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.

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.