Ideas don’t always transform behavior. Another way of saying this is that orthodoxy doesn’t necessarily lead to orthopraxy. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of the disconnect emerges with racism for it is a sad, sad fact that some profound thinkers have been thoroughly orthodox and incredibly “hetero-praxis” when it comes to racism. But the tools to undo racism can be found in orthodox thinking. In particular, in christology. Orthodox christology obliterates racism. This is how I read the Prelude to J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account.
Question: How important is the Incarnation of Christ to racism?
This Prelude argues that the tools to undo racism can be found in the debate Irenaeus had with the version of Gnosticism at work in Lyons (Gaul). Gnosticism is complex; Ireneaus’s response just as complex. Let me do my best to summarize Carter’s summary of that debate.
First, Gnosticism categorized humans into three classes in a descending order:
the spirituals, who were not related to YHWH or to Israel;
the materialists [hylics].
This categorizing of humans, Carter argues, provides a foundation for racialization and classification of humans.
Second, Gnosticism declassified Israel as the People of God.
Third, Gnosticism declassified YHWH as the Sovereign God.
Carter argues that Irenaeus’ response to Gnosticism profoundly undoes any basis for hierarchy among humans, for disconnecting the Church from Israel, and for delegitimating YHWH as God.
How does Carter see this happening for Irenaeus?
Christology. The drive of Irenaeus is to affirm and assert the utter materiality of Christ in both the Incarnation and his Recapitulation. Furthermore, Irenaeus affirms and asserts the intimacy of the Father with the (material) Son via the Spirit in Creation and in God’s covenant with Israel. Materialization, then, connects God to creation, to Israel, and to the Son.
The moment one affirms these ideas — both Incarnation and Recapitulation — racism is obliterated. Christ becomes material and redeems materality and connects God to materiality. Most importantly, Christ recapitulates the entirety of human material existence:
But here’s what recapitulation does not do: it does not overwhelm or conquer all other nations, languages and generations into a single nation, language or generation, but encompasses and embraces each in that each is found in Christ. In Christ’s material existence then one finds Pentecost embodied. This affirms diversity without violently forcing uniformity or conformity.
All humans and each human then is recapitulated in Christ and this means there can be no grading of humans, no hierarchy.
Racialization of humans and theology, which classifies humans into degrees of worth and which then forms a discourse that legitimates hierarchy, therefore is obliterated in the material incarnation and recapitulation of Christ.
Well, that’s my read of Carter’s Prelude.