feminism, race

Dark Girls and Miss Representation

Dark Girls. I found out about this documentary right after we covered Traci West’s “Policy: The Bible and Public Reform” on Mary, the magnificat, and poor, single black mothers. I wish I had known about it before. It is on my list for videos next semester. You should really check it out:

Miss Representation. Another documentary, on women again, but more about image and marketing in general — although in my book, a bit less compelling than Dark Girls, but still, what Miss Representation covers is very important. Check it out:

insanity, James Cone, liberation, race

Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology

Well, I’ve got my piece up at The Other Journal titled: “‘Everyone in This Room is Now Dumber for Having Listened to [Him]’: Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology.” I like it. I think other people should read it.

Also, I should probably note here that the tone is rather caustic. And some may find it rather off-putting. I attempted a line that is difficult to walk, and perhaps failed. How do you not legitimize Beck and his project, but still address the narrative he helps push that permeates society? How do you show that Beck is not learned — cannot speak well, nor well read — in this discourse? And perhaps most importantly, how does one not give into gentle language that would avoid showing the ugliness of what Beck has done? But on the other hand, how does one avoid becoming like Beck who seems to love name calling?

I determined that my first priority was truth-telling: to appear a bit crazy in an insane world may be the most sane thing someone could do. I ought not sugar coat the issues at hand, and I should keep a sharp edge. So I decided to follow the master, Terry Eagleton in his review of Dawkins. Now, I am not under the delusion that I have Eagleton’s mastery of the English language, or wit. Still, the method seemed apt. The poverty and ugliness of Beck’s work, and the popular narrative he is working within, has to first be exposed for the falsehood it is.

And so, I do not see this piece as simply character assassination or preaching to the choir, after all, I tried to keep the pejorative comments directed in how Beck stumbles, rather than Beck his person. This piece, instead, is aimed at achieving a moment of clarity, even if it is fleeting. This piece is also designed to give James Cone a fair hearing. And it would not be wrong to read this piece much more about Cone’s project and evangelicalism’s need to reckon with race, than Beck himself.


What Ignoring Does

Now this white Catholic marginalization of Black theology makes a statement to black Christians. It says, “Your experience of struggle, suffering, and triumph and your Christian reflections on your experience do not count.” this is the cultural devaluation and psychological violation that constitute racism. Whites are victims, too. To declare, in effect, that the slave trade’s cost of fifty million ancestors, that the torture endured by the slaves and their descendants, that the martyrdom of Christian slaves at the hands of slaveholders outraged by their slaves’ conviction that God loved them and wanted their freedom, that the degradation of Jim Crow and the reign of terror known as lynching, that the faith-born and faith-nurtured resistance to these atrocities, which was sung in the black spirituals, proclaimed in black preaching, interrogated in black theology — to declare implicitly that all this has nothing significant to contribute to a Catholic Christian understanding of the gospel for our time and nation is a drastic truncation and impoverishment of Catholic theology.

Interrupting White Privilege: Catholic Theologians Break the Silence, pg. 19-20.

J. Kameron Carter, race

Carter’s Race Reviewed

From The Christian Century, Peter J. Paris’ review of J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account:

Carter is primarily interested in how theology contributed to the process by which humans came to be viewed as racial beings, and thus was a willing ally in the modern project of empire building. He contends that theology reconstituted itself in order to establish race as the defining characteristic of modernity. This shocking claim establishes Carter’s argument as a revolutionary critique of theology’s affirmation of modernity as a racial project.

More specifically, Carter argues that modernity’s racial imagination originated in the process by which Christianity was severed from its Jewish roots. The modern West began viewing Jews as an alien, inferior race and their religion as the nemesis of Christianity. This type of reasoning implied the natural supremacy of white European peoples and the corresponding superiority of Christianity over Judaism. Carter’s thinking dovetails to some extent with Cornel West’s critical race theory and Michel Foucault’s theory of sexuality.

… Carter’s call for a new kind of theological imagination that moves beyond the traditional theology that strips Jesus Christ of his Jewishness is an insightful approach to the difficulty that confronts 21st-century theological discourse. Few scholars have demonstrated so convincingly how ancient theologians such as Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Great can be helpful resources for current theological discussions about race, colonialism, slavery, tyranny and oppression—to mention only a few major problems we have inherited from the theology of race and modernity.

As an ethicist, I look forward to future writings by Carter that relate his theological enterprise to the thought and practice of the social gospel movement, the various African-American religious struggles for racial justice, and especially the work of Martin Luther King Jr. It is more than a little troubling that Carter did not discuss such figures and events in this major work. Nevertheless, it is a great book by any standard. Its breadth and depth are impressive beyond measure.

For those of you having a difficult time with certain assertions made about modernity and racism on this blog, it would do you well to read through this book very carefully. I have found it very helpful and informative and one would probably misunderstand anything more than the general thrust against modernism’s inherent colonialism without exposure to this book.

