On Being Anti-Christian

As our discussion of J. Kameron Carter’s Race proceeds, I’d like, in the spirit of “halftime analysis,” to repost a lengthy comment I made on this post. The question at issue was Carter’s treatment of Foucault, which some took as critical, and some as an attempt to draw out a certain problem built in to modernity. What makes this intriguing for me, and worthy of raising again, is the question of the position one adopts regarding the relation between radical criticism and theology. Is radical criticism possible apart from consideration of theology? And if one answers no, then in what sense? That is, even if one accepts the necessity of considering theology’s relevance for radical critique, is it actually necessary to save some aspect of theology from this critique? Here’s the comment:

“Let me try to recap and extend Adam’s point: the narrative of Israel that Foucault says cannot resist biopolitics is a Christian narrative of Israel. So in this sense is criticism as nothing to do with Jewish existence, it has to do with Christian existence.

This seems to be agreed on by all here. If so, then we can agree Foucault is actually criticizing an effect of supersessionism. So Foucault is, in fact, anti-Christian … But mabe not anti-Christian enough. No doubt the case. So this i think means the question is how to be more adequatel anti-Christian.

Foucault, it is being said, “surfaces” the question of Jewish existence. Right. So the question of how to be full anti-Christian has to do with the question of Jewish existence. Being anti-Christian means looking at the manner Jewish existence is devalorized by Christianity.

This is of course a modern problem. But not just modern. There’s a pre-history to it, one that points to figures such as Irenaeus, who locates Israel within Christ. Or to Paul. So doesn’t the question of anti-Christian and Jewish existence push into the ver origin of theology? … that is, the distinction between Israel-as-Jesus and Jewish existence (with its own reading of Israel)?

This is perhaps another matter, but not completely. I think the pushback on the Foucault interpretation is because it could be seen as a diversionary tactic – Foucault may not be enough, but if so why go after Foucault … why not go after Christian theology? In other words it seems like the burden might be getting put on Foucault when it would better be put on theology. Foucault “surfaces” the problem, as the modern secular (if we follow Anidjar the Christian secular) buries it, but isn’t it Christianity that produced it?

These are the questions i think that are emerging here. Especially because of the theology vs. pseudotheology distinction – what would be a theology that responds to Jewish existence, not just to Israel-as-fulfiled-in-Christ … This, again, is why the distinction between “Israel” and Jewish existence is important. And note the work of someone like Seth Schwarz, who argues that Jewish existence, as we now know it, defines itself quite directly in opposition to Christian theolog — i.e. the theology of the era of Irenaeus & co., i.e. right from the beginning of Christian theology.

(Jay, I know ou’re now working on Christology, so these are likely live questions for you; for my part, i’ve advanced a stronger version of the above claim in my own forthcoming book, so these matters are central for me also.)”

So, open question, and feel free to use the comment if specificity is desired: If one wishes, today, and in view of the sort of critical perspective mentioned above, to do theology, then on what basis? What’s the motivation? What conditions the subjectivity of the producer of theology?

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59 Responses to “On Being Anti-Christian”

  1. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I guess one aspect of this question is methodological: can you argue that the tradition has gone badly wrong, including sometimes from the very beginning, and still be doing Christian theology?

    (I would argue strongly that Politics of Redemption is a properly theological book, although it’s not important to me that all my work about theology be theology — but it’s not a good test case for the question I pose here.)

  2. dbarber Says:

    Yeah, that’s the sort of thing I’m wondering. I don’t want to be crudely chronological regarding the origin of a “fall” of (Christian) theology, but one of the issues that emerges in my comment is the decision of “when” to locate the failure of theology. If the problem is supersession, then it seems hard to address the problem starting with modernity. One would have to go back to the origins of supersessionism, which we can quibble about when that it is (i’ll call out Paul), but it’s certainly prior to modernity.

    So my point, i guess, is: let’s go after supersessionism, but let’s also think about where we stand when we do so. For those who want to make a _theological_ critique of supersessionism, then I’m genuinely curious to know what the “position” of such theology is?

    _Politics of Redemption_ is clearly dealing with theology, but the way i’d put it is that it’s dealing with theological material, rather than speaking from a strictly theological position. However you’d define the position of the book, that position would include a pretty broad acceptance of critiques made against theology. The thing that’s hard for me to get a handle on, with Carter, is where the critique begins from. Is this dealing with theological material, or is it beginning from within theology? If the latter, then what’s the theology that’s immune from critique? (And I’d like to hear how people are reading him on that.)

    So i guess this post could have been titled (if i wanted to speak academic-ese), “The Political Stakes of Speaking About / From Theology: So Out that it’s In?”

  3. gregw Says:

    I appreciated Dan’s comments the first time I read them. Carter’s work on Foucault is interesting not because it is first and foremost a criticism of Foucault but a reading of the ‘anti-Christian’ Foucault (as Dan put it) as seeing what Christian theology struggled(es)/refused(es) to see. This isn’t to use Foucault as a diversion but to recognize that even in his unique and necessary criticism he reinscribes a racial reading over a covenental one (Race, 75). So, Dan, I agree that Foucault ‘surfaces’ the question of Jewish existence produced by Christianity in a particular way.

    The question that seems to be ‘surfacing’ here is: can there be a Christianity that understands itself as produced (and remaining) within Jewish existence? That is, must Christianity–by definition–be supersessionist? Boyarin and Yoder suggest that this debate can be held (even if it means arguing about the “very beginning,” as Adam asks). It seems to me that all this is a very different question than whether or not one must take a particular theological stance (i.e., orthodox, Christian, atheist, etc.). Yoder an interesting case in that he argues from his own corner of (Radical) ‘Reformation’ Christianity, while reading Roman Catholics and Jews (for example) quite sympathetically… In fact, I’m tempted to say that Yoder argues exactly that “the tradition has gone badly wrong, including sometimes from the very beginning” and is doing Christian theology.

