On God . . .

My publisher, Fortress Press, has agreed to allow me to post segments of the forthcoming new edition of my book, The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America (due out November 1). These posts will be altered a bit for appearing here at my website, with some deletions and even additions made here. Please know that these advance postings will look a bit differently, and have the benefit of context, when read within the argument of the whole book. Click on above art for full display of book cover.

by Mark Lewis Taylor

“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”  James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

I must confess to a certain personal reticence in using the term God at all. God-talk has often served as a reservoir of easy answers and stock solutions. It often has anchored an interest in “transcendence” that underwrites the very abstraction from history and politics that this book sees as a fundamental problem in most Christian theologies. The “God” word thereby often masks the politics of the cross and state terror.[1] Theologian though I be, and writing this book abounding in God-talk, I feel the human situation—the mass death sentence we all live under, worked by terrorizing systems of slavery, white supremacism, hegemonic masculinism, genocide, and holocaust—and I often hearken more to the counsel of an Albert Camus than to the belief systems of many churches and their easy God-talk. Camus counseled not so much atheism as a good healthy blasphemy, one marked by “denouncing God as the father of death and as the supreme outrage.”[2] In the Introduction to this book, therefore, I want not to presume God-talk as an obviously positive discourse. This does not mean that I simply jettison the discourse.

It does mean that I must clarify a sense in which some helpful work is done by the term, “God.” This will also entail setting aside certain other uses of the term that are less helpful, that only compound the “outrage” of which Camus spoke. Paradoxically, to some, I consider our very fundamental suspicions of God-talk to be a service for Christian communities today, especially for those that are intentional about engaging the structural violence of this era. It can be a form of personal and political therapy to meditate deeply on the Baldwin quotation shown above: “If the concept of God is to have any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”[3] The major content of the Introduction to this book is a meditation on the notion of God in the spirit of this Baldwin quote.

In this book, the term “God” functions to name that which is ultimately important; here, in this book especially, that which we discern and experience as a countervailing and liberating power amid structural violence for creating communities and institutions of justice, love and dignity, for finding meaning and hope in our time and context.

“God” is thus a name for such countervailing power, often as “greater” power: greater than all the forces of executing, lynching, and imprisoning authorities; greater than all the powers coalescing in corporately-driven Lockdown America; indeed, greater than all those arrayed in the global, mega-state empire catalyzed by U.S. military power and the international geopolitics of “Pax Americana” (the imposed “peace” of U.S. imperial design). Invoking a liberating notion of God, then, can be an act of radical political imagination, and, when cultivated with care and knowledge, it can give orientation to many activists’ assertion: “another world is possible.”[4]

Ultimately, as I show in the book, it is those in dispossessed communities, which for generations have had to withstand – with resistance and hope – the terror and trauma imposed by colonizing, capitalist and white supremacist systems – who can teach the kind of countervailing power that foregrounds a concept of God that we might want to keep. The structural antagonism they know, the arts they forge for survival, and the movements they catalyze are the best witnesses to such a God. This is, though, an “executed God,” a rising power catalyzed and mobilized among “crucified peoples” in resistance to state violence.[5]

More, in the next excerpt, on the phrase, “the executed God.

[1] On issues of “transcendence,” and the “God symbol,” see Mark Lewis Taylor, The Theological and the Political: On theWeight of theWorld (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 49-51 and passim.

[2] Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. Anthony Bower (New York: Vintage, 1991 [1951]), 24.

[3] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: The Dial Press, 1963), 61.

[4] Susan George, Another World Is Possible, If . . . (New York: Verso Books, 2004).

[5] On the notion of “crucified peoples,” see Michael E. Lee, ed., Ignacio Ellacur.a: Essays on History, Liberation and Salvation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 195-225. I would like to acknowledge here the work of Princeton Seminary’s doctoral student Francisco Peláez-Díaz, who relates Ellacuría’s concept of “crucified peoples” to Mexican immigrant communities’ suffering of violence in the U.S.

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