Letters to Jonas: The Matrix of Man

Dear Jonas,

I should start by apologizing for taking so long to reply to your letter. The World seems to be spinning faster than ever lately, and finding time to write for writing’s sake has become particularly difficult as of late. Since your last letter, we have elected a white supremacist president, I have led a rally against the white supremacist president, I have assisted latinx students in resisting the white supremacist president, and I have talked and engaged critically at Freedom School with young black peers about how we could resist and survive a white supremacist presidency. With all this being said then, it is safe to safe to say – though the World may appear to be spinning faster – the World continues to spin the same. White Supremacy rules today as it ruled yesterday. Donald Trump doesn’t change that; he only accelerates it. A discussion on this acceleration may be justified, perhaps, at another time.

Aside from an introduction into the general times that we are in, this relates to some of the comments that you made in your letter. What particularly stood out to me is this:

You asked how I could consider myself Christian still. I still ask myself that. Of course, on one hand, the easiest answer is we’re all Christian inasmuch as we’re Western. And, while I think that to be at least generally true, I think it’s an exercise in avoiding the question.

First to answer in this way is not to avoid the question, it is indeed an answer to the question. But it is an answer that is simply incorrect. We are not all Western. I believe that this gets at the root of the structure of the West and why anti-blackness and white supremacy structures the foundational aspects of thought, and the Modern world. If Trump’s wall, if the rise of Eurofascism, if the perfection of slavery with the project of mass incarceration, if the election of Trump itself, provides proof for anything, it provides proof to the fact that we are not all Western. To be Western is to be Human, to have your humanity affirmed, your existence recognized. To live outside of the West, to experience life outside of the West, is to have your existence perpetually questioned or denied to you. Black bodies are those bodies that gave birth to the West through an accumulation of its death. Black bodies are womb-and-tombs, not Western. So the question is still returned to you, in a double, in fact, triple question: 1) Are you Western, like are you truly Western? 2) How can Blackness ever be incorporated into the ontics of a Western “all”? 3) How can you accept that Christianity is Western and that to be Western is to be Human and still accept Christianity? I, of course, am not trying to convert you (divert you, perhaps, is better wording); I am more interested in understanding how this notion that “we are all Western” is justified.

Additionally, I think that your disagreement about my conception of God is, in fact, an agreement. God is like Race. This means that God does have a referent to which it signifies, or to which the name of God is applied. There is no distinction to be made between the socio-institution and the facticity. God is discursively-instituted and factually real. God has Being, God is socio-linguistically-derived, God is objectively real, and God is paradigmatically constructed. However, that signification is not an unification. God is not One. God signifies something different for different people and different bodies and different ideologies, and all of these are real insofar as they create/enforce an action into the immanent World. For different bodies have different conceptions of Being, of Language, of Facticity, and of Historicity.

Lastly, on the difference between intersectionality and the Matrix of Man. I have thought extensively about what constitutes the difference between intersectionality and my concept of the “Matrix of Man.” And I have come to a bit of a conclusion. Intersectionality implies that who I am when I say, “I am a cisgendered, heterosexual black man who grew up in working-class black family in white rural America” is an identitarian claim. Intersectionality teaches that these are identitarian claims that are denied to me through the White Male construction of the Law. However, I wish to cast off the shackles of identity, but not in the sense that the Alt-Left, or better yet, White Marxist would like me to; or in the way that liberal Black folks wishing to frame the “Negro Problem” in terms of a struggle for Civil Rights do either. I want to contextualize my blackness, my cisness, my heterosexuality, my ableness, my working class background, my rural geo-location as positions within the Matrix of Man. I am in all these positions, these locations, across a spectrum of subjection, power and privilege. What separates this from identity is that identity implies a simplistic space-time frame in the position of a subject in relationship to World. Identity says: I am here, as one subject with multiple identities. But, no, in the Matrix of Man, I am in multiple positions in relationship to access and denied access to power and privilege. The Matrix of Man says: We are here at the same time (inside the same paradigm) phenomenologically experiencing that time differently because of our positions, and we are occupying multiple spaces – positions – within that paradigm. Blackness is the position of absolute dereliction. It is the position that gave birth to the universal, globalized “transatlantic” comprehension of the Matrix. It is what orients, structures, stabilizes, and gives vital energy to the Matrix. It is the Matrix’s condition of possibility.

Sincerely from a Friend,

John Gillespie Jr.