    Having just read your last comment, Dan, the difference is that Yoder is quite explicit about where he stands, whereas Carter (I think) avoids being too explicit from the outset because he’s taking on such a broad argument and doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed from any quarter before the broad sweep of what he’s doing is out there…

    Thanks to all for the work on the book event and the great discussion!

  4. Hill Says:

    With regard to the question of “when did the fall of Christianity take place?” If one is inclined to answer that it went badly in some respects from the very beginning, then what exactly was it a fall from? It is so difficult to avoid declension narratives, but if one is committed to a metaphor involving a “fall,” what is the corresponding Garden of Eden?

  5. dbarber Says:

    Greg, I’m more or less agreed about Yoder, a lot of my work in fact is invested in this possibility, including an upcoming text that includes an extended look at Yoder and Boyarin on this. Not completely sure supersessionism’s avoided by Yoder, but what i love about Yoder is his honesty about the problem. And his willingness to follow that all the way back to the origin. That seems absolutely right.

    Hill, yes, that’s the question for the theologian! Perhaps the “Eden” could be liberation, freedom from debt, jubilee, etc? (I call it disapora, though i’m not sure how many are on my team.)

  6. Hill Says:

    But the thing about Eden is that it’s a place that existed once, but something bad happened resulting in its loss. So presuming that Christian theology is at least partially “fallen,” what is it fallen from? If that question can’t be answered, then either the metaphor of a “fall” is unhelpful or Christian theology has been uniformly destructive.

  7. gregw Says:

    Dan, I look forward to reading your upcoming work on Boyarin and Yoder. Agreed about Yoder’s honesty. I would think that Christians would want to say that Jesus the Palestinian Jew is the origin…

  8. Tim McGee Says:

    I think some of the confusion here is over multiple meanings and uses of the terms Christianity, theology, religion, and other related ones. To quote Anidjar’s definition:

    “Much more than an idea, Christianity is a massive institution, the sum total of philosophical and scientific, economic and political achievements, discursive, administrative, and institutional accomplishments, the singularity and specificity of which are not to be doubted (“culture and imperialism,” “societies for, rather than against, the state,” and so forth)” (_Semites_, 44).

    I think something like this is behind Carter’s discussion in many places, but that isn’t the only use of the term ‘Christian’ or ‘theology’ in the book, or in these discussions. For instance, when talking about various other figures–like Fanon, Morrison, or Wright–doing theology, I think this vision of theology follows from the idea developed out of Maximus (and also Bonhoeffer), where Christ’s body is the space of creation and hence a social space. From this perspective, when Fanon critiques the imperial pseudo-theology, he is doing theological work, and when he offers up his own vision of humanistic love, Fanon is articulating the contours of this Christological social space beyond or outside confessional boundaries, and thus doing theology in another sense.

  9. dbarber Says:

    I hear what you’re saying, i think. My curiosity, though, is why insist that Fanon is doing theological work? Why not say that theology sought to do, but failed to do, the work that Fanon did?

    Or: What would _not_ be theological work? Pseudo-theology, of course … but does that mean that everything comes down to being either theology or pseudo-theology?

    My hunch, as I go through this book for the second time for our reading now, is that everything keeps getting traced back to theology … so if, to use your example, Fanon calls for love, then that’s seen as an extension of Christ’s love. I guess I just don’t see why that connection needs to be made. That it’s possible to make, ok, but why make that connection if Fanon’s account is not explicitly theological.

  10. Tim McGee Says:

    And I don’t want to derail the conversation, but I thought I’d add that I am sympathetic to the Barthian line that would not be so interested in locating the historical point of a fall but in questioning the notions of such a pristine origin (or present, or historical future), especially as this “Eden” becomes the organizing principle of our desires. Barth has no problem saying that Christian history is a series of failures, falls, departures, etc. with occasional interruptions along the way, and I think the point is not so much a pessimism about sin but instead an openness to the fragility of human love (such that our desires are not oriented by a mission to produce ourselves or form others into iterations of “the good” (“Eden”), but instead directed towards the vulnerability and fragility of human love held open by God’s unwavering commitment to us in Christ that is, in the terms of Christian doctrine, called the forgiveness of sins).

    Dan–have you posted more of your thoughts on diaspora?

  11. dbarber Says:

    I’ve got a little bit on disapora in my essay in _The New Yoder_, but the main thing is a book i have coming out with Cascade, _On Diaspora: Christianity, Religion, and Secularity_. It should be out by the fall.

  12. Guido Nius Says:

    What hill says is I think crucial. I’m not a theologian but the image of ‘falling from grace’ seems pretty central to Christianity (& it is very central to a lot of Western atheism such as in most anarchism). The image of the ‘fall’ is linked to a pervasive cultural pessimism that holds that however much we battle on, it is in vain until such time as we are liberated (at which point in time it will happen that those who have indeed battled on will be redeemed). If we would drop all of the falling and focus on the rising, wouldn’t we be de facto in a better place?

  13. ken oakes Says:

    I think that my question would be similar to Hill’s: are there trajectories of explaining and describing the Christ event in the New Testament that you think are more helpful than Paul (James, Matthew?) with regards to the problem of supercessionism? Does the problem lie with Paul or with some of the basic claims of the early Christian/Jewish communities themselves (Jesus was one who spoke with unparelled authority, announced the impending Kingdom, was the Messiah, was resurrected by the Father, etc.)? You mention that Carter is working on Christology at the moment, so it would also be interesting to hear what he thinks.

