Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Readings in "Race: A Theological Account" - Postlude and Index

"Maximus [the Confessor] enumerates five divisions within creation that have become distorted," including "humans against each other." It is the "last division, that between creature and Creator, [which] is the highest of the divisions and is the one that is at the heart of all the others.... Christ reintegrates human nature, enacting it no longer within an order of tyrranical division but, rather in an order of 'peaceful difference,' the one-many structure of creation...

A new story of origins, or of birth, is in Christ's flesh given to all. Hence, it is from inside Israel's covenantal story, rather than from some general humanism or cosmopolitanism, that Christ in bringing Israel's story to crescendo reintegrates the differences of creation ...

The Babel story tells of the confusion of language and identity that results from the refusal to hear YHWH's call and the resultant inability to speak rightly or in light of that call. The other story is that of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) in which one reads of the Pentecostal reimagining and reordering of language and identity on the basis of a renewed auditory capacity...

Walter Brueggemann
Walter Brueggemann offers a similar interpretation of the Babel story of Genesis:
The issue is not simply scattering ... [because] scattering may be either an act of punishment or the plan of salvation. Nor is the issue oneness ..., which may be the purpose of God or an act of resistance. Either unity or scatteredness has the possibility of being either obedient or disobedient. The issue is whether the world shall be organized for God's purpose of joy, delight, freedom, doxology, and caring. Such a world must partake of the unity God wills and the scattering God envisions. Any one-dimensional understanding of scattering denies God's vision for unity responsive to him. Any one-dimensional view of unity denies God's intent for the whole world as peopled by his many different peoples (Genesis, 100-101).

Maximus affirms something similar to Brueggemann ... [when he writes:]
It is as though they [the One and the Many] were drawn into an all-powerful center that had built into it the beginnings of the lines that go out from it and that gathers them all together (PG 91.1081B-C)...
[For Maximus,] Scripture repositions bodies inside the social space of Christ's Jewish flesh and [draws them] into the socio-theological space of his body, [so that] one is drawn into a new body politic."


In true Christian community, then, concludes Carter, God is "making the many one with himself but without in the act of unifying them confusing what is distinctive about the many."

- J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, pp. 347, 351, 364-366


To read the rest of this series summing up Carter's book, follow the index below. Thanks for reading along. I'd be happy to discuss any comments you might have so feel free to leave some.



  • 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
  • James Cone and "Theologizing Race"
  • Charles Long and "Signifying Race"
  • Interlude
  • A Theological Reading of Briton Hammon's 1760 "Narrative" 
  • A Theological Reading of Frederick Douglass's 1845 "Narrative" 
  • A Theological Reading of the Writings of Jarena Lee
  • Monday, December 30, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': A Theological Reading of the Writings of Jarena Lee

    This is the eleventh and last (apart from a postlude) in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. (To access prior chapters start here). In the third and final part of the book Carter has been offering a theological reading of three different accounts of slavery that come from black writers, showing how they sought to re-interpret their situation (to some degree) from within biblical-theological narratives of Christ. The first two authors were men in the 1700s and 1800s; the third is a nineteenth century woman named Jarena Lee.

    Jarena Lee's primary autobiographical narratives were her 1836 The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, A Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel and its republication (with additions) thirteen years later. About them Carter writes:

    "[T]he curtness of Lee's opening words, which narrate how she came to be a servant in a white household and how in that state of servanthood she was introduced into Christianity, mimes the general notion of the times: namely, that black existence can become visible only as it is inserted into the narrative of Euro-American civilization" (317). However, by inserting herself into the Psalmist's prayers and interpreting her life as "a black woman's sojourn to 'Zion'", Lee then gives a Pentecostal nuance to her conversion which serves as a "disremembering of her childhood" and "a particular remembering or reconstituting of it as well" (314, 318, see 328-329).