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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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Fanon’s Minister: Towards A Decolonial Theology

When one first looks at the colonial situation, one is immediately brought face-to-face with the permeation of death. Death, in the form of social death, insofar as social death is, “having no social existence beyond that which [one] has with [their] master,”[1] haunts the colonized. This is, of course, until their social death collides with their physical, leaving in return no memory, no residue of existence, no posturing position in the social order capable of differing the colonized from any other aspect of the colonizer’s personal items. The fact that death characterizes the entire colonial situation is not a surprise to the colonized. To be colonized is to be dehumanized, to be stripped of oneself as a self and to dwell existentially in a state of non-being. In the words of Aime Cesaire, “colonization = thingification.”[2]

What is pivotally important about this state of death and commodification imposed on the colonized by the colonizer is the way this manipulation of power manifests itself across every aspect of the colonized life. Colonial occupation, as an act of violent usurpation of another’s social, political, economic and spiritual livelihood, casts the shadow of death upon all social, political, economic and spiritual aspects of the colonized existence in the world. This shadowed death inside the spiritual world consolidates the relationship of social death in a pacifying way, as Fanon puts it, “The colonized subject also manages to lose sight of the colonist through religion . . . The individual thus accepts the devastation decreed by God, grovels in front of the colonist, bows to the hand of fate, and mentally readjusts to acquire the serenity of stone.”[3] When religion, specifically in this case Christianity, plays a role in the pacification of a people suffering from debasement and enslavement, it will not only continue the state of social death for the oppressed, but perpetuate spiritual violence. Violence in the colonial situation is not only something that occurs when colonized subjects are shot, raped, beaten, battered, or bombed, but violence occurs institutionally in the colonial situation at the level of status quo. This means that colonized subjects encounter the psycho-social effects of the colonial situation in their everyday lived experience regardless of the other minor and major potentiated attacks directed against them. The colonial situation and the institution of violence occur simultaneously and inseparably from one another. It’s a world where you “are born anywhere, anyhow. You die anywhere, from anything”[4] and accepting the religion of the oppressor makes it no different. This why the decolonization process is more than just an economic, political, and social revolt against an oppressor. It’s a spiritual revolt as well, and it is the task of decolonization to make anew all those aspects formerly instilled by the oppressor in order to foster a whole new world in the economic, political, social, and most importantly for our review, spiritual realm.

The fact that Christianity has been utilized as a mechanism of power by white oppressors in the task of pacification, “civilizing,” and occupation of the oppressed is socially and historically undeniable. These circumstances have resulted in many African intellectuals, especially Fanon[5], to consider the position of Christianity in the liberation and decolonization process as antithetical to the struggle for freedom. The argument follows along the logic of: If decolonization is creation of a new man, then the religious must too be made anew, and Christianity, being the religion of the oppressor must be done away with. There is considerable thought that must be given to the idea that Christianity in and of itself is a spiritual war waged against colonized subjects. In fact, it could be argued that there is no greater theodicy than the relationship between the Christian God and African persons all across the world. The high concentration of Christians in the African-black community is undeniably a result of effective colonialism, imperialism, and European domination, not only of the black psyche, but of black spirituality. However, the answer to the crisis in black religiosity in reference to those persons who are Christian who wish to maintain their faith, but are troubled by this critique, is not a retreat to some pseudo-pre-colonial African spirituality that can never be retrieved in the honest meaning it had prior to colonialism, or the move towards anti-Christian atheism. Colonialism creates a new world, and any retreat to pre-colonial religiosity does not take seriously that creation and the impact of the creation in the making of a new world, and atheism may not be who the colonized are and who they wish to be. Instead the colonized through the process of decolonization, “must work and struggle in step with the people so as to shape the future and prepare the ground where vigorous shoots are already sprouting.”[6]  If these “shoots” just so happen to include some aspects of Christianity that were imported into the colonized religious psychology, since Christianity may be as much a part of the colonized subject’s new personhood as the new economic urban centers that sprung about as a result of the same colonial occupation, these aspects have to be taken seriously as a part of the collective thought processes of the African persons. However, just as the rest of national culture must, “work and struggle in step with the people” in order to, “shape the future,” Christianity, if it wishes to remain in the lives of the colonized, must do the same. Christianity must be decolonized.

