What follows is an interesting bit of commentary (p. 90) from Gary Scott Smith's Heaven in the American Imagination regarding the perspective of black slaves in the years leading up to the American Civil War.
Largely rejecting whites' account of the gospel, blacks accentuated other aspects of the Christian message that enabled them to survive the dehumanization, heart-ache, and hardships of their bondage. While many of them looked forward to heavenly bliss and compensation and divine retribution for their suffering and adversity, the Bible's emphasis on liberation, justice, and equality also helped inspire, comfort, and give them hope on earth. Their life circumstances and the recognition that whites selectively employed scripture to exploit them prompted slaves to critically assess whites' teaching about salvation, morality, and the afterlife. Resisting efforts to use Christianity to manipulate and control them, slaves devised their own interpretation of the gospel that enhanced their dignity, strength, and courage. Many slaves disavowed their masters' version of Christianity "as a compensatory and otherworldly religion" that encouraged them to accept their bondage as God's will, epitomized by the Negro spiritual that declared, "Take this world but give me Jesus." While agreeing that voluminous evidence "illustrates the perennial preoccupation" of both slaves and free blacks "with the promise of everlasting life" during the antebellum years, Timothy Smith repudiated the claim that this hope made slaves content with their condition and stifled their efforts to save them. The Christianity they crafted helped them cope with the harshness of their everyday life, provided them the psychic space they needed to deal with debasement, and gave them hope of liberation, if not in this life, at least in the life to come. "Narratives, tales, songs, sermons, aphorisms, prayers, and other slave sources" demonstrate that slaves rejected their masters' conception of a heaven where racism and subordination persisted and of a hell where disobedient, lazy slaves suffered for eternity. Convinced that this portrait of heaven could not be reconciled with a loving and just God who valued all human beings equally, they recast heaven and hell in light of "their own experiences, values, and traditions" as "an abused and exploited people."