14 thoughts on “Carter book event: Prologue and Prelude

  1. I was really uncomfortable with the use of Iranaeus’ polemics against the Gnostics here. I’m not entirely sure though if my discomfort will be helpful to the discussion. It stems, in part, from the fact that “the Gnostics” were utterly destroyed and most of what we know about their system of thought is reported to us as proof-texting in Christian polemics. In this way I can’t help but wonder if Carter is practicing the same theological imaginary that gets critiqued a lot on AUFS. So, against this theological imaginary, it would be possible to see Iranaeus as the first instance of a kind of “x-washing”. I’m thinking of how Western imperialism often cloaks itself under the banner of a humanism that intervene to battle some X (mostly that’s the “cruel and backwards Arab” now, but also the image of the “genocidal African”) in the name of something like gay rights (pink-washing) or women (using feminism as a cloak). Rather than thinking of the Gnostics, even the Valentians (whose system we pretty much only know from Iranaeus), as this evil empire that sets up racism and antisemitism, wouldn’t it make more sense to ascribe to this group very little power? They were, after all, wiped off the face of the earth.

  2. APS,

    I think that Carter’s biggest problem with the Valentians/Gnostics of those was their idea of three races of humanity in creation (pneumatic, psychic, and hylicpage 18 & 19) and depreciation for the human body that subsequently leads to their anti-Jewish gaze. I don’t know if Carter is saying that Valenetian/ Gnostics are THE responsible party for Christianity’s history of anti-Judaism and anti-semitism.

    My problem is with the prelude. I just want to know exactly what has the city of Lyons to do with the ante-bellum South? It’s not like the enslaved Africans had access to Patristic writings, since it was illegal for them to read in the first place. As someone aspiring to use the patristics in conversation with Black/Womanist theologies, I am just wondering what is the best to go about find an connection between the two; that was the question that came up in my defense of my thesis.

  3. OK… I’ll hold off on going further in for now in case people want to take this other directions. I’m not entirely convinced of Christianity’s casting of Gnostic theory as anti-body as such though… Alright, this is annoying because it feels impossible to talk about Gnosticism except negatively without sounding like a krank, so I’ll stop for now.

  4. APS,

    Just for clarification, I think that the term Gnostic is something that did change over time, and not all gnosticisms were the same. For example, Clement of Alexandria used the terminology in a rather positive light. It’s history is rather more ambiguous. That is why Carter has to specifically point to Valentian gnosticism rather than a gnosticism in general.

  5. In class, I’ve referred to Irenaeus’s approach to Gnosticism as “the South Park method,” similar to their episodes on Mormonism and Scientology. Irenaeus and the South Park guys are equally convinced that a clear presentation of the views they’re skewering will lead every reasonable person to conclude those views are dumb, so the motivation to tilt the scales is low. In other words, precisely because their view is SO negative, I’m inclined to view the presentation as basically accurate.

  6. Rod,
    If you keep in mind the overall argument of the book–that race is a theological problematic/enactment–then you can perhaps see these shorter forays into patristics as part of a response to a natural question: are there theological sources to help us chart a course past this problematic or is the Christian theological imagination irremediably racialized?

  7. With Tim’s comment in mind, though, it might not be very important to Carter’s argument what the Gnostics “really” believed or if there even really were people who correspond to Irenaeus’s presentation — the important thing is that Irenaeus thought they were exhibiting something that anticipates certain formal features of modern race-thinking and rejected their teachings for that reason.

  8. I thought that the first, second, and final paragraphs of the prologue were interesting, even if they merely raised issues without going into them much further. What I’m interested in is what Carter thinks theology should or might be and do. Carter seems to imply that Christianity’s complicity in racism might serve a kind of defeater; that theology is no longer a “compelling” discourse (p. 8); and that the task of theology itself remains unclear although it needs to change after we have the history and effects of the modern racial imaginary. So, then, what is theology? What makes a theology “compelling”? What might or could theology be (or want do we want theology to be)? I think Carter has a highly interesting and suggestive, if brief, account of theology in these paragraphs. It would also be interesting to compare this (implied) account of theology’s work to that found in Barth, post-liberalism, liberation theologies, apologetic or missional theologies, etc.

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