Douglass: Learning, Education, & 2 Versions of Christianity

Learning meant everything to Douglass who as a child found ways to learn to read and write even though it was forbidden to slaves.  He tells us: 

Mini-bio tracing Frederick Douglass’ rise from slavery to service at the highest levels of government. Daily Dose Documentary

Education means emancipation.  It means light and liberty, it means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light by which men can only be made free.

It is said that underpinning all Douglass’s’ life was his relentless process of self-education—a theme that runs throughout Douglass’s life story.* 

When his former slave master was dying, Douglas went to see him on his deathbed.  His ex-master told him he too would have run away were he a slave and asked for his forgiveness.  Once asked whether slave masters would be in heaven, Douglass responded that some would because they were masters out of ignorance

Mementoes of the 2017 celebration of Frederick Douglass’ birthday in Rochester, NY. Photo by Lincoln Spaulding on Flickr.

Douglass believed in a faith that led to action.  I love the religion of Christianity…full of good fruits and without hypocrisy….I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Douglass would have plenty to say about the so-called “Christian Nationalism” and crackpot Christianity being preached by certain politicians and preachers of our day.  He distinguished between what he called The Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ. 

The difference is 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 hate the corrupt slaveholding, women whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

“We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest.” Mural by Parris Stancell, Philadelphia, sponsored by the Freedom School Mural Arts Program. Left to right; Malcolm Shabazz (Malcolm X), Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass. Photo by Tony Fischer, on Flickr.

I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.  I look upon it as the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.  I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show together with the horrible inconsistencies that surround me.

He who claims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read…..We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babies sold to purchase bibles for the poor heathen!  All for the glory of God and the good of the souls!

The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other. 

Christofascism was not Douglass’s version of the Christ message.


* Yohuru Williams, “Why Frederick Douglass Matters,” on History.com

See Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth.

And Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality.

And Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice.

Banner Image: Statue of Frederick Douglass on the campus of West Chester University, where he delivered his last public lecture in 1895. University photo on Flickr.


Queries for Contemplation

Do you resonate with Douglass’s teachings about the difference between the “Christianity of this land” and the “Christianity of Christ?”  Do you see this as applicable to today’s politics still?


Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.
“A watershed theological work that offers a common ground for religious seekers and activists of all stripes.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register


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10 thoughts on “Douglass: Learning, Education, & 2 Versions of Christianity”

  1. Avatar

    “In Jesus 2.0 We Trust. Do Not Accept Any Imitations or Limitations”

    Christian as a term of reference has become largely disparate among denominations, void of expectations and lacks elements of ‘disciplined’ discipleship among those wanted to be counted as the faithful.
    A renaissance of Jesus would say that His Life, Mission and Message are just as relevant today, 2,000 years later, as it was 2,000 years ago before Christianity was labeled as a religious following. Our relevance is not what we have made of Christianity in the intervening period of time, but in Jesus 2.0 ie Jesus then and now.
    Jesus 2.0 is the original ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life’, as originally presented then and as still exists today and forever more. ‘2.0’ as a faith journey is also relevant to non-Christian faith seekers that tend to get excluded from ‘the conversation’.
    A ‘disciple’ takes followship, cues and the direction of Jesus 2.0. Jesus 2.0 as the New Covenant transcends the Old Covenant and brings new Spirit to its meaning, which replaces purely literal meaning. In an age of divisiveness and mixed, misleading messages, it will always be Jesus 2.0 that we can count on and trust. Do not accept any imitations or limitations of world religious practices that are contrary to Jesus 2.0. — BB 02 22 2024.

  2. Avatar

    Christianity of this land is rooted in man-made religion, founded on dogmatic rules and laws that indoctrinates, in order to establish the illusions of seperation; manifested in many heirarchal forms, in order to establish power over.

    Christianity of the Christ is rooted in the living essence and presence of the Great Spirit incarnate within the all and the everything of creation, founded on the Mysteries of the interconnections, interrelationships, and interdependencies of all that exists; an established Sacred Law that creates a harmonious, balanced Webb of Life, manifesting within all forms, the reality of Wholeness and Oneness.

    In order for the latter to enter into the political arena as well as many other governing bodies, this must first be awakened within the consciousness and conscience… the heart, mind, soul and spirit of humanity. This is the deeper meaning and purpose to all the challenging and difficult crisies that humanity is facing, during the dawning of this new age.

  3. Avatar

    Yes! Frederick Douglass was a very powerful voice of Truth & Justice, like Martin Luther King, Jr., about the shallowness, hypocrisy, actions of many forms of American Christianity, especially the institutional and political ones which have been more racist than the LOVE and TRUTH of the Universal/COSMIC CHRIST….

  4. Avatar

    I really like what Douglas says about what I call “cultural Christianity.” If one’s Christianity lives in one’s mind only, and not in one’s heart, it has no feeling, no aroma, no song, no loveliness, not life, NO JOY. It is hollow and really just seated in the lizard mind, concerned about self and self-protection, self-advancement. It is basically just ego, trying to be spiritual. No matter how hard ego tries, it will always still be ego. Jesus was very clear about ego. He said “Say ‘no’ to self.” We each have in us two separate things. One is ego, trying to be who we are, and the other is our true selves, being always who we are, eternal spirits, lovely, pure, kind, gentle, generous, forgiving, un-selfish. Once we choose to be who we really are, we will start to behave like much like Jesus did. We will also begin to stop behaving like the ego that is in us, but is not really who we are. If we are loving, we are Christians. If we are not loving and forgiving, we are something else. I suggest we should be who we really are. It is more fun:).

  5. Avatar

    I am deeply moved by the full story of Frederick Douglass.
    One item in the video really struck me: the fact that Douglass had a white slave father i.e., Frederick was actually mixed blood black/white, the child of rape. His reunion with his former slave master was also very striking: was this a reunion with his own father??? Did he forgive his own father??? Douglass eventually married a white woman….
    American biblical scholar Jane Schaberg’s book THE ILLEGITIMACY OF JESUS is relevant here, given that her highly calibrated research suggested that Jesus’s paternity was Roman. She paid a high price personally and in academe for publishing her book.

  6. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew for the words today from Frederick Douglass. What he said then is still so true today. We must never give up working for the ”Christianity of Christ” and embracing the oneness of all. Thank ‘s for all the great comments today also.

  7. Avatar

    I am reading your commentary on Meister Eckhart’s Sermon 18, and it’s on my mind as I am reflecting on Frederick Douglass and the promise of this country: The North Star is born in the Soul, the ground and the foundation of the Soul. It is one birth, one place or space. Thank you for your writing. It feels like it is literally laying out my path right now, beneath my “feet”, brick by brick.

    1. Avatar

      Hello DM Team,
      The daily’s meditations and weekly video just keep getting better. Thank you so much. I sometimes share with friends and family and the response is always enlightening! The work you are all doing is such a gift and is touching and encouraging so many wanderers.

      Perhaps you can help me. I would like to attend a monthly Sacred Earth Council gathering on Tuesday afternoon. I tried to do so yesterday but I couldn’t figure how to access it.
      Any support or direction you can give me is greatly appreciated. Thanks, Kate.

  8. Avatar

    I just today learned about Anna Julia Cooper, whose saint day this is in the Episcopal Church calendar. Before Black History Month is over, it would be good to feature this brave Black woman, born into slavery and probably the result of her mother’s rape by the plantation owner. She went on to fight for equality for women and for all African Americans, especially in the field of education. She wrote and spoke on these issues and earned a PhD from the Sorbonne. A truly remarkable woman, she would certainly have much to say about the Christian Nationalists of today.

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