May 27, 2014 / Theology
Over the past several decades, theologians have turned to new methodologies to better understand how …
July 22, 2010
Glenn Beck and his narratives are often best left ignored—his broadcasts are incendiary, and the helpful things he says are derivative and rare. However, his recent comments on liberation theology represent a particularly egregious detour from truth and authenticity, and in this case, Beck’s artful incompetency has led him to stumble into an area of my interest, an area of interest that I feel called to defend: liberation theology, specifically the liberation theology of James Cone (see clips of Beck in the footnote below).1
I grew up in a religious atmosphere that was at times fundamentalist and at other times evangelical. As an undergrad, I attended what was then Multnomah Bible College (it is now Multnomah University, but still confessionally evangelical), a school that makes a noteworthy appearance in Randall Balmer’s Mine Eyes have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America.2 Then for my master’s degree, I attended Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, the very institution where Cone has been teaching for decades.
But Union is not reducible to Cone. It has a long tradition of working on the left and outside the right-left continuum. Union housed the first American historical critics, both Protestant (Charles Briggs) and Catholic (Raymond Brown), and helped push the Social Gospel. It was the institution where Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian realism was developed and argued, and it was a major birthing ground for many types of liberation theologies. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a stint there; Paul Tillich launched his American reputation there; and J. Louis Martyn spent many years there working through St. Paul. The list goes on, but my point is that Union educates in a different theological world than conservative evangelicalism. And at Union, I saw and lived with a community that many people simply read about.
With both backgrounds (and more—I am now at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution), I find myself at an interesting intersection where I can speak with personal experience from both worlds. It is because of my Union background—where Cone called white people to join the discussion, which was a missional calling of sorts—that I feel that for the sake of the church and the racial discussion in America, I must respond to Beck and surpass Beck by truth-telling. And it is from inhabiting the position between evangelicals and Union that I find Terry Eagleton’s assessment of Richard Dawkins apropos for Beck: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins [and Glenn Beck] on theology.”3
On July 13, 2010, Beck asserted on his Fox News show that he was trying to give a reasoned, measured, and intelligent narrative and analysis on liberation theology.4 What transpired was far from Beck’s stated aim and reality. He did not give an accurate, logical narrative and analysis of black liberation theology nor did he present a viable alternative. Accuracy, it seems, is a luxury that Beck has yet to buy. What he did do, however, is make numerous, broken connections that simply do not follow—one would not be wrong to question his synaptic connections as well.
But during Beck’s theology lesson, a few things shown through: Beck was primarily concerned with constructing a narrative that paraded as a revealed secret—a secret given to his listeners, who are the faithful that keep true to the threatened geist of the (Beck’s) state. This business of secret revelation is not just his penchant for the dramatic (e.g., when he cries because he loves his country so much): such theatrics exist to reinforce a deeper narrative, one wherein he, as protagonist, pulls back the curtain to expose threatening evil forces. In Beck’s world, the progressives are the enemy, and therefore, it is his duty to inform his followers about the secret machinations of the forces that seek destruction of their way of life. It does not seem far-fetched to suggest that Beck may see himself as a prophet dispensing revelation. In reality, he seems to function under the rubric of gnosticism’s theology of secret revelation. Or perhaps more properly, Beck is following his Mormon faith, with its own understanding of elite, secret revelation, more than he realizes.
The central concern of Beck’s ideology, both in his recent comments about liberation theology and as a long-standing concern in his broadcasts, is the continuation of the “republic.” His hermeneutical lens begins and ends with the state. He established this immediately during the July 13 show, with his first words describing his need to speak his mind for the good of the republic, and maintained it to the end. The “dramatic irony” of Beck, and indeed a key point, is that he is guilty of politicizing religion for explicitly American political ends; his starting point is always a concern for how he wants the nation run. He did this in the last political election when he instrumentalized theology for political ends against Obama, and he did it again throughout the July 13 show. Although Beck claims that his point was all about God and that people shouldn’t make it about race, the true point of his pontificating was to make political jabs and to serve his own political talking points. Indeed, this show was bookended by the issue of immigration—he performs a political theology contra to what is good political theology. He gives political theology a bad name.
It may be difficult to tease out where Beck deliberately fudges the truth and where he simply misunderstands the truth, but it is clear that his mistakes are of the sophomoric, fundamental kind that a theologically trained person would never make. Or to put it another way, for a theologically literate person, Beck’s mistakes would be tantamount to a gun safety instructor asking his students to look down the barrels of their guns to see if they are loaded.