J. Kameron Carter, political theology, race

Misguided Ways of Dealing with Race and Racism

In the wake of Obama’s inauguration, I’ve seen a number of responses across the news, on the internet, and amongst friends. And so, what follows is a brief endeavor to list a few problematic responses and point out their underlying logic. Interestingly, the logic of each point in the list that follows, have much overlap between each other.

Colorblind: Some people (I’ve only heard this from Christians lately) still seem to think that the proper way to deal with race is to act like one shouldn’t see race. I have a sinking feeling why this is still so prevalent is because it was Contemporary Christian Music’s way of dealing with race (when it rarely did). To accept the colorblind philosophy is to accept a notion of making what is visible, invisible. Essentially, to be colorblind is to divest a person and people group of their story — the history that has formed them as a group. Specifically when this comes to race in America, such a move ignores the historical context of suffering and community bonding in the face of structural oppression that at least still fuel vestiges of privilege. This skips steps that have yet to be made. Justice and reconciliation looks the past straight in the face and deals with the repercussions that occur today. Thus, to ignore one’s story and the formation of the community past that still exists out of necessity today, is to take away one’s positive relationships, while ignoring struggles. This in effect dehumanizes people and leaves people exposed to the rending of the foundation of identity: relationships. In sum, we still live in a world where the color of one’s skin plays an important role in our historical and contemporary stories and actions. We should not ignore this by claiming to be colorblind.

Just let the old people die out, because their tired, old fight doesn’t translate today. Post-race means we’re past our history and we’re pretty much past racism: We aren’t post race. J. Kameron Carter has an excellent critique, and shows that racial categories are predicated on modernism and its theological and scientific grounding. Racial categories are in themselves racist. Also, to live in the modern world is to live in a racialized world. Even if we could adequately deal with Obama’s hybridity in public, we’d still be in some form of racial categorization, but probably taking a step in a positive direction that recognizes the hybridity in most (if not all) of us.

But how do we square the imposed racial categories of modernity’s scientific and theological logic with the need for community in the colorblind point above? For instance African Americans, Asian immigrants, Latin/South American immigrants, Native Americans, etc. form their own communities, partly out of survival. These communities are good, even though they have been categorized with the modernist racial category. This survival is done in the face of colonial violence and a theological divestment of their humanity. In fact, one could say that these communities of the oppressed function as the salvation for those who do not see their own humanity slipping away as they are the ones who have enforced these colonial categories.

But to find the good in the oppressed communities still stays within the racial modernist structure. Thankfully there is something else. To divest a person or people group of a skin color, that is considered beautiful by God, is partly the action of a terrible creation theology. Creation theology does not have a semi-gnostic persuasion that turns colors to grey, but helps recognize what is created and encourage flourishing. Even if colorblind philosophy is only symbolic, insomuch that it attempts to address the racist assertion of a qualitative difference between skin color, the right response does not mean the elimination of beautiful skin color. Thus, while the skin color is beautiful and God given, the divisive work of racial categorization must be dismantled by first looking it in the face, rather than ignoring it. Both the colorblind philosophy and its new protégé, post-race, take the strides that have been made and assert them as the fulfillment of MLK Jr.’s dream, while ignoring MLK Jr.’s warning against colonial America. So where can we all stand? In solidarity.

Therefore (either because we should be colorblind, or the old people live in a different world) don’t speak about the racial categories, its divisive: Well, not really. If the racial categories still exist, and if privilege still exists in structures, then to call for us to ignore the currently divisive, racial, modernist structure is to yet again ignore reality in favor of a white narrative (Yes, I’m using white here as a symbol. Don’t get your underwear in a knot.).

If someone else, like a white person, said this…: From my post on Rev. Wright: Dr. Wright is also not a “reverse racist” (as if only whites could be true racists…). This is not to say that a black person cannot be racist, however, what Newt Gingrich purports assumes that racism does not continue to exist in any large way. Yet, if what Wright does say is true, understood within a racist culture at large, than it merely rings true. However, Wright is not engaged by others at the level of his and his community’s experience. Instead, Wright’s words are taken from his mouth – from his black body and black context – and put into a white person’s body and context. In some senses, it seems that even Wright speaking cannot be understood as a black person speaking; rather, culture at large must think of him as a white person. How is that not itself racist, stripping him of his own humanity? Sure, maybe if we took Wright’s words and gave them to an oppressive people, the content of the words might sound racist, because they would be coming from the oppressive people’s lips. The body and context from whom the words come from are infinitely important. To call Wright a reverse racist merely on the basis of what he said in his speeches, based on forgetting the black community’s story and acting like he is a white man, is bullshit. This is just another way to marginalize a black man speaking prophetic truth.

