The following post is very important for this series. This is our fifth post in the series on Race: A Theological Account. This post is by my colleague and good friend, Boaz Johnson. He covers chp 2 and shows that at the heart of intertwining race and theology is the work of Immanuel Kant. What you will find below should make you shudder at times — what you find will also explain in part how theology has become implicated in racism.
In chapter 2, Carter develops that case that contrary to the proposals of philosophers like Foucault, racism’s connection to theology developed slowly in the Enlightenment. Carter argues that modern philosophy sought to shrink the covenantal status of the biblical Israel into oblivion in order to develop a racial status of the Jewish people.
This made it easy for modern European states to invent the Judenfrage
(the Jewish question) which also became the Rassenfrage
(racial question). Carter develops the case that modern European nationalism sought to come up with a new Messiah, a “new agent of redemption” and it landed on the idea of the modern nation-state.
This development necessitated the divorce of Christian theology from its biblical and Jewish roots. How so? In order to stress the relationship between the two, Carter begins with a quote from Immanuel Kant’s Religion and Rational Theology and we must listen to this rhetoric carefully:
“[One must] distinguish the way in which Jesus spoke as a Jew to Jews and from the way he spoke as a moral teacher to human beings in general. The euthanasia of Judaism is pure moral religion, freed from all the ancient statutory teachings, some of which were bound to be retained in Christianity (as messianic faith). But, this division . . . too, must disappear in time, leading . . . to what we call the conclusion of the great drama of [religion].” (p. 79].
In the rest of the chapter, Carter succinctly shows how modern European Christian theology has in fact carried out Kant’s thesis to its logical conclusion, leading eventually to the holocaust. The Judenfrage becomes the Rassenfrage, in which the white race replaces the Jewish “race,” and Jesus the Jewish Messiah is replaced by the white non-Jewish Jesus.
Carter shows this process in three sections:
1. Kant and the drama of race.
2. Kant and the drama of politics, and
3. Kant and the drama of religion.
Carter discusses Kant’s influence on European conception of “race.” In a 1775-1777 essay “Of the Different Human Races,” Kant suggested that the white race is humanity on its way to perfection
. He divided human begins into four races:
the Negro race, who can be educated, but only to be slaves;
the Hindus, can be trained, but only in the arts, and they will never make any progress;
the Hun (Mongol and Kalmuck) race, which cannot be educated;
the white race, in contrast to these, supersedes all racial deficiencies.
The white race is the only one capable of advancement. It is a race which transcends race “because of its developmental progress toward perfection.”
In the 1780s Kant’s understanding of racial distinction and the supremacy of the white race finds its way into his proposals in anthropology and politics. Kant considered the white race to consist of the French, English, Spanish, Italian and German. However of these, the Germans were the most centered and the paradigm of Aufklarung humanity. He further suggests that in his book Anthropology and the course he taught in the 1780s, Kant sees all the negative characteristics of the non-white people focused in Judentum (Judaism). Kant suggests that the Jews refuse to submit to rules governing modern white civil society. They are a heteronymous people, whose sensuous and cheating nature arises from their religion. Therefore, in order for Jews to enter into the body politics of the German/Prussian people, they had to be civilly improved, and cleansed from the influence which their religion has on them.
In the third part, “Kant and the drama of religion,” Carter turns to a description of how Kant translates his thoughts on race and politics to a rational reinterpretation of Christian theology. Kant claims that Christian Theology must be “cleansed” from all statutory “non-white” religions, especially Jewish religion. This necessitates a cleansing of the New Testament and Christian theology from everything Old Testamentish- i.e. “everything sensuous, heteronymous, and bound to the empirical.” According to Kant, this ought to be replaced by the non-sensuous, autonomous, and transcendent. As a result of this, Christian theology becomes Aufklarung theology and Christ becomes an Aufklarung Christ. This gives hope to human species that it can achieve the white ideal.
Christ, in Kant’s works, especially, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1793), is developed as a racial-moral figure of the Occident, who overcomes the Jewish Orient. Kant’s Christ overthrows Judaism, and inaugurates a rational Christianity which is completely separated from sensuous Judaism. The God of the Old Testament, according to Kant, is not the God of reason. “The God of the Old Testament “is an earthly regent making absolutely no claims upon, and no appeals to conscience.” This, according to Kant, becomes clear in much of the Old Testament, especially the Old Testament Law.
Kant, goes on to reinterpret much of Paul in the New Testament, to be doing the same thing which he wants to do- i.e. strip the Old Testament of everything immanent, and non-rational. Christ, in Kant, becomes the rational personified idea of the “good principle“ the moral Enlightenment disposition.
Carter goes on to argue, that at the heart of Kant’s progression of thought is the idea that he wants to free Christian thought of “slavish mind” of the Jewish race, which is contained in the “evil principle” of the Old Testament Law. In the process, he presents Jesus, not in continuity with Jewish Old Testament thought, but rather with the Greek philosophers. Jesus is not Jewish. Jesus is Greek. Jesus is modern. Jesus is Aufklarung. Jesus is white. The Enlightenment Jesus, claims Kant, must emerge out of the Euthanasia of Judaism. Out of this will emerge the “pure moral religion-” i.e. the white religion.
Carter’s portrayal of the progression of Kantian thought , and its impact on modern western thought is indeed a very sad story. It has had very wide ranging ramifications: It impacted the modern study of the Bible. In Old Testament studies, modern critical analysis sought to strip away everything “Jewish.” Scholars sought to delineate and grade the text into a range- from very primitive elements to the not so primitive elements. Of course, only the Old Testament stripped of everything primitive (Jewish) was worth “really” keeping in the modern Church. It has impacted Jesus studies, where scholars came up with various shades of modern Jesus, stripped away from his “primitive Jewish roots. It has impacted modern Paul studies, where Paul was turned into an Enlightenment thinker of various shades. It has impacted western Christian theologies, where everything which smacks of Jewish thought is marginalized. The list can go on and on. Its logical consequence, it may be argued to some extent, was the Nazi holocaust.
Thankfully, post- holocaust thinkers in all of Biblical and Theological studies are rethinking their analysis. Scholars of the Old Testament, New Testament Systematic Theology, etc. are realizing the Christianity removed from its Jewish roots is not true Jesus Christianity.
What do you say?