THE ARROGANCE OF FAITH: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century by Forrest G. Wood

THE ARROGANCE OF FAITH: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A massive indictment of Christianity for tolerating and often defending injustices against blacks and Native Americans; by a professor of history at California State University, Bakersfield. Wood's central argument is that ""Christianity, in the five centuries since its message was first carried to the peoples of the New Word. . .has been fundamentally racist in its ideology, organization, and practice."" This attitude, he alleges--which sprang from both Christianity's evangelistic mission and fundamentalism's acceptance of the Bible's literal truth--eventually infected virtually every major American denomination (even the benevolent Quakers, he claims, were more concerned with avoiding the sin of slaveholding than with helping the slave). Unfortunately, Wood's thesis is hopelessly overstated, and contradicted by numerous examples he himself offers of religiously inspired abolitionists and of churches that split over slavery. Nevertheless, this exhaustively researched (over 90 pages of notes) history is valuable for its many fascinating takes on such issues as the manipulation of ""the curse of Canaan"" and the Golden Rule into justifications for slavery; missionaries' attempts not only to convert ""heathens,"" but even to eradicate their cultures; the white man's obsessed yet ambivalent attitude toward other races' sexual practices; the impassioned debate over baptizing slaves; and the reluctance of a large majority of slaves to convert to Christianity. In the end, Wood's book founders because he cannot prove that Christianity itself, not fallible human beings, was the source of American racism. Nevertheless, it opens new avenues in a relatively uncharted area of history that a more subtle analyst would do well to investigate further.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf