Thursday, May 1, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, MLK, black theology & Obama (4)

Bill Moyers' Interview with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, April 25, 2008.

Resuming the narrative: Wright reviews his life and times--his sojourn in the military, during which he attended President Johnson in the hospital, his changing perceptions of what the church is and should be, the dominance of white cultural superiority even in black institutions, which persisted until 1968, and so on. Then Wright denies that Black theology is a race-based theology, explaining the meaning of the church slogan "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian". His narrative makes sense from the perspective of the '60s, when the aggressive public assertion of black culture was a novel and bold move. However, the more one asserts "our culture", the more one is tempted to impose uniformity and conformity among its members. There is much more to consider between 1968 and 2008. But not to worry, says Wright: his church is multiracial and multicultural as well as unashamedly black.

Then Moyers and Wright get involved in a discussion of Bible stories, and Wright makes a number of proclamations about what God and the Bible tell us to do and not to do. Here the cherry-picking and brazen arbitrariness of the assertions are ridiculous. But Moyers is eating it up. The Bible stories and its teachings are universal, but oddly the God of a billion galaxies decided only to speak to one nationality lodged in a narrow patch of desert and the rest of the universe--maybe even the multiverse--has to accept all this bubba meises without proof. So, while interrogating verifiable human history, Wright opposes, to the false values of the state, fairy-tales about what God ordains. And when he enumerates the injustices done to various peoples by modern empires, including those committed by the United States, he converts these earthly insights into theological principles, and thus explains his remarks about the chickens coming home to roost on 9-11-01. There is indeed a cause-and-effect relationship between the actions of American foreign policy and the terrorist attacks, which can be explained in rational terms. "Chickens coming home to roost", though, is neither precise as an assertion nor does it explain anything. Wright is indignant about the willful misrepresentation of his perspective and his church, recounting all the social services and good works the church performs, complaining that his vilifiers know nothing of the black church. Yet an outsider not just to the black community but to religious institutions can't help but notice the schizoid nature of Wright's mind as he feels compelled to translate rational knowledge into theological mumbo-jumbo and practical social service and political action into a supernatural mission, just as surely as he originally sought to make religion relevant to the real world.

In the course of explaining his relationship with Obama, Wright says:
. . . he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of god about the things of God.
That's quite a cheeky assertion. And with what justification can Wright speak in the name of God about the things of God? Why not, without just being a politician, just speak of the things of the world as they are? His theology is already selective and politicized to the hilt.

It is also revealing how Wright justifies the crackpot fascist anti-Semite and black separatist Louis Farrakhan. He simply waves Farrakhan's ideology aside and says, well, look at all the great things he's accomplished, keeping black men off drugs, etc. etc. A purely opportunistic, pragmatic exculpation without any accountability for the ideology and institution of Farrakhan's gutter religion. But even more revealing is the corporate metaphor: "Louis Farrakhan is like E.F. Hutton. When Lewis Farrakhan speaks, black America listens. They may not agree with him, but they're listening." This assertion is idiotic on several counts. What does it mean to listen and not agree? Who says they're all listening? And if they do listen, then what does that say about their susceptibility to manipulation? What an absolutely corrupt justification!

Now get a grip on this:
Your theology determines one's anthropology. And how you see humans determines your sociology. To look at how we've come to see race, and in others of other races, based on our understanding of God who sees others as less than important. Less than my people. And where in our religious traditions are there passages in our sacred scriptures that are racist? They're in the Vedas, the Babylonian Talmud, they're in the Koran, they're in the Bible. How do we grapple with these passages in our sacred texts? The same way you grapple with Judges:19, where it's alright for a preacher to have a concubine and cut her up into 12 pieces. We gotta argue with our texts that are, as we've been struggling with, battling with, wrestling with, anti-Semitic. The Christian, "The Jews killed Jesus." No, we gotta come to grips with, you know, these texts were written by certain people at certain times with certain racist understandings of others who are different.
Well, the way to come to grips with these deficient sacred texts is to strip them of all authority and divine sanction, as these very admissions prove none of them can possibly be the word of God.

This man appears to have assassinated his own intelligence. So why was biracial, middle class, atheistical Barack Obama so impressed with him? A Harvard graduate couldn't do better than this? Naked pragmatism without rational accountability for one's nonsense--like attracting like?

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