  14. Tim McGee Says:

    I don’t have much at stake in claiming that Fanon’s work is theological per se and am find saying it has theological reverberations, openings towards a theological reading, theological traction, or some other phrase. I think one motivation for providing these “theological” readings (of Fanon) or accounts (of race) is to bring up is to highlight how racialized modernity is a kind of Christian social space, which means that if theology is going to have a future, it must undergo a deep alteration in its trajectory and performance. I know I don’t want to jettison theology but instead make a claim to read Fanon and others theologically because of the reality of Jesus Christ.

  15. dbarber Says:

    Hill, did my answer in the 7:07 comment not indicate enough of a “place”?

    Ken, in my book I’ll talk about “Christian declaration” in terms of enemy-love, liberation, etc., in the affirmative. I’m not sure this is a “place” but it’s a strong tendency, and a good one, around which many Christian texts are oriented. But I think the problem that Christian theology runs into is identity. So _perhaps_ that problem is there in earlier texts, but it first becomes explicit, i think, in the Pauline question of defining the identity of being “in Christ.” I would think of all this in terms of tendencies, rather than in terms of “once there was this pure space.” Furthermore, insofar as we’re looking at an Eden, that Eden is certainly not Christianity’s (or its theology’s) possession. The idea that it is, is the “bad” tendency. And I suppose that’s the tendency that I worry about in the idea that everything boils down to (Christian) theology or pseudotheology.

  16. Scott Prather Says:

    Dan,

    Would you be happier if Carter (or those making similar fundamental claims about theology) simply added perspectival qualifiers: e.g., if they (always) said something along the lines of: “when Fanon (et al) makes such a gesture toward love, or this kind of social space, that is from my perspective [or the perspective of this/my tradition], a christological expression?”

    Would saying this often, and explicitly, at least implicitly put in play the claim that what is at issue is a certain christological form of thought, rather than primarily the traditions/perspectives out of which such thought is produced?

  17. Scott Prather Says:

    Or, to say it another way — would such qualifiers flatten the playing field, as it were, such that *all* traditions/perspectives are capable of and in some sense “theological” (insofar as they’re narrating social meaning/purpose/value, etc), but such only become “bad” or “good”, *from a Christian perpsective*, when they touch on or detract from a certain christological form?

  18. dbarber Says:

    “Would saying this often, and explicitly, at least implicitly put in play the claim that what is at issue is a certain christological form of thought, rather than primarily the traditions/perspectives out of which such thought is produced?”

    I think that would be good, insofar as it would then make evident that there is a decision being made, in spite of a tradition’s failures, to keep the (in this example) Christological form of thought. Which would also raise the question of: why make that decision?

    Again, to return to our book event, there seems to be an assumption that because the problem is theological (or “pseudotheological”) the response must be theological. Maybe, but that would need to be argued for, and how that works, etc. So to foreground, as you’re proposing, these qualifiers, is to make it much harder to avoid providing that argument.

  19. Tim McGee Says:

    “here seems to be an assumption that because the problem is theological (or “pseudotheological”) the response must be theological.”

    I think you are correct to pick up a tension here, for there is a sense in which, given that “all have died in Christ” (2 Cor 5), the Christological element is determinative (and thus the response to the problem is theological). Yet, I want to guard this approach from a kind of Rad. Orthodoxy whereby Xianity now has a cognitive privilege so that it and it alone can provide the space for alternative organization of identity, space, etc. The attention to our place within Israel helps prevent this kind of production of Christian identity and thought as the guarantee of or mechanism for producing this future space. I think it also might explain this kind of generous “welcoming in” of other thoughts forms (so reading Fanon as a kind of theologian). Christian theology–as Gentile theology–is itself not the articulation of its own space or its own future but is instead a reflection upon the surprising, scandalous, and joyful experience of finding oneself joined into the space and future of a people who are not your own (and the weakness of your position in this space as you recall that most of the people here don’t recognize your right to be here, joined to them, and that your “argument” that God has done this rests on a very unusual story about a failed Messiah). Given Anidjar’s work on the Christian secular and the formation of religion (also Masuzawa), one has another basis for the desire to bypass certain disciplinary boundaries between Christianity, religion(s), secularity, and so forth (as these boundaries were part of the formation and self-articulation of the supercessionist project of Christian imperialism).

  20. Scott Prather Says:

    Tim — “The attention to our place within Israel helps prevent this kind of production of Christian identity and thought as the guarantee of or mechanism for producing this future space”

    I take this as an insightful reading of Carter’s intent; but I think the question Dan is pressing is whether Carter’s claims about (pseudo)theology are nevertheless assuming that, to think/identify the real (theo)political problem, all thinkers/persons must think/express themselves within this specific locus of attention (“our place within Israel”, with the “our” being christologically universal). If so, then the claim can be read as a claim that the true (theo)political problem is narratable only from within this (Christian) narrative,

    I’m inclined to agree with your reading, but as *one way* of naming the problem of the social whole or reading the human situation. If this form of attention (to “our place within Israel) is simply one way of conceptually getting at what is primarily a practical/political problem, then the impulse to narratival control of expression of this problem might, it seems, be somewhat mitigated.

  21. Adam Kotsko Says:

    So here’s something that doesn’t help in this discussion: theological jargon! The advocates of theology seem to just slip into reciting theological code, without saying what it’s supposed to do. If Gentile theology is “a reflection upon the surprising, scandalous, and joyful experience of finding oneself joined into the space and future of a people who are not your own,” for instance, why is that a good thing? Is it good just because that’s the proper theological thing to say?

