J. Kameron Carter, race

Still more Impressions from Carter’s Book

1. I like Carter best when he isn’t explaining someone. Granted, he seems to do a good job of explaining the relevant data he seeks to engage, but he feels a bit constrained. I think its a good constraint, however; he seems to really take his time to make sure that the voice of his subject is accurately heard. But when he begins to build on or critiques what he has previously outlined, he is a hell of a lot of fun to read in my opinion. He goes after it. Its refreshing. So take heart, those who feel a bit bored during the introductions, he does get more energetic later.

For instance, in the third chapter (the first chapter of part two), he begins to take off on page 143, after nearly twenty pages of introducing Raboteau. The introduction is quite necessary, but when he gets into the difference of history faith and religious faith, narrative, whiteness and then into an outline of icon theology, I’m pumped. I wish I could simply quote the last half of that chapter for this post.

2. Remembering Icon and the Western loss of the Icon. Speaking of getting pumped, reaching back to Icon through Raboteau’s orthodoxy is more than a terrific addition. Western Christianity is absolutely bankrupt in its theology when it comes to Icons and the recognition of Nicea II. And icons functioning as a christological visibility and invisibility engaging with history? Iiiiinteresting… and helpful.

3. As far as I am concerned, Carter’s critique of James Cone (chapter 4) is right on target. Oh, and Carter spends much of the time going over the change between Early Cone, who subscribed to Barth, and Later Cone, who subscribed to Tillich. Interestingly, Carter does affirm Cone’s critique of Barth by way of von Balthasar’s similar critique of Barth. Cone wasn’t out to lunch when he said Barth wasn’t all that helpful for him.

4. Carter does avoids mentioning R. Niebuhr when critiquing Cone. However, its been said that Niebuhr’s theology was from Tillich, whom Carter focuses on for the later Cone. I suppose it makes sense and works, but I would’ve liked to have read some about Niebuhr, particularly because of how much Cone does rely on Niebuhr’s anthropology now. The irony of Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History is that the book critiquing America never mentions racism.

5. Carter has some terrific citation notes in the back. Some are quite long, but I love them that way. The breadth that Cone mentions about Carter is carried on in the footnotes with many smaller conversations ranging from Robert Jensen, John Howard Yoder, Aquinas, George Lindbeck, John Milbank, and many more, while there is much more on Foucault, Kant, Barth and others essential to his project. His notes start on page 381 and end at 467. Many, many notes tend to look like the following:

By this I simply mean that Foucault’s argument will help me chart the way in which modern racial discourse contributes to the construction of religion as a category through which one gains knowledge of modern “man.” As William T. Cavanaugh has put it, in modern terms, religion refers to the imagining of a “set of beliefs…[as arising more or less out of]personal conviction and which can exist separately from one’s public loyalty to the state.” William T. Cavanaugh, the Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism (London: T&T Clark, 2002), 31. Now while there are other serious limitations to Cavanaugh’s analysis–particularly, that his analysis of the modern problem of religion takes no account of the modernity as a colonial reality and because of this blind spot there is no account of how liturgy and sacramentality were themselves made to function within religious constitution of the modern/colonial world–he is nevertheless right to see a deep connection between religion conceived of as a personal conviction and the state’s production of bodies or citizens. To this I would simply supplement Cavanaugh by observing that religion conceived of in terms of beliefs, the beliefs constitutive of a particular religious faith, get ordered according to a hierarchy of rationality that coincides with a hierarchy within the human species itself. This hierarchy within the species is the hierarchy of races. The most rational or reasonable religions are those that habituate the rational races toward loyalty to the state as its Ecclesia or what ensures humans’ natural redemption or salvation and safety in a dangerous world. The irrational religions are those that do not so habituate the irrational races into citizens of the state. … (393-394)

Suffice it to say, if you’ve got a question and you see a number in the text, check the back.

And to leave you dear reader with another quote, chew on this:

Beyond an ontology of separateness, I propose a theology of participation, the content of which is YHWH’s covenantal relationship with the one to whom YHWH has elected YHWH’s self. This one is the covenantal and theological–and therefore, to say it again, not the racial–people of Israel. Hebrew Scripture and then the New Testament bear witness to this covenant. It is in light of the reality of the covenant that Chalcedonian Christology itself must be understood so as to decenter dialectic, which is to say, ontologized understandings of the person and work of Jesus. Understood in the light of YHWH’s covenant with YHWH’s parnter Israel and thereby with the world, Chalcedon is to be conceived of as witnessing to a theology of covenantal participation in which the life of YHWH is thoroughly implicated in and suffuses the life of Israel. Indeed, YHWH is known only in this suffusion, for such suffusion is proper to YHWH-God and is constitutive of YHWH’s transcendence. This can be called YHWH’s identity in historical transcendence with Israel and therby with the world. It is precisely this participatory transcendence, this ecstasy by which God is God for us, that makes creation strnscendent within itself in its ecstasy back to its Creator, YHWH. The problem with dialectical thinking and related forms of philosophical thinking is that they being from closure and then have to negotiate passage through an “ugly broad ditch” between things that are closed.

But in modernity as looked at from its underside, this ditch is the ditch of coloniality, which itself is the ditch of the racial imagination built upon the severance of Jesus from the covenantal people of Israel and thus Christianity from its roots in the reality of YHWH’s historical transcendence toward the world through YHWH’s covenant with this people. The covenant witnesses to the fact that for God, and only because of God’s identity as God for us, there is no ditch to be crossed by us. God has from the first bound Godself to us in God’s communion with Israel as a communion for the world. This is the inner logic of the identity of Jesus, the inner logic by which Israel is always already a mulatto people precisely in being YHWH’s people, and by which therefore Jesus himself as the Israel of god is Mulatto. At the level of his identity, or who he is, Jesus carries forward, and does not supersede, Israel’s identity as partner to YHWH for the world. He is miscegenated, and out of that miscegenation discloses the God of Israel as the God of the Gentiles too. What the covenant framework discloses, then, is this: Because YHWH is on both the Creator and creaturely sides of the covenant holding it, a dialectical framework of I-Thou, while useful in some regards in responding to problems in the world, proves ultimately inadequate. Indeed, it is not radical enough. pgs. 191-192


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