As I mentioned before, I wanted to offer some space on my blog to friends of mine who I think are doing some good work. One of those friends is Josiah Daniels. My blog focuses quite a bit on what I’ve been calling “marginal philosophy,” a phrase that lacks any real definition at this point but seems to be at least a step in the write direction. A glaring hole here, however, is the absence of the issues of race and sex in my own philosophical interests, so I’ve recruited Josiah to help begin to fill that in a little bit. Responding to my invitation to him to write something on the topic of race, he sent me the following review of James Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree. He has broken it into two parts. Josiah is not only a fantastic thinker but a quality person, and his work speaks to that. Thanks, Josiah, for all your willingness and your continued stand for the Peaceful Gospel that weighs on your heart. Without further ado:
The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Often times when attempting to engage with a Christian in a philosophical discussion about postmodernity their first response is usually a references to the fact that postmodernity asserts that “God is dead” and therefore, nothing good can come from this sect of philosophical thought because it is inherently atheistic. However, whether it is Nietzsche, Lacan, or even Mark C. Taylor, it is extremely vital to understand that these authors are not as much making an ontological claim but are instead making a statement about how society currently functions in regards to our understanding of a transcendent Other. A case could be made, specifically in Taylor’s opinion, that one’s interpretation of religious myths, symbols and narratives can ultimately lead to violence towards the other. In his book entitled After God, Taylor says this in regards to Christianity, “…New Age Evangelicals and Pentecostals fill the megachurches of exurbia by preaching gospels of wealth and self-help that take all the protest out of Protestantism. Through claiming devotion to a transcendent God, the message of these masters of media and markets, who promote satisfaction here and now, is indistinguishable from realized eschatology of the death of God (297-298).” This is the exact issue that theologian James H. Cone seeks to critique in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree as he attempts to bring the narrative of the gospels and the narrative of a marginalized people together in an effort to demonstrate that the death of God is central to the Christian narrative.
The reason Cone is determined to place the mangled body of Christ alongside a contorted body of an African American hanging on a lynching tree is because he feels that it will inevitably move people to understand the person of Christ in a new way which will exhort them to stand against all forms of injustice (xix). In Cone’s opinion, a new understanding of Christ is desperately needed in America due to numerous interpretations that have led to illicit hate crimes across the country. The act of lynching was, at one time, said to be, by the “Christian” community, morally comprehensible. Cone cites South Carolina’s two time governor and senator Cole Blease asserting that lynching was a “divine right for the Caucasian race to dispose of the offending blackamoor without benefit of jury (7).” This statement speaks into the neofoundationalisit perversion of Christianity that Cone seeks to dispel due to the fact that it is inherently oppressive.
This religiously veiled xenophobia is rooted in a blatant misinterpretation of the cross (2). As a result of White supremacy’s fornication with Christianity the result was a pseudo-Christian theology that specialized in terrorism. One can understand the lament of the African American minister Bishop Payne questioning the existence of God when he says, “If he [God] does exist, is he just? If so, why does he suffer one race to oppress and enslave another, to rob them by unrighteous enactments of rights, which they hold most dear and sacred?… Is there no God (27)?” Cone attempts to offer hope for the oppressed as he movingly concludes that, “If the God of Jesus’ cross is found among the least, the crucified people of the world, then God is also found among those lynched in American history (23).” Cone’s theology fits perfectly with Derrida’s critique of power which James K.A. Smith touches on in his book Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism when he says, “This is the constructive, yes prophetic, aspect of Derrida’s deconstruction: a concern for justice by being concerned about dominant, status quo interpretations that silence those who see differently (51).” The theological interpretation which resulted in over 4,000 African American’s being lynched between the early 19th century and the middle of the 20th century was the dominant interpretation resulting in a misconception of God being an unjust-sadistic-perverted deity. This being the case, it is time to examine the narrative of the marginalized regarding the story of Christ so that a “dead God” might become resurrected in American thought.