Reading Fanon as a Theologian

As should be clear, I think Fanon’s writing are theologically relevant, not just in the sense that he offers criticisms theologians need to address but also that he offers a trajectory–intellectual, social–that theologians should follow. I’ve been rereading some sections in Barth’s Dogmatics and want to start wrestling with what this approach means for theology.

In his discussion of theological anthropology, Barth says,

[In the man Jesus] it may be seen how God sees man in spite of and through his sin, and therefore how we ourselves are incapable of seeing him. What is impossible with man but possible with God emerges at this point, namely, the vision of nature and essence which can be distorted by sin but not destroyed or transmuted into something different, because even in its sinful distortion it is held in the hand of God, and in spite of its corruption is not allowed to fall.

It would be foolish to expect this vision to be attained in any other way or to be generally accessible. (III/2, p. 42)

Barth denies the possibility of any natural or generally accessible vision of human nature, claiming that such insight comes to us indirectly, through Jesus. Further, Barth is also denying any deposit of theological knowledge–and the requisite power of vision that this would entail–for the human essence is held in the hand of God, and thus must be disclosed or revealed. I am interested in these questions of anthropology–especially as they connect to Fanon’s “humanism.” However, at this point, I want to enter into Barth’s thought to, as it were, dislodge it from a certain dogmatic or strongly ecclesial theological reflection.

For Barth, the knowledge of our human essence is hidden from us. It is this particular man, Jesus, who shows us how God sees us, and therefore, who shows us who we really are. This man, however, is no abstract man or generic human being, he is Jewish. It is this Jewish man who discloses to us how the LORD sees all human beings.

As Gentiles, this means that the “vision of nature and essence” is deferred on two accounts–it is not given to us (we do not receive the ability to see what is impossible to see but instead our eyes are directed to the one man, Jesus, who reveals to us how we are seen), and the one who does see is not one of us, and thus our thoughts, actions, and lives are foreign (Eph 2) to this one who is the revelation of God.

Our theological reflections, as Gentiles, therefore presuppose that foreign thoughts can, through the Spirit, be adopted as adequate and even pleasing responses to this Jewish savior (Pentecost!). In a sense, then, the possibility of our dogmatic theology presupposes the possibility of other, nonconfessional discourses being deemed by Christ as adequate reflections or responses to this Jewish savior. Accordingly, one can read Fanon theologically not in the sense that one can dialectically or rhetorically complete and surpass his work but by prayerfully seeking Christ’s presence in foreign and strange forms. The knowledge of human nature is not “generally inaccessible” according to our power but it is “generally accessible” according to the power of God. As a theologian reading Fanon, I strive to both clarify how I see Christ revealing himself in Fanon’s texts and–and this is quite difficult–to do so in a way that respects Fanon’s writings, meaning that he would, perhaps, be able to see this theological work as striving to think through and with his deepest insights, including his trenchant critique of colonial Christian theology.

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4 Responses to Reading Fanon as a Theologian

  1. anonymous says:

    I don’t see the usefulness of stressing your “foreign” identity, nor do I see how Eph. 2 justifies doing so. Further explanation that incorporates 2:18 would be helpful.

    Thanks!

  2. Tim McGee says:

    I’ll reserve a longer explanation for when you let me know who you are. For now, I’ll just emphasize v. 12, where the author stresses for us to REMEMBER that we were once foreigners to God’s people. Oh, and for fun, because I love the quote, I’ll add: In the 1930’s, Karl Barth wrote that “salvation means alienation, and ‘salvation is of the Jews’ (Jn. 4.22). And because people will not be alienated even for their own salvation, they roll away the alienation on to the Jew” (CD I/2, 511).

    I look forward to continuing the conversation.

    • Jeremy Alder says:

      Where is that Barth quote from? Very interesting, as is this whole little series on Fanon. I like the trajectory your on.

      • Tim McGee says:

        It’s in the Dogmatics–I/2, p. 511 by the older English edition (which is in brackets on the side of the newer “student edition”).

        Thanks!

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