Loosening the Grip 5

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?

"People like the seminary student above who respond with such vitriol always come across as ..."

What Women Want (Leslie Leyland Fields)
"Ben Witherington has said you cannot be an evangelical Christian and not believe the New ..."

The Word of God is Not ..."
"Note what that NPR article says; he's no longer president of the university, but they ..."

Wade Burleson And Paige Patterson
"I am glad the article was prefaced by "This is a statement that needs more ..."

The Word of God is Not ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Cindy

    As a Jewish believer in Jesus, daughter of a Holocaust refugee, my response to your last paragraph is, “Amen!”

  • I’m fascinated at how this plays in with postcolonial theology. I understand how much of modern scholarship developed out of this marginalization of Jewish thought and how the tendency has now swung very far to the other side. I’m all about discovering Jewish roots and historical context, but at the same time see the urge in other oppressed peoples to develop a theology apart from the trappings of Western power. They can just be dismissed as not being “true christians,” but that then just becomes another form of racist theology. I generally only see the extremes in this conversation – but I’m wondering if there are those seeking to develop postcolonial theologies that are rooted in the Jewish history but which sidestep the Jewish/Greek worldview.

  • T

    That’ll put a pit in your stomach. Wow. There’s a lot there.
    Not to diminish at all the seriousness of the racial issues alone, but there’s more than just racial segregation and elevation there that definitely played itself out theologically and beyond: gnosticism; dispensationalism; darwinism; segregation of Jesus’ words from his (supernatural healing) actions; elevation of ‘timeless principles’ over narratives, of the epistles over the gospels, of Paul over Jesus, of propositional over pentacostal; etc. I see so much of Kant in the whole church today.

  • Scott W

    Part of the constructive theological aspect of Carter’s book is that he lays out what he thinks Christian theology should become,in light of his analysis. It’s a brief proposal. But this book deals largely with problem definition and theological resources within the tradition which have cut against the grain of “whiteness” in Christian theology and philosophy,of course,the operative term having to do with a worldview which is reflective of Western modernity.
    Carter’s goal is to produce a dogmatic Christology for the 21st century. This misconstruals of this aspect of systematic theology is where much of the damamge has been done in the process of the racialization of Christian theology and where renewal ahs to take place. And,because Carter understands that the chapter summarized in this thread and the first one also will be questioned greatly,he is presently researching and writing to buttress his historical thesis by tracing the roots of modernity and the genesis of “white supemecy” to the Middle Ages.
    In a sense, Carter’s constructive theological thesis can be stated as a matter of “back to the future”; for much he is much indebted to Eastern Patristic Christology and certain Antebellum African American writers for his inspiration.

  • Mike

    I need to re-read this chapter, as I spotted this comment from above:
    “…According to Kant, this ought to be replaced by…”
    “Ought”? I won’t be surprised if this is Kant, but, the force of moral obligation landed with high impact just now. How incredibly sad and horrible if Kant made these shifts on his version of morality rather than from biblical sources of morality. Perhaps he really thought he was getting informed by such.
    And, assuming Carter’s reading of Kant makes good correspondence with the other historical presentations, I’d agree with “T”: so much of Kant penetrates the church today in ways that are simply frightening.

  • tscott

    …”It has had very wide ranging ramifications…”
    As a descendant of early secularists, thoroughly
    in the modern stream, repentance,baptism in Christ,
    and sealed by the Holy Spirit came with difficulty
    and a non-typical demographic. When dealing with the
    tacit mindset, symbols, and even gestures of this
    upbringing, coming to Christ was also breaking away
    from family. My wife and I when confronted with the
    making of a will wanted our children to be with the
    church rather than any “others” in case of our death.
    Of course this is entirely unrealistic. You don’t
    see how this has anything to do with a discussion
    of theology of race, but I do. Even as a child I
    was disgusted and horrified by the racism within
    my family. I know it’s in my church family, and I know
    many don’t perceive it to be true. But Jesus is at the
    center of the church family. You can say he’s a white
    Jesus, or a product of modern thought Jesus, or an opiate
    of the masses Jesus…but He is a person and the God
    of those we fellowship with. They really don’t try to
    strip the Old Testament or remove Christianity from its
    Jewish roots.
    To me the racism of this world is a modern phenomenon,
    and Christianity pre-dates it. Thank God we are coming
    to grips with the modern that has infiltrated

  • Rick

    A good example of not taking into account (or diminishing a portion of) the “whole counsel of God” because it does not fit into an idol that has been created (in this case, rationalism).