So what common theme ran through this list of points? Divestment. To divest someone within the category of race is going to lead to some form of racism. Hell, to divest a person or community of the opportunity to be wrong likewise divests them of their humanity, as it fetishizes them rather than recognizes their failure. Divestment — racism — can only be met first by a honest and deep look that continues until the community is no longer segregated. I’m looking at you, church.


Now this, this is a benediction.

Despite some certain reservations about a confusion of state and church here and there, I very, very much like Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery’s benediction. Especially at the end. Mmmhmmm.

In other news, some have some pretty asinine analysis, calling Lowery racist. Sigh.

At least Obama in office brings race to the forefront. Perhaps we can fulfill one of Cone’s little sayings “Ya’ gotta talk about it!” I’m just not looking forward to all the future clashes — I expect they’ll get redundant and tiresome, but then again, the problems were always there and now maybe we can finally deal with the latent, “invisible” racism and profoundly impoverished understandings of race (i.e. its good to be colorblind) that are made more visible.

Martin Luther King Jr., race

On the Inauguration and King

Today will be a day of great rejoicing in America. And rightfully so. A hurdle will have been crossed for the first time. It doesn’t mean the end of racism, but it is tremendous that someone of African descent will be behind the desk calling the shots, rather than cleaning.

However, despite the fight that has been waged, we should not forget the words of the late Martin Luther King Jr. I speak not of the early King who’s dream has been co-opted and is used to eclipse his other work, but the later King, who at Riverside church gave his speech: A Time to Break Silence. It is a fantastic speech and one necessary to remember on Martin Luther King, Jr. day and inauguration day.

We live in a nation-state where the moralizing arm declares, “The bottom line is: George Bush is a healer.” The truth, shown in King’s speech above, is that the notion of Bush as a great healer is simply not true. Of course acts of charity are good, but this is like calling Carnegie a humanitarian. The structures are imbalanced and our acts of giving money has the ring of the old feudal system or the colonialism that we claimed to have left behind. While some money is given back to the world in hopes that some of life’s problems will be fixed, this philanthropy is at best an act to ameliorate the guilty conscious of the ones who have profited greatly from privilege, at the expense of others. However, when we target the purses of those in power, I suspect we will go the way of the later King.

In truth my hopes for Obama’s actual work is small — he is within a structure that seeks its own ends. And to this end, I want to remind those who think life will fundamentally change, “Memento mori! Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento!” However, in the same breath, despite the state’s sacral pageantry, I am proud to have Obama sworn in. To open up boundaries and inspire imagination, in a culture that is unable to imagine, is a terrific thing. I have seen tears of happiness on many faces. With the suspicion I maintain about the state and the language of change and hope, I still rejoice in this. Whether this is a culmination of struggle for some who faced suffering, or for others, a direction for a new path forward, I want to rejoice with and for those who have had their horizon expanded, even though I cannot fully grasp it because my horizon has never been limited, nor my humanity called into question. While I do not believe Obama in the presidential capacity to be salvific, the rejoicing and seeing people rejoice over it, I believe is. It has helped me see in new ways, or old thoughts in a new way, and in ways far bigger than the temple mount in DC may care for. Let us never forget King’s words.

incarnation, race, reconcile

The Incarnation and Racial Reconciliation

Over at Christ, My Righteousness, the series on racial reconciliation is now onto its sixth guest post. Mine was a few days ago and you can see it below. Still, be sure to give the other ones a read. As James Cone once said in class, “You’ve gotta talk about it!”

While this small essay is oriented towards racial reconciliation, I want to begin with a brief foray into incarnational theology. The incarnation, the particularity of Christian life, is not founded simply on a covenant, although we must always remember constantly that it is within promise that God acted and continues to act.[1] The Christian particularity is the action of God herself living (not only as participant, promise-maker, or covenant redeemer) within the human story – the joining of divine and human stories in Jesus of Nazareth.[2] Therefore, God truly is with us, Emmanuel: “He is not a symbol for the apex of our existence which is lost asymptotically in the infinite. He is Emmanuel, the God of an historical hour. Transcendence itself has become an event.”[3] In human flesh, in Jewish flesh, God joined with human existence in a space and time.[4] Still God and also human, the divine and human stories were forever joined together: “God act[ed] in such a way in relation to the world that he accepts it irrevocably in his Son.”[5]

The incarnation is only intelligible within Jewish covenant, as well as the reaffirmation of previous, divine promise: “he proves to be God’s own autobiography, God’s writing of Godself.”[6] Thus, Lieven Boeve is right to say, “[t]he truth of the incarnation indicates, rather, that the particular is constitutive of the truth, essential and indispensable. Truth is real, concrete, incarnate, and can only be grasped as such.”[7] The truth of God living in the world and the truth of what God’s living affirms and reforms, is to be understood within the stories and promises as creator, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the one who invoked the tetragrammatron in response to Moses’ question, “Who are you?” J. Kameron Carter states the particular of Christianity succinctly, “Christ’s flesh as Jewish, covenantal flesh is a social-political reality displayed across time and space into which the Gentiles are received in praise of the God of Israel.”[8] Indeed, to know God alive is to know the truth of God, and vice versa. And then to know the mind of the Creator, is to know creation’s proper telos. Carter summarizes the reconciling work of the incarnation and its implications well:

