According to William Arthur Ward, true religion is not something we only practice on the Sabbath and then forget about for the rest of the week. It should be a way of life that we embrace continuously.
“Religion is a topic that individuals can generally tolerate but never reach consensus on. Every belief system appears to have a predetermined belief that they possess the correct ideas on how to live, think, and act. And yet, within each religion, there are distinct variations. For instance, Christianity encompasses various religions such as Catholicism, Baptism, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, and Presbyterianism.”
The inconsistencies associated with everyone’s belief about religion lead to deeper confusion, distorting views on what they believe and what their religion is all about. This is similar to the sentiments regarding slavery in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, where Christianity is portrayed in various ways: as a distorted representation of religion with traces of bigotry and prejudice, an innocent and naive child that brings happiness to those they encounter, and as Uncle Tom himself, the epitome of a true Christian.
Stowe’s depiction of Christian living reveals her personal beliefs about Christians and sheds light on them. During Stowe’s time and even now, some individuals perceive religion as a mere escape from going to Hell. However, they fail to recognize that being a Christian entails more than just claiming the title and avoiding punishment for their transgressions. It requires them to demonstrate what it truly means to be religious and practice their faith with passion and dedication.
Miss Ophelia is portrayed by Stowe as representing those individuals who attempt to evade spiritual consequences by deceitful means. She confesses to harboring prejudiced sentiments towards black people, stating, “I’ve always had a prejudice against negroes [..”.
It is a fact that Miss Ophelia never liked the idea of the child touching her, although she did not believe the child was aware of it (246). Miss Ophelia’s dislike towards African Americans indicates that humans are flawed, but it is unchristian to harbor such sentiments. As the chapter progresses, Miss Ophelia’s tone reveals her dissatisfaction with her own attitude, yet she cannot help but feel this way.
In Christianity, innocence is closely associated. In the Old Testament of the Bible, people offered innocent and pure lambs to God as a means to absolve their sins. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ arrived as a human child in the sinful world to ultimately serve as an innocent sacrifice for all of humanity’s sins. This connection between Christianity and innocence is portrayed through the character of Evangeline St., a young girl in the novel.
Clare. She is depicted as a beautiful child, both in terms of her physical appearance and her devout spirituality. Her positive demeanor and compassionate nature towards others contribute to their happiness and even inspire some to embrace Christianity. “It’s just futile to attempt to keep Miss Eva here.”
The quote, “she’s got the Lord’s mark on her forehead” (240), indicates that Eva serves as Stowe’s representation of a devout Christian.
Despite being determined to bring others to Christ and displaying qualities such as being unbiased, having no prejudice, loving everyone, and caring for people’s feelings, the protagonist of the story seems almost unrealistically flawless. This leads the reader to question whether she is merely an idealized representation of the perfect Christian rather than a real person. Nonetheless, the most important individual in the narrative undoubtedly remains Uncle Tom.
Uncle Tom is portrayed as an exceptionally pious and compassionate individual. His virtues extend beyond measure, spanning from his role as a nurturing father to his heroic actions throughout the story. In essence, he could be likened to a physically strong African American man with the qualities typically associated with women. Nonetheless, his unwavering commitment to his religious beliefs stands as his most significant characteristic.
Stowe presents Tom as a Christ-like character in the book, using his love, affection, and ultimate sacrifice to convert others. Tom displays his willingness to assist others, such as when he rescues Eva from drowning.
Tom stood beneath her on the lower deck when she fell. He witnessed her plunge into the water and quickly went after her. With his strong build and muscular arms, he easily stayed afloat until the child emerged from the water. He then caught her and brought her to the boat’s side, where many hands eagerly reached out to receive her. Tom’s love for others, particularly Eva, was unparalleled in the novel, except for maybe Legree.
At the beginning of the novel, this man is immediately portrayed as the antagonist when he encounters Tom. He confiscates all of Tom’s belongings, including his Bible, and declares, “I will quickly eradicate your [religious] beliefs. I do not allow any noisy, praying, singing slaves on my property. So be aware. Now, behave yourself.”
According to the text, Tom’s “new church” would be his greatest test in the novel as it states, “I’m your church now! You understand – you’ve got to be as I say” (336).
By the end of his experience on Simon Legree’s plantation, Tom will have triumphed by refusing to give in to Legree’s demands. Although Tom ultimately succumbs to the beatings he receives, his death and time on the plantation lead many people to convert to Christianity or at least consider the idea that life is not solely about cruel work, but about praising God and following in Jesus’ footsteps. Readers of Uncle Tom’s Cabin often share similar views to those who first read it in the 1800s. Some believe it is a racist book written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, while others feel it fails to accurately capture the emotions of being an African American slave subjected to unfair treatment and multiple trades on a plantation.
However, many individuals overlooked the fundamental message conveyed in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The novel extends beyond the topic of slavery and delves into the role of religion within society during both the Civil War era and present times. Religion has undergone significant transformations since Harriet Beecher Stowe’s period. These alterations have caused considerable confusion, making it challenging to distinguish between true and false representations, as well as discerning whether one is engaging in worship of an inanimate object or a deist god who displays apathy towards humanity.
The text emphasizes that no one is perfect, using the example of Miss Ophelia. However, it emphasizes the importance of remaining true to one’s religious beliefs and values. The character of Eva represents Stowe’s ideal of a “perfect Christian,” depicted as a small and innocent child who cares for everyone and seeks to bring others to her religion. On the other hand, Tom embodies the Christ figure, serving as a role model for Christians who strive to emulate his passion for caring for others and unwavering faith in God. Stowe uses Tom’s character to convey the message to the readers that they should view life as short and aim to make a significant impact on the world, even against all odds.