I will get the easy points out of the way first. Contrary to Beck’s portrayal, Cone is not the founder of liberation theology, nor is he the founder of black liberation theology—Cone is instead one of its early, major voices. We ought not forget some of the black church pastors in the sixties that preceded Cone. Also, black liberation theology is not something that could be tied to Catholicism’s early economic liberation theology in Latin America, at least not until very recently. For quite a few years, black liberation theologians and Latin American liberation theologians were at odds because they perceived different problems as the “real” issue: there was a tension between economics and race. In fact, Cone and Gustavo Gutiérrez did not even converse about their projects while both simultaneously taught at Union Theological Seminary decades ago. For Beck to make the connection that they informed each other early on, and to conflate the two at times, is profoundly ignorant, just as it is profoundly ignorant to relate the rantings of an angry man outside a voting booth, the Weather Underground, and Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad to Cone’s work.
Beck energetically announced that Cone got the cross all wrong. Beck reiterated over and over that the cross is about victory—and that for Cone, it is not. What Beck neglected to mention, or simply misunderstood, is that for Cone the cross is, of course, victory in a way, but victory in weakness. For Cone, the cross is not about reestablishing victimhood, nor about conquering death with the same understanding of power that the authorities had, but a victory in and through weakness. Cone actually spends a great deal of time discussing the cross; indeed, Cone is very suspicious of rushing too quickly to the resurrection, because to him the weakness and the cross are key. Beck himself, or his research interns who provide him with his talking points, clearly has not read Cone well, if at all—or he simply is not being honest here. Cone is misrepresented by Beck in the same way that Joseph McCarthy once claimed he had a list of communists.
As Beck moves on to discuss Cone’s ideas of blackness, he draws from a decontextualized text to warp beyond recognition the point that Cone is making. Beck objects to Cone, using a very specific passage from what he believes is Black Theology and Black Power but is actually a poorly paraphrased section from A Black Theology of Liberation. Beck states it thus:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community.5
However, the notion of blackness for Cone is quite specific—he doesn’t mean simply black skin because he is also talking about ontology. Later in A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone elaborates on the claim that Jesus was black. This rightly understood means that Jesus is ontologically black today: If Jesus is the Suffering Servant of God, he is an oppressed being who has taken on that very form of human existence that is responsible for human misery. What we need to ask is this: “What is the form of humanity that accounts for human suffering in our society? What is it, except blackness?”
If Christ is truly the Suffering Servant of God who takes upon himself the suffering of his people, thereby reestablishing the covenant of God, then he must be black. [. . .] Black theology contends that blackness is the only symbol that cannot be overlooked if we are going to take seriously the christological significance of Jesus Christ.6
And Cone continues, foreseeing the immediate follow-up question readers would feel inclined to ask—“Really? Did you just say Jesus is black?”
But some whites will ask, “Does black theology believe that Jesus was really black?” It seems to me that the literal color of Jesus is irrelevant as are the different shades of blackness in America. Generally speaking, blacks are not oppressed on the basis of the depths of their blackness. “Light” blacks are oppressed just as much as “dark” blacks. But as it happens, Jesus was not white in any sense of the word, literally or theologically. Therefore, Alber Cleage is not too far wrong when he describes Jesus as a black Jew; and he is certainly on solid theological grounds when he describes Christ as the Black Messiah.7
Here is where the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich comes into play: “Jesus is black” is a symbol—and symbol in this case is a concrete reality that points to or mediates something beyond itself. As much as black may be understood as literal, it goes beyond literal as well. The particularity of Jesus was that he was a Jew severely oppressed by the Romans. However, if Jesus were living in the United States in 1970 when Cone wrote A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone is saying that Jesus would be black, not white. It was blacks who underwent (and arguably still do) the oppression, sexual humiliation, and lynching that are all too similar to Roman occupation and crucifixion. The implication that follows is that the white church is not following Jesus, and in fact, the white person needs to become ontologically black, not in skin per se (remember this is symbolism) but in action. Blackness is not only relegated to skin pigmentation; it is deeper than that.