  • Diane

    I agree with you and find these ideas of Kant’s frightening.

  • Scott W

    What is important here, but can be glossed over,is the centrality of the political and sociocultural context which led to the distortion of Christian theology, philosophy (and praxis!). In this case the rise of European colonial and cultural hegemony and the conception that this was destiny and ,thus,they embodied humanity come of age and the perfection of the race,was grounded in the Enlightenment ideals. There are other manifestations of this which are of more “orthodox” heritage,so to speak. America has its own Christian nattionalism in which American ideals become Christian and this is tied to conceptions of blood and soil.This is representative of a good part of the political theology of Evangelical Protestantism, just as we once saw it with the theology of the Dutch Reformed Churh of the Afrikaaners.
    The commonality,along with the Gnostics,is that the group has to marginalize the Jesus of NT, the Jewish Jesus who is part of the history of YHWH and the people of YHWH and put themselves in that place as the chosen people,that is, “chosen race” and go from there. Reflections of this belief system we hear indirectly in the political discource of the present presidential race,esp.in the rhetoric of Gov. Palin, right before our eyes.

  • Scot and others,
    This is indeed shuttering news to me. I admit that I am (was) ignorant of Kant’s imperial influence on modern Western theology. For some of you, I admit my comments on earlier posts were uninformed. When I read Boaz Johnson’s essay here a whole lot of things took on a clearer focus for me. Especially in current Jesus studies, that is, to anchor Jesus within 2nd Temple Judaism under 1st century Roman rule.
    I feel a little sick, because as Scott W (#9) points out–we see lingering Kantian ideas in our own nation’s “manifest destiny” that allowed the willy-nilly disposing of non-whites (Native Americans) and replacing Israel as “the city on the hill” etc. Man, O man.

  • Oops! I meant “shuddering” news 🙂 above (#10).

  • RJS

    Get the book – read the book. It is enlightening. As a disclaimer – it is a scholarly book and it is not exactly easy reading I admit (although much easier than Shults).

  • pam w

    Wow – I continue to be amazed about the subconscious/inherited frameworks that guide my worldview. I graduated seminary 17 years ago, and have been working hard to understand what has framed my Western Churchianity that is not necessarily commitment to scripture. Language is so important, and the complexity of what is meant by our words is so much greater than we imagine. Here is another example. I will be sitting with this for a few days to process the meaning.
    That is what is GOLD about this space Scot. Thx Boaz!

  • T

    You’re a class act; not that you need me to say it.
    And I agree–reading this post was like swallowing some nasty, but really good, medicine.

  • Ann Farley-Rollé

    Carter is working to deconstruct the structure of modernism; he reveals how the foundational thoughts of Kant have contributed to horrific rationalizations of evil praxis.
    Boaz Johnson noted: “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.” [end quote]
    In both racism and sexism, the pretense of discrimination is that “the other” embodies something /other/ than the image of God (biblical terms); and therefore, the “ideal” may be detached from the physical actions of how humans usurp one another (per Emmanuel Levinas). The modern and educational paradigms assume we can know the ideal (God) apart from living lives that value every human; i.e., the gnostic mind can be detached from the physically embodied and righteous praxis toward other humans. Once the ideal is gnostically detached and becomes free-floating, it can be re-attached according to human subjective standards, as Kant did in re: white race and German/Prussian ethnicity. (I’d surmise he was a sexist, too, but that’s not central to Carter’s thesis! LOL) The incarnate God in Jesus Christ is the NO! of God to this hierarchicalism which debases any other human on any grounds.

  • RJS,
    I know what you mean about LeRon Shults’ writing. Zowie!
    aw, gosh…:)

  • pam w

    T, John and others. That is what is also great about this community. Willingness to say ‘I had no idea’. And move into inquiry around implications together.
    I have become conscious recently though that my bachelor of science, and greaduate work in theology left out crucial studies of philosophers who have shaped our lives, culture, government structures/policies AND theology.

  • hope I’m not coming in from left field here but the last sentence: “Scholars… are realizing the Christianity removed from its Jewish roots is not true Jesus Christianity.”
    Perhaps this is also an argument against the extreme dispensationalism so prevalent today? After all, are we not also Biblical Israel, covenanted by a Jewish God? I find that the over-emphasis on the separate dispensations only serves to perpetuate the differences between “us” and “them”.
    But don’t mind me, I’m just another uneducateable Hun.