    The whole thing can seem like question-begging. Often in Carter’s book, it seems like he’s come to the conclusion that the properly “theological” position is non-supercessionist and that avoiding supercessionism will create good results. Yet I haven’t seen an actual argument in favor of either point — and when he finds evidence that bad results are correlated with supercessionism (i.e., in Kant and then as we’ll see in Cone), the evidence for causation often seems rather circumstantial to me. And I say this as someone who very much wants to find a way forward for Christian theology that isn’t supercessionist.

  22. Scott Prather Says:

    [Damn, just lost a bet to myself -- as soon as I saw those adjectives, I was sure APS was going to be the next name I saw on this thread.]

  23. dbarber Says:

    Tim, it is more or less the experience of finding oneself in — but also being part of the construction of — a space that one does not possess that I want to get at with diaspora. (This, if you want to talk about “covenant”, would be the *structure* of covenant, such that you can’t talk about covenant except as diaspora).

    My book is deeply formed by Anidjar & Masuzawa, so agreed about Christianity’s identiy as dependent on religion, secular, etc, boundaries. But then the question is whether one can even speak of Christianity if one goes against these boundaries. Does it even exist? If so, how? My contention is that it only can do so diasporically, which if taken to its essence would call into question the idea of “existence.” Existence becoming not substantive but differential. Reity is disaporic, not a substanc, not ousia, or homoousia, etc.

  24. dbarber Says:

    “Reality,” that is.

    And not jinx it, but i feel like we are actually having a constructive discussion …

  25. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The diasporic aspect of Jesus’s “Jewish flesh” is part of what makes me so uncomfortable with the use of “Israel” to refer to Jewish existence.

  26. dbarber Says:

    Adam, right.

    And to echo Scott’s point, i’d say it’s only through such particularization or de-universalization, as Scott indicates, that one can actually enter into diaspora. No disapora without the acceptace that there are genuinely different forms of life that your form of life does not, in the present, know how to speak or even anticipate.

  27. Tim McGee Says:

    I don’t think the statement I made can only be interpreted as a vacuous expression of theological jargon. To partially answer Adam’s question, the reason for those word choices also has to do with my own experience of finding resources and encouragement to articulate my own identity as a white person within black theology and among black intellectuals (which operates as an echo of this point on Gentiles engrafted into Israel). I’m at work so I’ll try to get to the other points later.

  28. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Just to be safe, why don’t you try to make it more of a habit to express yourself in a non-sermonic way?

  29. Hill Says:

    I sometimes feel like there’s an eliminationism at work with regard to “theology” that ends up being incoherent in the final estimate.

  30. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I think Hill is guilty of a false dichotomy.

  31. Hill Says:

    And not to pick on Adam, but the jargon issue cuts in all directions, as there are ultimately ends driving all of our striving that are in the limit inarticulable or at least must be provisionally articulated with inadequate signifiers, e.g. “liberation.” There are certainly obfuscatory uses of jargon, and this is in fact a huge problem, but I don’t take Tim to be participating in that sort of thing.

  32. Adam Kotsko Says:

    There is a limit to explanation, certainly. Why are theologians so often resistent, seemingly in principle, to offering any explanation in anything but the most familiar and comforting pious terms? I’m asking only the simplest, first-level questions: what do these theological concepts and this particular way of construing them mean, and why do you expect a positive outcome if they are adhered to? And I never get an answer. If I have to ask, I’ll never know.

  33. dbarber Says:

    For what it’s worth: I think jargon is inescapable (sometimes even innovative), and acceptable as long as it is willing to answer questions posed to it (as I think Tim is doing).

  34. Tim McGee Says:

    Adam–
    I have no problem with you saying that certain forms of expression are unhelpful to you–I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t on theological auto-pilot. I think your questions re. Carter’s book might center on that you don’t think he has established the claim that supercessionism functions as the deep structure of modern racial identity and the formation of the nation-state. You’re on board with it being an iteration within the problem but not a central principle or disposition that launched and continues to structure racial modernity, and thus the connections Carter make seem “circumstantial” and the importance of drawing out those connections seems unclear (what’s the payoff). Is that accurate?

    Dan–I look forward to seeing your work when it comes out as I find myself ambivalent about diasporic language (through my work with international refugees, readings in Black Atlantic thought, and various other theological discussions about it).

  35. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I can see how modern racism is related to or descended from supercessionism. The problem is that modernity and its racial logic are presumably something new. Yet Christian supercessionism and anti-Judaism have been around essentially since the very beginning of Christianity. How can the latter explain the rise of the former, or at least be so central to it? If Christendom managed to get along fine for centuries without modern racial logic — but with supercessionism — how does the latter necessarily entail the former?

    Part of the confusion that arises, I think, is that he identifies supercessionism with an extreme Marcionite or Gnostic position, then defines normative Christianity (Irenaeus) as non-supercessionist.

  36. dbarber Says:

    Would be interested to hear what it is about your “work with international refugees, readings in Black Atlantic thought, and various other theological discussions” that makes you ambivalent about diasporic language…

  37. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Sorry to disappoint Scott. I am finding myself exhausted by post-viva, planning trans-Atlantic move, and trying to find a place to live. What adjectives made you think of me though? Just curious.

  38. Scott Prather Says:

    APS — I was only jesting, in reference to Tim’s claim about Christian theology that Adam first picked up on (being “surprising, scandalous, joyful”). Your esteemed colleagues dutifully filled the critical role.

    And by the way, Tim, my experience is also that Xian theology has the *potential* to operate in ways similar to what you express, so I didn’t mean any condescension — I just saw the AUFS critique coming once you said it.

  39. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Well for what it is worth I would say that it’s quite easy to be surprising, scandalous and joyful when you don’t actually have to wager anything. I think this is quite true of academic Christian theology done in the usual way. So most theologians enjoy hearing things like “We must pray to become broken and follow the broken way into the life of the poor” while, of course, knowing that that brokenness holds no threat to their PhD or their paid academic position. Thankfully Christian theology has R.R. Reno to write awful things so they can all pretend that’s the norm (which of course it is) that they can pretend they’re resisting (which of course they aren’t really).

  40. Tim McGee Says:

    Dan,
    Perhaps one of the worries is how easily it has been for white, affluent congregations to jump into a “all Christians are refugees” idea; another would be the vast difference in the meaning of “diaspora” for educated, middle class Iraqi refugees and illiterate rural Burmese farmers. Which isn’t to say one is a “real” diaspora more than an other, but that it is hard to group them together, and then even harder to connect it to the language I hear from Mennonite-leaning folks at Duke talking about a diasporic Christian experience. It’s like the whole “not voting” to vote against the system that was popular a while ago (MacIntyre wrote in favor of it): it’s especially appealing to those who are not members of groups that have a long history of struggle to gain this right and who were purposefully excluded from it. Those who are most firmly “established” in the privileges of belonging to this nation often find it quite easy to articulate a sense of themselves as Christian exiles, part of a diapsoric people, etc. This kind of detachment from national identity and rootedness needs to be distinguished from the apparently similar appeals made by Black Atlantic writers (I’m thinking of Maryse Conde as I recently read one of her novels). Diaspora-as-ideal-form (Eden, the good) worries me as it seems oriented towards an expression of cultural strength (the strength to be detached from or enter into multi-cultural sites). Yet I am attracted through the Black Atlantic writers to thinking through movement more than “essences” (Cesaire is great on this point).

    Adam,
    The claim isn’t a strict causal one or linear history but a kind of key framework buried during the irruption of modern racism (some other elements that accompany this shift are alluded to–Thomistic naturalism, the impact of explorations that culminated in 1492, especially as they relate to the Crusades). The goal isn’t to deduce racism from antisemitism but to argue that a deep probing of race must attend to this theological framework of its genesis.

  41. Tim McGee Says:

    I didn’t expect this here: we’re now having a “revolutionary” pissing contest (who’s “wagering” more here…). Fun times!

  42. ken oakes Says:

    I think Adam nailed the question above with regards to the “chronology” of supercessionism and modern racialization, and how supercessionism may or may not have sowed seeds of modern racism. I thought that as regards this question Carter started to leaned pretty heavily on burgeoning nationalism, statecraft, and the importance of war-making as that which unifies a group against other groups. So there are several factors at work and perhaps the contributions and chronology of each need to be spelled out more fully.

    To return to Dan’s post, though, if a “bad” account of Christian identity or particularity can be partially dismantled with reference to this other “space” (non-space?) of Jewish existence, what in turn particularizes or de-universalizes Jewish existence?

  43. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Tim, never meant to imply a contest! It’s the implication of a contest made in the pious jargon that actually bothers me, coupled with the economic reality that Christian theologians have a lot more job opportunities than someone working in theology or religion (outside of a social-scientific framework) without an institutional or normal Christian religious affiliation. Those seem to me to be facts that are important when thinking through piety. I promise I’m zipped up.

  44. Tim McGee Says:

    I must confess I’m still a bit perplexed as to the point of your comment (and how it connected to what I said) but I’m so thankful that I can stay zipped up that we can just shake hands–without needing to wash them first–and move on.

  45. Adam Kotsko Says:

    To return to Dan’s post, though, if a “bad” account of Christian identity or particularity can be partially dismantled with reference to this other “space” (non-space?) of Jewish existence, what in turn particularizes or de-universalizes Jewish existence?

    I wonder the same thing. In later chapters, he begins to speak about Jewish existence as necessarily mulatto, etc. — I’m not sure what he means by that, although it is empirically true that people who identify as “Jewish” belong to what we would think of as a variety of “races.”

  46. dbarber Says:

    In response to Ken’s question: diaspora.

    Tim, thanks. I’m sympathetic to a lot of what you’re saying. What you’re critiquing, rightly so … can i call that “pseudodiaspora”?!? … Seriously though, I don’t see how not-voting would amount to diaspora, which is not just about non-belonging but also about multi-belonging. Though i can imagine some people claiming to be diasporic by doing so. (And on my account, if a community thinks of itself as having an identity that simply “separate from” or “against,” then it’s not really diasporic – the whole point about diaspora isn’t to seek separation, for one is already separated.) Also, for what it’s worth, i take diaspora to be a concept about movement — for instance, i would think movement *has* to be disaporic. Diaspora isn’t an option, something to be sought, it’s an expression of the power to move, a power that one can express regardless of the conditions that are imposed on one. (Gilroy’s discussion of “ain’t nobody gonna break my stride”, etc) So yes, absolutely, diaspora must absolutely be “from below.” Otherwise it does amount to a lifestyle option.

    On the supersessionism to modernity relation — I do think there’s quite an influence, if one emphasizes what’s at stake in supercessionism (the idea that one’s “flesh” keeps them from participating in universality, for instance).

  47. dbarber Says:

    “doing so”, in forth line = not voting

  48. Tim McGee Says:

    Dan–I figured you would be quite cognizant of these concerns, which is why I’ll be looking out for your book. On movement and diaspora: that does relate to one of my concerns, in which the differences between feeling the power to move and suffering through dislocation (often times these difference play out within a single family we work with). Again, I’m excited to see this book.

  49. J. Kameron Carter Says:

    I’ve been checked out for a while to attend to some other tasks. Thought I’d check back in. I see that there’s been a vibrant conversation going on.