When white authorities look the other way, when they take part in lynchings on Saturday and then dress up for church on Sunday, when whites are the oppressors and yet identify themselves as if they are Jesus, the one who was oppressed, this is a dramatic inconsistency. It is the wrong kind of scandalous. For such a lifestyle that lives so blindly, liberation theology and the suffering of Jesus is rightly a scandal, as scandalous as the cross should be. The status quo is the white god that kills to keep populations down. What kind of Christianity is that? Is that actually Christianity at all?
The film Avatar is surprisingly helpful in visualizing what Cone means about ontological blackness. Frankly, Avatar is fatally flawed on the issue of race,8 yet, through a happy accident, Cone’s notion of ontologically black exists in the film. The character Trudy Chacon is a helicopter pilot working for RDA, a corporate entity attempting to displace the local inhabitants of the planet Pandora in order to gain better access to a valuable mineral. Chacon begins the film with qualms about killing the indigenous population, the Na’vi, and by the end of the film, she and her helicopter are painted in the war paint of the Na’vi. She has become part of the Na’vi struggle and seeks to serve them (as opposed to leading them, which is an important distinction for solidarity instead of paternalism). However, Chacon can never be one of the Na’vi—there is no Na’vi body for her to join and she could therefore never live in their world without the aid of an oxygen tank. Chacon will always be human, and yet she is dressed up like the Na’vi when she dies. For a real life example, when I was a student at Union, someone in class asked Cone, “Who is an example of ontological blackness?” Cone replied that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the first person who came to mind.
Another issue with Beck’s treatment of Cone is that he paints Cone’s articulation of the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed as strictly binary. A binary certainly exists, but it is far more complicated than Beck’s description suggests, so much so that what Beck described is simply not accurate. Liberation theology, not simply Cone on this account, seeks to heal the dysfunctional relationship, not to reestablish it. Beck clearly does not understand that salvation extends to relationships between oppressed and oppressor.
Liberation theology seeks to help the oppressed, to reorient them, telling them that their humanity, that their body, is valued and loved by the one who created them and that they don’t have to accept the identity or valuation prescribed to them by their oppressors. They should not feel ashamed of who they are; the victim is not to blame here—they were created and are therefore to be affirmed by the standards of the creator. The oppressed cannot and ought not be held responsible for the actions of the oppressor. The oppressed therefore need not stand for the abuse from humans with a god-complex (which, by the way, is idolatrous). The oppressed can be liberated from their circumstances and God knows their suffering, after all, Jesus was tortured and crucified. Jesus was lynched, Cone has said.
Although liberation theology is partisan, it is emphatically not one-sided. Hence the duality. Liberation theology seeks to attend to both the oppressed and oppressor because its focus is relational. Oppressors must also be liberated—they do harm to themselves as they do harm to creation. Liberation theology seeks to save both oppressed and oppressor from the violation of their humanity: liberation theology suggests that in doing violence, the oppressors are harming themselves as much as they are harming the oppressed.
And yet, while liberation theology seemingly differentiates cleanly between oppressor and oppressed, that is not exactly the case. Instead, liberation theology seeks to address the reality that no victim or victimizer is all good or all bad. Cone has learned much from the likes of mulatto, mujerista, and womanist theologies: that to be a black man does not mean one cannot be an oppressor. Liberation theology recognizes that individuals have a complex mixture of good and bad within, that as members of a structurally fractured society, individuals are vulnerable to social evils like racism, sexism, and classism. For a guy who rants about context, Beck certainly doesn’t read Cone in context.
Mind you, there are excellent critiques of Cone’s racial formulations, take for instance J. Kameron Carter’s “Christology, or Redeeming Whiteness: A Response to James Perkinson’s Appropriation of Black Theology” and Race: A Theological Account.9 Cone has also taken to heart criticism by other black theology formulations, feminism, womanism, queer theology, eco-feminism, mulatto studies, and more, but to elaborate on these discussions would take me far from the matter at hand. However, Beck in no way acknowledges these critiques or approaches their attempts at valid arguments—or even boxes in the same weight class.
Beck also pitifully misreads Cone in terms of liberation theology’s view of grace. According to Beck, Cone has no concept of grace. However, Beck’s own concept of grace is pedestrian, narrow, and simplistic. For Beck, grace is singularly related to individual salvation. This is predicated on a theology of the sinner’s prayer, a staple of some conservative, American evangelicalism as well a perverse kind of political ideology.
