The Climax of All Misnomers

The Climax of All Misnomers

 

In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (by Frederick Douglass), Douglass tells the story of how he meets with his fellow-slaves on Sabbath to teach them how to read:

I held my Sabbath school at the house of a free colored man…  The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed.  We loved each other, and to leave them at the close of the Sabbath was a severe cross indeed.  When I think that these precious souls are to-day shut up in the prison-house of slavery, my feelings overcome me, and I am almost ready to ask, “Does a righteous God govern the universe? and for what does he hold the thunders in his right hand, if not to smite the oppressor, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the spoiler?”  These dear souls came not to Sabbath school because it was popular to do so, nor did I teach them because it was reputable to be thus engaged.  Every moment they spent in that school, they were liable to be taken up, and given thirty-nine lashes.  They came because they wished to learn.  Their minds had been starved by their cruel masters.  They had been shut up in mental darkness.

Since I’m in the middle of a blog series on Thomas G. Long’s book, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith, the inclusion of Frederick Douglass’s crisis of faith is worthwhile.  Douglass writes that he is “almost ready to ask” the hard questions, but in writing them, he does ask them, although he doesn’t seek answers to those questions in his writing.  Oh what I wouldn’t give to borrow the pen of Frederick Douglass in this particular blog series!  He was a brilliant man, and like Christ, acquainted with sorrows.

Douglass also expresses a sentiment that is common in all time periods since the first century, that is, the difference between the institutional church (what I sometimes refer to as “churchianity” or simply, “the institution”) and what he calls “Christianity proper” or “the Christianity of Christ.”  Sadly, much of what he has to say still rings true over a century and a half later as people have yet to learn the difference between being a slave to righteousness (which is the ultimate freedom) and being a slave to a form of godliness that lacks power.  The physical slavery has ended (at least in this and most countries), but the spiritual slavery remains.  I’ll conclude with this lengthy quote from the appendix to Douglass’s Narrative and prayer that the Spirit of God will open the readers eyes to see the spiritual significance of his words:

I find… that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion.  To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation.  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.  To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other.  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.  Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.  I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.  Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.”  I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me.  We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.  The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin [whip] during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus.  The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation.  He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity.  He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me.  He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution.  The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, – sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, – leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate.  We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery.  We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! all for the glory of God and the good of souls!   The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master.  Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together.  The slave prison and the church stand near each other.  The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time.  The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.  Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other – devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.

Just God! and these are they,

Who minister at thine altar, God of right!

Men who their hands, with prayer and blessing, lay

On Israel’s ark of light.

What! preach, and kidnap men?

Give thanks, and rob thy own afflicted poor?

Talk of thy glorious liberty, and then

Bolt hard the captive’s door?

What! servants of thy own

Merciful Son, who came to seek and save

The homeless and the outcast, fettering down

The tasked and plundered slave!

Pilate and Herod friends!

Chief priests and rulers, as of old, combine!

Just God and holy! is that church which lends

Strength to the spoiler thine?

Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America.  They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.  Could any thing be more true of our churches?  They would be shocked at the proposition of fellowshipping a sheep-stealer; and at the same time they hug to their communion a man-stealer, and brand me with being an infidel, if I find fault with them for it…

Next blog in this series: Road Hazards

Comments
  • Stephen Helbig September 12, 2012 at 9:25 am

    “Gotta Serve Somebody” Bob Dylan

    You may be an ambassador to England or France
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Might be a rock’n’ roll adict prancing on the stage
    Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
    You may be a business man or some high degree thief
    They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a state trooper, you might be an young turk
    You may be the head of some big TV network
    You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
    You may be living in another country under another name.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a construction worker working on a home
    You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
    You might own guns and you might even own tanks
    You might be somebody’s landlord you might even own banks.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
    You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
    You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
    You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
    Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
    You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
    You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed.

    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
    You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
    You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
    You may call me anything but no matter what you say.