    My book is not a neutral book. No book is. My book is a work of christian theology. It’s purpose is to uncover a key feature in the making of the modern world, the feature called supersessionism. The claim of the book isn’t that supersessionism started only started with modernity/coloniality. I’m fully aware that christian supersessionism predates the modern. My concern is with a particular modulation within the supersessionist problematic; namely, what I’m calling its racialization. The racialization of supersessionism is new. The 2nd century Valentinians weren’t racial supersessionists, though they were gnostic supersessionists. The concern in my book is with precisely this newness, such that Christian supremacy (which itself is a problem) became white supremacy (and ‘became’ is key here, for whiteness along with other racial forms is a formation).

    Well, pace Dan et al, why not go back to the root problem of supersessionism (in Paul, or in the New Testament itself) to get at this? That’s fine. I have no qualms with exploring that. But that’s not the immediate concern of my book. Moroever, this move can be evasionary. I’m concerned in the opening chapters of my book with a specific production out of christian supersessionism; namely, whiteness—understood as a social order, as an episteme, as a gnosis. In the opening chapters I want to open up is the question of the (christian) theological ways of whiteness and how those ways sediment at the moment when modernity’s grand episteme (as Foucault might put it) with the Enlightenment and thus just when Western imperial power enters into the grand stage of the long 19th century (Hobsbawm) and becomes a global/secular/universal achievement, an achievement that can now relinquish even its christian vocabulary and the like. Kant of course was my figure to illustrate this.

    Thus, contra Adam, I don’t see Kant and thus don’t interpret him as just picking on the other who is at his disposal, i.e., the Jews. Rather, Kant is carrying forward a problem that goes back to Christopher Columbus with his inauguration of the transatlantic project of “discovery.” Columbus’s project, which arguably inaugurated the ‘Christian West’ was driven by supersessionism. I devote a significant amount of reflection and pages to this in the book I’m presently working on, *The Secular Jesus*. In *Race* I offer some remarks and quotes in my Kant chapter to signal that Kant was very much inside of the colonial/imperial machinery in what he was doing. It’s not coincidential that the object opprobrium for him is the Jews. I mention in the preface to my book that there is more to be said about the deeper colonial logics of supersessionism than I develop in my book and that I could only gesture towards these colonial logics in this book but that I’d be returning to this problem in subsequent work.

    Thus, the first two chapters of my book, in laying this out, is not total or complete. There’s much ground that I don’t cover in the book. The chapters rather are architectonic, if I may put it this way: they are meant to lay out the problem in as broad a sweep as possible. Their basic claim is this: white racial formation is in a crucial way unintelligible without an understanding of it as the product of a deep theological mistake or as a profound metstatization of a pathology rooted deeply into how christianity has developed. This mistake/problem is that of christian supersessionism.

    This is worth repeating. The opening chapters of my book are a theological analysis of white racial formation as itself a kind of christian formation, which by time of the Enlightenment becomes a formation that can (and often does) uncouple itself from its (Western) christian ground of being. In many ways, modern philosophy as a regime of knowledge is the inheritor of this gesture. Once I’ve made and argued this broad claim in Part I of the book, the stage is set for perhaps what is the key issue of the rest of the book: Is Christianity fated to its Westernized inflection and the world creaated of that inflection? The answer the rest of the book gives is No.

    But someone might claim that nothing so far said overturns anything Dan et al have said. It arguably affirms what they’ve said, doesn’t it? Doesn’t responding to my narration of the problem of supersessionism require a more robust interrogation of the origins of christianity itself, which arguably are supersessionistic origins? And mustn’t it also be the case that there can be no a priori priviledging of a Christian position given its complicity in the problem so outlined?

    Admittedly, this is one way to carry the argument forward. But it’s not the only way—and it’s not the way I’ve chosen. The way I’ve chosen is inspired actually by my grandmother and a certain trajectory within black atlantic christian existence, whose holdiing onto christianity seems to suggest that christianity (perhaps even in its origins?) need not be understood to be hopelessly supersessionistic.

    Thus, another aim of my book (esp. with Parts II/III and the Iren/GregNy/Maximus parts) is to make sense of precisely that form of christianity that I saw performed by my unlettered christian grandmother and others with whom she was associated who decided despite christianity’s f*cked up status to still “make Jesus their choice” (to echo the old spiritual). (And oh by the way, my grandmomma would never say, “f*cked up status” :-)

    Moreover, the path i’ve chosen to address the conundrum into which christianity has fallen as a result of Western gentile/white christian hubris/racial supersessionism has been to think this form of christianity in conversation with or as speaking back classical christian resources, back to the (so-called) tradition. the result is a bending of those resources in the direction of a christianity on the underside of modernity.

    Thus, my book is not the work of a neutral theorist (though on some level, a critical theorist of religion, I indeed am). It is a work of christian theology by a christian theologian who’s thinking out of a christianity from the underside of the modern reality, a christianity that at its best has been anti-christian. It is a christianity that emerged beyond though in critical encounter with the christianity Du Bois called “modern Prometheus” or “white religion”, the christianity of an imperial God-Man. This different form of christianity that I’m trying to think within turned back to the story of ancient Israel and on a number of ocassions allied itself with contemporary Jews. Thus, it was a christianity that returned to the site of (racial) offence, the site of Western Christian supersssionism which produced the racial imaginary in the first place. It is a christianity that sought to rethink identity out of the election and the becoming of Israel for understanding Christian becoming/Christian identity. My claim isn’t even that all black folks bought into such a christianity. clearly, they didn’t and there are many who still wouldn’t. My objective is more modest—big book that I’ve written, notwithstanding. I’m trying to think with the impulses and intellectual sensibilities of trajectory that did live into an anti-christian christianity and inside of the implied account of the modern/racial condition that attended such a christianity.