The task of decolonial theology in the midst of the decolonization revolution is utter and violent destruction of oppressive European theology. Hence if, “the task of a good theology is acculturation—to draw upon the cultural formation that is already present,”[7] then, decolonial theology must be both cognizant of and attuned with the transformational cultural processes emerging within the colonized subject. The colonized subject at the moment decolonization begins is a subject violently thrusting forward towards an unforeseen personhood, towards a sense of self that has long been ostracized from her, towards a collective cultural understanding that is both cognizant of the precolonial period and equally aware of the contemporary thought processes that make unified revolt not only possible, but necessary. This violent thrusting is an exertion requisite for any decolonization.  For, “decolonization is always a violent event.”[8]

Decolonization is a transformation of the individual and the collective wherein being-in-itself connects with being-with-others resulting in a much needed social, political, economic, and spiritual revolution. Theology must tap into this energy and the creative exertion of violence that spurs from it, never shying away from the energy of the people nor the violence of the people, but fully encompassing the entire range of the newly developing national culture. Fanon defines culture to be, “the collective thought process of a people to describe, justify, and extol the actions whereby they have joined forces and remained strong,” going on to add that, “National culture in the underdeveloped countries, therefore, must lie at the very heart of the liberation struggle these countries are waging.”[9] Decolonial theology, then, is the Christian language used to describe, justify, and extol the actions of the colonized in the process of decolonization. What should then be insinuated in this acculturative understanding of theology and its relation to the decolonization project is that decolonial theology not only understands the necessity of violence in the process of the liberation struggle, but decolonial theology itself, is violent. That decolonial theology understands the necessity of violence in the process of liberation is not a bastardization of Christian scripture; on the contrary, it’s an appropriate understanding of scripture insofar as God, the liberation of the oppressed, and violence have always walked hand-and-hand. One needs only look to the role of God in the liberation of the Israelites in the book of Exodus to find support for such a statement. It is for this reason that Aime Cesaire describes the death of his master in, Lyric and Dramatic Poetry as, “the only baptism that today I remember.”[10] Violence, insofar as it is used by the oppressed to overcome their oppressor, is redeeming.

But how is decolonial theology violent in and of itself? Decolonial theology is violent because once again, “decolonization is always a violent event.” Decolonial theology must decolonize white oppressive theology that forces the colonized to be passive, oppressed, and docile when speaking about religion, and in doing so, they must destroy the toxemic constructions of white, Eurocentric theology and, “blow the colonial [God] to smithereens.”[11] This is the central focus of decolonial theology: bringing an abrupt and catastrophic end to the colonial God. Taking seriously the current state of social and spiritual death, decolonial theology attempts to obliterate the connection the slave has with his master in relation to God. Decolonial theology, or any offspring of liberation theology, is the only option available for anyone wishing to continue practicing Christianity during or after decolonization. Any other theological understanding permits the colonized to remain in the condition of social death whereas decolonial theology, like every decolonization project, is a resurrection. It is a spiritual uprising towards personhood, and a recognition that, “Oppressed and oppressors cannot possibly mean the same thing when they speak of God. The God of the oppressed is a God of revolution who breaks the chains of slavery. The oppressors’ God is a God of slavery and must be destroyed along with the oppressors.”[12]

[1] Erna Brodber, History and Social Death, (Caribbean Quarterly. 2012), 111-115

[2] Aime Cesaire, “Discourse on Colonialism,” in African Philosophy 1998, edited by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze (Malden, Massachusets: Blackwell Publsihes Inc.), 226

[3] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (New York, NY: Grove Press. 2004), 18

[4] Ibid, 4

[5] For example, Fanon writes, “I am talking of Christianity and this should come to as no surprise to anybody. The Church in the colonies a white man’s Church, a foreigners’ Church. It does not call the colonized to the ways of God, but to the ways of the white man, to the ways of the master, the ways of the oppressor.” Ibid, 7

[6] Ibid, 168

[7] Josiah Young, Pan-African Deliverance: Providence and The Legacy of Ancestors, (Trenton, NJ:Africa World Press. January 1992), 18-20

[8] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, (New York, NY: Grove Press. 2004), 1

[9] Ibid, 168

[10] Found in Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. Ibid, 46

[11] Ibid, 6

[12] James Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1986), 61

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On The Trinity, Foucault, and My Father the Arian: What I Am Researching and Why?

I have stated in a few Facebook post that I am doing an independent research project for my university, but I wanted to share on my blog more precisely what it is that I am doing. My independent research project is on the Trinity. The trinity (for those of you who don’t know) is the Christian doctrine of God which states in an extremely simplified format that: God the Father, Jesus Christ/Logos the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all co-equal parts of the Christian Godhead. There is no hierarchy in this Godhead. God the Father is just as God as God the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is no subordination of either of these entities and this does not make three Gods, but one God constituted by the making of the trinity. It is also important to note that God the Father, Christ/Logos the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal in essence, and (although recent scholarly debates have made this notion more controversial, I will include) in function.