    You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

  • Stephen Helbig September 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Yes indeed ~ “The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other – devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”

    How does one escape such atrocities, carnage, and murder? We are given many clues in the paths of His truth, but “The greatest is Love”. With the greatest being Love , I too love my Master and bid His call to feed my lambs, tend my sheep,and feed my sheep. But in order to bid this call I find I can do nothing unless I hear.

    Let me take you to Exodus 21 (KJV) wich speaks of being a bondslave ~

    1 Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them. 2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. 3 If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. 4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. 5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

    Notice ~ I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall “BORE HIS EAR THROUGH WITH AN AUL” ; ~ this opening of the ear is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus and He will do the same for us ~ BORE OUR EARS OH LORD.

    Let us now go and see this boring of EAR ~ Psalm 40 (KJV) ~

    1 I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. 2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. 3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies. 5 Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered. 6 Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; MINE EARS HAST THOU : burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, 8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. 9 I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.

    Notice ~ Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; MINE EARS HAST THOU OPENED: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. 7 Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me. ~ let us also know that in the volume of the book it is written with our lives UNTO AND INTO HIM. ~ The Hebrew word “opened” in verse 6 is: כָּרָה ~ Transliteration: karah and it means by definition to DIG ~ In Psalm 22:16 “they have bored (digged, hewn) my hands and my feet” ~ In Psalm 40:7 ears hast thou dug (with allusion to the cavity of the ear) for me, thou hast given the means of hearing and obeying thy will.

    Let us awake from the terrifying nightmare of Babylon’s delusions (the institutional church) (“what I sometimes refer to as “churchianity” or simply, “the institution”); and let us arm our spirits to God’s glorious consummation. Here is a vision worthy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – GOD ALL IN ALL. And now, this ultimate reality must begin in us who have received the call to becoming mature Sons and Daughters of God. The motto of our lives in serving God must be: ~ Everything made subject and swallowed up INTO HIM ” ~ That God may be all in all.” ~ Some have known Him as their Saviour, some have experienced Him as their Healer, some have received gracious gifts from His hands, some have acknowledged Him as their Lord, but some have found Him as their ALL. Blessed are they who know Him so! They have tasted of the cup that Jesus Christ drank from, which quenches every thirst and satisfies.

    When Christ ascended on high after His resurrection, He led many captives out of the pit and also set forth this greater purpose: “Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, THAT HE MIGHT FILL ALL THINGS” (Eph. 4:9-10). Let us hear the volume of the book, BORE OUR EARS OH LORD that we may be about our Fathers business unto and into You with good works that you have established for us from the foundation of the world.

  • Lanny A. Eichert September 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    brand me with being an infidel, if I find fault with them for it…

    Naturally you would, Alice, otherwise you admit you are wrong, you must find fault. An infidel you are to proclaim those who have physically died are able to find salvation. Psalm 6: 5 says the dead neither remember God nor give Him thanks; Psalm 31: 17 they are ashamed to silence; Psalm 49: 14 spiritual death is eating at them; Psalm 88: 5 God remembers them no more and they know they are cut off from Him; Psalm 88: 10 – 12 wonders, lovingkindness, faithfulness, nor righteousness of God is shown them, nor do they offer praise to God; Ecclesiastes 9: 10 they gain no knowledge or wisdom which would be the result of the Gospel; Psalm 115: 17 again they remain silent of praise to God; Isaiah 38: 18 “cannot” used three times: they are UNABLE to praise God, celebrate God, or hope in God.

    The literal perfect Holy Bible proves death ends salvations’ hope of the unbeliever, making you just what you don’t like hearing.

    How about believing the Bible?

    • admin September 12, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      You do know that those words are Douglass’s, right? And, yeah, I would say those same words…

  • admin September 12, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Dylan’s lyrics are always so thought-provoking.

