A New Black Theodicy

Shahidi Islam - Theologian, Entrepreneur, and Author

Peace to the Gods and Goddesses of the foundation;

Much love goes to New York City;

And mad respect to London;

Black theology is summarised by the ideas expressed by James H. Cone in many of his earlier books. However, his biggest critic William R. Jones considered a fundamental flaw in Cone’s theology, the question of whether or not God is in fact a white racist.

While not disputing Jones’ conception of a racist white God – I do personally believe that the white God is a racist god – I consider his means of proof a fallacy: denial of a liberation-exaltation event.

To deny that black people have had liberation events is to deny liberation events period. But I suppose what Jones needs a God-given liberation event, so, we shall now go into biblical history to see how God-gives liberation events.

The first is the most obvious: the Exodus. At every turn after the Exodus the Israelites questioned whether it was really a liberation event, saying, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14: 11.)

“Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness!

“And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?” (Numbers 14: 2, 3.)

These are not the words of those who have had a Jonesian liberation event. Indeed, after the Exodus that generation all died in the wilderness. Some liberation (!).

So then, we can always say the liberation event was the entering of the Promised Land. But not exactly. They were beset by war and subjugation. Indeed, they were entering a land with its own people, its own laws, and its own gods.

It would have been tantamount to the modern Fulani migrating en masse into Senegal: a land with its own people, its own laws, and its own religious structure.

The Israelites were no doubt a minority in another people’s land, and as with all minorities, particularly foreign minorities, they were oppressed.

So when was the liberation event? When a Judge arose and liberated them? Such events were short lived and hardly total.

So again, was it when the kingdom was established? To be sure, both Saul and David were men of war, and war beset Israel during the entirety of both their reigns.

So when was the liberation event? The reign of Solomon? Indeed, Israel had peace and prosperity, but it faced a different kind of peril.

The people cried out to Solomon’s son: “Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee” (1Kings 12: 4); so even Solomon’s reign was oppressive.

Then after Solomon the kingdom divided, not too long after that the Northern Kingdom fell, and not too long after that the Southern Kingdom fell.

In all, I question whether a Jonesian liberation-exaltation event ever happened in Israel’s history at all, or in the history of any of the people of God, or yet in the entirety of human history. Jonesian liberation appears to exist only in a Jonesian imagination.

But let us return to the Exodus and say that a Jonesian liberation-exaltation happened there. What is it about the Exodus that makes it a liberation-exaltation event? Is it that Israel escaped slavery?

Black people escaped slavery many times and eventually got slavery abolished (which even the Hebrews was unable to do).

A Jonesian can obviously retort, “The Hebrews escaped by the hand of God, our escape was by brave black and white conductors and rebellion leaders; and finally by white politicians emancipating us.”

To which I would reply: the liberation affected by the Judges of Israel and the emancipation affected by the Pharaoh of Egypt are no different. Emancipation in Egypt had to finally come from Pharaoh or it would have still been slavery.

In the same way, black emancipation needed a Lincoln, a William Wilberforce and a Victor Schoelcher. Conversely, why is the liberation set on course by a Cyrus considered less potent than that set on course by a Pharaoh?

Was the fact that Pharaoh opposed emancipation to the bitter end and suffered for it all that was needed?

Effectively, Jonesian theology seems to require a miracle but Cyrus’ coming being prophesied beforehand is just as much a miracle as plagues.

In like manner Lincoln’s coming may not have been named but it was still prophesied. But by a Jonesian logic even the liberation event of Cyrus being prophesied would have been a non-event as they are unable to see the beauty in any real liberation events.

But I will now present the Jonesians with a follow up question: suppose an omnipotent being is a white racist, what exactly are black people supposed to do about it with his humanocentric theism?

Firstly, even if black people are and have been worshipping this being as God, humanocentric theism, and humanism for that matter, are ineffective in fighting him. Any omnipotent being that hates black people is virtually unbeatable.

The only way to fight an omnipotent being is with the help of another omnipotent being, hence, an omnibenevolent being is the only force capable of withstanding an omnipotent malevolent being.

It is irresponsible to present the idea of a malevolent force that is all-powerful and not provide a means of overcoming it other than to stop believing in it.

I may choose to believe that a high voltage electric fence is protecting me, even though I see its effects on those around me, but when you tell me that I am a prisoner entrapped by the electric fence, and that it has killed all my friends and ancestors, and then that the only way that I can free myself is to stop believing in the fence, such advice is irresponsible.

Even saying that I should believe in myself has a level of irresponsibility. With the fence analogy the only way believing in yourself is useful is in believing that you will eventually be free.

Fighting against the fence is death. No longer believing the fence is there is death. The only hope is in eventual freedom through loss of power or a benevolent prison guard who lets me go (or I suppose I could find a way to tunnel under the fence).

Still, if my prison targets my kind and only my kind and frees none, as Jones tried to argue, then believing in myself is useless against such a foe. I am not omnipotent and I am unlikely to suddenly have a Neo moment by believing in myself.

This is the humanist dilemma. Jones espouses humanism and existentialism against an omnipotent white racist. It feels like he expects us to just sing the blues, produce tragic dramas and great works of art but basically nothing more than another form of quietism.

Where is the fight? How do we fight an omnipotent white racist while fighting a racist white world? With humanism? With humanocentric theism? Both are horribly inappropriate against an omnipotent white racist.

The only way is to look to an omnipotent black anti-racist and call that God. Anything less than that is either death or begging.

So now the question is: is there an omnipotent black anti-racist, or an omnipotent black being at all? If so where has he been in black history?

This is where we speak of the universe as God. The universal laws of existence are the activities of God and the culture of iGod, and as they are scientific, the culture of iGod is the science of iGod.

Yet God, that is, the universe, has not been invisible during the struggles of black people, he has just been waiting for us black people to exorcise the spooks of our ancestors.

The issue now becomes: is such a God worthy of our respect? Is such a God even omnipotent? To be sure, the God of the Bible and Quran is a black God so whether he is omnipotent becomes a challenge to the Abrahamic tradition.

Indeed, Abraham may have called him El Shaddai (God Omnipotent) but that is no significant proof of omnipotence.

We may then draw on the Exodus and the fulfilled prophecies of the prophets and the Messiah’s life, death and resurrection, or even on the Prophet’s victories in battle.

Again, for a sceptic like Jones such regressions seem futile. Perhaps the best proof we can draw on to show the omnipotence of the Hebrew God is also his most benevolent act: the creation itself.

Yet even this would likely fail to influence a Jonesian’s scepticism; which brings us to the actual heart and soul of the issue: Jones’ humanism.

As a self-proclaimed black theologian he is actually more a black humanist in orientation having spent more time reading Sartre and Camus than the actual Bible. For someone like Jones the question is: Is God a white racist?

For me the question is: why has the black God of the Scriptures turned on black people? Or, has the black God of the Scriptures turned on black people? If so how can we be free from his anger?

This is where seeing God as long suffering saves the day. As God suffers long so his people suffer long. God is omnipotent because of his understanding, empathic personality. He is also willing to wait, even for a long time, to see his word be fulfilled.

This kind of God is new to the Jonesians but it is the God of the prophets, and it is the original God of the Hebrews.

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