Christology was never a controversial discussion growing up in my Christian household. The fact that there was no controversy about this topic in my Christian household makes it all the more important personally that I do this research. Christology was easy and plainly put by my Father, and the scriptures he presented to support his notion (see. John 14:28; John 13:16; Mark 10:18; Matthew 27:46) made it seem all the more evident that the Trinity was false. I had grown to believe this was the undeniable truth for Christians. Christ was a man. God and Christ were two different entities. Christ served the Christian God, came into being because of the Christian God, and died because the Christian God sent him too. Christ was subordinate. This idea is called subordinationism, or Arianism, two terms that are used rather synonymously since Arian, an early Church “heretic” and presbyter, articulated the notion hundreds of years prior to my father had.

It wasn’t until I ran into conversations with Christians that I ran into the doctrine of God, and heard it considered to be “orthodox.” This term was not foreign for my father had always used a similar moniker, “Unorthodox,” in his Christian hip hop music which he always made sure we knew meant, “different from the norm.” The more Christians I ran into the more I learned that the trinity was the “norm,” and my father was indeed “unorthodox” in his subordinationism. But the notion of “norm” in and of itself has always been problematic for me. The “norm” has always been equated with truth which brought me to ask: How does something become the “norm”? How does the “norm” become the “truth”? How does the “truth” become orthodoxy?

INSERT: The potentially unlikely contributor to this Christian research, Foucault.

Foucault asks in Society Must Be Defended, “How does the discourse of truth, or simply, philosophy – in the sense that philosophy is the discourse of truth par excellence – establish the limits of power’s right?” This question restructured is my research question. If the doctrine of God is the norm, the truth, the Orthodoxy, contrary to my father’s and Arius’ thought which has now become more than unorthodox, but outright heretic, “How does the discourse of orthodoxy, or simply, theology – in the sense that theology is the discourse of truth par excellence (in the Christian faith) – establish the limits of power’s right?” There is little that has had more power historically than the Christian church whether it be Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or mainline Protestant. And if what Foucault says about the Middle Ages is correct when he says, “From the Middle Ages onward, the essential role of the theory of right has been to establish the legitimacy of power,” then, my project is to discover how and what kinds of mechanisms of power were used to forge the doctrine of God as the doctrine of truth and repress other doctrines, specifically Arianism far towards the periphery into heresy (well aware that the period I am researching is a bit sooner than the start of the Middle Ages). Whereas “orthodox” Christians see the doctrine of God, now, as the inevitable foundation of Christianity, the Trinity wasn’t always as dominant, and because of its current dominance I believe it is safe to say that something was dominated, or subjugated, in the case of the Trinitarian doctrine that is, and was, Arianism and subordinationism.

Looking to the archaeological method for inspiration, I hope to find out what mechanisms of power were used to subjugate my Father and Arius’ Christological thought beyond the “unorthodox” and into the heretical. It’s not to prove the Trinity true or false, or to prove my Father true or false, but to examine power and the way power has worked in forging the doctrine of God into Orthodoxy.

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The American God and His Disciples: Reflections on a Theological Americanism

One of the final moments of the 2016 Republican debates that sent twitter into a frenzy was Megyn Kelly’s “dramatic,” cliff-hanging, pre-commercial statement saying, “We have to stand you by, because after the break, we’re going to let the candidates make their closing statements, their final thoughts, and . . . God.” This caused in an outraged as people poured out their 140 character hearts about the GOP’s public conversation about their private, “Christian” faith in a country that claims to have a separation of church and state. When Fox returned from the commercial break the question surfaced to the candidates [paraphrased], “Have any of you received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first when elected in office?” To the “secular progressives,” that Hillary Clinton apparently epitomizes, to the people of a different religious/spiritual persuasion than Christianity and liberal, progressive Christians alike, this question seemed irrelevant or nonsensical in any serious political setting, especially after the conversation on the #BlackLivesMatter movement was cut ridiculously short. However, this final question is enormously significant, to the nation and to this forthcoming progressive movements emerging within it, and cannot simply be pronounced as irrelevant, because it speaks so much to America’s understanding of itself.

