Monday, June 11, 2007

Is God a white racist?

Jones, William R. Is God a White Racist?: A Preamble to Black Theology. New York: Doubleday, 1973.

Whatever else you might say, anyone who could come up with a book title like Is God a White Racist? deserves a medal. Jones contains all the contradictions of a religious humanism: he dwells ideologically within the parameters of religious mythology while attempting to clean it up at the same time and make it answer to more enlightened needs. Except for the fact that it forces theologians to face up to certain questionable features of their superstitions, the reinterpretation of said superstition does not topple its cognitive authority, but perpetuates the imprisonment of intellectual energy within ideology.

The demythologization and higher criticism of religion has a history with a certain nobility in its earlier stages. Spinoza already did this to Judaism, taking considerable risk in an era before this was permissible. Left Hegelianism made a decisive historical contribution, following from the ambiguities of Hegel's position to David Strauss (also passing through Heinrich Heine), to the revolutionization of philosophy itself as well as religious criticism via the Young Hegelians from Bruno Bauer to Ludwig Feuerbach to Max Stirner and Karl Marx. However, not recognizing Marx's rupture of the closed circle of ideology, subsequent liberalizing or modernizing of religions tends to lapse into equivocating make-believe, the philosophy of "as if", and the exploitation of the malleability of symbolism. Religious liberalism and liberation theology have been pulling a sleight-of-hand for some time, but now religious fascism resurfaces to topple the liberal/radical facade.

In addition to the great title, Jones pushes the envelope on theodicy as the deciding issue in theology: whose side is God on? If you're interested in theology, you will find his pushing has made an impact and holds some interest. At the end of the day, if you have any sense you will find that secular humanism beats out the humanocentric theism Jones poses as the only other viable alternative. So maybe you can escape after all.

In his writings Jones has performed one other service: he coined a term that is absolutely hilarious— Whitianity!

To be thorough, he should have called its theological tradition Honkeology.

Jones was influenced most notably by existentialism and post-Holocaust Jewish theology. Albert Camus' The Rebel suggests that Golgotha can also be interpreted as divine misanthropy. Hence occasions of suffering—events in the world— lend themselves equally to opposing interpretations, referred to by Jones as multievidentiality. (8) Jones reviews skepticism about God's benevolence in black American literature. Especially notable is a passage in Nella Larsen's Passing. (38-9) Part I, then, sets up the issue of divine racism.

Part II is an internal critique of black theology, particularly of Joseph Washington, James Cone, Albert Cleage, Major Jones, J. Deotis Roberts. The non-religious reader will probably be least interested in this section.

Part III—Toward a Black Theodicy for Today—is the punchline, the most important section for those not sympathetic to the subject matter. In this section, Chapter XI—Toward a Prolegomenon to Black Theology (169-184)—is the chapter you most want to read. Jones argues that only two models for black liberation theology are viable—secular humanism and humanocentric theism. (172) Secular humanism is a viable option, but Jones prefers to explore the possibilities of humanocentric theism as the last hope for theism.

Jones was influenced by the parallel experience of Jewish suffering, the Holocaust being the last straw. He undertakes an analysis of the work of Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, in the balance of this chapter. (175-184) Rubinstein rejects the standard conception of God and God's role in history. God is really the cannibal goddess Earth! The only Messiah is death. Jones takes up the challenge to show that this alternate theodicy is not the only alternative. Rubinstein rejects secular humanism. Jones refutes this rejection, citing Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew. Jones cannot accept Rubinstein's pessimistic conclusions.

The final chapter—XII: Humanocentric Theism: A Theistic Framework for Ethnic Suffering— is Jones' alternative. The logic of his position is more interesting to me than the position itself. It removes the charge of white racism by stripping God of his sovereignty over human history. It also removes any excuses for the white oppressor. It also removes the option of quietism for the oppressed. (195)

Further references:

Professor Emeritus, Dr. William R. Jones

Toward an Interim Assessment of Black Theology by William R. Jones

Theism and Religious Humanism: The Chasm Narrows by William R. Jones, The Christian Century, May 21, 1975, pp. 520-525.

Is God a White Racist?: A Preamble to Black Theology by William R. Jones reviewed by William Muehl

“Is God a White Racist?”, sermon by Rev. Dan Harper

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