    Jarena Lee
    If "autobiography was for Augustine (and Hammon) a theological feat," so, as far as her story goes, "Lee theologically rereads the world [as well as] the self" by having it "sociopolitically replotted within the scriptural narrative" (323). In contrast with Douglass's narrative of the self-made black man, what Carter finds so interesting about Jarena Lee's "exegetical imagination" is that it constitutes "an ethical performance of a newly 'imagined community'" (323). He explains:

    "A nonmaterialist, mystical return to the solitary self, to the true and authentic individual, a return that leaves material structures in place as on takes mystical flight from them is what one is left with on [some] readings of how spirituality functions in Lee's discourse.... [But h]er discourse follows and in its own way displays the divine economy of God's incarnation. Far from being nonmaterialist, this economy is God taking up the structures of the world into God's own life and transfiguring those structures according to Jesus' cruciform existence. Put another way, Lee's discourse is 'mystical' because it follows the mystery of the incarnation, rather than the disembodiment of modern rationality and racial thinking" (326-327).

    "What is interesting about Lee's narration of her call to preach is that she does not argue for her 'right' to preach in terms of a liberal discourse of 'rights.' Instead she makes a Christological case for her call as a woman to preach," via the Pentecostal birth of a new community invoking the prophecies of Joel (339, see 329).

    What it comes down to is "life in God's covenant. If Douglass's discourse was unable to articulate this new form of life together to the detriment most negatively of black female flesh, then Lee's discourse is more successful. This is because her narrative of the self is embedded within a fuller Christology. According to this fuller vision of Christ, the flesh of Jesus is a social reality, a space into which one enters by the action of the Spirit. As the one who transfigures social reality by drawing creation into the space of Christ's flesh, the Spirit of Christ is the architect of a new mode of life together, that of the ecclesia, the church of Christ" (338).

    Sunday, December 29, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': A Theological Reading of Frederick Douglass's 1845 'Narrative'

    This is the tenth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. (To access prior chapters start here).

    In the third and final part of the book Carter looks at three different accounts of slavery that come from black writers who sought to re-interpret their situation (to some degree) from within biblical-theological narratives of Christ. The first was from the eighteenth century, the second is from the nineteenth: It is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. 

    In Carter's view, Frederick Douglass's Narrative reads "the dignity and the meaning of black life against the backdrop of Christ's passion"---which has the potential to be either "constructive" for the Christian imagination, or to be "a way of reinscribing the problem that needs overcoming precisely at the moment of [its] supposed ... exposure" (289-290). Unfortunately, although it exposes the harshness of slave-ownership, ultimately Carter thinks Douglass's story does more reinscribing than reconstructing.

    The impetus for Frederick Douglass's strike at liberation is the witnessed beating of his Aunt Esther by their overseer Mr. Plummer. It is a scene wherein "violence mediates (in)dignity," and the "articulacy of white existence" so typically "subject[s] black life to a violent 'hush'" (291). Except in this case the black witness is telling the story, and thus the white man "is shown to be the savage, indeed, 'a savage monster'" (292). Like Abel, Aunt Esther's "blood cries out," and issues forth in Douglass's eventual pseudo-redemption.

    Frederick Douglass
    This takes place one Easter morning, when plantation-owner Mr. Covey "sets out to whip Douglass for the weekend's indiscretions" and "Douglass fully resists him" (301). In Douglass's words, "from whence came the spirit I don't know," but "I seized Covey by the throat; and as I did so, I rose" (302). Thus Douglass is able to articulate his overcoming of the slave-master relationship in terms of Christian resurrection. It is a courageous refusal of the terms of the relationship, and yet, not to anachronistically discredit Douglass but to explore the theological moves at stake, Carter asks: To what avail?

    As Jenny Franchot argues, it is Aunt Esther's earlier suffering which propels Douglass's own "self-authentication" as victim, and later it is the foil of her feminine victimhood against which Douglass's masculine self-deliverance is cast (294-295). "By the time one gets to Douglass's account of his adolescent altercation with Covey," Carter writes, "there is a shift in how he deploys the image of Christ's passion. Christ is masculinized so that he is now the emblem of dignified manhood and, shall we say, strength over weakness: Christ overcomes the feminine and thus liberates the race .... into the self-made strength of masculinity" (296).