Christ’s divine-humanity transforms the meaning of humanity in its totality. The call of the gospel, then, is for human beings to enter into Christ, whose humanity is open to receive them and, thus, to (re-)name them and to confer a new identity on them as gift. Hence, the Jewish humanity that the triune God receives in union with the trinitarian Son is, at the same time, the humanity that now redemptively receives Gentile-others into itself. Consequently, in pressing this insight theologically, one might say that Jesus’ Jewishness is always already positively disposed toward receiving Gentiles. Conversely, it shows that Gentiles, too, are positively disposed for being received by Jesus and, thus, for entering into his Jewish humanity. This mutual disposal of Jews and Gentiles for each other in Christ may serve as a parable both of the way in which God holds nothing of himself back in his positive disposition to receive the world and of the way in which the world finds its own proper identity only in being received in God. The Jewish humanity of the trinitarian Son, Jesus Christ, is analogically central in this reciprocal movement of giving and receiving. Thus, far from being inconsequential, Jesus’ Jewish humanity is, in fact, a crucial element in what it means to exist concretely.[9]

With a good understanding of who Jesus was and is, then we can re-understand and perhaps begin to talk better about race and racial reconciliation, because we will begin to rightly understand how the church is supposed to understand identity. To this, Carter has also written, specifically on the theme of baptism for the beginning of Christian identity:

Inhabiting or being received into Christ’s actual body in such a way that one lays no claim to naming oneself and, therefore, in which one holds nothing of oneself back in self-possession-this is what baptism represents…. Baptism…involves handing oneself over to God in Christ so as to receive oneself back as gift. This is the deeper meaning of Christ’s baptism, which cannot be severed from the event of the Cross.[10]

But, importantly, this is not a “color-blind” Christianity, or where skin pigmentation ceases to exist, or where the church turns a blind eye to racial injustices outside of itself. Instead, this is a call for the economy of God to wash over the church – the body of Christ formed by the memory of the incarnation and the acts of the incarnation – so that we take seriously our baptism out of Babylon and Mammon and into the basileia of God. To do so, I believe, would force us to take race and racial reconciliation far more seriously than we do now, as we would take more seriously our participation within the economy of God. To quote Carter at length one more time:

The story of God’s journey with God’s creatures occurs, then, in history—the history and flesh of Israel, which culminates in Jesus of Nazareth. For in Jesus God has brought Israel’s history to an irrepeatably unique pitch, whereby Christ becomes translated into the languages of all nations. In brief, what emerges within this new economy of divine love is a self that is known in, through, and as another— a transformation which entails a re-imagining of identity on both personal and cultural levels. All of this means that the destiny of a given nation, its sense of peoplehood. Indeed, this sense of “co-peoplehood” or “inter-nationalism” is theologically rooted in the unfolding of Christ’s existence in history as an eschatological movement towards the Kingdom of God, an unfolding in which the church haltingly and imperfectly, but for all that no less truly, participates.[11]

With all the above – the importance of the reconciling work by the embodiment of the incarnation – in mind, we can actually deal with topics that the wider society cannot find the words to even address. Consider Obama’s hybridity as a specific instance in the racial pluralizing of white America. Christian theology has the tradition and doctrine to draw on for the reforming of identity, rather than ignoring the significance of hybridity behind the desk in the oval office, while at the same time, acknowledging and valuing plurality with the goal of living as a Christological people.

Now, the real questions are, “Why we do not do this?” and, “How do we implement this?” Such questions are difficult, but must be taken with the utmost seriousness, otherwise this is simply intellectual, theological masturbation.

I see one major culprit that lingers in the background: capitalism and its notions of private ownership. The selfish “Mine!” and the idea that material goods and class status are deserved or un-harmful, drive a wedge between Christians, as the dollar bill and commodified economy dictate identity and the relationships there in. The movie Crash comes to mind. We drive around in our fortresses, never meeting another human being until we have a crash. This also is seen in white flight, giant houses with large lawns, and the churches who are formed by such an economy. So the answer to this is to live together, to live close to on another, and not to “run” from others or react in a manner that treats others as less than human. We have the solution in the incarnated creator who came to live with the creatures: we cannot reconcile if we do not know one another and we cannot hope to reconcile if we do not take care for one another. Quite simply, we are to live a Christological-hospitality for our community that is full of different people.

