The skin of God
Spengler at the Asia Times takes a serious look at the theology of Jeremiah Wright, and indirectly at that of Barack Obama. The religious ideas taught at Wright's Trinity Church are derived from those of the "black liberation" theologians James Cone and Dwight Hopkins. During an interview with Sean Hannity, Wright chastised Hannity for his ignorance of the works of these two theologians, who basically argue that since God must take the part of the oppressed, He is essentially "black". And any God who isn't "black" is therefore an agency of the devil.
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
The McClatchy Newspapers has a comparable piece on Wright's theology by Margaret Talev, who situates the roots of Cone's book, Black Theology and Black Power in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. "Cone wrote that the United States was a white racist nation and the white church was the Antichrist for having supported slavery and segregation." But even after the 60s the ideas of Black Theology lived on, in Trinity Church most especially.
In an interview, Cone said that when he was asked which church most embodied his message, "I would point to that church (Trinity) first." Cone also said he thought that Wright's successor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, would continue the tradition. Obama, 46, who's biracial, joined Trinity in his late twenties when he worked as a community organizer. He says he'll continue to worship there.
Thus Jeremiah Wright's widely publicized soundbites are not the incoherent 'rants' and ramblings of an "angry old man" or of slightly senile "old uncle" but the deliberate and vigorous exposition of a systematic point of view which the congregants have every intention of acting upon. Wright's words are not just vocalizations, but 'words that have meaning' in social, personal and foreign affairs. And one of those ideas is apparently the implicit recognition of the right of other oppressed races to create Gods in their own shade of blackness.
For example, the 8,000-member congregation embraces the idea that Jesus was black. It's historically supported left-wing social and foreign policies, from South Africa to Latin America to the Middle East. ... Wright, who hasn't been giving interviews since the controversy broke, told conservative TV talk-show host Sean Hannity last year that Trinity's black value system also had parallels to the liberation theology of laypeople in Nicaragua three decades ago. There, liberation theology became associated with Marxist revolution and the Sandinistas, and split the Roman Catholic Church.
I think Spengler is wrong when he says that Jeremiah Wright's racial theology "is as silly as the 'Aryan Christianity' popular in Nazi Germany, which claimed that Jesus was not a Jew at all but an Aryan Galilean". Aryan Christianity was a mere provincial vanity; a straightforward claim that a particular race was "chosen". Wright's theology is more subtle. Membership in his elect is defined by which race you don't belong to. The doors to heaven are open to everyone except members of the white race, whose burden, in contrast to Kipling's idea of responsibility, is actually inexpiable guilt. Upon the whites a curse of evil is laid that may not be lifted until the world's end or its change. An indio, Arab and black Jesus are all possible. It is the white Jesus that is inadmissible.
The Cone-Wright view is mirrored in other "liberation" ideologies. For example Edward Said argued in his book Orientalism that whiteness had corrupted knowledge itself. He argued that the West could never know the Arab world because it was conditioned to prejudices of superiority; the white man could never know the truth. The European point of view ipso facto "produced a false description of Arabs and Islamic culture ... The notion that Muslims suffer such a form of arrested development not only is false, he maintains, but also ignores more recent and important influences such as the experience of colonialism, imperialism, and, even, ordinary politics." The recovery of true knowledge required first of all the banishment of the European point of view. But even Said isn't original. His ideas are adaptations of earlier Marxist and Islamist ideas. As Keith Windschuttle wrote:
Said is widely regarded by students of literature and cultural studies as not only one of the founders of the postcolonial movement in criticism and of multiculturalism in politics, but still one of their chief gurus. This is despite the fact that his work was not original, as Said himself acknowledges. It is a synthesis and elaboration of two separate theses. One was an analysis that emerged among a number of Muslim academics working in Europe in the 1960s. ... The other source of Said’s inspiration also derived from Paris in the Sixties. This is the writing of Michel Foucault, especially his notion that academic disciplines do not simply produce knowledge but also generate power. Said uses Foucault to argue that Orientalism helped produce European imperialism.
The relationship between Said's Islam and the West has so many parallels with Cone's world of blacks and whites as to suggest that Wright's admiration for Louis Farrakhan may not be accidental at all; but rooted in an intellectual affinity. While Trinity Church is ostensibly Christian, perhaps its real sister church is the Nation of Islam. Compare Cone's assertion that "black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy", and Jeremiah Wright's sermon claiming that Jesus was a poor black man crucified by rich white people with Farrakhan's argument that whites are subhumans who through some demonic assistance have enslaved the world.