This question shines a light on the American civil religion. Talking about the American civil religion, Robert Bellah writes:

“Though much is selectively derived from Christianity, this religion is clearly not itself Christianity . . . The God of the civil religion is not only rather, ‘unitarian,’ he is also on the austere side, much more related to order, law, and right than to salvation and love. Even though he is somewhat deist in cast, he is by no means simply a watchmaker God. He is actively interested and involved in history, with a special concern for America.” [1]

This austere, law-minded Unitarian God of the American civil religion has more than just a special concern for America. He ordained and prophesied America’s divine mission for the rest of the world. He sees America as more than just a nation of liberty and justice for all, but additionally, a nation of promise – a holy land. Therefore, “The will of the people is not itself the criterion of right and wrong. There is a higher criterion in terms of which this will can be judged; it is possible that the people may be wrong. The president’s obligation extends to the higher criterion.” [1] It’s seemingly a democratic theocracy wherein the people may elect, but only God justifies. Therefore, being the leader of America goes far beyond being commander and chief, it’s essentially being a prophet of a divine Americanism. This prophetic responsibility is no minor ordeal to a society totally devoted to this American God. The enormity of the ordeal lies in the Supreme Being who without him, “there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life,” for, “Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic, expression of Americanism. Thus, the founding fathers of America saw it, and thus with God’s help, it will continue to be.”[2] For, “God has led his people to establish a new sort of social order that shall be a light unto all the nations.” [1] Sounds biblical right? Bellah thinks the God of the American civil religion only has, “selectively derived from Christianity,” but it isn’t necessarily Christianity. But I’d disagree.

The Unitarian focus of the American God is a poor attempt at inclusiveness, and without a doubt, most Americans understand the evoked God as the Judeo-Christian God (hence, the twitter outrage).  Politicians openly identify as Christians, and mention the name of God, making it safe to imply that they’re talking about the God of the Judeo-Christian sort. Robert’s tone, which insinuates a minuscule amount of Christian influence (selectively derived vs clearly), most certainly doesn’t align with Ted Cruz’s response to the debate question when he remarks, “I am blessed to receive a word from God every day in receiving the scriptures and reading the scriptures. And God speaks through the bible.” This response, coupled by an applause, solidifies the American God in the Judeo-Christian faith. Bellah mentions the influence himself when he says, “The equation of America with Israel is not infrequent . . . [Hence, the American unquestionable alliance with Israel].” Bellah’s insistence that there is a clear distinct division between the civil religion and the Judeo-Christian God is an insistence that there must be state established religion in order for the civil religion to be Christian.  However, this thinking undermines the importance of ideology and culture in the formation of a country. The American God is not a substitute for Christianity, but instead it is acculturated Christianity whose Unitarianism is only adopted for the sake of a patriotic, unified American front. This God, Christian in its foundation, is tied distinctly to a theological Americanism. Christianity is the religion; American Christianity its theology. This theology mimics the distinction between religion and theology made by Pan-African Christian theologians like Edward Blyde and Josiah Young. Christianity is the inculturated religion; Americanism is the acculturated theology. Lewis Gordon writes of the Pan-African theologians distinction when he says, “The task of a good theology, Young argues, is acculturation—to draw upon, that is, the cultural formation that is already present.”[3] If this is true, then what social order is it that God has called America to shine upon all nations? What does this theology teach? What are characteristics of this American God? And what are its potential biblical foundations? And what about Him makes Him so appealing to right-wingers?

The American God is the God of American Exceptionalism. This God blesses America disproportionately to the blessings of other countries. For this nation, even in its disregard for the least of these in terms of healthcare, education, and incarceration rates, still remains the good and perfect gift from above mentioned in James 1:17. This God has placed divine providence on America to take on the white man’s burden, and this burden of capital imperialism, is assuredly similar to that burden which led Paul to be beaten, pelted, and shipwrecked. For when the Wall-Street elites and their political apologist boast of their capital gains and personal wealth increases, they boast in harmony with the boasting of Paul in suffering. This God has supported the increase in military war-hawking. For this nation’s destiny lies in fulfilling its prophetic role of guardian of the globe. This God does not consider the deceptive language that justifies every war under the guise of, “liberty and democracy,” to be deceptive. For the demagoguery is nothing more than the following of the sacred prophesy bestowed upon it from He who watches from above. This God has declared America to be a nation of moral righteousness. Its slavery redeemed; its dehumanization of its poor and working class persons excusable; its murder of black persons acceptable; its hatred of people of color justifiable; its voice an echo of the divine. This God has maintained, “Whosoever challenges the greatness of this nation faces damned excommunication! And they shall find themselves one among the ranks of demons with titles such as: communist, nigger, terrorist, savage, thug, or Muslim.” His cross is a sacred Star – Spangled Banner. His holy land is these United States and his brother-nation is Israel. His Pharisees are those begging for him to follow the remarks given by that love struck, homeless, Palestinian Jews that called for his people to stop their murdering, settle matters quickly before the law must be involved, turn the other cheek in the face of violence, love your enemies, give to the needy, and never store your treasures. And His salvation is given to anyone who believes in him, puts in the work, follows the law, and is afforded the proper institutional privileges and biases to successfully accrue wealth, prestige, and status.

