Tag Archives: Woodrow Wilson

Postcoloniality and Theology: Barack Obama, Brian McLaren and Forbes Magazine

Sunday, I came across Dinesh D’Souza’s article in Forbes’ magazine via Craig Carter’s blog. As anyone who knows my libertarian politics via Facebook and Twitter, I am hardly a defender of the current administration, *cough cough* PUMA, *cough, cough.  However, to claim that Obama is a postcolonial professor in the White House carrying on his father’s legacy not only makes Obama The Other, as conservative online magazine First Things pointed out, it also maintains the “insider-outsider” for persons of color in comparison to cultures from European descent. (And by my use of the term, color, I mean race as a social construct).

By any stretch, D’Souza’s article racializes the debate, especially when it comes to American imperial foreign policy preferences. By his definition of anti-colonial/post-colonial, non-white persons who critique empire building are Marxists, but say, what about the historical William Jennings Bryans, the Ron Pauls, and the Henry Cabot Lodges of American history?? At least the last two are the great protesters against empire building and DEFENDERS of the free market. It just does not make any sense why D’Souza went out of his way to NOT place Barack Obama within the strain of historical Woodrow Wilsonian progressivism unless his goal was to, as mentioned earlier, point out how un-American, and there-go, how Africans are so much unlike US citizens by implication.

Dr. D’Souza should be honest; both he and the President are just as committed to the principles to the Enlightenment as the next person; all of us are in some capacity or another. We just simply need to recognize that and be honest, resisting attempts which re-inscribe hegemonic dichotomies such as West/East (East according to who? Where westward?). If anything, anti-colonialism is American as baseball and apple pie; should we forget that the original “tea-partiers” and founders, the freed enslaved Africans, and women in the 18th century were all part of the most successful and inspirational anti-colonial struggle of all time, making the transition from colony to the first democratic-republic in human history.  It was called the “American Revolution,” was it not?

Very rarely do I side with former evangelical Christian now mainstream emergent/emerging thinker Brian McLaren, but I must commend him in his recent efforts to understand the post-colonial conversation. In his latest piece,  he explains his understanding of how he sees the relationship between knowledge and power.  Using McLaren’s description of what colonizing Christian theology looks like, D’Souza’s article is an example of an apology for the colonization of, for example, African peoples much like his fellow conservative Enlightenment theist John Milbank who I highlighted last week. It seems that some conservative Christians confuse the sharing of the good news of God’s commonwealth with empire building and a top-down racial hierarchy.

The latest subtitle

Last night, I could not get to sleep and so I was reading a couple of biblioblogs and I came across a name that I had not ran into in years: Abraham Kuyper.  I remember first reading hisLectures on Calvinism the Christmas break of my senior year, 2004ish I believe.  Although it was a lecture on Calvinist religion, it also was an articulation of the theological background behind Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionary [re: the French Revolution] politics and Party.  Something must be said and admired for theologians who are engaged in public; on a comparable level, at one point Reinhold Niebuhr ran for office.  I opened up for the first time in a long while Vincent Bacote’s The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper and started to remember all that I read in Lectures.  Not only was Kuyper’s theology opposed to the secularism of the French Revolution, but also Anabaptist politics  particularly because there was seen as a radical difference between the church and the world.  At one point, Bacote even argues that Kuyper’s politics cannot be considered “Constantinian” [in a polemical sense, the idea that the church fell because it came to power under the Emperor Constantine] (page 71).  His claim is that the church became paganized rather than vice versa, but since I do not share that understanding of Constantine, I share the views of John Howard Yoder primarily, which argued that the underlying premise of “Constantinian” politics is that Christians have an obligation to participate in society, and that withdrawal is considered to not be a valid alternative.  In this light, Kuyper’s political theology and practices are very much so “Constantinian.”

As I was reading Bacote’s work again, I came to a strange conclusion, but not totally off base. Abraham Kuyper’s religious politics sounded very similar to President Woodrow Wilson, a contemporary of Kuyper here in the U.S.A. as well as a member of the Reformed Christian tradition.  Political ideas such as the inevitability of progress, the notion that God NEEDED a select few human beings to serve as mediators of God’s sovereignty, as well as the Christianization of the world approach (late 19th and early 20th century internationalism) were shared by both, and one cannot forget the influence Kuyper’s ideas had on the the politics of the Boers during South African apartheid or the fact that Woodrow Wilson was responsible for further segregating Washington D.C. during his presidency.  Is this just a conspiracy theory?  Consider this: Woodrow Wilson became a member of Princeton’s faculty in 1890. Kuyper gave his Lectures in 1898, 4 years before Wilson would become president of Princeton University. Not so far fetched to see that Woodrow Wilson was influenced by Kuyper’s ideas.

Thus, the new subtitle of this blog. 🙂

James Cone on Political Messiahs

One of my favorite theologians is James Hal Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology.  I do not agree with everything he says, but he makes a lot of great points in much of his work.

Recently a lot of people involved in politics have been either trying to prove that the President is a political savior or promoting the idea that there needs to be a Ronald-Reaganesque conservative messiah to save the nation.  In both cases, I feel I must protest, and Cone’s quote, while particularly speaking about African-Americans in the early 1990s, could easily be applied to persons of any race, ethnic background, and socio-economic status, especially in today’s political climate.

“Because the socioeconomic  condition of poor African-Americans is worse today than during Martin’s and Malcolm’s time, many hope for charismatic leaders with spiritual power and intellectual insights which transcend  capabilities of ordinary human beings. Charismatic leaders, however, cannot liberate black people from their misery.  They may even hinder the process.  Thus, it is important to emphasize that Martin and Malcolm, despite the excessive adoration their followers often bestow upon them, were not messiahs.  Both were ordinary human beings who gave their lives for the freedom of their people.  They show us what ordinary people can accomplish through intelligence and sincere commitment to the cause of justice and freedom.  There is no need to look for messiahs to save the poor.  Human beings can and must do it themselves.” page 315 in Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare?

Resisting Cone’s description of African Americans as essentially poor and oppressed, one can agree with Cone that the people do not need a “Chosen One,” whether the second coming of Woodrow Wilson or George W Bush to depend upon for their freedom and justice. That just takes God, and their God-given intelligence and creativity to make they changes that the people want in society.