Franke says, at the beginning of his next chapter, that the emphasis on otherness “that is related to the triune nature of God is also a particularly promising aspect of postmodern thought” (p. 91). Howzzat? Well, as it turns out, the triune nature of God appears to provide a firm foundation for leftist bromides about culture and race. And about time too.
“The challenge with respect to this aspect of the Other is to refrain from its violation by reducing it to the self-enclosed realm of the same and thereby forcing it into a homogenous, self-made mold that serves to efface it and eliminate its distinctive difference, it very otherness in relation to the same” (p. 92). Got that?
“This is one of the great dangers of cultural imperialism in theology. It easily leads to the suppression of voices that do not fit the accepted cultural norms for the practice of theology” (p. 92). As much as I usually differ with Franke about this sort of thing, this observation is actually quite correct. One thinks immediately of the suppressed voices of Thornwell and Dabney, and the silenced cries of contemporary writers for neo-Confederate newsletters. Oh . . . he meant other suppressed voices? Gotcha. So hard to keep this all straight.
Franke then quotes theologian James Cone, with approval, when he opined that “the homoousia is not a black question” (p. 93). And this actually makes me grateful for the racial progress we have enjoyed over the last generation or so, because it used to be that when a black theologian was being a doofus, you weren’t allowed to say so. Now you can. As the Creed says, Jesus did what He did for “us men and for our salvation.” The homoousia is no more for black men or white men than it is for those who weigh over 150 pounds.
But then Franke relapses back into his supreme whiteness, and he does this right after showing us how he can cite African-American theologians without flinching. He says, “Theology is not a universal language. It is situated language that reflects the goals, aspirations, and beliefs of a particular people, particular community. No statement of theology can speak for all” (p. 94). Except for his, you must remember. He is the white guy on the mountain, and he came down briefly to explain to us unwashed plebes in the valley that all knowledge is localized and situated. You ask if this includes the statement he just made, and if so, you wonder out loud why we should believe it. A shocked look passes over his face, and he silently gestures to his lean-to up on the mountain, where he lives, far above all situated knowledge. His neighbors up there are Moses and Mohammad, neither of whom are black, a fact that I find highly suggestive.
He quotes Cone again, to the effect that “for black and red peoples in North America, the spirit of Enlightenment was socially and political demonic” (p. 94). Ah, but another notion that Western imperialism brought to these indigenous peoples was the idea that being demonic is bad. Once we shake free of that imposed totalizing notion, we come to the realization that the nations who had the stronger demonic juju going had every right to take everything they wanted, including the Eastern seaboard and all points west.
Franke wants to reject “white Eurocentric Christianity and its assumptions of universal totality — that is, the idea that it could speak truth for all people at all times” (p. 97). Cool. But why, then, is Franke speaking universal truths to those of us who thought that our rejection of universal and totalizing norms should have made it perfectly acceptable for us to arrive in North America and see nothing here but low-hanging fruit?
“Feminist and womanist historians, biblical scholars, and theologians have alerted us to the cultural assumptions of male supremacy and the discrimination and horrible crimes committed against women, often with the complicity of a culturally imprisoned male-dominated theology. These concerns stretch across racial and ethnic boundries as women in all cultural settings continue to experience the oppression, marginalization, and limitations that have been associated with gender discrimination” (p. 98)
I hope you have been following this closely. We have to knock it off with our universalizing ethics, and we need to do it everywhere, people.
“In fact, all theologies and theories of truth are contextual and perspectival, none simply rise above the social conditions and particular interests from which they emerge” (p. 99, emphasis his). Jeepers. Land of Goshen. Doesn’t he read over the galleys after he writes something?
“As finite creatures, we must surrender the pretensions of a universal and timeless theology” (p. 99). Okay. Let’s make a deal. I’ll surrender my universal and timeless theology when Franke writes a book that shows us how it could possibly be done, a book which practices what it preaches. And since it can’t be done, my faith in a timeless once-delivered faith is what we might call secure.