  • Mary Vanderplas September 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Wow. His description of the complicity of the church in the evil of slavery – and of the “horrible inconsistencies” involved in this complicity – cuts to the heart. Instead of embodying and enacting the life of the reign of God, speaking truth to power, they participated in the evil system – putting selfish gain ahead of the right treatment of fellow human beings made in God’s image. They were blinded and deceived, falsely supposing that the system was in accord with God’s vision, when in fact it was diametrically opposed to it. And, instead of listening to the prophetic voices in their midst calling them to repent, they shut their ears and condemned the truth-tellers, acting to suppress the truth and preserve their own position. It is no wonder Douglass wrote strong words condemning the “Christianity of this land.” His words serve as a warning to all in the institution – and also to those outside who profess Christ – to repent of our complicity in sinful systems that subvert God’s vision for the human family.

    I agree that there is much in the institutional church today that reflects the oppressive, death-dealing, truth-suppressing practices that characterized the “slaveholding religion” against which Douglass railed. There is no denying that there are inconsistencies – that how we actually live, the values we embody and the ways we order our life together, is often much different from what the gospel presents as God’s vision for human life. Much needed, therefore, are prophets such as yourself, persons who, despite opposition, persist in calling us to repentance and reminding us of what we are called to be.

    It is no surprise that Douglass was asking the hard questions, wrestling with embracing the claim of a loving and all-powerful God who is in charge, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. I share your sense that he would speak profoundly to the issues addressed in Long’s book.

    • admin September 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      I would like to get my hands on anything and everything this man has written. I’ve always heard that he was a man of conviction who had a way with words, but it wasn’t until I was assigned this reading in school that I actually saw for myself what these others were talking about. Incredible. Thanks for your comments. Also, did you see that comment Stephen wrote in response to your comment? I was pretty pumped about that. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

  • Patrick Strickland September 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks Alice:

    The words of Fredrick Douglass speak volumes. Thank you for putting them in your blog. The hypocrisy of the religious system and those who are bound to that system blinds the eyes and deafens the ears of those who are enslaved by it’s influence. It is impossible for them ensnared in the lies of religion to see and understand that the system containing the title christian is not Christ’s true church.

    It will take a revelation of Christ in them selves, where they hear His precious voice causing them to rise up out of their graves of religion, into the image of the son. The day is coming and NOW IS when the dead will hear His voice and will be raised out of their graves into His precious life. Christ must come to each individual person and cast out the legion of unclean spirits that inhabit a man who spends all of His time running thru the tombs of religious legalistic folly seeking the advice of those who are spiritually dead, these dead bones think that they do God a service by trying to cloth you in self righteousness and chain you up with the law. They never realize the strength of sin is the very law they try to bind you with. The chains are the very thing you need to exercise and strengthen sin in your life. Is it any wonder that you who are trapped and bound gain enough strength to break the chains, then because you do break the chains and sin you feel unclean because you broke the law that dead men preached into you? The chains of the law which we break are only replaced with stronger chains of thinking that we are now unclean and totally unworthy of God.

    Who will deliver us from this madness of the religious systems of the tombs? Only Christ can. Christ must cloth them with His life, who he frees from the bondage of the tombs who minister only the ministry of death and condemnation called the law, and cloth them with His righteousness and give them the mind of Christ whereby they might serve the Living God.

    Grace and Peace Patrick

  • […] few weeks ago, I wrote a blog called The Climax of All Misnomers and a blog called The Soul’s Complaint.  In both of these blogs, I generously quoted from the […]

  • Fellow Pilgrims « www.whatgoddoes.com January 20, 2013 at 1:44 am

    […] (Guest Blogger Mary Vanderplas), The Shaking of the Foundations, The Impossible Chess Match, The Climax of All Misnomers, Road Hazards, The Soul’s Complaint, Awakening, by Asia Samson, Running a Thousand Miles for […]

  • […] There’s nothing wrong with changing your doctrinal view if your doctrinal views are in error. Aren’t you glad the institutional church changed its views on slavery? That wasn’t a step back — it was a step […]

  • […] Although I’m sure at some point during my formative years I had heard of Frederick Douglass, it wasn’t until my final year of earning my undergraduate degree, in a literature class focusing on slave narratives, that I developed a fascination with Douglass. I wrote several blogs about his writing: Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, The Soul’s Complaint, and The Climax of All Misnomers. […]

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.