[1] I am not trying to deny the divine promises that some may see in the Hebrew Bible to foreshadow the incarnation (i.e. Genesis 3:15). Instead, it was the incarnation that helps us re-understand the promises of God, while at the same time, the incarnation was not a new covenantal promise that required two parties to keep the promise to one another. The incarnation was an act of asymmetrical grace.

[2] When talking of God by pronoun, I will alternate between himself and herself where applicable.

[3] Johann Metz, Theology of the World, translated by William Glen-Doepel (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971), 22.

[4] Ibid., 23.

[5] Ibid., 22.

[6] J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 33.

[7] Lieven Boeve, God Interrupts History: Theology in a Time of Upheaval, (New York: Continuum, 2007), 176.

[8] Carter, Race: A Theological Account, 30.

[9] Carter, “Christology or Redeeming Whiteness: A Response to James Perkinson’s Appropriation of Black Theology” Theology Today 60:4 January 2004, 532.

[10] Ibid., 538.

[11] Carter, “Race, Religion, and the Contradictions of Identity: A Theological Engagement with Douglass’s 1845 Narrative“ Modern Theology, 21:1 January 2005, 58.

race, reconcile

Racial Reconciliation

Over at Christ, My Righteouness, Lou is hosting a series on racial reconciliation.

There are two posted so far and worth a read:

The Cross and Racial Reconciliation : Jews and Gentiles in Christ” by Kepha

Kingdom of Men or Kingdom of God: How Your View of Diversity Defines Your Kingdom” by Lionel Woods

There look to be quite a few more. Mine is titled “The Incarnation and Racial Reconciliation” and will be showing up when it shows up. So keep your eyes on the series for the rest of the posts to show up.

black theology, Cornel West, race

Cornel West’s Hope on a Tightrope, Pt. 2

Cornel West has a new book, Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom, coming out soon. Below are some more quotes I came across that I liked quite a lot or thought important:

For me, the deepest existential source of coming to terms with white racism is music. In some ways, this is true for black America as a whole, from spirituals and blues through jazz, rhythm and blues, and even up to hi-hop.

From the very beginning, I always conceived of myself as an aspiring bluesman in a world of ideas and a jazzman in the life of the mind. What is distinctive about using blues and jazz as a source of intellectual inspiration is the ability to be flexible, fluid, improvisational, and multi-dimensional — finding one’s own voice, but using that voice in a variety of ways. (pg. 114)

American musical heritage rests, in large par, on the artistic genius of black composers and performers.

This rich tradition of black music is not only an artistic response to the psychic wounds and social scars of a despised people. More importantly, it enacts in dramatic forms the creativity, dignity, grace, and elegance of African Americans without wallowing in self-pity or wading in white put-down. (pg. 116)

Obama says Jeremiah Wright is angry because he’s part of an older generation. That’s not true. Walk the streets of Brooklyn. The young brothers and sisters are angry and full of rage right now. Katrina was just three years ago. You and I are still full of righteous indignation. We didn’t need to grow up under Jim Crow to be like Bigger Thomas in terms of the rage simmering inside.

The question is, How do you express your righteous indignation? The assumption and the dominant white perspective is that, if you have an angry Negro, that Negro’s anger is somehow unjust. That’s inaccurate. You can have rage against injustice and still recognize that not all white folk are complicit. (pg. 141-142)

Black women are going to be the crucial part of the next wave of our collective leadership. (pg. 149)

Love helps break down barriers, so even when black rage and righteous indignation have to look white supremacy in the face — in all its dimensions that still persist — the language of love still allows black brothers and sisters to recognize that it’s not all white people and it’s not genetic.

White brothers and sisters can make choices. John Brown was part of the movement. Tom Hayden is part of the movement because it’s all about choices, decisions, and commitments. No one is pushed into a pigeonhole or locked into a convenient category. That is why the ability to love and be loved in the highest sense is so crucial. (pg. 161)

American culture seems to lack two elements that are basic to racial justice: a deep sense of the tragic and a genuine grasp of the unadulterated rage directed at American society. The chronic refusal of most Americans to acknowledge the sheer absurdity that a person of African descent confronts in this country — the incessant assaults on black intelligence, beauty, character, and possibility — is not simply a matter of defending white-skin privilege. It also bespeaks a reluctance to look squarely at the brutality and tragedy of the American past and present.

Such a long and hard look would puncture the life-sustaining bubble of many Americans, namely that this nation of freedom-loving people and undeniable opportunity has committed unspeakable crimes against other human beings, especially black people.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright is my dear brother. Recently he has been anointed as the media’s latest incarnation of the “bad” Negro. Whether in slavery or in black communities under Jim Crow — bad Negroes are “out of control.” Jeremiah Wright speaks his mind. Remember, all of us are cracked vessels. Jeremiah Wright deserves criticism, but it should be justifiable criticism. For example, Reverend Wright’s claims about AIDS and HIV are wrong.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak in Reverend Wright’s church on many occasions. I’m so glad whenever his full quote is played or published because any God worthy of worship condemns injustice. When he says, God damn America — killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. That is true for any nation. We must never put the cross under the flag.