    My forebears were quite sophisticated. They understood that they was not totalizing form of christianity, despite Western/White Christian performances to the contrary.

    This is what my book is about. Now of course, the challenge of my argument (among other challenges) is whether or not one step inside of this different christian situation of a “lived experience of the black” to imagine christianity. Will one risk this form of the christian imagination? Will one enter into its christian witness? To do would mean being ecstatic (Dan like the term diasporic; I can perhaps work with this term, though I’m leary especially of we think of Columbus, Prince Henry the Navigator, Vespucci et al as inaugurating [Christian] ‘diaspora’). Being ecstatic means leaving “ur of the chaldees”—the places of settled (racial/christian) formation—to find meaning in the life of another people. But we know the challenge here: The challenge is that white racial formation as born inside of a certain kind of a christian formation is formed as a self-sufficient and therefore as an identity that resists the notion of its own lack.

    I’m sorry for this too lengthy comment. I’ve taken up far too much space in offering these remarks. If I’ve offended anyone’s sensibilities, please accept my apology. Hopefully, these remarks will prove constructive for our conversation on some level. And if not constructive, we can always argue some more :-)

  50. dbarber Says:

    I appreciate the clarification of your position in this book — very helpful for me, actually, in framing the scope of its argument.

    (Would like to say, though, as an extension of my earlier comment w/r/t diaspora, that diaspora is a structuring principle rather than an adjective attached to an identity. Before identity, there is diaspora … meaning that if you see X as an identity, then you can’t say “X is diasporic.” So in this sense there is no way, conceptually speaking, that what i mean by diaspora could be applied to Columbus, Vespucci, etc. In fact, given that diaspora would be prior to identity, I doubt one could be Christian, in any traditional sense, is one is committed to diaspora — hence my wanting to push the question of supercession back into the very origination of something called “being Christian.”)

  51. dbarber Says:

    – that is, Columbus, Vespucci, etc. do not inaugurate diaspora … they inaugurate (or extend the inauguration of) Christian identity, which is premised on the refusal of diaspora that is already in movement.

  52. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Jay, Thanks for the detailed response. You do make clear in the preface that you realize this book can only be the beginning of a larger project, and we should probably cut you more slack in that regard.

  53. Hill Says:

    This is well on its way to being the best AUFS book event ever.

  54. J. Kameron Carter Says:

    And by the way, Dan, from what I understand of your deployment of the notion of diaspora, as substantive noun and not as attributive adjective, one way to make sense of what you’re doing is attempting to recover a christian doctrine of creation, where creation=diaspora. But it is also the case that the making of modern/colonial subjectivities as racial subjectivities were born of a profound distortion of creation. In other words, the world, in the colonial venture with legacies into its postcolonial afterlives, was (re-) created. And this recreation was, alas, part of the story of the creaturely hubris in which the creature sought to stabilize its inherent instability. This stabilizing gesture was itself a gesture of creation—the creation of “Man”, where “Man” here is the Christian-cum-White Masculine. Your notion of diaspora seems to be pointing precisely in this direction. it seems to be wanting to address this problem. it seems to be pointing in the direction of trying to think and inhabit the movement (!) of being, which is to say, creaturely becoming.

    This too (the problem of creation) is a thread, though not the dominant one, in my book, for the book’s claim, cast in terms of the doctrine of creation, is that Western Gentile hubris (christian supersessionism become racial supersessionism) was the hubris of stepping into the place of the Creator, a place that the creature in truth can never occupy. Stepping into this place, the creature recreated the world into a “stable” social space in which Man, who is a production of this problematic creational act, occupies the center with his negative Others the negative anchor at the peripheries. We also know that this feat of creation was a feat of destruction. New World creation was also New World apocalypse so as to inaugurate a mode of “time” aimed toward a Western Eschaton. In this sense, modern social space is parasitic on and in parady of a christian doctrine of creation (and eschatology). In short, what I’m narrating is the anthropogenesis of Man as the production of the racial imagination with its stabilizing center in the White/Christian Masculine, the bringer of an eschaton, or the order of things.

    If there’s any merit in this way of understanding the directions to which your notion of diaspora point, Dan, then you may be more the anti-Christian Christian theologian than you admit.

    Of course, there is the problem of further distinguishing your approach to diaspora from Columbus et al. And I must admit, I don’t find the response you gave above satisfying, for in invoking Columbus et al in connection with diaspora I am pointing to two directions diaspora took within the modern/colonial reality. On the one hand, diaspora did function adjectivally. You’re definitely right here. That is, European identity was being constituted “diasporically” or as speading across the planet. In this way, European-cum-early-modern-Christian identity was becoming diasporic identity. Here, diaspora is an analytic of identity. Now, were this all I meant in linking Columbus et al to diaspora, your above response, I think, would be sufficient. But there’s another side to it. Columbus et al were also, and arguably first and foremost, inaugurating a mode of being that preceded existence/identity. They were inaugurating a mode of being into which all identity came to be situated, both the identity of colonized and colonized, both the identity of master and slave, both the identity of the White and the savage-become-Negro-become-black. Here, diaspora is not first an analytic of identity; it is an analytic, as Sylvia Wynter puts, of “Man”. Or stated differently, in this second modulation, diaspora as coloniality names the recreation of social space. It names the revisioning of the geophysical and geosocial world, its “creation” into an environment into which (dare I echo Paul in Acts 17:34?) all now “live, and move, and have being”. In short, “diaspora” emerged in the colonial emerged in the colonial moment as a trope of stability and therefore as the trope of a false creator. In this we have been born into modern/colonial diaspora, some as the bearers of life and others as socially dead.

