The two preeminent American authors of the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass, each criticized Christianity as it was practiced in the United States. Emerson's controversial critique, delivered six years after he resigned from the Christian ministry, was read to the students of Harvard's Divinity College on July 15th, 1838. Just under a decade later Frederick Douglass, a former slave, published his criticism in Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass. These writers, in spite of their criticism, were strong believers in faith, and both included positive spiritual alternatives in their literature. .
Emerson's critique of Christianity, delivered at Harvard's Divinity School, begins with him speaking about the summer season when buds are blooming and the "air is full of birds." (Selections 100) He wants to immediately emphasize the importance of nature, and what natural law can teach us ( the early part of the speech echoes many ideas in Emerson's earlier essay Nature). His criticism of the Church in America is that the institution has "fallen into the error that corrupts all religion (Selections 106)," by not preaching "the doctrine of the soul, but instead [preaching] an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. [The Church] has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus." Emerson feels the Church has abandoned the common man by bombarding him with majestic tales and supernatural events that no one has done or witnessed for ages. "The word miracle as pronounced by Christian Churches it is monster." (Selections 105) Emerson has seen that when .
individuals enter the Church they are forced to find the same truths in them that Jesus, Moses, and the other legends of scripture found in themselves centuries ago. In striving for this impossible goal they abandon their "primary faith," an abandonment Emerson proclaims as the very "presence of degradation" in the Church.