    "Insofar as this is the case," argues Carter, "Douglass, in the inflection of blackness, simply mirrors the problem of whiteness back to itself. From this one sees in a most poignant way how Douglass has repeated the problematic oppositional logic.... [h]aving [only] inverted the structures of power and authority" (303). Thus, "to the extent that he barricades himself within the citadel of the self-made, Emersonian-Franklinian man, Douglass remains trapped within the self-enclosure of the black masculine that the white masculine created" (312).

    As mentioned, the point here is not necessarily to critique Douglass himself, but to shed light on the way that he, like many after him, was simply unable to "see how in the flesh of Christ crucified a wholly new social arrangement" could be "inaugurated" (306). In Carter's words: "Christian thought has tended to ventriloquize the American social order rather than witness to an alternative form of sociopolitical existence" (307). It thus fails to see Easter as "an alternate mode of being in the world," and "the cross of Christ [as] the revelation of power as the exchange of love" (305-306).

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': A Theological Reading of Briton Hammon's 1760 'Narrative'

    This is the ninth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. Here is where we've come so far:

    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
    James Cone and "Theologizing Race"
    Charles Long and "Signifying Race"
    Interlude

    In the third and final part of the book Carter looks at three different accounts of slavery by black writers who sought to re-interpret their situation (to some degree) from within biblical-theological narratives of Christ. The first is from the eighteenth century, and it features Briton Hammon, whose tale of pseudo-liberation centres on the theme of a Christmas rebirth.

    It is notable for Carter that "Hammon's tale, along with a number of early writings by black authors, was dictated to, even cowritten with, whites" (267). This explains the "pseudo" in "pseudo-liberation" (my words), as Carter would have us see.

    The Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man begins with Hammon's departure for a sea voyage "On Monday, 25th Day of December, 1747, with the leave of my Master." As Carter notes, we are not told why he departs (275). After the experience of a conditioned liberty and considerable peril, it ends "almost Thirteen Years" later with his return to General Winslow of New England, his "good old master."

    In the course of the Narrative Carter counts four "groups [who] are placed in an unfavourable light: the so-called savage Indians, the Spanish, ... the Spanish governor of Cuba ... [and] the British. Although Hammon escapes the Havanan governor on an English warship, out of his element on the angry seas, "even with the British, Hammon remains in need of deliverer" (278-279).

    Although the freedom to take this voyage counts as a kind of (baptismal) rebirth for the outgoing slave, for literary historian William Andrews "Hammon's [scripted] message is clear: 'Let the slave stray outside the known world of stratified white-over-black relationships ... and he will risk a life in limbo. He will become a type of the lost soul, disconnected from civilization's preserving institutions, sustained solely by the survival instinct" (269-270).

    Thus, writes Carter: "The genre of spiritual autobiography affords the Hammon story a way to reconceptualize black existence by joining it to the divine economy in Jesus of Nazareth... [locating the] meaning ... of black existence beyond the confining structures of race" (273). However, he concludes, with Hammon's "'miraculous' return to his original master" we have to ask: "[W]ho is 'Jesus Christ' in the economy of the narrative if not General Winslow himself, who like the Son of God departs from his halcyon abode to enter upon a messianic mission of redeeming sinners---like Hammon?" (279).

    While Hammon does experience something of a release from white supremacy, he is only able to do so provisionally---that is, while remaining within it, and thus ultimately sustaining it.

    Friday, December 27, 2013

    Readings in 'Race: A Theological Account' (Interlude)

    This is the eighth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. If you want to catch up, here is a link to the last post (and the ones before that): Readings in "Race": Charles Long and "Signifying Race"

    After some conversation with varied figures such as Cornel West, Michel Foucault, Immanuel Kant, Albert Raboteau, James Cone, and Charles Long, in an "Interlude on Christology and Race" Carter discusses "Gregory of Nyssa as Abolitionist Intellectual," first summarizing the book thus far as follows.

    ............................................................................................


    "In part I of this book ... I argue that behind the modern problem of race is the problem of how Christianity and Western civilization came to be thoroughly identified with each other, a problem linked to the severance of Christianity from its Jewish roots... [In this] Christianity became a vehicle for the religious articulation of whiteness, though increasingly masked to the point of near invisibility....