Wright is a prophetic Christian preacher, therefore to him every flag is subordinate to the cross. If you believe that America has never killed innocent people, then God never damns America. We know god damns slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, the hatred of gays and lesbians, anti-Semitism, and anti-Arab “terror” bias in America. God is a god of justice and love.

What Wright was trying to address is the degree to which there is still injustice in America. Never confuse this criticism with anti-Americanism. Any resistance to injustice, be it in America, Egypt, Cuba, or Saudi Arabia, is a God-driven activity because righteous indignation against the cruel treatment of any group of people is an echo of the voice of God for those of us who take the cross seriously. (pg. 167-169)

To deny death is to deny history, reality, and mortality. We’re most human when we bury our dead, when we stand before the corpses of our loved ones, forced to bring together the three dimensions of time: past, present, and future. (pg. 184)

I think highly of the pacifist tradition in christendom. I do not agree with it. I am not persuaded by it. But I think respect is due. I do not think Christian pacifists will ever have the kind of impact on history that many of them profess to have. Yet I respect their views. So when I hear Archbishop Tutu and many others argue for nonviolence, I respect them.

One should, on the principled ground, attempt to exercise and realize all forms of nonviolent resistance before one even remotely considers the discussion of violent resistance and armed struggle. One must examine the history of a country carefully and see what possibilities there have been nonviolent resistance and what impact nonviolent resistance has had.

If we in fact, discover that nonviolent resistance in its most noble form has been crushed mercilessly by the rulers, then it raises the possibility of forced engagement in armed struggle. Indeed, this is in no way alien to the Christian tradition. On the other hand, one should never view armed struggle as a plaything. One should not romanticize or idealize it at all. On the contrary, one should carefully and thoroughly think through whether it can have the impact and effectiveness that one desires. (pg. 187)

There is always a fundamental tension between a commitment to truth and a quest for power. The two are never compatible. It could be Socrates, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Fannie Lou Hammer. You always need a prophetic critique of those in power. Power intoxicates. Power seduces. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is always a need for somebody to tell the truth to the powerful. (pg. 208)

When you talk about hope, you have to be a long distance runner. This is again so very difficult in our culture, because the quick fix, the overnight solution militate against being a long distance runner in the moral sense — the sense of fighting because it is right, because it is moral, because it is just. Hope linked to combative spirituality is what I have in mind. (pg. 209)

black theology, Cornel West, race

Cornel West’s Hope on a Tightrope, Pt. 1

Cornel West has a new book, Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom, coming out soon. Below are just some quotes I came across that I liked quite a lot or thought important:

I’m a Christian, so I have Jesus in the temple. I have a martyr against the marketeers. (pg. 18)

You’re made in the image of God. You’re a featherless, two-legged, linguistically conscious creature born between urine and feces. Thats us. One day your body will be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. You know that. Be honest. Put on your three-piece suit if you want to, but thats not armor against death. The question is: Who are you going to be in the meantime, in this time and space? You don’t get out of time and space alive. (pg. 28)

The culture of advanced capitalist American society, the culture of consumption revolves around the market–around buying and selling this process turns everything into a commodity and undermines value and meaning in the name of ever-increasing profit.

This is dangerous because in a marketplace culture, commodification–the ability to put a price tag on everything–dominates more and more spheres of human life. This creates an addiction to stimulation, which is necessary to keep the consumer-culture economy going. (‘Terrorist attack? We’ll show ’em. We’ll protect the american way of life. We’ll go shopping!’)

The marketplace culture of consumption undermines community, undermines links to history and tradition, and undermines relationships. The very notion of commitment becomes more and more contested. Addictive bodily stimulation becomes the model for human relationships. We see it in the dehumanizing exploitation of women’s bodies in the advertising industry. We see it in TV sitcoms and reality TV shows that are fueled by orgiastic intensity. (pg. 30-31)

The vocation of the intellectual is to turn easy answers into critical questions and to put those critical questions to people with power.

The quest for truth, the quest for the good, the quest for the beautiful, all require us to let suffering speak, let victims be visible, and demand that social misery be put on the agenda of those with power. So to me, pursuing the life of the mind is inextricably linked witht he struggle of those on the margins of society who have been dehumanized. (pg. 37)

Humanistic intellectuals are being marginalized in our society by the technical intellectuals, such as physicists, computer scientists, and so on, because they receive funding from huge private enterprises, from the state, and from the military-industrial complex. Why? Because the products they provide are quite useful for a market-driven society. (pg. 38-39)

I am no way optimistic, but I remain a prisoner of hope. (pg. 41)

The very discovery that black people are human beings is a new one. This question of what it means to be human affects each and every one of us. Thats why all of us have so much at stake in black history. (pg. 43)

If you view America from the Jamestown Colony, America is a corporation before it’s a country. If it’s a corporation before it is a country, then white supremacy is married to capitalism. Therefore, white supremacy is something that is so deeply grounded in white greed, hatred, and fear that it constitutes the very foundation for what became a precious experiment in democracy called the U.S.A. … Brother Barak Obama refers to “…this nation’s original sin of slavery.” No, the original sin was the dispossession, subjugation, and near extermination of the indigenous people prior to the founding of the United States. We must never allow black suffering to blind us to other people’s suffering — in this case, our American Indian brothers and sisters, and especially their precious babies.

