James K.A. Smith has recently posted, on his blog, a piece with some wretched claims. I hesitate even to dignify the piece, but certain things must be briefly said in response. It is very disappointing to see Smith, who I know has read many of the critical works regarding the problematic character of the category of religion, make use of the ambiguity in “religion” for ends that are colonializing. Yes, Smith is right that “religion” is used in an inexact way, i.e. it presents itself as ambiguous, but that does not mean it can’t function for specific ends. In reality, it has always functioned for Christian-European domination, the Christian-Europeans created the category, and if it remains ambiguous it is only so as to prevent being too explicit about the racism. Smith, in this post, makes it a bit more explicit.
Other religions, Smith says, aren’t as “violent” in their reaction to anti-religious propaganda. The Jews and the Christians are really nice and polite, but Muslims can’t hold back, supposedly because they don’t have “theological room for martyrdom.” Apparently all religions are not the same, Smith tells us—but why, in all this, does he pick out Islam as the “different” religion? Why not make the “different” religion the one that actually invented the concept of religion and imposed it on all others? Why not make the “different” religion the one that set up a globalized system of racism and colonialism? I mean, it would seem that if any religion was not like the others … wouldn’t it be Christianity? Ah, but no, Christians aren’t violent, not at all—in fact, they have the good sense to just laugh at cartoons in The New Yorker! That definitely clears up the ambiguity.
It is strange, given Smith’s supposed distrust of liberalism, that he actually follows the standard liberal lines on the Danish cartoons. This is a classic example of the mutual supplementation of Christianity and secular liberalism.
Note as well Smith’s classic Christian strategy to construct and then differentiate the “Semitic”: Jews are not violent, but Muslims are. This is one of the million ways that Christianity is skilled at making the problem about someone else. It is always someone else. Now, Smith tells us, it is the Muslims. (“Look at what you made me do,” says the colonizer, “I’m not normally like this, but if you’re going to appear so threatening to me, then you leave me no choice … but note that I will not be defined by the violence I exercise on you — however, you will be defined by what I imagine you to be.”)
In short: This is racism concealed under cover of a concern to stop being “too broad and un-nuanced” about religion.
On all this, a brief excerpt from my book, On Diaspora:
“The concept of religion thus functions in tandem with the discourse of race, and yet the latter has tended to become concealed by the former. To bring race out of its concealment under the cover of religion is to call into question the adequacy of seeing the tension between Christianity and secularism as the primary opposition. What becomes far more convincing is the possibility of understanding this tension as a relatively minor squabble that occurs against the background of a presupposed, or perhaps internalized, Christian-secular racism. Thus Pope Benedict XVI, who sees the rise of secularism as an unhappy obstacle blocking the path of a Christianized world, claims that “it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe.” It is as if he is assuring his audience that, despite the claims of secularism, it is not necessary to choose between Christianity and Europe. Yes, he admits, Christianity’s “origins” were in “the East,” and there were undoubtedly “some significant developments” that took place outside of Europe. But these are not essential, for what really matters is that Christianity became “historically decisive” when it became European (and this, he adds, was no contingent occurrence—the becoming-European of Christianity was an “intrinsic necessity”). Against secularism, then, Christianity is advocated, but it is a Christianity that conforms to the normative Aryanism of secularism’s opposition to the Semitic East. Christian religion, as imagined by the Catholicism of Benedict, may oppose secularism, but in doing so it does not yet begin to oppose racism.
Similarly, the Protestantism of Barth fails to make much headway in opposing the territorial dominance of Europe. Barth, in fact, remains in league with secularism above all through his thoroughgoing critique of religion, which he says is merely “human manufacture.” Importantly, this claim about religion is universal, which is to say it applies to each and every religion, to Christianity just as much as to the so-called world religions. Nonetheless, this does not mean the end of Christian dominance, for if religion is understood as “human manufacture,” it appears as such in contrast to divine revelation. Religion, he says, is “the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture. The divine reality offered and manifested to us in revelation is replaced by a concept of God arbitrarily and willfully evolved by man.” All religion fails, then, but one detects a certain primacy of Christianity among the failed religions: each and every religion will fall short of the divine, but Christianity, even as it includes itself among this group of failures, is able to exclude itself; it is in Christianity, after all, that one encounters the event, or the revelation, against which religion appears as failure. Christian religion is like all other religions, and yet it is also absolutely unlike all other religions, for only through Christianity does one encounter the revelation that manifests divine reality. It will be said that the revelation of God must be distinguished from the religion of Christianity; yet it must also be said in response that the very distinction between divine revelation and human religion is produced by Christianity.”
 Pope Benedict XVI, “Papal Address at University of Regensburg.” Indeed, Benedict speaks not only of an “intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry,” he also asserts that the “encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance.”
 Barth Church Dogmatics I.2, eds., G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000), 302.