    This latter approach to diaspora could be construed, at least at the conceptual level, as closer to the substantive notion of diaspora you are stressing. Now, I’m sure that this isn’t the move you’re wanting to make. So how to avoid it? In *Race* and even more directly in the projects I’m working on, I look specifically to attempts among black atlantic, transnational intellectuals to bend modern/colonial diaspora and rethink the nature of our becoming or the nature of existence and the eschaton or future anterior (if I may borrow from Lacan) that marks creaturely being or our becoming.

    Richard Wright has his character Cross Damon (fallen angel, who is also a soteriological figure of the Cross) in his novel *The Outsider* articulate the issue around the need to escape this problematic diaspora of white “Christianity and the strictures of white law”. This revisioned diaspora names a break with the order of things. It names an intervening reality. That is to say, pushing the novel is the need to “break with others and in breaking with them break with himself. he must sever all ties of memory and sentimentality, blot out above all the insidious tug of longing. Only the future must loom before him so magnetically that it could condition his present and give him those hours and days out of which he could build a new past.” I read Wright here as struggling at the symbolic level of the novel to reorient the founding gestures of the modernity/coloniality: the founding gesture of modern/colonial diaspora, which is to say, the gestures of creation, on the one side, and Western eschatology, on the other with soteriology or life/death work functioning between the two.

    We can read Wright and so many other black intellectuals as engaged in a project of counter-diaspora or diaspora in a different key. Gilroy has popularized this different mode of diaspora as the “black atlantic.” What orients diaspora from this vantage point of modernity’s underside is the struggle to become or in Cross Damon’s words “man is a promise . . .” But the work of such intellectuals like Wright et al, i’d go so far as to say, not only approaches the theological in an anti-Christian key, but in this anti-christian sense is theological; it is diasporic (not an attributive adjective here, but a predicate adjective).

  55. dbarber Says:

    Jay, thanks for the comment. It’s really interesting. A quick response… I hear you on how Columbus et al were not just making a pre-established Christian identity spread across space, they were also creating a space in which all individuals or identities, the colonizer and the colonized, all these oppositions, moved. So in this sense, not just movement of identity out and across, but also movement of various identities within something that structured these identities and movements. Absolutely. And call this structure “Man,” or colonial social space.

    Is this diaspora? Not as i want to define it. Man is a structure, but it is not a diasporic structure. In other words i’m not just saying there needs to be a structure prior to identity, i’m saying there needs to be a *diasporic* structure prior to identity. The way a diasporic structure distinguishes itself from the structure of colonial space, or of Man, is probably too technical to flesh out here, but the gist of the distinction is that diaspora is intrinsically differential. Drawing on Deleuze here, more or less. The idea being that any individual, or identity, is the resolution of a pre-individual field of singularities, which is problematic, or in intrinsic disequilibrium. So in this sense diaspora is prior to a colonial space or a structure of man — these latter are resolutions / foreclosures of the intrinsic disequilbirium or instability. So whereas identity is a denial of diaspora at the level of individuality, colonial space or structure of Man is a denial of diaspora at the level of inter-individuality or the social. The upshot being that the existence of inter-individuality, or movement within the social, is not *automatically* diasporic. In fact, as I hope i’ve indicated (happy to add / define further), diaspora and coloniality are incompatible. (Which is not to say, of course, that the word diaspora hasn’t been applied in ways that I’m not defining it.)

    I’d want to stress that when i said, in an earlier comment, that diaspora is not adjectival, i didn’t intend to imply that it was, on the contrary, substantive. If that’s not clear, i can definitely see how diaspora could be seen as calling for a more fluid, or more dynamic, or more inter-identity, substance. But diaspora isn’t just not-adjectival, it’s also not-substantive. Substances, to use my terms of the last paragraph, can be problematic, they can’t be differential in an absolute sense. They need, even if only in the last instance, to make their differences resolvable (and this is what happens in colonial social space). As I mentioned in a resopnse to Tim, diaspora cannot be from above, it must be from below, by definition. Hopefully i’ve fleshed that sort of slogan out a bit more conceptually here.

    (Oh, and if diaspora makes let’s me be offered the name of theologian of creation then i’ll accept!)

  56. dbarber Says:

    That should read: “Substances *can’t* be problematic.” The heat in my apartment is messing with me…

  57. Adam Kotsko Says:

    We’re planning to have an event on Dan’s book when it comes out, so maybe Jay wants to participate?

    It seems to me that in the common use of the words, diaspora and colonialism are very different concepts. Diaspora, as far as I can tell, usually results from some kind of trauma or involuntary circumstances — the Babylonian captivity for the Jews, the trans-Atlantic slave trade for Africans, etc.

    Does it make sense to say that the Jewish ghettos of Europe were “colonies,” or that African Americans started “colonizing” northern cities in the Great Migration? Certainly we can say that Liberia was a genuine colony and that the Zionist project is a version of colonialism — but that just highlights the fact that for a people in diaspora, “home” is no longer simply home. That is to say, it highlights the involuntary aspect of diaspora, and I think that’s the point of analogy that allows Dan to say that his concept of diaspora is actually logically prior to identity.

    For that reason, it does not seem to me that establishing an all-inclusive sphere of “Man” represents diaspora — just the opposite in fact. Such a move makes the White Christian Man at home everywhere.

  58. Race & Religion, a further thought | veeritions Says:

    [...] “blogging” time has been spent commenting over at the AUFS book event (here’s a link to the most recent post discussion) on J. Kameron Carter’s book, Race: a Theological Account. I’ve been rereading [...]


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