Religious Faith and the Village Atheists

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Sat Nov 4 21:16:05 MST 1995

Having once struggled through a period of time in which I tried to find some
balance between political commitments and dissertation writing, I do not want
to keep Rakesh from his dissertation. But I think that two comments are in

1. This notion that religious affiliation and involvement is depoliticizing
is really some half-baked, vulgar version of Weberian sociology in which the
progress of modernity is linked intrinsically to secularization. From it is
obtained the thesis, expounded by Reed in his book of Jesse Jackson, that the
persistence of religious forms and institutions in African-American communal
life is somehow an expression of its backwardness, and that they must be
replaced by secular communal/political forms. Even the most cursory
examination of actual African-American history would suggest that this thesis
holds very little water. From its earliest moments in the crucible of
enslavement up until the contemporary period, from Nat Turner, Sojourner
Truth, and Frederick Douglas to Martin Luther King and the modern civil
rights movement, important, leading strains of the African-American religious
tradition and African-American churches have been developing theologies of
liberation, and have been central resources in the actual freedom struggles.
A little less _Telos_ , with its grand theories of the rationalization of
history, and a lot more attention to the actual developments of
African-American history would have put Reed in much better stead.

2. The reduction of West's notion of psychic conversion to an apology for the
work of 'pork chop preachers' and the Black "Brahmins" is as gross a
misreading of him as I have seen. Here West is drawing explicitly upon Frantz
Fanon and Malcolm X, among others, to discuss the effects of the
internalization of racist discourses among African- Americans, and to sketch
out the parameters of a process for overcoming that internalization. That
this psychic conversion includes a moral dimension of self-respect and
self-love is obvious, and perhaps some vulgar "materialists" may reject any
moral component of a liberatory politics, but the equation of such a view
with self-serving, opportunistic preachers is a 'bad faith' interpretation of
West's views.

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