First, the theological side of Beck’s concept of grace centers on the individual conversion experience. Beck and others who share his view set this experience in opposition to what they call collective salvation. But this conflates individual salvation and individual conversion; it misconstrues the conversion experience as the arbiter for Christian existence. I am not arguing against a notion of conversion, against a response to a call, or even against the significance of a radical paradigm shift with a supernatural bent, but I do question Beck’s insistence that a Christian’s identity and story is simply one of personal conversion and that conversion is simply individualistic and emotive. In other words, for Beck, giving an account of faith is synonymous with giving an account of one’s conversion from unbeliever to believer.
This strong emphasis on conversion is reflected in how the testimony now has not only developed its own genre, away from simply testifying (giving witness to what God has done—you know, the good news that Jesus died, rose again, and is coming back) and toward recitation of a testimony as the badge of membership. Although the missional character of testifying is a proper aspect of the Christian life, that the conversion experience now holds its own metacategory is a reflection of profound brokenness in the popular Christian imagination.
Think of the Christian life this way: you’re at a theme park. You’ve arrived and entered through the gates—you’ve had your conversion experience because you’ve now moved within the specific boundary of Christianity. If you accept the popular view of the primacy of this conversion experience, you then collapse every experience in the theme park into the decision to go through that gate. The rides you experience, the food you eat, and the games you play while in the park become secondary to your entry to the park. Instead, I argue that the conversion experience has meaning because of the christoform life that follows. The conversion has meaning because of the life that follows.
Another helpful metaphor for the Christian life is a significant relationship: boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, spouse, partner, or friend. How often does one talk about the beginning? Although it isn’t unusual to describe how you met a friend or significant other, to constantly dwell on this occurrence would certainly seem odd. Likewise, to view the arbiter for Christian existence as your initial decision to go beyond the first date, that first conversion, seems counterintuitive.
This is not only backward looking, but it also makes the Christian life flat. Some might call it a bare life—everything in such a theology is reduced to the conversion experience and therefore can only exist in terms of the role it plays in the conversion experience. This helps explain why Beck’s notion of grace is so impoverished; his grace is getting saved from alcoholism so that he could work his way toward his own material heaven on earth (i.e., he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps) and have confidence in a paradise for the Mormon afterlife. But much happens beyond conversion that cannot simply be defined by its relation to the conversion experience! Indeed, if one understands the Christian life as becoming more like Christ, then the true arbiter of Christian existence is Christ and those around you who are in the same pursuit.
We must also realize that the very act of creation by divinity is also grace (gift). Grace is all around us. We should thus resist a broken sense of mission that would warp how we understand our movement toward the divinely ordained telos. We cannot stay as babes on milk. The christoform life is not thin! The christoform life matures within the divine plenitude of God’s continued grace, grace that goes beyond simply saving us from going to hell rather than heaven (despite the fact that the new earth is the final destination, not heaven). The christoform life matures within discipleship, not within an anemic theology of a personal Jesus who acts like a forgiving therapist.
Therefore, we should also not confuse the call to return to our first love with making the conversion experience the primary category for the Christian life. If anything, we are called to be like Jesus, and if that occasionally requires a return or a first conversion, so be it.
Second, concerning Beck’s political ideology, Creston Davis has noted that Beck’s thought is “almost identical to the atheist philosopher Thomas Paine, the ardent liberal who ensures that religion is always controlled by the ideology of individualism secured by the modern nation-state. In other words, Christianity must fit into the secular atheistic ideology of the individual as primary with the state only existing to arbitrate between clashing individuals. In the process, he makes his bastardized Christianity and the American empire identical.”10 Davis sees that Beck achieves such a syncretism by way of a problematic notion of grace, by restricting grace to a feeling—a notion that Ludwig Feuerbach had a field day with, claiming that such a notion of grace is really psychological and that religion is thus merely a sociological formulation11 —and making the Christian reality strictly spiritual (interior). Spiritualizing Christianity in this way then gives over influence to the dominant economic and political machines. The irony here is that Beck has more successfully policed Christianity out of the public sphere than fundamentalist atheists and secularist humanists. What is left of Beck’s Christianity is a gigantic lacuna for Republican, right-wing libertarian politics and neo-liberal economic theory. Hobbes would be proud and the atheist parts of Hitchens and Dawkins can rest easy if Beck has his way.