White supremacy — now that’s the real original sin that grounds American Indian and African oppression. That’s the precondition for a nation that could then be founded on the exploitation, subjugation, and hatred of African people. (pg. 45-46)

Any time you make the cross subordinate to the flag, you have idolatry. Americanized christianity is shot through with forms of idolatry, making it difficult for people to keep track of the blood at the cross, the need to love, sacrifice, and bear witness to something bigger than nation, race, or tribe. (pg. 80)

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

J. Kameron Carter, race

More Quick Impressions of Carter’s Work

I’m still reading J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account, albeit rather slowly. I’ve got other things to do. But I do have some more impressions and quotes.

1. As far as I’m concerned, he abuses Kant, or is it that he exposes Kant? And not in a bad way, a good way. He makes Kant, the neo-Marcion, squeal. Granted, I’m not exactly up on Kant’s corpus and I’d need to spend more time studying Carter’s reading of Kant (or wait for a scholar with a specialty in Kant to review the section), but so far, Carter proves his point about modernism’s fundamental, pragmatic racial anthropology. Carter begins his summary of chapter 2 and introduction to part 2 with:

Thus, the “euthanasia of Judaism,” which Kant figures as coeval with the realization of the coming ethical community, only brings to completion a rational theology of the atonement in which the death of Christ is a dying away from Judaism and from all that makes one a “son of the earth” rather than a son of God. In short, it is a dying away from all that holds one “fettered to earthly life to the detriment of morality.” (pg. 120)

2. I was surprised that Christ was understood by Kant as a revolutionary: “Eh? I didn’t see that one coming.” Only to find out, the revolutionary Jesus is a Marcion-like (“white”) Jesus: no longer actually Jewish through the “loss of his covenantal identity as a Jew”, a supercessionist Jesus (117).

3. A senior theologian was right, I need to read more Foucault. He’ll help my own project, especially when addressing sovereignty and bio. Oh, and He sounds fun. History of Sexuality here I come, which isn’t about the history of sex acts… I think. Imagine that!

4. There is a short contrast between Agamben and Foucault, so its a good thing I’ve read some Agamben. But he doesn’t play heavily in the book (only a few times really), so no worries to those who don’t know Agamben. Also, Carter attempts to catch the reader up on his point about Agamben. When Cone talks about breadth, he isn’t joking. Carter closes chapter two, focused on Kant, with:

What the Kantian vision discloses, then, is that the dramas of race and politics in modernity are, in fact, a great drama of religion. Yet, behind the veil of this great religious drama is a less easily detected but controlling story, the story of how whiteness came of age as a theological problem that camouflages itself as just such a problem. When looked at from this vantage point, whiteness as a theological problem is inseparable from the production of the modern citizen on the one hand, who as a citizen subject is constructed in such a way that the body articulates the body politic. And on the other hand, it is inseparable from what the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben refers to as the modern state’s constitution of itself through bios or bare life, life that is bounded by and ever exposed to death. This “death-bound subject” is “homo sacer,” or “sacred man,” the figure whose life is ever exposed to death or sacrifice for the life of the nation-state. Furthermore, Agamben grasps that the quintessential homo sacer figure of modernity is the Jew.

But what Foucault understood beyond Agamben, and what has been important for the argument developed here in part I of this book, is this: homo sacer’s sacrality is simultaneously religious and racial. Indeed, homo sacer’s dark body is the body not fully assimilable to the body politic, except by a process of excruciating violence. This violent process of assimilation is a singular process of racialization and “religionization”: religion racially dramatizes the body (politic) and vice versa. It is the religio-racial process as an immanent teleological process that functions internal to imperial power. It is this process that constitutes the Western metropole as white and in relationship to the colony as nonwhite. That is, homo sacer’s sacrality contains within it modernity’s Rassenfrage, which has as its animating center Judenfrage or the theological problem of gentile Christianity’s refusal to think its existence from within the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The three chapters making up part II of this book offer a reading of the field of African American religious scholarship as an ongoing attempt to diagnose this situation and respond to it. To this I now turn. (pg. 120-121)

5. “Cosmopolitan” functions as an ugly concept in this book so far. I can agree with that notion whole heartedly. Boy, do I wish I had this book when we reviewed Appiah’s book in class. Some of my favorite sentences are when he riffs on cosmopolitan secularism.

