Friday, December 27, 2013

Readings in 'Race: A Theological Account' (Interlude)

This is the eighth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. If you want to catch up, here is a link to the last post (and the ones before that): Readings in "Race": Charles Long and "Signifying Race"

After some conversation with varied figures such as Cornel West, Michel Foucault, Immanuel Kant, Albert Raboteau, James Cone, and Charles Long, in an "Interlude on Christology and Race" Carter discusses "Gregory of Nyssa as Abolitionist Intellectual," first summarizing the book thus far as follows.

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"In part I of this book ... I argue that behind the modern problem of race is the problem of how Christianity and Western civilization came to be thoroughly identified with each other, a problem linked to the severance of Christianity from its Jewish roots... [In this] Christianity became a vehicle for the religious articulation of whiteness, though increasingly masked to the point of near invisibility....

In part II, I offer a reading ... of the fundamental problem: how white intellectual formation is in fact a religious, cultural, colonializing, and colonizing formation. In other words, whiteness as a theological problem has been insufficiently treated. At its heart is is a problematic vision of the human as closed within itself, sealed off from possibilities of cultural intimacy and thus reciprocity. Rather than the site of intimacy, culture becomes the site of closure and containment....

To set up the arguments ... in the final part of this book in which I consider how New World Afro-Christianity redirects modern racial discourse precisely by redirecting modern Christianity, this interlude brieflly engages an aspect of the thought of the fourth-century theologian ... Gregory of Nyssa.... [whose] abolitionism expresses an exegetical imagination that reads against rather than within the social order" (229-231).


When Gregory of Nyssa discusses Genesis 1's "male and female created He them," he interjects: "'I presume that every one knows that this is a departure from the Prototype; for "in Christ Jesus," as the Apostle says, "there is neither male nor female."' Yet the phrase declares that man is thus divided.... 

[N]otice what Gregory is saying," continues Carter: "He is saying that the historical Jesus Christ---who while being one individuated human person among many is the eternal Son of the Trinity---is, in fact, in his historical concreteness and particularity at the same time the many of human existence.... 

Thus, as David Bentley Hart says in his interpolation of Gregory: 'The "essence" of the human is none other than the plenitude of all men and women, [and therefore] every essentialism is rendered empty: all persons express and unfold the human not as shadows of an undifferentiated idea, but in their concrete multiplicity and hence in all the intervals and transitions belonging to their differentiation; and so human "essence" can only be an "effect" of the whole'" (246-247, emphasis Carter's).

As Gregory said: "It is not nature but power that has divided humankind into servants and masters" (250).

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