The fact that this God “exist” and this God is the God of this nation – anything that goes against this establishment, anything that questions the holiness of the dominant narrative of this establishment, anything that reminds America that it is not exceptional, goes against this God. The #BlackLivesMatter movement is fighting against this God and his militarized holy “guardsmen of grace.” The feminist movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ attempts to disregard the importance of affordable healthcare options for women, demean the lived experience of rape survivors, and belittle women’s request for equal pay across the country. The LGBTQ+ movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ commandments that they harbor hatred and phobia of these persons. The labor movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ sanctified positioning of capitalist elites as beacons of American individualism. The anti-neoliberal globalization movement is fighting against this God and his disciples’ permissibility of the exploitation of the poor persons of the world.  America is a country wholeheartedly devoted to the concept that their mission is a transcendent one, greater than themselves. A mission that goes beyond constitutional, democratic elements and enters into the divine. Any wrongdoing is not a wrongdoing. Everything American is righteous. This question asked on the GOP debate stage is important for today’s activist because it’s not just an irrelevant utterance of religion maneuvering its way into the political sphere. It’s an indication that we are not up only up against the white supremacist, homophobic, anti-black, capitalist, patriarchy power structure so duly noted in our leftist progressive conversations. We are up against the acculturated American God himself.

[1] Bellah, Robert. Civil Religion in America. Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, from the issue entitled, “Religion in America,” Winter 1967, Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 1-21. http://www.robertbellah.com/articles_5.htm

[2] Einsehower, Dwight. Remarks Recorded for the “Back-to-God”Program of the American Legion.

http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov

[3] Gordon, Lewis. Africana Existentia: Understanding Existential Thought.

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Christian Sexual Ethics: LGBTQ+ and Christianity

This paper is a paper I wrote for a Women Studies Class at Towson University entitled: Christian Sexual Ethics. The class was an interdisciplinary class in which Christianity and its ethical beliefs on sex were explored starting from Paul to the New Evangelical Abstinence Movement. The essay will be broken up into two sections on my blog.

Part 1: Feminism, Rape Culture, and Christianity

Part 2: LGBTQ+ and Christian America

DISCLAIMER: As I am not a women nor a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I wish not to put a straight male face on the forefront of a movement that does not implicitly belong to me, but I wish only to add to the bulk of work of a pulsing community and critique commonly held Christian beliefs in order for the world to be a better, safer place for all.

The LGBTQ community’s mainstream battle for equality in the Christian community is one of justice. Their battle is one of civil rights, tied the freedom of being capable of expressing themselves as equal beings, socially and sexually. Homosexual love is not to be disdain and reprobated; it is to be accepted for what it truly is – love. But, homosexual love is a love that has received hatred by global, national, and local communities and this form of hatred must also be understood for what it truly is – vile and despicable discrimination. One of the main reasons dissent towards homosexuality is immoral because it is discriminatory. If discrimination towards people of color, low socio-economic status, and gender is deemed unconstitutional or unethical, then the same principle must be given to homosexuals. In a country that prides itself on freedom and equality, discrimination must be obliterated in all ways, shapes, and forms. “I have learned that sexism and heterosexism both arise from the same source as racism,” Audre Lorde says in There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions. The passionate struggle that comes from the fight for equal rights among the color lines and the gender lines is the same fight that must be had across the lines of sexual orientation if there is to be an end to oppression across the board. For discrimination has had adverse effects not only upon the lives of the oppressed, but also upon the lives of the oppressors as Audre warns, “And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you” (There is No Hierarchy of Oppression).