J. Kameron Carter, race

Early Impressions of Carter’s Book

1. Clarity. His writing is generally quite clear. I would feel confident giving this book to many different levels of students, mainly because I think they could read it and mostly understand it. He digests and summarizes concepts quite well. Sure, explaining might be in order for newer students to theology or philosophy, but I don’t think it’ll have much to do with the way Carter writes. The biggest problem is keeping up with Carter’s breadth. Cone is right, the book does demonstrate “great intellectual range and theological imagination.”

2. While Carter maintains a helpful level of self-control to keep his argument admirably on track, every once in awhile, he’ll go off and say something like this (particularly the part I emphasize below), and make me smile from ear-to-ear:

How do the new science (of the true), the new philosophy (of the good), and the new aesthetics (of the beautiful)–the discursive elements of modern discourse, according to West–represent a disassembling and then a reassembling for its own purposes of Christian theology’s understanding of the true, the good, and the beautiful? And how do they do this at the juncture of the Jewish question, and how does a discourse of race emerge out of this? Lastly, how is the discourse of modern state sovereignty (which mutates into a discourse on the nation) constituted so that it reinvents itself at the same time that it masks the way it operates parasitically on theology as simulacra of a Christian soteriological vision of redemption, through the agent of redemption is different, namely, “Leviathan” (Hobbes)? That is, how does the discourse of modern state sovereignty conceive of the state as democratic “redeemer” inasmuch as it is the “creator” of a new mode of political existence and thus a new way of imagining community? [pg. 52, from part of Carter’s critique of Cornel West, and the emphasis is mine]

3. The book itself is interestingly minimalistic. And I love it. Theres little to the cover, but they designed it quite well. Its not some sort of eye-grabbing book, its captivating in its form following function. Continuing the minimalism, there is no forward and the blurb on the inside jacket about Carter only makes note of his professorship at Duke and does it in less than three full lines. The book avoids all the bullshit, flowery fluff that accompanies many other projects on race that don’t go anywhere positive, or commit an equally bad sin: uninteresting and unhelpful. You could judge this book by its cover, if that judgment is good. I could go on about the graphical beauty, but I’d convince people of something I don’t have: a book fetish. I just have a crush on this book. Honest.

4. This book will be big. If it isn’t in the near future (or perhaps moderately near future, after all, some academics can be pretty slow sometimes), there is something seriously wrong. It has the feeling of books that have made a tremendous impact in the past.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts in the future, but until then, let this quote sit amongst your thoughts:

I say theological and political (or theopolitical) to signal that my claim calls for analyses of the problem of race (and, relatedly, of the Jewish question) that explore the senses in which such a discourse is bound to the nature and practice of modern politics and thereby indelibly tied to what is religious about modernity and the way it parodies theology at the same time that it cloaks this fact. The discourse of race is critical to the cloaking process and thus functions as a vital cog within modernity’s own religious and quasi-theological machinery, a machinery intent, as the quotation by Étienne Balibar that opens this chapter alerts us, on producing bodies and people, but bodies and people of a particular sort. It produces bodies and people that can populate an enlightened, global, and cosmopolitan social order, the domain of civil society. The people produced is the modern citizenry; the body, that of the modern citizen; and the social order enacted and perpetuated, that of the modern (nation-)state. Given this, the politics of race and the politics of the modern state are of a piece, for both are religious or pseudotheological in character. Failing to reckon with this fact not only leaves the problem of modern racial reasoning inadequately understood but also can yield responses that risk–unwittingly, no doubt–reinhabiting, at the politically unconscious, theopolitical level, the very problem that needs overcoming. pg. 40

J. Kameron Carter, race

Race’s Theological Account

J. Kameron Carter’s thesis:

My fundamental contention is that modernity’s racial imagination has its genesis in the theological problem of Christianity’s quest to sever itself from its Jewish roots. This severance was carried out in two distinct but integrated steps. First, Jews were cast as a race group in contrast to Western Christians, who with the important assistance of the discourses of Christian theology and philosophy, were also subtly and simultaneously cast as a race group. The Jews were the mirror in which the European and eventually the Euro-American Occident could religiously and thus racially conceive itself through the difference of Orientalism. In this way, Western culture began to articulate itself as Christian culture (and vice versa), but now–and this is the new movement–through the medium of a racial imagination. Second, having racialized Jews as a people of the Orient and thus Judaism as a “religion” of the East, Jews were then deemed inferior to Christians of the Occident or the West. Hence, the racial imagination (the first step) proved as well to be a racist imagination of white supremacy (the second step). Within the gulf enacted between Christianity and the Jews, the racial, which proves to be a racist, imagination was forged.

From Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter, pg. 4.