Other accusations by Beck include: Cone is a Marxist; the Bible has no concept of making just the social reality; structures propagating evil do not exist; liberation is obsessed with the victim so as to grab power; liberation theology and philosophy are synonymous. Each of these insinuations is painfully false, each makes me question Beck’s familiarity with the Bible, with the prophets denouncing the economic system (called Mammon), with the years of jubilee, with Jesus and the early church’s view on sharing. Beck’s theology begins to seem as accurate and sophisticated as a B movie mocked by Mystery Science Theater 3000.
In the same way that Eagleton wondered about Dawkins, I would love to know if Beck has an opinion on the sacramental theologians Louis-Marie Chauvet, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Alexander Schmemann; the turn to relationality by the likes of the evangelical Stanley Grenz and Bellah et. al. in Habits of the Heart; and Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. Does Beck even know about Catholic social teaching in the papal encyclicals, which has always lifted up unions, much less the discussion around the teaching called Catholic social thought? What about Walter Rauschenbusch and the social gospel? Does Beck have a positive opinion on the child labor laws that the movement pushed through? Is he aware that Pope John Paul II told the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith to back off investigating Gustavo Gutiérrez because he was not heretical, just really concerned for the poor? Does Beck have an interpretation of the papal affirmation of the assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero during his visit to the Vatican after Romero began taking a stand in El Salvador? Beck cannot be taken seriously theologically or politically, much like a two-year old sitting in the cockpit would not be mistaken for piloting the plane.
In conclusion, Beck’s discussion of Cone and liberation theology adds more evidence to my suspicion that he traffics in dishonest smear campaigns that create guilt by association. Unsuprisingly, this was not a well reasoned, measured, and intelligent argument. Indeed, if he were to submit these arguments in a class where I was the instructor, he would receive a failing grade: he did not engage well with the source material (too limited in scope—the book he quoted Cone from is forty years old and was written following Martin Luther King’s assassination); he did not display an accurate understanding of Cone’s overall project; his logic was riddled with intellectual fallacies; and his critiques were cheap and wrong. He did not demonstrate a grasp of Cone’s thought, nor engage it well. This was a public hit job. And, if it was not malicious slander, it was not far afield. It was also propaganda. In light of this, Beck should not be interpreted as a jester, but likened to a puppet. The question, then, is who is up to their shoulder inside him?
If you really want to know about Cone’s project, watch his 2007 interview with Bill Moyers. Read his book Risks of Faith—it is a great collection of essays that is well-written, to the point, and spanning much of his career. Whereas Black Theology and Black Power features the early Cone wrestling with his blackness and Christianity, Martin and Malcom and America is where the mature Cone deals with this tension, and anyone interested in learning about Cone must read God of the Oppressed.12 But given that Beck’s attempts at a scandal center around A Black Theology of Liberation, it is appropriate that we recognize that, written in 1970 amid the race riots and after King’s assassination, it is the seminal work for black liberation theology. Moreover, Cone himself has recognized the historical context of A Black Theology of Liberation, which is why he has not gone back to downplay or tinker with its language. And if you are really to engage with A Black Theology of Liberation, it will require familiarity with Paul Tillich and his use of symbolism, Jürgen Moltmann and Hope Theology, Reinhold Niebuhr and his anthropology and conceptions of power, Karl Barth, W. E. B. DuBois, Rudolf Bultmann, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few. One day of study, as Beck himself admitted to, is not long enough.
But why Cone and why now? The United States of America was largely built not by Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation,” but on the backs of immigrants and slaves. Many of us have profited from the work-for-insignificant-pay and forced labor of previous generations, and many people continue to be abused by the newer profiteers. All is not right. This is an unjust system, a system that aims to keep some of the poor impoverished, or make more poor, for the profit of others. Reality is not as it should be. The system—the United States’ economic and war policy; the WTO; the structure of Wall Street and more—is neither neutral nor just. Rather than caring for the least of these, for the common good (not utilitarianism’s “greater good”), money and safety trumps all. An ideological stance such as this is so thoroughly un-Christ-like it is by definition anti-Christ. And Beck’s anemic understanding of theology does more than simply allowing the colonial way of the past to continue; his words help to justify it. And so, even when we finally have a black President, in the words of Cornel West, “We must be maladjusted to injustice rather than well adjusted to injustice. Our society tries to convince us to be successful, to be well adjusted to injustice, but we have to call that into question.”13
Cone calls us to this maladjustment and shows us a true way for the good of the world. Even if we do not entirely agree with his constructive proposal of ontological blackness, we would not be where we are if it were not for him. We are indebted to his legacy and must reckon with it, especially if the church in America is going to remain or return to its true call: to love one another as Jesus did.14
The title for this essay is taken from the film Billy Madison. Although this is a brutal way of putting things, it is also true. And here, while the truth may seem ugly, it is ugly because it speaks of something ugly, and to sugarcoat what Beck did would be to ignore the ugliness.
