“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” - John 8:32
Abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass said that of all the slaveholders he had ever met, religious slaveholders were the worst.
“I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others,” Douglass wrote in his autobiography.
“It was my unhappy lot … to belong to a religious slaveholder. … He always managed to have one or more of his slaves to whip every Monday morning.”
His words, captured in a new book - “The Bible Tells Me So: Uses and Abuses of Holy Scripture” - illuminate a fundamental truth of American history: The Bible often has been used in American public debates to promote intolerance.
In this age, when leaders from the religious left and the religious right often seem to hold each other in contempt while proclaiming their own understandings of biblical truth, a historical overview provides helpful context to the way religion can be used for good and for ill in American life.
What authors Jim Hill and Rand Cheadle found in their research is that the Bible has basically been a positive force, from its role in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements to its ability to be a source of strength and hope for individuals.
And they discovered their own faith strengthened.
At various times in their lives, Hill said, both have been angry at God for allowing so much injustice in the world.
“We came to the realization,” Hill said, “it wasn’t the Bible’s fault, and it wasn’t God’s fault. It’s man’s fault.”
The book, published by Anchor, does show the many ways the Bible has been used to promote prejudice and hate, from the defense of slavery to anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism.
But the authors also have sections showing how the Bible has been used to help provide sanctuary to political refugees, to empower the poor and to save the environment.
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