  • Greg The Anonymous Troll

    If anything; this should serve as a warning to the Church not to listen to non Christian philosophers and liberal theologians like Kant and Schleiermacher. Instead today we are listening to the likes of McLaren and Foucault and it’s not modernism that’s all the rage but Post-Modernism. Talk about failing to learn from history. I know I should be tearing my robes and proclaiming how I really am a racist but I just never realized it until I read this blog, but I’m not! and in the words of another poster, the whole thing is a bunch of hooey. White supremacy is not inherent to Christian theology today and I will not be shamed into saying it is by the guilt of the Holocaust or Slavery. This smacks of manipulation by playing on liberal white guilt.

  • To strip away everything Jewish from Christ and Christianity is to be left with neither Christ nor Christianity. Since I am the child of a Jewish mother, it would strip me away too. Kant would be so pleased.

  • By the time Kant wrote, there was already a great deal of racially motivated mischief going on (slavery, colonialism, Jewish pogroms, etc). So I’m wondering to what extent Kant was foundational and to what extent he was refining and justifying prevailing ideas.

  • Scott W

    On David Hume’s racial views:
    Carter uses Kant as an exemplar–a highly influential exemplar who ties together all the aspects of the worlview he analyzes:religion/theology and the state/politics–,given the crisis in the sociopolitical life in 18th century Prussia.

  • Greg The Anonymous Troll

    Good point Rebeccat.
    I’m wondering if Dr Carter is ever going to get to dealing with the only true racist that there is, and who also happens to be at the root of enmity toward all of the Human race, but especially to the Jew: Satan.
    And the Church lady says: “Isn’t that special?”

  • RJS

    I am late to this conversation – primarily because I wanted to finish the chapter (rather a hard slog) before commenting. This chapter is mind-blowing, to me anyway, because I can see the fingers of his analysis in society and in the church.
    I have many Jewish friends and colleagues, many Asian, some African American – and this chapter puts much into fresh perspective for me.
    What struck me most in this chapter was Kant’s apparent view of human race – that “whiteness” isn’t a race because it is the pinnacle – or on the path to what humanity is supposed to be. Others are “races” because they are diversions or sidetracks from the goal of humanity. Thus intermarriage is anathema. When this plays out in theological discussion, especially with respect to Judaism, it is insidious – all the more so because it is beneath the surface rather than explicit. Kant’s version of Christianity and Christ (as told by Carter) is the path toward human perfection (“whiteness”).
    It is also unnerving that Kant’s view of the Gospel, the nature and purpose of the life and death of Christ, is distorted and manipulated to example, bringing the seed of reason to permit the enlightenment and maturation of humanity. This distortion of the gospel is still with us today and, although not currently tied to racist ideal, still plagues the church.

  • Scott W

    Rebbecat# 21 wrote:
    “By the time Kant wrote, there was already a great deal of racially motivated mischief going on (slavery, colonialism, Jewish pogroms, etc). So I’m wondering to what extent Kant was foundational and to what extent he was refining and justifying prevailing ideas.”
    In the Prologue (p.5) Carter outlines what he is doing in this chapter (2):
    “It is here that I focus on moden racial reasoning’s initial maturation into something of a coherent outlook or its congealing into what can be called a racial-anthropological theory that is at the same time a Weltanschauung. This moment of inital discursive maturity is realized in the Kantian vision…My claim is that this vision of modernity as the social process of Enlighenment is both a racial vision and a particular kind of theological vision.”
    And in reference to his not analyzing the initial period of Eupropean colonialism, he says:
    “[W]hat I engage here is a moment within initial maturing of modernity’s racial-theological vision of the human. I do not discuss the early colonialist vision that took hold about three hundred years prior to the Kantian, especially Protestant, Enlightenment-racial view in the late eighteenth century. The earlier moment had a Roman Catholic, essentially Southern Europen infancy…The Kantian racial-cosmopolitan vision, which was also a theological vision predicated on the extirpation of Jewish flesh, is unintelligible apart from these prior events. Stated differently, the Kantian outlook is only the discursive maturing of the racial colonialism inaugurated in the mid-to-late fifteeth century. And again it must be said that in the middle of it all was theological discourse, mainly of a Thomistic-Aristotelian sort,coupled with the discourse of canon and civil law,which also functioned in relationship to theology. I was unable to engage these important pre-Enlightenment matters here without ballooning even further an already big book. Their theological consideration must therefore await another,not to far off, day.” p.5f.
    Again, the issue that Carter is engaging is the emergence of the ideology and worldview (Weltanschauung) of white supremecy in the modern era,not racism in its common parlance. Carter is presently at work researching and writing concerning the roots of modernity and the racial imagination in the Middle Ages.