Moreover, this is not the first time that Beck has gone after black liberation theology and James Cone. In fact, he did similar work while still at CNN, even to the point of attempting to tie the New Black Panthers to Cone—see Beck’s broadcasts on March 19, 2008 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_cA0GEV1ibY), March 20, 2008 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQuzyvHOl30), and March 26, 2008 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hv1ShidiN2g).
Here are the recent segments where Beck soudns off on black liberation theology and James Cone:
2. Randall Balmer, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2006). Although, I should mention here explicitly, Multnomah has undergone a maturation process since Balmer wrote his book. There are some striking similarities at times between Balmer’s description years ago and Multnomah now, but striking similarities also exist between a childhood picture and an adult picture of the same person.
3. See Terry Eagleton, “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching,” London Review of Books 28, no. 20 (2006), http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n20/terry-eagleton/lunging-flailing-mispunching.
4. See Glenn Beck, “Liberation Theology and Social Justice,” Fox News.com, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,596663,00.html and Glenn Beck, “Glenn Beck: Liberation Theology and Social Justice,” Glenn Beck Program, Current Events and Politics, http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/42891/ for more.
5. I looked throughout James Cone, Black Theology & Black Power (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2005), even used Google Books and Amazon to search inside the book, but nothing came up. However, in Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2006), 27, the full citation is this: “Although answers to these questions are not easy, black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us, if God is not against white racists, then God is a murderer, and we had better kill God. The task of black theology is to kill gods that do not belong to the black community; and by taking black history as a source, we know that this is neither an easy nor sentimental task but an awesome responsibility.”
6. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 122-123.
7. Ibid., 123.
8. John Petrakis has rightly noted that Avatar can be interpreted as “A paternalistic tale of the lone white man who saves the noble savages from disaster because they are incapable of helping themselves,” see “Avatar,” Christian Century, Film, March 23, 2010, http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=8310, emphasis in original. David Brooks and J. Kameron Carter also ripped the movie for its white messiah complex. See Brooks, “The Messiah Complex,” New York Times, Opinion, January 7, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/08/opinion/08brooks.html?_r=1 and Carter, “Avatar: An Amazing and Troubling Film,” jkameroncarter.com, March 12, 2010, http://jkameroncarter.com/?p=56. For a supposedly postcolonial film, Avatar stumbled badly. The white messiah mythos is entirely problematic, and no one adequately situated in racial discussions would have done something quite so stupid to employ it. We have seen this mythos before in colonialism and Christianity, yet even as missiologists, missionaries, and Christian agencies are finally coming to grips with ministry by the white messiah and second-guessing themselves, Cameron’s story hardly questions itself on this account.
9. J. Kameron Carter, “Christology, or Redeeming Whiteness: A Response to James Perkinson’s Appropriation of Black Theology,” Theology Today 60, no. 4 (2004): 525-539 and Race: A Theological Account (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008), 157-193.
10. Creston Davis, “Glenn Beck and Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’: On Identifying Religious Fascism in Our Time,” Objet Petit A, July 15, 2010, http://crestondavis.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/glenn-beck-and-depeche-modes-personal-jesus-on-identifying-religious-fascism-in-our-time/.
11. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1989).
12. See Bill Moyers Journal, November 23, 2007, http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11232007/watch.html. And see James Cone, Risks of Faith: The Emergence of a Black Theology of Liberation, 1968-1998 (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2000); Martin and Malcom and America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992); and God of the Oppressed (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997).
13. David Horstkoetter, “Politics, Virtues, and Struggle: An Interview with Cornel West,” The Other Journal 16 (August 21, 2009), http://www.theotherjournal.com/article.php?id=850.
14. See John 13:34-35 and 1 Corinthians 13.
David Horstkoetter is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at Marquette University. He completed his MA with Gary Dorrien at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Horstkoetter’s interests include history, social ethics, and systematic theology. He also likes to take pictures and drink good beer.