    In part II, I offer a reading ... of the fundamental problem: how white intellectual formation is in fact a religious, cultural, colonializing, and colonizing formation. In other words, whiteness as a theological problem has been insufficiently treated. At its heart is is a problematic vision of the human as closed within itself, sealed off from possibilities of cultural intimacy and thus reciprocity. Rather than the site of intimacy, culture becomes the site of closure and containment....

    To set up the arguments ... in the final part of this book in which I consider how New World Afro-Christianity redirects modern racial discourse precisely by redirecting modern Christianity, this interlude brieflly engages an aspect of the thought of the fourth-century theologian ... Gregory of Nyssa.... [whose] abolitionism expresses an exegetical imagination that reads against rather than within the social order" (229-231).


    When Gregory of Nyssa discusses Genesis 1's "male and female created He them," he interjects: "'I presume that every one knows that this is a departure from the Prototype; for "in Christ Jesus," as the Apostle says, "there is neither male nor female."' Yet the phrase declares that man is thus divided.... 

    [N]otice what Gregory is saying," continues Carter: "He is saying that the historical Jesus Christ---who while being one individuated human person among many is the eternal Son of the Trinity---is, in fact, in his historical concreteness and particularity at the same time the many of human existence.... 

    Thus, as David Bentley Hart says in his interpolation of Gregory: 'The "essence" of the human is none other than the plenitude of all men and women, [and therefore] every essentialism is rendered empty: all persons express and unfold the human not as shadows of an undifferentiated idea, but in their concrete multiplicity and hence in all the intervals and transitions belonging to their differentiation; and so human "essence" can only be an "effect" of the whole'" (246-247, emphasis Carter's).

    As Gregory said: "It is not nature but power that has divided humankind into servants and masters" (250).

    Thursday, December 05, 2013

    Readings in "Race": Charles Long and "Signifying Race"

    This is the seventh in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account--a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along.  

    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
    James Cone and "Theologizing Race"


    "The hermeneutical problem that is America is this: How is America to be narrated?... Getting the 'story' right is not a matter of simply adding 'the invisible ones,' as [Charles] Long says, 'as addenda to a European dominated historical method,' which was Raboteau's plea. Neither is a methodological inversion the solution, one in which black ideological values, or the values of whoever the oppressed group may be, dominate. For Long, the problem is more profound, and thus a solution must be more subtle and nuanced... 'The problem has to do with the pattern, the network, the nexus onto which the facts of ... history are interpreted'" (213-214).

    Charles H. Long
    "Cone launched his theological enterprise as a challenge to Christian theology from the stance of (black) power. But power itself, as Long sees it, was insufficiently interrogated in black theology... [and] as a matter of methodological procedure, black theology, as a distinctly Christian mode of intellectual reflection, does not ascend to the moment ... which as a moment 'precedes the master-slave dichotomy'" (219-220).

    "Central to my first concern regarding how Long interprets existence under the rubric of encounter... is the question of whether in such an outlook the other qua other really appears in its own ... distinctness... But additionally, I question how the notion of 'encounter' is itself being understood. For if the work of encounter is merely to bring the subject to self-realization ... then encounter ... amounts to a kind of solipsism... This means that there really is not confrontation with the other as such" (232).

    What is needed, suggests Carter, "is a positivity of the other and, therefore, a positivity of difference as such. Long's interpretation of Afro-Christianity disavows [this] ... partly, I think, because he has made the decision that the deity understood in Christian terms as Trinitarian does not positively and actually encounter the creature. Rather, the invocation of a Triune God, from his history of religions perspective, is an expression of religious consciousness.... [W]hat goes unasked by Long is this: Is there any significance, as [their] testimonies would have it, to whom black folks, in the examples given, pray?" (225).

    "What is common to modernity's pseudotheological aesthetic of whiteness and to Long's aesthetic of the black religious consciousness is that neither aesthetic 'speaks in tongues' (Acts 2), neither knows how to inhabit languages not its own" (227).

    "Trinitarianism, [properly] understood, renders intelligible the phenomenon of prayer as genuine conversation--that is, as the conversation that decenters tyranny [and] power as the ground of existence. It is the conversation that creates new possibilities of existence" (226).