                Some of the main arguments for the immorality of homosexuality result from arguments debating that homosexuality is not natural, and that homosexuality goes against what the bible says. Margaret Farley speaks of this when she says, “It [homosexuality] has been variously construed as a crime against nature, a sin against God, inherited physiological degeneration, and psychological illness;” and interesting enough she concludes by saying, “but also – at some point in time, including the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries – as a special gift, or as a simply an alternative orientation of human sexual desire” (Farley, 283). The argument contending that homosexuality is not natural, therefore it is not good, is illogical; for even if it was “not natural”, who is to say that our natural state is any good? Morality and laws exist for the purpose of controlling human nature (natural desires that in its remotest form is pure survival) or for the protection and security of human rights (rights that are not naturally created, but socially created). To naturally desire survival does not equate to an ultimate “good” therefore, it does not equate to a valid argument for the unethical nature of homosexuality. However, the naturalness or unnaturalness of homosexuality does not even matter. What matters is simply the humanity of the individuals who identify themselves as homosexual. It is a moral good to extend the general moral ethic, “Do unto others as you would wish to have done to yourself,” onto homosexuals and the entire LGBTQ community as well regardless of the natural or unnaturalness of the orientation.

Denying rights to homosexuals also comes from Christian rhetoric, “I can love the sinner, but not the sin,” – “If we were supposed to be homosexual, God would have created Adam and Steve, not Adam and Eve,” is a couple of the many phrases used by Christians to demean the LGBTQ community along with simply, “God hates Fags,” and bible verses like, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” Professor Douglas speaks of the use of the latter method when she says, “By invoking biblical authority they place a sacred canopy, a divine sanction, over their views toward gay and lesbian persons” (Douglas, 90). However, even under the pre-supposition of biblical authority, discrimination against the LGBTQ community is not absolutely supported by the bible and it is still unethical. First reason for this logic is the difference in historical and current understanding of the meaning behind “homosexuality.” “The few texts that appear to refer to homosexuality offer problems of interpretation – whether because of ambiguity in the use of rhetorical devices and specific terms, or disparity between the meaning of same-sex relationships in the historical context of Paul and the meaning we assume for same-sex relationships today,” Farley says (Farley, 274). This ambiguity blurs the “definitiveness” of homosexuality being immoral by calling into question our current understandings of “homosexuality” and historical understandings of “homosexuality.” For if there is a difference in interpretation and the bible does not forbid homosexual practices as we understand them today, then all discrimination would be currently and biblically unjust. For example, generally contemporary Christians would assume that American slavery was unjust and non-biblical. Nevertheless, the bible does justify slavery saying [sticking with the New Testament], “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ,” (Ephesians 6:5). However, if you bring up this ironic contradiction between the bible and current understandings, most Christians will say, “Slavery during biblical times was different than slavery in America,” inferring that the past slavery was fine, but the new slavery was not right. The misinterpretation of the biblical meaning of “slavery” like the potential misinterpretation of the biblical meaning of “homosexual” are indicators that interpretive mistakes have been made in the past to justify oppression and can be reconsidered and redefined by the Christian community.

Finally, even if Paul writes that homosexuality is wrong, and Leviticus writes that homosexuality is wrong, Jesus has said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). Therefore even if the Christian ideal is that homosexuality is wrong, it is not the job of the Christian people to cast their stones against the “sinner” – it is the job of God and God alone. Thus far, these arguments are all under Christian pre-suppositions, however, there is a separation of church and state and this separation calls and requires that our country is not run by religion, but by the state made up of the people. The people who are Christian, lesbians, gay, bi, queer, and transgender, all of whom deserve their human right to practice consensual sex, marry, and love as they please.

In conclusion, the world of sex has changed. It has become an existential exploration of others, of connection, and of love. It has become an act where consent must be given and diversity must be accepted in order to foster peaceful and non-oppressive standards. Marriage nor love is no longer needed for sex, consent is needed. Heterosexism is no longer justified and permitted, it is abominable and disgusting. The sexual sins of the past has been baptized anew into this new breed of free-thinking and free love where a man can lay with a man like he would with a women without discrimination and hatred and a women can show her body and freedom without fear of being coerced into sex. This is the new sexual ethic – one of consent, love, acceptance, and understanding.

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Christian Sexual Ethics: Feminism, Rape Culture, and Christianity

This paper is a paper I wrote for a Women Studies Class at Towson University entitled: Christian Sexual Ethics. The class was an interdisciplinary class in which Christianity and its ethical beliefs on sex were explored starting from Paul to the New Evangelical Abstinence Movement. The essay will be broken up into two sections on my blog.

Part 1: Feminism, Rape Culture, and Christianity

Part 2: LGBTQ+ and Christian America

DISCLAIMER: As I am not a women nor a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I wish not to put a straight male face on the forefront of a movement that does not implicitly belong to me, but I wish only to add to the bulk of work of a pulsing community and critique commonly held Christian beliefs in order for the world to be a better, safer place for all.