White people are potential humans…they haven’t evolved yet. ... The Blackman is the original man. From him came all brown, yellow, red, and white people. By using a special method of birth control law, the Blackman was able to produce the white race. This method of birth control was developed by a Black scientist known as Yakub, who envisioned making and teaching a nation of people who would be diametrically opposed to the Original People. ... The Qur'an says that God created Adam out of black mud and fashioned him into shape. So if white people came from the original people, the Black people, what is the process by which you came to life?
If there is anything worse than being white in liberation theology it is being Jewish. While the pulpits of Chicago and Egypt may be thousands of miles apart their themes can be quite similar. "In his weekly sermon the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Al-Tantawi, the most senior authority in the Sunni Muslim world, described the Jews as 'the enemies of Allah, sons of pigs and apes.'"
Thirteenth-century Koran commentator Al-Qurtubi explained that two approaches developed among clerics on this matter: The first considers all apes to be the offspring of the sons of Israel. Those of this view base their belief on Hadiths in which the Prophet Muhammad warned against eating particular animals, such as mice and lizards, for fear that they were originally the sons of Israel. The second states that the apes who used to be Jews left no offspring, and that therefore today's apes, pigs, and other animals are the offspring of animals in existence before the divine punishment. Early Islamic commentator Ibn Abbas maintained that anyone whose form was changed lived for no more than three days and did not eat, drink, or propagate. Ibrahim Al-'Ali, writing in Falastin Al-Muslima, states that the Jews who were turned into apes, pigs, lizards, and mice were also punished by not being able to reproduce. However, he claims, "The extinction of the Jews punished with transformation does not mean that their punishment had ended. The punishment left its mark in the souls of the Jews who came after them: their spirit, their opinions, their feelings, and their ways of thought - which are reflected in face and external appearance - became like their nature and like the appearance of apes and pigs, and this profoundly affected their ways of behavior."
Hell is populated with whites and Jews while heaven is thronged with blacks and Muslims. And remarkably this theology is not only allegorical but literal. The idea that God might actually have a skin with pigmentation or a passport was to be found not only in Nazi Germany, Wright's church, Farrakhan's mosque or in the universities of the Middle East. It was also present even a few decades ago in apartheid South Africa. Robert Kennedy's story is perhaps the most famous example of the belief that God is white.
During five days this summer, my wife Ethel and I visited South Africa, talking to all kinds of people representing all viewpoints. Wherever we went–Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg–apartheid was at the heart of the discussion and debate.
Our aim was not simply to criticize but to engage in a dialogue to see if, together, we could elevate reason above prejudice and myth. At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve.
“But suppose God is black,” I replied. “What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?” There was no answer. Only silence.
Probably the most absurd example of the dogma of a racial God is the Iglesia Watawat ng Lahi (The Church of the Banner of the Race), an ultranationalist sect in the Philippines which proclaims that God is a Filipino. The sect exists even today in and around the town of Calamba, Laguna, a town some 35 miles south of Manila, though they have sacred caves in an extinct volcano called Mount Banahaw -- eerie places lit by candles and inscribed with pig Latin inscriptions -- which I used to occasion out of curiosity back when my world was only bounded by distance and the amount of fare available. And yet it is through the memory of the poor Iglesia Watawat ng Lahi that I understand the Nation of Islam and Trinity Church. The sense of grievance; the delusional doctrines; the genuinely touching hope for the coming of a racial savior is Millenarianism, pure and simple.
Racialist theologies are so absurd that they are probably atheisms or political programs in religious disguise. Ivan in the Brothers Karamazov renounces God out of a love for mankind; he wants to supplant the deity with man. And when Jeremiah Wright puts a black man on the Throne of God we should recognize the obvious: that there is no God left after the transaction, only a man raised as high as human hands can hold. Dostoevky's character Kirilov observed "if you shoot yourself, you'll become God, isn't that right?" Or as Cone put it orbicularly "Hope is the expectation of that which is not. It is the belief that the impossible is possible, the 'not yet' is coming in history." He might have been talking about Obama. Margaret Talev at McClatchy Newspapers writes:
It isn't clear where Obama's beliefs and the church's diverge. Through aides, Obama declined requests for an interview or to respond to written questions about his thoughts on Jesus, Cone or liberation theology. Trinity officials also didn't respond to requests.
Sometimes I wonder whether on some level Barack Obama seriously hopes to become the savior and liberator of his self-chosen people or Peachy Carnehan -- the Man Who Would Be King -- on the largest scale. That would be an ambition larger, almost, than becoming President of the United States.
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