholders could have tried to warrant their actions, the inequality and violence that occurred was in no way able to be justified. However, because they were so engrossed in their greed for profit, they began to claim that slavery was advocated in the Bible and began to extract certain ideas and twist them to fit their desires. The contradiction in this claim is almost so evident that it is ridiculous that this idea was so widely believed by Southerners. How could the Bible, which promotes tolerance and mercy, also teach that such an institution of oppression is acceptable? In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass states that, “I assert most unhesitatingly, that 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…and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection.” Religion, which is supposed to give hope to the weak, only took it away, giving those with power a scapegoat to their actions of tyranny.
A bloody Civil War and abolition was not enough to end this institution. According to the International Labour Organisation, there are still 21 million men and women that are involved in some form of slavery in the modern world. One example of modern slavery is Nalia Amin’s story, in which she describes the difficulty of escaping from her forced marriage as a woman. Before she was sold to her Pakistani husband, Nalia was an average 15 year old in America. However, Nalia found herself trapped with no place to go in a foreign country due to the religious beliefs of Pakistan, where it is considered un-Islamic to protect the rights of women. Once again, religion is depriving people of their rights and giving control to those who abuse it. In Pakistan and other Islamic countries, women are forced to be subordinate to their husbands and fathers and could even be murdered in the name of honor, if they were to ever go against a man’s wishes. Similar to how the Bible was used to justify slavery, the Islamic faith furthers the inequality against women, taking away their freedom and individuality.
To conclude, the determining factor of the relationship between slavery and religion is an individual’s opinion, which explains the contradictions in what the Bible teaches about slavery. If one believes that slavery should exist, then that person will use whatever means to justify slavery, even going as far as to use religion. Religion’s abstract quality allows people to be able to use its ideologies to their own benefits, bringing out the confirmation bias in them, which is the human behavior to only interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs and theories. Simply put, the greed of humans makes them unable to see the bigger picture and causes them to alter and use whatever they can to support their own belief and will block out anything that might be against them..