Sexual ethics, like all kinds of ethics, can be debated and has been debated for years. The ethics of sexuality within a Christian context, however, is on the verge of a change, and change is always the birth of a great debate. With the rise of the LGBTQ+ equality protest, third-wave feminism and the language of female liberation within it, the sexual culture has been experiencing an increasingly new dynamic. Female liberation, calling for women to have greater freedom in the context of the expression of themselves and their bodies, has led to a disagreement in the context of consent and potential “justifications” for non-consensual sex, and the LGBTQ+ community’s equality protest has led to the disagreement on the morality of homosexuality outside and inside of the church. Nevertheless, I believe that any sex that is not consensual is immoral – no matter how much of the woman’s body was expressed, no matter how much foreplay was commenced, and no matter how deep into the action the participators are in, the moment the words, “I no longer want to have sex,” enter the air by one of the participators is the moment that sex should and must end. Also, I believe that any dissent towards the LGBTQ community and their right to express love and sexuality is immoral in-and-of itself.

            To understand my reasoning for saying, “Any sex that is not consensual is immoral,” one must first understand two principles that are immovable within this thought process. First, a principle that most can agree on, sex is a connection, and the way the connection is defined by both individuals can cause adverse or positive effects.  Margaret Farley, Professor and writer of Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, describes this by saying,
“Diverse feelings and emotions related to sex can include pleasure and pain, joy and sadness, peacefulness and anger, a sense of well-being and a sense of shame” (Farley, 161). Regardless if we are to believe that this connection is spiritual, emotional, mental, or purely physical, it is undeniably a connection. Understanding sex as a connection is important because if consent is not given towards that connection then the adverse effects of pain, sadness, anger, and shame can generate because of it. The second driving principle for arguing that sex should always be consensual is: non-consensual sex is a stripping of one’s freedom. By understanding that sex is a connection we understand that there is another person involved with the act, and by understanding that non-consensual sex is an act of stolen freedom we understand that there is another person involved in the act who has a right to their own autonomy. “This right or this obligation to respect individual autonomy sets a minimum, but absolute requirement for the free consent of sexual partners. This means, of course, that rape, violence, or any harmful use of power against unwilling victims is never justified,” Margaret Farley so eloquently states (Farley, 219).  Any form of non-consensual sex is rape, and rape is dehumanizing as a form of control. Rape is a thievery on a higher level. Rape is a torture because it does not just steal from a person once, it keeps stealing from a person. It robs them of their stable mind, their feeling of safety, and their free will. Professor of Theology, Kelly Douglas, while speaking on the rape of Black women by way of their slave masters during the American Slave times says, “The weapon of rape provided an effective means of control” (Douglas, 44). Sex is not something where power should be stripped or taken away from another; sex is something where power should be shared and freedom must be maintained.

            These two principles are usually not too difficult to understand or agree on, but it is the following of these principles within certain context that is hard for people. There still must be consent when the individuals are in a relationship/married and there still must be consent if the women is wearing “scandalous” clothing. Many argue that relationships where the couple are kissing, fondling, and cuddling are possible grounds for consent. Their reasoning comes from my first grounding principle – there is a connection. However, a mere connection is not consent, even in marriages. Even as the Apostle Paul writes, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourself to prayer” consent is still crucial; however, in this modern age of progressive social justice, mutual consent must go beyond mutual consent for abstaining from sex, and it must extend to mutual consent in participating in sex (1 Corinithians 7:5, NRSV). “This norm [social justice] derives more generally from the obligation to respect all persons as ends in themselves, to respect their autonomy and relationality, and thus not to harm them but to support them,” Margaret Farley says (Farley, 228).  This is a norm that must be affirmed in our age and ages on if we are to progress in understanding ethical sex; for by this  norm, sexual social justice and equality is reached, but equality can only be reached if both partners – lovers and non-lovers – commit to the idea of mutual consent in abstaining and consenting.

Then, there is the argument of “scandalous” clothing or the “liberated female” who, the rapist, influenced by the woman’s free expression of self and body cannot resist the temptation of her sensual aura. This argument also finds some of its roots in Pauline writing when Paul says, “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (Romans 14-13, NRSV). The “liberated female” is deemed as a stumbling block for the man without control of himself. It is her fault for his fall as it was Eve’s fault for Adam’s. On the contrary, however, autonomy is a two-way street. The “liberated female” has the right to express herself and her body to the fullest extent of an equal and moral law of her respective society, and the “liberated male” has the obligation to respect the freedom and ability of the woman to choose to say, “Yes,” or, “No,” to sex.