Saturday, November 09, 2013

Readings in 'Race': Raboteau and the Telling of History

It has been a few months since my last entry in this series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account, but I have still been slowly and surely making my way through it and do want to keep it up. A few readers have said they found it interesting, and since it helps me keep track of the argument, I'm going to carry on. It is proving to be a rich and important book.

 If you want to catch up it should not take too long. Here are the bookmarks so far: 


The Prelude
Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"


"Raboteau, in his post-Slave Religion literature, begins to clear up the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of black faith. He does so by suggesting a theology of history that ... signals a disruption of the colonizing gaze of race" (127).

"History challenges religious faith in its 'demonstration to believers of the historicity of their religious doctrines and institutions. In this it serves an important critical and constructive function for religious faith. On the one hand, it does the critical work of being a guardian against 'any religion's tendency to present a triumphalist myth of itself as a timeless, universalist institution preserving the unchanging deposit of doctrine transcending time and disparate cultures.' But on the other hand, history aids theology in the contructive work of '[reminding] Christian believers of the scandal of the Incarnation, the historical specificity and contingency of Jesus and of the 'Jesus movement' in its origins and subsequent development.' In short, in both its critical and constructive roles, 'history promotes an appreciation of [the unique]' and the particular, and thus does important faith work, if not theological work" (143).

Albert J. Raboteau
('Slave Religion' - 1978;
'Fire in the Bones' - 1995)
Raboteau asks: "How can you find a vantage point within history from which you can judge the significance of human events?... History functions as a form of self-definition. In its pages we read ourselves" (144-145).

Raboteau "work[s] toward what might be termed an incarnational understanding of faith and history... It is clear that humanity here is not a 'thing' or a 'nature.' It is a mode of inhabiting the world... Jesus of Nazareth activates human existence in a particular way, under a peculiar or unique set of dispositions.... What makes the human being distinct among creatures is that the human is conscious of its status as creature and what this status entails... Infinite Being ... reveals that [it] can be displayed through the medium of finite, creaturely Being... [Therefore] Being--and here I am speaking specifically of creaturely, finite, and therefore contingent Being--properly understood is dynamic (rather than static)" (150, 153).

"Jesus Christ in his particularity is a communal person, the ground of a full-orbed body politic. This is thoroughly consonant, says Raboteau, with African spirituality's understanding of the self as a web of relationships... [Furthermore, n]ascent Afro-Christianity expresses the reality of the person Jesus Christ and his covenantal ... existence as a Jew insofar as 'the slave ... resembled Him more than [did] the [slave]master'" (154-155).

"[T]he theological reading I am advancing of Raboteau's work and for the way in which I read James Cone's and Charles H. Long's work ... is this: creatures present themselves or are visible in such a way that their visibility cannot be captured or enslaved without a massive and violent distortion of their existence as creatures.... The journey of history and faith 'leads not only to knowledge but to compassion'; it is the search for transformed social relations, the anticipation of and yet continued quest for a different way of being in the world. For Raboteau, that way of being in the world is the way of prayer" (154-155).

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