Monday, November 11, 2013

Readings in 'Race': James Cone and "Theologizing Race"

This is the sixth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account--as series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and for the interest of those who are tracking along. This book has so far felt like an intense and profitable preamble. The best feels yet to come.  

If you want to catch up, here are the bookmarks so far:

The Prelude
Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"
Albert Raboteau and the Telling of History


"When Christianity was introduced to slaves, Africans converted it... by refusing to accept any version of the gospel that did not harmonize with the African spirit of freedom.... The God in black theology is the God of and for the oppressed, the God who comes into view in their liberation'" (James Cone, quoted on pp. 157, 165).

"[B]lack theology, understood from this vantage, gestures toward a theology of the nations, one that emanates from and is consonant with a Christian theology of Israel.... [T]he breakthrough in [Cone's] thought [is the perception that] the humanity that the God of Israel assumes in Jesus of Nazareth is the location from which God secures and affirms all of creation in its historical unfoldings.... Jesus' Jewishness is not racially arrayed against non-Jews, but, rather, is the perpetual sign of God's embrace of Jew and non-Jew ... alike" (158).

"Cone is acutely sensitive to the problem of abstraction in theology.... In Barthian fashion, [he writes]: 'To talk of God or of man without first talking about Jesus Christ is to engage in idle, abstract words which have no relation to the Christian experience of revelation" (160-161).

James Cone ('Black Theology and Black
Power,' 1969; 'God of the Oppressed,' 1975;
'The Cross and the Lynching Tree,' 2011)
"What is difficult to articulate in Barthian terms is how creaturely truth participates in God's truth.... Barth's answer is that Jesus Christ is the connection. Yet, this in turn raises the question of the connection between Christ and creation, which includes the recipients of revelation, their social location, and the historical exigencies marking the reception of revelation" (175-176).

"I am not fully convinced by Hunsinger's reading of Barth on this point, nor, I venture to suggest, would Cone be. For the question is not whether our existential moment of faith is dialectically included in the objectivity of Jesus Christ; rather, it is whether the reception of the luminous mystery of faith itself ... has a history" (179).

Cone's contention is that, "under the ever-greater grace of God, creation truly contributes something to its relationship with the Triune God; for its contribution is always already effected under the aspect of the Son's active contribution, as it were, to his eternal generation from the Father" (178).

"From Tillich and from Barth, Cone inherits the theological and philosophical problem of how to envisage the I in non-oppositional relationship to the other. In Barth's case, the problem prevents him from being able to conceive of the positivity of the world and therefore of how it can reveal God. It also has the unintended consequence, in his doctrine of election, of leading to a supersession of Israel. This in many respects occurs because Israel, as an index of creation in its opposition to God, stands over and against Christ" (190).

"This oppositional struggle ... registers in the language of courage, which Cone takes up [into black theology's account of black existence] without sufficiently distancing himself from these specific problems... Consequently, Cone does not challenge the way in which I-ness as a structure of identity-in-self-possession ... repeats the problem.... Tragically, [then], for all its good--and there is much to celebrate...--black liberation theology's attempt philosophically and theologically to salvage the blackness that modernity has constructed by converting it into a site of cultural power ... is not radical enough" (190-192).

"[W]hat is needed is an understanding of Christian existence as ever-grounded in the Jewish, nonracial flesh of Jesus and thus as an articulation of the covenantal life of Israel.... In short, only a Christian theology of Israel establishes the framework within which to overcome the theological problem of whiteness" (192-193).

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Readings in 'Race': Raboteau and the Telling of History

It has been a few months since my last entry in this series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account, but I have still been slowly and surely making my way through it and do want to keep it up. A few readers have said they found it interesting, and since it helps me keep track of the argument, I'm going to carry on. It is proving to be a rich and important book.

 If you want to catch up it should not take too long. Here are the bookmarks so far: 


The Prelude
Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"


"Raboteau, in his post-Slave Religion literature, begins to clear up the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of black faith. He does so by suggesting a theology of history that ... signals a disruption of the colonizing gaze of race" (127).

"History challenges religious faith in its 'demonstration to believers of the historicity of their religious doctrines and institutions. In this it serves an important critical and constructive function for religious faith. On the one hand, it does the critical work of being a guardian against 'any religion's tendency to present a triumphalist myth of itself as a timeless, universalist institution preserving the unchanging deposit of doctrine transcending time and disparate cultures.' But on the other hand, history aids theology in the contructive work of '[reminding] Christian believers of the scandal of the Incarnation, the historical specificity and contingency of Jesus and of the 'Jesus movement' in its origins and subsequent development.' In short, in both its critical and constructive roles, 'history promotes an appreciation of [the unique]' and the particular, and thus does important faith work, if not theological work" (143).

Albert J. Raboteau
('Slave Religion' - 1978;
'Fire in the Bones' - 1995)
Raboteau asks: "How can you find a vantage point within history from which you can judge the significance of human events?... History functions as a form of self-definition. In its pages we read ourselves" (144-145).

Raboteau "work[s] toward what might be termed an incarnational understanding of faith and history... It is clear that humanity here is not a 'thing' or a 'nature.' It is a mode of inhabiting the world... Jesus of Nazareth activates human existence in a particular way, under a peculiar or unique set of dispositions.... What makes the human being distinct among creatures is that the human is conscious of its status as creature and what this status entails... Infinite Being ... reveals that [it] can be displayed through the medium of finite, creaturely Being... [Therefore] Being--and here I am speaking specifically of creaturely, finite, and therefore contingent Being--properly understood is dynamic (rather than static)" (150, 153).

"Jesus Christ in his particularity is a communal person, the ground of a full-orbed body politic. This is thoroughly consonant, says Raboteau, with African spirituality's understanding of the self as a web of relationships... [Furthermore, n]ascent Afro-Christianity expresses the reality of the person Jesus Christ and his covenantal ... existence as a Jew insofar as 'the slave ... resembled Him more than [did] the [slave]master'" (154-155).

"[T]he theological reading I am advancing of Raboteau's work and for the way in which I read James Cone's and Charles H. Long's work ... is this: creatures present themselves or are visible in such a way that their visibility cannot be captured or enslaved without a massive and violent distortion of their existence as creatures.... The journey of history and faith 'leads not only to knowledge but to compassion'; it is the search for transformed social relations, the anticipation of and yet continued quest for a different way of being in the world. For Raboteau, that way of being in the world is the way of prayer" (154-155).

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Privatization of Childhood

Lately when I've been driving our kids to evening practices I've been lamenting the privatization of childhood. When I was a lad you could be on a sports team or practice an instrument mainly by staying after school. Now instead of all of us putting our funds in a pot and making these things accessible and keeping our evenings largely free, we have slimmed back public school, trimmed down the arts and sports, and made it so you have to have money and time to burn all over town just so your child can play and practice with the other kids. And if your child is good at something, wow is it going to cost you to give them opportunity to play at higher levels.