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Letters to Jonas: On God and Theology

Dear Jonas,

I wanted to write you concerning God. I remember writing to you in an emotional wreck one night while I was working at Sandy Cove. I remember telling you that I couldn’t continue to work there and lie incessantly about my relationship to Christianity. I remember telling you that I didn’t believe in God, and I could no longer hide behind a façade as if I did. I also remember asking you how you could continue to believe in God, or continue to consider yourself a Christian with all that Christians and Christian discourse has imposed on bodies, like ours, that “exist outside the frame of Man.”

It is this “existence outside the frame of Man” that stirred my initial incredulity towards Christianity and Gods in general. Anti-Black children who were anti-Black because “this is how they were raised” caused me to question how I was raised. These lies-told-as-truths about my black body made me question the lies that could have been told-as-truths to me by my own parents. I often framed my questions in a theodicean manner wondering, “How can God be real and racism exist?” I went through many phases of my life attempting to find the answer to this question. I felt an incessant need to not only place a label on my theological convictions (calling myself at one point a Christian Deist, at another point an Agnostic, at another point an Atheist, and at one point via your influence, a Christian Atheist), but also to epitomize a redefined form of blackness as if there was a way I could individually transcend anti-Blackness through better manners, linguistic mastery, and educating people. I often say that this “existence outside the frame of Man” is exactly what encouraged me to pursue philosophy at all. I needed to know the lies, and be able to differentiate who was lying to me and who was telling the truth. I need to be able “know God” beyond the rather frivolous, tranquil relationship that was being encouraged at Churches. I also needed to know why my body always felt outside of my own conception of it, why I always felt like an “object among other objects” and why my black body always fell victim to the crushing objecthood of consistent “look-a-nigger” moments. The former fueled my interest in theology and science, the latter fueled my interest in black studies.

The irony currently, however, is that the very thing that caused me to reject God at first (my blackness) is the very thing that is causing me to believe in God currently. I recently wrote: Everything that’s worth studying philosophically is theological. I say this sincerely, but primarily as a personal tautology. It is the framework I have come to accept for approaching the World. And whereas it might be seen as a statement of irony, especially since we live in a secularized and secularizing World, for me, it is almost certainly the case. I understand theology quite plainly to be the study of God and religious beliefs. I understand God in the same way as St. Anselm with some important caveats. God is “that which there can be no greater than” however, “that which there can be no greater than” is discursively-historically- constituted. In the words of Feuerbach, “theology is anthropology.” In this sense, I believe God is real in the same way as race is real.

When I first came to this conclusion, I thought that this meant that God was “not really real” but God was “real.”  But, I do not believe that to be the case for race. Race is real – plain and simple. There are no lines to be drawn between discourse and the materiality when it comes to being a body marked for death.  Race is not a construct that was made in flippancy and it is not a construct that can be evaporated with flippancy. Race is a socio-politically-instituted concept that symbolically marks differentiated bodies for death. God is a socio-instituted concept that symbolically marks what we socially designate as “that which there can be no greater than.” For this reason, God is real, but God did not have to be and does not have to be. We do not need a “that which there can be no greater than.” Currently Man posits himself as “that which there can be no greater than” and Man posits his Logos (Science) as “that which there can be no greater than.” The religious beliefs of Man are anti-Blackness, settler-colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, cis-supremacy, heteronormativity, transphobia, and ableism, something I’ve learned to call the “Matrix of Man.”

With this being said, I’ve come to believe in God, but I am a “Fanonian death of God theologian.” Whereas Nietzsche told folks to “break the tablets” I want to tell folks in a Fanonian register to “end the World” of Man. I do not know if God, if “that which there can be no greater than,” is ever good as a universal, perhaps as a particular universal, but as a universal I cannot say for sure. I do know that the God of the Enslaved, the “that which there can be no greater than” of James Cone, the Christian God of black liberation theologians, is a God that I would be willing to worship wholeheartedly. I do not believe that everyone worships Man, but I do believe that everyone is forced to come in contact with the concept of Man-as-God, or the beliefs of the “Matrix of Man” due to Man’s paradigmatic imposition upon the World. Escaping Man-as-God is impossible, in the same way that my black body escaping its being as a being-marked-for-death is impossible. I must live with blackness like we must live with the God-of-Man, Man-as-God.

Sincerely from a friend,

John Gillespie Jr.

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